Scientific Proof that Ghosts Exist?

Well, no… proof is a bit of a stretch.  And when we say a “bit” we mean a “whole lot.”  But there is some evidence in which the possibility of seemingly paranormal activity (like ghosts) may not be ruled out.

Across the United States, almost every village, town, and city has identified an area that is haunted.  Strange things are seen and heard there.  Something horrible happened there – almost always with people and always with an untimely death.  Historically accurate or not, these stories get passed on.

Ghosts seem to be everywhere and, what’s more, there are earnest people who have experienced them.  What do we make of this?  This probably can’t be explained by the same mechanisms of alien abduction, so what can it be?  Who are we going to call?!

Everyone knows the Ghostbusters, but there really isn’t a name for the opposite: people who create ghosts.  Dr. Michael Persinger is just one such person.  Dr. Persinger experimentally induces hauntings.  The hauntings often include fear, hallucinations, and an overall feeling of the heeby-jeebies.  By what form of witchcraft and/or chicanery does Dr. Persinger summon the dark powers?  In his research, he applies weak, complex electromagnetic fields to participants’ brains – which isn’t nearly as harmful as it may sound.  In particular, he targets bilateral (left and right) temporoparietal (temple and slightly upper-back part) regions.  He argues that these electromagnetic fields disrupt melatonin levels.  As melatonin is an anti-convulsant, he says that the areas with disrupted melatonin levels are likely to have micro-seizures – also not as harmful as it sounds.  These micro-seizures are associated with the hallucinations that people experience: visual, auditory, and the overall weird feeling of being haunted.  Dr. Persinger has also suggested that the death/loss of a loved one can cause a higher likelihood of these micro-seizures and thus haunted feelings.

So are all the people who see, hear, or experience ghosts just epileptic?  No.  It just so turns out that many haunted places have whacky electromagnetic fields.  One study even found a relationship between solar winds (which affect geomagnetics) and hallucinations.

There are, of course, two possible explanations here.  First, when the temporal (and temporoparietal) areas are stimulated, people experience stuff that isn’t there.  Cultural influence, then, helps shape and interpret what we experience – be it a ghost, angel, god, etc.  On the other, more exciting hand, it’s also possible that stimulating these areas makes people more sensitive to stimuli they wouldn’t otherwise perceive.  In other words, people are experiencing phenomena that are usually beyond their sensory awareness.  In an interview with the fantastic writer Mary Roach, Dr. Persinger does not rule out the extra-sensory explanation.

So hauntings may just have a scientific basis after all.   More research is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn one way or the other.  Yet again in Halloween Week, there’s a complex interplay between the brain and culture (and maybe spirits).  For all of its provocative possibilities, this research isn’t without its critics.  Still, though, this research contributes to a better understanding of real-world phenomena and its neurophysiological underpinnings.  You don’t need a Ouija board to know that’s great!

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ABD, Psychology.

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