Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login

:iconmjranum: More from mjranum

Featured in Collections

Fav Journals by Sophia-Christina

Journal Posts by ScottEllington

More from DeviantArt


Submitted on
November 4, 2011


14,052 (1 today)
26 (who?)
I've been meaning to write about epistemology and science for quite a while....

The problem is that there really isn't a single simple place to dig in and get started. Why not? Because all of what we'd call "human knowledge" is connected; if you intend to explain one piece completely you'd eventually wind up trying to explain it all. That's why the 6-year-old child's tactic of asking "why?" is so successful and annoying.

kid: "why is the sky blue?"
mjr: "because of diffraction in the atmosphere."
kid: "why?"
mjr: "well it's got to do with how light's frequency changes when you bend its path."
kid: "why?"
mjr option 1: "don't ask me, go dig up Richard Feynman."
mjr option 2: "it's time for you to go to bed."

But there's a really wonderful thing about scientific knowledge and its connectedness: it doesn't contradict itself. Not anywhere. Or, rather, not for very long; contradictions mean something is wrong with the theories that allow us to understand whatever it is that we're talking about. Scientists get really really excited when there's a potential contradiction in an important theory, since it represents a fascinating new problem to figure out.

You may recall the recent news about neutrinos appearing to have moved faster than the speed of light. Idiots in the media got excited and published articles entitled "Einstein's Relativity: Overthrown?" etc.  There was some excitement in the scientific community but most of the more reasoned responses were very cautious: relativity has been exhaustively measured and the speed of light does, indeed, appear to be the hard limit. My favorite observation on the topic was from Ethan Siegel on his wonderful "starts with a bang" blog. He pointed out that measurements of the arriving neutrinos emitted by a supernovas and the light of the supernova's explosion are accurate to parts per billion (the gravitation of other stuff between the supernova and us is going to affect light differently from neutrinos, but not much) so the measurements that were 60 nanoseconds from what was expected - was probably wrong. And, immediately, the physics community was buzzing with possible things that the OPERA team might have gotten wrong, and experiments that don't show the effect, etc. This is how science is done: claims that are radically inconsistent with theory get scrutinized very closely indeed. Not because scientists are a bunch of dweeby pissants, but because the high-tech world in which we live depends to a certain degree on the consistency of scientific claims. There are things that, if they were shown to be wrong, would be very, very interesting, indeed.

There are other things that are shown to be right, for all intents and purposes. For example, if someone came along and claimed that the speed of light was something else, scientists would laugh at them. And, rightly so. Because every single GPS is - in a sense - one great big experiment that proves that the speed of light is correct. A ground-based transmitter sends a signal to satellites in geosynchronous orbit, which is then reflected back down to earth where it's read by your handheld receiver. The difference in the receipt-time of the signal is calculated based on the known position of the satellites and, because of how long it takes the signal to travel at the speed of light, the unit is able to tell where it is relative to the satellites. Pretty cool. We can be said to "know" that the speed of light is what we think it is because it allows us to predict outcomes and, when they're tested against the theory, sure enough things come out right. Another example of a predictable outcome measuring the speed of light is the computer you're using to read this: if scientists' idea of the speed of light were very wrong, your computer would not work correctly. Modern processors are so fine and complex that knowing the amount of distance an electron will move at the speed of light, during a memory fetch/clock cycle is crucial to designing the chip.


Epistemology is the study of systems of knowledge. Put another way, "how do you know that?" is really the ultimate question that we're concerned with. One good answer to "how do you know that?" is "because I have a theory that predicts certain things with great accuracy and, when I measure in accordance with the theory, then that's how it comes out every single time." When you're dealing with a body of knowledge as complex and interdependent as our current scientific understanding of the universe, you're left with the choice of either accepting it or rejecting all of it, because it's becoming increasingly difficult to attack one piece of the body of scientific knowledge without attacking, basically, all of it. One of the best ways you can tell that you're arguing with someone poorly educated is if they claim "science doesn't know everything!" in defense of some (whatever) weird belief or other. Why? Because virtually any claim that you can make, at some point, is going to touch upon something objectively measurable or observable, which - in turn - is going to have to fit with the rest of scientific knowledge. A shorter response to the "science doesn't know everything!" claim is, "yes, but you know even less." What a lot of people don't realize is how amazingly far we humans have come since the 18th century. While physicists today are searching for grand unified "theory of everything" the working theories that they have about reality are, simply, ridiculously good. For example, Isaac Newton's physics is good enough for most of what we'd want to do, until you get to very fast, precise, small things or big things like computers, space travel, GPS, differential wireless broadband, lasers, etc. When people say "Newton was wrong" what they really should be saying was "Newton was right, for all intents and purposes, within the limits of the technology of his time." One of the reasons that it took until Einstein to expand and refine Newton was because Newton was so damn right. If you look at the rate at which there are massive scientific overthrows of theory, it has pretty much dropped to zero since Einstein. We are not going to see another Copernican revolution, in which suddenly "OMG! Teh erfs iz not center of universe? LOL!"  everything changes.

Scientists seem to me to be fairly dismissive of philosophy, because all too frequently, philosophy makes claims that have something to do with objective reality, but which do not follow from any kind of theory with predictive power. The scientist interprets that as "bullshit" while the philosopher interprets it as "profound argument."  Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in discussions of claims of the supernatural. Of course, the ultimate claim of the supernatural is made by religion - but let's steer away from that, for now. Let's think, instead, in terms of ways of making claims of knowledge. I.e.: epistemology.

The most important dichotomy when talking about "the supernatural" (whatever that is) is embodied in the very word "supernatural." It's "super" (in the sense of the old Latin word implying 'over' or 'superior') to the "natural" or nature. Something that is "supernatural" is, "outside of nature"  "unnatural" or "other than nature" - we don't need to parse the words particularly finely at this point. Claiming that something is "supernatural" is a fairly common tactic of argument when a rationalist is debating a, uh, well, other-than-naturalist because the other-than-naturalist (can I call them "supernaturalist"?) wants to deflect scientific enquiry about their pet topic.

