Updated: June 7, 2011
Welcome to my second article in the ultimate Bollocks series. We debunk popular myths using physics as the delivery weapon. We had our gentle talk on prophecies. Today, we will talk about ghosts. Not cute little Casper. Not any software with the word ghost in its name. We're talking ghosts Patrick Swayze style. We're talking ghosts Vigo style.
Ghosts come in many colors and shapes. There are many would-be facts about ghosts. They can be lost, sad spirits wandering in forests. They can be angry domestic pests. They can be disembodied souls with an unfinished affair in the human world, lingering in an endless loop and waiting for their breakpoint. Sometimes, ghosts are bubbles of energy with vaguely human shapes. They may visit us in our sleep or leave semi-cryptic messages in the form of an upturned bed or a misplaced object. Whatever and whoever they might be, their generic category is still one of bollocks. Indeed, let us proceed with the excoriation. No, not exorcism, that's not a typo.
There are two major kinds of ghosts - those embedded in religion and those embedded in science. The first kind came first, often mixed with death rituals. Too sad to see their family and friends depart without resolving that one last issue, humans invented a sort of editor's cut DVD version of life's ending, with secret extras and bonus scenes. Thus, ghosts were born. And like DVD extras, they were kind of superfluous, a disjointed marketing spin. Which explains why they are so vague, as no one could really decide what the best ending ought to be.
Scientific ghosts were born after humans realized that most of the old world stories would not hold in the modern era, so they replaced words like spirits and lost souls with ectoplasmic entity and psychokinetic vortices. Pagan symbols and chalk drawings traded places with electrochemistry and cold fusion magnetic monopoles. Linen sheet phantoms became static interferences in the TV. Now, throw in some romantics about a princess killing herself by jumping off a tower, add a prophecy into the equation and slip in a dodgy reference to modern pseudo-religion, and you get perfect drama.
Except, that none of it really works.
Life after death
This is the core issue, really. If we assume that ghosts are a continuation of people's essence after the cessation of their life, as we define it, then we must also assume that human characteristics, both emotional and physical are translated from within the vessel of the human body and cranial architecture into another dimension that can support them in a stable energy state. The one question is, what would this dimension would be?
Now, one could argue that human life is more than just a battle of entropy and unraveling of telomeres. No problem. We could indeed claim that. But no one has ever proven that life exists without basic amino acids, yet.
So it comes down to human soul. We ignore the science and we allow for an existence of a super-storage unit that can simulate all emotional and physical states regardless of its actual position. Which begs the question, why does this spirit not use its capabilities BEFORE death? If our souls can go through walls, why not do that while we're still alive? Would it not make sense to have ghosts as military spies?
Measuring the life force
Another problem. If human soul exists and it CAN interact with the human environment, then it must be measurable some way. The same thing with God and Quantum really. We ought to be able to measure life forces using sensors, magnetic, electric, x-ray, audio, thermal, whatever. If so, how is a disembodied blob of energy any different from a spurious spike in solar radiation, a heat bloom in the aircraft brake ceramics or a random noise in a rock crevice? And if our souls can contain energetic bonds that form satient and palpable results, why should we not be able to produce them in a lab, just by copying the energy signature?
You may say that the same logic applies to human life. Amino acids do not necessarily mean life; it's the other way around. Fair enough. But here's the catch. You can measure amino acids; you can't measure life force. This ain't Jedi Jeopardy.
Where does the soul really go? A heart? If so, how come people with pacemakers are alive, after their heart has ceased working? Or having undergone an organ transplant, oh dear. Or perhaps the little electrical thingies can make the soul work? Maybe the brain? That's a good guess. But brain-dead people are still technically alive, so there is something else at play, now is there. Do animals have souls? What about plants?
Placing the soul within a human body creates the same paradox as placing it outside one. Either way, you end up with a self-sustaining, self-aware entity that does not really require the body to function. It also makes the brain redundant.
Assuming ghosts have their special abilities (see below) because they can control the phase shift of their particles and use focused electroweak energy to defeat the material barriers of this world, then they also have all the strength of a disabled moth when it comes to shifting things about.
Ghost special characteristics
Now, let's dissect a few choice stereotypes.
Ah, yes. All right, let's assume that spirits supposedly do exist. Why is it that there are so many interpretations of what ghosts are. If all humans are pretty much identical in terms of their physical and even mental abilities, within the same order of magnitude, how come you have ghosts that can lift cars in the air and then you have ghosts that can barely scratch their name in a misted mirror after the shower? Does not compute, amirite?
Some spirits are limited to houses. Why? Why would human-built temporal structures stand in the way of eternal energy units that are not bound by simple physics? Why would there be any logic to a building blueprint? What happens if you demolish the house? Or relocate it? What about trailer park hobo ghosts?
Some ghosts only come at night. Come from where? Do they have a secret place where they linger? It brings me back to my secret agent thingie. Would it not make sense to enlist ghosts that can physically interact with our world as super-killing machines? And why would we classify a ghost as a ghost, if it can exist in our reality, any which way?
