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10 Most Compelling Pieces Of Evidence That Prove Ghosts Are Real

Are ghosts real? Well, there’s as much scientific evidence to support their existence as there is for the existence of black holes. Which is to say: there isn’t any, really. And yet we take the existence of black holes as read by now. People claim to have photographed, observed, and studied black holes, but they haven’t been tested under laboratory conditions. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, so it by the same token we can’t dismiss the existence of the supernatural either, right?

Probably. We don’t know, we’re not Brian Cox. Science is hard. (We got a C at GCSE). What we do know from science is that it’s much more difficult to prove the non-existence of something that the existence. And also phenomenally more douchey. Yeah, James Randi, we’re looking at you. We’re glass half-full types here at WhatCulture, so we lean towards proving the “existence” side of things. We also like a challenge, which means that having no concrete scientific evidence of spooks and spectres being real won’t put us off trying to convince you about the true nature of things that go bump in the night.

Besides, science isn’t gospel (actually it’s kinda the opposite of that, but shush). Where study of the supernatural began on the fringes, there are actually plenty of respected institutes and university research groups pursuing paranormal entities. To be so interested in ghostly phenomenon hints there might be something to why we pass around spooky stories, see every Paranormal Activity, read MR James stories at Christmas, and have tales from almost every culture since prehistory about spooks, ghouls, and spirits from beyond the grave.

It’s good to have a healthy skepticism about the world, but that goes both ways. We don’t think you can necessarily totally prove ghosts are real, but you also can’t just dismiss them out of hand. Especially when there’s so many pieces of evidence that prove ghosts are real – and here’s just ten of the most compelling. We’re ready to believe them!

10. Scientists Can’t Make Up Their Minds

Columbia Pictures

Okay so just to be straight up with you guys, the ghosts/black holes comparison was a mite disingenuous. You can’t recreate a black hole in a lab – that much is for sure – but that doesn’t necessarily make their existence as dubious as ghosts, since if a scientist told you to look at the place they saw a black hole, it would probably still be there.

Ghosts don’t hold up to the same repeatable conditions, but let’s not totally side with those skeptical boffins. They’re still not perfect by any stretch. After all, whilst many are convinced that ghosts aren’t real, none of them can agree on why exactly so many people are convinced otherwise.

In 1813 physician John Ferriar wrote An Essay Towards A Theory Of Apparitions, where he put forward his idea of ghost sightings as simply optical illusions. Okay, sure, we can buy that. Plus it’s a physician telling us this, he’s all qualified and stuff, so he must know what he’s on about. Except since Ferriar there have been many, many more researchers interested in explaining the paranormal, and almost all of them have disagreed with each other.

Alexandre Jacques François Brière de Boismont (owner of the Frenchest name in existence) claimed so-called spirits were hallucinations, chemist David Turner suggested they may be examples of ball lightning, Joe Nickell reckons they’ve something to do with the limits of human perception, and IT lecturer Vic Tandy puts poltergeist activity down to humans not being able to process the low-frequency hum of air conditioners properly.

So what does all that tell you? That the scientific community is more divided when it comes to what causes people to experience hauntings than it is about…well, anything, really. Nobody can make up their mind as to a scientific explanation of ghosts, because proving the non-existence of something is hella difficult. And douchey, as we said before. We may not have concrete evidence for the existence of the supernatural, but they have no evidence to the contrary, either. Ha!

9. And Some Scientists Are Looking For Them

Columbia Pictures

Alongside their more cynical peers, there are scientists that are actively trying to figure out what the deal with ghosts is, and not just running around making educated guesses having already made their minds up. Paranormal research is a serious business, undertaken by respectable colleges and universities worldwide using scientific methodology and equipment.

Now, the scientists doing this research aren’t outright believers, but they are a little more open-minded than their rationalist pals. Depending on the researchers in question, you may get some who are a little too open-minded. There are some paranormal investigators who go in hard with the belief in spirits, meaning they’re less rigorous about sticking to the scientific method. That shouldn’t discount everybody who classes themselves as a ghost hunter, though, especially when they use equipment like digital thermometers, infrared and night vision, digital video and audio recorders, and computers, which are all things used in the study of subjects that aren’t derogatorily classed as “pseudosciences”.

That there are people who not only try to apply the rationalist, strict methodology of traditional sciences to something which isn’t generally considered a science should tell you something, and so too should the fact that they keep at it in the face of such criticism. Whilst these paranormal researchers have yet to reach definitive conclusions from their studies, they are getting ever closer, and they couldn’t keep looking if they weren’t onto something, right?

