Saturday, July 6, 2013

No Ghosts Here

I try to be a scientific thinker.  Yet, I know there are phenomena that are not readily explained by pure science.  As Steve Martin once said (jokingly), "Science is pure empiricism and by virtue of its method eliminates metaphysics."  It could be the reason science can't show that there's ESP is because there's no way to get repeatable results with such a stochastic system.  But, until science comes up with a way to prove or disprove ESP and other paranormal phenomena, I'll doubt their existence.

So I don't believe in, for instance, ghosts.

So I was getting my haircut last week and the woman who cuts my hair asked me if I believe in ghosts and I said, "No."  So she pulls out her cell phone and shows me a picture she took with what she thinks is a ghost and I think looks a lot like jpg compression artifacts that sort of form a face.  And she found another picture she didn't take that appears to have a ghostly image a child in it.  But I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Maybe."

Now, I tell people I don't believe in ghosts then I proceed to tell them that three times in my life I saw things I could not explain readily.  Once, when I was a child I was in our dark basement and I saw a floating, white face.  I remember it scared me a lot.  And once a friend and I were sleeping outside in our back yard and we saw an orange fireball shoot into the sky.  I scared us a lot.

My best ghost story is from when I was an adult, about 20 years ago.  I was living in a small house built in the thirties.  One night I got up and went to the bathroom, then I went to the kitchen and got a drink of water.  As I was coming back (with the lights off) I could see into the living room and I saw a woman in a long flowing white robe or gown walking toward the dinning room.  In my half-asleep state I wondered why my wife was in the living room and I didn't remember wearing a white nightgown.  As I walked into the bedroom, my wife came out, startling me.

Have I mentioned I don't believe in ghosts?

I think "ghosts" are the result of two phenomena of the human brain: phosphenes and pareidolia.

Phosphenes are the lights you see when you close your eyes and have them open in a dark room.  They are random and are caused by your eyes and brain sort of saying "Hey, I've got no stimulus so I'll make some up."  But we've all seen these and we've all seen shapes in them, like faces, for instance.  Which brings us to pareidolia.  This is the tendency of the human brain to make shapes out of random stimulus.  Like seeing faces or bunnies in clouds.  Or a face in random noise in a picture.  Humans want to see faces.  We are hard-wired to recognize faces with very little detail.  We all see *_* as a face even though it's two asterisk and a line.  So our brains want to take random stimulus and turn it into a recognizable shape, like a face.

And why are ghosts almost always described as whitish and vaguely shaped?  Because phosphenes appear whitish and are random and the brain tries to make them into something they are not.

So as I was walking back to the bedroom, I saw out of the corner of my eye a bunch of phosphenes and my brain, via pareidolia, turned it into the shape of a woman.

So even though I've seen ghosts twice, I don't believe in them.

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