Who Ya Gonna Call? A Look at Ghosts and the Facts Around Them

Belief in the paranormal is one that has been argued for literal centuries, most specifically
belief in spectral beings. A ghost is defined in the dictionary as “an apparition of a dead person
which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image”.
Pliny, a Roman author in the first century A.D., is credited with documenting the first spectral
haunting. Writing that an elderly man was haunting his home. In 856 A.D. the first poltergeist
was reported in Germany. Reportedly the poltergeist threw rocks and ignited fires in an attempt
to harm the German family (History of Ghost Stories, History Network). These are two of the
earliest recordings of ghost encounters. The belief in ghosts is not an archaic one however, USA
Today reported on a YouGov poll of 1,000 people that found that 45% of polled individuals held
the belief that ghosts exist and can come back from the dead in certain situations (Ashley May,
USA Today).

Evidently, believing in ghosts is still a rather prevalent belief in the United States that is
most definitely extraordinary due to the fact that if ghosts were proven to be real the existence of
an afterlife would be confirmed. This proof would then move to reaffirm or deflate religious,
moral, and scientific arguments made around existence and death. It is important to note that
there is research arguing that religious and paranormal beliefs are different and that there is no
correlation between the two (Langston, Fehrman, Anderson, D’Archangel & Hubbard, 2018) and
that people, religious or not, hold the same affinity to believe in ghosts and paranormal activity.
Certain groups are noted as popularizing the investigation of ghosts, the most famous being The
Atlantic Paranormal Society, otherwise known as T. A. P. S. from the hit show Ghost Hunters.
They claimed to apply the scientific method to ghost hunting and it seemingly took hold in the
early 2000s. Even with the show very rarely finding a location haunted and often debunking
stories, the investigators continued to believe in what they were searching for. The question
becomes, why do people believe in ghosts?

The facts within the belief is extensive, which is expected given the span of time the
belief has been held. The website Ghosts and Gravestones describes the five most common types
of ghosts. First are the most commonly known type of ghost the “Interactive Personality”. This
type is often a deceased family member or historical person and are supposed to retain the
personality traits they had in life. The second type of ghost is the Ectoplasm, which is often seen
as mist or fog within pictures or photographs. The third type being orbs, another entity seen often
in photographs and videos. Funnel ghosts are the fourth and are associated with “cold spots” and
show themselves as a wisp of light in photographs. Finally, the most popular type, the poltergeist
is often referred to as the “noisy” ghost due to the tendency of the spirit to knock things over,
interact with the environment and generally getting our attention by making a ruckus. The point
can be raised, what evidence is there to support this type of thinking.

The easy answer is that there is no undeniable evidence in favor for the existence of
ghosts. Most believers point to personal experiences (Live Science) and anecdotal evidence.
These are most often situations where the individual is unable to confirm the happening was due
to a ghost, but they also are unable to dismiss. A scientific concept used to justify a belief in
ghosts is the First Law of Thermodynamics, which conceptually states that energy is not created
nor is it destroyed but rather it is transformed. Believers using this logic assert that energy from
our bodies will become a spirit when we die. The immediate rebuttal to this argument, as
articulated in a Live Science piece, is that our energy is dispersed to the organisms in the soil and
not through so supernatural energy. The existence of ghosts also relies on photographic evidence,
debatably the most convincing for skeptics on the fence. Photos have been taken for well over a
century that depict a ghostly presence. That may be through picture blurring, orbs (a common
form of ghost), or even full body apparitions. No matter the circumstance, most photos have been
debunked as either being staged, altered, or simply coincidence (BBC). Personal experiences are
also presented as objective evidence and, to be fair, the instances can never be entirely debunked
due to the personal nature of these events. Psychology can try to explain why we continue to
believe these extraordinary beliefs, despite the presence of skepticism.

David Robson of the BBC reported in an article titled Psychology: The Truth About the
Paranormal that there are clear psychological explanations as to why individuals continue to
claim interactions with ghosts are real. The first being that illusions and perceptions of “shadow
people” or ghosts is tied to damage of the right-hemisphere which results in the perception of
beings that are not there (BBC). A less neurological explanation is that the belief in ghosts is not
falsifiable to many believers. While images, videos, experiences, and locations have been
debunked numerous times they belief still holds with the “yeah, but…” mentality. The
experience is inherently personal and anecdotal which lends itself perfectly to confirmation bias,
by simply seeking information that agrees with the mentality exhibited. Ghost stories are a
defining part of urban folklore, the stories are designed to seem plausible no matter the case, and
therefore they contribute greatly to the anecdotal telling and perception of extraordinary events.
It also makes sense because believing is also more comforting for people because that would
affirm that there is in fact an afterlife and therefore eliminates some uncertainty in life.

Ghost stories began with Pliny, moved to Shakespeare (with Macbeth), and still haunt us
through the “based on a true story” films like The Conjuring, The Exorcist, and Paranormal
Activity. Overall, believing in ghosts seems to be harmless with very little interpersonal
ramification. Around half of polled individuals believe in ghosts and that seems to make sense.
There is as much evidence to “prove” they do exist as there is convincing evidence that they do
not exist. This dichotomy is achieved through a non-falsifiable nature of argumentation which
will result in a never-ending cycle of skepticism. Personally, I think believing in ghosts is fun
and I also think attempting to debunk ghosts is fun. The potential for the existence is exciting and
I would be tempted to say that those “hunting” ghosts want them to be real as much as they want
them to not be.

