Are Ghosts An Illusion Of The Mind Philosophy Essay

2800 words (11 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 Philosophy Reference this


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Ghosts are just one of the many subtopics that reside within the topic of paranormal. Paranormal experiences are studied using parapsychology: a scientific approach to supposedly "paranormal" experiences. With the use of H. J. Irwin's brilliant book called, "An Introduction to Parapsychology Third Edition", and Bobby Elgee's article called, "'Evidence' of the Paranormal and Ghosts", we are able to deduce a theoretically sound explanation of what is paranormal and since when has the topic been studied. Then, we analyze the survival hypothesis and the ability of a soul to live outside the body. After, we proceed to the definition of ghosts and their usual whereabouts while setting the conditions that they usually appear in as well as to who they appear. Finally, we go on to claiming that these experiences are not really ghosts, but either hallucinations or just simply paranormal due to the witnesses' wild conclusion that it couldn't be anything other than a ghost.

Ghosts: An Illusion of the Mind

Ghosts are not what you think they are, far from it. They aren't the friendly little ghost you see in "Casper", nor are they the "Bloody Baron" from SpongeBob Squarepants who haunts the ocean for eternity. They might not even be anything at all, just a word people exploit to an unknown object which might have a logical explanation. Yet, most cultures in the world believe in the body having a soul which like the heart, can exist and survive in another body. Yet, even if such an idea is generally believe by a large population of the world, it may not be true. Thought or belief proves nothing, for if it were, then a group could believe in radioactive helicopter bunnies and it would be fact. Yet, people need proof, therefore, to believe ghosts, we need proof that they exist. Life isn't neither what people see in movies, read in books nor see in pictures. Therefore, neither are ghosts. In order to prove ghosts don't exist, we have to analyze the parapsychological and the paranormal, the survival theory, the situations in which ghost usually appear and how most experiences are most likely fakes.

According to Bobby Elgee, "the word 'paranormal' simply means 'not scientifically explainable.'" (Elgee, 2009, pg 1) Meanwhile, parapsychology is known "as the study of apparent anomalies of behavior and experience that exist apart from currently known explanatory mechanisms that account for organism-environment and organism-organism information and influence flow" (Irwin, 1999, pg 1). Therefore, it is the commutation of a being to another, or a being to a surrounding. In other words, parapsychology is using a scientific approach to study experiences that may be paranormal and "to determine whether or not the evident paranormal quality of a given class of parapsychological experience is authentic or ontologically real." (Irwin, 1999, pg 9)

According to Irwin, "recorded instances of parapsychological experiences of course may be found among all cultures and in all historic periods." (Irwin, 1999, pg 13) Yet, the testing of such experiences for accuracy and authenticity was slower to emerge. Some, "such as Henry More and Joseph Glanvill showed themselves alert to the possibility of fraud, delusion, and unreliable observation", but their views more religious than scientific as they were "endeavoring to ascertain the earthly presence of the devil and diabolical forces." (Irwin, 1999, pg 14) It was later that Francis Bacon made a call "for objective scrutiny of parapsychological experiences" (Irwin, 1999, pg 14) which was more scientific than More and Glanvill, but "at the time society was not receptive to such a view and Bacon's arguments went unheeded." (Irwin, 1999, pg 14) Then, a center in England called the Society for Psychical Research where parapsychologists are "united in their conviction that the objective investigation of parapsychological phenomena was called for, despite the prevailing disinterest in such research among the established divisions of science." (Irwin, 1999, pg 13) Even today, most of society disregards the subject as scientific, yet "parapsychology is under taken as a scientific endeavor regardless of its subject matter, flaws in any of its research procedures, and the skeptical rhetoric of its critics." (Irwin, 1999, pg 2) Therefore, Irwin states that, "All ESP experiences thus are parapsychological, but we require proof that any of them could be paranormal." (Irwin, 1999, pg 2)

