What if ghosts were real?

Your normal traditional ghost - when somebody dies they stay around as a disembodied intangible spirit. No supernatural powers. No bodily needs. They know all the things they knew in their lifetime, they have their normal senses, they can move around, and they can talk to people. But they can’t interact with the physical world.

How would this affect human society and the history of the world? My initial thoughts:

No mystery about the afterlife - it’s right there for everyone to see. No Heaven or Hell, you just stay here on Earth. Which means no fear of eternal punishment or promise of eternal reward to motivate the living.

Everybody that ever lived is still around - Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, Shakespeare, Mohammed, Einstein, Hitler, Elvis - they’re all still here. Would society be literally ultra-conservative?

Ghosts outnumber people - would they demand equal rights? Or would it be the living asking for equal rights? Would there be two parallel governments?

Inheritance - Would the dead automatically lose their property by dying? Could dead people buy property after their death? Would Lincoln or JFK still be President after they were assassinated? Who’d be the King of England?

Crime and punishment - What would the law be like when all victims could testify? Would execution still be a viable punishment? Would there be any secrets when ghosts can go anywhere and see anything?

Economics - I’d guess there would be entire professions of living people providing services to ghosts based on their differing abilities and vice versa.

Obviously, these are only a handful off the top of my head of all the differences such a major change would make. I’d like to see what ideas other people think of along these lines.

Hey dude don’t bogart that joint.

[puff, puff, holds smoke…phooooooo]

Ahem, I’m not too sure. Do these ghosts you speak of need substinance? If not I can’t imagine why we would need to give these ghost any rights at all.
One thing that I can think would be a problem would be over population. So we might need to enact some kind of law that states after about a hundred years or so, we have Bill murry and his team of ghost busters zap them with their nuclear jet packs and lock them away in a box somewhere.

So we wouldn’t be able to see or hear them.

Either they can interact with the physical world or they can’t. If they can’t, they don’t exist because there is no way to detect their existence. I’m going to assume they can for the rest of this post.

(Yes, there are more dead people than there are living people. The thread has plenty of cites.)

For one thing, there would be a sure test to determine if something is alive. For another, we would not care about life and death nearly as much. People would act, to our way of thinking, very cavalier about the possibility of death because they would know that having a body is not essential. Medicine would not progress nearly as far or as fast as it has in our world, and whole fields would never develop at all because it would be more humane to destroy the body.

The dead would only work to prevent boredom. They would be the perfect scientists, because they could devote the rest of their existence to pondering problems and working out experiments without regard for any of their other needs. This could also cause the dead to become criminals, as they would fear very few of the punishments we could inflict. Even an extremely modest degree of incurable criminality would require the construction of huge prisons to warehouse the recidivist dead unless some better method was invented.

Language would be extremely conservative, since we would still want to talk to all of the dead ancestors. There would be little need to create large-scale permanent archives of information; historical research could be accomplished by asking around. It would be more difficult to lie about history. I think writing would still have value in this scenario, just not large-scale historical archives.

Economics would still be needed to allocate resources for the living. The dead couldn’t be forced to help by the threat of starvation, but I think more than a few would anyway simply to make things easier for the living. The huge pool of labor would tend to retard technology in some fields, specifically the ones where large numbers of dead chose to help out.

It would be difficult to get dynastic lines to progress beyond the first ruler. Democracies would be slanted in favor of the majority of dead unless dead were explicitly constrained from voting. Dead might enslave the living, simply based on sheer numbers.

I disagree, since that would mean we go into an afterlife where we’ll be outnumbered by barbarians. To use one example, what do you think would happen to a modern woman, at the mercy of the men of the past ? She wouldn’t be dead thirty seconds before the waiting ghosts dragged her off for rape and torture, forever. There probably wouldn’t be modern, independent women, for just that reason. Basically, your scenario boils down to “We all go to Hell” IMHO.

As soon as medical/biological technology advanced far enough, I’d expect a massive effort to achieve immortality. I’d also expect an attempt to discover methods of destroying souls/ghosts; either to kill the legions of savage ghosts, or to annihilate ourselves at death if that’s impossible.

Did you guys catch the part about “disembodied” and “intangible”? Think of ghosts as a mind seperated from a body. Can’t touch people, can’t touch things, can’t touch other ghosts. No rape, no torture, no need for food or water, and most forms of work aren’t going to be feasible either. I realize a strict interpretation of this rule would prohibit speech and such but let that one slide.

