Sunday, November 6, 2011

When I die, will I become a ghost?

I began thinking of the topic of "ghosts" over Samhain, which is probably appropriate. I don't have any particular belief in where we go or what we become after we die. If I can't verify it, what is the use? Maybe I lean bit towards Buddhist philosophy in this area, but overall I subscribe to the philosophy of "I don't know" when it comes to what happens after leaving our physical body. I'd rather have a scientific answer.

However in spite of that, I seem to have an interest in where my ashes will go after I am cremated, which is strange. (I want a good portion of my ashes to be released at the former home of D.H. Lawrence, in the mountains outside of Taos, New Mexico. That was a very special place to me that I will never forget. There is a large tree out front of the main cabin that his guest Georgia O'Keeffe painted. The ground was covered in its pine cones and I took one with me for good luck. I'd like my ashes to fertilize the same tree.)

Back to the topic of ghosts--I've noticed lately that I  can't seem to switch on the TV without coming across some type of ghost hunting show. Many feature psychic-mediums who supposedly communicate with ghosts. One of the latest ones is TLC's Long Island Medium, a reality show which features Theresa Caputo, "a normal mom from Long Island, New York with two children and a loving husband. However, she has a very special gift... she talks to the dead. She spends her days helping individuals find closure from people who have passed and whose spirits that are still around. For Theresa, this is not just her job... this is her life." (See video below)

We also have SyFy's Ghost Hunters series about a group of ghost hunters who are "plumbers by day and ghost hunters by night, working to track down the presence of paranormals across the country.
As leaders of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), both Jason and Grant have made it their life's mission to help anyone with questions pertaining to paranormal phenomena and ghost hunting."

One of the silliest ones of all is the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures, which features Zak Bagans, Nick Groff and Aaron Goodwin -- three guys who supposedly lock themselves in overnight at the most haunted locations in the U.S. and try to provoke ghosts in a number of inane ways while taking EVP recordings and using fancy instruments to try to prove their existence. The recent indie horror film Grave Encounters parodied an episode of theirs inside an old insane asylum. In the film the ghosts get sweet revenge on these guys in a variety of horrific ways.  (See below)

The thing that has really struck me is that as we watch all these shows or ponder whether ghosts are real, we consider it from the point of view of the innocent human being haunted by some restless spirit that doesn't seem to want to "move on to the light" or something. We wonder whether Uncle Bob is trying to reach us from beyond the grave to tell us where his gold is hidden. We respond in fear at bumps in the night or a cold chill in the air.

What starts to change when you realize you may be dying yourself is that you begin to wonder if YOU will be the ghost making the noises, or if YOU will have to look up Theresa Caputo so you can get a message through to your family.  So the kids and I started joking about what I would do if I was a ghost and how they would know it was me. As a result we came up with a bunch of corny phrases and words that I would communicate from the Other Side, so that they would know for sure it was me and no fake medium could come rip them off.

Despite all this, I do believe there are many unexplainable occurrences out there which are quite interesting. A relative of mine from Arkansas has been a county coroner since I was just a kid. She is a medical professional who deals with death constantly, and even she has told us a few stories and seems to have some belief in ghosts. I even have a family picture of myself and the children taken some years ago by Jodeen which has a very strange anomaly that appeared to form over the course of several photos until it was quite large and distinctive. Awhile back I lent the photo to a friend of mine who was in this ghosthunter's club that met on regular basis, just because I thought he would enjoy it and I wanted to see if they could give a logical reason why this anomaly would show up. It even appeared as if my son Liam was playing with the thing during the pictures, as if he was aware of it.

As I should have guessed, the ghosthunter club did not debunk it, but instead they thought it was one of the best pictures they had seen of such a thing. It was suggested the Liam had a "joined entity," whatever that means. I think it meant something like he might have been a twin at one point, which is something that happens more often than people think, but the other twin becomes absorbed very early on. I don't know. Either way, I would still like to get the photo debunked, by some non-ghost believers. I would post it right now, but it is on one of my other hard drives, so I need to hunt it down. I promise I will update and post it as soon as I do. 

The question I have is: if you remove religion and superstition from the equasion, what valid explanation might there be for "ghosts?" Or shall I say "anomalies?"

I believe it is possible that many people have seen ghosts in their lifetime. But just because they have viewed something that they perceive as an apparition, does that make it real? Reality is so subjective. We can hallucinate for one thing. I am very experienced with that due to a childhood malpractice situation in which a doctor gave me an incorrect medication that caused massive hallucinations for days on end. As a child, I didn't even know what a hallucination was, so I could not be aware that what I was experiencing wasn't real. Other people have issues such as schizophrenia, or lesions in the brain which can cause a number of changes in perception from strange smells to strange voices that are utterly real to them. A number of other things can cause temporary changes to brain waves. Notice that there are fewer instances when a number of people see the same exact anomaly at once. Usually it is one person in a party who detects something and then others may claim to see the same thing later.