Let me illustrate:
Supernaturalist: "I believe in ghosts."
Scientist: "Cool! Do you have any evidence for the ghosts?"
Supernaturalist: "No; they are outside of what science understands!"

So far, so good. What we've seen is a claim, a response asking for evidence, and then a counter-claim that attempts to place the initial claim off-limits.

David Hume and Skepticism

David Hume (1711-1776) [I originally wrote: "pronounced "Home"" but it turns out I had that completely backwards. Hume's name was originally "Home" pronounced 'Hyoom" and he changed his name to match its pronounciation. What an embarrassing mistake, and a top 'o the hat to the deviant who corrected me!] is one of the most famous philosophers of the enlightenment and was largely responsible for re-introducing and reformulating ancient Greek skeptical thinking into the corpus of western philosophy.

(David Hume, could out-consume....)

I labored long and hard to craft that previous sentence, because I didn't want to seem like I was giving Hume too little credit; he was incredibly brilliant and his contributions to thinking were profound. Much of his thinking regarding skepticism appears to be heavily influenced by some of the writings of the ancient Greek skeptics, in particular Sextus Empiricus (160-210ad).  The ancient Greek skeptics were, by all measures, incredibly annoying men, who appear to have been the first to formulate the philosophical equivalent of nuclear weapons: "I don't believe you even exist, nyaa nyaa nyaa!" Sextus Empiricus' "outlines of pyrronism" is one of the classics of philosopy, and it outlines a series of rational arguments that demolish epistemology. Unless you're a philosopher, it's hard to imagine how utterly annoying pyrronian skepticism can be - the skeptic adopts a position of making no claims of knowledge whatsoever, and forces his opponent to flail around helplessly trying to say anything at all. I suspect that arguing with Sextus Empiricus would have been quite fun, but the end-game would sound like the dialog with a 5-year-old:
Skeptic: "How do you claim to know about 'gravity'?"
mjr: "Because, physics predicts how gravity behaves, and it always behaves according to physical law"
Skeptic: "How do you know that?"
mjr: "Because so far no contradictory experiment has been observed."
Skeptic: "How do you know that?"
mjr: "AUGH!"

(Sextus Empiricus)

The philosophical works of ancient Greece were suppressed in Europe during the dark ages and the rise of the church because, as you can imagine, having a skeptic raise his hand and interrupt the pope with infinitely regressive questions is extremely annoying if you're the pope. What Hume did was present readable, upgraded, and more circuitous versions of some of Sextus' arguments at a time when enlightenment philosophers like Descartes and Leibniz were beginning to wrestle with the relationship of science to the supernatural. Hume's reframing of the old skeptical arguments was intellectual nuclear weapons. Crucially, he observed that:
- Our senses are subject to falsehood or misinterpretation
- Everything we think or do or learn must come to us through our senses
- Therefore everything we think or do or learn is suspect and any argument based on it is unfounded
Following Sextus Empiricus, he doesn't simply attack a given epistemology or system of knowledge - he attacks our ability to have a system of knowledge.

A Supernatural Dialectic

Now, we're ready to resume the little dialog with the supernaturalist that I started above. If you'll recall, it went something like this:
Supernaturalist: "I believe in ghosts."
Scientist: "Cool! Do you have any evidence for the ghosts?"
Supernaturalist: "No; they are outside of what science understands!"
Now, our scientist whips out a brain-demolishing dose of 2nd century skepticism and asks
Scientist: "If they are outside of what science understands, how can you possibly know they are there? Because any possible way you'd have of knowing about them is subject to scientific enquiry."

At this point, the supernaturalist usually plays the "science doesn't know everything!" dodge, which is the rhetorical equivalent of tipping over your king and walking away from the chess-board in a huff.

But, the conundrum remains inescapable: how can you make claims to knowledge about something that you also claim is outside of your own ability to know?

If you wish to be a brain-busting skeptic who destroys supernaturalists, all you have to do is try to get them to identify the point at which their belief systems move outside of observable reality. Once you can localize your opponent's claim to knowledge, then you crush it with skeptical enquiry. The simple head-on skeptical attack is going to give your victim enough of a chance to stomp away from the table before taking full damage. If you want to really rattle them, use gentle loops of epistemological enquiry, combined with fact-checking. Here's an example:
Acupuncturist: "Acupuncture works by manipulating the body's energy field."
Skeptic: "Interesting! 'Energy' is cool stuff. Did you know that scientists have organized all the forms of energy into a frequency chart called 'The Electromagnetic Spectrum' that goes, basically, from zero to cosmic rays. It's just a way of organizing all the different forms of light, radio waves, etc. So, do you know where on the spectrum acupuncture operates?"*

(source: wikipedia)

At this point, the acupuncturist's best strategy is to run like hell. But there are a couple of different end-games:
Acupuncturist: "Science doesn't know everything!"
Skeptic:" Actually, when it comes to the electromagnetic spectrum, we do! Isn't that cool!? We used to not be sure where cosmic rays came from but in 1999 scientists conclusively measured cosmic ray-bursts from a supernova and now we're 100% sure that they're 'just' subatomic particles that got whacked to light-speed by the explosion of a supernova. So our understanding of the whole electromagnetic spectrum is now complete. And, of course some parts of the spectrum are too high-energy, because we'd measure all kinds of interactions if the acupuncture was at the higher end of the spectrum. I mean, we're talking stuff that makes X-rays look like a pat on the back. So, uh, where did you say acupuncture works again?"

End-game 2:
Acupuncturist: "It's not part of the electromagnetic spectrum!"
Skeptic: "Then what is it?"

Back to Ghosts

The "alternative thinker" loses control of their ability to claim knowlege when they protect it by trying to take it off the game-board. To stick with the chess metaphor, it's like protecting your queen from being captured by hiding her in your pocket: she can't be taken but she can't exert any influence in the game, either. In a nutshell, this is why religion has been being edged into irrelevance by modern knowledge and technology: religion can't make a GPS work, or, actually, make any useful claims of knowledge whatsoever.

