Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ghost disproval thought experiments

The following are a bunch of silly things I've wondered when talking to people who are super serious about their belief that ghosts are real. Since the widespread belief in ghosts isn't easily disproven using physical science and direct measurement data, and ghost belief is often deeply rooted in a personal religious belief, it is probably best to just use these types of silly thought experiments when playfully and skeptically talking about ghosts with less skeptical friends and family. It can be a pretty fun discussion for everyone involved, actually!

The Real Estate theorem of ghost disproval

What happens if you bulldoze a "real haunted house" and build a 24-hour Walgreens on the site? Would you now have a haunted 24-hour Walgreens, or would the resident ghost have to relocate to a spooky Victorian mansion in your town's historic district? That story doesn't sound very scary: "Sometimes I see the ghost of a weeping little girl sitting on the edge of my bed. She used to haunt the Old Johnson Place on Elm Street, but she had to move after they built the new Walgreens. That's probably why she's always weeping." I'm going to call this the "Real Estate theorem of ghost disproval."

The temporal theorem of ghost disproval

How come the majority of ghosts tend to be a few hundred years old or less, regardless of the era? You hardly ever see, or hear a good story about a 3,000 year old ghost. Is it because ghosts are usually able to complete their "unfinished business" in a few century time frame? Is it because ancient ghosts either predate the religious tradition that gives them a philosophical foundation, or because extremely old ghosts can't speak English (or whatever the local modern language is)? Is it because, as was hinted by the Real Estate theorem of ghost disproval, ghosts are intimately tied to the structures they inhabit and there are very few usable structures which have survived for more than 3,000 years? It might also be a ghost demographics phenomenon, in that many more people have died more recently than 3,000 years ago than died longer than 3,000 years ago. Therefore ancient ghosts are simply numerically less common than more modern ghosts. Someone on those Ghost Hunters International TV shows should take a spectral census to get to the bottom of this.

The ambient music theorem of ghost disproval

Ghost stories and haunted houses require a certain ambience in order to get the full effect. Typically this is low lighting inside a 19th century house or an abandoned building, low firelight around a campsite, and either silence, or old-timey music such as Big Band, Ragtime, Jazz, or some lonesome piano music. This ambience is maintained because people want to be scared because it's fun...that's the whole point for them. But are there certain types of ambient music and lighting environments in which ghosts simply cannot exist? For example if you had a multicolor laser light show, inside a bright white room with all white walls and white floor with no furniture, and blared Miley Cyrus Party in the USA, is it impossible to be scared by a ghost?

The absurd juxtaposition ghost disproval theorem

Is it possible to be involuntarily haunted by a ghost if you take steps to be absurd or silly to counteract the scariness of the ghost? For example, you could enter a "real haunted house" with everyone in your group dressed in realistic looking dolphin costumes. The absurdity of a group of humans waddling into the old haunted house dressed as a pod of dolphins might be too much for the ghost to handle. It will throw the ghost off her haunting game and will cause her to be too embarrassed to come out and haunt you.

As I think of more silly theorems of ghost disproval I will continue to add them to this list. If you can think of any along the same lines, let me know! I hope to one day collect the definitive internet list of silly ghost disproval theorems.


  1. This is great. Very well organized and funny. The dolphin pod imagery is awesome. It brings up the question "why are there no dolphin ghosts?" It's not that animals can't be ghosts, because there are stories of spectral stallions and hounds. You might like something I wrote a little while back. I listed physics questions that should be asked if people could really talk to the dead. http://rationalcrank.blogspot.com/2011/06/what-would-you-ask-dead.html

    1. Thanks for your nice comment!

      I don't think the "why are there no dolphin ghosts?," or why aren't there more animal ghosts will sway most typical Christian ghost believers, or make them wonder very much. The concept of ghost falls directly out of the philosophical tradition of dualism, of having a separate mind and soul, and most believers don't strongly adhere to a core belief that animals have supernatural "souls." The stories of spectral hounds and stallions you mention...I suspect those have pre-Christian and non-Abrahamic religious origins, such as Celtic, Norse, and Druidic origins.

  2. The statistical proof:

    What percentage of humans become ghosts? One in every hundred thousand? 100 billion people have lived and died. That would mean there's 100 million ghosts. They'd be all over the place! Furthermore as time goes on we'd expect the incidence of ghosts to go up as more people are dying today than 100 years ago.

    1. I like your statistical proof! Maybe it could be called "The Aggregate statistical proof." You could also extend it and start asking more detailed ghost demographics questions. Why are there more ghosts per capita in down-and-out rural towns of the United States than there are ghosts in Las Vegas? Is it just because Vegas is a newer city? Are ghost demographics linked to poverty and structure abandonment among the living: is Detroit seeing a sharp rise in ghosts? Are ghost demographics strongly linked to climate: More per capita ghost sightings in gloomy New England and Pacific Northwest versus Florida and Hawaii?

      The reason real ghost believers never wonder a question like this, is because ghost sightings are all about "feelings," and "personal experiences," and "stories." Once data, numeracy, and statistics start entering into it, and are considered by all parties in the discussion to be a valid way to think about the topic and reason towards the truth, the discussion is already over.