If Scooby-Doo has taught us anything, it’s that ghosts are just people playing tricks on us. However one in three Brits say they believe ghosts exist. Stories of haunted houses and supernatural experiences have been part of human society for many many years. But what does science say about this? Is there scientific evidence to suggest ghosts are real? Or is it all just part of our imaginations?
The belief in ghosts correlates to the belief in an afterlife. The idea that the dead have unfinished business before they can move on. They can be a coping mechanism to know that our departed still with us. And these stories have just evolved and passed down through generations to spread this belief that spirits walk among us. However there is a lot of scientific reasons to debunk the existence of ghosts.
You may think that you aren’t scared of the dark, but this fear is embedded in our genes. Early humans would have to sleep out in the open, which made us very vulnerable to potential predators. They would have to constantly be on the lookout for anything that could attack them, and the darkness of night only put us more on edge. Being scared of the dark essentially meant being scared of the unknown. Not knowing if there’s something around us and whether they’re harmful.
Over time, despite building homes and developing electrical light, this primal instinct to be wary in darkness might present itself as type of mild anxiety. And this can explain why some people see ghosts. A car engine in the far distance might sound haunting, we mistake random objects as a shadowy figure in the corner of our eye, we are just prone to thinking that something is out to get us as a survival instinct.
Our brains are also programmed to find meaning in the meaningless. Like when you look at clouds and see them in the shape a dinosaur, or see a smiley face in your plate of food. This is known as pareidolia. We are constantly bombarded with information from all our senses. Our brains can get overwhelmed so it will only focus on the most important info and the rest is essentially just the brain filling in the gaps.
Seeing ghostly faces in the dark, or hearing voices is just our brain finding what we know (i.e. other humans) in nothingness. When in darkness and scared, our sight is compromised and the other senses heighten. The brain has to create a reality with the other senses, which can often take form in people seeing ghosts. We say that it must be a ghost as it can be easier to believe than the idea our brain has lied to us.
On the flip side, our brains can miss things that are in clear view. The most famous example of this being the study where participants were asked to count the number of times people passed a basketball. During the video, a man in a gorilla suit walks into shot and waves. About half the participants failed to notice this! This is known as inattentional blindness.
When focused on a particular task, you just zone everything out. You may think an object has moved or a door has opened since the last you saw it and think a ghost must have done it. In fact you or someone else did it, and you just didn’t notice or forgot because you were engrossed in something else.
Humans are also gullible creatures. Multiple studies have shown that simply telling someone about a place being haunted or that they have encountered spirits, they are more likely to believe it. While you may try to rationalise an unknown sound or sighting, we would tend to back the belief that it was supernatural if other people have given eye witness testimony to it. So belief in ghosts may just be spread through word of mouth.
Other times it can be signs of brain disorders. Those who believe they can hear spirits can often be talked into getting help from medical professionals to sort out this issues. Mental illness, drugs and sleep paralysis can also account for ghostly visions or the feeling of a demonic/dark energy. So be wary and get help if you feel you need it.
Majority of times, paranormal experiences are just our brains playing tricks on us. But environmental factors can also play a huge role in seeing ghosts. Old and supposedly haunted places could be covered in mould, some of which may be toxic. Inhaling this harmful mould is bad for both breathing and the brain. With symptoms including delusions, depression, anxiety and even psychosis. And scientist have made strong links to the presence of mould and ghost reports.
Gas leaks can also cause paranormal experiences. Simply breathing in the poisonous gas Carbon Monoxide can lead to feeling of pressure on the chest, auditory hallucinations and unexplained feeling of dread (i’m not making this up!!). So for god sake, get a carbon monoxide detector if you think you’re house is haunted, it could save your life!
And a simple draft can also explain many ghostly experiences. Changed in air pressure and temperature can cause cold spots, door rattles and floor board creaks. So be aware, that ghost you believe you walked through might just be an open window in the house.
In terms of photographic and video evidence of spirits, many ghost hunters will edit and essentially fake evidence for the views/likes/publicity. There has also been cases where people pretend to need an exorcists to see if they use gimmicks or psychological tricks to convince someones being possessed. Some people also go undercover in paranormal investigations and ALWAYS in both these cases, there is a scientific reason behind ghosts.
For me, the question of “are there animal ghosts wondering around” comes to mind a lot. If the spirits of humans remain, then what about the spirits of pets? Or cows? Or dinosaurs? There have been sighting of ghost horses, monkeys, bears and often people will say they still sense their departed pets in their home. But all these stories can still be debunked with the same logic as human ghosts.
Apparently we don’t see dinosaur ghosts as their remains are deep within the earth, their ghosts cant reach us. There’s also the belief that dinosaurs (And other animals) weren’t as emotionally or spiritually developed as humans so couldn’t return as ghosts! Which is a shame if you ask me.
On the note of animals and ghosts, many pet owners claim that their cat or dog can sense when a spirit is present in the home. Often staring at an empty spot, growling away at nothing. Have they seen a ghost?
The thing with cats and dogs is that we still don’t understand a lot about their behaviours and how they perceive the world. We know that their senses are far more developed than ours, so they may have picked up on a bit of dust moving across the floor, or a felt the vibrations of a passing car.
Cats and dogs also seem to have a sixth sense. Both seem to pick up on a persons aura, and can tell if there’s a positive or negative vibe coming from someone and chose to accept them or chase them away. They can also sense when disasters like storms or tornadoes are approaching using these other senses.
We simply can’t know whats going on in a cat or dogs brain, so we don’t know why they act strange at times. But because we don’t understand, we can’t instantly jump to the conclusion that they are seeing ghosts. It means we just need to study and learn more about these fascinating creatures that share our homes.
Well, there you have it. The things that go bump in the night aren’t demons or ghosts, it’s just you’re brain’s natural fight or flight reflex (or Carbon Monoxide poisoning!). Now I’m not against someones belief in ghosts, or saying that being scared of them is childish. This article was to challenge beliefs and shed light into other explanations that could put fears to ease.
If you believe that there are spirits amongst us, then that is you’re belief and I respect that! As mentioned at the beginning, ghosts can be a way of remembering those loved ones that have sadly departed us.
I haven’t actually witnessed any ghosts as of yet, so if people are willing to challenge my belief and take me ghost hunting then I am more than happy to participate. Although I know I would still be scared (as I am an easily spooked person), knowing that I could come out it with a whole new perspective on life and death is exciting.
Also if you have had any experiences that you want me to try debunk, please comment and i’ll do my best to being a scientific perspective to it.