Primal Numbers – Ghost Brain

we’re always up for a good ghost story, aren’t we? Whether It’s the fictional spirits that visit Scrooge, or the rumours about that creepy old house in town, ghosts have fascinated us for centuries. Now, though, science has shown that ghosts are nothing more than a trick of the mind?which means they don’t really exist. Or do they?

The ghost-busting research comes from scientists in Switzerland. As The Telegraph reports, volunteers were blindfolded and asked to control “the movements of a jointed mechanical arm with their index fingers.” The arm was placed behind them and would touch their backs when they operated it.

Fairly straightforward, until the scientists created a delay before the robot arm touched the volunteers. Without fail, the subjects reported feeling that “they were being watched, and touched, by one or more ghostly presences.” Some were so upset by the sensation that they stopped the experiment.

There weren’t any ghosts in the machine. But the experiment disrupted the brain’s normal mechanisms for figuring out where it is in space?the automatic adjustments that tell you which way You’re leaning, whether You’re walking uphill, and how close other people are.

That disorientation was enough to make the volunteers sense two (or more) of themselves, which they described as an ethereal presence. Apparently, It’s the same sort of disconnect than can happen when people are under great physical or emotional distress, such as mourning the death of a loved one, or have certain medical conditions like migraines or epilepsy.

In other words, ghosts, apparitions, and other spooky spirits are all in our heads.

But what about the countless stories of dogs, cats, and other animals that seem to react to ghostly doings? Like this one from the Animal Planet site. Odds are good that not every single animal that barks or meows at an empty staircase is under physical or emotional stress.

Then there are the physical events, like items being moved or lights turning on and off, that have no connection to our brain function. Surely there’s a supernatural force behind those.

Well, no one can say for sure. At least not yet. But the fact is that even after thousands of years of civilization, there’s absolutely no proof that ghosts or other so-called supernatural happenings are real. Plenty of anecdotes, yes. Verifiable proof, no.

Science, on the other hand, is getting closer to proving that they’re not. We’ve got a long way to go, of course, in unlocking the mysteries of the brain. But there’s a very good chance that future generations will one day look back and scoff at our primitive belief in things like ghosts and spirits.

Much the same way that thunder and lightning were once considered the antics of angry gods, we may soon have a perfectly rational explanation for things that, today, we put down to the lingering spirit of great-uncle Harry. The experiment by those Swiss researchers is a good start.

Still, That’s no reason not to enjoy a good ghost story. Even if, one day, the genuine belief in spooks and spirits is no more real than Jacob Marley’s ghost.

S.D. Livingston is the author and creator of the Madeline M. Mystery Series for kids, as well as several books for older readers. Visit her website for information on her writing.

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