Apparitions: Glimpses of Ghosts?

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posted on Dec, 19 2011 @ 10:13 AM
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In recent threads, I’ve been ‘thinking out loud’ about consciousness, humanoid encounters and odd claims that, for some of us, are hard to dismiss; for others they are hard to accept.

It’s been like riffing on the chords of ambiguity and seeing whose feet are tapping.

We’ve had multiple witnesses shooting at objects, strange phenomena hospitalising a peasant family and three young guys finding themselves lost someplace else. The last couple of threads went further than physical experience and waded into the murkier shallows of consciousness with even life after death being discussed.



Taken broadly, it could be suggested that our riotous rush through history has dragged behind it a phantasmagoria of colourful stories and experiences. We know ‘ghosts’ are cross-cultural and we know that UFOs have been seen by folk from all walks of life. Anthropologists have recorded the beliefs of tribal cultures who also describe odd lights (they don’t assume ‘aliens’) and visitations from ‘spirits of the dead.’ So much for cultural contamination? Well, I’m not too sure; we’re cultural creatures and can no more remain above culture than live without air.

A big question is; do such phenomena have an existence independent of our perceived culture?

In this thread, it’s time to look at the apparitions - those who’ve followed behind us through history like so much shadow in the sunlight. They’ve been around for 1000s of years and it wouldn’t be surprising if early man, or Neanderthals, found goosebumps when the person they thought was behind them wasn’t really there at all…

Let's get the fire stoked with a creepy, seasonal example from 1887.



The following are slightly less cinematic and more in keeping with the nature of apparition reports…





In this small selection (Podmore, Lang, Gurney, Haraldsson), I tried to include interesting ones involving more than one witness and/or with some corroboration and support for their character. Of course, this doesn’t rule out the possibility of deliberate deception or attention-seeking (can it ever?), but it’s a way of avoiding the obvious clangers.

The Society for Psychical Research surveyed some 17 000 people to investigate beliefs, experiences and maybe identify some pattern that would enlighten us. Like ufology, the number of claims had no bearing on finding a consistent signal and, like the humanoid encounters, seem to be frequently meaningless and absurd. Podmore isolated 95 reported incidents involving more than one simultaneous witness and living people were more likely to be ‘apparitional’ than the dead…



The cases so far are mostly from the 19th Century and none of the authors are making the case that apparitions are simply dead folk. The above table helps to discourage the idea that apparitions must be the dead come back to haunt us. They instead argue for the existence of an unexplained residue where the more probable explanations (psychological, misidentifications etc) have accounted for the rest. In the case of Podmore and Gurney et al, they discuss the idea that ‘telepathy’ is the agent by which these apparitions are projected by our consciousness. In this way, they say ‘telepathy’ can also explain how more than one witness can see, or hear, an apparition.

As they figured it, the apparitions would not be *there* in any real way and would be presented across the screens of our perception by whatever force they thought was behind telepathy.

‘Telepathy’ was their term and we use different terms in the 21st Century. To some it’s a euphemism for BS and pseudo-science, others might understand it as shared consciousness or that esoteric ‘wil-o-the-wisp’ folk call ‘ collective unconscious.’ I can think of a few guys who’d also think about ‘tulpas.’ Consciousness, in some way or another, seems to me a likely factor in these reports and where my thoughts are drifting…

Of course, at the time none of these cases or explanations went by without being studied and challenged by skeptics and nor should they! Hypnogogia and dreams explained the awakening apparitions (it happens); ‘sickness, exhaustion and excitement (EJB Tylor)’ can account for some others (true) and should we forget that some people are liars and fantasists?

The believer/ skeptic debates and mud-fights have been with us for as long as humans and animals have reacted to things they didn’t understand. I believe it’s as much a part of our culture and genetics as marking territory or wearing clothes that identify us with whatever groups. In between, and amongst, these supposed groups are the guys who feel urges to make stuff up; they post fake UFO sightings, tell BS ghost stories or willfully misidentify known phenomena as mysterious.

But I digress; let’s get back to the apparitions and some interesting accounts and studies. Just as Podmore and Gurney tried to make the case that apparitions were a human product of telepathy, others hold to the belief that they are ‘ghosts’ and ‘spirits of the dead.’ Haraldsson ( Survey of Claimed Encounters with the Dead ) wonders if they are some kind of evidence for the existence of consciousness after death?

