What Would It Take To Prove Ghosts Exist?
February 02, 2020 6:00 AM ‐ Ghosts • Paranormal • Ghost Hunting
This article is more than three years old.
If you're a non-believer in the supernatural, then have you ever considered what it would take to convince you that ghosts really exist? This is also something you might have thought about if you're already a believer too, how can you convince a skeptic?
Stories of ghosts have existed in every culture going back thousands of years, a recent survey conducted in the US revealed that 60% of Americans believe they have seen a ghost, and thousands of paranormal investigators are actively researching the topic around the world. Yet, the existence of ghosts is still not recognised by mainstream science, especially as hauntings aren't something you can recreate in a laboratory.
Firm believers in the paranormal tend to take a dim view of skeptics, they often deem them to be close-minded and pedantic, but a skeptic would view a believer in the same way. It's not that either group are close-minded, it's just that they've both already formed an opinion on the paranormal and will therefore, in most cases, only consider evidence that supports their stance.
For example, if a skeptic doesn't believe that it's possible to capture the voice of a spirit in audio form by using the technique knowns as EVPs, or electronic voice phenomenon, then they will never accept an EVP as evidence. No matter how many examples you play them, they will simply put the voices down to being audio pareidolia, the human brain's tendency to hear recognisable sounds in abstract noise.
It's as hard to convince a believer that ghosts don't exist, as it is to convince a skeptic that they do. However, it's easy to see it from both points of view.
Believers often say that skeptics make irrational and endless demands for more and more evidence and that they feel like the skeptic is judging them, but if you are trying to convince that skeptic that ghost exist then you have opened yourself up to judgement and scrutiny and you need to provide evidence in order to convince that person. If you turn the tables, a believer would require an equal amount of evidence to convince them that ghosts don't exist.
Another argument that believers use to attack skeptics is that a skeptic can't possibly make a judgement on the existence of ghosts when they don't know anything about the topic, but this is unfair. There's no reason to assume that a skeptic isn't well read in the paranormal, they may have embarked on more paranormal investigations than a believer in order to come to their opinion.
"For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible."
So, what exactly would it take to prove that ghosts exist once and for all? What proof would take the paranormal from a fringe or pseudoscience to a mainstream scientific field of study?
Since most people will never witness a ghost themselves, it will take more than a few anecdotal stories to convince them. In order to prove the existence of the paranormal, the scientific world would be looking for empirical evidence that withstands peer review and most importantly is reproducible.
If you were capturing EVP recordings and you called out to any spirits that might be present and said "if there's someone here with us, can you tell us your name?" and a voice said "Victor," then that could just be audio pareidolia. If you could then say "can you confirm your name please, say it again" and it once again replied with "Victor," then that becomes good evidence, but what would make this evidence strong enough to convince the general populous would be if that spirit could give its name via EVP every time it was asked, by every investigator who visited the location.
If every investigator was able to carry this experiment out, get the same result and rule out anything that may be interfering with the experiment, then this would be irrefutable evidence that couldn't be debunked. The fact that different, independent investigators could repeat the same results would satisfy the peer review requirement.
This is simply the scientific method. A scientist always ensures the results can be repeated and withstand a peer review. For example, if a scientists was conducting an experiment to determine if salt exists in sea water and the results of their experiment appeared to confirm this, they wouldn't pack up and go home. The next step would be to repeat the experiment multiple times using different samples and invite other scientists to do the same.
To prove that the paranormal really exists would actually only require one single irrefutable example like this, but unfortunately, this repeatable, measurable kind of evidence is a world apart from a muffled voice in an audio recording that sounds like it could be saying "Victor."
Ghost sightings generally aren't repeatable. There are many spooky stories of the ghosts of soldiers walking through a castle at night, or a lady in grey who appears in a church on the anniversary of her death. If these stories were true then any skeptic could be taken to that castle at night or to the church on the correct date and they should be able to see the ghost, but they don't and can't.
Another thing that goes against the evidence generated by paranormal investigators is that the explanations that scientists give for some paranormal phenomenon are empirical and reproducible. For example psychologists have documented the common phenomenon of sleep paralysis, where a person awakes to find they are in capable of moving their body due to a chemical process in our bodies that prevent us from living out our dreams as we sleep. This uncomfortable and scary experience is often accompanied by visions of a dark or shadowy figure, but there is nothing paranormal about this.
Sleep paralysis is supported by empirical evidence because we can measure the effects of the neurotransmitter glycine on the muscles in the human body and it is reproducible, some people experience it so regularly that it can be observed and requires treatment.
Strange mists are often caught on camera, these could be ghosts or they could be the photographer's breath lit by the camera's flash or a lens flare. One photo proves nothing unless it can be repeated and the possibility of things like lens flares are removed. Why in 200 years of photography has no one ever found a haunted location where a spirit of someone can always be caught on camera sitting in the chair they died in?
Similarly, no psychic medium has ever been able to prove that they are able to contact the dead, despite the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, set up by James Randi to pay out a cash prize to anyone who can demonstrate supernatural abilities.
Most evidence presented by mediums is no more convincing than guess work and chance. The problem is, even if a psychic correctly predicted this week's lottery numbers, that could still be deemed to be chance. A chance of one in 45 million, but still someone guesses it right most weeks. If a psychic could predict the lottery numbers every week, now you're talking.
One interesting experiment which has been discussed by members of the paranormal and skeptical community is to test a psychic's abilities and prove the presence of a spirit. The results of this experiment would be measurable, reproducible and impossible to debunk. The experiment would work as follows...
Given that psychics claim to be able to interact with the ghosts that roam around a haunted location, a good test would be to place a device at one end of a room out of view of the psychic. The device would generate a random six digit number and display it on its screen. The medium would then ask the spirit to move to that part of the room, read the number, come back and tell the them what number was being displayed. The psychic could then relay the number, which could be verified against the number on the screen.
As there are countless haunted locations around the world and thousands of practicing mediums, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to find the right person and the right spirit to successfully prove the existence of the paranormal in this way.
This may sound like an over-the-top and unnecessary experiment that's a world away from evidence like the sensation of being tapped on the shoulder or the sound of unexplained knocks, but if you pose the question "what would it take to prove ghosts exist?" Then like it or not, this is what it would take.
You might argue that perhaps ghosts can't perform on demand in this way, that by their very nature they are not measurable or repeating. That's OK, and if that's the case then you simply have to accept that there is no way you are ever going to convince anybody.
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