Can We Feel Ghosts?


Many people enjoy watching scary movies or listening to scary stories. Some even claim they can see and talk to spirits. While there’s no science to support the existence of ghosts, there may be an explanation as to why some may feel a supernatural presence. The feeling is particularly common in patients suffering from neurological or psychiatric disorders, who report a presence they can feel but can’t see, just like a ghost or a guardian. 

Chapman University in Orange, Calif., runs a yearly survey that asks people in the United States about their beliefs in the paranormal. In 2018, 58 percent of those polled agreed with the statement, “Places can be haunted by spirits.” And almost one in five people from the United States said in another survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., that they’ve seen or been in the presence of a ghost. In ghost hunting shows, most of the things they do make it seem like there are really ghosts, but really they are just hoaxes to make people believe they are really there. Not only are ghosts supposedly able to do things scientifically impossible, but scientists using reliable research methods have found zero evidence that ghosts exist. What scientists have discovered, though, are lots of reasons why people might feel they have had ghostly encounters.

Have you ever heard someone calling your name but nobody was there? Well, this may be a hallucination. We’re used to our senses giving us accurate information about the world. So when experiencing a hallucination, our first instinct is usually to believe it. If you feel a supernatural presence, you will immediately turn to the paranormal answer, rather than accept that your brain is lying to you. The brain has to process all the information it gets from your eyes, ears, and other senses to make sense of what you are seeing around you. The brain is so good at processing these things that sometimes we may feel pareidolia, which is finding meaning in meaningless things. So, when ghost hunters are trying to hear ghosts talk, it’s probably just random noise they picked up. But, if you listen to the noise knowing what was supposedly said, your brain will make you hear the words. Your brain may also add faces to images of random noise. Research has shown that patients who experience visual hallucinations are more likely than normal to experience pareidolia, like seeing faces in random shapes, for instance. Anyone may experience sleep paralysis, hallucinations, pareidolia, or inattentional blindness. But not everyone turns to ghosts or other supernatural beings as a way to explain these experiences. Most people who have more paranormal beliefs will probably blame things on spirits or ghosts. So, the next time you hear a ghost story, remember that what happened might be just your brain playing tricks on you.

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