Being Icelandic, he sampled Icelandic populations to see what their beliefs about death were and whether they’d experienced apparitions. The final sample was only 100 individuals and the results were intriguing. Apparitions of male figures outnumbered female figures by almost 3:1 and the circumstances (like Podmore and Gurney) tended to be whilst awake and in bright conditions (30 respondents were working at the time). This seems counter-intuitive to reason when it should be expected that they’d occur in darkness or during moments of quiet. As for the high rate of male figures? Don’t ask me!



edit on 10-8-2014 by Kandinsky because: Altered title




posted on Dec, 19 2011 @ 10:14 AM
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Haraldsson accepted that small sample sizes and problems of selection didn’t help anyone when it came to formulating a hypothesis. I’d like to point out that all the authors in the thread have demonstrated a questioning approach that hasn’t pushed too hard. They acknowledge problems and challenges and haven’t ignored shortcomings from any side, not least their own…



It’s really in the question of ‘something more than just hallucination’ where my thoughts are aiming. Sure enough, apparition accounts are many and feature across cultures and history, but they are still a collection of anecdotes (personal stories). In the books I’ve read, they make a good case for such reports being more than simple misidentifications or psychological aberrations. The claimants aren’t all uneducated or overeducated – they come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. They aren’t all in the process of waking up and mistaking dreams and hypnogogia for visiting spectres. Neither are they all overly-superstitious and the accounts in this thread are put across quite calmly; our 2nd Maori witness clearly isn’t in the habit of attributing magical thinking to shadows.

How much are the influences of culture loading the dice in favour of particular interpretations?

This could mean psychologists focus on the mental limitations of the claimed witnesses and the super-skeptics won’t believe the claimants at all. Culture also leads to differences in the reported characteristics of apparition sightings. This is made clear by looking at some of the sources so far, but this snip helps too...



If Jane X saw an apparition one sunny afternoon and didn’t put it down to imagination or a visiting dead person; she’d have no value to the researchers and no tick-box in their surveys. Likewise, if Billy X saw his sister in the bathroom when she was partying hard in Ibiza, who’d be interested in the report, when it doesn’t support a popular hypothesis? In contrast, Jenny X’ hoaxes an account and increases the probability that other claimants are hoaxers and lends weight to the argument that paranormal researchers are breathless believers (or scoundrels).

Wiseman and Watt (2006) in Belief in psychic ability and the misattribution hypothesis: A qualitative review take a more reasonable approach than those who think they've got the answers. They split the approaches into three strands;

1 - people are motivated to experience hallucinations/delusions through a need to control or psychological issues arising from religious beliefs (a will to believe)
2 - that some psychic abilities are real and that strange phenomena exist
3 - that some people believe that psychic powers exist and then misattribute normal experiences to supernatural causes

They tackle the 3rd approach and advise that more, and better, research needs to be done to fine-tune our understanding of how belief-systems can influence our perceptions of reality. It's hard to argue against the sentiment.

Where does all this leave us? Are we to pick any of the explanations mentioned in this thread and go wash our hands of the rest? Do we throw it all out with an appeal to the unreliability of human testimony?

From my perspective, I'm not much closer to a final answer than I was some months ago when first beginning to focus on these accounts. The multiple witness accounts don't support explanations of hallucination. The apparitions of the living don't support explanations of visiting dead folk. The differences in national/cultural reports and experiences suggest human nature at work and yet they are limited by reporting bias. When apparitions of the dead have been described (crisis visions), Podmore noticed that they didn't always occur at the time of death - some occurred at the time when the 'news of the death' was received by relatives in other locations. This doesn't help the case for some unknown connection between the living and the dead.

I had hoped to draw out a connection between apparitions in this context and those apparitions of humanoid encounters. The random nature of these apparitions and those that feature in ufology (here one moment and gone the next) perhaps share one thing in common and that is the role of human consciousness in perceiving them. I guess we all knew that anyway!

As long as we collectively keep sticking labels on experiences and phenomena, we run the risk of misidentifying something that actually isn't what we thought it was. Likewise when some people point out gaps in the explanations, it isn't always a God in the Gaps fallacy at work.

Sometimes, they are quite simply gaps in our knowledge...



posted on Dec, 19 2011 @ 10:30 AM
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"The differences in national/cultural reports and experiences suggest human nature at work and yet they are limited by reporting bias."

I did not read most of the accounts though I wanted to suggest a few things. Our brains in my opinion are like radios, we pick up frequencies then the brain does its best to interpret those frequencies. As a result the experiences I believe can be real though the human mind interprets the situation into a way it can understand. If someone speaks to me in a different language I will assume some words mean something because I have heard of it before, some words will be lost and others moulded into somewhat of an understand structure.

