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Why do we see ghosts?
Current science can’t prove their existence, but these seven mental and environmental factors might.
By Jake Bittle | Published Oct 6, 2020 10:00 AM EDT
Are ghouls real? That depends. Current science can’t prove that there are spirits walking through walls or screaming below floorboards. Our spooky sightings, however, have certainly felt real. Humans have been spotting specters for as long as we’ve been around, and to some degree we can explain why. These seven mental and physical factors can account for almost any creepy occurrence—including some famous ones ripe for debunking—and help to make sense of our perpetual urge to sleep with the night light on.
You want to believe
“I know that ghosts have wandered on earth.” So says the tormented hero Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, and he’s not alone: Even for the most grounded among us, there’s something irresistible about haunted houses and vengeful spirits. Sometimes, hoping for a spectral sighting (or, like Heathcliff, dreading one) is enough for us to conjure a wraith.
Thanks to campfire tales and multimillion-dollar horror flicks, spooky notions can infiltrate our subconscious even without any real-life supernatural encounters. Nearly half of Americans think ghosts are real, according to market research company YouGov (bloodsucking vampires scored a measly 13 percent). That preconception primes our minds to run wild whenever we hear a creaky floorboard or feel a sudden chill.
“Believers are a lot more likely to report anomalous sensations, and they’re also more likely to conclude that those sensations indicate a ghostly presence,” says Chris French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London as well as a self-described “wet blanket” skeptic.
We have such a tendency because the human mind is highly suggestible, French says. We’ve evolved to take cues from the outside world to escape threats like an animal chasing us, so a well-placed hint can make us see things that aren’t there. In the 1990s, psychologists at the University of Illinois at Springfield gave the same tour of the century-old and long-closed Lincoln Square Theater to two groups of people, telling only one cohort that they were investigating a haunting; sure enough, the visitors who were informed of the excursion’s specifics were far more likely to report intense emotions and strange occurrences. This mental quirk is so powerful that it can deceive us even in real time: In another study, conducted by Goldsmiths’ French, participants were much more likely to report witnessing a key bending of its own accord if someone standing next to them mentioned they had seen the eerie incident happen too.
Our preconceptions can also cause us to find supernatural evidence in garbled noise or blurred images. French says this phenomenon, called pareidolia, can explain many supposed recordings of phantom voices. If a ghost hunter or psychic instructs you to listen for a certain phrase, then your brain (which loves identifying patterns) tries as hard as it can to create those exact words from various bits of random sound.
You’d rather not risk it
It’s easy to disregard the notion of paranormal activity in broad daylight, but everything changes when you head into a dark basement. Unfamiliar and threatening environments kick our survival instincts up a notch.
“If you’re walking in the woods and you see movement, you can make two errors,” says Michiel van Elk, a professor of social psychology at Leiden University. “You can either think it’s nothing, and it could be a potential predator, or you can think there’s a predator, and there’s nothing.” Psychologists suspect humans evolved a cognitive bias toward the latter mistake for good reason: Our ancestors had to keep a constant lookout for stealthy hazards like leopards and snakes, and folks with a “better safe than sorry” attitude were more likely to survive and reproduce. But, van Elk says, this propensity can cause us to sense the presence of another even when we’re alone. That’s why a snapping twig can activate the fight-or-flight reflexes that make us scream.
Ghost tours capitalize on this hereditary paranoia by forcing the mind to wrestle with ambiguity. A good haunted mansion doesn’t shove a spirit right in your face, but encourages you to wonder if you might have just seen one out of the corner of your eye. The uncertainty itself drives up the fear factor. Even quirks of architecture can trigger this primitive terror: In 1975, British geographer Jay Appleton found that, when it comes to our habitats, humans tend to think of places as safe when they offer two things: prospect (a clear view of the outside world) and refuge (the opportunity to hide from danger). A poorly lit old house gives us neither of those two accommodations, blocking our ability to see what’s around the corner and providing plenty of shadows in which malicious entities could lurk.
You need a little company
The apparitions in movies like The Grudge and The Amityville Horror will stop at nothing to chase down their human victims, but ghosts aren’t innately terrifying. Research suggests that the brain may summon spirits as a means of coping with trauma, especially the pain of losing a loved one. Just as most amputees report what’s known as “phantom limb,” the feeling that their detached appendage is still there, surviving spouses frequently report seeing or sensing their departed partner. One 1971 survey in the British Medical Journal found that close to half the widows in Wales and England had seen their mates postmortem. These vivid encounters, which psychologists call “after-death communication,” have long been among the most common kinds of paranormal experience, affecting skeptics and believers alike.
Experts think that such specters help us deal with painful or confusing events. A 2011 analysis published in the journal Death Studies looked at hundreds of incidents of supposed interaction with the deceased. The paper concluded that some occurrences provided “instantaneous relief from painful grief symptoms,” while others strengthened preexisting religious views.
Death isn’t the only trigger for a friendly ghost encounter either. Studies suggest kids who are bullied or exposed to dangerous situations are more likely to have paranormal fantasies, a trend psychologists also found in adults with a history of childhood trauma.
There’s also evidence that sightings have other mental benefits. In a 1995 survey in The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research , 91 percent of participants said their encounter had at least one upside, such as a sense of connection to others. So if you do see a shroud down the hallway, you might not want to run.
Your brain is unwell
Ghostly occurrences can be the result of larger problems in our gray matter. For some, hearing voices or experiencing a vision can be an early indicator of medical conditions such as schizophrenia. Some evidence even suggests that people with underlying brain disorders tend to have paranormal confrontations that are more intense and negative than the average brush with the beyond.
Even in those without mental illness, temporary changes in brain activity can lead to run-ins with wraiths. People who experiment with psychoactive drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms frequently report spiritual fantasies. Furthermore, psychiatrists have deemed many visions the result of sleep paralysis, a poorly understood condition in which the afflicted wake up and find themselves unable to move. Scientists have yet to pinpoint the roots of this phenomenon, but some think it occurs when the brain crosses wires between conscious awareness and the dream-filled REM stage of slumber. This mixup is almost always accompanied by a sensation of entrapment, floating, or detachment from one’s body—and in many cases sleepers see an accompanying demon or hag. According to a 2018 survey in the International Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research , at least 8 percent of the general population and around 30 percent of people with psychiatric illnesses have reported having one of these nighttime episodes at some point in their lives. Many cultures even have a specific name for the ghoulish occurrence. In Cambodia, for instance, the freakish event is called “the ghost that pushes you down”; in Nigeria, meanwhile, locals have another name for it: “the devil on your back.”
You’re getting some bad vibrations
Sometimes people experience an otherworldly encounter simply because something in their environment is making a strange noise that sends their bodies into disarray.
In the early 1980s, British engineer Vic Tandy was working in the research lab of a medical supply company when a strange feeling came over him. All at once he felt frigid and overwhelmed with a sense of impending doom. As he paced around the room to calm down, he suddenly sensed an ethereal presence. Moments later, he was sure he saw a gray apparition in his peripheral view. When he whirled around, the specter was gone.
Tandy’s colleagues had warned him the facility might be haunted, but the engineer was a skeptic by nature, so he scoured the place for an explanation. The culprit turned out to be a fan that hummed at a rate of 18.9 Hz. Though we can’t sense their quivering, our eyeballs vibrate at a very similar frequency. The sound threw Tandy’s vision for a loop and caused him to see a vague spook. The rogue fan may also have triggered his momentary panic, as studies suggest that certain noises can cause a person’s organs to shake, which makes them hyperventilate.
Waveforms that dwell around this acoustic sweet spot and below are known as infrasound. Though they’re inaudible to human ears, whose range bottoms out at 20 Hz, the interval creates some fairly insidious side effects. In fact, after Tandy published his findings in 1998 in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research , 18.9 Hz got a reputation as the “fear frequency.”
Most of us don’t regularly carry around audio gauges, so it’s hard to know how many hauntings might be explained by a buzzing fan or a rumbling fridge. For Tandy, the fright left him more curious than ever about ghosts. “When it comes to supernatural phenomena,” he told a reporter some years later, “I’m sitting on a fence.”
You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time
Situational quirks can easily manipulate our senses into seeing what’s not there. Consider the rural town of Anson, Texas, where locals long believed that if you drove out to the crossroads nearest the local cemetery and flashed your headlights, a mysterious flicker would bounce back at you. Legend held that the blink came from the lantern of an ill-fated mother searching for her son. In 2011, a group of skeptics armed with iPhones and Google Maps confirmed a less evocative explanation: Cars coming around a bend on a nearby highway cast the eerie beams of light.
A far more troubling circumstantial peculiarity is the notion that mold and other pollutants—often found in old buildings—can mess with people’s minds. Over the past few years, environmental engineering students at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, have been searching supposedly haunted structures across the Empire State for evidence of funky microbes; while it’s too early to draw conclusions, the places they’ve visited seem to have higher spore counts than your average inhabited building. Believers often cite the smell of rotting food (which fungi and mildew gather on) as a solid indicator of a phantom visit, and there’s some evidence that microscopic growths can trigger anxiety, depression, or even psychosis. Some historians believe that rye bread contaminated with ergot fungus (the same microbe from which LSD is derived) may have triggered the presumed possessions that led to the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s. Further, a dermatologist and known fungal expert at Guy’s Hospital in London has theorized that moldering books could induce enough mental weirdness to have inspired some of literature’s best works.