How do parapsychologists know that an experience is truly paranormal? According the Elgee, "Competent paranormal investigators will attempt to rule out the anomaly" (Elgee, 2009, pg 1) or anything that seems abnormal or irregular. If someone captures a photo of a strange orb or mist, parapsychologists would ask all questions possible in order to rule out irregularities such as: "is it a reflection? Is it a bug? Is it dust? Is it condensation on the lens of the camera? Is it a problem with the developing and/or printing process?" (Elgee, 2009, pg 1) Yet, according to Irwin, parapsychologists focus of study "is purely a matter of appearance, of how an experience seems to be." (Irwin, 1999, pg 2) Therefore, "even if the survival hypothesis proves not to provide a legitimate basis for their conceptual integration, each of these experiences appears to entail the existence of a nonphysical or spiritual self" (Irwin, 1999, pg 9) thereby, the experience is parapsychological. The authenticity of the experience "relates to the question of whether the issue of underlying processes concerns the question of how?" (Irwin, 1999, pg 9) For it to be paranormal, the question of must be raised. How is this possible? How did this come here? How did it happen? If the question of how cannot be answered, it is hence called paranormal. Yet, there are groups today that are causing a steadfast declination in the belief of the paranormal. They are "damaging the credibility of legitimate and accomplished paranormal researchers and parapsychologists by posting photographs that are easily dismissed as well-known and easily identifiable camera malfunctions and other artifacts of the photographic process". (Elgee, 2009) If people keep on claiming that every small malfunction is an apparition or paranormal experience, then nobody would believe if a true paranormal experience emerged. It would be the boy who called wolf all over again, except with ghosts, orbs, mists and many other strange paranormals.

According to Irwin, "the survival hypothesis concerns the notion of postmortem survival, that is, that a disembodied consciousness or some such discarnate element of human personality might survive bodily death at least for a time." (Irwin, 1999, pg 175) Simply stated, the survival hypothesis is "the notion that there is some element of human existence that survives death." (Irwin, 1999, pg 8) For an apparition or spirit to appear, it has to be able to survive outside the body. Due to the fact that apparitions, ghosts as a matter of fact, can be of the living, we can assume that "survival does not necessarily imply immortality or eternal existence" (Irwin, 1999, pg 175) after death of the body, but more of the soul being able to survive outside the body for a limited time. Therefore, when comprehending an experience in which an apparition is involved, parapsychologists must be able to believe "that a disembodied consciousness or some such discarnate element of human personality might survive bodily death at least for a time". (Irwin, 1999, pg 175) Due to implications of an existence after death, the "survival hypothesis has obvious religious connotations". (Irwin, 1999, pg 175) Yet, since the topic is being studied from a scientific point of view, these are of no concern. Therefore, when looking at the topic from a scientific point of view, we ask questions. In order to analyze, the first step is to ask questions in order to be able to understand all aspects of the situation. Becker asks, "is there a nonphysical element of human existence that can separate from the physical body, can survive organic death, can reattach its organization as an integral personality after death, can appear before and haunt the living, [and] can be born again in another body"? (Becker, 1993, pg 9) Yet, it cannot be scientifically proven that there is a life after death since there is no evidence. "That is a question of faith at this point in time" since "there is no scientific evidence of the existence of ghosts or an afterlife". (Elgee, 2009) Therefore, we have to assume accordingly that in case of a life after death, we could thereby presume a ghost to be real. Yet, until then, all suggestions are merely that and nothing else.

A ghost is a type of apparition. According to Irwin, "an apparition is encountered in a perceptual-like experience and relates to a person or animal that is not physically present, with physical means of communication being ruled out". (Irwin, 1999, pg 243) Therefore, for it to be an apparition there has to be evidence that the figure is not there and has no possible means of a connection to the witness. Yet, Irwin states that "it is held to be pointless to speak of "apparitions" unless we mean this term to refer to the hypothesis of an objective entity." (Irwin, 1999, pg 243) He goes on to say the "having defined the term thus, it is up to parapsychologists to ascertain if these hypothesized objective entities actually exist." (Irwin, 1999, pg 243) Therefore, it is up to parapsychologists to study all rational explanations until there are no explanations, naming the experience as paranormal, but not necessarily an apparition. As Eglee states, "If we've done a good job ruling out everything, we may just be left with something paranormal. That's it". (Elgee, 2009) We cannot call something unexplainable by a name other than paranormal, or seemingly an apparition. Otherwise, it would be metaphorical to calling someone you don't know "Bob". You may assume it to be "Bob", but he is just an unknown somebody until evidence proves otherwise. One problem that could "be raised against any definition of the apparition" (Irwin, 1999, pg 243) is that it could be a hallucination. Unless witnesses by more than one sanitary person, an apparition could be a person's mind playing tricks on the so-called experient. Therefore, parapsychologists have gone from studying the apparition to studying the apparitional experience in order to "adopt a phenomenological approach" (Irwin, 1999, pg 244) in the field of study.

