Friday, 18 July 2014

Ghosts on the coast

CoastsDo you believe in ghosts?
Have you seen them on the coasts?


These are the only two lines I still remember from a song I once wrote as a teenager. Like many young people, I listened to rock music and formed the misguided idea that I could compose and sing like my heroes. I even made tape recordings of this and many other songs. Mercifully, for me and everyone else, none of them survived. I only remember this gem because it was particularly daft.

Even then I was fascinated by ghosts, though I knew little about them. I definitely had no special knowledge about a supposed preponderance of seaside apparitions. It just rhymed! Like most people, then and now, I thought ghosts were spirits. That was the way they were invariably portrayed in ghost stories. It took many years of research to discover that ghosts are many things but, curiously, there is no compelling evidence that they are spirits!

I mention this because ASSAP is holding a conference on ghosts, Seriously Spooked, on 27 September. Ghosts have always been easily the most popular subject among ASSAP members. I suspect this may be because ghosts are so much more accessible than other spontaneous anomalies like UFOs, lake monsters, fish falls and so on. Unlike those other anomalies, ghosts tend to be repeatedly reported from a particular location. So, in theory, if you go to that site and wait long enough, you stand a chance of actually seeing one for yourself. In theory.

But despite the huge number of ghost vigils in recent years, most of what we actually know about ghosts comes from the carefully collected accounts of case witnesses. And the picture that emerges is that the 'ghost' is actually a composite phenomenon. There are many different causes for different ghost sightings and even more for haunting experiences. A great many ghosts sightings are caused by misperception, near sleep experiences or coincidence.

Of course, there are many who stick rigidly to the idea that ghosts are spirits, despite that lack of compelling supporting evidence for that idea. The influence of culture is strong! I learned, long ago, that searching for evidence to support this idea is largely a waste of time. Instead, I found it is better to take the scientific approach of looking at what evidence there actually IS and see where it points. There is certainly ample evidence to support the existence of ghosts and lots to suggest what they are. There just isn't much suggesting they are spirits. And I haven't found any evidence that they occur mainly by the sea. Tickets for Seriously Spooked will be on sale very soon!

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