This morning I awoke to a strange sound. It sounded like a vacuum cleaner or some kind of road machinery, droning on and on while I had my morning bath. Actually that was a good thing… it snapped me out of my trance when I dozed off in the bath, having lost track of time playing on the Xbox One last night. (In other news, my Diablo 3 characters are now Paragon Level 479.)
But it occurred to me how amusing it is, the way people respond to strange sounds. Hearing something strange in the middle of the night, many will jump directly to supernatural explanations. The same goes for seeing things that don’t make sense… To many they must be ghosts or aliens. Why?
For many years, I believed in ghosts. I had various unexplained experiences as a child, and of course all of them involved people who came back from the dead. But wait! It wasn’t always that way. When I had sleep paralysis (I think) between the ages of one and three years old, I named the “monster” who lived in my room, the Hugga Pugga. I never claimed it was a ghoul or demon or any of those things. Adults who believed in such things led me in that direction. Being impressionable as children are, I took them seriously. Aunt Mercia was my favourite aunt. I’d love going to her house in my childhood and listening to her stories. I was a toddler, and her being my mother’s sister meant that every fascinating detail she said must be true. She even read Tarot cards, so Tarot must be real. A ghost story here, a dubious memory explained there, and soon enough, I was a believer in the paranormal.
Back then, my mother would simultaneously encourage and discourage my belief. “Those things are taboo… People will look at you strangely if you tell them you’ve seen ghosts.” (Paraphrased since I can no longer remember the exact words.) Of course that implies the supernatural is real, and that supernatural explanations can be found for life’s mysteries. Such beliefs encourage you to look for supernatural signs, and if you do, you will find them…
Oddly, my brother, who is still a devout Roman Catholic unlike me the unbeliever, still believes in those things. (Ok, not oddly. Predictably. And I don’t mean this in any way negative to him or anyone else who believes. I love my brother but I am interested in the way belief works. Using him as an example works for me, since he had an identical upbringing to me and is probably around the same IQ.) Last year he challenged me by asking how I can doubt all these things when I saw them with my own eyes.
But I didn’t. I didn’t see ghosts. I saw ambiguous things and imposed ghostly significance on them, which is what always happens. Ghosts aren’t real. It’s not like I walked around a corner and almost bumped into a spook who introduced himself with, “Hello, I am Bobo the ghostly clown. Because of my life choices I am cursed to forever walk these streets, in this apparel that automatically updates to whatever ghostly appearance is trendy in modern times. Oh, and also Boo!”
Nope. It doesn’t work like that. It’s more like… You see a blurred shape in your peripheral vision where your eyes can’t focus, while walking past a room, and it freaks you out. The shape can be retrofitted to the shape of a human being later, especially when you recall it and tell someone, introducing false memory and filling in that shape. Each time you tell the story, your recollection becomes sharper and the ghost becomes a clear image in your memory… memory that was introduced later and was not something you actually saw. False memory is a fascinating subject and involves more than just ghosts, but that’s way outside of the scope of both my knowledge and today’s post. (Good reading though.)
And if you think about it, why would ghosts wear clothes? It’s a rhetorical question; they would not. No evidence exists for any kind of spirit or soul, and so even if you then think you can stump me with your dubious claim that souls are invisible and undetectable, firstly then… How do you know they exist? And secondly, ghosts would then be invisible and undetectable… the ghosts themselves, never mind their clothes which just so happen to follow whatever trends are popular at the time. A related rhetorical question is, of course, why aren’t there ghost dinosaurs?