A History of Ghosts: The Science and the Myth
By Victoria Banegas
When I was little, my grandmother always told me that her house was haunted. My cousins and I would sleepover in her living room and late in the night we thought we heard footsteps and random knocking on doors throughout the hall. Although I never saw a ghost, I found a terrifying thrill in allowing my mind to believe in something that (probably) wasn’t there. There are many people who believe that the human body and spirit are two separate entities; that our flesh decays but our spirit continues to live on. A number of ancient civilizations also believed that the souls of the dead linger in the world of the living due to strong emotional bonds or significant events that occurred in a specific place. It’s an un-explainable and utterly fascinating phenomenon, regardless of whether or not you actually believe in the presence of ghosts.
One of the earliest recorded sightings of a ghost was in the first century A.D. by Roman author and statesman Pliney the Younger. As stated in his letters, Pliney claimed that an old man with a long beard rattled chains throughout his home in Athens. Centuries later in 856 A.D., the first physical disturbances were recorded regarding strange occurrences at a farmhouse in Germany. Noises were heard, stones were thrown and unexplained fires burned. Much more recently, ghost stories including historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe have allegedly been spotted haunting places they frequented in their mortal lives.
While there are plenty of celebrity ghosts said to haunt Las Vegas hotels and homes they once inhabited, the Inland Empire also has a few notable celebrity ghost. At Mariposa Elementary School in Redlands, a boy named Billy died in the nurse’s office after being hit by a school bus (an event that occurred in the early 1970s). He allegedly haunts the playground and restrooms of his old school, leaving his spirit to become a local legend.
Although ghosts like Billy seem to be a worldwide phenomenon, there is of course no actual proof of his wandering spirit. In an attempt to debunk the presence of ghosts, Swiss scientists claim to have found out why people see apparitions and that they are most likely a figment of our imaginations. In 2006 while diagnosing a 22-year-old patient with epilepsy, doctors at a hospital in Geneva, Switzerland discovered that when the left temporal-parietal junction of the brain was stimulated, the patient saw a ghostly figure. The patient claimed she saw a ghost who mimicked her actions and embraced her against her will. The electrical stimulation caused the patient to feel the presence of another person, when in reality the patient was experiencing a perception of her own body.
In conjunction to the discoveries of Swiss scientists, the idea of ghosts is so old that it may just have been instilled in our minds through culture and media. Ghost hunting shows on TV and horror movies have taught us to expect ghosts to make noises, move objects and give a chilling sensation when present, feeding our imaginations and heightening the sense of wonder. Instead of logically finding an explanation for the door that just swung open on its own or the childish whisper that came from down the hall, our brains have been conditioned to irrationally think of ghosts and lingering spirits.
Very few accounts of modern-day hauntings help the cause of belief in ghosts, since so much of today’s world revolves around fabrication and Photoshop/video-editing trickery, but there are plenty of things that even doctors can’t explain.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there is some evidence both supporting and disproving ghost theories, leaving us to wonder if ghosts are really a figment of our imaginations and a way for us to conceptualize death, or if humans really are capsules for spirits that will continue to live on as our bodies lay to rest.