Ghostly claptrap

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Ghosts are fakeDoes the Large Hadron Collider Actually Disprove Ghosts? That’s the question asked in a recent article posted on Gizmodo. Well, of course it doesn’t. The LHC doesn’t disprove invisible pink unicorns, either. It can’t disprove what doesn’t exist.

No matter how many wingnut websites promise to reunite you with your long lost loved ones (for a fee, of course), ghosts are all in your imagination. Along with goblins,orcs, vampires, werewolves, dragons, angels, fairies, demons, and, yes, invisible pink unicorns. Nothing the LHC does will change that.

Sure, ghosts make for great stories and allegories, add spice to religion and make charlatans rich. As literary figures go, they’re indispensable for whole genres of fiction and generally entertaining in the movies. But in the real world they join Harry Potter and chemtrails as imaginary creatures.

To be fair, the author of the article is using the words of someone else to extend his own thoughts on the stuff of the universe (as I am doing with his words as my own springboard). The actual source goes back to comments made by physicist Brian Cox, speaking on the BBC’s show, The Infinite Monkey Cage (listen here)

What Cox actually said was,

“If we want some sort of pattern that carries information about our living cells to persist then we must specify precisely what medium carries that pattern and how it interacts with the matter particles out of which our bodies are made. We must, in other words, invent an extension to the Standard Model of Particle Physics that has escaped detection at the Large Hadron Collider. That’s almost inconceivable at the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies.”

Cox’s point seems to be that if anything persists after death it would leave an energy trail and the LHC – its sensors being so good at identifying energy signatures – would have spotted it.

But no one is really looking for ghosts with the LHC. Nor should it be used for such frivolous purposes. It wasn’t designed to be used in some fake-reality TV show episode about the afterlife, one of those egregiously silly “ghost hunter” episodes. But if it were, and something was there that had any measurable energy, the LHC would very likely find it.


Large Hadron ColliderSo I agree with Cox’s underlying assumption: if ghosts were real and could interact on some plane with the material world, were some sort of observable manifestation, they would have to obey the laws of physics. And if they do that, they can be detected.

For example, if you can see one, then it must have properties that emit or reflect light. If it feels cold in your presence, it must have properties that reduce molecular motion to make the coolness. If it can move objects, it must have solidity to do so. And so on. Conversely, if they don’t have any physical properties to detect or measure, then they exist only in the mind.

We have cameras that can read licence plates on cars from space, or count ridges on the moon; see galaxies millions and billions of light years away. We have microscopes that can peer down to the atomic level. We have cameras that can capture images in ultraviolet and infrared light. We can measure weights in molecular amounts, and temperature differences in thousandths of a degree. We can measure solutions in the parts per billion. We have audio detectors that can capture sounds in frequencies well outside the human range of hearing in both directions. The LHC can detect the subatomic particles that fly away from the collision of single atoms.

Yet in the past 400 years since telescopes were invented, the 350+ years since microscopes were invented, the 150 years since cameras were invented, and the last 60+ years of steadily improving digital technologies, not one undeniable, incontrovertible, indisputable piece of evidence has emerged for the existence of ghosts. None. All our wonderful, complex technology can’t detect even the suggestion of a ghost, not even the immensely complicated and powerful Large Hadron Collider.

And think too of the changes to our laws of physics and chemistry necessary to accommodate ghosts: the change in stage from solid to some sort of energy-gaseous state that retained some electrical charge and consistency of form, the ability to sometimes vocalize without the physical equipment required to make sounds… our most basic understanding of biology itself would have to be rewritten to explain a continued non-physical consciousness.

But we have to be careful with our logic. Absence of proof isn’t proof of absence. That doesn’t mean there is any possibility they are real – it just means that the logic of those claims is sloppy. We’re still searching for dark matter, which we believe in, but can’t see. We are not, however, searching for invisible pink unicorns because there would be no point in the exercise. Same with ghosts.

Ghosts are part of a common human desire to understand life. To fully understand life, we have to come to grips with death, but most of us don’t want to believe that death is the end of ourselves, of our consciousness. It makes our consumer-driven, 9-to-five short life appear meaningless. It certainly makes suicide bombing a meaningless act. So we invent afterlives, invent heavens and hells, and raise the dead to ghostly half-life to gives us something to look forward to. Even scary ghosts are better than none at all because it gives people hope they may survive their own demise. We bring our saints and deities back from the dead to reinforce that. Some people even believe in zombies because it’s easier than believing that death is final.

It’s all just wishful thinking. Plus a touch of fear and blind faith. A lot like creationism. But a LOT of people believe in them, despite the lack of evidence, as The Atlantic reported:

A Harris poll from last year found that 42 percent of Americans say they believe in ghosts. The percentage is similar in the U.K., where 52 percent of respondents indicated that they believed in ghosts in a recent poll. Though it’s tough to estimate how large the paranormal tourism industry is—tours of sites that are supposedly haunted (rather than staged haunted houses)—there are 10,000 haunted locations in the U.K. according to the country’s tourist board…

Hauntings? More claptrap. The explanation is more prosaic: our inherent suggestibility. Peer pressure just heightens the effect. The author continues:

..if you already believe in ghosts, or are told a place is haunted, you are more likely to interpret events as paranormal. A 2002 study found that believers in ghosts were more likely than non-believers to report unusual phenomena while touring a site in Britain with a reputation for being haunted. Visitors who were told that there was a recent increase in unusual phenomena occurring at the site also reported a higher number of unusual experiences on the tour.
Another study demonstrated that hearing or reading about paranormal narratives, especially when the story came from a credible source, was enough to increase paranormal beliefs among participants. With the abundance of ghost-hunting shows in the U.S. and the UK, like Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures and Most Haunted, which is returning to screens this fall, it’s probably not surprising that studies have also linked belief in ghosts with exposure to paranormal-related TV shows.

Maybe people should hang around with skeptics more often, cure them of this paranormal paranoia (and stop reading the Daily Mail!)

We are wired to make connections and associations, ascribe meaning, make conclusions based on our own life experiences when we hear or see something. But we also fill in the blanks, make something from nothing when we’re not sure of our senses. Like with pareidolia: we turn random shapes, and innocuous objects into images of Jesus, of dead parents, of saints. We also see bunnies and horses in the clouds.

Death is the end. No amount of hoping and praying will change that. Your consciousness winks out. There is no ethereal psychic matter to hold onto it. Your body stops functioning. It’s over.

If you want meaning in your life, find it now, while you’re alive. Make your life meaningful today, because it won’t be after you die.

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