Monday, 10 February 2014

Ghost on a bridge

ShadowI was crossing a footbridge over a railway when I noticed a man ascending the steps on the opposite side. I expected to pass him in the middle. Except that I didn't! There was no one on the bridge at all, or on the steps where I'd seen the man. A ghost, perhaps?

Some background is useful to appreciate my surprise. You may ask, why didn't I keep the man in view as I crossed the bridge? Even if I'd wanted to (and why would I?) it is not possible because, rather unusually, the bridge has a roof. Also, the stairs approach the central span in different ways. I was climbing the set of stairs that approach the central span at a 90 degree angle. On the other side the stairs approach in a sort of squared spiral. The overall result is that, if you are crossing the bridge, you can only see other people on it at certain specific points. So, it was perfectly normal for me to lose sight of the man at first and I thought nothing of it.

When I reached the position where I'd seen the man standing, I examined it carefully in case there was anything there that I might have misperceived as a human figure. There wasn't. So was it really a ghost?

As I was leaving the bridge I saw the man walking away, on the same side of the bridge where I'd first seen him. The obvious conclusion was that he'd climbed the bridge part way, turned and retreated back the way he'd come, for some reason.

I think the frequency of ghost sightings being caused by actual people is woefully underestimated. I often read reports that discount the possibility by speculating over people's possible motives for appearing in odd places or doing unusual things. One frequent idea is that people are 'playing the ghost' as a joke, an idea then dismissed because it involves too much effort! Firstly, I see no reason why people playing practical jokes should not put in considerable effort if they so choose. Secondly, I think there are many other reasons why someone could be behaving in an apparently unlikely way, many of which may not be obvious to someone else.

I've no idea why the man on the bridge turned back. Maybe he was lost. Perhaps someone called him back. Maybe he just changed his mind about where he wanted to go. The point is, speculating about what motivates other people is not a sound way of dismissing a possible cause of a ghost report. We cannot presume to understand what motivates people we've never met.

To really eliminate the possibility of a physical person being present you'd need more evidence. For instance, if you see a figure in a room that is known to be locked, it's reasonable evidence (though not conclusive) that there is no real person involved. But in most ghost sighting situations, it is not so easy to dismiss such a possibility.

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