What's odd to me is that skeptical thinking usually stops at the first claims that attempt to place a topic outside of the scope of scientific enquiry. But, if you think about it, just like the rest of science, claims that in any way lead to knowledge have to survive all possible scientific enquiries. Which brings me to ghosts.

Let's suppose there's a thing called a "ghost" that is 'supernatural' - which, for the sake of argument, means that it's some kind of super-special thing that "science doesn't understand." And it's in the room with us. Eek! But wait, here's the first problem:
- How do we know it's in the room with us?
Perhaps, we see it? Well, if we see it that means that, somehow, for it to register in our eyes it's interacting with (technically: absorbing and emitting photons) light. If it's not interacting with light, we can't see it; that's how our eyes work. Light interacts with our atmosphere and scatters (which is why the sky looks like the part of the electromagnetic spectrum we call "blue", or 450-500 nanometers) for a ghost to be visible, it's got to - well - exist as we define "existence" i.e.: be made of stuff. There's no such thing as something "immaterial" that interacts with light.

But wait, you say, the ghost appears and disappears? That would mean that it's doing some pretty cool tricks - material appearing and disappearing could be a violation of some of the conservation laws. You don't just have matter (which is made of atoms) suddenly vanish. Not without a change in energy that we certainly wouldn't miss. (A-bomb explosions are an example of what happens when matter is converted into energy; we'd certainly all believe in ghosts if they did that on a regular basis)

Here's my favorite idea about ghosts: if the ghost is "in the room" with us that means that it's somehow interacting with gravity. Only things that have mass do that, so for a ghost to be "in the room" with us it'd have to have mass. Because otherwise it would have no inertia (right?) and Earth would go whipping along at its normal speed of 67,000 miles/hour and the ghost would be left behind. It wouldn't even be "in the room" with us long enough to start to go "boo!"  (our solar system is also moving at a godawful speed in another direction, and our galaxy in yet another, and space-time is also expanding, so our poor massless ghost, even if it could move, would have a hell of a time figuring out where to be)  And, let's not get started on the problem of "how do you move when you're massless?" Newton was right about the action/reaction thing, so what would our poor ghost push against?  And, of course, you have to be able to push against something in order to make sound, so a massless ghost couldn't even go "boo!"

The point of all of this is that anyone with a moderate science education not only knows that ghosts are bunk, they ought to be able to see not just one problem with the idea; there are lots. Yet we sit there and nod complacently while idiots talk about them as if they're real. It's not that there's no evidence for ghosts - it's that there's active evidence against "ghosts" as they are conceived or described. The only description of a "ghost" that fits physical law is "nonexistent" which means that there's no way you can claim to know it exists, because it doesn't exist. I don't mean "doesn't exist as we know it" I mean, "doesn't exist as we define 'existence'"

There are many things in popular culture that fail the epistemology challenge. Yet, because we're generally imaginative and hopeful creatures, we still treat them as though they might exist. In spite of not merely lack of evidence that they do exist, but overwhelming evidence that they do not. Here I am referring specifically to things like life after death, "souls" and gods. Consider life after death: you have a physical being, which consists of a bunch of matter containing some electrical signals and a bunch of other interesting states of purely "real" stuff that comprise what we call "life."  When we stop living (by the way, that's not a clear-cut event except for in the brain of the person experiencing it) some of those states start to change, especially the electrical signals in our brains. There's no way those signals could somehow go somplace else without it being quite obvious and measurable. Even if you wanted to posit a spare dimension above and beyond our 3+time that we're used to, the transition from real stuff to stuff in another dimension would be very noticeable (and extremely exciting!) to scientists. No, what happens is that the chemical pumps that charge the neurons in your brain run out of the stuff they need to drive the Krebs cycle and other metabolites - and stop. Then the electrochemical firings stop and the emergent property known as "consciousness" comes apart and disappears the same way that a "bottle" loses its "bottle-ness" when you hit it with a sledgehammer. Any more complex transition happening at death would very obviously give itself away by producing unexpected heat (or radiation!) or something, in accordance with physical law. In fact the only transition that can happen upon death that's in accordance with physical law is the one I described; stuff just stops and the very temporary self-organization we call "life" disintegrates. Not "goes away" - disintegrates.

Are there ghosts? Life after death? Last summer, two very good friends of mine passed away, and I mourn them still. I remember their lives and the time we spent together and if I close my eyes I can remember what it felt like to hold them, the smell of their hair, the sound of their breathing, the times we played and danced together - I'll remember them as long as I live. They had other friends than me, too, who also remember them (different memories, to be sure, but with some commonalities)  When I eventually die and disintegrate, those ghosts in my brain those memories will be gone with me. And, eventually, as the rest of the people who knew them forget them, or die in turn, their "ghosts" will finally fall away. To me, that seems soothing and natural.

:heart: you,

* a brief side-note on acupuncture: If the theory of acupuncture is that it's a medical intervention, i.e.: that it causes some kind of positive health benefit or cure, we'd expect to be able to measure long-term side-effects. This is an obvious fact which is used in clinical trials of drugs, etc.: you give a group of patients your new cancer drug and, over time, you measure for a shift in the morbidity rate (doctor-ese for: "who dies and when") over time. If your new cancer drug works, you'll eventually observe that patients treated with it tend to live longer than those who aren't. So, we can disprove that acupuncture confers any benefit in two ways: one, we can compare it to a placebo and we observe that generally people report positive benefits of acupuncture at the same rate and to the same degree as patients treated with a placebo. That leads us to the inescapable conclusion that "acupuncture is a placebo."  But the deadlier argument is simply this: if acupuncture was used for hundreds or thousands of years by Chinese doctors, we'd expect to see that life-spans in China were, for a long time, superior to the rest of the world's. Of course we see no such thing - human life-spans were around 35 years more or less until Henri Pasteur figured out the bacterial model of infection, ushering in the age of modern medicine, and life-spans have nearly doubled world-wide since then. We do notice correlations between life-span and the wealth of a society, still, but acupuncture doesn't even show up as a blip on any experiment except for the ones comparing it to a placebo. Case closed.
  • Listening to: Der club of gore - black earth
  • Reading: John Ringo: Gust Front
  • Watching: The Trap - we will force you to be free
  • Playing: alive
  • Eating: nothing
  • Drinking: tea
Add a Comment:
Hadakajime Featured By Owner May 12, 2012
Just thought I'd deposit my 2 cents on acupuncture & chinese balms:

I haven't had traditional acupuncture, however I have had electroacupuncture. A couple of years ago I sat up in bed and felt my neck *click*, and it was so excruciating. I couldn't turn my head to the right. My dad suggested going to a chinese doctor he's known for years to give me acupuncture in my neck. I laid face down and he put 2 needles in the right side of my neck - one at the top, one at the bottom - turned on the power pack, and I laid there for 30 minutes with my neck twitching away.