The same way scientists can potentially identify natural agents to explain “the devil’s magic,” known geologic phenomena may influence seemingly ghostly happenings. For example, some out-there theorists say that more sightings happen on days when Earth’s geomagnetic activity takes a sudden plunge. Disturbances in the planet’s magnetosphere, which are usually caused by anomalous outer-space events like solar flares, might mess with the inner workings of the brain, scrambling our perceptions in strange ways. So far, the evidence supporting this hypothesis is pretty thin.
Your mind is playing tricks on itself
In recent years, neurologists have identified potential bases for the feeling that someone or something is haunting us.
Research suggests seizures in the temporal lobe—the area of your noggin that processes visual memory and spoken language—might trigger ghost sightings. Electrical disturbances in this brain area could make us feel connected to otherworldly realms. Patients who have a history of such problems are more likely to report paranormal beliefs; furthermore, supernatural experiences tend to cluster between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., which some studies suggest is when these seizures occur most often.
Gray matter researchers have also spotted similar activity in controlled laboratory settings. A 2016 case study by doctors at a Jerusalem hospital described a patient who had a spontaneous religious experience as physicians stimulated his temporal lobe while treating him for epilepsy. And a 2008 paper published in the International Journal of Yoga found that people with supposed telepathic powers exhibited unusual activity in a section of the lobe called the right parahippocampal gyrus—one of a pair of regions that handle memory—when they tried to complete a mind-reading task.
Other sections of our headspace can also fall victim to phantom confusion. In a 2014 study, Swiss neuroscientists blindfolded a group of participants, then hooked up their hands to a machine that tracked finger movement. When the subjects moved their arms, a robotic appendage behind them simultaneously touched their backs in the same fashion. But when investigators delayed the mimicking movements of the animatronic device by just a few milliseconds, several people reported sensing an intelligent presence behind them, as if a spirit were poking them in the back. The researchers think the stalled movements wreak havoc on how the brain times incoming signals in the frontoparietal cortex, which controls inbound sensory and motor cues. Later imaging on folks who reported sensing paranormal shadows in the past found many had lesions in that exact area of gray matter, affecting its normal functioning.
This “feeling of a presence” phenomenon has more general implications for the hard-to-study field of the paranormal too. If a tiny movement delay is enough to conjure up spirits, perhaps our brains are predisposed at some deep level to imagine ghosts are walking among us. We might grow up, but those feelings never go away.
This story appears in the Fall 2020, Mystery issue of Popular Science .
Correction: The story previously stated that the Salem Witch Trials took place in the late 1800s. It’s been changed to reflect that the real date was the late 1600s.
Jake Bittle is a freelance reporter based in Brooklyn, New York, who covers climate change, housing, and politics. He’s been writing and fact-checking for Popular Science since 2018.
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The top three scientific explanations for ghost sightings
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From ghosts to ghouls, witches to wizards, Halloween is the one time of the year when people come together to celebrate everything supernatural. But beyond the fancy dress and trick or treating, belief in ghosts is actually relatively common – with 38% of people classifying themselves as believers and a similar number having actually reported seeing one.
The term “ghost” refers to the idea that the spirits of the dead – human and animal – influence the physical world. And the idea of a haunting can often include anything from a sensed presence, or objects moving, to spirit activity.
But in a world filled with science and reason, these “hauntings” can often boil down to a very simple explanation. So with Halloween just round the corner, here are the top three scientific and psychological explanations for hauntings, spirits, spookiness and all things supernatural – although it should be noted that many important questions have yet to be resolved …
1. Because I told you so
Attempts to explain hauntings often draw upon psychological factors – such as suggestion – so being told a place is haunted is more likely to lead to ghostly goings-on.
One classic study saw participants visiting five main areas of a theatre before completing a questionnaire to assess their feelings and perceptions. Prior to the tour, one group was told the location was haunted, while the other group was informed that the building was under renovation. Unsurprisingly, participants that were told the place was haunted experienced more intense experiences – similar to those of paranormal happenings.
Verbal suggestion has also been shown to increase paranormal perceptions – as shown in research on seance phenomena, paranormal key bending and psychic reading – especially when the suggestion is consistent with existing paranormal beliefs.
But research in real-world settings has produced inconsistent results. A study in the supposedly haunted Hampton Court found that suggestion had no effect on participants’ expectations of experiencing unusual phenomena, or their tendency to attribute unusual phenomena to ghosts.
So it is fair to say that the effects of suggestion vary depending upon a person’s beliefs. And of course, paranormal believers are prone to endorsing alleged paranormal phenomena – while sceptics will deny the existence of the paranormal.
2. Electromagnetic fields and spooky sounds
Other explanations draw on environmental factors, such as electromagnetic fields and infrasound. Canadian neuroscientist Michael Persinger demonstrated that the application of varying electromagnetic fields to the temporal lobes of the brain could produce haunting experiences – such as perception of a presence, a feeling of God or sensations of being touched. And it has been noted that areas most associated with hauntings – such as Hampton Court – do possess erratic magnetic fields.
Similarly, infrasound – audio frequency below the range of human hearing – is also thought to be able to explain such phenomena. Several studies have linked infrasound and bizarre sensations.
In one example, contemporary pieces of live music were laced with infrasound and the audience were then asked to describe their reactions to the music. More unusual experiences were reported when infrasound was present – chills down the spine, feeling nervous, waves of fear and uneasy or sorrowful emotions.
3. Toxic hallucinations
“Supernatural” perceptions can also arise from reactions to toxic substances – such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and pesticide. It also also been suggested that fungal hallucinations – caused by toxic mould – could stimulate haunting-related perceptions.
Shane Rogers and his team from Clarkson University in the US observed similarities between paranormal experiences and the hallucinogenic effects of fungal spores. This may explain why ghost sightings often occur in older buildings with inadequate ventilation and poor air quality.
The notion is not new and experts have previously reported a similar effect associated with old books . They claim that mere exposure to toxic moulds can trigger significant mental or neurological symptoms, which create perceptions similar to those reported during haunting experiences.
- Belief in ghosts
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History of Ghost Stories
By: History.com Editors
Updated: October 3, 2023 | Original: October 29, 2009
Since ancient times, ghost stories—tales of spirits who return from the dead to haunt the places they left behind—have figured prominently in the folklore of many cultures around the world. A rich subset of these tales involve historical figures ranging from queens and politicians to writers and gangsters, many of whom died early, violent or mysterious deaths.
What Is a Ghost?
The concept of a ghost, also known as a specter, is based on the ancient idea that a person’s spirit exists separately from his or her body, and may continue to exist after that person dies. Because of this idea, many societies began to use funeral rituals as a way of ensuring that the dead person’s spirit would not return to “haunt” the living.
Did you know? The notorious mobster Al Capone has reportedly appeared to disrespectful visitors at his funeral plot in an Illinois cemetery. Spectral banjo music has supposedly been heard coming from inside Capone's old cell at Alcatraz, where he was one of the first inmates.
Places that are haunted are usually believed to be associated with some occurrence or emotion in the ghost’s past; they are often a former home or the place where he or she died. Aside from actual ghostly apparitions, traditional signs of haunting range from strange noises, lights, odors or breezes to the displacement of objects, bells that ring spontaneously or musical instruments that seem to play on their own.
Early Ghost Sightings
In the first century A.D., the great Roman author and statesman Pliny the Younger recorded one of the first notable ghost stories in his letters, which became famous for their vivid account of life during the heyday of the Roman Empire. Pliny reported that the specter of an old man with a long beard, rattling chains, was haunting his house in Athens. The Greek writer Lucian and Pliny’s fellow Roman Plautus also wrote memorable ghost stories.
Centuries later, in A.D. 856, the first poltergeist–a ghost that causes physical disturbances such as loud noises or objects falling or being thrown around–was reported at a farmhouse in Germany. The poltergeist tormented the family living there by throwing stones and starting fires, among other things.
Three Famous Historical Ghosts
One of the most frequently reported ghost sightings in England dates back to the 16th century. Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I , was executed at the Tower of London in May 1536 after being accused of witchcraft, treason, incest and adultery. Sightings of Boleyn’s ghost have been reported at the tower as well as in various other locations, including her childhood home, Hever Castle, in Kent.
America’s own rich tradition of historical ghosts begins with one of its most illustrious founding fathers: Benjamin Franklin . Beginning in the late 19th century, Franklin’s ghost was seen near the library of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ; some reports held that the statue of Franklin in front of the society comes to life and dances in the streets.
