Can the existence of ghosts every really be proved?

At first, I debated (with myself, obviously) whether to put this in GQ or IMHO, but after further thoughts regarding the subject, I figured this, actually, would be the best place for it. But, by all means, if it is better suited for another forum, feel free to move it.
Okay, I was reading this topic the other day.

I found the discussion to be interesting, but it really raised some important questions of my own. Namely, Can the existance of ghost really BE proved globally or scientifically or logically?

From reading, it seems that, just by the topics I’ve read including the one above, that most people on here do not believe in any form of ghosts. “The burden of proof lies on the person making the claim” the old addage goes. I agree with this, yes, but what would constitute as proof when it comes to ghosts?
Certainly many people have come forth with tales of their own and things caught on video, recorders, film… Of course, they COULD be doctored up or faked, sure, but all that aside for a moment. Let’s say that we’re dealing with someone who actually believes they are looking or have caught the real deal. So they are asked for the “proof”…ah, but therein lies my question. Is there really any proof that could not be rebuked as “just a display of the shadows” or “a malfuntion of the camera” or “a reflection”? Seems to me there’s not.

No, what it seems to me is that the only people who believe in such things are people who’ve actually gone through events themselves and had first hand experience. So really, with this being the case, how is “Until I’ve seen evidence of ghosts existing, I will believe they don’t” or “the burden of proof lies on the person making the claim” logical statements when talking about the existance of spectors? Because, really, it seems IMPOSSIBLE to be able to really prove it. ‘Proof? Sure I can show you proof. Here’s A, B, C, D and E.’ Oh, but what’s this? A is “just a trick of the light”. B is most certainly a “hoax”. C is the “reflection of someone in a mirror off the the side”. D can be explained by the photo having “too much redeye and sunspots” and E…Well, I won’t even waste my time with E.

See what I mean? What would stand as proof that ghosts exist? And even if there ever IS a photo that shows to most, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they exist, there will always be people who will keep insisting that the whole thing is just a sham. To me it seems that there can therefore never be concrete proof that ghosts exist…so even if they really did, how is one supposed to prove it?
I think the only way is to have each person have thier own encounter with what would be known as a ghost experience.

For the record, I wouldn’t say I believed in ghosts…but I wouldn’t say I didn’t believe either. Let’s just say I try to keep an open mind.
So I guess the main point and question I’d ask is, can the existence of ghosts and all the things regarding it, such as paranormal activity, poltergeists, etc…ever really be proven? I’d say no.

Yes, “ghosts” can theoretically be proven to exist, but you would first have to come up with a falsifiable definition of what a ghost is.

If you can specifically define the properties and parameters of what constitutes a “ghost,” and then demonstrate some phenomenon which fits those criteria, you will haven proven the existence of “ghosts.”

The devil is in the definition, though.

I think the semantic difficulties involved in scientificially demonstrating the existence of ghosts are overstated. All you would have to do is to demonstrate scientifically, under conditions which exclude trickery, that something only known or knowable to a dead person and no other sources can be known to living persons. Oh, you might want to add that this information had to be transmitted by means of a dead person’s interaction with the living world, but to me that’s not so important.

Like the attempts made and failed with Houdini, all you’d have to do was find a dead relative or friend of Randi’s (say), and deliver a code word that only Randi and that dead relative knew.

Another approach would be to provide a secure, hidden piece of information that was only known to one, single living person, also under conditions which exclude trickery (similar in kind to the 100% failed tests of remote viewing).

If you won the JREF prize with a demonstration of a ghost or ghostly powers, I’d say you’ve proven the existence of ghosts. It’s really not that hard (although you’ll be hampered by the fact that ghosts almost certainly don’t exist, of course).

The other thing is that I would assume that even if something like ghosts exist, they would follow some rules, the same way the rest of the universe does, just different ones. This means that when you’ve found some ghosts you can predict where to find some more, etc, even come up with some theories about them. Some people believe ghosts exist but can or do only manifest in ways that only one person can perceive, who will not be able to persuade anyone else, which seems to me implausible, but is just POSSIBLE – and if true, then maybe they COULDN’T be proved.

For a comparison, think of someone showing neutrons or something exist. Someone came up with the idea, everyone went “Yeah, right” – and then they found convincing evidence later.

Move your question back to 12th century North America, and ask a bunch of Native Americans the same question, only exchange all instances of “ghost” with “giraffe.”