It worked extremely well at relaxing the muscles (which had obviously gone into spasm or something), since afterwards I could turn ~90% to the right. He said around that time of year a lot of people get sick and can get muscular problems like that. He also gave me some balm (woodlock) that works as a muscle relaxant. I've used the balm on a separate occasion when my neck locked up again (about 60% as bad as the first time) and in about 30 seconds it relieved the spasm so I could turn ~95 to the right.

Nothing magical here :)
jeremoto Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2011  Hobbyist Artist
I've come back to read this piece two or three times since it was first posted, 'cause it's FUCKING BRILLIANT. I know I am going to end up using parts of this essay in my inevitable future debates with supernaturalists (especially that "how can you make claims to knowledge about something that you also claim is outside of your own ability to know?" line). Thanks for giving me some new ammo, sir.
mjranum Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2011
Thanks for giving me some new ammo, sir.

Go get 'em tiger!
Sumi-no-Me Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
i applaud this. it was very well explained and put together. however, i have myself had quite a few unexplainable experiences in my life time so far, like so many thousands of people, probably millions, or more im sure if you take in consideration persons throughout history. i have searched for answers and come to my own conclusions; im a full believer of the supernatural. also we should take into concideration new evidence, as has come forth from the various ghost hunting shows on tv, and while im sure many people will say its all just a show, i challenge them to go out and expiriment themselves, as i have; and i can testify again, many times there are sounds and images among other things like temperature fluctuations which upon scientific scrutiny do not always have answers. one of my favorite examples, ghost adventures uses a uv camera, and ended up catching a purple mist moving and interacting in a relevant manner to their requests, but nothing was visible to the naked eye. they also captured temperature readings and an evp again relevant to the anomoly on video.
and while agree with you about the use of "science doesnt know everything!", yes its often used as you say, but i would like to point out that the statement still holds truth to it as well; no, science does not know everything yet. every day science makes new discoveries in various feilds, weather it be new species to things about space or the oceans; we know alot thanks to science, but i think taking our whole universe into concideration, we know alot less than we think we do. i could go on, but i'll keep it short. heres some stuff i've got thats already typed up.

Ghosts have always been with us; since the beginning of human kind, we have experienced the unknown, and passed on our stories. This phenomenon has spanned every culture, race, age, and region of the world. So what is a ghost anyway?

The dictionary tells us that a ghost is the spirit of a dead person, especially one believed to appear in bodily likeness to living persons or to haunt former habitats. Parapsychologists are in favor of the term ‘apparition’, because it's purportedly more precise. An apparition is considered immaterial, but it can seem real and tangible. There are other uses of the term which refer to angels or demons, or even as a synonym for a living person's immaterial spirit, whether or not they're presenting themselves to others. Other terms include spectre (from Latin spectrum), the Scottish wraith (of obscure origin), Phantom (via French, ultimately from Greek phantasma, compare to fantasy). The synonym spook is a Dutch loanword, akin to Low German ''spôk'' (of uncertain etymology); it entered the English language via the United States in the 19th century. '''Haint''' is a synonym for ghost used in regional English of the southern United States. The term '''poltergeist''' is a German word, literally a "noisy ghost", for a spirit said to manifest itself by invisibly moving and influencing objects. A revenant is a deceased person returning from the dead to haunt the living, either as a disembodied ghost or alternatively as an animated ("undead") corpse. Also related is the concept of a fetch, the visible ghost or spirit of a person yet alive. Apparition is from the Latin word apparere (meaning “to show oneself”); there is Old English 'gást', from a hypothetical Common Germanic '*gaistoz'. It is common to West Germanic, but lacking in North and East Germanic (the equivalent word in Gothic is 'ahma'.)

Kinds of Phenomenon

(1) A Ghost; a person who has died but their aura/soul still remains (as Einstein demonstrated, energy cannot be destroyed; only transformed). A ghost will stay at or near the place of their passing, due to emotional ties or trauma. These entities are people in trouble, seeking to understand their predicament and usually not aware of their passing. People often use term ghost and spirit as synonyms, but the 2 are actually quite different. Ghosts are similar to psychotic humans in the fact that they are incapable of reasoning or taking much action, while spirits are the surviving personality of humans who have passed in a relatively normal fashion. A spirit is able to continue full existence in the next dimension, and can think, reason, feel and act. Ghosts can’t do any of these things; all he can do is repeat his final movements (unfinished business). Basically the only time a ghost can cause us trouble is when they had a connection to somebody living, or perhaps mistake someone for a person they were connected to; for example we may look or act like their loved one, or perhaps their murderer; either case may cause them to try and interact with us. Ghost manifestations draw on energy of the living, so to penetrate the 3D world. These manifestations can be subjective to those of us who are more aware or sensitive to such things; they may perceive a clear apparition while others experience nothing. Ghosts make themselves known infrequently, and for any number of reasons, night or day.

(2) Residual Haunting, or Psychic Impressions. This is a ghostly manifestation which seems to only reoccur on anniversaries of events. This is because the anniversary is when the memories of a significant event are strongest; this can create more energy for manifestation. The event does not always have to be big, just significant to the ghost. Think of it like a photograph of an event in time. The ghosts aren’t necessarily absent the rest of the time, just less capable of manifesting. Remember, ghosts are electromagnetic fields too, not just memories imprinted in time and space.