Though many ghost sightings have been reported at the White House in Washington , D.C., over the years, perhaps no political figure has made so frequent an appearance in the afterlife as Abraham Lincoln , the nation’s 16th president, who was killed by an assassin’s bullet in April 1865. Lincoln, formerly a lawyer and congresseman from Illinois , is said to have been seen wandering near the old Springfield capitol building, as well as his nearby law offices. At the White House, everyone from first ladies to queens to prime ministers have reported seeing the ghost or feeling the presence of Honest Abe—particularly during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt , another president who guided the country through a time of great upheaval and war.
Some locations simply seem to lend themselves to hauntings, perhaps due to the dramatic or grisly events that occurred there in the past. Over the centuries, sightings of spectral armies have been reported on famous battlefields around the world, including important battle sites from the English Civil War in the 17th century, the bloody Civil War battlefield of Gettsyburg and the World War I sites of Gallipoli (near Turkey) and the Somme (northern France).
Another particularly active center for paranormal activity is the HMS Queen Mary , a cruise ship built in 1936 for the Cunard-White Star Line. After serving in the British Royal Navy in World War II , the 81,000-ton ship retired in Long Beach, California in 1967; the plan was to turn it into a floating luxury hotel and resort. Since then, the Queen Mary has become notorious for its spectral presences, with more than 50 ghosts reported over the years. The ship’s last chief engineer, John Smith , reported hearing unexplained sounds and voices from the area near the ship’s bow, in almost the same location as a doomed British aircraft cruiser, the Coracoa , had pierced a hole when it sank after an accidental wartime crash that killed more than 300 sailors aboard.
Smith also claimed to have encountered the ghost of Winston Churchill–or at least his spectral cigar smoke–n the prime minister’s old stateroom aboard the ship. Many visitors to the Queen Mary have reported seeing a phantom crewmember in blue overalls walking the decks. Around the ship’s swimming pool, reports have been made of mysterious splashes and ghostly women in old fashioned bathing suits or dresses, along with trails of wet footsteps appearing long after the pool had been drained.
Among major cities, New York is especially rich with ghost stories. The spirit of Peter Stuyvesant, the city’s last Dutch colonial governor, has been seen stomping around the East Village on his wooden leg since shortly after his death in 1672. The author Mark Twain is believed to haunt the stairwell of his onetime Village apartment building, while the ghost of poet Dylan Thomas is said to sometimes occupy his usual corner table at the West Village’s White Horse Tavern, where he drank a fatal 18 shots of scotch in 1953. Perhaps the most famous New York ghost is that of Aaron Burr, who served as vice president under Thomas Jefferson but is best known for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Burr’s ghost is said to roam the streets of his old neighborhood (also the West Village). Burr’s spectral activity is focused particularly on one restaurant, One if By Land, Two if By Sea, which is located in a Barrow Street building that was once Burr’s carriage house.
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Why some people see ghosts and other apparitions, there are potential explanations (even if some people won't believe them)..
Posted July 9, 2015 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
- Studies indicate that almost half of widowed elderly Americans see a hallucination of their departed spouse.
- An apparition can be a defined as a "sensed presence" that appears in order to comfort someone during a time of extremely high stress.
- How someone interprets seeing a "ghost" often depends on the tenets of their religious faith or whether they are involved in a vision quest.
In the 2013 science-fiction thriller Gravity , Sandra Bullock plays an astronaut who gets stranded in a capsule in space following a catastrophe in which she is the apparent lone survivor. Cold, frightened, and alone, she resigns herself to her fate and shuts down the cabin's oxygen supply to commit suicide . As she begins to lose consciousness, she is visited ( or is she? ) by her fellow astronaut, played by George Clooney, whom she believed to be dead. He gives her a pep talk and a survival plan—and then he leaves.
She eventually realizes that Clooney’s visit did not really happen, but the experience still gives her the strength to continue on. By following "his" plan, she is able to survive what seemed to be a hopeless situation.
The movie was science fiction, but the encounter that Bullock’s character has with a "being" who appears in a moment of desperation is a human experience far more common than you might think. Psychologists refer to it as the “sensed presence,” and it is one of many reasons that most scientists remain very skeptical about the existence of ghosts .
The "Sensed Presence"
The sensed presence usually happens to individuals who have become isolated in an extreme or unusual environment, often when high levels of stress are involved. These individuals report a perception or feeling that another person is there to help them cope with a hazardous situation.
The vividness of the presence can range from a vague feeling of being watched to a clearly perceived, seemingly flesh-and-blood entity such as Clooney’s character in Gravity . This entity might be a god, a spirit, an ancestor, or someone personally known to the observer. Sensed presences usually appear in environments with little variation in physical and social stimulation; low temperature is also a common ingredient.
Possible explanations for a sensed presence include the motion of boats, atmospheric or geomagnetic activity, and altered sensations and states of consciousness induced by changes in brain chemistry triggered by stress, hypothermia, a lack of oxygen, monotonous stimulation, or a buildup of hormones . There is, in fact, exciting new evidence from a research group led by Olaf Blanke demonstrating that it is the precise stimulation of specific brain regions that tricks people into feeling the "presence" of a ghostly apparition.
Environmental psychologist Peter Suedfeld also thinks that what we do cognitively changes under these circumstances and may play a role.
Suedfeld proposed that we normally spend most of our time attending to and processing external, ambient stimuli from the physical world surrounding us. However, persistent exposure to stimuli that we are evolutionarily unprepared to process, or a lack of change in our surroundings, may cause us to focus more within ourselves, which most of us are much less experienced at doing.
We Have "Agency-Detection" Mechanisms
Seeing ghosts may also be triggered by the “ agency-detection mechanisms " proposed by evolutionary psychologists. These mechanisms evolved to protect us from harm at the hands of predators and enemies.
If you are walking down a dark city street and hear the sound of something moving in a dark alley, you will respond with a heightened level of arousal and sharply focused attention and behave as if there is a willful “agent” present who is about to do you harm. If it turns out to be just a gust of wind or a stray cat, you lose little by overreacting, but if you fail to activate the alarm response and a true threat is present, the cost of your miscalculation could be high. Thus, we evolved to err on the side of detecting threats in such ambiguous situations.
A study by Kirsten Barnes and Nicholas Gibson explored the differences between individuals who have never had a paranormal experience and those who have. They confirmed that experiences of supernatural phenomena are most likely to occur in threatening or ambiguous environments, and they also found that those who had paranormal experiences scored higher on scales measuring empathy and a tendency to become deeply absorbed in one’s own subjective experience.
Most likely, the experience of the sensed presence is the result of many of these factors acting at once.
When Do Sensed Presences Occur?
Some of the most compelling descriptions of sensed presences come from lone sailors who have experienced hallucinations and out-of-body experiences . In one famous incident, Joshua Slocum, the first person to circumnavigate the globe singlehandedly, swore that he saw and spoke with the pilot of Columbus’s ship the Pinta . He claimed that the pilot steered his boat through heavy weather as Slocum lay ill with food poisoning.
Many other startling, vivid examples of such apparitions reported by sailors, mountain climbers, and polar explorers are described in a 1987 article by Suedfeld and Mocellin . These include recurring reports by polar explorers that they felt as if someone was following them on their treks; Mt. Everest climbers stranded in snow holes hallucinating rescuers; and survivors of sinking ships counting extra persons in their lifeboats.
Although sensed presences are most frequently reported by people in weird or dangerous places, it is not unreasonable to assume that such experiences can happen in more mundane surroundings.
For example, grieving individuals who have lost a loved one on whom they depended greatly may shut themselves off from social contact with others and rarely leave their homes. The loneliness and isolation, coupled with high levels of stress and unchanging sensory stimulation, might very well produce the same biological conditions that could trigger a “visit” from the recently departed. Studies indicate that almost half of widowed elderly Americans experience a hallucination of the departed spouse. Such after-death communications actually appear to be a healthy coping mechanism and a normal part of the bereavement process .
Religion Can Play a Role in Seeing Ghosts
The phenomenon of the sensed presence may account for many religious experiences as well. Sensed presences often occur following extended periods of meditation and internal reflection and they may be facilitated by unusual and intense physical stimulation. Early religious figures such as Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed all reportedly met supernatural beings while wandering in the desert; indeed, fasting, prolonged meditation, and stimulation of the body through pain and fatigue are part and parcel of most religions. Almost every religion also offers an explanation for what happens to us after we die, with the assurance that death isn’t the end. And there is, in fact, evidence that very religious people don’t fear death as much as others .
But religion’s talent for easing our anxiety about death may have the perverse effect of increasing the likelihood that we’ll be on edge about ghosts, spirits, and other supernatural beings while we are still alive. With most religions populated by an impressive cadre of prophets, gods, spirits, angels, and miracles, the tenets of your religious faith dictate who you think you are meeting when you encounter a ghost, and they determine whether the visitor from the spirit world is a welcome or unwelcome guest.
