Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever encountered one?

personin ghost costume holding a lantern
Photo by Monstera on

You can tell we’re getting near the end of this particular project, week 42 of 52, since the questions are getting a bit more esoteric. When the question comes through, it’s getting more regular that I need to change it out for a variety of reasons and then, looking through their possible questions, we’re starting to see lots of repeats and variations on a theme.

I’m not sure how many more “what’s your favorite X” I’ve got in me.

This week’s question, though, is a weird little departure from the regular mundanity of who was your favorite second cousin twice removed, which makes it a bit fun.

So, now, let’s talk about ghosts.

Thing is, talking about ghosts leads to a much larger discussion, doesn’t it? I mean, sure, the short answer is “no, not really.” I’m a bit skeptical* about all of the supernatural stuff so no, I don’t believe in ghosts. Which then obviously answers the second part of the question, which is to say I’ve never encountered one, either.

That said, though, I’d like to. I’d like to be a believer in ghosts and telekinetic powers and all of those wild and crazy things. I wish that superheroes were true (although that would also indicate the presence of supervillains and that could be a bit problematic) and we had a chance to read people’s thoughts and do magic for real.

My problem is I am a skeptic. I’m very much a “see it to believe it” kind of guy. Or at least, if it can’t be seen, have a reasonable and plausible explanation for the event. I have a very hard time taking things on faith**. Alfred Bester, one of my favorite writers, has a story called “Oddy and Id” (also called “The Devil’s Invention”) about a character who is “good luck prone” (the opposite of “accident prone”) and so,  when seemingly wild things happen in his favor, while it could be chalked up to some sort of mystical intervention, Bester instead creates a Rube Goldbergstyle series of machinations to explain the mystery as a plausible, if highly unlikely, set of random circumstances. I’m good with this thought process.

Same goes for aliens from outer space. I think the Drake Equation works pretty well here, understanding the huge numbers of stars and the vastness of space, it’s more likely there are other sufficiently advanced life forms out there than that there are not. Of course, if one of those life forms visited Earth through an advanced form of matter projection which then appeared translucent or insubstantial to us here, they might be perceived as a ghost, in which case I would have to revise my previous statement of non-belief.

But that wouldn’t really be a ghost, would it? At least not in the conventional, horror movie sense. By the same token, if we change the definition of the word itself, so that ghost doesn’t refer to an intangible manifestation of a spirit from a dead person, but instead is a more metaphorical construct, then I might again have to revise my earlier statement.

If a “ghost” in that sense is the feeling or presence of one who is no longer (or even not currently) with us, then, yes, I have seen a ghost. If that’s our definition, then it’s a commonplace occurrence. I mean, how often do we look at something around us and think, “oh wow, x would have loved to have seen that?” Or that there’s an item in a shop and your first instinct is to buy it for x, who has passed from existence (or just from our lives – it happens), then those people who are missing, who are creating gaps in our lives, could they then be said to be ghosts?

If that’s the case, then I’ve seen far too many ghosts. One of the hazards of living abroad, in a non-English speaking country, is it gets hard to make friends. To be honest, it gets harder to make friends as an adult no matter where you are, but it’s particularly harder in this case. And so I tend to miss my friends from my past rather acutely, when it’s hard to have heart to heart conversations with people I trust for a variety of reasons, but the most common is we can’t just go for a cup of coffee, away from our common environments, where we can look at each other and chat. Instead, we’re able to share fleeting moments, a couple of lines of dialogue back and forth about nothing significant but enough to let the other know we’re still alive, in whatever form that’s taking these days.

I suppose that these are my ghosts, and if that’s the case, I do believe because I see the gaps they leave everywhere.

*which reminds of the great quote attributed to Arthur C. Clarke, that goes, “I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.”

**not talking about religion here, although that fits.

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