(3) Spirits. These are people who’ve passed to the next world intact. They are not “trapped” or tied to this world, but may have some emotional interests (such as friends and family) or have other business to be taken care of, and so they linger for some time before moving on.

(4) Astral Projection, or Astral Travel. This is an interpretation of out-of-body experience (OBE). Astral projection or travel denotes the astral body (your spirit) leaving the physical body to travel in the astral plane. This usually occurs during an emergency, (an example, near death experience or things like surgery) and is usually involuntary/not controlled. Skilled persons may be able to do deliberate projections through activities like meditation, but those are quite rare.

What all these kinds of phenomenon have in common is appearance. They are light, are energy. To make themselves seen, they cloak or clothe their etheric bodies in an ectoplasm or teleplasm (albumin substance) they can draw from mediums, or spontaneously from places where strong emotion occurred. However, no matter how real and full the materialization is, it can only be sustained for so long before the ectoplasm has to be returned from whence it came to avoid shock or illness to the spirit.

Signs of Ghosts: Sensory Perceptions
The diversity of experiencing ghostly phenomenon covers nearly all of the human senses; sight, sound, smell, and touch. Visually, ghosts are seen as ethereal or almost mist-like, appear fuzzy, luminous and wispy, loosely resembling the person they once were. Some are only seen as shadows, while others seem to be very solid, with features as sharp as if they are actual people, to the point they are mistaken beyond a doubt as the living; that is until the disappear. Sometimes they are only described as strange lights, orbs, rods, streaks blobs or patches of light. Other times, only the sound or the smell of a ghost is reported. Apparitions seem to materialize at will and disappear just as quickly, but some are known to just softly fade away. They can sometimes appear as animals; whatever form they may be, they can still move through solid objects or walk around them, and be seen as reflections in mirrors; and some can even move objects and touch humans, be it gently or harshly. Feelings of "magnetism" are often reported, as are sensations of goosebumps or that your hair is "standing on end," a common occurrence around fields of high electricity. Temperature fluctuations have become the litmus test for detecting activity, as have vague feelings of the area being "energized" by some unknown process.

Cold and Hot spots
Some ghosts occasionally suck energy in from their locality, creating what is known as "cold spots". If you are feeling overly tired or depressed, wanting to keep your drapes and shades drawn and be in the dark, and you are feeling withdrawn and tired all the time, with no good reason, you may be having your energy being sapped by an attention craving ghost. In the case of hot spots which have no other explanation, a ghost with a lot of energy may be heating up the spot. Some people believe that hot spots are associated with demons, but that is not necessarily so.

It is said that some ghosts have developed the ability to rearrange the molecules in the local area to correspond with a structure discernible by the olfactory glands. In this way they create smells familiar/significant to them, which we smell.

Electromagnetic Fields
Defying Ohm's law of resistance, ghosts are able to maintain a distinct electromagnetic field in a defined yet apparently homeostatic area of the atmosphere. If you get readings of electricity where there is no reason to be any, then you’ve got a ghost.

When one has especially clear or vivid dreams of ghosts or spirits, especially of past loved ones, these aren’t just your typical ordinary dreams; likely, you are not just dreaming of your loved one because they have passed, they are actually visiting you from the other side, via the dream (note this is just one example, the most common I believe). These dreams are usually just as real and meaningful of an encounter as one is when you’re awake. We should pay attention to these dreams for sometimes its in our sleep state, when our consciousness is altered, that our mind is more quiet/still that its easier for spirits to contact us and get noticed. When we’re awake our conscious/rational mind is very noisy and as such it is harder for ghosts to get noticed, and pass on their message.

Do not fear ghosts and spirits, they will not harm you, only your fear can do that. As is the case for us ghost hunters, the only times we do get harmed are the times we provoke or ask for it, and they oblige. It is good to keep in mind the fact, or if nothing else the possibility, that there are other ethereal entities out there as well, other than ghosts and spirits; ones we do and don’t know about. The two most popular examples would be angels and demons; but also remember these tend to show up a lot more rarely. It is also worthy to note that the larger percentage of reported haunted cases likely have logical scientific explanations; be it the house settling, pipes and electrical wires causing ‘anomalies’, pests, rodents, and other living creatures, chemicals, weather, and so forth; all of these things and more can cause people to experience ghostly images, sounds, and feelings. After the explainable variables have been gone through and set aside, we are left with the real unexplained phenomenon, and there is a lot of it.

Believers vs. Skeptics
There are 3 kinds of people when it comes to the paranormal:

(1) Those who ridicule any idea of life after death. Their will to disbelieve is far stronger than the will to believe; its out of their comfort zone and they don’t want to see anything that will change their minds; they will block it out.
(2) Those who accept proof /evidence of continued existence, through either science or personal experiences, or both. This is the most respectable group because they aren’t blind believers; they question the evidence but have no problem accepting it when its valid.
(3) The third group of people are aware of paranormal existence, and the evidence that supports it, but are still skeptical; they are resistant of fundamental changes of philosophies to their take on life and death. They need proof that is fully verifiable with acceptable explanations for the occurrence.

In the end, everyone must find their own explanations for paranormal experiences; belief has nothing to do with it. Beliefs are emotional, not rational; belief is uncritical acceptance of something you cannot prove one way or another. But the evidence of ghosts/spirits is so overwhelming, large, and well documented that arguing its existence would be foolish indeed. Its not a matter of speculation in need of further proof; those who look for evidence can find it easily. It is more of a mission to contribute to this knowledge and spread understanding to those who are unclear, frightened and so forth, who have unfortunate attitudes; to support the people and spirits where needed, in understanding; to show that what we do now in life counts to our existence as a whole. Those who fear this proof of continued existence are short-changing themselves. If you experience things, know you’re a normal human with natural abilities which are not harmful or dangerous, and may even prove to be useful and informative.


