Recently, my friend Sam was telling of his strong belief in past lives, and the ensuing discussion naturally gravitated to the topic of ghosts. He swore that he had seen a ghost once when he was young, specifically the apparition of an older woman. She had passed through a closed door into the hallway, turned to him, put her index finger to her lips to indicate that he should be quiet, then turned away and moved off into nothingness. When he described her appearance and outfit later, the next-door neighbor confirmed it was the former occupant of the house, dressed in the outfit in which she was buried.
This brings us to the question that is the starting point of my ruminations on ghosts, specifically: Why do ghosts wear clothes?
If becoming a ghost was some sort of real, physical phenomenon like bleeding or dying, some kind of 'reflection' of a deceased person's bodily aspect, surely their clothing would not be 'ghosted' as well. Their funeral dress was never alive, it never died, and it certainly isn't immortal. Nonetheless, one is hard-pressed to come across descriptions of naked ghosts.
Another friend of mine, Marina, described a recent, lucid encounter with a ghost, another old woman who also 'saw' her. What was most interesting about the description was that she described seeing a ghost as like 'a photocopy of a person.' I think this is very telling. Can we agree that neither the ghost, nor the ghost's clothes, are reflecting light? That is, they are not being perceived like a solid object off which light is reflecting towards our eyes. Rather, like a hallucination, they are being superimposed on our field of vision by our brain. Now I'm not saying that ghosts are necessarily just hallucinations; however, I am saying that they are probably perceived in much the same way.
Along those lines, consider this: when Sam supposedly saw the house's former occupant in her funeral clothes, he couldn't know in advance what her funeral clothes were. What I'm getting at is that somehow, without being a physical entity that reflects light, the ghost would have to inform Sam's brain as to how it should appear. Another way of putting it would be that Sam's brain interpreted a presence of which it became non-visually aware, and subsequently superimposed that interpretation onto his field of vision -- because that is how we 'see' things in lieu of a dedicated 'ghost sense'.
Sam had started off his argument about ghosts by saying that he felt they were "echoes" of some event in the past, an oft-repeated theory about spirits. However, until I pointed it out, he never realized how unlikely it was that the ghost he viewed had specifically exited from the same room in the past and turned to 'shush' someone seated exactly where he was. In other words, his ghost seemed to be acting consciously in reaction to the current environment. Of course, if you start giving credence to the above theory about brains interpreting non-visual apparitions visually, then it throws suspicion on how reliable people's interpretations of a perceived ghost's actions are. Is the entire episode, from appearance to actions, simply an interpretation?
At this point, if you are a believer in ghosts as real, supernatural entities, then maybe you are liking some of the above ideas. Sam loved the 'not reflecting light' thing, because it explained for him why sometimes one person in a room can see a ghost while others can't. However, the theory gets hung up if you believe ghosts can be recorded by audio/visual equipment, even if they weren't originally perceived by people.
Or, if you are a disbeliever in ghosts, maybe you see the above as arguments for them being hallucinations. Personally, I think there's something to a lot of the world's supernatural phenomena, from ghosts and poltergeists, to psychics and possessions. I just think it all has a rational explanation that will eventually be uncovered.... in time....
What are your thoughts?
I started thinknig a while ago that most supernatural phenomena can have two explanations:
1) The observer is misperceiving in some fashion, either through hallucination, intoxication, or some optical illusion.
2) Instances of the supernatural are merely the result of highly-improbable quantum effects actually occurring.
It is my opinion that the vast majority are option one, while a very small minority are option two.
Great post! Ghost post! I like when you say, "I think there's something to a lot of the world's supernatural phenomena." That's very important! There is something to everything. I am not a religious man, but when I think of the multitudes of religious people, and the multitude of religious experiences, I think, "What is happening here?" It is not a trivial question. In fact it is of the utmost importance, because those feelings are of the utmost importance to most people (with whom I share the earth).
The point I would like to discuss from your post is your Option 1, "The observer is misperceiving in some fashion." This opens up an enormous can of worms! There is a huge amount of stuff happening around us: light, sound, radio waves, movements of atoms, quantum events, squids mating, waves, particles, television. The *meaning* of everything occurs in our minds, when we interpret data. Isn't everything we experience nothing but a subjective interpretation arising as an epiphenomenon in our ultracomplex brain computers? How can anyone say that someone's version of the world is a "misperception"?
And then also, seriously, isn't it pretty crazy to believe in ghosts? I had an ex-girlfriend who believed in ghosts and fortune-tellers -- it was really a deal-breaker.
RE: "misperceiving in some fashion". Of course it can be argued that any perception is a valid one, but I think what Jeremy means is that they are _misinterpreting_ what they perceive.
Re: "And then also, seriously, isn't it pretty crazy to believe in ghosts?" What I find crazy is to reject the possibility of anything "otherworldly". I don't actively believe in ghosts, or aliens, or gods, but I don't reject those ideas just because I havenít had a personal experience with an encounter. I just figure that even though humans are pretty smart and evolved and all, doesn't mean that there's not a whole lot going on that we're just not privy to. Hell, humans are still discovering new species of animals all the time. I say, don't shut an idea down just because "that there's crazy talk!", because then you leave your life less open to the possibilities of such an experience if ever the day were to come. I say, be prone to flights of fancy, lifeís more interesting that way.
I believe in ghosts. I believe there are a lot of things us humans can't explain nor comprehend(at least not yet). Things that are not in the physical world. We can't explain nor comprehend them, so we just pass it off as not being real. That is just my opinion.
I finally thought I had a totally original thought, untill I read this post, damn you!
My friend saw a ghost dressed in old clothes, including a hat. The ghost came over to her bed, bent down and embraced her, then walked through the wall. The day after the owner of the house said many had seen it, and there used to be a door there.
BUT what would have happened had the hat dropped off it's head at some point, and it left the room without noticing? Would my friend be in posession of a very unique hat for the rest of her life, an undead hat?
Also, a psychic on TV saw a man in a basement playing an acordion. I'm a musician, and I WANT THAT ACORDION!
I found this page while watching a TV show entitled, "Ghostly Encounters". Like many accounts of ghost sightings, most were described as wearing clothing that was suggestive of a specific period of time. That information was used in attempts to identify the ghost as a person who had previously lived in the building where the sighting took place. Although I haven't heard anyone else ask it (until I saw your website, today) I have had this question in my mind for as long as I can remember; how is it that ghosts would be wearing clothing from a period of time during which they were alive? In many cases, they were described as wearing the clothing they had worn in a photograph that has been seen by the person having the experience.
I think there are basically three possible explanations for this. One is that the ghost was real and was some how able to appear in a manner that would help identify them to the person they were making themselves manifest to. Your suggestions of how this might take place are brilliant, IMO. The second is that the person was only imagining that they were seeing a ghost, due to suggestions that have been made to them by the environment. It is easy to see why they would see the ghost as wearing clothing from earlier in the building's existence. The third is that the person is just making up the story. I believe there are stories that fit into each category.
I, personally, have never seen anything that I thought was a ghost, but I have had experiences where I have definitely felt the presence of a spirit. My youngest daughter has had these, too, one of which was especially notable. In 2009, while watching paramedics work on her brother's lifeless body, in a vain attempt to bring him back, she "heard" her brother assuring her that it was an accident and not suicide. She didn't see anything, or hear his voice, through her ears, but she heard, nevertheless. It was apparently very important to him for us to know that. Later, the coroner gave the cause of death as methadone toxicity. My daughter's experience has meant a great deal in helping me believe that my son did not take his own life intentionally.