Either way, I believe the first consideration with ghosts is to verify the physical, mental and emotional state of the person experiencing it. I love reading Scientific American, and I found a couple articles on the subject. This first one discusses exactly what I am talking about--

Ghost Stories: Visits from the Deceased
After a loved one dies, most people see ghosts...
"Researcher Agneta Grimby at the University of Goteborg, found that over 80 percent of elderly people experience hallucinations associated with their dead partner one month after bereavement, as if their perception had yet to catch up with the knowledge of their beloved’s passing."

I am not surprised at all by that statistic. My hospice coordinator left this binder at my house which basically explains (for the sake of others I guess) what events may happen when I go into "active dying" mode. It is supposed to prepare others for the sights, sounds and smells of death apparently. One common occurrence is that the dying person often claims to see dead relatives or friends when it is near their time. I believe that did happen even with my own Grandfather when he died of cancer.

Another more scientific approach is to study electromagnetic pulses and infrasound. It has become commonplace now for ghosthunters to use a variety of speciality devices that they believe can either detect the presence of a ghost or allow ghosts to communicate through the device. Movies such as White Noise popularized the idea that dead people can speak through EVP (electronic voice phenomena). But again, there are dozens of ways of debunking these noises. Auditory pareidolia is just one of them-- a situation created when the brain incorrectly interprets random patterns as being familiar patterns. In the case of EVP it could result in an observer interpreting random noise on an audio recording as being the familiar sound of a human voice.

Back to the idea of EMFs (electromagnetic fluctuation), here is another Scientific American article that tests that attempts to test that theory in controlled circumstances:

Ghost Lusters: If You Want to See a Specter Badly Enough, Will You?
Researchers set up "haunted" room to prove an electromagnetic theory of ghost sightings...

Finally, one of the most annoying things to me are psychic mediums who prey upon people stricken by recent deaths in the family. People who are religious or superstitious may be very susceptible to being cold-read. A smart person can easily cold read certain people and by phrasing everything in questions (Did you lose a loved one who's name begins with the letter D?) they simply dig out emotional hotspots and then assure them that their loved ones are there watching over them or that they forgive them or whatever.

One thing I wish I could ask the "Long Island Medium" Theresa Caputo, is about the whole "going into the light thing." Because I caught an episode in which she did something that made no sense to me. She went to a client's house to "cleanse" it of negative energy and bad spirits. So she took out the handy sage incense and a large feather to give it all a sort of shamanic appearance and walking through the house waving the feather and smoke and telling the bad spirits to move on into the light. She says that negative spirits are ones that stick around a certain place or person and bother them because they are confused or won't go into the light. Ok, fine. But then she does all these readings in which she says, "Your father is sitting right there in that chair and he says...(blah, blah, blah) and he was watching your daughter graduate right there with you!"

The client cries in happiness and off-camera hands over a check I'm sure. The thing I don't get is if all these spirits are hanging around Theresa and bugging her to talk to their relatives, doesn't that mean they did NOT go into the light? Are they still stuck in some earthly realm and restlessly stalking their families? I thought once you go into the light, that's it. Aren't you supposed to be in heaven or your happy place, or being born into another body? So which is it? Are they in the light or out of the light? Or do they get to still talk to their families (via mediums) from beyond the light?

The closest I can get to belief in "ghosts" is not really at all about ghosts, but more to do with alternate dimensions, string theory and parallel universes. The latest studies say there are up 11 or more dimensions. I recall first reading the book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions when it came out and just being blown away. If you haven't read it, then you must. Right now. You can download it for 99 cents.

So the verdict is that I do believe that there is more out there than my human brain can quantify and it is quite possible that within the realms of multiverses there may be skipping, portals, energy signatures and time looping and curling back on itself. That is something worth studying and perhaps it will be more clear one day.

Maybe we do not die at all. If you look at a cloud, and how it produces rain, and the raindrop falls to the ground, and then evaporates and goes back up - do we say the raindrop is dead during each transference to a different element? It is all a cycle. Plants grow from seed, blossom, release many seeds, dye off and become fertilizer for other seeds to grow. So if there is life after death, I figure it is our children. They are part of us and they go on to live. That is more exciting than just an apparition bumping about forever in an old house.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post. Very thought provoking. I suppose none of us will know for sure until it happens to us. I personally believe that who we really are cannot be contained in a body. Keep writing!