Friday, 16 October 2015

Scary ghosts?

VigilWhy are ghosts supposed to be scary? I say 'supposed' because I have not found my own encounters with ghosts scary. Until now ...

I was on a train, gazing out of the window, as you do. My attention was caught by a tall dark figure standing very close to the track by an overbridge. For some reason I cannot fathom, a feeling of dread enveloped me as I saw that figure. I stared at it intently as we passed by. That's when I realised that the figure was, in fact, a sign, with similar dimensions to a large man. The ghost was a particularly effective misperception. I was certainly in no doubt, when I first saw it, that it was a person. Indeed, I was surprised that the train driver did not sound the horn in warning.

Later I tried to analyze why this particular ghost left me with a feeling of dread. I may have been worried that the figure was so close to the track that there might be a horrible accident, though this didn't occur to me consciously at the time. Another possibility is that the lighting made the 'figure' look sinister. The short rail trip I was on is one I do frequently but I'd never seen the sign before. It might be a new sign but it is more likely I'd simply never noticed it before. The lighting, from an overcast sky, may have highlighted the sign relative to its background, bringing it to my attention. The sign is unusually tall for a person which may make it look a bit threatening, I suppose. Either way, I thought I was watching a real person at the time so I never felt afraid because I thought it was a ghost.

Many people are afraid of ghosts, despite having never seen one. On the other hand, many witnesses are, as in the current incident, not even aware that they are seeing a ghost at the time they experience one. So they are unlikely to be scared at the time of the sighting.

Hauntings, on the other hand, are understandably disturbing. Having apparently random unexplained events occur frequently in the same location is likely to be unsettling. As I've pointed out before, we do not know that ghosts actually produce hauntings. For instance, ghosts are not seen actually doing haunting stuff like moving objects. And they only appear in a relatively small number of hauntings. In addition, ghosts are often seen without any associated haunting phenomena. This suggests that the idea that hauntings are what ghosts do is not a robust conclusion from the actual evidence. So, while I can see how hauntings can be scary, I'm not so sure most ghost actually deserve their scary reputation. Nor am I convinced they produce hauntings.

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