Do ghosts exist? This question has been alive and kicking since times immemorial and even now in this hi-tech, information rich “scientific” age, shows no signs of dying. In fact, more than one survey has revealed that the supernatural seems to be attracting more attention than ever before and has a growing band of adherents worldwide. Some time ago, the Guardian pointed out that for all time and in all cultures we have been enthralled by ghosts and asked a panel of writers from the fields of psychology to religion to rationalise the growing fascination with the idea of whether ghosts actually exist. They came up with four theories on the fascination with apparitions.

Giles Fraser, a priest-in-charge at St Mary’s Newington in south London, and a Guardian writer, noted that From Pliny the Younger’s story of an old man in chains haunting his house… in all cultures and times “there is something here that won’t go away; some fear that is legitimately being expressed—the continual return of the repressed. And the simple point that ghosts don’t exist—obviously they don’t, by the way—doesn’t cut it….The truth of ghosts is the way they represent our real and legitimate fears. And to this extent, ghosts are very, very real.”

According to María del Pilar Blanco, a lecturer in Spanish American literature at the University of Oxford, “Ghosts have acclimatised themselves to our media…and our new technologies look for them—think of the gadgets used by the numerous international ghost-hunting societies. While they may be linked to the past, ghosts endure in and are renovated by the cultural imagination of the present.” Blanco explained further that ghosts are inseparable from memory, history and loss. They represent how individuals and groups internalise their history, and how we reluctantly hold on to unshakeable past events. “Any given place can harbour multiple rumours and tales of sightings, possessions or the uncanny feeling of being ‘not alone’… Ghosts also keep up with our times and technologies.”

Christopher French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London averred that there are many reasons to be extremely skeptical regarding the existence of ghosts. For one thing, the idea that some kind of consciousness could survive bodily death is completely at odds with modern neuroscience. For another, if spirits of the dead really did survive in some form, we might expect their appearance and behaviour to reflect some kind of eternal unchanging afterlife. According to French, “accounts of ghosts from different cultures vary considerably. So what might explain the fact that so many people believe in ghosts, and a sizeable minority claim they have personally encountered a ghost?”

A minority of cases, he elaborated are based upon deliberate hoaxes, but most claims are undoubtedly sincere. They may arise as the result of honest misinterpretation of naturally occurring phenomena—for example, seeing faces and figures in the shadows or hearing noises made by animals in the night or common but frightening anomalous experiences. An example of the latter would be sleep paralysis episodes that can occur between sleep and wakefulness. During such episodes, the sufferer is temporarily paralysed and may experience a strong sense of presence and a variety of bizarre hallucinations. French also made a curious comment: “Women are much more likely to believe in ghosts than men, and to report that they have personally experienced a ghost—in line with most other paranormal phenomena… Our fear of our own mortality plays an important role in belief in ghosts. Most of us desperately want to believe in life after death—and the idea of ghosts, however scary, seems to offer support for such a notion.”

So okay, these were some interesting takes from well informed living beings on whether ghosts exist or not. But what about “takes” on the existence of ghosts and the entire paranormal spectrum from animals, especially dogs? In an updated article in June this year Jessica Booth wrote that there’s a lot about dogs and animals in general that we don’t know, so it’s completely possible that they can see ghosts and predict natural disasters.

Dogs hear sounds starting at 64 hertz on up, past the human range to the higher registers at 44 kilohertz. According to Paw Culture, “this could be what makes dogs more likely to hear some footprint of a ghost or a parallel universe.”

“Your dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than yours, thanks to 300 million olfactory receptors in his nose, as compared to five or six million in yours…A dog’s sense of sight is also a lot sharper than ours, so again, they might just be seeing things we don’t notice… but it could also be something spooky…” Apart from firsthand accounts of animal behaviour, some scientists too believe that dogs can pick up on an earthquake before we can, probably because they can hear “seismic activities that precede earthquakes such as scraping, grinding, and breaking of rocks underground and smell environmental changes that typically indicate a major storm.

Ellis cited an interesting study: “After Japan’s magnitude 9 earthquake in 2011, a study was launched investigating pet owner’s reports of unusual animal behavior just before the quake. In the results, 236 of 1,259 dog owners and 115 of 703 cat owners observed strange behaviors in their pets. Owners reported increased neediness, barking, and howling in their dogs, and some dogs who were so restless they even escaped. In 60% of the reports, these odd dog behaviors occurred in the seconds and minutes leading up to the quake.”

Animals have in fact also been known to feel a presence humans can’t see and they can sense something humans can’t sense—I’ve written about several such instances earlier. Sadly, until such time as someone devises a way of translating animal experiences into words, their loaded reactions on the existence of ghosts and other paranormal phenomena will remain a matter of speculation. And until such time as someone devises a foolproof method to conclusively prove whether ghosts exist or not, that question too will remain a matter of speculation and belief.

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