Why do so many people believe ghosts to be real?

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Discussion by: Matthew Curtis

Why are people so easily fooled by the pseudoscience regarding ghost hutning and the paranormal? It just baffles me to no end.

I recently watched a film about the paranormal called, the Conjuring. It was a good film, quite a few scares, but some parts rubbed me the wrong way. It made it clear that they wanted to impress upon those who watch it that it's a fact that ghosts are real. Sadly, I think many people fall for this too easily. Especially with all of the ghost hunting reality TV nonsense out there. On th imdb message board for this film, I expressed my concern, which of course led to many replies of anger and attempts to show that ghosts were real. I'm not a scientist or a writer or anything, but I refuted the arguments to the best of my ability.

Here is a link to the messageboard: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1457767/board/thread/221253267?d=221294557#221294557

Does anyone have a link they could share showing strong evidence that the equipment used by paranormal investigators(pseudoscience peddlers), showing that it is unscientific. Anything that anyone can find debunking this whole ghost hunting thing would be helpful.

Normally as a policy I don't engage in this whole forum war thing, but I wanted to see if I could successfully raise the awareness of people who believe in ghosts.

37 COMMENTS

  1. Does anyone have a link they could share showing strong evidence that the equipment used by paranormal investigators(pseudoscience peddlers), showing that it is unscientific.

    I don’t think you need any evidence to show it’s unscientific. the burden of proof is on these charlatans to explain exactly how their equipment works and how this equipment can be evidence of ghosts.

    Now in Ghostbusters they refer to “psychic activity” on their machines, this is as meaningful as “godly miraclism” so if their equipment claims such a thing, ask what the hell they’re actually talking about.

    I avoid these TV shows as the house apes don’t like the bite marks I leave in the TV remote but I expect they probably try to confound with things like temperature changes for example. Ghost hunters like to comment on how there’s a “chill” made by ghosts. if this is the case their equiment provides evidence of temprature change, not evidence for a specific cause of temperature change.

    If they have equipment that measures some sort of background radiation, again this is evidence for said radiation, not a specific cause

    apply this argument to anything their equipment claims to measure. As for the rest, good old parlor tricks. none of them as good as the least of Derren Brown’s stunts

    for any equipment to give evidence of an actual ghost, it needs to be calibrated. so when a claim is made that a ghost has been detected, find out which ghost or ghosts had been used to calibrate the equipment and how interested consumers might obtain information on the calibration methods.

    Remember all science is measuring. never mind what a bit of equipment actually measures, ask what the “investigator” is claiming it measures. is it the colour of an invisible unicorn? ask them how anything they are measuring can be rationally applied to the assertion that someone once died and now they’re alive but without any physical existance.

    alternatively take the quick option: “does your assertion violate the second law of thermodynamics? oh it does? right feck off”

  2. people fall for this too easily

    After a very minor earthquake, a young woman was asked by local news “what was your first reaction?”. Her answer “I thought it was a ghost!”.

    That has stuck with me; the news person did not ridicule her answer, and she laughed it off. Every peculiar thing has logic at its root – in her case, the city lies close to the New Madrid fault.

    Was her feeling innate, learned, or both.

  3. The ghost detecting equipment set up in Hampton Court Palace in the most “haunted” part of the palace detected the cleaner coming in a 4 am ! In Edinburgh Castle the most “haunted ” part was found to have a strong current of cold air, literally guaranteed to give that “Is there a cobra in that bush?” response ! Why do people persist in these beliefs ? Because they don’t bother to educate themselves, or because they have had supernaturalism drilled into them at an early age.

    And of course the media is full of it. At least the film Ghostbusters made it pretty plain that we were dealing with fantasy, or at least with charlatan ghostbusters !

  4. 1) Makes for good stories.
    2) Yearning to believe in life after death.
    3) Thinking ‘connecting’ with the supernatural makes you special.

    Simple as that, as far as I’m concerned. The mechanisms of it are also pretty simple psychology. Just look at all the fun stuff mentalists are able to do. The mind is easily tricked.

