I’m a bit of a ghost geek and after being a paranormal investigator for over a decade I like to think I know a thing or two about ghosts. That’s why I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Halloween because on one hand “yay spooky times”, but on the other hand, I watch, aghast, as people who know very little about spontaneous phenomena suddenly start telling us the reality of it while really just rehashing old myths.
So, here are four stubborn myths about ghosts that I wish we could finally put to rest:
1 – Ghosts/Spirits are human energy because energy doesn’t die
I’m just going to say it. The first law of thermodynamics does not prove that ghosts are real. Ghost hunters occasionally claim that it does because if energy cannot be destroyed or dissipate then the energy in our bodies when we die must go somewhere, therefore… ghosts. This makes absolutely no sense at all because our bodies don’t just disappear once we’re dead. Things happen to our corpse and the energy in our cells is used in the decomposition process. Everything that makes us mobile relies on exchanges of different energies within our bodies.
This is GCSE science and yet so many people fail to grasp this. Remember in science class how your teacher explained that the sandwich you ate at lunchtime becomes energy that you use to kick a ball? They were right. Remember how the same teacher didn’t talk about some spiritual energy surviving death? Yeah!
If you want to know exactly what happens to your dead, bloating body when you die I recommend reading Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty. Be warned though, it isn’t pretty.
2 – Water attracts ghosts/causes hauntings because water has memory
Lots of so-called experts will tell you that houses with (or near) underground water sources are likely to be haunted and that bathrooms (where there’s lots of plumbing and water) are commonly haunted because of the water.
They are wrong.
The idea has its roots in the Stone Tape Theory that suggests a ghost or spirit can actually be a recording of a thing that happened a long time ago, the energy of which has been recorded in the fabric of the place the haunting is taking place in. In this instance, it would be a body of water or water source.
In fact, when I read John Fraser’s book ‘Ghost Hunting: A Survivor’s guide’ (you can read my review here), I was shocked to discover that he suggested water had memory and it was this that could cause ghosts to be drawn to it. (Fraser, 2010)
Fraser suggests there is circumstantial evidence for this but there isn’t, especially as his circumstantial evidence involves the unscientific method of dowsing. (Fraser, 2010)
Yes. Dowsing, which only works because of ideomotor responses (unconscious muscular movement) which stop when you introduce a double-blind control as Professor Chris French did in this experiment…
Many people base their claim that water has memory on research by Dr Jaques Benveniste but they fail to realise or mention that Benveniste didn’t use a double-blind control is his research which could have (and probably did) bias the conclusions being reached.
The paper by Benveniste was published in Nature in 1988 but one of the conditions for publication was that editor John Maddox and James Randi could supervise a repeat of the experiment. They did, and they found that the assessment of the two types of water involved in the experiment involved a subjective evaluation by a researcher who knew which samples were which. When the protocol was tightened to avoid this the results were not repeated.
Other research by a Dr Emoto suggested that water could remember good or bad things spoken to it and that this would affect the way in which the water froze. However, as Carrie Poppy reported for Skeptical Inquirer, the protocols for these experiments were so lacking that it’d be impossible to replicate them.
‘Apparently, Emoto’s experimental protocols are so lacking as to be unrepeatable, and even the most basic attempts at scientific controls are absent. Regular Skeptical Inquirer contributor Harriet Hall reviewed Emoto’s book about his experiments herself, giving it the honor of “the worst book I have ever read. It is about as scientific as Alice in Wonderland.”’ Carrie Poppy, Skeptical Inquirer, 2014
So, although the idea that events can be recorded and replayed sounds possible and would account for some anomalous reports there really is no supporting evidence for this claim.
3 – More ghosts are seen at Halloween than any other time of the year
I see this claim made so often in the media and by paranormal researchers, especially at this time of the year. There are so many people rushing out to take part in ghost hunting events as a result of this myth and it’s a shame because they could be at home, in the warm, watching their Ghostwatch DVD instead.
Halloween traditions change depending on where they come from but for many, it was (or is) a time to remember and honour the dead. Others would (or still do) go house to house in costume for food and would carry lanterns with them that represented spirits, or to drive spirits away.
It was traditionally Christmas or Easter and the Pentecost that was most associated with apparitions of the dead and not All Saints Day or Halloween which was more about keeping the dead away. (Davies, 2007)
According to Owen Davies, ‘Today, Halloween is, of course, most associated with the imitation of ghosts and noisy spirits rather than concerns over their actual appearance.’ (Davies, 2007)
The idea that the spirit realm is somehow closer to that of the living is a nice idea that certainly suits the theme of modern Halloween but, as with many of the myths discussed here, this idea simply doesn’t have any evidence to support it.
You might be more aware of your strange, ghostly experiences at this time of year because Halloween is so widely commercialised but, in all reality, you’re just as likely to see a ghost in July as you are to see a ghost in October.
4 – The X-box Kinect can detect ghosts
Thanks to US ghost hunting TV show Ghost Adventures, Youtube and ghost hunting websites are full of footage of ghosts captured using Microsoft Kinect, the advanced motion-capture camera that you can use with your Xbox console.
Unexplained figures that are picked up by the camera are explained away as ghosts but is that really the case? Can this camera detect what the human eye cannot see?
No. It cannot.
The Kinect is capable of near-instant recognition of someone entering its field of view. It can work in complete darkness and detect body heat, facial expressions and your heartbeat (Corriea, 2014). Yet, the camera isn’t completely accurate as anyone who experienced the failure of the motion control part way through a game will attest to.
Many of these Kinect ghost videos are inevitably hoaxes but a lot of them are also caused by the system picking out familiar shapes and identifying them as human even though they’re probably just shadows, light glare on furniture, or even temperature changes within the room. A bit like thermal imaging cameras do.
If you use the Kinect and stand behind a piece of furniture it will freak out and start trying to find something that looks like your legs. Does this mean you suddenly have ghost legs?
No. It doesn’t.
There is no credible evidence that the Kinect can detect ghosts. These oddities are more likely to just be technological glitches and not other-worldly. Don’t believe the hype.
Corriea, A. (2014) ‘Ghosts in the machine? Using the Kinect to hunt for spirits’, Polygon. Available at http://www.polygon.com/halloween/2014/10/30/7079943/kinect-ghost-hunting (Accessed 30 Oct 2016).
Davies, O. (2007) The Haunted, A Social History of Ghosts, Palgrave & Macmillan
Frasher, J (2010) Ghost Hunting: A Survivor’s Guide, The History Press