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Ghostly science

There’s a fascinating article in the current New Scientist magazine about research on the physical and psychological phenomena that may be behind sensations of haunting.

Apparently a former member of the Most Haunted crew, parapsychologist Ciaran O’Keeffe, wants to build an immersive video game that will test people’s responses to various scary scenarios, in order to find out what scares us most, and when, and why. There’s also research being done on the effects infrasound – sound below the normal level of human hearing – and electro-magnetic fields can have on human senses, and in particular the feeling of not being alone.

Needless to say, some of the results are pretty underwhelming – sensitive people are more likely to be scared by spooky situations, as are people who already believe in ghosts. But there are new and interesting lines of enquiry springing up, such as the role of synaesthesia – the ability to use more than one sense at once – and the phenomenon of sensitisation of different areas of the body at once, which may lead to a feeling of being touched.

I found all this really interesting. It’s always good to see research putting a rational, scientific spin on previously inexplicable events. However, the one thing that saddened me was the lack of any possibility whatsoever that some of these paranormal events are just that – paranormal. In my case none of the arguments put forward in the article help to explain things I myself have experienced. Yes, that could just be because we don’t yet understand the science behind them. But it could also be because they were real. Surely we need to research this whole subject from both directions – one, that it can all be explained by science, and two, that it can’t. And wouldn’t it be exciting if we could find proof of the latter, as well as running after the former?

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