Holy Ghosts: ghost stories

“We are entitled to some muddled thinking now and then” said my new friend, Steve (fake name). Steve is an atheist, with a certain amount of superstition he can’t get out of his head. By that I mean Steve doesn’t like to say that he is an atheist because that might cause something bad to happen to him. Like he says, “such is the power of social conditioning.” But Steve believes in ghosts.

I thought ghosts were exclusively compatible with God-believing. My thought was that a ghost means an afterlife and an afterlife means a God. Each of those steps isn’t actually correct though. Conceptually speaking, a “soul” could still linger in this world until it eventually dissipates, so the eternal afterlife thing is not necessarily true. And even if an afterlife in fact real, that doesn’t mean a God at all. Why does an afterlife need to be managed any more than lifelife? Still, it struck me as weird that he believed in ghosts (and not an afterlife). As a reminder, I cut myself out of this at ghosts; I don’t believe in them.

“It is a mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.”

– Aristotle

I thought it might be interesting to share his stories. I have dismissed them, but in a way I recognise that I do but am not proud of; I simply don’t believe them. Yes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but I’m not sure I have reasons to assume that ghosts are extraordinary claims, as opposed to just feel like extraordinary claims. Every story I am about to share can be dismissed as an unreliable childhood memory or as having the touch of the alcohol about them.

One night, when I was meant to be asleep, when I was 4 I walked into my mum and dad’s room. They discouraged me sharing their bed as a child in case they crushed me death in my sleep; it wasn’t normal for me to go into their room after bedtime. They asked me if I was okay. I said simply “Yeah, fine. Granddad is on my wardrobe. He just came to say goodbye.” That night he died. I feel that’s pretty watertight

– Steve

I was 4, maybe. I was playing on the floor in the kitchen and my mum was cooking. I got up and I walked over to my mum. She asked me if I was okay and I said “fine. An old woman told me to move.” Seconds later the plaster on the ceiling directly above where I was sat collapsed.

– Steve

I pointed out that the latter story suggested that the ghost could predict the future. Steve has some other stories, but they include eerie feelings and things you see in your peripheral vision. But I thought I might as well share a few more interesting accounts I have from people I know, about ghosts and the afterlife. Obviously, by the time they get to you they are 3rd or even 4th hand accounts, so I expect you will consider them less than I do. But they are interesting. The first one comes from my dad; I tried to dismiss his claims of being psychic in an earlier post, so consider this man’s words carefully. But still, here is his story:

Julie and I were staying at a hotel. We’d just gotten back from a restaurant and I was desperate for the toilet. I rushed into the bathroom, threw my car keys down on the cistern and sat down on the toilet. All of a sudden my keys started rattling in the cistern. I felt I knew there was a person doing it, so I said “stop it”, and it stopped. A few moments later they started rattling again, and I yelled “stop it”. And it stopped. And then it started a third time, and I yelled “I told you! Stop it!” and I threw my keys down on the floor. I told off the thing I felt was doing this the same way I tell off Macsen and Morgan [his youngest children], and I did that because I felt I could see whoever was rattling my keys: a little girl with brown hair and blue eyes. Later that night I wondered down stairs to the hotel bar and in the stair way was a big, old painting of a little girl and it struck me immediately—except her eyes were brown. While I was in the bar I heard maids talking about how the hotel’s previous owner had a daughter who died and now haunted the hotel. When I came down the next morning for breakfast a cleaner has cleaned that painting in the stairway and the girl in the painting’s eyes were blue. Bright blue

– My dad

My brother was at a bar with a few friends. He’d been there for about half an hour before one friend had gone to the toilet and another went to move the car. He was alone and a barman appeared across the bar and asked “are you Anthony”, which he was. “Have you lost someone close to you recently”, which he had—we both had—our grandma. The barman then told Anthony “I have a message from her, she wants you to know she’s okay, she’s with granddad now.” Anthony looked around the bar for his friends and then told the stranger-come-barman that he knew his friends had put him up to this and it wasn’t funny. The barman then proceeded to describe our grandma’s kitchen in immaculate detail, including the hideous wallpaper around the bottom and the cracking paint work Anthony had promised to clean up around the top—stuff none of his friends knew. Anthony freaked out and left. A few days later he returned to the bar because he had questions for the barman. The manager said the barman had left; he came in begging for work one day and left within the week

– Gert

My brother and a few of his navy friends all moved into this flat. During the viewing the place felt fine. But when they moved in by themselves they felt terrified. They were scared. But—that was in their head—they stayed there. They all have stories of seeing things move in the dark or the feeling of being shoved when no one else was in the flat. But the strangest story happened in twilight. Ian Rutter [an author, if you want to check out his book] was alone in the flat and something took hm by the throat and held him up above the ground, choking him. He couldn’t talk; he couldn’t breathe. But he could see and there was nothing visible in front of him. Rutter though he was going to die there. The choking stopped when someone else entered the flat through the front door; Ian Mahony [Ian Mahony was my SCUBA diving instructor. Thoroughly recommend it! Moskito Diving, Phi Phi, Thailand]. Mahony heard Rutter gasping for air; saw nothing; and the next morning Rutter had bruises around his neck