Rites of Passage
Many societies feature a period of isolation and unusual environmental stimulation as a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. The transcendental altering of consciousness may be an important part of such experiences, as well as physical hardship or even torture. In such rituals, sometimes referred to as vision quests or spirit quests , seekers hope to encounter a spirit or being that will provide them with guidance and advice. In some Native American tribes, a young man would receive his adult name from such a being during his vision quest. These spirit quests involve solitude in harsh environments or intense sensory bombardment—drumming, sweating, chanting, or dancing—in a confined area. Both approaches to the quest have included starvation, thirst, and sleeplessness as means of further altering arousal levels and conjuring an encounter with a spirit.
So, seeing a ghost is a very real perceptual event for those individuals who have experienced it, and it can be very hard to convince them that it was anything other than what they believe it to be. When evaluating self-reports from individuals who have had an extraordinary encounter, ranging from an alien abduction to a visit from a supernatural being, it may be difficult to know how to proceed.
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.
The best that any one of us can do under the circumstances is to evaluate the relative probability of each of these options and choose the one that appears most likely.
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Kwilecki, S. (2011). Ghosts, meaning, and faith: after-death communications in bereavement narratives. Death Studies, 35 , 219-243.
McAndrew, F. T. (1993). Environmental psychology. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
McAndrew, F. T. (2017, October 25). How the God you worship influences the ghosts you see. The Conversation. ( https://theconversation.com/how-the-god-you-worship-influences-the-ghos… )
Rees, W. D. (1971). The hallucinations of widowhood. British Medical Journal, 4 , 37-38, 39-41.
Suedfeld, P. (1980). Restricted environmental stimulation: Research and clinical applications . New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Suedfeld, P., & Mocellin, J. S. P. (1987). The “sensed presence” in unusual environments. Environment and Behavior, 19 , 33-52.
University of Oxford (2017, March 24). Study into who is least afraid of death. ( https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2017-03-24-study-who-least-afraid-death )
van Elk, M., Rutjens, B. T., van der Pligt, J., & van Herreveld, F. (2014). Priming of supernatural agent concepts and agency detection. Religion, Brain, & Behavior,
Weil, A. T. (1977). The marriage of the sun and the moon. In N. E. Zinberg (Ed.), Alternate states of consciousness . New York: The Free Press.
Frank McAndrew, Ph.D., is the Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College.
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Types of Ghosts
Different types of ghosts and spirits.
For many people new to the realm of paranormal, it comes to them as a surprise that there are different kinds of ghosts, each classified by the types of hauntings, how they appear, what they are, how they haunt, and so on.
An animal ghost , as the name suggests, are the spirits of non-human animals. They are most often pets, wild dogs, or horses. Since these animals were unable to speak to humans during their time alive, they cannot talk to humans in death, either.
An apparition is a visual representation of a spirit. While there are several different types, the transparent or semi-transparent apparition are the most widely known/witnessed varieties. Apparitions may also include animals, cars, ships, carriages, buildings, and trains, or anything else that could appear before us.
Unlike other types of ghosts, apparitions look as real as a living people. Some have been known to hold conversations and interact with the living before disappearing. Witnesses say that certain odors can be smelled before, during, and/or after a sighting.
When multiple people witness the same apparition at the same time, it is called a collective apparition .
Atmospheric ghosts are only ever seen in one specific location. They will repeat a certain action over and over and over again. They are believed to be projected images from psychic energy stored in the area.
Atmospheric ghosts are all known as replaying, haunting, and residual ghosts.
Banshees have been a part of Irish lore for hundreds of years. They are believed to be the spirits of women whose voices bear messages to warn of death. The legend says that her screams are heard by everyone, except the person who is to die.
Calling ghosts are ghosts who alert the living by calling out their names. They can be of any category, as long as the category includes ghosts who can interact.
Crisis ghosts bear important messages for the living. They are also known as message-bringers.
An abandoned website that lures in visitors and allows them to send emails that will never receive replies is known as a cyber ghost . They are not actually ghosts.
Cyclic ghosts are spirits that appear on the anniversary to a significant event, often times their death.
Demons are evil spirits capable of harming the living, often by means of scratches and/or possession. They are believed to be spirits from Hell.
Family ghosts are connected by the ties of relation. While not actually dead in all cases, they are believed to appear to warn the living of death or disaster. Most often appearing in visions, a man’s sister could appear to him in a dream warning that their cousin has died of cancer, for example, even despite the sister is still alive. It is believed to be some kind of psychic energy. In other cases, it could be the uncle of a woman letting her know he has died in a car accident.
Objects that ghosts had a strong emotional tie to. Such objects may include wedding rings, a favorite chair, a doll, a surgical instrument, etc.
Similar to atmospheric ghosts, historical ghosts have been seen replaying historic events, though they may be seen in multiple locations. They, too, are non-interactive, and fall under the category of location based. In general, they appear to be solid and wearing period clothing. Battlefield ghosts are also considered historical ghosts.
Incubus / Succubus
Incubuses and succubuses are demonic entities who invade the dreams of men and women and provide sexual images, lust, and sometimes assault. Incubuses affect women while succubuses affect men.
Many believe that this is the appearance of the Virgin Mary. Marian ghosts also cover cameos of religious figures and saints.
Modern ghosts are similar to the historical ghosts, but they are of the modern era.
Phantoms closely resemble the living, and they are often not suspected of being paranormal until they do something like vanish or walk through a wall.
Phantom hitchhikers are the base of many urban legends and pop culture, including episodes of The Twilight Zone. In most cases, they appear on the anniversary of their death. They interact with the living by asking for a ride, but they disappear before they arrive at their destination.
These ghosts are normally found along a particular stretch of road. They appear near the place of a deadly accident. Phantom travelers have been found riding in or waiting to board a train, plane, boat, car, or horse, depending on how they died. In most cases, they appear on the anniversary of their death.
Photographic ghosts can be any kind of ghost, but they are normally not seen with the naked eye and are only seen in the photos taken. Some appear as orbs, vortexes, ectoplasmic mist, or other unusual light/optical abnormalities.
German for “noisy spirit,” poltergeists are nothing short of their names. They are known to throw things, move things, and wreak havoc in a near playful manner.
Recurring & Replay Ghosts
Recurring ghosts appear at a certain time, often times the anniversary of their death. There are several stories of ghosts appear on Halloween night; these are recurring ghosts.
While not a living thing, transportation ghosts are ghosts of a vehicle of transportation (train, car, plane, etc.) that no longer exist. They are often associated with a tragic event, often a crash, that the transportation met its end. Sometimes, phantom passengers have been seen on these transportation ghosts, depending on the deaths.
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Types Of Ghost Apparitions You May Face
- Ghost & Hauntings
Despite research efforts there is still very little known about apparitions. They are the most compelling part of the supernatural field. The one thing that is known about apparitions is that no two are exactly alike.
They are as complex and diverse as each living person. Every apparition will have it’s own cause, origin and meaning. It’s up to the ghost hunter to analyze the facts of each case and develop solid conclusions.
To help the ghost hunter acquire a better feel for the kind of apparition they are dealing with, apparition categories have been created. You will find that most apparitions will fit into at least one of these categories or share characteristics with a couple different categories.
This type of ghost sighting is not actually believed to be a real ghost, but instead a visual “imprint” that got left behind in the environment from a past event. These events typically include, but are not limited to, violent and tragic events. What witnesses report seeing is the continuous replaying of past events exactly as they happened.
The ghostly scenes are played and replayed with both picture and sound. A particularly strange aspect of atmospheric apparitions is that the visual picture fades down over time. As the years pass the ghosts are reported to become more and more transparent until there is no picture left at all. Over time, the sound too eventually fades away.
The most popular theory for atmospheric apparitions is represented in the field of quantum physics. Light particles become suspended in the atmosphere where they remain dormant in the environment until an outside variable stimulates them.
Once stimulated the light particles vibrate in the atmosphere. Witnesses then see the frozen light particles vibrating creating a holographic vision of the past event. There are certain conditions needed for this phenomenon to occur that supports the particle imprint theory.
The area must be indoors or where weather conditions cannot interfere. These apparitions can only be seen from a particular angle and at the proper distance. This means that ten people may be in the same room and only a few will be able to see the apparition.
These apparitions are one step up from the atmospheric apparition. They typically haunt older homes and appear in solid forms acting natural. They are always dressed in period clothing and do not speak, communicate or acknowledge the presence of the living. They are seen in more than one location of the residence.
Recurring apparitions are ghosts that occur in regular cycles over a period of time, usually once annually. This type of ghost sighting is one of the most popular. The date of manifestation usually occurs on an anniversary date or a day of special importance to the deceased.
These apparitions can include both ghosts of people and animals. Reports of recurring ghosts include individuals who have committed suicide, murder victims, and entire phantom armies marching across battlefields.
Modern ghosts are the spirits of present-day ghosts. Not all ghosts are from ancient haunted places or of two hundred-year-old dead people. These ghosts are relatively new, looking and sounding like modern people.
They still have all the same characteristics as the older haunts, (strange noises, odd odors, cold spots, etc.). Of course as decades of time pass the haunting will become more traditional and the apparitions will look dated. The times and styles will continue to change but the apparitions will not.