Editors, History.com. “History of Ghost Stories.” History.com, A&E Television
Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/halloween/historical-ghoststories

May, Ashley. “How Many People Believe in Ghosts or Dead Spirits?” USA Today,
Gannett Satellite Information Network, 25 Oct. 2017,

Ghosts & Gravestones. “Types Of Ghosts and Spirits.” Ghosts & Gravestones,

Radford, Benjamin. “Are Ghosts Real? – Evidence Has Not Materialized.” LiveScience, Purch, 17 May 2017, www.livescience.com/26697-are-ghosts-real.html

Timberlake, Howard. “Future – The Intriguing History of Ghost Photography.” BBC
News, BBC, 30 June 2015, www.bbc.com/future/story/20150629-the-intriguinghistory-of-ghost-photography.

Suedeld, P. & Mocellin, J. S. P. (1987) The “sensed presence” in unusual environments.
Environment and Behavior. 19 (1); 33-52.

Langston, W., Fehrman, C., Anderson, K., & D’Archangel, M. (2018) Comparing
religious and paranormal believers. Peace and Conflict Journal of Peace
Psychology. 24(2): 236-239

10 thoughts on “Who Ya Gonna Call? A Look at Ghosts and the Facts Around Them

  1. One thing that I’ve always found interesting about ghosts is that in some accounts, ghosts tend to be relatively neutral (or even kind) entities who are coming back from the dead to talk to or help the living, but in other accounts, ghosts (or poltergeists) just want to stir up trouble. Why do you think these two competing ways of portraying ghosts have arisen?

    • I feel like these two competing portrayals exist as a play on the comparison and constant conflict between good and evil. If the ghosts that we interact with are supposed to represent the spirits of deceased individuals, then I think it’s rational to have both good and evil forces–this also plays into the idea of tracing a building’s history in order to determine the type of people that occupied it.

  2. I’ve always been fascinated by ghosts for some reason. I’ve never had any sort of “encounter” with a ghost, but there is a part of me that has always wanted to. Even though I know that there probably is no such thing as ghosts, its kinda of fun to believe. Ghost hunting shows are really entertaining to walk, but i’m always skeptical as to how much is “real” and how much is controlled by the crew or natural phenomenon

    • I agree with this, I’ve also always been fascinated by concepts of ghosts and had some really strange stuff happen in the house I grew up in. My parents would always tell us stories about a ghost that supposedly lived in the first house they shared, and it led me to believe they were real. Watching ghost shows didn’t help but also made me skeptical for the same reason you said of how much is “real”. It’s easy to discount but it’s also easy to fall into those beliefs

  3. I think the idea of ghosts/ghost sighting may be able to relate to our discussion in class on contiguity. For example, a door slamming while you are scared of a ghost may be enough evidence to convince yourself it is real if it occurs in close proximity of space and time. That being said, I also agree with the above comment, it’s an entertaining thought to have, I too have always wanted to see one in some way.

  4. I used to be a pertinent believer in ghosts because I thought I had experienced seeing them multiple times, inside and outside of my house. I saw these “ghosts” in the form of a white apparition and as dead loved ones in their human bodies. I later learned that I have night terrors and sleep apnea, so hallucinations and sleep paralysis are side effects of these sleeping issues. I was simply waking up from my dreams and confusing reality with my dreams.

  5. The existence of the ghost is always in the hot-debated around the world. I haven’t encountered the ghost before, but I sometimes believe the ghost is around us. We always can hear the haunting house after people die inside the house and have an edge of bitterness to stay in our world. But what makes the ghost so popular is not all ghost are evil. When people are getting help from unknown or see some illusion, they will think that is from the help of the ghost. Overall, your blog is really interesting and it definitely reveals me some thought of the ghost.

  6. This belief is so common that many of us even neglect that is an extraordinary belief. Personally I am little pity that I have lost my childlike innocence for such belief. Believing in ghosts definitely makes you more cautious for any evil thoughts in your mind and the forms of ghosts are different for different countries even different families which could even be part of one ‘s value.

  7. Personally, I would like to say that people who would like to believe the existence of ghost is the same group of people who would like to believe people’s spirit could stay even after death. But also, I think the cognitive contribution in the ghost beliefs is also very important. Most of the encounter with ghost experience often really vague and described as an adjective perspective. I think there’s possible that people would use the word “ghost” to describe their fear while getting alone and felling threatened in the dark.

  8. I feel like I’m still deciding if I believe in ghosts or not. I feel like this kind of has to be due to the fact that believing in ghost is kind of seen as not as an extraordinary belief. I do feel like a lot of believing that ghosts are real comes from religion because its kind of a confirmation that there is an afterlife. However, I have never heard a religious person use ghosts as an argument of an afterlife. Overall, the subject of ghosts is always interesting.

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