  5. Well, I don’t think it’s so much that they are gullible as that they want to believe for emotional reasons. Many like the mysterious as it creates some drama and excitement to their lives. Then, we have fear of death and the emotional reasons for believing that life really does not end. Ironically though, most ghost stories are suppose to be frightening more than comforting. Still, I think the reason many people want to believe in ghosts is related to their fear of dying. They just don’t like the fact that their lives and all the things they have achieved will ultimately fade away when they die. They don’t like the fact that they will lose all the loved ones in their lives and the thought that life does not really end when we die is without doubt appealing to many, mainly for emotional reasons. This why most attempts by atheists or rational people to “convert” religious people are quite futile. We tend to focus on the rational arguments (which are of course important as well), but fail to realize that there are emotional barriers that just prevents any arguments from reaching their minds.

    • In reply to #10 by Nunbeliever:

      Well, I don’t think it’s so much that they are gullible as that they want to believe for emotional reasons. Many like the mysterious as it creates some drama and excitement to their lives. Then, we have fear of death and the emotional reasons for believing that life really does not end. Ironically t…

      I think you are right on target. People have strong emotional needs to believe in all kinds of things, including god, angels, heaven, etc. Because the beliefs are emotionally driven, reason and logic are usually ineffective in changing strongly held belief systems. And emotional conditioning (brain washing) begins early in our lives.

  6. I agree entirely with your thoughts Matthew. When my 24 year old daughter told me she was going to see a spiritualist I tried to explain how this “business” works and how these charlatans relieve people of their money. Unfortunately, there are millions of people who are either ignorant, uneducated, gullible, naive or young and impressionable who line these parasites pockets. A proportion of the smart and educated will always take advantage of people of lower intellect and knowledge.

  7. A couple of years ago a colleague at work brought in a photo she had taken of myself and several others, hovering behind us was a mysterious ghostly figure, the image circulated rapidly causing much debate and a few people were genuinely scared. I loudly professed a belief that photo editing software had been involved, even so a very small part of me was uncertain. I even started trying to reassure myself by reasoning privately that the atmosphere at the time the photo was taken had been cheerful and happy so even if a ghost had been around they surely couldn’t be malignant. I certainly do not believe in ghosts but that little nagging doubt was still there. After a day or so my colleague admitted to doctoring the photo, though I suspect one or two people may have doubted the confession. Most people enjoyed the excitement, not I think because they really believed in the ghost but because they didn’t entirely disbelieve. There seems to be a little crack of uncertainty in most peoples metal armour (in a few people it is already a gaping hole) which only needs someone to get a toe inside to widen it enough to let in the crazy theories like ghosts, goblins and gods.

  8. Jenog:

    A couple of years ago a colleague at work brought in a photo she had taken of myself and several others, hovering behind us was a mysterious ghostly figure, the image circulated rapidly causing much debate and a few people were genuinely scared

    Ah no doubt a digital camera ! Perhaps with a finger partly obscuring the flash ? No need for Photoshop !

  9. Arguing with people who believe in ghosts is the same as arguing with the people who believe in god. They will NEVER change their minds no matter how much evidence is presented to them, just let them have their delusions. To me people who believe that garbage are uneducated, gullible, and quite frankly IDIOTIC!!!!!!!!

  10. I personally do not believe in Ghost or any pseudoscience. What I do believe although, at this point there is no proof of it, is that we are all making our mark on this earth and when we die there will be a machine(a bit like a television) that can pick up our past existence and record it. It doesn’t sound plausible at the moment but in about a hundred years time our ancestors will be watching historical advents which have been recorded in our airwaves.

    These “Ghosts” we do see are in the airwaves of past advents. Science hopeful will tap into this.

    • In reply to #16 by ikinmoore:

      I personally do not believe in Ghost or any pseudoscience. What I do believe although, at this point there is no proof of it, is that we are all making our mark on this earth and when we die there will be a machine(a bit like a television) that can pick up our past existence and record it. It doesn’t sound plausible at the moment but in about a hundred years time our ancestors will be watching historical advents which have been recorded in our airwaves.