According to Irwin, "so-called ghosts are recurrent haunting apparitions, that is, the same figure is witnessed in the same location on a number of occasions often by a number of different experients". (Irwin, 1999, 250) Here, we witness Irwin suggesting that for the figure to be a ghost, it has to be seen in the same location, more than once and by different witnesses. He also adds that "some ghosts reportedly perform the same actions in the same location on each occasion they are experienced." (Irwin, 1999, pg 244) He states that they appear real and solid as well as that their "appearance changes as the experient moves around it. They occlude objects they move in front of and are occluded by objects they move behind." (Irwin, 1999, pg 244) He also includes instances in which "they may cast a shadow" or when "the experient may perceive their reflection in a mirror". (Irwin, 1999, 244) This disproves the "transparent misty forms popularized in fiction" (Irwin, 1999, 244) Irwin states that most "figures are experienced within 10 feet of the subject" and in "the majority of cases (…) the figure is not recognized by the experient". (Irwin, 1999, pg 247)

If an experience is defined as paranormal, is truly justifiable to be able to call the irregularity a ghost? Even Elgee proclaims, "To take the next step and call a possibly paranormal photograph a picture of a ghost is a leap of faith that I, personally, can't swallow. A person can certainly make that statement, but at that point it becomes an opinion, a statement based on belief and faith." (Elgee, 2009) He goes on to proclaim that, "At that point, I can choose what I believe. There's simply no evidence backing it up." (Elgee, 2009) Even in spirit communication there are points where the truth simply depends on faith. The medium could be lying, unless it is one of the rare instances where the medium received "some skill the personality demonstrably possessed while alive but which the medium himself/herself does not have." (Irwin, 1999, pg 177)

Ghost recognition is simply to irrational to be studied scientifically. As Elgee proclaims, "ghost hunting doesn't lend itself to a well-controlled scientific experiment." (Elgee, 2009) He goes on to state that, "The methodologies are weak, the equipment used was never originally designed to detect ghosts, and it is nearly impossible to replicate the results." (Elgee, 2009) Therefore, how can it be proved that ghosts exist with the use of insufficient methods and equipment that was not made for ghost hunting? Even Irwin states that, "in no way is there any presumption here of the existence of the paranormal" even though "many contemporary parapsychologists (…) actually regard parapsychology as the study of the paranormal". (Irwin, 1999, pg 1) If someone who has spent most of his life studying the paranormal refuses to proclaim the existence of it, then how can we believe the many who claim without proof that a minor irregularity is something major such as the ghost of dead person?

Are there really such things as ghosts due to the fact that most of the apparitions seen are dead? According to Irwin, about "70% of recognized apparitions are of people whom the experient knew to be dead". (Irwin, 1999, pg 247) He goes on to proclaim that the number of ghost an experient witnesses "may vary with the age of the individual or more precisely, with the number of deceased persons the individual knew." (Irwin, 1999, pg 247) Therefore, it assumed that the more dead people you know, the more likely you are able to see ghosts. Is it truly ghosts? Or is it the mind playing memories of actions you have seen the diseased performing in a certain place every time you pass by. For example, you see your dead grandmother planting flowers in the garden every time you walk by on a visit.

Most experients are likely to lie or jump to conclusions, therefore, we can presume that "the operation of fraud (…) remain potential interpretations" (Irwin, 1999, pg 177) of such proclamations as the sightings of ghosts or other apparitions. It might even be a story used to increase the experient's reputation in order to make him/her more interesting. One of Irwin's students "reported the experience of strolling along a deserted beach and feeling someone walking beside her". (Irwin, 1999, pg 247) Most of humanity gets the same feeling while walking alone, especially in the dark, yet, usually, there is no one there and it is a trick of the mind. The student goes on to proclaim, that "she did not see or hear anything to indicate there was something there" (Irwin, 1999, pg 247), yet, "the sense of a presence was very strong and she felt very comfortable with it." (Irwin, 1999, pg 247) Could it not have been a cool breeze that caused the student to feel comfortable and, assuming it was warm since she was on the beach, the breeze was strong due to the ocean's current? No, the student jumped to the conclusion that it was an apparition or spirit, but unfortunately, the student has no proof. Another experience is of "one 'totally deaf' man described hearing the rustle of an apparitional figure's dress". (Irwin, 1999, pg 247) Is it really true, or is it the yearning of the man to actually hear something, that his mind played tricks on him? Since most experients whom are able to witness many ghosts or apparitions have known many deceased, could it not be assumed that it is just the mind projecting an image of that we wish to see? A similar analogy would be that of a man trapped in a desert seeing a mirage of a lake. What we see, is simply what we wish to see and nothing more.

By analyzing the parapsychological and the paranormal, the survival theory, the situations in which ghosts usually appear and how most of those experiences are easily proven fakes, we have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for ghosts to truly exist unless evidence prove otherwise. Even if, later on, experients actually turn out to have a sixth sense that could perceive the dead, could it not be just that: a sixth sense?

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