– Gert

To an extent, it’s like Steve said to me; we don’t know how the human brain works. It is possible there will be an answer in neuroscience to explain how we vividly hallucinate or falsely remember ghost-experiences. But that certainly isn’t a likely enough answer to cut ghosts out of the picture (again, using Occam’s Razor). But, it certainly seems certain people are susceptible to these kind of experiences: Steve has several, Gert’s brother has two that I know, my has numerous. My brother has none; Gert has none; my step mum has none; my stepdad has none; I have none. Like religious experiences, some are blessed with it, others aren’t. Perhaps there is a neuroscience answer to this. But, the two of Steve’s stories that I shared included a successful telling of the future—but he was four; but the stories are recounted to him by his parents; but his parents were mourning when the memories formed, one of them lost a parent…

Besides, it was a lie when I said I have had none:

When I was very young, my great granddad  died and a few months later my first granddad died. This was also around the time of the collapse of my parents relationship—and straight away you can see how I am preparing you to dismiss my account as a case of short-lived mental instability. After his death I heard my granddad’s voice. I don’t remember it in much detail, but my parents worried and sent me to a counsellor. My dad waited until I was much older before he told me that he also heard my granddad’s—his dad’s—voice after he died. My dad’s life was up in the air at the time: a relationship had just crumbled, his job was uncertain, another woman had just had his child, my dad felt a lot of guilt for his dad dying before he resolved certain issues with him. My dad interprets hearing his dad’s voice as his dad looking after him, because he stopped hearing his voice when things started looking more stable. But I interpret it this way: hearing voices was counselled out of me. It was a sign of being ill

– Allallt

(I know a few of you know my real name, but I want to keep the Google monster out of my blog)

5 thoughts on “Holy Ghosts: ghost stories”

  1. We know that our subconscious brains work outside the conscious mind. We know that people with brain problems halucinate seeing people that are not there. We can walk in our sleep (while dreaming). Many other things. Yet when it seems like a ghost is involved we forget these things. Our brains use images to convey content. Analyze a few dreams to see what I mean here. If your subconscious is going to tell your conscious something it seems plausible that it would do so via images and suggestion.

    When you hear someone call your name, you don’t ‘hear’ it… rather the information that this has happened is passed to your conscious mind from your sensory systems. The very same information can be passed if it never happened in reality. You will then experience it as if it was reality even though it is not.

    Stories of ghosts… without scientific evidence are very suspect because of the above. When we know how the brain works, I bet that such things will simply stop happening to most people.

    1. Just because people use the terms in vague and unusable ways, can I clarify that you mean the “conscious” mind to be the sensory, empirical part of the mind that receives data from the outside world and processes them… creating “thought” and the like.
      I’m not sure what you mean by the “subconscious” though.

      That said, that’s what I hoped to allude to when I said there would be a neuroscience answer to the question at some point.

      Consider again the first two stories where some future-telling is also taking place…

      1. I’ll say yes, but with qualification: The conscious mind is the part that analyzes the analysis of sensory data. This meta analysis of metadata from analysis gives us the impression of watching a movie. That is to say we experience objects and colors and motion rather than billions of pixels, billions of bits of color data, math calculations for motion and so on. All of that happens in the subconscious mind… the part of the mind that is not “aware” so to speak. It’s the part you can’t directly access but the ‘you’ is inextricably tied to it and part of it. It is difficult for us to access visual processing functions mentally yet much of our conscious mind is dependent on the output from visual processing. Vision is processed in the subconscious.

        There are many things which still need a good explanation.

        Grandpa visiting a 4 year old whose communication skills are probably not above average. What was actually said is not word for word known. That grandpa was on the dresser we cannot query. The details are no more than what is told from the memory of a boy who was four at the time. The pairing of the night time event and the death seem more than coincidental but we cannot know this from the details given. We don’t know if grandpa was in ICU and the family had fret about it all day or not. There are many things which need to be analyzed to know what might or might not have been in the mind of the child on that or any other occassion. It would not be unfair to think of a 4yo who is afraid because of how people are reacting during the day, and seeing people talk about saying good byes etc. Hopefully that is enough for you to see where I’m going.

        The plaster falling story has all the same missing details. Remember that a 4 year old has a brain which is still building a model of the world and all the rules that go with it. At this time a mother would be an authority figure. If the subconscious brain recognizes danger how the mind of a child displays this internally can be rather difficult to explain. It would have been the first time that it was likely a four year old would have any experience with buildings or parts of them simply falling. Had his conscious mind focused on the soon to fall plaster, he may have gone ‘deer in the head lights’ but his brain got him up and moving.

        He said move, not jump up or run. How would you communicate the need for a quick move to a child? With a general command to move? or directions on what to do? It doesn’t say 1/2 the ceiling or just 6 square inches.

        When I was four my father managed to open a trash can with a hornet’s nest in it. He yelled for me to run, I did not know what to do, he kicked my ass and got me going and I could not understand what was happening.

        The calmness seemingly held by this child would indicate to me an internal source for the ‘vision’ rather than an external one. At 4yo a child will ask why more than not. So saying move would likely get a question of why? But, if his brain was relaying the need to move to him, it would be both taken as true/urgent and not a panic. At least this is how it might be analyzed with only such limited data.

        Even the keys story is missing information. What did the key ring look like? Mine could land in a way that would let them later settle. Perhaps this story can be explained literally by vibrations from trapped gas being vented?

        These stories of ghosts all lack information to make a determination. Our brains are trained to make sense of things, to solve causal problems and so on. The most often seem to happen where there are no witnesses, not because ghosts are shy but because perceptions are not so easily fooled when there are two+ sets of sensors. This is why I find them difficult to believe. A ghost that can rattle keys should have the mustard to write on the mirror… Physical world interactions never seem to make sense.

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