Crisis or Death Bed Apparitions
These apparitions appear to loved ones or close friends just before or soon after their death. They are very common ghost sightings that almost never occur after more than four days after death.
Crisis apparitions are most popular during periods of wars were hundreds of cases of the appearances of dying or dead service men thousand of miles away are reported.
The crisis ghost appears one last time to fulfill a promise, say a final goodbye, or express eternal love to help ease the sadness of death for the living left behind.
These spirits attach themselves to a particular family, thus the name, family apparitions. They will haunt every member of the family through each generation until the family line comes to an end.
These ghosts include the spirits of deceased family members and animals. The appearance of these ghosts usually signals that someone within the family is about to die. Usually there are no prior health problems until the phantom manifests, then family members suddenly fall ill and die or become the victims of some other untimely death.
These apparitions are considered to be dark omens and are the hardest ghost to get rid of. All charms, spells and even exorcism fail. It may be because these apparitions are not actually causing the deaths, just foretelling them in an eerie manner. The only escape known for this haunting is the end of the family line.
Haunted Objects and Object Apparitions
Haunted objects can also be referred too as cursed. This supernatural phenomenon is one of the strangest most puzzling enigmas of all the haunting styles. Most haunts have a ghost at the center. When dealing with haunted objects the question must be, “how are these objects haunted.”
They were never alive and are void of any soul. Some haunted objects are spirit associated, meaning that the ghost of a past owner who had a powerful emotional tie to the object now haunts the objects. Still, other objects leave no clue to their curse and appear to have a life of their own.
In the presence of haunted objects witnesses report all types of strange occurrences like bizarre sounds and lights coming from the rooms where the objects are stored. The objects move when no one is touching them.
Dark apparitions are sometimes seen near the objects. These haunted objects can include almost any possession; jewelry, collectibles, wall clocks, and furniture are some of the more common haunted objects.
There are also object apparitions. Reports of the ghost like sightings of objects like swords, books, lanterns, etc. Ghosts or spirits cannot possess objects, but they can haunt them. There is a difference.
Modes of Transportation
These are the manifestations of non-living vehicles such as cars, trucks, busses, bicycles, carriages, trains, airplanes, and ships. There are almost always associated in some way with a violently tragic demise where hundreds of people may have died as a direct result.
The emotional imprints left behind in these kinds of horrible events are so strong that even pieces of the wreckage can become haunted or cursed.
8532 These vehicles are seen traveling back over their last routes in the reenactments of their final seconds. They can be dangerous apparitions because of the fact that most people who see them are themselves traveling in a vehicle. Witnesses sometime panic and sometimes wreck as a result.
These are ghosts that are not seen visually, but can be photographed. Most people are unaware that they have taken a picture of a ghost until they develop the film. The ghosts appearing in photographs may appear in slightly transparent grayish forms wearing period clothing, or more commonly as bright white patches of concentrated energy.
Blurred areas and unexplained smears on only certain areas of a photograph are believed by some to be caused by a nearby spirit. This phenomenon has taken a new twist over the past fifteen years with the revolution of the personal video camcorder.
Ghosts or phantom-like images have been recorded accidentally by regular everyday people and by experienced ghost hunters.
The strange occurrences of out-of-body apparitions are when people report seeing the ghost of someone whom is still alive and could not have been nearby at the time of the sighting. These apparitions appear in very much the same form as a regular ghost.
They can be solid or transparent, acting similar to the real person. The person whose ghost was seen is not dying or for that matter is not even sick. They are perfectly healthy individuals who say they remember everything about their out-of-body experience and give details that can be verified.
Some people claim to be able to induce the experience at will, a kind of spirit jumping. Because these apparitions can appear to people that may not know the individual in real life the apparition may be mistaken for a more traditional ghost.
It is said that if the living soul stays out-of-body too long then the body will die and the soul will be left a wandering ghost.
Natural and Fraudulent Apparitions
A majority of all ghost reports will end up being false. This simply means that there is a logical and natural explanation for the occurrences being mistaken for something supernatural. It’s the ghost hunter’s job to find and eliminate all rational explanations. Once the normal possibilities have been ruled out the ghost hunter can then begin to investigate for more supernatural answers.
On the other side of the mistaken ghost sightings are the fraudulent reports. Individuals may fake a ghost sighting for any number of reasons. Maybe they are just trying to have fun and see if they can trick someone.
Or this may be their way of getting attention. It could be a publicity stunt. It could even be a case of mental illness or schizophrenia on the part of the witness, which is not fraudulent. It’s important for a ghost hunter to keep in mind that there are people out there with the motives and technological know-how to produce a believable, fake ghost sighting.
There have been cases of people faking poltergeist activities with houses that have been entirely wired by their owners from basement to attic to produce ghostly lights and sounds in any room on command.
If the ghost hunter completes a thorough examination for logical explanations a fraudulent haunting should be easy to discover. A seasoned ghost hunter with a couple dozen cases under their belt will learn to develop a second nature for uncovering frauds.
Other Supernatural Explanations
There is always a huge list of natural explanations for producing apparitions and haunting conditions, however, after all natural explanations have been ruled out there are still some other paranormal theories that have to be looked at.
While these explanations may be as hard to believe as the existence of ghosts for some people, they do have their basis from actual science. Creditable scientist trying to explain some supernatural occurrences have put forth theories such as time-slips and psychic echoes. Time-slips are moments where the past and present collide at one point.
Anyone near the time-slip will be able to see into the past. Psychic echoes is where sounds from the past have somehow recorded themselves onto the stones of buildings and randomly play back like an old record. While these explanations are just as unproven as the existence of ghosts, they are theories that still need to be examined.
Jake Carter is a journalist and a most prolific writer who has been fascinated by science and unexplained since childhood.
He is not afraid to challenge the official narratives and expose the cover-ups and lies that keep us in the dark. He is always eager to share his findings and insights with the readers of anomalien.com, a website he created in 2013.
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Listen If You Dare: Exploring Our Belief In Ghosts
A Chateau Le Fear cast member waits for thrill seekers at the house of horror show in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Charles McQuillan/Getty Images hide caption
A Chateau Le Fear cast member waits for thrill seekers at the house of horror show in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Have you ever been home alone but had the feeling that someone is watching you?
Or when you're just about to go to sleep and you get a chill down your spine... maybe you even hear footsteps or a faint voice.
And then the question starts to nag at you. Is something else here that you just can't see? Could it be something... otherworldly?
Yes, we are talking about ghosts, spirits, and the other side. Nearly half of Americans believe in ghosts. The concept of spirits is present in many cultures around the world. Their existence permeates books, movies, and folklore.
But what would you do if you were faced with the existence of something you couldn't explain?
Glynn Washington , the host of the podcast "Spooked, presented by Snap Judgment," joins us to share some of his favorite ghost stories. And we hear from professor Chris French about why humans believe in the paranormal .
Like what you hear? Find more of our programs online .
What Is The Difference Between An Apparition And A Ghost?
Have you ever experienced something strange, and wondered if it was a ghost or an apparition?
If so, then this article is for you!
We’ll take a closer look at the differences between ghosts and apparitions. Although they may seem similar, there are distinct features that set them apart from each other.
Let’s dive in and learn more about these mysterious happenings!
Check out my post on Are Apparitions A Sign Of A Haunting?
Definition Of An Apparition
An apparition is a supernatural experience, where an individual has witnessed something that cannot be explained by normal means. It often involves paranormal activity and is usually considered to be the spirit of a deceased person manifesting itself in some form or another.
Apparitions can take on many forms, such as a misty figure, a transparent entity, or even a fully formed humanoid – all depending on what kind of energy they are made up of.
While an apparition may seem like it could be classified as a ghost, there are significant differences between them which will become clear when discussing the definition of a ghost.
Definition Of A Ghost
A ghost is also often confused with an apparition, but they are distinct entities. Ghosts typically have a supernatural origin story and represent paranormal activity.
While ghosts can appear in many forms, some of the most common characteristics include:
- Appearing as human-like figures
- Making physical contact with objects or people
- Having the ability to move through walls or other barriers
- Being able to make their presence known through auditory and visual cues such as noises, smells, shadows, etc.
In addition, ghosts can be bound to certain locations and may remain in those places for years after death has occurred. They often haunt the living by appearing to them in various ways; however, there is no clear scientific evidence that these manifestations actually exist outside of folklore tales and superstitions.
With this understanding of what makes up a ghost, we will now look into the characteristics of apparitions.
Characteristics Of Apparitions
Apparitions are often thought of as mysterious, otherworldly entities that have been sent from the supernatural realm to haunt us. They appear in a variety of forms and often cause paranormal activity due to their unknown origins.
Apparitions may look like real people or animals and can even take on an eerie glow or misty shape. While they tend to be short-lived, they leave behind powerful impressions and emotions with those who encounter them.
Although apparitions share some similarities with ghosts, they are not one in the same; while both originate from some form of supernatural source, ghosts possess unique characteristics that differentiate them from apparitions.
Learn more: Supernatural Occurrences Linked To Apparitions .
