Issue :   
January 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         January 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Jan' 2018


Of ghost hunting

Rajesh Bhola

Ghosts and spirits have always interested human beings. The feeling of being closer to someone unknown or someone from the 'other world', has always aroused a sense of both fear and curiosity. Whether there is life after death is a question that none has an answer to. There are hundreds of 'haunted' houses all around the world; all these have an element of mystery, fear and the unknown associated with them. Because there are so many incidents, places and people who are believed to be linked with this paranormal phenomenon, there must be something 'out there' that instigates these stories every now and then.
Ghosts are explicitly recognised in the Tibetan Buddhist religion, as they were in Indian Buddhism - occupying a distinct but overlapping world to the human one, and feature in many traditional legends. They believe that when humans die, after a period of uncertainty they may enter the ghost world. A hungry ghost (Tibetan: yidag, Sanskrit: preta) has a tiny throat and a huge stomach, and so can never be satisfied.
Ghosts may be killed with a ritual dagger or caught in a spirit trap and burnt, thus releasing them to be reborn. Ghosts may also be exorcised. An annual festival is held throughout Tibet for this purpose. As per beliefs, such spirits are usually considered to be perturbed and restless, due to some factor that prevents them from moving on to transmigration, non-being, heaven or hell - depending on tradition. This could be due to a violent death, unsettled matters in their lives, or simply the failure of their survivors to perform proper funerals.
While we Indians believe in ghosts of all types - 'bhoots', 'pretas', 'jinns' - we are not alone. A 2005 Gallup Poll found that 37 per cent of Americans believe in haunted houses, and about one-third believes in ghosts. Tens of thousands of people around the world actively search for ghosts as a hobby. Researchers have counted about 2,000 active amateur ghost-hunting groups in America.
Ghosts have been a popular subject for millennia, appearing in countless stories, from Macbeth to The Bible - and even spawning their own folklore genre: ghost stories. Ghosts are perhaps the most common paranormal belief in the world. Part of the reason is that belief in ghosts is part of a larger web of related paranormal beliefs, including neardeath experience, life after death and spirit communication. The idea that the dead remain with us in spirit is an ancient one, and one that offers many people comfort. Who doesn't want to believe that our beloved but deceased family members aren't looking out for us, or will be with us in our times of need? Most people believe in ghosts because of personal experience; they have seen or sensed some unexplained presence.
However, scientific evidence is another matter. Part of the difficulty in investigating ghosts is that there is not any universally agreed-upon definition of ghosts. Some believe that they are spirits of the dead who, for whatever reason, get 'lost' on their way to 'the other side'; others claim that ghosts are telepathic entities projected into the world from our minds; still others create their own special categories for different types of ghosts - such as 'intelligent spirits', 'residual haunting' and 'shadow people'.
Of course, it is all made up - like speculating on the different races of fairies or dragons. There are as many types of ghosts as you want there to be. There are also many contradictions inherent in our ideas about ghosts. For example, are ghosts 'material' or not? Do they move through solid objects without disturbing them, or do they slam doors shut and throw objects across the room? If ghosts are human souls, why do they appear clothed, and with inanimate objects like hats, canes and dresses - not to mention the many reports of ghost trains, cars and carriages? If ghosts are the spirits of those whose deaths were un-avenged, why are there unsolved murders - since ghosts are said to communicate with psychic mediums and should be able to identify their killers for the police? Just about any claim about ghosts raises logical reasons to doubt it.
In recent years, the study of quantum mechanics has enlightened our understanding, not only on the existence of ghosts, but also the existence of 'parallel worlds'. Modern physicists have helped us explain and understand the ghost apparition phenomena., based on 'quantum chromo dynamics'. The evidence on ghosts is no better today than it was a year ago, a decade ago or a century ago.
There are two possible reasons for the failure of ghost hunters to find 'good' evidence. The first is that ghosts don't exist, and that reports of ghosts can be explained by psychology, misperceptions, mistakes and hoaxes. The second option is that ghosts do exist, but that ghost hunters are simply incompetent.
However, ultimately, ghost hunting is not about the evidence (if it was, the search would have been abandoned long ago). Instead, it's about having fun with friends, telling stories, and the enjoyment of pretending that they are searching the 'edge of the unknown'. Everyone loves a good ghost story!