Friday, February 20, 2009

The Ghost is Clear

I was thinking today, on the way back from the gym, about ghosts. Now, I wish to be clear that I do not believe in the existence of such things. However, a lot of people do, and so I was wondering what ghosts might be if they did exist. It seems to me there are three possibilities:

First, they might be visualizations of elements of a parallel universe. Formerly, the idea of parallel universes was in the realm of science fiction, but now string theory in physics posits that such universes - perhaps an infinity of them - do exist, and intersect with our own. It is for this reason that advocates of string theory speak, not of the universe, but of the multiverse. I suppose that at the points where other universes intersect with ours, it may be possible to experience some aspect of another universe with our senses, though I find that doubtful. But this, at least, would be something like a scientific explanation of ghostly encounters.

Second, ghosts may be (and are usually conceived as being) apparitions of disembodied spirits. People in the Bible saw them all the time, and Hamlet saw his father's ghost, and I believe that if you asked a sampling of humanity, many if not most would claim that they have, too. But this implies that some disembodied spirits have acquired the ability to make themselves visible, and have some reason for doing so. In this kind of conventional ghost, I most certainly do not believe.

Third, ghosts may be experiences of recently deceased souls which may be accessible to those closest to the person who has died. I think it is possible that, for a short period, the spirit remains in proximity to the body which it inhabited, and that those whose spirits and minds and hearts were intertwined with that spirit may be able to experience its presence in some way. I recall distinctly that for three days after my mother's death I was viscerally aware of her presence near me. I also recall an incident that occurred when I was working as a volunteer in the Congo. I attended the death of an old woman, and at the moment of her death,I felt powerfully that I could almost see the spirit being raised or lifted out of her. In a mirror image of this experience, I recall very clearly that when my elder son was born, and he was handed to me for the first time, I had a very powerful feeling that I was in the presence of pure spirit. So strong was this feeling that I said out loud, 'This is as close as I will ever come to touching pure spirit.'

When I say that the spirit may remain close to the body for a short period of time, I reflect that, as a friend of mine once observed, the period of three days seems to be significant. I felt my mother's presence for three days, Jesus is said to have remained in the tomb for three days, Lincoln had premonitions of his impending death for three days, and there are many other such references. And so I am prepared to accept the idea that, in cases of people in whom the spirit has been developed to a potent degree, it may be possible that such a spirit can be manifest, at least to those who knew and loved it best, for about three days after death.

But I am not inclined to believe that this is, in fact, the case, at least, not in the literal sense of seeing or hearing or conversing with the disembodied spirit. There is just too little evidence for it, and all the evidence is, so far as I know, anecdotal in nature. Also, the possibility raises some nagging but pertinent questions, such as, why do some spirits persist and make themselves manifest while others do not, and what form does the spirit take if it is not corporeal, and if it is not corporeal, how can it be accessible to the senses, and what does it look like, what does it intend, what does it wear, and so on.

And so, to the question, Do ghosts exist, I am afraid I must say no, at least until I can be persuaded otherwise.