Monday, January 12, 2009

Polls Archive 30 - Do you believe in ghosts?

A direct link to the above video is at

Poll 30 - "Have you ever had an experience which led you to believe in ghosts, or spirits of the departed that carry on after death and somehow have contact with our world?" Poll ended December 30 2008. 43% said yes, while the rest said no.

This poll question relates to poll 28, which asked if visitors to the blog had ever seen a person's "aura". The results for both polls were very similar in terms of percentage for yes and no, although I think it's also noteworthy that a substantially larger number of people responded to this poll question than the other - this seems to confirm that a lot of people have an opinion about what happens to us after death, while less of us have an opinion about auras.

Continuing that idea, here's a link to an article from a recent issue of Scientific American Mind, called "Never Say Die - Why We Can't Imagine Death". In a "Key Concepts" summary, the editors boiled down Jesse Bering's article to these three points:

  • Almost everyone has a tendency to imagine the mind continuing to exist after the death of the body.
  • Even people who believe the mind ceases to exist at death show this type of psychological-continuity reasoning in studies.
  • Rather than being a by-product of religion or an emotional security blanket, such beliefs stem from the very nature of our consciousness.
What does this last point mean? This is quite easy to relate to if you've ever had a general anaesthetic. The surgeon asks us to count down from ten, we make it through a few numbers and then our experience of reality just "stops". Completely unlike the process of sleep, where we are still dimly aware of our surroundings, and able to be roused if need be, the patient on the operating table simply has a hole in their awareness, for them the surgery did not happen until they wake up in the recovery room. In the way of thinking that this project plays with, it's like their awareness was simply folded across the fourth dimension, creating a discontinuity where they simply "jumped" from the moment in spacetime where they were being put under, to the moment in spacetime when they start to come to afterwards. Here's a paragraph from Jesse Bering's article:
Consider the rather startling fact that you will never know you have died. You may feel yourself slipping away, but it isn’t as though there will be a “you” around who is capable of ascertaining that, once all is said and done, it has actually happened. Just to remind you, you need a working cerebral cortex to harbor propositional knowledge of any sort, including the fact that you’ve died—and once you’ve died your brain is about as phenomenally generative as a head of lettuce. In a 2007 article published in the journal Synthese, University of Arizona philosopher Shaun Nichols puts it this way: “When I try to imagine my own non-existence I have to imagine that I perceive or know about my non-existence. No wonder there’s an obstacle!”
The article also talks about the concept of "person permanence" - something that delights babies is the surprise of playing "peekaboo", and young children soon learn that the people around them continue to exist even when they can't be seen. Person permanence, then, also gives us all a deep-seated intuition that some part of a person carries on after death. In this blog I've recommended Douglas Hofstadter's "I Am a Strange Loop" many times, because it offers some clear-headed discussions of the patterns and connections that carry on after a loved one dies.

So: there are many very logical reasons for why any of us can believe that some part of a person's spirit carries on after death, and perhaps a great many more visitors would have said "yes" if my question had been as simple as that. But what I was asking for was more specific than that - it's one thing to intuitively believe that some part of us carries on, and it's quite another to admit to having had a supernatural/paranormal experience which seemed to confirm that idea.

How many of us have heard stories like this one - "I remember the day Grandma died, she appeared at my window and smiled at me. The phone rang a few minutes later telling me she was gone, and all I could say was 'I know'." Anyone who has had an experience like that will tell you they know for sure that there are parts of us that continue on, and all of the above dispassionate discussions about person-permanence and consciousness will not convince them otherwise.

In blog entries like Auras, Ghosts, and Pareidolia, I've talked about how these ideas can be integrated into my way of visualizing reality. Our minds are very sensitive to patterns within the noise, and personally I have no trouble accepting the idea that parts of our consciousness exist within timelessness, connecting us all together across the spacetime of the fourth dimension, the probability space of the fifth dimension, and beyond. To close, here's my song about death and what carries on: "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep".

A direct link to the above video is at

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

Next - a compilation of Polls 26 through 30

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