EM or Electromagnetic theory, is the theory that ghosts are made electromagnetic energy. Magnetic waves consistently flow through our atmosphere and come from both natural and man-made sources. The fields then fluctuate due to a variety of factors such as heating by the sun, tidal forces from the sun and moon, the impact of photons from outer space and localized weather conditions, for example, lightning. Variations to local conditions such as magnetic minerals, tectonic stresses and equipment operating on mains power can all contribute to fluctuations. Skeptics believe that the fluctuating magnetic fields mess with the mind, causing people to believe they have seen a ghost while believers believe it is the presence of a ghost that has caused the magnetic fields to fluctuate. In reality, an unconfirmed factor is generating fluctuations in the magnetic fields within haunted locations. Either way it has been confirmed that paranormal activity is heightened in areas of abnormal or high electromagnetic fields.


Infrasound refers to extreme bass waves or vibrations, those with a frequency below the audibility range of the human ear (20 Hz to 22 kHz). Even though these waves can’t be heard by us, they can be felt and have been shown to produce a range of effects in some people including anxiety, extreme sorrow, and chills attributed to hauntings and ghosts. “Loud infrasound in the range of 0.5 to 10 Hz is sufficient to activate the vestibular, or balance system, in the inner ear.” The study of such sound waves is sometimes referred to as infrasonics. Infrasound has been proven to be the cause behind some hauntings, in the right circumstances. Structural architecture combined with the right elements can produce these circumstances which cause infrasound. While this may explain some hauntings, it does not explain them all by any means; only a handful.


May also be called Psychic Imprinting. This theory states that ghosts are recordings of past events in certain surroundings, energy that is trapped somewhere in the time continuum and re-play events that were emotionally "charged", to living people sensitive enough to discern them. Although most agree that these types of apparitions do appear to be "recorded" somehow in the surroundings, there is disagreement on how exactly we as observers perceive these recordings. One side postulates that it is something within the observer that sets the recording in motion, and that the recording thus "plays inside our heads." The other side postulates that the recording is being played externally for all to see, but that only those with the right "gift" can experience it. We know from science that everything is composed of energy. Our thoughts, feelings, sensations, experiences, and indeed our very souls are all forms of energy. The theory is that when the physical body dies, this energy continues on in some form and can be tapped by living persons sensitive enough to perceive it. (Energy is always transferred, it cannot be terminated; it just changes form.) Thus, this kind of apparition is not a thinking entity, nor does it have a will or a purpose, and it is no more of a threat to the observer than watching a character on a television show.
Some theories state that certain minerals are capable of recording these energies, or otherwise making it possible for such energies to manifest. Rocks such as limestone, quarts, and crystals have these properties. Places with these minerals tend to have more residual hauntings and paranormal activity.

THIS THEORY: According to this theory, ghosts are actual beings living in one or more parallel dimensions. The concept of a parallel universe is a fairly complex one. To put it simply, this theory suggests that there are one or more (perhaps an infinite number) of complete universes co-existing with us on a plane we are generally not aware of. Thus, when we see an apparition, especially one seemingly from another time and place, it could be that we getting a rare glimpse into another dimension or reality and we are seeing events develop in that plane of existence. According to the same "string" theory, ghosts might also be the result of time slips, if time is nonlinear. An event that happened in the past might be seen briefly in our time because of a fluctuation in time/space.
The idea of other dimensions is an old one. It is speculated by many that doorways or "portals" to other dimensions exist in certain areas which allow entities to travel into our dimension. These entities may be spirits, demons, extraterrestrials, or something we have never even imagined. It appears that portals are at fixed places all over the world, and that they don't move or drift from place to place. Whether new portals open up from time to time is unclear, though rituals exist that claim to open such portals. One might wonder why humans don't seem to be able to pass through these dimensional portals. It appears that the reason is that we are hindered by our physical bodies, for some people who participate in meditation or an astral projection exercises claim they have the capability to pass through and explore these realms. Some speculations state that these other entities or energies vibrate or function at much higher or lower frequencies than humans, which explains why we capture them on camera or video but do not see them with our eyes; they are either too fast or slow for human eyes to see, or too high or low for the human ear to hear, which is why their voices appear on digital recorders weather or not they are heard by the person at the time of the recording. sometimes the only evidence of these energies are the changes in temperature they seem to produce, which we may feel or be able to measure but cannot see.

THE SCIENCE: In mathematics and physics, the dimension of a space or object is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify each point within it. Thus a line has a dimension of one because only one coordinate is needed to specify a point on it. A surface such as a plane or the surface of a cylinder or sphere has a dimension of two because two coordinates are needed to specify a point on it (for example, to locate a point on the surface of a sphere you need both its latitude and its longitude). The inside of a cube, a cylinder or a sphere is three-dimensional because three co-ordinates are needed to locate a point within these spaces.
In physical terms, dimension refers to the constituent structure of all space and its position in time, as well as the spatial constitution of objects within; structures that have correlations with both particle and field conceptions, interact according to relative properties of mass, and which are fundamentally mathematical in description. These or other axes may be referenced to uniquely identify a point or structure in its attitude and relationship to other objects and events. Physical theories that incorporate time, such as general relativity, are said to work in 4-dimensional "space-time", (defined as a Minkowski space). Modern theories tend to be "higher-dimensional" including quantum field and string theories. The state-space of quantum mechanics is an infinite-dimensional function space.
The concept of dimension is not restricted to physical objects. High-dimensional spaces occur in mathematics and the sciences for many reasons, frequently as configuration spaces such as in Lagrangian or Hamiltonian mechanics; these are abstract spaces, independent of the physical space we live in.
Quantum Mechanics, also known as quantum physics is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic scales, the so-called quantum realm. In advanced topics of quantum mechanics, some of these behaviors are macroscopic and only emerge at very low or very high energies or temperatures. Quantum Field theory(QFT), provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized (represented) by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and (in a condensed matter context) many-body systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and condensed matter physics.Quantum field theory is thought by many to be the unique and correct outcome of combining the rules of quantum mechanics with special relativity.
String theory is a developing theory in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for the theory of everything (TOE), a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system. The theory has yet to make testable experimental predictions, which a theory must do in order to be considered a part of science. String theory mainly posits that the electrons and quarks within an atom are not 0-dimensional objects, but rather 1-dimensional oscillating or vibrating lines, aka "strings". The earliest string model, the bosonic string, incorporated only bosons, although this view developed to the superstring theory, which posits that a connection (a "super-symmetry") exists between bosons and fermions. String theories also require the existence of several extra, unobservable, dimensions to the universe, in addition to the usual four spacetime dimensions.
The following link shares a short but good explanation on dimensions, with comprehensive visuals: NOVA