Characteristics Of Ghosts
Ghosts are typically associated with superstitious beliefs and the supernatural. They are often thought to be spirits of people who have died, or entities that linger in a particular place or object due to some kind of attachment or traumatic event.
Generally speaking, ghosts can be described as having these characteristics:
- Invisibility – Ghosts are usually invisible.
- Supernatural activity – Ghosts are believed to possess powers beyond what is considered normal for humans such as being able to move objects without physical contact and appearing in dreams.
- Spirituality beliefs – Different cultures have different spiritual beliefs when it comes to ghosts, ranging from veneration to fear and revulsion.
- Interaction with living beings – It is widely accepted that ghosts can interact with living beings either directly through communication or indirectly by creating strange noises and occurrences.
These characteristics make ghosts distinct from apparitions which may appear more ethereal, ephemeral, and fleeting; like shadows or flashes of light rather than tangible presences.
Explaining The Differences
As the night sky glowed with an eerie, supernatural light and a chill crept through the air, one could not help but marvel at the mysterious beings that haunt our dreams. Apparitions and ghosts are two of these mystical entities, often seen as phantoms in the darkness. Though they may appear similar on the surface, there are distinct differences between them that separate them from each other.
These subtle distinctions create a dichotomy between apparitions and ghosts – while both can indeed be classified under ‘supernatural sightings’, they ultimately remain two distinct phenomena. As we continue to explore these realms of mystery, let us never forget that secrets still linger in the shadows of our understanding.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are apparitions and ghosts the same thing.
Are apparitions and ghosts the same thing?
This is a common question when discussing supernatural beings. While both are entities associated with spiritual energy, they do have some differences that set them apart.
Apparitions are usually fleeting figures or images seen briefly by one person, while ghosts tend to be more interactive and persistent.
Are Apparitions And Ghosts Real?
Coincidentally, the debate between whether apparitions and ghosts are real or not has been around since ancient times.
Some people believe that these paranormal phenomena exist while others doubt their existence due to its spiritual implications.
While there is no definitive answer, it can be said that both apparitions and ghosts have a strong presence in folklore and culture all over the world.
This suggests that there may be some evidence of truth behind them being real entities beyond our understanding.
Are Apparitions And Ghosts Dangerous?
Many people believe that apparitions and ghosts are dangerous supernatural entities, however this is not always the case.
In fact, some religious entities have been known to refer to them as benevolent spirits.
While these entities may be able to startle or frighten individuals if they choose to do so, it’s important to remember that they rarely cause harm.
Ultimately, whether or not an apparition or ghost can be viewed as dangerous depends on your personal beliefs.
Are Apparitions And Ghosts Connected To Certain Locations?
Apparitions and ghosts are often connected to certain locations, with supernatural sightings being linked to spiritual activities.
Reports of apparitions have been seen at specific places such as castles or battlefields; while ghosts are believed to haunt houses, cemeteries or other historic sites.
Some people believe that the dead linger in these areas due to an unfinished task or a strong emotional attachment.
Additionally, some cultures even associate particular locations with paranormal phenomena, which could explain why there are frequent reports of ghostly activity in those places.
Do Apparitions And Ghosts Have The Ability To Interact With Humans?
It is unclear if apparitions and ghosts have the ability to interact with humans.
Apparitions are typically described as mysterious hauntings, while ghosts can be seen as spiritual visitations.
Both of these entities appear in various forms and sizes, but it is unknown whether they possess the power to communicate or manipulate objects.
Although there may not be a definitive answer for this question, many believe that both types of supernatural beings can co-exist and interact with people.
We’ve established that there are some similarities between apparitions and ghosts, but also clear differences.
On one hand, both can be seen in certain locations, although apparitions may appear more randomly than ghosts do.
Additionally, it seems as though a ghost is more likely to interact with humans than an apparition would be.
Ultimately, the decision about whether or not either of these phenomena exist lies solely with you; I’m just here to provide information.
Whatever your beliefs may be on this subject matter, remember: never fear what you don’t understand—seek knowledge instead!
About the author
Our team is comprised of experienced practitioners, teachers, and researchers who have a deep understanding of the paranormal and the supernatural. We have spent years studying and experimenting with various techniques and practices to master our abilities and are passionate about sharing our knowledge with others.
Can Poltergeists Be Benevolent? Is It Even possible? Find Out
Have you ever heard strange noises coming from an empty room or furniture moving around on its own? You may have encountered a poltergeist or poltergeist. A poltergeist is an invisible spirit that manifests through loud noises and physical interactions with objects. As mysterious as they are, there has been much speculation about whether these…
Can Poltergeists Be Stopped? What Is The Possibility?
Have you ever noticed strange occurrences happening in your home that can’t be explained? These things could be attributed to poltergeists, from mysterious noises to objects being moved around. But what is a poltergeist, and more importantly, can they be stopped? In this article, I’ll provide an overview of what a poltergeist is and the…
Can Poltergeists Interact With Humans? Find Out The Possibility
Have you ever experienced strange phenomena in your home? Doors suddenly opening or closing, lights turning on and off, objects moving without explanation? If so, you could have encountered a poltergeist. But what exactly is a poltergeist? Are they real? Can they interact with humans? To answer these questions, this article will explore the evidence…
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What’s The Difference Between A Ghost And An Apparition?
What’s The Difference Between A Ghost And An Apparition?:
The Difference Between a Ghost and an Apparition
When it comes to the paranormal, there are two terms that often get used interchangeably: ghost and apparition.
Written by: Jane Louis
Published on: September 20, 2023
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Table of Contents
When it comes to the paranormal, there are two terms that often get used interchangeably: ghost and apparition. Both words describe supernatural entities or manifestations, but there are subtle differences between them that are worth exploring. Let’s delve into the world of the supernatural to understand what sets ghosts and apparitions apart.
Defining a Ghost
When we think of ghosts, we often imagine translucent figures wandering through haunted houses or lingering in old cemeteries. Ghosts are believed to be the spirits of deceased humans who have not yet moved on to the afterlife. They are thought to be trapped in this world due to unfinished business, unresolved emotions, or a reluctance to let go of their previous existence.
Ghost stories have fascinated people for centuries, with countless reports of haunted locations around the globe. For instance, Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is notorious for its spectral inhabitants. Visitors and employees have reported seeing shadowy figures, hearing disembodied voices, and experiencing unexplained phenomena.
One of the main characteristics of a ghost is its interaction with the physical world. Ghosts are believed to be capable of moving objects, making noises, and even physically interacting with living beings. Many paranormal investigators have captured evidence of ghostly activity through electronic voice phenomena (EVP) recordings and photographs, further reinforcing the perception of ghosts as active and present entities.
Understanding an Apparition
An apparition, on the other hand, is a more ephemeral and elusive phenomenon. Rather than being connected to a specific location or tied to a deceased person, apparitions are ethereal manifestations that often appear as fleeting glimpses or visions.
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Jackie, Mark, and their fearless daughter Elyza thought they’d found refuge in the charming town of Hollowbrook. Little did they know that their new rustic abode—the Harrington farmhouse—was a cauldron of whispers and restless spirits.
They are not believed to be the souls of the dead but rather brief glimpses into another dimension or reality.
Apparitions are often described as faint, hazy, or translucent images that may materialize in a certain location or in the presence of certain individuals. These apparitions can range from seemingly harmless specters to terrifying entities that instill fear in those who witness them.
One well-known example of an apparition is the Lady in Grey. This ghostly figure is said to haunt the Tower of London, appearing only to those who are destined to die or experience misfortune. Witnesses who have seen the Lady in Grey often describe a fleeting image of a woman dressed in a gray gown, walking silently through the corridors of the tower.
Believers and Skeptics
The world of ghosts and apparitions is a subject of great debate between believers and skeptics. While those who believe in the supernatural view ghosts and apparitions as separate entities, skeptics are quick to dismiss any encounters as figments of the imagination or misinterpretations of natural phenomena.
Believers often point to personal experiences, testimonies, and the wealth of historical accounts as evidence for the existence of ghosts and apparitions. They argue that these encounters cannot be simply dismissed, as they occur across cultures and time periods. Furthermore, technological advancements have allowed for the collection of physical evidence that supports the existence of these phenomena.
On the other hand, skeptics argue that many paranormal encounters can be explained by psychological factors, optical illusions, or hoaxes. They attribute reported sightings to suggestibility, overactive imaginations, and the power of suggestion. Skeptics challenge the lack of scientific evidence and the subjective nature of personal experiences to bolster their stance against the existence of ghosts and apparitions.
While ghosts and apparitions share similarities as supernatural entities, the key difference lies in their nature and interaction with the physical world. Ghosts are believed to be the souls of the departed, often connected to specific locations and capable of active interaction. In contrast, apparitions are fleeting, ethereal glimpses into another realm, often devoid of physical presence.
Whether you believe in ghosts, apparitions, or remain skeptical, the fascination with the supernatural will continue to captivate curious minds. Exploring haunted locations, studying historical accounts, and sharing personal experiences helps keep the discussion alive. After all, the line between the real and the unknown can sometimes blur, leaving us to ponder the mysteries that lie beyond our understanding.
