“If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!” And with that, let us begin our discussion on ghosts. It doesn’t take an acute observer to realize there is a fascination with all things paranormal in the United States. The proliferation of ghost stories and hauntings, including shows like the previously mentioned Ghostbusters (a fairly badass movie) are all examples of how we marvel at the mysterious. But the question is: are ghosts part of our culture because they’re a reality or do people see ghosts because they’re a part of our culture? Rather than focus on the traditional pieces of evidence for the existence of ghosts like photos, low temperature, orbs, and voices, I will instead exercise critical thinking.
Proponents of ghosts often describe what appears to be the moans and cries of pain emanating within a supposedly haunted house. Believers in ghosts give this idea credence because, as theory goes, if a murder or some catastrophic death occurred at a place of residence then the victim’s spirit haunts said residence for years afterwards, supposedly searching for closure. Very well, if we grant them this explanation then what are to make of someone who lives a long fulfilled life, has a loving wife, children, and dies of natural causes? First off, it’s improbable that a ghost hunter would visit a house with a mundane history. There is no excitement, no intrigue, no closure for the dead to pursue, so very few if any of these ghost stories even exist. And even if they did, could you imagine a televised program in which ghost hunters search the dark, damp halls of the former residence of “the old lady who died happily?”
Instead, ghost hunters follow the traditional sensationalist format of the media by only searching homes or buildings with interesting back stories. Searching for spirits in prisons, hospitals, battlefields, or the homes of serial killers all make good stories and better television. This is likely unintentional, but shows that homosapiens are suckers for a good story, even in the afterlife.
And even the mysterious, fatal stories of the past may prove more mundane than ghost hunters generally let on. To illustrate this point, we’ll use an extremely tragic event: (to quote George Carlin) For the sake of argument, let’s just say there’s an explosion at Thanksgiving dinner. In my example we’ll say that little Susie and little Henry got into a little argument over biscuits and gravy before being blown to bits. After the moment of their destruction would their souls still be preoccupied over the biscuits and gravy? Or would their souls wonder why there was an explosion in the first place? Since the explosion would be instantaneous, I’m inclined to think the kids would continue arguing over who gets the biscuits and gravy in the hereafter, but I may just be too reasonable.
The point of all these musings is show just how meaningless it all is. But, given the claims of paranormal believers, these are reasonable questions. These questions must be addressed and proven for them to gain more credence and respect. Ironically enough however, these questions vanish as quickly as their ghosts when we assume that ghosts do not exist. Occam’s razor wins again; the best and simplest explanation is often the best because it eliminates the need for excess questions. Moans and loud cries are probably nothing more than “house sounds” – creaks of wood and wind slipping through cracks in the house. Humans are very imaginative and prone to seeing or hearing what they already believe, and ghosts are the product of over-active imaginations and our unwillingness to admit we are wrong.
Speaking of errors, the ghost theory has one fatal flaw: ghosts only haunt at night. So the question remains, why are ghosts dependent on time? Is it just a coincidence that the majority of hauntings take place at night or is something else going on here? Most people have likely noticed that anything which goes bump in the night is exponentially more frightening than anything that goes bump in daytime. The reason humans panic in the dark more easily is because humans are heavily dependent upon eyesight for survival. Noises, images, and movement of any kind are much more frightening and mysterious at night. With the loss of our greatest sense, comes the gain of our greatest survival instinct, fear.
Of course I could be wrong and maybe ghosts prefer to haunt exclusively at night. Perhaps ghosts share a weakness to sunlight just like vampires, but until somebody proves it, I doubt it.
An interesting point to make here is this-those who sense fear tend to survive because upon being frightened, people will flee from any possible danger. People who get scared of ghosts are exercising their flight instincts. If malevolent ghosts exist, then people who flee at the slightest paranormal incident save themselves from harm. If benevolent or malevolent ghosts don’t exist, those who flee from the slightest hint of danger will not be putting themselves in any more danger by fleeing. Therefore, running from any possible danger is beneficial to an organism, in this specific case, humans.
The alternative acts as a detriment to survival; if malevolent ghosts exist, then someone who doesn’t believe in them is risking their life by not fleeing. If benevolent or malevolent ghosts don’t exist, then someone who doesn’t believe in them doesn’t risk any danger.
To sum up, the person who exercises fear to make a decision stands a 100% chance of survival, while a more reasonable person stands a 50% chance of survival. This also explains why more reasonable people are usually less assertive because they know that if they are wrong, there is potential to stare death in the face. This also explains why many people continue to believe in ghosts despite the concept being unreasonable. It is more beneficial to one’s survival to be fearful than to be reasonable. However, these same people who prefer fear to logic when it comes to ghosts, will attempt to use reason to explain their belief. Yet, because their belief is emotionally driven by fear, they cannot make any reasonable argument. Thus despite all reason and logic, many people unknowingly cling to the belief in the supernatural because when it comes to survival fear takes precedence to thinking.
Another fatal flaw in human reasoning is our tendency to attribute inexplicable phenomena to causal agents. Those are big words so I’ll repeat them: Humans have a tendency to attribute inexplicable phenomena to causal agents. Or as the philosopher Daniel Dennet has called, “the intentional stance.” We are notorious for giving events or random occurrences meaning where none exist.
For example, I remember when I was a kid the TV in my family room turned on all by itself. I’m fairly certain this happened (though I could be wrong since I’m just an eye-witness and partial to mistakes like anyone else) and even though it is inexplicable to me, it does not mean a ghost materialized from the spirit world to watch Oprah. Dare I say, this is very unlikely. Of all the possibilities a soul could embark on, turning on my television is likely very low on its priority list. If its goal was to scare me, then why didn’t it just…appear! That would certainly scare me a million times more than simply forcing me to watch some large black woman on my television. But no, ghosts don’t appear, and this is telling indeed. For if the theory hypothesizes that ghosts intend to instill fear on people, then they are not acting like it. And so, for the time being it is much more reasonable to assume that my television simply turned on by itself for no real reason.
The most reasonable explanation then is that people are seeing ghosts because we hear about ghosts everyday. Our culture is inundated with scary stories of hauntings and ghouls lurking about in the shadows. And of course, we desperately want an afterlife, so no matter how unreasonable the theory is, people will likely continue to believe in ghosts because it comforts them to know life does not end at death. What they fail to realize is if ghosts are real, the evidence would have surfaced by now. So, continue to live your life comforted in the fact that there is no need to call the ghostbusters.