8. Oh So Many Creepy Photos

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

There are plenty of dubious “photographs” of otherworldly apparitions, oftentimes attached to a similarly outlandish story of how the subjects weren’t visible when the pictures were taken, the ghostly photobomber appearing only when the shots were developed. If those pieces of evidence weren’t suspect enough, they’ve become even more so with the advent of Photoshop and other image-editing software that makes doctoring in a translucent guy in a white sheet into your holiday snaps literal child’s play. As in, kids can (and do) do it.

Of course, ghost photography existed long before Photoshop reared its head, and there are plenty of pics that couldn’t have been so convincingly doctored in the eras they were taken. Putting aside “orbs” for a moment – because, c’mon, we all know they’re just bits of light or dust or reflections from a camera’s flash – there are numerous photos purporting to show ghoulish visitors that are beyond explanation.

There’s the above snap of the Brown Lady taken at Raynham Hall in 1936 which, if it’s a fake, is a flipping convincing one. Then there’s the group photo of an RAF squadron, where they were joined by what looked to be their mechanic who had died two days prior in a freak accident.

There are countless other photographs that have been proven to be fakes – through tricks or double exposures, or other things we don’t really understand but still believe in (LIKE GHOSTS) – but almost as many like these few examples, where the person who took the picture wasn’t up to any shady business, and can’t explain the half-visible interlopers.

The tales which accompany the pictures often consist of the most purple prose imaginable, but don’t let the spooky stories deceive you – the photos themselves are legit, and legit scary. And possibly also actual evidence that something ghostly exists.

7. Einstein May Have Proven Their Existence

We get the feeling that anybody who’s scientifically inclined might think we’re totally trolling them with this article. And that’s only half-true, but this next part may be a bit of a leap, even for them.

So Albert Einstein – the E = mc2 guy with the hair, if you’re somehow not familiar – had this Theory of Relativity which postulates the existence of an infinite number of alternate realities, which itself began as a fringe theory and has since become a widely accepted part of quantum mechanics. Extrapolating the Theory of Relativity, and the Many Worlds Theory, you could argue that the sightings of “ghosts” aren’t necessarily the generally agreed upon restless souls of the dead. They could be beings that live on some different plane of existence, or an entirely alternate reality, who sometimes bleed through into our reality, or whom we get a glimpse of for some other reason.

Which leads us onto Dr Henry Stapp. A quantum physicist who worked with Heisenberg (no, the one he’s named after), Stapp’s beliefs about quantum mechanics and life after death neatly dovetail with those of Dr Stuart Hameroff and his physicist friend Roger Penrose. Hameroff and Penrose suggested that a “soul” was simply the quantum processing in our brains that produced consciousness. So when we die, all that quantum information is simply released into the world from the brain.

Stapp agreed with the theory that consciousness could live on as a “mental entity” once the brain it had previously lived in had died, and even went so far as to suggest that if these entities could somehow make their way back to the physical world, then possession and channeling could be possible. Note he wasn’t saying what possessions and channeling actually was, he was just spitballing. But when quantum physicists spitball, you treat them with a little more respect than, say, Derek Acorah.

6. The Stone Tape Theory

Speaking of wild scientific theories, we come to one that originated in a BBC TV show and has since been taken up as a legit explanation of haunted houses. Writer Nigel Kneale has covered paranormal activity from a rationalist angle in many of his works, most notably the Quatermass serials and films about the titular scientist coming into contact with aliens, cults, and ancient evils.

With The Stone Tape, Kneale turned his attention to ghosts, with the story of a group of researchers setting up shop in a renovated Victorian mansion they’ve adopted as their new based of operations. A renovated Victorian mansion with a history of hauntings, natch.

As the story progresses, the scientists begin to formulate their “Stone Tape theory”, which suggests the ghosts they’re seeing are “residual hauntings”; not the traditional lost souls roaming the Earth, but “recordings” of traumatic events that have imprinted themselves onto the environment where they happened, playing on an infinite loop. These ghosts aren’t dangerous necessarily, or even self-aware. But they are super spooky.

Widely celebrated at the time of transmission in 1972, the residual hauntings hypothesis has been taken up by paranormal investigators as an actual thing. The real Stone Tape theory, named for the TV show, has it that moments of high tension or stress in a person’s life (or even death) can cause a great amount of energy to be released. That energy is then absorbed by the inanimate objects in the surrounding area, ready to be released and replayed.