So being dead would have some big advantages; freedom from any form of harm and a lot of free time. But only living people can eat, drink, have sex, have children, use tools, turn the pages in a book, pet the cat, go bowling, etc. so there’s advantages there as well.

There would be something over 60 billion ghosts hanging around; and not an insubstantial amount of them cavemen.

I’m guessing, what with chaos theory, that if this had been going on since the early days of humanity, there’s pretty much no chance that society, today, would be anything close to something we’d recognize.

Other thoughts…

Would the ghosts be naked? (I mean, think about it…wouldn’t their clothing have to be “dead,” too?)

Could the ghosts go insane, to any degree? I mean, being eternally seperated from the rest of reality, being able to see and hear it but not otherwise interact, possibly not knowing sleep, much less the sweet release of oblivion…that’d drive me batty after awhile.

Can the ghosts touch other ghosts, even if it’s only when it’s consensual by both parties? I mean, the above paragraph’s scenario is bad enough, but add to that, say, meeting up with the ghost of the love of your life, and never being able to so much as hold their hand again…Or, y’know, being drug off by barbaric wraiths of the shadow-world as Der Trihs mentions. That’d be pretty dang bad. (Well, “infuckinghumanly hideous,” really.)

And…is this only a world with human ghosts (I mean, no dogs or cats and whatnot would be bad, but so would living under oceans of ghost-bacteria or storms of ghost-flies)? If so, where’s the cutoff point in the human family tree? Is there actually a first ghost out there, somewhere? Wouldn’t he or she be almost deified, by now?

For that matter, what about very young ghosts? Would dead infants spend eternity as unaging, barely cognicent creatures? Are there ghost fetuses? And, if so, when do they become “human enough” to become a ghost?

What about people with brain abnormalities—if someone’s born with severe brain damage, is their ghost mentally impaired, too? Or do they “get better” once they “die”? What about someone with a brain abnormality that actually gives them more mental prowess—do they lose their “gifts” upon becoming a ghost?

In any case, it looks like one hell of a world, there. Slightly similar to the “Riverworld” stories, albeit more existentially tormenting.

What about mental torture? Ghosts could certainly harass the living if they could make their presence known through speech or just an floating spectral form. Imagine if the ghost of a person who never liked you decided to screech “boo!” while you were trying to sleep or fuck.

What if the ghost chased your dog or cat around? (Supposedly, they’re more aware of spectral presences than we humans and would henceforth be more troubled by them.)

Sounds like Hell to me; sign me up for any soul-destruction experiments. They’d probably harass the living out of sheer jealousy and boredom.

Well, if you can see them, they can blind you just by sticking an intangible hand in or around your eyes. I wouldn’t advise trying to drive anywhere.

The lack of privacy would be a big thing - what do you do if someone who is alive manages to persuade someone who is dead to help them spy on people? Or if the ghost is just an asshole? PIN numbers wouldn’t be an option anymore, you’d have to use other security systems.

One thing which would be interesting is the idea of products designed for the deceased - like a computer which uses optical or voice-control. I’m sure there would be ghosts who would still enjoy things like reading or art, even after they died.

I guess nudity would be unavoidable. So among other social changes would be an absense of a nudity taboo - how could there be one with sixty billion naked people hovering around?

An interesting point I hadn’t considered.

Twenty billion ghost infants crying for all eternity - in ghostworld, dead babies are no joke.

The value of voice-activated technology was another issue I hadn’t considered.

I’m trying to imagine what the overall relationship would be between the living and the dead. Would the dead use their superiority in numbers and experience to rule the world with the living being a slave caste? Or would the living run things with the dead basically reducing to begging for favors (“could you please turn the TV on when you leave for work today?”). Or would some sort of mutual exchange of services evolve?

B O O ! ! ! :smiley:

I’m not really up on this ghost/paranormal stuff, 'cause it’s not really my bag. In ANY case, aren’t ghosts really angels with different publicity? That’s how I always saw this. Anyone with me for writing the book on this? We could be rich…RICH I tells ya!


Oh…by the way…I’m at my (nonexistant) pottery wheel now, just making me a little pottery…if any hot female ghosts wanna slide up behind me while I oh-so-convienently have “Unchained Melody” playing, you know…feel free…to…um…hop in…
I figure it’s worth a try. They might have internet access in the afterlife.

They might!

What? Stop looking at me like that.