Interested in learning more about haunted places? Learn about similar topics here, like:
Why do some people become ghosts while others don’t?, Can spirits understand and communicate in different languages?, Are spirits capable of experiencing human emotions?, What’s the significance of cold spots in haunted locations?, How are spirits depicted in ancient scriptures and texts?
Meet Jane Louis, the lead content creator at Scary HQ, a haunted places blog that delves into the eerie and unexplained. Jane is a true crime enthusiast and an avid lover of all things spooky. She has a keen interest in the macabre and an unquenchable thirst for uncovering the secrets of the haunted world around us. But don't let her dark interests fool you, Jane is a sweet and empathetic individual with a heart of gold. She's a natural storyteller, who uses her platform to share her passion for true crime and the paranormal with her audience. In her free time, Jane can be found exploring abandoned buildings, investigating local ghost stories and watching her favorite horror movies. She's also a member of a ghost hunting group and has a particular interest in researching the history and folklore of haunted places. Her love for the eerie and unknown is matched only by her love for her audience, and she pours her heart and soul into every post on Scary HQ. Join Jane on her journey as she uncovers the secrets of the haunted world around us and shares with you the stories that will make your hair stand on end.
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Apparitions, Ghosts and Hauntings
AIPR Information Sheet: Apparitions, Ghosts and Hauntings
Apparition is a general term for a visual experience in which there appears to be present a person or animal (deceased or living) who is in fact out of sensory range of the witness.
Ghost is a popular term for an apparition of a dead person. Haunting is a popular term for apparitions and other associated phenomena (raps, cold spots, etc.) at a particular locality, generally a building. Reports come from all cultures and ages.
The first major study was the 1894 “Census of Hallucinations”, containing 830 first-hand accounts. In the 1940s, Louisa E. Rhine conducted her own study involving the collection and collation of 8000 case reports (24). Only 10-20% of reports involve apparitions of dead people.
If the apparition appears while the witness is going to sleep, it occurs during the hypnagogic state (25), while waking up, it occurs during the hypnopompic state, and when fully awake it appears in the eidetic state (13).
The core experience is the perception of a visual image, be it a person or an animal, but not a non-living object. It is not considered an ESP experience. It seems “real” and appears and disappears spontaneously. It occurs to a sane person (note that the hallucinations of psychotic persons are mainly auditory, though not all auditory hallucinations indicate psychosis) (21).
The following secondary features are only found in some cases. Sound, touch, feelings or telepathy are associated. It can be seen simultaneously by a group, but often not all persons see it. It can pass through walls, locked doors or strings stretched across the path. It glides rather than walks. Physical activity is witnessed (e.g., banging of doors, or ringing of bells). It moves independently of the witness (12,18,21). Objective data (e.g., temperature measures of supposed cold spots near ghosts, or photographs of ghosts) are rare but viewed with skepticism.
The culture and psychology of the witness can explain some features (e.g., symbolic actions, purpose and facial expressions). The content of modern ghost reports differs from those of the Victorian period, medieval Europe or Classical Greece (9): for example, ghosts wearing chains are rare these days. Visions of the Virgin Mary are common in Catholic countries (4). Evans points to the diversity of entity reports in folklore (8).
Apparitions and hallucinations (both external projections) differ from imagery (perceived internally). Unlike hallucinations, apparitions are said never to indicate psychopathology, and they are considered to convey veridical data (verifiable data that could only be obtained from an external source). In practice, the distinction between an apparition, hallucination and imagery is blurred. Rhine believed there is a continuum between an apparition (seen within sensory range) and an ESP vision (seen outside sensory range) (24). Evans (8) places the apparition in the broader context of the “entity experience”.
Apparitions of the dead (ghosts) are usually associated with a particular building (haunting). Visitations can continue sporadically, over several years. Apparitions of the living or dying are of two types. A crisis apparition is where the witness supposedly sees a figure of another person (often a relative or friend) at another locality. It is seen within 12 hours of the actual time of the traumatic event. An experimental apparition is deliberately produced. For example, a psychic goes “out-of-body” to another location to contact a target, who then sees an apparition, or a shaman sends a tulpa (thought form) to prosecute a sinning tribesperson (17). Evans distinguishes specific entities (e.g., Aunt Agnes), stereotyped (such as the Virgin Mary) and generalised (such as UFO visitors) (8).
Apparitions are most often reported by “fantasy-prone” persons (30), the 4% of the population who are good hypnotic subjects, have vivid imagery skills, and who report a wide range of other psychic experiences.
a) Misperceptions The report has little merit, being based on distortions of perception (e.g., because of poor light and/or short duration), and on emotional exaggerations. Hoaxes are uncommon, except for ghost photographs.
b) Imagery or Hallucination Hypothesis The witness, often psychic or a suggestible person, unconsciously generates an apparition (or tulpa, or thought form) as a response to suppressed needs or beliefs. The source of the impressions would be the conscious or unconscious mind of the witness, or more speculatively, archetypal images from the “collective unconscious” (8). An old variant is the model of Gurney (1886) and Tyrrell (1953), now called the super-ESP hypothesis; the apparition is at least partly composed of telepathic data that is then projected out from the mind of the witness. Louisa Rhine found that input of data from outside was unnecessary in all but one of 8000 reports; apparitions were hallucinations created totally within the mind (24).
c) Survival Hypothesis A “spirit” or “soul” remains at the locality after the death of the material body. The witness is seeing an agent that exists independently of, and generally out of awareness of, the mind of the witness. This model of Myers (1903) has recently been promoted by Gauld (11). A variant is the “survival of fragments” model; apparitions are “lifeless fragments” (i.e., “static images void of consciousness”).
No single theory fits all cases; each case must be examined on its merits – (a) and (b) fit most cases. The evidence for (c) is often anecdotal and based on personal experience; it is difficult to prove scientifically, although Osis has claimed success (21).
Tests using fake ghosts
Misperceptions are very common. Cornell covered himself in a white sheet, and unexpectedly walked across the stage of a packed cinema (5). A show of hands revealed that at least 32% of the audience (size not stated) did not see the “ghost” at all. When members of the audience later volunteered for interviews, their descriptions varied widely. Only three persons of those interviewed accurately described “a figure dressed in a white sheet”.
“Hallucination” was originally defined in terms of psychoses (e.g., schizophrenia and epilepsy). However, it is now evident that normal people also report them (1,10,27). Vitamin deficiency (lack of sunlight) may perhaps be a cause of the high incidence of ghost reports in Iceland (42% of the population; ref. 21). Eidetic imagery is said to occur as the imaginary playmates of up to 10-20% of children (13), but to be much rarer in adults. In one survey (23), 47% of 293 elderly people (mean age 75) reported hallucinations of their deceased spouse; 14% included visual sightings – the other 33% involving feelings, hearing, touching and speaking to the spouse. Professional persons, a happy marriage, and the first 10 years after widowhood were the best predictors of apparitions. In another survey (3), 29% of 150 persons (mean age 77) reported visual hallucinations. About half of the hallucinators had cataracts or poor eyesight, compared to only 18% of the non-hallucinators. Few elderly people tell others about the apparitions through fear of ridicule; this is a matter of health concern.
Ruth was persecuted by the apparition of her father who raped her when she was ten (26,27). Ruth learnt to summon and dismiss it, and other apparitions, at will. Ruth (but not the therapist) could see an apparition; both could not see it on a video screen nor hear it on tape. Ruth twice produced apparitions seen by others. When Ruth produced an apparition in front of a screen, her EEG brain electrical pattern showed that the apparition blocked the screen behind it. This test confirmed Ruth’s belief that she was seeing a “real” apparition rather than it being an hysterical hallucination.
Ruth was eidetic, a good hypnotic subject, and very traumatised. Similar apparitions, however, are reported by fantasy-prone persons over-involved in some activity. Dickens was plagued by them as he wrote his novels (14). David-Neel created her own tulpa of a monk after instruction in Tantric Buddhism (16). Hill created apparitions of famous people to help him become a millionaire (15). Estabrooks used auto-suggestion to create a bear apparition; it became so lifelike he at times mistook it for a real bear – it jumped out at him from dark corners (7). “Sitter groups” of non-psychic, non-spiritualistic persons, in the absence of a “spirit control”, have produced raps from a self-created ghost (the Philip experiment, refs 2,22). This ability to create apparitions is a coping mechanism of therapeutic value.
An imagery/hallucination model applied less well to haunted houses because successive occupants supposedly see and feel the ghost. In part, this may be due to suggestion. Or, perhaps some factor related to the locality, such as an electromagnetic effect, is involved.
Psychic detection of ghosts
Detection of ghosts in haunted houses by psychics is not very effective. In one haunted house (28), one of nine psychics (Eileen Garrett) claimed there was no ghost. Only two picked the same ghost locality as did the residents, and only four chose the same personality. In another house (20), three of six psychics reported the same ghost as the residents, but one of eight controls marginally did (the controls looked at a floor plan, but did not visit the house). In a third house (19), two of four psychics and five of eight skeptics who visited all got similar results. Only two psychics and no skeptics gave the same results as the witnesses. The results probably reflect, at least in part, common preconceptions of what a ghost would look like, or where it would be.