Some of the earliest research relating to this theory was…iffy, to say the least. But once people stopped believing in the hippy-dippy ideas of “psychic energy” getting stored in chairs and such, they made some decent headway, no least in discovering that minerals which exist in VHS videotapes and allow them to record stuff exist pretty much everywhere in the natural world, too. It’s an untestable theory, but a fun one!

5. Hauntings Affect House Prices

That makes it sound like we’re being a bit glib, but we’re totally not yanking your chain, man. Documented histories of hauntings have a real, tangible effect on property prices, and there was a case in America where a realtor was found liable for not informing a customer that the house they were being sold was already home to some spectral squatters. Like, that was an actual case that went to trial and found in the resident’s favour, meaning that there’s a documented moment in the history of US law where the existence of ghosts was, if not confirmed, then at least heavily implied.

One in three people in a 2005 survey admitted to thinking their homes were haunted. In the UK this could conceivably be avoided by citing the 1991 Property Misdescriptions Act, which “creates a general duty to avoid making false or misleading statements” in real estate agents. Of course you’d have to be the one to bring up in court that you think you should’ve been warned about the ghost in your bedsit, and the courts here may be a tad less open-minded than across the Atlantic.

A history of hauntings, whilst not proof of ghosts, do have an undeniable effect on things in the physical world, however. It can go either way; Nicolas Cage shelled out a few million for a mansion that was purportedly the most haunted building in New Orleans, because he’s Nicolas Cage, and he might be an immortal vampire himself anyway. He was probably just hoping to reconnect with some old pals who weren’t signed up to Friends Reunited.

Similar spooky stories have helped boost the value of old, crumbling country manors that might otherwise have gone for bargain basement prices. It works both ways, of course, since not everyone is quite as enthusiastic about sharing their living space with the tormented souls of the dead given corporeal form (or beings from an alternative universe, or whatever we decided on a couple of points ago). There’s the case of people who have fled from homes, too terrified by supernatural visitors in the night to stay another minute, whose stories will bring the cash they recoup from the haunted house being far less than if they had kept their mouths shut. Or if they hadn’t been trying to sell their house as quickly as possible to escape the bad mojo.

4. The Testimony Of Dr Peter Fenwick

Peter Fenwick is a respected neuropsychiatrist (read: proper smart brain doctor), which means that you can believe his theories on near death experiences and the afterlife more than the story from your Nan about how she saw a ghost one time when her oven was leaking carbon monoxide.

Dr Fenwick has decades of experience in understanding human behaviour and the brain, working in hospitals and psychiatric wards across the UK. In his book The Art Of Dying, he makes the argument that the brain and the mind are two separate entities, and upon death they become very much separated. Which is pretty much what Hameroff, Penrose, and Staff were talking about a few years ago, to a similar sort of reaction.

Fenwick himself was just as skeptical about near death experiences when he first read about them in 1972, but he was inspired to begin his own research after one of his own patients came to him with the sort of compelling stories spiritual oddballs give about “stepping into the light”, speaking to dead relatives and all that. One of the things that has most caught his eye – in studying over 300 examples of near death experiences, in people who are very ill or actually dying – is that so many of the experiences were similar, in people from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems.

His biggest interest is in cardiac arrests, where the heart stops and – presumably – the brain stops working too, since there’s nothing to keep it going. The fact that people still have “experiences” during these instances to him proves that consciousness and the brain can exist independent of each other, which in turn suggests the theory of hauntings and ghosts that Quantum Mechanics give. It’s not so much a person’s soul trapped on Earth, but a consciousness without a shell, given free reign to…appear in photographs and knock things over, we guess?

3. Their Prevalence In Popular Culture

Lucasfilm

Listen, we’ve all had fun with the Paranormal Activity jokes (they were fun right? Right??) and such, but the dominance over tales of horror and fright ghosts have should probably tell you something. Especially since they’ve been used to scare people in stories in pretty much every time period on record, from the stories of MR James right up until the shaky-cam antics of Micah and whatever the lass was called.

Where other great monsters in horror history have been used to express a contemporary fear – Dracula=syphilis, Frankenstein’s monster=science overtaking religion, zombies=consumerism, the conservative right, basically anything you want – hauntings have remained part of popular culture simply as they are: scary, unexplained things.

Part of the reason that films like Paranormal Activity are so frightening is that it taps into some primal, core fear we all have within ourselves. That fear of the unknown, both of what happens after we die and also regarding what the heck ghosts are. Plus the found footage thing makes it look like home movies we’re all familiar with. Stories of ghosts and ghouls are grounded in this way by having them affect fellow human beings, like us, but also because they have a grounding in human culture going back centuries.