      Do you have any evidence for this ?

  11. If you look at TV schedules or some “news”papers, there is far more supernatural fantasy than evidenced documentary information. Some people’s brains are fed on an exclusive diet of this stuff.

    The deeper the retreat into fantasy, the nastier and threatening the unaddressed issues of the real world look!

  12. One can experience sounds/visual phenomena which are difficult to explain on immediate impact. Standing sound waves, tricks of the light and visual projection from the imagination can all contribute. I’ve experienced what some might call ‘ghost’ phenomena, but I know that they are explicable in non-supernatural terms.

  13. I don’t believe in Ghosts, but my mind is open. However this line from the questioner:

    Especially with all of the ghost hunting reality TV nonsense out there.

    suggests that the search for the truth is just nonsense. I’ve seen some of these programmes and none are convincing but the point is they are trying to bring some kind of entertainment. Where they often fall down is to assume that because it cannot be explained it must be a ghost. We may not believe in their goal (proof that ghosts exist) but, as with any scientific research, we should give them credit for at least trying.

    • In reply to #23 by naskew:

      I don’t believe in Ghosts, but my mind is open. However this line from the questioner:

      Especially with all of the ghost hunting reality TV nonsense out there.

      suggests that the search for the truth is just nonsense. I’ve seen some of these programmes and none are convincing but the point is they a…

      They’re chasing ratings, not truth.

      To call it science is a bit of a stretch.

      • In reply to #24 by DHudson:

        They’re chasing ratings

        Obviously they are chasing ratings. How else do you suppose they earn the money required to carry on? I did not actually call the shows science but likened them to the scientific endeavour to find the truth. However it is fair to say that given that there are no ghosts, it will be a very long hunt and, as with God, it is difficult or impossible to prove this kind of claim as false.

  14. I agree with you, but i am afraid that if you wanted an opinion of a person who actually does believe in ghosts- you came to the wrong place.
    Although as a psychology student , i am gladly willing to try and explain this.
    Some people like to believe in ghosts for the same reason they believe in god.
    This provides them comfort, because than they fell closer to their loved ones that passed away.
    I’m sure that you had the chance to see TV shows about psychics that allegedly communicate with a relative of someone.
    The second reason that people believe in ghosts, is simply because they may have a childish view of life- because as we know, children are mainly who have intense imagination and believe in anything that is being showed or told to them.
    For those kind of people it feels more real and possible than to other rational people.
    Of course, a creative mind may be used for much better purposes like writing novels, painting and music making – Penderecki for example, who was the most unusual composer. So i think it comes from a child like brain.
    But again , that’s just me, and for all i know those are not provable theories.
    Like most psychology.

  15. People are brought up with ghost stories and bogey men as children. It’s an extension of supernatural belief like theism.

    I’ve stayed in a supposedly haunted room at the Ettington Park Hotel were there have been claims of sightings of a ghostly woman. I slept soundly and heard and saw nothing, as you might expect.

  16. I don’t think ghost concept is only a xtian concept, Ghosts have been mentioned in ancient Egyptian culture.
    There was widespread belief in ghosts in ancient Egyptian culture in the sense of the continued existence of the soul and spirit after death, with the ability to assist or harm the living, and the possibility of a second death. Over a period of more than 2,500 years, Egyptian beliefs about the nature of the afterlife evolved constantly. Many of these beliefs were recorded in inscriptions, papyrus scrolls and tomb paintings. The Egyptian Book of the Dead compiles some of the beliefs from different periods of ancient Egyptian history. In modern times, the fanciful concept of a mummy’s coming back to life and wreaking vengeance when disturbed has spawned a whole genre of horror stories and movies.

    It has always been part of humanity and even possibly animals. The hope that after death the spirit, specter, soul of the dearly departed will remain with us keeping us company until it is our turn. There is a huge fear of being alone. Of not having anyone. When this is the case, it is comforting to people to believe they are not alone.

