Ghosts. Wow where do I even begin? Fairly certain all of you know that ghosts are said to be manifestations of the energy left behind when someone dies. Spirits, apparitions, orbs, they take many forms. And every single one, is complete and utter nonsense. Oh I can practically feel the controversy already. Many, many people believe in ghosts. Claim that they’ve seen them, heard them, felt them, or seen evidence of their existence in the form of things moving around. The people that so steadfastly believe and say they’ve personally experienced evidence of their existence, in particular, become alarmingly defensive when challenged. There are countless cases of alleged “evidence” of the existence of ghosts, but the truth is, all this “evidence” is horribly flawed. There has never been a single case of definitive proof that has stood up to scientific scrutiny. Ever. So why do people continue to believe in ghosts? And why do they continue to claim they themselves have personally encountered evidence of their existence?
There’s a few answers for this. Firstly, no one likes the idea that death is the end. Humans are acutely aware of our own mortality and it is a very uncomfortable notion for us to deal with. We don’t like the thought that once we are gone, that’s it. Believing in ghosts helps us to manage these very uncomfortable thoughts as it gives us the feeling that there is something more once we are gone. It also lets us hold onto the idea that our lost loved ones are still able to be with us in some way. It’s a very human thing to not want to say good bye. To not want to lose someone we love, especially forever.
Another possible reason is the massive prevalence of ghosts in popular culture. Movies, books, television shows and music are all filled with tales from beyond the grave. While a lot of the intentionally fictionalised depictions tend to be focused on the horror genre, there have also been countless love stories, comedies and thrilling adventures which paint ghosts in a positive light. Such adaptations feed in to the human desire to need to believe that there is something more after we die. But not all stories are intentionally fictionalised. Some claim to be based on real events, and some claim to be actual portrayals of captured evidence of the existence of the supernatural. There are so called “reality” television shows depicting “actual” ghost hunters encountering ghosts and recording the “evidence.” These examples are particularly damaging to the truth because they claim to be based on fact.
It’s simplistic to state that people are foolish for believing in things which are not true. Simplistic and offensive. One of the most important things a skeptic should do is to educate, not critique. As I’ve stated above, some people become extremely defensive when their belief in ghosts is challenged. And if you take the time to understand the reasons why, such a response should hardly be surprising. Most people have lost a loved one. Holding onto the belief that the person they miss so dearly is still around in some form and not truly gone for good brings a deep level of comfort and helps them to continue on with their life. To have such comfort taken from them is startling and incredibly upsetting. Of course they are going to lash out at the person that attempts to tear this coping strategy from them. However unhealthy it might be.
The take home message here is that ghosts absolutely do not exist. There has been no empirical evidence to support this. None. To date, any “evidence” has been based on pseudo-science, clever trickery and outright lies. But having said that, when faced with someone who devoutly believes, be gentle. Use the opportunity to respectfully educate, don’t admonish. And don’t ever, ever be cruel or mocking. Part of the reason this topic causes such controversy is due to the strong emotions it elicits. Be sensitive. Be kind. And above all else, be patient. Always remember the overall goal of the skeptic is to help people see the truth. And that you can do this without hurting anyone.
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