Ok, let’s define our science in terms of a closed system. We inhabit a four-dimensional universe, three of which are spatial. By default, our definition of science is confined to the dimensions that we can observe, experience, and test. Furthermore, let’s make materialism and naturalism our underlying philosophies of our science. As a result of these demarcations, we can speak specifically to what we can call science and that which should not be called science.
I would ask that the reader follow me until the end of this blog entry. Otherwise, they will miss my overall point and accuse me of practicing that which I discourage. But, the brief synopsis in my opening paragraph above is a succinct description of the model I have adhered to over the years when considering a discussion about science and the paranormal. It is with an understanding of this definition of science where I can now begin to make the point of a thought exercise.
Stemming from a scientific frame of mind are several questions that are begged by propositions of ghosts. I merely list a few of them. Why would a ghost, a non-physical entity, come back to frequent a physical location? A home or some other piece of architecture is made of wood and brick, or maybe stone or metal, or some other fabricated materials. What sense does it make for a non-corporeal being to traverse the hallways of an earthbound structure? Why are some ghosts seen and others are not? The ghosts who are seen; how do they go about being seen? In their spectral forms, do they generate photons, or do they reflect them? How would they even appear in our realm? Where do their particles come from that they are using as consistence in order to be seen? If they remain invisible, how on earth would they emanate sound waves by creating what are supposed to be footsteps heard across a perfectly normal floor? How, in their non-physical forms, do they generate a force that knocks a book off of a shelf? What interest do they have in slamming doors, flipping light switches, or, at least, interrupting electrical flow to light sockets? How do some deceased humans undergo an impairment of consciousness so that they remain intermittently earthbound? Or, why would they choose to remain, or be replayed, as a former shade of themself in a physical environment? These are some of the many questions that those of us who have been skeptical about the existence of ghosts have asked.
Dr. Andrew Nichols, a parapsychologist who was a co-recipient of a grant for actually studying hauntings, and who has investigated matters of the unexplained for Federal branches, has been quoted with the following statement.
“Locations and objects have memories, just like people have memories,”
In order to accept hauntings as reported, this observation stated by Dr. Nichols may seem to be a sensible correlation to make. But, once made, the deeper question becomes, how in the world would this feat be accomplished? In order to make the claim, some substantiation is required. And, the accompanying question is, why would inanimate locations and objects choose to remember the past and log it in some non-ethereal form? These are the kinds of questions that must be asked when considering any allowance of ghosts into the construct of reality if we try to epistemologically derive the best description of our world as we can.
Of course, over the years, my opinion has been that these questions fail with any answerability of quality. They fail a cogently scientific application. The bulk of my experience in the field has been met with a failure of any of these questions being answered satisfactorily. More significantly, this same bulk has never even really gotten far enough to even address these questions. Most of the observation time has been without anything out of the ordinary occurring at all in order to suggest the suspicion of haunting phenomena. Although, more recently, I did finally get to be present with a family when an odd occurrence happened in conjunction with their notoriously haunted home.
For the sake of mental exercise, however, let’s briefly step aside from science and think over the prospect of ghosts as they are traditionally defined. Paul Kurtz, former founder and chair of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, was a major discourager of the concept of transcendence, which is a necessary component for allowing ghosts to interact with our universe. He and even those practitioners of a softer skepticism than Kurtz’s would be right to criticize me if I became so fanciful as to propose a lot of flightful thinking and still call it science. No, based on the definition of science I began this piece of writing with, I’m not allowed to do so.
But, for the sake of thought, let’s take Joe Nickell’s quote from The New Yorker magazine:
“I’m not saying there’s a fifty-fifty chance that there is a ghost in that haunted house. I think the chances are closer to 99.9 per cent that there isn’t. But let’s go look….”
For the fun of it, let’s say the .1% were to win out in regard to ghosts. Let’s imagine that in all of the haunted lore that exists, that at least one case is true as reported. In that case, it’s not so much the, “magical thinking,” that Paul Kurtz talked about that I would be falling prey to. Instead, I would have to concede that I was left with the challenge of exercising what I would call, “expanded thinking.” I would have no choice but to engage the very transcendence that Paul Kurtz disparaged. I’m not talking about imagining up my own creative world in some Pastaferian fashion. No, whether or not adherents of science liked it or not, I would be forced to consider that there is more outside of the universe than just our four known dimensions.
Could I be purely scientific in my postulations for answers? No, I certainly could not. Firstly, I would be left with looking back over my definition of science that I cited up above. I would have to metascientfically re-evaluate my standards of science, at least in a case such as finding evidence of a classical haunting. Additionally, at this stage in the game of science’s history, I would be left with calling on a thoughtful form of metaphysics in order to try and put forth some sort of an explanation to describe what was observed. And, again, the thought would be highly speculative, and indeed not scientific.
Herein lies the very heart of the discussion concerning science and ghosts. One has to account for everything from investigative methodologies to interpretations of environmental stimuli. If at any point someone observing a haunted location out in the field reacts too quickly or self-introduces a flaw into their own methods, any hoped for science becomes null and void. And, if there ever were the unmistakable corroboration made that a haunting was documented, then any further thought on the matter would be limited in how accurate of an explanation it could induce.
It should be noted that my primary interest is in physics. If I could choose a dream career, it would be in physics research, or at least in teaching the joy of math at some level. My ambition in life was never to become some sort of, “paranormal investigator.” The commentary I have culled on ghosts came as a byproduct of my interest in science being challenged, as well as that part of me that has an interest in thinking about things in an investigative fashion. I’m not a proponent of calling something science when it fails such qualification.
But, what I would say to those who are skeptics about the paranormal, is that there is no harm in going to a dry erase board and at least walking through thought experiments. So, what if a ghost, or what is called a ghost, were to be concretely documented? Is this the end of the world for a rationalist? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Such a discovery would make the world around us that much richer from a scientific point of view. The point I am making here, apart from trying to jovially get across food for thought when considering the philosophy of science, is to say that I am ok with marker boarding abstract thought for the following reason. If I try and walk through the logic and metaphysics of a ghost, then I can illustrate the thought process against the background of WHAT WE DO KNOW through the efforts of good science. It is the good science that polices where non-policed thought can go when it comes to the consideration of ghosts.
Do I completely disparage the idea of ghosts, especially after my experience on Christmas of 2019? Well, firstly, we have to define what we mean by a ghost. I prefer to always define the term traditionally, as in a departed soul. Otherwise, we may not necessarily be talking about the same thing. Secondly, we have to ask if there may be something else occurring, and we simply give the phenomena the tag of a ghost. But, if one looks back over the course of my writings, the skepticism is heavily there; of that, there is no doubt. The skeptical angle has been very strong, with good reason, and because of the observation that has been carried out, thus far. However, one will also see where I have tried to make a habit of saying that one has to be objective and follow the data; the good data only.
What I am a believer in is that in a universe this large and vast, statistically there are always going to be events that fall outside the normal distribution. I am interested in finding explanations for the outliers, and I would include haunting phenomena as some of these outliers. The universe is indeed an amazing information system. When one breaks it down into quantum laws and particles, if one considers some of the points made by the simulation hypothesis, regardless of whether they believe in it in its whole, and if additional spatial dimensions exist outside our own known four (which I believe they do because of insights of physicists and not simply due to my own wishful thinking), then I think there is the likely possibility that some answers now relegated to guessed at metaphysics, once technology and theory can catch up, may allow us to someday marry some metaphysics with sound science.
Until then, I will resign myself to the fact that if ghosts do indeed exist, then they need not necessarily make sense to me.