You also have vengeful ghosts that are trying to even out the score for wrongs in their would-be previous lives. Again, why would a dead person's spirit be angry? You are disembodied now, you need no food, sleep or rest, you can wander around freely and voyeur the crap out of this world, why would you be angry? Do you really want to work in a cubicle for the rest of your existence?
If you're angry because someone shortcircuited your carrier vessel, then is it not dangerous to actually try to get your revenge? You get into a recursive loop, and it's 42 all the way down. The inferior human enemy of yours will also be made into a spirit, and then, the two of you will be fighting on equal terms. And if you can make them suffer, either directly or by misplacing their toothbrush or making them trip on stools, then you're not really dead, because you can interact with the physical world, so your need fo revenge is null and void. Furthermore, what if someone killed you by accident, leaving you with an unfinished business, but they feel remorse. How does that count? What if you get run over by a streamroller driven by a retard? An angry ghost is actually self-defeating in nature.
Sad ghosts are no better either. We have enough emos as it is, do we really need ethereal Facebook users? Why do you have to be sad? You're supposedly dead, except you no longer need to worry about food, acne, radiation, terror attacks, bad back, sleep, employment, or any other earthly nuisance. You're free to roam. You can be the fly on the wall, the perfect voyeur, the perfect spy. You defeated the statistics. It's time to celebrate.
Ghosts go where?
Among those ghosts with a special mission, once it's completed, they sort of vanish, go somewhere. It would be interesting if the ten thousand different versions of ghost stories actually agreed on their final rest. Because that place suffers from the same paradoxes like the rest. Supposedly, ghosts are bound by the religious rules and the folklore that invented them. But there can't be both Heaven and Hell and Asgard together. Religions are mutually exclusive. Either one is true or all are true. But since religions deny one another, then none of it is true. You don't need science, you just need religion to counter religion. Boom, headshot.
Walking through walls
Ghosts have a few special abilities, normally classified as Doom 2 cheatsheat - AKA IDSPISPOPD AKA clipping. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you've never played Doom 2, shame on you. Ghosts are also sometimes transparent. So, in a way, ghosts are capable of making all their particles undergo a shift phase in one go and sustain stable quantum tunnelling without decay. In other words, IDBEHOLDI. Good for them. It's Doom 2 cheatsheet all the way.
Ghosts can relate to modern people
I wonder why medieval ghosts are capable of understanding modern languages so well. If anything, your typical Anglo-Saxon ghost would have spoken Eald Englisc, maybe German, maybe Latin, some French if they were posh and noble and all that. But contemporary English? How do you say LOL in Latin? Ridere Clara Voce? RCV?
If we go further back, things become even more troubling. Considering the great migrations of people, then you would expect to see tons of ghosts from vanished civilizations and ancient nations. In fact, there ought to be more of those, since there's a lot more past than there is present. Europe should be bursting with ghosts of Gothic, Alan, Avar, Hun, or Dacian origin. But you only get as far as Shakespeare. How romantic.
Finally, ghost proofs
I can understand if people wish to believe in fancy things. It's no different than Santa Claus or Star Trek. But why do they have this urge to try to prove the existence of ghosts to the rest of us? I'm not forcing you to believe in my physics, leave me alone.
Now, how the proofs are normally staged: Bored and often uneducated enthusiastic believers choose a favorite spot. It can be a super-ugly Victorian era manor house or an abandoned Civil War mill. You go there when it's dark. You point a sort of a Geiger thingie at a modly wall and you measure the patter of spiders' feet. You tell a spooky story of a drunken husband disciplining his wife there in 1830 and how you can hear them and all. You ignore the random effects, like breathing, air drafts, insects, electricity discharge, air bubbles and water in the city sewers, the slight tectonic movements, the thermal expansion of metal, and whatnot.
If this is not sufficient, you produce olden photos, Sepia and Photoshop and all, and you show how the ham sandwich smear right there is actually a human face, if you squint, turn it 47 degrees, right there, ain't it obvious? Well, it this is not enough of a proof for you, then nothing ever will be.
That's it. Another topic bollocksized. Now that's a lovely pun, ain't it?
Ghosts are overdone, just like so many popular myths. Overhyped by a parsec, wrapped in romantics and pseudo symbols of vague paganism. First of all, you can't really explain what they are, without totally negating human life. Second, even if you can detach them from the body and mind, they still don't quite compute. Whether it's how they manifest or interact with the environment, the moment they put their ethereal feet into our world, human life loses its meaning once again. Why bother with a vulnerable body when you can be a mighty, immortal spirit? Lastly, measuring ghosts as a method and practice has all the grace of a tank driving over a child's Lego box.
QED. In a few weeks, we will brutally and utterly demolish another popular cultural icon using nothing but Feynman diagrams. Stay cool, my readers! And party on!
P.S. Red ghosts, Aurora Borealis and the Geiger counter images are in public domain.