Recently scientists proclaimed they proved ghosts didn’t exist. They said the brain creates an illusion of spirits when it receives conflicting sensory-motor signals when we are stressed, overly exerted or ill. But while this research may address one sliver of the paranormal activity pie, it’s far from relegating the Other World to the byproduct of addled minds.

The study consisted of 12 blindfolded volunteers who were told to move a handle with their index fingers. When they did so, another mechanical arm located behind them touched their back (either as they moved the handle or 500 milliseconds after). This led subjects to say “a finger” touched their back and some had the sensation that they were being watched. When the touch on the back was slightly delayed, some saw the outline of two to four specters. Researchers concluded that when the mind momentarily loses track of the body’s location, such as the study did or due to illness, exertion or stress, people may have a “paranormal” experience.

This experiment “confirms that it [foreign presences] is caused by an altered perception of their own bodies in the brain,” stated study researcher Olaf Blanke, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lousanne in Switzerland.

Two aspects of this research concern me: the small study size of 12 participants and that they were blindfolded, a type of sensory deprivation, that doesn’t correlate to real life.

What this study really proves

If you are suffering from mental illness, a neurological malady, extreme physical or emotional pain, you’ll be more likely to feel you are being watched or to see a shadow person.

Can some of my eerie encounters be explained by this study? Perhaps.

As one who suffered for 18 years from postviral neurasthenia, I pondered the paranormal experiences I’d had while sick. I did have several months of almost nightly visits from a shadow person. However, my disease at that point was not nearly as severe as it had been years before when I hadn’t had any such experiences. But, I’m willing to consider the disease could’ve manifested that specter.

This research does not address most paranormal encounters

Scientists (see Olaf’s quote earlier in this post) and the media made this study’s conclusion a blanket declaration denying the existence of all ghosts, yet their rationale doesn’t explain many phenomena.

  • Shared experiences. I doubt multiple people would suffer from identical brain confusion when they simultaneously and together encounter ghostly activity. Nor does the study explain how someone can observe an eerie occurrence and then later receive validation from another who faced the same activity at the same location. In A Reluctant Spirit, I write about encounters my mother and I separately experienced in a duplex where we’d lived decades before, but never talked to each other about it until many years later.
  • Physical phenomena can occur such as electronics turning on and off, footsteps tromping up stairs, physical objects being manipulated (“Edelweiss”), or even pans being clanked or glass being shattered (“Breaking the Silence at the Mizpah”).
  • Sensory phenomena. Witnessing visual oddities such as light-generating orbs (“Inside Moon”), seeing a fully-realized apparition, smelling a fragrance, being touched, feeling sudden bursts of overwhelming emotion (when you’re not hormonally challenged) are other wide-ranging ways of sensing spirits.

 Let’s not berate scientists for trying

While some positive studies have been conducted regarding Consciousness Survival (the continuation of our souls beyond physical death), such as The Phillip Experiments and the Afterlife Experiments, there’s a lack of impartial scientific research of paranormal activity.

Why haven’t researchers gone into some of the world’s most haunted buildings—ones where there are consistent patterns of eerie occurrences—and studied those?

Despite its shortcomings, this study gives us an important point to consider: We need to be aware of our mental/physical states when we have Other Worldly encounters and evaluate if our health may explain those.