Supernatural assault is a descriptive term, with no paranormal connotation, for a person in bed who experiences fear and paralysis (unable to move because of the fear), a “presence” or a dark apparition bending over the bed, a pressure on the chest, and (sometimes) partial suffocation, choking or restricted breathing. The person is awake and accurately perceives the environment (16).
These basic elements are independent of culture; but culture determines how it is described (or withheld). It has been called; “Old Hag” (Newfoundland); “incubus experience”; “psychic attack”; “devil encounter”; and “sleep paralysis”. Apart from hauntings, the experience is a central feature of some poltergeist, near-death (NDE), out-of-body (OBE) and UFO (“men in black”) reports. It is possibly responsible for legends about demons, witches and vampires. Until 1700, the word “nightmare” (from Anglo-Saxon words meaning “night crusher”) had this meaning. Its meaning then shifted to include bad dreams. “Nightmare” today is a general term for any bad dream. The experience, however, is not a dream nor a “night terror” (a sudden awakening with a loud scream).
About 23% of 93 university students, all Newfoundlanders (from an isolated culture) reported the experience. The experience mostly happened once or occasionally. Less common were “runs” of frequent attacks. It is not correlated with medical history except that a narcoleptic person is the most susceptible (16). Narcolepsy is sudden onset of sleep during the daytime, producing paralysis and hypnagogic hallucinations. Hufford describes the psychological state as “sleep paralysis with a type of hypnagogic hallucination”. The pressure on the chest does not suggest a sexual trauma (16) but the experience can cause anxiety and hysteria.
The person reporting a “presence” feels that a “supernatural influence” or “guardian angel” is at hand. The presence is either seen as an apparition or just felt. It can be vivid or subtle, sustained or transient, and stable or variable. Suedfeld states the experience differs from daydreams, hypnagogic imagery and mirages. There is no evidence of mental breakdown. The experience is probably an adaptive reaction that helps the person cope with an abnormal (hazardous, monotonous, exhausting, uncontrollable or threatening) situation (29). “Abnormal” includes solitary sailors, polar or mountain explorers, and survivors of traumatic episodes such as shipwrecks or air crashes. However, any situation involving, for example, monotony, isolation, low temperatures, strong chilly winds, starvation, exhaustion or life-threatening danger may trigger the experience, as may religious ceremonies (as in Spiritualist “guides”). All these can involve a persistent monotony of physical or social stimuli. Added to this may be the effects of unanticipated stress.
1) Anderson, A & W (1982). Veridical and psychopathic hallucinations: A comparison of types. Parapsychology Review, 13 (3) , 17-23. 2) Batcheldor, K J (1979). PK in sitter groups. Psychoenergetic Systems, 3 , 77-93. 3) Berrios, G & Brook, P. (1984). Visual hallucinations and sensory delusions in the elderly. British Journal of Psychiatry, 144 , 662-664. 4) Carroll, M P (1986). The cult of the Virgin Mary. Princeton, NJ; Princeton University Press. 5) Cornell, A. (1960). Further experiments in apparitional observations. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 40 , 409-418. 6) David-Neel, A (1971). Magic and mystery in Tibet (pages 311-316, Chapter 8 ). New York: Dover. 7) Estabrooks, G (1957). Hypnotism (pages 90-96). New York; Dutton. 8) Evans, H (1984). Visions, apparitions, alien visitors. Wellingborough: Aquarian. 9) Finucane, R (1982). Appearances of the dead; A cultural history of ghosts. Buffalo, NY; Prometheus. 10) Forer, G (1960). Benign auditory and visual hallucinations. Archives of General Psychiatry, 3 , 119-122. 11) Gauld, A. (1982). Mediumship and survival. London: Heinemann. 12) Green, C & McCreery, C (1975). Apparitions. London: Hamish Hamilton. 13) Haber, R (1979). Twenty years of haunting eidetic imagery. Behavioural and Brian Sciences, 2 , 583-629. 14) Haining, P ed. (1982). The complete ghost stories of Charles Dickens. London: Michael Joseph. 15) Hill, N (1960). Think and grow rich (chapter 14). Greenwich, CN: Fawcett. 16) Hufford, D (1982). The terror that came in the night. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. 17) Deleted 18) Mackenzie, A (1983). Hauntings and apparitions. London: Paladin. 19) Maher, H & Schmeidler, G R (1975). Quantitative investigation of a recurrent apparition. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 69 , 341-352. 20) Moss, T & Schmeidler, G (1968). Quantitative investigation of a “haunted house” with sensitives and a control group. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 62, 399-410. 21) Osis, K (1986). Apparitions; Old and new. In (K R Rao, ed.) Case studies in parapsychology ( pp. 74-86). Jefferson, JC: McFarland. 22) Owen, I & Sparrow, H (1976). Conjuring up Phillip. New York: Harper & Row. 23) Rees, W D (1971). The hallucinations of widowhood. British Medical Journal, 2 Oct. 37-41. 24) Rhine, L. (1981). The invisible picture. Jefferson, NC; McFarland. 25) Schacter, D. (1976). The hypnagogic state. Psychological Bulletin, 83, 452-481. 26) Schatzman, M. (1980). The story of Ruth. Harmondsworth; Penguin. 27) Schatzman, M. (1980). Evocations of unreality. New Scientist, 25 Sept , 935-937. 28) Schmeidler, G R (1966). Quantitative investigation of a haunted house. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 60 , 137-149. 29) Suedfeld, P & Mocellin, J. (1986). The ‘sensed presence’ in unusual environments. Environment and Behaviour, 19 , 33-52. 30) Wilson, S C & Barber, TFX (1982). The fantasy-prone personality. In (A. Sheikh, ed) Imagery . New York: Wiley.
Odd News Show
Abraham Lincoln’s Ghost Haunted Ronald Reagan's Dog Rex
Posted: January 10, 2024 | Last updated: January 10, 2024
In the annals of American history, few places hold as much historical significance and intrigue as the White House. Beyond its role as the official residence and workplace of U.S. presidents, the White House has been the backdrop for some chilling tales of the paranormal. Among these ghostly legends, none is more famous than the spectral presence of Abraham Lincoln himself.
Abraham Lincoln's Lingering Spirit
It was on this day, 163 years ago, that Abraham Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States. His election marked a turning point in American history, as tensions between the North and the South had reached a critical juncture. Today, in 2023, Lincoln's legacy continues to resonate in the national memory, and his afterlife is said to linger within the halls of the White House.
Over the years, numerous people living and working at the White House have described eerie encounters with what they believe to be the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. The haunting accounts are often centered around the Lincoln Bedroom, where many have reported sightings and peculiar experiences.
Specific Incidents of Haunting
Queen Wilhelmina's Frightening Encounter: One of the most hair-raising accounts came from Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands during her stay at the White House in the 20th century. In the dead of night, the queen was startled by a mysterious knock on her bedroom door. Upon opening it, she was confronted with the tall, top-hatted figure of President Lincoln, standing in the hallway. Overwhelmed by shock, the queen fainted, only to awaken later with the apparition gone.
Grace Coolidge's Sighting: Grace Coolidge, the wife of President Calvin Coolidge, was the first to claim that she had seen Lincoln's ghost. She described a haunting scene in which Lincoln stood at a window in the Oval Office, gazing out over the Potomac. His presence conveyed an enduring connection to the Civil War.
Eleanor Roosevelt's Sensation: While not claiming to see the apparition, Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, worked late at night in the Lincoln Bedroom and often felt the presence of an unseen figure behind her, as if Lincoln himself were observing her work.
Rex, the Reagans' Dog: The fascination with Lincoln's ghost even extended to the Reagans' dog, Rex. Whenever Rex passed by the Lincoln Bedroom, he would behave oddly, standing outside the room and barking insistently, while adamantly refusing to enter. Rex's reactions added another layer of intrigue to the stories of Lincoln's haunting presence.
These are just a few of the haunting incidents reported by individuals who had no apparent reason to fabricate such stories, contributing to the enduring belief that Abraham Lincoln's spirit still lingers within the White House.
The White House: A Hub of Paranormal Activity
The White House has long held a reputation for being a hotbed of paranormal activity. While Lincoln's ghost is the most famous, he is not alone in the spectral realm. Other figures, including Abigail Adams and John Adams, the second President of the United States, are believed to haunt the halls of the White House. These tales of ghostly presences serve to keep the nation's history alive and imbue the White House with an otherworldly aura.
Whether one is a skeptic or a believer in the paranormal, these stories persist and continue to be a part of the lore of the White House. The enduring legacy of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, is not confined to history books but is felt within the very walls of the presidential residence. And so, on this historic day, we are reminded that the White House is not only a place of political power but also a place where history, legends, and perhaps even spirits, come to life.
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