The sort of scary stories shared around a campfire belong to an oral tradition (steady) that’s been around for eons, and the appearances of ghosts within these stories down the years is rather telling. Like we told you at the start of this bit. Why would we continue to tell these stories – in books, films, TV, games, comics, even those campfire tales – if there wasn’t something to them, a kernel of truth, which causes them to be popular and terrifying even now, when we’ve got most things figured out, when the structure of a ghost story is obvious even to a six-year-old on his first trip with the Cub Scouts?

We’ll tell you why, dear reader: because ghosts are real. Or something like them, at least. Else whoever invented them should be receiving royalty cheques to the end of time for their creation.

2. The Sheer Number Of Ghost Sightings

Something even more prevalent than the knowingly fictional stories of ghosts are the ones that are defiantly non-fiction, the sort which have been rendered dubious by our culture of cynicism and, well, all the phantoms we see onscreen and in the pages of books. Anecdotal evidence isn’t enough to sway a hardline scientific skeptic – and nor should it, lest we start believing the testimonies of otherkin – but there’s been so many first-hand sightings and experiences of ghosts that you can’t really ignore it, or suggest they’re all just hoaxes, hallucinations, or people unable to tell the difference between a semi-transparent human being and a dusty lampshade.

Everyone and their dog has a story of a time they encountered something paranormal, whether it was a simple feeling of dread in their home or coming face-to-face with a fully-fledged phantom. There’s been multiple explanations given for this, from the hallucinations and optical illusions from before and even mass hysteria, suggesting that a significant percentage of the population is plain crazy-go-nuts. Which seems more of a stretch than just believing in ghosts, to be honest. Would you rather we were a species that frequently invents stories about otherworldly beings, often without even realising it, or that life after death is real?

Again, the reason anecdotal evidence is so rarely relied upon is because it’s subjective. The appearance of ghosts, like black holes, cannot be repeated in laboratory conditions, or even be relied upon to pop up where you claimed to see them originally. When somebody tells you they saw one, you have to not only believe them but also their critical faculties, senses and the like. All of that said, we’ve built up such a huge library of subjective data at this point that surely, eventually, it passes into something a little more objective? Like, how can there be these many instances of people seeing ghosts and there not be something to it?

Of course, when you look at it that way, you have to start thinking the same way about other stuff. Like people who claim to have met Bill Murray. Or aliens…

1. How They Persist Through Human Culture

In fact, not only do ghosts occupy a privileged and recurring position within popular culture, but within culture as a whole – in fact all cultures, throughout history, have had their own versions of ghost stories.

The only concept that is more persistent throughout human history is of God (and maybe cats, everybody loves cats). The idea of a God being real is another that fits neatly into the “you can’t prove it doesn’t exist!” argument we somewhat arrogantly used for the existence of phantoms at the top of this article, but ghosts actually give a little more wiggle room than Gods do. Where almost every deity going has some certifiably impossible actions attributed to them – omnipotent powers and “miracles”, mostly – ghosts don’t tend to have any immediate effect on the world around them.

We can see that there’s not a God making burning bushes talk or whatever, but we can’t see the effects of ghosts on the world, because they don’t have any! At least not physically, because the concept of the supernatural has imprinted itself onto human consciousness since time immemorial. There are apparitions all over Shakespeare’s work (most notably in Macbeth, cos SPOILERS a lot of people die in the Scottish Play); references to ghosts in the ancient religions of Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria; the “gibbering…whining” vapours in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad; the Spiritualism craze of the early 20th century; the fear of Ouija Boards that still exists, even.

The idea of ghosts as restless dead spirits, or even of demons or souls in purgatory, really took off with the rise of Christianity in the Middle Ages, but people were already “aware” of these otherworldly visitors long, long before that. You’ll even find evidence in the cave paintings of Horseshoe Canyon in Utah, dated to between 7000 and 9000 BC, which some have taken to depict a Holy Ghost of sorts:


You could argue that the reason ghosts have become so firmly lodged in the collective consciousness is down to the aforementioned prevalence in popular culture, but that would be to ignore all the evidence that people were banging on about phantoms long before even the first Paranormal Activity was released (we know, it’s hard to imagine such a time).

That the idea of spooks has been around for so long, even seemingly being immaculately conceived in the Neolithic period where such a belief couldn’t possibly have been inspired by contemporary religion, stories or otherwise, is perhaps the best evidence we have for their existence. Or else the Paleo-Indians of 11,000 years ago have just managed to get us to believe a joke they made up millennia ago. The cheeky devils.

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