Ghosts aren't real, physicist says -- to Americans' dismay


Oct 27, 2006

Physicist uses math to disprove Americans' faith in the supernatural.


WASHINGTON - It may be the season for vampires, ghosts and zombies. Just remember, they're not real, warns physicist Costas Efthimiou.

Obviously, you might say.

But Efthimiou, a professor at the University of Central Florida, points to surveys that show American gullibility for the supernatural.

Using science and math, Efthimiou explains why ghosts can't walk among us while gliding through walls, like Patrick Swayze in Ghost. That violates Newton's law of action and reaction. If ghosts walk, their feet apply force to the floor, but if they go through walls they are without substance, the professor says.

''So which is it? Are ghosts material or material-less?'' he asks.

Zombies and vampires fare even worse under Efthimiou's skeptical microscope.

Efthimiou looked at the most prominent child-turned-zombie case that zombie aficionados cite: the 1989 case of a Haitian 17-year-old who was declared dead and then rose from the grave a day after the funeral and was considered a zombie.

The boy, who never died but was paralyzed and could not communicate, had been poisoned with toxins from a relative of the deadly Japanese puffer fish, later research showed.

Efthimiou takes out the calculator to prove that if a vampire sucked one person's blood each month -- turning each victim into an equally hungry vampire -- after a couple of years there would be no people left, just vampires. He started his calculations with just one vampire and 537 million humans on Jan. 1, 1600 and shows that the human population would be down to zero by July 1602.

Take that Casper, Dracula and creepy friends.

All this may seem obvious, but to Efthimiou and other scientists, the public often isn't as skeptical as you might think. Efthimiou points to National Science Foundation reports showing widespread belief in pseudosciences -- such as vampires, astrology and ESP.

More than one in three Americans believe houses can be haunted, a 2005 Gallup poll showed. More than 20 percent believe in witches and think that people can communicate with the dead.