I used to practise OBE's which has made me firmly believe the presence of ghosts is at least possible, I also do not believe the person has to die for someone to see it. It’s something I am not even sure will ever be proven, it is as difficult as proving other dimensions exist and capturing evidence of it.



posted on Dec, 19 2011 @ 12:56 PM
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OP, this is awesome. You've covered a lot of ground here, and I'd like to share my thoughts on a couple things.



A big question is; do such phenomena have an existence independent of our perceived culture?

[...]

It’s really in the question of ‘something more than just hallucination’ where my thoughts are aiming.


It seems clear to me that the answer here is yes, at least sometimes. For the reasons you mentioned, but also because of things like EVPs and recorded optical anomalies that corroborate subjective reports. Additionally, that fact that there seem to be certain locations that are more likely to precipitate these experiences than others (haunted places) would suggest that there is some external contributing factor - it could be that these locations have some property which induces these types of hallucinations by affecting brain function, or it could be that that genuine apparational phenomena (ghosts?) are actually somehow localized in these places. Finally, people with healthy brains don't hallucinate under normal conditions. When someone is sober and alert and exhibits no symptoms of psychiatric disfunction, it's not really explicable within the conventional scientific paradigm how that person could have a hallucination that is as vivid as genuine perception, fully integrated into the environment, and is a coherent object, without having any other symptoms of a deleterious psychiatric event. People don't just go around seeing other people who aren't there; if they did, it would mean there was something wrong with their brain. While it's not inconceivable that there could be some unknown neurological process which temporarily induces a particular type of intense hallucination; has no other effects and is not associated with any other disfunction; and which only effects some people under some (often similar) conditions, it would come as a surprise that this whole category of experience has gone undetected and unsuspected in all of the neuroscience and psychology labs around the world.

I think the substantiation of reports by multiple witnesses and by recording devices is the most compelling evidence against the hallucination argument, but I think it's also worth remembering that the implication of that hallucination explanation is that a tremendous number of healthy people hallucinate these sorts of things all the time, and that's not much more palatable than the other unconventional explanations for the phenomenon.

Of course, we have to recognize that there's not one explanation for all of the reports of apparitions. It's almost certainly true that some of the reports can be explained by hallucinations. I think we should assume that at least some cases are probably the result of the factors that have been proposed as conventional explanations for the phenomenon in general - hallucinations/misidentifications/hoaxes/ect. I prefer to focus on those cases which are exceptionally resistant to conventional explanations, and I think there are plenty for which the hallucination explanation is not appropriate.



posted on Dec, 19 2011 @ 02:31 PM
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reply to post by OnceReturned
 
I haven't seen you around lately





It seems clear to me that the answer here is yes, at least sometimes. For the reasons you mentioned, but also because of things like EVPs and recorded optical anomalies that corroborate subjective reports. Additionally, that fact that there seem to be certain locations that are more likely to precipitate these experiences than others (haunted places) would suggest that there is some external contributing factor - it could be that these locations have some property which induces these types of hallucinations by affecting brain function, or it could be that that genuine apparational phenomena (ghosts?) are actually somehow localized in these places.


Pretty much yes and maybe? In these recent threads, I'm not 'making the case' for aliens, ghosts or life after death, but trying to show that *something/s* remain/s unknown and worth looking at with as little prejudice as possible.

In terms of recording optical anomalies at locations that seem to amplify strange phenomena, there's persuasive research that supports the possibilities. This might involve exploring the role of infrasound in inducing 'paranormal experiences' or simply focusing attention on places where a history of unusual anecdotal accounts have a high frequency.

Last year, I posted a (bomb of a) thread about a place where Paul Kimball and Holly Stevens had filmed an episode of Ghost Cases. They were filming there because of the apparent history of 'hauntings.'

Paul's a good guy and not a hoaxer. The film shows something that I can't explain and combines the points you make about location and history...



The clip seems to have captured something anomalous. Now people can stick labels on it all day long (UFO, ball lightning, ghosts, demons or lens flare), but it remains unexplained and unusual.

For the remainder of your post, I'd like to reply with a Venn diagram that shows a tiny space of 'no plausible explanation.' I say 'like to' because I don't have one



posted on Dec, 19 2011 @ 08:51 PM
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reply to post by Kandinsky
 


I know, I haven't been able to find this type of discussion on here as easily as I used to. I'm glad when I do though.



Pretty much yes and maybe? In these recent threads, I'm not 'making the case' for aliens, ghosts or life after death, but trying to show that *something/s* remain/s unknown and worth looking at with as little prejudice as possible.


