A paranormal inquiry: Students weigh in on the existence of ghosts

By   —   October 31, 2018   —   in Features Opinions

The world of the supernatural generates much debate on the topic of its existence. Between the deniers of and the believers in the existence of ghosts, spirits and the like, no true consensus has ever been met. As we draw nearer to Halloween, the Sheaf explores this debate.

The following stories have been collected from students at the University of Saskatchewan by means of interviews conducted on Facebook, each supporting one of the two views, with responses from first-year law student Jessica Quan, believer in ghosts, and resident Sheaf Sports & Health Editor Jack Thompson, ghost skeptic.



Jessica on the existence of ghosts:
I never believed that ghosts were real until the day that I saw one. My subsequent encounters with spirits then kept piling up to the point where I thought I was in a B-grade version of Paranormal Activity.

The first time I saw a ghost was when I was in grade five. I saw the figure of a man, who I initially thought was my dad, walking down the hallway into his bedroom. I followed him, only to find out that I was home alone and there was no one in the bedroom.

Additionally, I’ve been witness to a number of inexplicable incidents while I was either home alone or in instances where others present at the time verified that it wasn’t them. Doors opening and closing, lights turning on and off, items being rearranged and footsteps crossing the floor are examples of these interactions.

While there aren’t scientific ways to prove that ghosts exist, there aren’t any ways to disprove their existence either. When a photo of an alleged ghost gets captured, it’s often dismissed as a patch of light or dust. Haters may even go as far to say that it’s been photoshopped. An anecdotal rambling about seeing a ghost can only hold so much weight in the mind of a non-believer.

In reality, no one can catch a ghastly ghoul in a trap or force an apparition to undergo the scientific method. We have to embrace the uncertainty of the unknown and accept that there are some things that science can’t explain.

Fourth-year computer science student Elyse Jensen, who is also an employee at the Museum of Antiquities, has been witness to odd and inexplicable incidents ever since the museum received an artifact from an Egyptian tomb. The exhibit is named False Door from the Tomb of a Priestess of Hathor, Irti, and the artifact is known as a portal to the afterlife.

“The Egyptians believed that your spirit would have to go through it when you died,” Jensen said. “The weird thing about working there is, ever since the museum got it, we always hear knocking on the door from the gallery, but when we open the door, no one is there. It happens a lot to me when I’m working alone, especially.”

False Door from the Tomb of a Priestess of Hathor, Irti at the Museum of Antiquities.

Jensen has not seen any ghostly entities while at work, but nonetheless, says she can feel another presence while working alone at the museum.

“There are cameras in the museum, but there’s nothing to be seen… When I am alone in the gallery, I can hear [the camera] moving sometimes by itself — it moves when it detects motion,” Jensen said.

First-year law student Monica Tahn holds the view that, in the absence of contrary evidence, there is overwhelming support that points to the existence of a spiritual dimension. Tahn asserted that projections of spirits are specific to individuals and their circumstances.

“Ghosts fail to mean anything without context, in the sense that people from various cultures have seen the supernatural. If one believes in God and evil, then this is entirely possible. In that context, a spirit would … be a manifestation of these,” Tahn said.

Third-year sociology student Drew Lubda bases her stance on inductive reasoning, stating that it’s important to keep your mind open to any explanation. Lubda recounts her first-hand experience with the paranormal as an undeniably strange set of circumstances.

“I had an ex-boyfriend whose father passed away in the house, and the ambulance was called, and he went to the hospital. After everyone had left, all doors had been locked,” Lubda said. “The weird thing was, when we came back to the house, everything had changed — all the Christmas decorations were put on the floor, and all the ornaments on the tree were taken off.”

Lubda says that, after the initial event, signs of a phantasmic presence continued in the house.

“Later, through the months, there would be occasional cabinet [doors] swinging, objects from the cabinet put on the ground — nothing too threatening. There was no other rational explanation — unless there were thieves with matching keys who came in, rearranged everything gently and took off — but that just doesn’t seem logical,” Lubda said.

Ryan Mitchell, a former philosophy student at the U of S who frequently dabbles in black magic, recounts one of the eeriest encounters he has had with the spirit realm.