A legitimate definition for this term is rather difficult to find. Matrixing is in many ways a subset of Pareidolia; The way paranormal researches use the term matixing carries the same meaning as the word pareidolia, which is a more correct term. Pareidolia is defined as: "A type of illusion or misperception involving a vague stimulus which is perceived as clearly being something. A psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (usually an image) being mistakenly perceived as recognizable. Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse." The term matrixing has more to do with things like random patterns of pixels or elements within a photo, blurring in videos and photos, and our interpretation of that pixilation and blurring, etc. The terms simulacra or simulacrum are also used to describe this phenomenon. The definition of simulacra/simulacrum is: an insubstantial or vague semblance.


Some other common theories as to why ghosts exist, what they are, or why they hang around are:

Ghosts are human spirits who had traumatizing experiences during their life or at the time of their death and cannot move on.
Ghosts are human spirits who do not know that they are dead; their spirits linger instead of moving on.
Ghosts are human spirits who have unfinished business; they did not accomplish certain goals before they died and are still trying to get closure; or they may be saying their final goodbyes to loved ones, simply visiting, or trying to communicate an important message. The ghost may not have had a proper burial, or may be seeking revenge, etc; the explanations and possibilities go on and on.
What are referred to as ghosts may not be human spirits at all but other entities or energies such as angels or demons, or things such as faeries, gnomes, goblins, etc; all of which come with different explanations or theories.
Ghosts are hallucinations caused by one of the following elements: gas leaks, high EMF fields, mold, old paint, hallucinogenic drugs, or rarely, mental illness.

Some of these explanations may vary according to one's personal spiritual and religious beliefs, weather you do or don't believe in heaven, hell, purgatory or any afterlife at all. Most of these are subjects of personal opinions, but nonetheless stand as possibilities since nobody can say for sure what happens after you die.


We've heard people make the argument that if ghosts are traumatized human spirits, then why aren't ghosts everywhere? Thinking back through all of human history of all the traumatic deaths which happened in wars and murders, even in today's world with high crime rates and countless unsolved murders each year, ghosts should be everywhere. Just because you have a traumatic death does not mean you cannot pass over peacefully; it all depends on the ability of that spirit/person to accept what has happened to them; that is what determines if they are able to pass through or become stuck. Another thing to consider is this: life for most people these days is so hectic, most people don't notice ghosts if they are around; also not everyone is sensitive to them. Some people can see them while others cant. Just because you don't experience them doesn't mean they aren't there. Some ghosts simply aren't active, or not active all the time; they do not always have the energy to manifest themselves, but it does not mean they aren't still there. Another matter to consider is reincarnation; there are many stories out there of people who remember their past lives. Or, as stated in the dimensional theory, they come and go, they aren't always around, or are only here for a short time before they move on, etc. Death is not an end, it is simply a transition; a human soul is composed of energy; as Einstein demonstrated, energy cannot be destroyed; it transforms. Honestly once you start investigating the paranormal you'll be amazed at how many cases there really are, which exist everywhere all around the world, throughout time, all the time. It is not a rare occurrence, it happens daily. Just because most of these cases or places go unnoticed or unrecognized doesn't mean they aren't out there.


Many say there is no science behind the paranormal; we hope that we've shown you otherwise. Don't be too quick to disregard paranormal science when its labeled inconclusive; all that means is that the science is still ongoing and evolving. Think of it as unfinished, its a work in progress. There is still much to learn and discover in this field, especially with today's advanced technology; every innovation in the science world is exciting and full of promise and opportunity everyone can benefit from. History is full of scientists who were laughed at and not taken seriously during their time, only later for their theories to be proved right, and themselves to be proved geniuses. Where would we be without the curious, the explorers and experimenters, and the innovators; those who ask the questions and find the answers. Never turn down knowledge! You never know when it might come in handy!
mjranum Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2011
i have myself had quite a few unexplainable experiences in my life time so far, like so many thousands of people, probably millions, or more im sure if you take in consideration persons throughout history.

Btw, it's interesting that, if there have been so many experiences with these unknown things (and I can see your post is lengthy so I won't go there) there's so little information about them. Nobody has ever caught one or been able to observe it, etc, etc. But I will read on.

An apparition is considered immaterial, but it can seem real and tangible.

By "immaterial" you mean "not made of anything"? I.e.: not made of material. So, can we agree that in order to see it, an entirely new physics would be necessary to allow something to reflect light without existing? We know light can be bent by gravity or reflected (really: absorbed and re-emitted) by matter - but we can rule out gravity because for it to sufficiently bend light-patterns in our presence it'd rip us apart and we'd notice that - and we can rule out matter if it's "immaterial"

a person who has died but their aura/soul still

"Souls" are unknown to science. Bodies produce electrical fields that some people might call an "aura" but I suspect that's not what you're talking about.

A spirit is able to continue full existence in the next dimension

Which dimension is that? We've got 4. Are you talking about a 5th?

More to the point, since nobody has ever seen or measured any sign of an additional dimension, upon what do you base your claim that there is such a thing? How do you know it exists?

Einstein demonstrated, energy cannot be destroyed; only transformed

A more precise way of putting it would that Einstein demonstrated that matter and energy are two states of the same thing and that they can be converted back and forth. Conservation laws further state that you can't get rid of either of them.

Ghost manifestations draw on energy of the living

What "energy" is this? How is it measured? Where in the electromagnetic spectrum do ghost manifestations draw this energy? That ought to be relatively easy to measure, BTW, so - why hasn't it been measured in a lab, yet?

Ghosts make themselves known infrequently, and for any number of reasons, night or day.