I believe that's exactly the right way to think about it. Structurally, the UFO problem and the apparition problem are the same: honest, intelligent, rational individuals report experiences that they cannot explain adequately in good faith all the time; these experiences have a lot in common and appear to be instances of the same couple types of things (i.e. ufo's or apparitions or whatever); and if we accept that at least some of the reports are honest, accurately communicated, and that neither us nor the observer are idiots (i.e. they're not confused/wrong about they saw and we're not ignorant of some obvious conventional explanation), we find ourselves in possession of anomalous data that simply cannot be accounted for within the most exhaustive and successful theoretical framework that modern western science has to offer.

I think that's the current state of affairs: that that is undeniably happening, and I think that - unfortunately - we can't really improve upon that assessment with the information currently available. However, this is what catalyzes paradigm shifts in science: anomalous data that becomes impossible to ignore, so that we are forced to recognize the limitations of our current theoretical framework and figure out what changes can be in order to account for everything we've been able to explain successfully so far, plus the anomalies. I think that's where a few of us are at right now, and I hope that eventually the current predicament will be unavoidable to the mainstream, precipitating an overhaul of the current scientific worldview in order to make room for whatever phenomena are behind these bazaar experiences.

I think we have a couple black boxes on our hands. Namely, UFOs and apparitions. We can be pretty confident about what they're not... If we just look at the best evidence for each, no conventional explanations are adequate. There is a tendency by strong believers to conclude that because conventional explanations fall short, we must have aliens on our hands, or we must have ghosts on our hands. I disagree whole heartedly with the sentiment that we can rule out everything else and leave ourselves with nothing but the ET explanation or the ghost explanation. I think once we rule the conventional explanations out, we're left with an infinite number of conceivable unconventional explanations, and that we lack the evidence we would need to discriminate between them. Even if we take the best UFO cases or the best apparition cases as being totally accurate, all we can say is that conventional explanations are not adequate. I don't think we can say we have evidence that these are aliens, or traditional ghosts, or inter-dimensional beings, or wizards, or angels, or time travelers, or exotic earthly lifeforms, or a manifestation of psi, or some other thing that I can't even imagine. I don't know what evidence would look like that would narrow down that field... Does being gray and skinny really tell you it's an alien from another planet, not a human from 150000 years in the future? I don't know what real aliens look like. Does an outdated wardrobe really indicate that a ghost is the spirit of a dead person, as opposed to your own psychic manifestation of a dead person? Maybe the aliens are actually nanites that evolved at the center of the earth that attach to our synapses and induce these hallucinations while making the necessary modifications the film in our cameras?

I'm not an advocate of any of these particular explanations. The only thing that's clear to me is that we're dealing with something that we can't explain very well with the theories and concepts we have at our disposal, and I'd like for as many people as possible to want to remedy that. The first step is to convince people that the black box exists - something is happening in there and you don't know what it is. The second step is to try to figure out what's going on. We need good people to work on this, and we need a good way for them to do. Discussions like these are important steps in the right direction. Unfortunately, we seem to have an exceedingly difficult problem on our hands, and we have a long way to go before we know what's in the black box.



posted on Dec, 20 2011 @ 03:17 AM
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reply to post by OnceReturned
 
Culture.

This seems like one of the main obstacles preventing us from getting a clearer view of what phenomenon is at work. It's cultural for psychology to assume parapsychology is foolishness and just as cultural for them to feel defensive. Picking over the data, or questioning interpretations can be perceived as persecution or dismissal. At the same time, 'psychical' researchers have been at work for over a century without conclusively identifying *proof* that there is a phenomenon. Like the 'serious' ufologist, they've amassed piles of data and anecdotes that fall short of convincing the public or science as a whole.

Here's an example of US culture shifting around (90 -01) -



Crazy huh? How can a belief in witches be growing? Likewise, a lot of increases in the ghost/haunting categories. Media influence could be the driver there and yet media is also geared to giving us what we want.

When I first began reading the psychology literature on hallucinations, schizotypy etc it was with the expectation that a very good fit would be found to explain the 'humanoid encounters' and the apparitions. Maybe not a perfect fit, but one that would be a confident probability. I haven't found one equal to the task. Looking at the history of War-Vet hallucinations and PTSD isn't any better. They can suffer audio/visual hallucinations of full-bodied people, but these are rare and recognised as hallucinations by the subject. They are also frequent and not the single 'drive-by' of the apparitions.





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