“[The] weirdest was when a friend and I were invoking a spirit, and we just passed out. And when we woke up, we found his roommate just asleep on the staircase. None of us had any idea what happened. That’s kinda stuck with me,” Mitchell said.

While Mitchell has yet to see a ghost, he contends that their existence may not necessarily be grounded in what many perceive to be an afterlife.

“I think they’re more a manifestation of the desire of people to live beyond death,” Mitchell said. “[It’s] an existential relief of the true horror: endless nothingness and a universe indifferent to human suffering.”

Lindsay Schwartz*, a student in the College of Arts and Science, says she had a more benevolent encounter with a spirit when she was younger.

“I remember laying in bed late at night — my bed was in my closet at the time, and I had a lamp on my headboard. When I went to turn [the lamp] off, I remember seeing an orb above it. I thought nothing of it and tried to sleep,” Schwartz said. “A few moments later, the corner of my bed [sank] down. No one was there, then a hand rested on my shin and gave it a comforting pat.”

Schwartz believes that this experience was connected to spirits.

“I believe it was a ghost — probably my grandpa who had just passed away,” Schwartz said. “I think [that] ghosts represent pain. I feel you rarely hear about happy ghosts. There’s always something holding them here, and that kinda ties into my personal story of my grandpa.”

The existence of ghosts will continue to be the subject of much scrutiny and skepticism. While the tales above may not be enough to convince non-believers otherwise, the fact nonetheless remains that these encounters are very real to those who experience them.

Jack on the nonexistence of ghosts:
While some may like to think that a fantastical existence awaits them after death, there is little evidence to prove such a thing exists. In a world governed by physical limitations, alongside an overt mundanity in the day-to-day of life, it would make sense that some would like to believe in something fantastical and exciting — but this does not make it true.

This is precisely what ghosts are: a projection on the behalf of the observer who wishes to see something exciting that connects stimuli to an imagined conclusion. Furthermore, it is hard to believe that ghosts could exist as there is no absolute evidence to prove that they do, even in today’s world of advanced technology.

Travis Smith, a first-year law student, is not vehemently against the possibility of ghosts but does approach the topic with a healthy dose of skepticism.

“I don’t necessarily not believe in ghosts — I’m a person whose beliefs are generally quite firmly vested in fact, proof, reason and logic. I find it hard to believe things that are not supported by, or go against, these principles,” Smith said.

Smith agrees that the main reason for his skepticism is simply a lack of hard evidence in favour of the existence of the spirit realm.

“Because there is little support in terms of proof — especially of the scientific type — in favour of the existence of ghosts, I tend not to believe in them,” Smith said.

Xaverie MacLennan, another first-year law student, believes that skeptical thinking can be used against the existence of ghosts.

“Some people will report feeling held down by ghosts, and upon examination of their house, it turns out that carbon monoxide poisoning is occurring, which results in their sense of fatigue and visual hallucinations,” MacLennan said.

MacLennan expands on this idea, explaining how the human brain can trick people into fabricating false explanations.

“I also think the average person is overconfident in their cognitive skills and doesn’t realize just how fallible the human brain is or how good humans are at pulling patterns out of random events,” MacLennan said. “This largely influences a person’s emotional response to random and strange occurrences and further pushes them to believe that ghosts are real because they feel that ghosts are real.”

Just as these two interviewees explain, there are plenty of reasons to be critical on the existence of ghosts. With all of this being said, remember that a bump in the night is probably not a ghost but more likely a perfectly explicable natural phenomenon.

Wrapping up on ghosts:
In the end, neither of these positions will likely ever come to a full agreement nor a satisfying conclusion. While one side sees a world made up of patterns and facts and believes that most knowledge is knowable, the other side sees the world as largely inexplicable and fluid and believes that there are things that cannot be explained in terms of science.

*To respect the privacy of the individual interviewed, their name has been changed.

Jack Thompson / Sports & Health Editor, Jessica Quan

Photo: J.C. Balicanta Narag / Outreach Director

Graphics: Emily Migchels / Editor-in-Chief

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