    A Tikoloshe (or Tokoloshe) is an evil-spirited gremlin in Zulu mythology. A shaman may send a Tikoloshe to vex his enemies, causing anything from harmless fright to illness or death. Tikoloshes are described as short hairy humanoid figures that can render themselves invisible by swallowing a pebble – all the better to sneak up on their victims.

    Maybe the problem we have as humans, is we are hypersensitive or are under the impression we are. Our brain can manufacture all sorts of ideas and beliefs based on the biological data from our senses. It would seem that adrenalin can be also a hallucinogen if there is enough of it. And cause the person under stress of fear to see things. Or for the brain to think it is seeing things. Like when you see figures in the clouds that look like something you know, possibly a horse or a face or jesus. It is only the brain trying to figure out what you are looking at.

    This is why people see jesus in toast. The brain always tries to find a recognizable pattern to form. The way we understand things at a basic level, is purely by recognition and comparison. So it makes sense that the pattern we see was formed in our mind by taking pieces of something you know and recognize.

    There have been many cases of people claiming to see a specter. In Russia this seems popular. But there has been no success in recording the phenomena other than recreating the scene for entertainment purposes.

    It does not seem natural for this to exist. Or if it exists we are not supposed to know about it. That is why it is hard to peg. It would be of great disadvantage to have ghosts. People would go nuts. Or try to use them for their advantage. Does not make sense to have ghosts. It does not make sense there is no point for nature to do this.

  17. Why are people so easily fooled by the pseudoscience regarding ghost hutning and the paranormal? It just baffles me to no end.

    Because the marketing model underpinning this product was well tested and refined by religions across thousands of years and cases!

  18. For anything to be real in the sense you mean, it would have to be able to interact with atoms of ordinary matter, so that it could be perceived by humans with eyes and other sense organs, or with instruments made of material parts. As far as we know, the only entities able to do this are things made of ordinary matter, atoms with protons and electrons and so on, so they are not ghosts. Everything else is imagination or deception.

  19. I like to encourage people to read “Phantoms in the Brain” by the neurologist V.S. Ramachandran, and Dr. Oliver Sacks’ ” “Hallucination” and “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat” for excellent explanations of how we are deceived by our brains’ misinterpretation and/or misperception of external and internal events. These books, among others, did wonders for disabusing me of notions of ghosts and other supposedly mysterious human phenomena. It was easy for me to give up the idea of a God, accept evolution by natural selection as the best explanation for our existence and life’s diversity, and accept the awesome findings of genetics and cosmology – but I still wondered what the explanation could be for the common experience of “hauntings” and ghosts. I knew it had to be something in our perceptions, like paredolia, but these books made the case so well. Our brains don’t serve up reality objectively – what comes in via our ears, eyes, noses, and skin is routed and rerouted, tossed back and forth between various areas of the brain that each add their own flavor to the perception, and finally filtered through the memories of our experiences and our personal and cultural backgrounds. The fact that brain injuries, blindness, epilepsy, drugs, experiments with simple devices such as mirrors and even suggestion – can so profoundly affect personality, memory, and perception in such strange ways is strong evidence that what we think of as “supernatural” exists only in our own minds.

  20. In reply to #2 by SaganTheCat:

    Does anyone have a link they could share showing strong evidence that the equipment used by paranormal investigators(pseudoscience peddlers), showing that it is unscientific.

    I don’t think you need any evidence to show it’s unscientific. the burden of proof is on these charlatans to explain exactly…

    I have to laugh when these ghost hunters trot out equipment like EMF meters and claim that changes in EMF readings are evidence that something supernatural is hovering about. EMF detectors do nothing but detect changes in EMF. It never seems to occur to these people that they have to demonstrate that EMF changes actually do correspond to the presence of ghostly beings, and not simply the presence of electronic or magnetic equipment or leaks, before their readings become meaningful.

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