Sure, it’s possible to prove that they exist. Find one and document its existence. Once it has been proven, whether or not the common public believes you does not invalidate the proof. From there on it’s all public relations.

How is anything ever ‘proved’?

Firstly, one cannot appeal solely to that which can easily be attributable to hoaxes, dreams or misremembered events. One does not convict a suspected murderer to gain a Nobel prize in physics by dressing up in period costume or waking up feeling a bit funny. There must be a repeatable physical phenomena to investigate.

If ghosts exist, their existence could only be ‘proven’ in themanner alluded to in the OP if they were physically detectable in some way (indeed, if they only appeared in people’s minds, is this not the very definition of the word “hallucination”?) And if they are physically detectable, just how come they only appear in unverifiable conditions?

So, if we somehow did ever find a repeatable physical phenomena worth investigating, we would simply have to rule out any other natural explanation and we would have our candidate for “proven ghost” which could undergo all kinds of further investiagtion, netting the original discoverer at least $1M and a Nobel prize.

Any offers?

It seems that the OP is asking whether ghosts could be proved with only crappy evidence like we have now. That answer is “never.” But if they really existed, and had observable effects on our material world, it would be easy to get good evidence.

If sufficient, good evidence could ever be found, ghosts could be proved to exist.

But no matter how much negative evidence is produced, ghosts can never be proved to NOT exist. There’s always the possibility that one ghost was overlooked, lurking in old man Sedgwick’s outhouse.

Consider this analogy: a farmer plants 1000 corn seeds, and each one either sprouts a corn plant or nothing at all. Does this prove that corn seeds can never become bean plants? How about a million seeds? A billion? No, it cannot, with any number short of infinity.

But a single, good example of a bean plant sprouting from a corn seed would suffice to demolish the premise.

That’s the syllogistic answer. But in a practical sense, can’t we say that “corn seeds don’t sprout bean plants” with enough certainty that corn farmers don’t have to invest in bean pluckers? Of course.

Back to ghosts. The more evidence that accumulates of a hoaxical, farcical, nonsensical, or just plain ridiculousical nature, the slimmer chance there is that ghosts actually exist.

Of course, that might depend on your definition of ghosts. I’m talking about the bedsheet-wearing, overnight-guest-scaring, Hollywood-booing type. Change this def and you may have to change the premise and conclusion as well.

First, define what you mean by “ghost”. You have to do that before we can even begin to decide whether an entity that matches that defintion actually exists.

But yes, IF ghosts existed, and IF they interacted in some way with the physical world, then of course they could be proven to exist. I am perfectly happy to accept the existance of entities that are very slippery indeed. I believe electrons, archeopteryxes, and black holes exist, for varying definintions of “exist”. So, if ghosts exist, why couldn’t we demonstrate they exist?

And if it is logically impossible to demonstrate that ghosts exist, to me that is a fancy way of saying they don’t exist. If ghosts are so elusive that they do not interact in any measurable way with the physical world, how is that different than saying they don’t exist?

Diogenes the Cynic, Lemur866 respectively…

Wouldn’t that mean that everyone would have to then agree on one set definition of the word ghost? After all, people’s definitions and points of view are always differing. A definition I could or would come up with may differ from someone else’s defintion of what they’ve always consider the word ghost to mean so thus if I’m only showing proof of my definition, what good would it be to them?

So I suppose I’d just go with’s first definition.


ambushed- I like your examples of tests that would prove the existence of such spirits. Your latter one I would agree might work, but with your example of:

Again, it goes back to the fact that it could be not believed if one didn’t want to believe. Suppose one were to communicate with Randi and her dead relative (in the company of many witnesses) and the said code word was then announced. Now, this may really be real and happen, but it could be easily pointed out that Randi and the person could have set the whole thing up beforehand and be disregarded as proof, couldn’t it? Again, it’s like the person saying “Show me proof” and then rebuking any proof offered with explainations.

This is what I’m talking about. Sure, I’ll find one and document it’s existence. Now, how to prove it? What would constitute as proof? A photo? Okay, so I found a ghost and got a photo of it. I show it around. I show it to various high ups and cops and neighboors and people in public relations… What’s to stop it from being easily explained by the camera messing up? Or a shadow? Or a sunspot? People just have different settings for the word proof. What may be proof to someone else, wouldn’t be proof to you. Which leads me to assuming that it’s impossible to ever prove the existence of ghosts beyond the shadow of a doubt.

CurtC- Actually, It’s more what SentientMeat said. He understood, for the most part, the point I was trying to make. You say:

But see, some people are convinced that ghosts exist. Either by experiences they’ve had or things they’ve witnessed for themselves, it doesn’t matter. They, at least in their own minds, KNOW that ghosts exist. They’ve seen “good evidence”. So let me ask you, what would good evidence be to you?


I’m recognizing a pattern here. Along with CurtC’s post and hints at what Ethilrist’s post says, it would be easy to prove it with good evidence…my question remains though, just what would constitue as good evidence? Going back to my OP and what SM said, I think it may only be what one has to witness for themselves.

“It’s impossible to prove they exist” doesn’t necessarily equal “they don’t exist”. Like I said above, there are many in this world who feel that ghosts have interacted with them. But how to prove it also rests on them. I don’t really see of a way they could if they wanted to. Sure, maybe to close friends who know they aren’t usual liars or given to hallucinations, but to prove overall the existence of them? Never.

Good evidence:[ul][li]Sharp, clear photographs, and[]many observations by those who are skilled in how humans can be fooled (magicians), and[]tangible substances that can be tested in a lab (bones would be good, if ghosts have bones), and[]a ghost that comes when called (repeatable experiences), and[]a ghost guest on David Letterman[/ul]…just for starters.[/li]
Bad evidence:[ul][]Blurry photographs that could be film defects or double exposures, or[]I saw something!, or[]There’s a cold draft in the corner – must be a ghost, or[]My aunt saw one at the foot of her bed! Really!, or[]Scientists are baffled by the noises coming from the attic!, or[]What else could it be?, or[]Someone died in this house and I can feel the spirit!, or[]A guest ghost host on Jay Leno.[/ul]

I appreciate the examples. Most are good, but even with them, I still remain skeptical and hold out on my belief that it can never be proven for certain or for sure that ghosts exist. Some of your examples seems that, again, people could easily say that the things were set up or fakedm one being:

But what would they be making their observations on? Photos? Going to places where paranormal activity was known to occur?

This would be good actually, but I don’t think ghosts have ever left anything materialistic around or behind. Or did I misunderstand this example? I wouldn’t put it past me. :smack: :wink:

And the last two I don’t see how they’d be counted for examples.

You could answer the question “Can ghosts be proven to exist” by yes easily if you said:

“A ghost up and appears in front of a 1,000 witnesses, makes a car float, does various other trickery such as passing through walls, making themselves invisible, etc, AND it all gets caught on live TV”

No doubt that would be concrete proof that they exist. That’s not my question, though, as that would more or less be a ghost proving itself and possibly other ghosts existed, for certain, in a straightforward manner. To this date, I’m fairly sure that’s never happened.


seems to be to be ghosts who do this in a similar fashion.

What I’m asking is can people themselves really ever prove that ghosts exist, operating under the basis of what we’ve heard of and seen so far.

You are right, they never can. Neither can gravity, or evolution. But how much evidence one way or the other do you need before it becomes perverse to believe otherwise? Or, conversely, the lack of it, over hundreds of years and millions of advocates who tried?

You may have missed the smallest, yet most important words in my previous post. Did you you notice the “AND’s” in my “good evidence” and the “OR’s” in the bad ones? Taken individually, any one of the good evidence examples is not sufficient. A sharp, clear photo can be faked; an observation can be faulty. But if we are discovering a new force in the universe, it needs to be consistent with all known laws to be accepted. X has to be good AND so does Y.

Likewise, none of the bad examples is sufficient by itself to prove anything.

What happens if one really good ghost evidence conflicts with Boyle’s Law, Ohm’s Law, and, heaven forbid, Gaudere’s Law? Then its veracity must be examined even more carefully. The chances of the evidence being valid and 63 universal truths that have withstood the test of a few hundred years of science being wrong is not good, don’t you think?

Actually, similar events staged by magicians, like making Diamond Head or the Statue of Liberty disappear, have been done. Do you really think this proves they did? Don’t you think that other magicians, if called upon to explain how this is a trick, could do so (and they have)? So trickery needs to be accounted for.

To wrapup, is it likely that ghosts exist (based on my previous definition)? No. Can we be pretty darn sure they don’t exist? Yes. Can we ever absolutely prove that? No. Would it be perverse to believe that Granny actually saw one in the attic? Yes.

Here’s another recent thread on the same topic.