On the surface, this question seems simple enough. There are people who claim to have had sightings or other communicative interactions with the dead, and believe fervently that the events truly occurred. There are others who think the whole business is hogwash.
I’m not sure if anyone has done a study comparing the spiritual/religious status of ghost-believers vs. the non-believers: If you believe in life—or existence in some form—after death, then are you more likely to believe in ghosts? I believe this is probably true. People who believe that our consciousness—our spirit, if you will—dies with our bodies probably think belief in such supernatural phenomena is ridiculous.
What does science think? A 2015 article in Psychology Today written by Frank T. McAndrew, Ph.D. goes into the possible, scientific explanations as to why some people “see” ghosts. He concludes:
“There are really only three possibilities:
- The event really happened, just as the person has reported.
- The person truly believes that the event has happened, but it has not.
- The person is fabricating a story for some reason.”
Dr. McAndrew refers to ghosts as “sensed presences,” and outlines some of the common conditions under which individuals experience them. Some of these include changes in brain chemistry triggered by motion, stress, a lack of oxygen, or increased hormonal activity. Studies have even pinpointed the specific area of the brain where such “visions” might originate. Mourning individuals often experience sightings or other communications from recently deceased loved ones. Isolation is also a common “trigger.” But are all of these people who see ghosts believers in life after death? I would love to see a study done, and welcome those of you in the reading audience to chime in under comments.
Yet some atheists (those who do not believe in God, or any god) do believe in an afterlife. Hmm.
NBC News’ Website recently ran an article highlighting the fact that while there are fewer Americans who believe in God, more Americans believe in an afterlife. Huh? The author claimed it was a “millennial thing,” and psychologist Jean Twenge is quoted as stating:
“It might be part of a growing entitlement mentality – thinking you can get something for nothing.”
Interesting thinking, but do these “entitlement millennials” believe in ghosts? Any of you out there? Come on, ‘fess up!
While the world of logic and traditional science pooh-pooh the concept of the ghost, there are other organizations who strongly believe the “illogical” and “unexplainable” are possible. The Rhine Research Center, located at prestigious Duke University in North Carolina, centers its studies on all things paranormal. These are not Saturday night spoofs conducting technologically enhanced ghost tours, folks. These are smart, highly educated individuals who are respected, and supported, by the academic and intellectual communities. Their history is long (est. 1930) and their mission statement simply stated:
The Rhine Research Center explores the frontiers of consciousness and exceptional human experiences in the context of unusual and unexplained phenomena. The Rhine’s mission is to advance the science of parapsychology, to provide education and resources for the public, and to foster a community for individuals with personal and professional interest in PSI.
Rhine defines “PSI” as the collective para-psychological phenomena, including extra sensory perception (ESP), psychokinesis (PK: the ability to move physical objects with the mind), and the belief that the spirit survives physical death of the body. The Center conducts ongoing research studies, and publishes the Journal of Parapsychology, described as:
“…an authoritative resource for anyone interested in the scientific study of paranormal phenomena.”
So, some really smart people believe in the paranormal. Not just the overly imaginative or emotionally unstable.
What do I believe? Well, I write supernatural suspense. That should tell you something—I’m not the kind of person who could write a 100,000 word story about a phenomenon I don’t believe in. But I’m also a scientist (no, really). I work in a research laboratory for Tufts University, performing very left-brain activities for the majority of my weekdays. I am considered by my peers to be a logical, educated individual. But I still believe in ghosts?
Yes, I do. Have I ever seen a ghost? No. But I have, shall we say, “had contact” with spirits of the dead—some of whom I never met, but just knew of. I’ve experienced premonition dreams. In 1968, on the night Robert Kennedy was shot, I saw the entire tragic event happening in a “dream.” I was only ten years old at the time. I was the one to deliver the news as a “bad dream” to my parents the next morning, who did not yet know.
On Jan. 28, 1977, another famous person, Freddie Prinze Sr., shot himself in the head. During the very same night as he lay in a coma, I dreamed I had a “meeting” with him in the underwater cabin of a ship. He discussed with me the reasons for his depression and assured me of his wish to end his life. At 1 p.m. the following day, after his family took him off life support, he died. I was twenty and only had peripheral knowledge of who Freddie Prinze even was, let alone the fact that he had shot himself.
Nearly a year after my father passed away, I “dreamed” that he called me. I picked up my bedside telephone and heard him say my name. Shocked, because the logical part of my brain knew he was dead, I asked, “Daddy . . . where are you?” He answered that he was “Far, far away . . . but not too far.” He sounded very upbeat and said that he was fine. When I asked if he was with my mom yet (who had passed away three years earlier), he said, “Not yet, but very soon. That’s why I wanted to call and let you know I was okay—that we are both okay—before I leave. Don’t worry about us anymore.”
I awoke with the phone in my hand, silence in my ear.
Yes, I believe in life after death, and I also believe in reincarnation. I think we are given more than one shot at this thing we call life. Many times I have said, about some seemingly undeserving individual who has been dealt a crappy hand in life, “He/she must have done something really bad in a former life.” The reverse is true, I believe, of people who appear consistently and irrationally lucky. They must have been freaking saints.
How do I express my interest and curiosity about the “next realm” of life after death? I write supernatural suspense. I create characters who are psychic, have unusual PSI-type powers, or who, for some reason, are “chosen” by certain ghosts to be their human contact. Are these people special in any way? Yes, I believe they are.
I know it’s hard for the younger generation to imagine this, but there was a time—before cable and satellite—when your “equipment,” i.e., your TV or your radio, had to have a very sensitive antenna in order to be able to pick up an electronic signal of a broadcast. If your equipment wasn’t very sensitive, you would see or hear only static or white noise. I believe communication with those who have passed into the next dimension is very similar. Some living people have sensitive antennae: some people do not.
Who knows? Maybe we all have the capability to “tune in” to the energy of a soul whose physical body is gone, but whose energy remains here on earth. If we don’t believe in life after death, though . . . if we don’t believe in ghosts, there’s no way that person’s energy can communicate with us. Our power switch is essentially turned off.
After all, the life force—our spirits—are forms of energy. The first law of thermodynamics tells us that “energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred from one form to another.” So what happens to our life force, our spirit, when our body dies? It can’t just go away, disappear, no longer exist. It has to go on, somewhere, somehow, in some other form.
Do you have sensitive antennae? Do you believe in life after death?
Do you believe in ghosts? Please share in comments. All viewpoints welcomed.
Claire Gem is the multi-award winning author of five contemporary novels, three of which fall under the genre of Supernatural Suspense. You can find out more about Claire and her work at her Amazon Author Page or her Website.