There is a debate in the paranormal as to what a ghost really is. While the more common belief is that it is the spirit of a person who was once living, there are other explanations on the table. From us manifesting our own activity, time slips, alternative dimensions, psychic projection through to us just making it up all up in our mind, there are many different areas that people spend their time researching to try and answer this very question. In order to look forward, first we must look where we have been. For centuries, people have believed that a ghost or spirit is the soul of a person who was once living. So let's explore the very concept of our soul and where these beliefs stem from.
I spend a lot of time researching and writing about the psychology behind paranormal investigating. We ourselves can sometimes be our own enemies when it comes to processing information. We know that the brain can trick us into seeing faces in mist in what we call pareidolia. We know that the brain can make us think that we hear a voice that is really just static. We know that a certain frequency of sound (infrasound) can make our eyeball vibrate to the point that it induces a feeling of being watched. When the brain cannot process something that it does not recognize, it fills in the gaps and this is where we start seeing and hearing things that are not really there. Our brain doesn't like the unfamiliar and it makes us feel uncomfortable when it has trouble processing information. These feelings are often mistaken for something paranormal because again it is the 'unknown'. Skeptics tend to thrive on this information as there are theories and explanations for almost everything, and it almost always comes back to the brain and the way it processes information. Science is a valid explanation for many things, however, when it comes to our brain, science is still unable to replicate or explain certain phenomena without any doubt or possible variables. So while it remains one of the possibilities, it is not the only one.
Paranormal investigators generally classify what they consider a haunting into different areas. The two most common areas are what we call intelligent and residual hauntings. What may surprise you is that people also tend to classify spirits and ghosts into different categories as well. Famous researcher Hans Holzer gives what is a widely believed explanation of the different categories in his book GHOSTS: True encounters from the World beyond
1. A bona fide ghost - that is a person who has passed put of the physical body but remains in the etheric body (aura, soul) at or near the place of the passing due to emotional ties or trauma. Such entities are people in trouble, who are seeking to understand their predicament and are usually not aware of their own passing.
2. No more than 10-15% of all sightings or other phenomena are 'real' ghosts. The larger portion of all sightings or sound phenomena is caused by a replaying of a past emotional event, one that has somehow been left behind, impressed into the atmosphere of the place or house. Any sensitive person - and that means a large segment of the population - can re-experience such events to varying degrees. To them these replays may seem no different from true ghostly phenomena, except that they occur exactly in the same place and at the same time of day to all those who witness them.
3. There are cases in which sightings or sounds of this kind are caused by the living who are far away, not in time by geographically. "Phantoms of the living" is one name given the phenomenon, which is essentially telepathic. Usually these apparitions or sounds occur when it is is urgent that a person reach someone who is at a distance, such as in family crisis, emergencies, or on occasion, between lovers or people who are romantically linked.
4. Finally we should keep in mind that though apparitions may appear to be identical, whether as earthbound spirits called ghosts, or free spirits in full possession of all mental and emotional faculties and memories - just visiting, so to speak, to convey a message - ghosts and spirits are not the same.
Essentially, most paranormal investigators believe in what is called residual and intelligent hauntings. A ghost is considered to be residual energy. It is like a playback of a past event - usually thought to be something traumatic. It is stuck in a loop of replay. As it is a playback, it is something that people believe they can detect, but not communicate with. It is leftover energy. An intelligent haunting is what people also refer to as a spirit. This is what is considered to be the energy of a person who was once living and has now passed over. For whatever reason, they have been unable to cross over to whatever place it is a soul goes. While I know I myself speculate if a spirit is us or caused by the power of our mind, a lot of the general population; even those who don't actively investigate the paranormal, believe it has something to do with a person's soul and a form of survival after death.
In Ancient Egypt, they believed the soul was made up of several elements that were created as an eternal force that lived inside every living being. In order for all the different parts of the soul to function, they believed a body needed to be intact which is why mummification was such an essential part of their burials.
Philosophers of course debated about the soul a lot.
Greek Philosopher Plato's views on the human soul were that our very existence on Earth was a mere shadow of some kind of higher existence. Our body was just a vessel and if anything was in some ways restricting the full capabilities of our soul from reaching a higher plain or a higher form of consciousness - something which I hear a lot of today through spiritual circles. He believed that a soul goes from human to human which is what would explain for some the idea of past lives.
"Either death is a state of nothingness and utter consciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if death be of such a nature, I say that to die is to gain; for eternity is then only a single night."
Another Greek Philosopher Socrates who was a supposed teacher of Plato, believed that a person's soul was immortal. Death was not the end of a person's existence but marks the separation of the soul from the physical body.
"Give me beauty in the inward soul; may the outward and the inward man be at one."
Catholic theologian Saint Augustine believed that the soul was also immortal and that the body and the soul is what makes up a human. He didn't necessarily believe that a soul transferred from physical body to physical body.
"When speaking of God, no one should think of him as something corporeal; nor yet of the soul, for of all things the soul is nearest to God."
You see even hundreds of years BC philosophers were discussing the same things we talk about today in regards to the mind, the body, and the afterlife. These people considered themselves to be dualists. It was Rene Descartes who is famous for his philosophy regarding the mind the body being two separate entities in what he described as dualism. He believed that the mind could control the brain and therefore a person's body via the pineal gland.
"The mechanism of our body is so constructed that simply by this gland's being moved in any way by the soul or by any other cause, it drives the surrounding spirits towards the pores of the brain, which direct them through the nerves to the muscles; and in this way the gland makes the spirits move the limbs."
You only have to look to theology and the different religions to see a common theme: the belief in some form of a soul. Is our very belief in the soul something that we are automatically born with through the outside influence of our ancestors and religion? Is it this belief in the soul that leads to a belief in the paranormal? Is a ghost or spirit really just our soul living on in some form of after-death survival? In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts below. What do you think about our soul? Do you think a spirit or ghost is the soul of a person who has passed away? What do you think happens to our soul when we die? Does it jump to another body or does it reach a higher plane of existence or enlightenment?
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