And, oddly, none of them have ever wanted to show that they exist so much that they've "made themselves known" in a well-equipped lab. Ever.

ghosts are electromagnetic fields too

Ah, good. You say they're electromagnetic? What's their frequency?

They are light, are energy. To make themselves seen, they cloak or clothe their etheric bodies in an ectoplasm or teleplasm (albumin substance)

Then they ought to be ridiculously easy to measure. In fact, they'd be interfering with various things all the time. Why aren't they?

"etheric" doesn't mean anything. There is no "etheric" anything (except for 'ethyl ether') - scientists talked about 'aether' in the 1800s but discovered that it doesn't exist.

Albumin is egg white. Are you saying that ghosts create egg white out of energy? That would entail conversion of energy to matter? We'd be talking a conversion that would be the inverse-equivalent of a nuclear explosion, in terms of the energy it would suck. We're not talking about "cold spots" we're talking about lethal cooling for miles.

You're making all these claims, with nothing to back them up. How do you know these things? Yes, people have said there's a thing called "ectoplasm" but "I read about it in a book" is not evidence.

It is said that some ghosts have developed the ability to rearrange the molecules in the local area to correspond with a structure discernible by the olfactory glands.

That would take energy and produce waste heat.

Defying Ohm's law of resistance, ghosts are able to maintain a distinct electromagnetic field in a defined yet apparently homeostatic area of the atmosphere.

That's not Ohm's law; Ohm's law is just the relationship between resistance and amperage. That'd be "violating the laws of thermodynamics" - but here's the problem: in order to affect an electromagnetic field you have to move electrons and - in order to do that - you need more electrons. Nothingness doesn't make a change in the electromagnetic field. That would completely overturn all of physical law.

So far, you're just spouting a lot of nonsense. I'm still waiting for the part where you get to the evidence.

Variations to local conditions such as magnetic minerals, tectonic stresses and equipment operating on mains power can all contribute to fluctuations. Skeptics believe that the fluctuating magnetic fields mess with the mind, causing people to believe they have seen a ghost while believers believe it is the presence of a ghost that has caused the magnetic fields to fluctuate. In reality, an unconfirmed factor is generating fluctuations in the magnetic fields within haunted locations.

Magnetometers are pretty precise. And there aren't areas that are intensely magnetic, except for in very small regions. The Earth's magnetic field wouldn't be so consistent if there were big fluctuations. That's why compasses work pretty much anywhere except for near another magnet or an electromagnet (which is "another magnet")

Even though these waves can’t be heard by us, they can be felt and have been shown to produce a range of effects in some people including anxiety, extreme sorrow, and chills attributed to hauntings and ghosts.

That's also really easy to measure. And, sound waves need energy to create. But more importantly than that, a sound wave is created by matter pushing on more matter. How do the ghosts make matter move if they aren't made of matter?

energy that is trapped somewhere in the time continuum

That's nonsensical; energy doesn't get trapped somewhere in the time continuum. That's just arglebargle. Stored energy is completely comprehended (and if potential or stored energy is stored over time then there's your time continuum) - but potential energy is stored: in matter. Otherwise it's going to fall under the 2nd law of thermodynamics and dissipate.

The state-space of quantum mechanics is an infinite-dimensional function space.

No, it's not. It's a probability field that mathematically models where a particle may be at a given time. For representing that probability, physicists use notation involving additional dimensions - but that doesn't mean those dimensions are real. QM states (per Hilbert) are notational, not actual. That is, in fact, what the principle of complementarity says: if you know where an electron is you can't say anything about the direction it's going with the same precision.

.Quantum field theory is thought by many to be the unique and correct outcome of combining the rules of quantum mechanics with special relativity

That's arglebargle. QFT and QM are the same thing and the whole reason QM was figured out is because relativity doesn't apply at the quantum scale.

String theory is a developing theory in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity.

Yes. Which contradicts what you just said above, about QFT and special relativity.

It doesn't say a damn thing about extra dimensions, local violations of conservation of energy or local violations of thermodynamics.

And, perhaps you already know this, but many theoretical physicists don't take string theory seriously, at all. There is not only no experimental evidence supporting it, it's proponents haven't even proposed what kind of experiment might even offer evidence supporting it. It's closer to religion than physics.

But, more importantly, physicists aren't using string theory to establish a theory of ghosts. Nor are they arguing that string theory would enable the kinds of local violations of physical law that you're talking about.

I think you have no idea, in fact, what you're talking about - that you're just throwing around complicated sciency-sounding stuff that maybe impresses someone who's not noddingly familiar with the current state of cosmological theories (as I am) or who didn't sit through a couple of semesters of college-level physics including QM. (as I did)

Another thing to consider is this: life for most people these days is so hectic, most people don't notice ghosts if they are around; also not everyone is sensitive to them. Some people can see them while others cant.

That can't possibly happen. For me to "see" something, it's got to be interacting with photons that hit my optic nerve. There isn't a way that you'll see something that I can't possibly see.

a human soul is composed of energy

Then why hasn't one been measured, yet. Energy is very easy to measure.

Many say there is no science behind the paranormal; we hope that we've shown you otherwise.

You've shown me that you don't understand the science you're talking about.
RoBearIn3030 Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2011
Booyakasha! I read the first couple paragraphs of Sume-no-me's post and all of yours. I'm sure after writing this you got a bunch of opportunities to practice your arguments. Much love.
mjranum Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2011
I get a lot of chances to practice my arguments every time I post a journal. It sort of makes it hard for me to get around to writing...
Kin-Maru Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2011
This is fantastic. Nice to see intelligence still exists somewhere. I love your message at the end about what "ghosts' really are, it's very true and honestly, touching. I'm sorry for your loss.
mjranum Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2011
I'm sorry for your loss.

Thanks for understanding.
asaph70 Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2011
you made my brain bleed on this one. I was thinking this was about you trying to explain some photos you took that has some orbs or silhouettes that you were going to share at the end or your journal. imagine my disappointment with not even so much glimpse of a naked ghost
Add a Comment: