The Straight Dope On Ghosts.

I already suspect this might be put in GD. But note well, I put it here in General Questions, because I am asking for the “straight dope”. Get it?

So what is the straight dope on so-called ghost phenomenon? Sure some could be hallucinations. Some could be waking dreams. Some could just be illusions.

But some of the stories are rather striking, I think, and don’t fall into any of the above categories.

Has anyone ever tried to study the subject scientifically? Or to put it another way, as I just said, What is the straight dope on ghosts?


The laws of physics say there is no ghost. Dont know which law but isnt that the usual catch hall.

In spite of numerous attempts, no one has ever been able to prove conclusively that there are ghosts. I remember one attempt at a proper study in Edinburgh, where there is a well-known ghost tour on which many people have reported seeing ghostly images. What they did was to take the tourists to a different place where no ghosts had previously been reported - some of them still saw apparitions.

The conclusion was that it is all pretty much confirmation bias - If you believe in them, and expect to see one, there is a good chance you will. It is well known that our brains play tricks on us all the time. Optical illusions for example and an uncanny ability to fill in the blanks based on expectation or prior experience.

I think that people are maybe a little too quick to call “they’re real” and “they’re hallucinations” mutually exclusive. When a person has a hallucination, they really are having an experience of something. The thing itself might not exist, but the hallucination of it does. And even if a ghost is all in someone’s head, well, what’s in people’s heads is a very worthwhile and interesting field of study.

You make wish to check out the Skeptoid podcast. Host Brian Dunning takes a good look at ghostly phenomena, as well as many other types of experiences, from a skeptical, scientific perspective. The shows “Ghost photography”, “Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”, “The Scole Experiments” and “Shadow People” may be of special interest to you.

Ghosts are the result of an overactive imagination and wishful thinking.

CSI (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) has. Used to read their journal many decades ago, back in the day it was called CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal). Wasn’t expecting there was going to be anything to it, but still found some of the characters interesting that they were featuring.

A wiki concerning the organization. Many should recognize quite a few of the names past and present associated with it.

Spirits of the departed? No.
Psychic echoes or residue? No
Hallucinations and confirmation bias? Yes.

Have we established that “striking” is synonymous with “truthful?” Somehow I doubt it. Given that people want money and attention, and can achieve both of these things by telling the most sensational story, I’d say there are strong incentives to be less than truthful.

Many, many people have tried, with varying degrees of scientific rigor. So far, their success rate stands at 0%.

Lots of people have claimed to record ghostly voices and apparitions, but the phenomena is never reproducible and alternative explanations are rarely considered. Most ghost hunters you see on TV use terrible methodology and have a vested financial interest in claiming to have discovered ghosts.

The ‘Straight Dope’ is that ghosts are the same as every other piece of magic: People want (a) to explain things they don’t understand, (b) a feeling of control in a disordered world, © to feel special, and (d) to acquire money and attention.

The Skeptical Inquirer still publishes articles on supernatural “phenomena” (among many subjects). Reports of ghosts and other supernatural entities are analyzed and explained/debunked. Prospective controlled studies on such things are rather difficult (if not impossible) to set up.

Remember the much-ballyhooed AWARE study announced around 2010, in which investigators were going to determine whether out-of-body experiences reported by patients near death (but successfully resuscitated) actually occurred? The researchers placed objects on high shelves which purportedly only people’s spirits floating high above the operating table would be able to see, in the hope that once they were again conscious they’d remember what they saw. The results were not exactly impressive.*

Supposedly a continuation of the study was due to be concluded in 2018 and the principal investigator (Sam Parnia) reported “interesting” results (not yet announced/published to my knowledge), but no word on proof that Mrs. Pumplesnatz while floating near the OR ceiling saw a teddy bear and a package of condoms on a high shelf.

*with predictable reactions from the skeptical (enlightened snickering) and credulous (“they probably did it wrong”).

The horribly misapplied aphorism is “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. In truth, of course, this only applies if we have no means to investigate a phenomenon. But if the hypothesis predicts that we should expect to see evidence, and in fact we see none, that is indeed evidence that the hypothesis is wrong.

People! What an uncurious answer to an interesting question!

There are many explanations for ghosts, and all of them are interesting and show us how the world is really interpreted by our senses and expectation-patters, rather then found for what it is.

Just three explanations here - the list could be much longer:

  1. Bonnet Syndrome.

  2. Infrasound.

  3. Dealing with grief:

Enjoy reading !

Well, of course; the patients just weren’t motivated enough. There should been a piece of paper with, “Mention this paper and receive a $10,000 reward.”

There are some phenomena that give rise to reports of ghosts.

Vic Tandy and his infrasound investigation is quite intriguing. Being spooked by a 17Hz standing wave sounds like a scary experience.

There is also known that some kinds of mushroom contain hallucinogens. Disturbing some old place and breathing in the spores.

Maybe ghostly experiences when exploring that old mill down by the river in the middle of the night were the result of these natural hallucinogens?

These natural phenomena sound much more worthy of investigation than the silly ghost stories that go with it that are more the product of human psychology and popular culture.

How is a “psychic echo or residue” any different from a “memory”?

In this context, a psychic echo or residue would be considered something separate from the beholder…an objective phenomenon rather than a subjective thing that’s only happening in the beholder’s mind. That’s an interpretation of ghost sightings that I’ve seen made before…that they’re some kind of psychic imprint on the fabric of reality. Agreed that in a larger context, outside of discussion of “ghosts”, a psychic echo or residue could be a memory in the beholder’s mind.

Those who believe in ghosts believe that there is, somehow, some sort of remnant of that departed person’s energy / spirit / soul / whatever that lingers in places, and on items, that were important to the deceased, and / or were related to that person’s demise. “Reality” TV shows on the topic, like “Ghost Hunters,” go on at length about using electronic equipment in an effort to pick up traces of those echoes.

That’s what makes the concept different from a memory (which only “lingers” in the minds of the people who knew the deceased).

You can’t prove or disprove a negative. When scientific methods don’t support the existence of ghosts, the believers say it’s beyond science. Same arguments around and around for centuries.

My daughter has been going through this since her brother’s death. She is convinced that he is somehow there and gives her messages of some sort. I don’t disabuse her of this, as she is still grieving and needs something to hang onto. But it does make me sad.

It is simply that self-deception seems to actually seem to be a human trait.

Note how believers in ghosts are more likely to attribute events to ghosts, and people who believe in ghosts who tend to be trusted figures can pass these beliefs onto others.

As there is zero empirical evidence evidence of even the super natural, if you were to follow the scientific method, you wouldn’t believe in ghosts.

S. James Gates a theoretical physicist who works on superstring theory, and thinks that it is “correct” will show how one can use the scientific method to avoid this trap.

As string theory as so far failed to provide a testable predictions, yet it it is a theory that he thinks is true, he still intentionally doesn’t “believe it” yet.

As the scientific method attempts to minimize the influence of bias or prejudice, and there is zero evidence to support the existence of ghosts, the research that will be easier to find are related to the subject of human self deception and perception.

We are in exciting times in the cognitive sciences, but mostly due to the fact that they are trying to move to the “harder” side of science. Reproducibility of research in the Psychological and Cognitive Sciences has been a bit of a problem in the past and they are working on this but unfortunately this will take time.

Unfortunately these new efforts are probably going to be fairly unkind to those who want to claim that “ghosts” are a real item. These changes will most likely make it easier to find the existing, reproducible studies that tend to indicate that these paranormal beliefs are an artifact of self deception.

If you look at any of the studies that have made any claim to measure these paranormal events, and which have suggested they are real. You will find that they were published merely due to a system that prized novelty and that they will rarely mention preexisting beliefs or try to make a measure on a scale like the “Revised Paranormal Belief Scale” which allows for improved cross group assumptions. We really don’t know, but a complete failure to even prove that “paranormal” is even something that can be objectively observed doesn’t bode well for the ideas future.

TLDR: Right now most of the reliable data seems to point to us humans often resorting to self-deception and that our pattern matching errors on the side of dangerous and/or scary.