Although ghosts and apparitions have been reported for thousands of years, surprisingly little information is available with regard to their nature or essence. Ghosts are an elusive and unpredictable, and the ways in which they manifest are surprisingly diverse. Contrary to popular belief, most ghostly encounters are not visual, but rather consist of noises, smells, sensations, voices, cold spots, electrical disturbances such as lights switching off or on, and displacement or movement of objects. Much of the available data is anecdotal and is therefore prone to exaggeration, embellishment, and sometimes outright deceit.
Although studies suggest that approximately 1 in 10 of us has the ability to perceive ghosts, those of us who are actively looking for them are apparently the least likely to have a ghostly experience. Children seem more apt to experience manifestations, suggesting that adults develop some kind of blocking mechanism as they mature. Women seem more attuned than men, and it appears that the higher your IQ, the less likely you are to experience ghostly phenomena.
So where does this leave us? Below are five interesting theories to consider regarding the basics of ghostly manifestations......
Ghosts are the earthbound souls of the deceased.
This is the most common interpretation when confronted with a visible apparition, and it certainly does fit many hauntings where the apparition is more or less recognizable as someone who is deceased. For most of us, this theory is also comforting, as it hints at a life after the physical body is gone.
One common example of this type of manifestation is when an individual suddenly becomes aware of the death of a loved one through one or more senses. This type of occurrence is often visual, but may just be a sudden "feeling" as if relayed telepathically, or may even come in the form of a vivid dream. Typically, this type of manifestation relays important information to the observer.
We know from science that everything is composed of energy. Our thoughts, feelings, sensations, experiences, and indeed our very souls are all forms of energy. The theory is that when the physical body dies, this energy continues on in some form and can be tapped by living persons sensitive enough to perceive it. Animals seem to be quite sensitive to this type of energy, and many very reliable reports of them avoiding certain rooms, chasing unseen prey, or sitting contently as if being stroked and petted have been recorded throughout history - another indication that this type of phenomena is quite interactive.
Events are somehow recorded in certain surroundings to be replayed
over and over to living people sensitive enough to discern them.
This theory accounts for a lot of our ghost legends and is likely the source for virtually all hauntings that repeat again and again, such as the many "lady in white" sightings and ghostly battle reenactments. These apparitions are often visual, but sounds and smells are common too. The catalyst that starts the recording is usually very emotional or violent, such as a war or a mother losing a child. These apparitions never interact with the observer or acknowledge the presence of the observer in any way. They are reported as walking through walls or just disappearing into thin air, and they do not appear to be conducive to photography, though EVP recordings are occasionally successful.
Although most concur that these types of apparitions do appear to be "recorded" somehow in the surroundings, there is disagreement on how exactly we as observers perceive these recordings. One side postulates that it is something within the observer that sets the recording in motion, and that the recording thus "plays inside our heads." The other side postulates that the recording is being played externally for all to see, but that only those with the right "antenna" can experience it.
Thus, as frightening as this type of manifestation may be, the apparition is not a thinking entity, nor does it have a will or a purpose, and it is no more of a threat to the observer than watching a character on a television show.
Apparitions are created from some type of naturally-occurring
electrical, magnetic, or electromagnetic condition.
Many serious paranormal researchers believe that measurable properties such as electricity or magnetism play a part in why we experience ghostly encounters. Equipment for detecting anomalies in atmospheric, electrical, and magnetic conditions for the purposes of detecting paranormal activity is big business these days.
Many different variations on this theme have been postulated through time, likely originating with the "feelings" reported by observers in the vicinity of paranormal phenomena. Feelings of "magnetism" are often reported, as are sensations that the hair is "standing on end," a common occurrence around fields of high electricity. Temperature fluctuations have become the litmus test for detecting activity, as have vague feelings of the area being "energized" by some unknown process.
Many different theories regarding how naturally-occurring elements may interact to allow for paranormal phenomena have been offered, and include exotic theories ranging from energy emitted from earth ley lines, natural geologic fault lines creating bursts of energy, or some kind of natural vibration or earth harmonic.
One of the few things we do know for sure is that paranormal phenomena is more likely to be experienced at night, and sure enough, there is an scientific explanation for why this may be. In short, the earth is covered by a fluctuating membrane we all know as the atmosphere, which is constantly being bombarded by a strong solar wind from the sun. During the day, this membrane is at its thinnest and densest because it is being directly hit by the solar wind. However, at night, when sheltered from the sun, it expands much farther into space and has much less resistance (see illustration below). This explains why television and radio stations come in better at night, and why you can tune into stations much farther away than is possible during the day.
Therefore, the reason we see more paranormal activity at night is because there is much less resistance to every kind of magnetic and electrical current or force, making it easier for energy-based manifestations to appear. Indeed, the best time to go on ghost hunts is widely believed to be between 9 pm and 3 am, with midnight being optimal. For these same reasons, since ancient times, total eclipses of the sun have been the source of many legends and tales of paranormal occurrences.
Anyone who has ever gone on a ghost hunt has likely realized before too long that ghosts can be annoyingly camera shy, and the explanation for this may very well be related to the above discussion of electricity and magnetism. It stands to reason that if paranormal occurrences are energy-based, the arrival on the scene of man-made energy-based devices may put a kink in the environment needed for the apparition to appear. Even a battery-operated digital camera, voice recorder, or flashlight may put out enough energy to disrupt the natural energy of an area, to the chagrin of ghost hunters everywhere. This might explain why as a whole we are remarkably unsuccessful at capturing verifiable ghosts on film.
Ghosts are actual beings living in one or more parallel dimensions.
The concept of a parallel universe is a fairly complex one. To put it simply, this theory suggests that there are one or more (perhaps an infinite number) of complete universes co-existing with us on a plane we are generally not aware of. Picture a lot of soap bubbles all floating around in a room. Each soap bubble contains an entire unique universe, and though there are hundreds of bubbles in the air, each is independent of all the others. Occasionally, two bubbles will collide and stick together, creating a passageway between the two universes.
Any type of spectral appearance, sight, sound, or anomaly can fit into the theory of parallel dimensions. Thus, when we see an apparition, especially one seemingly from another time and place, it could be that we getting a rare glimpse into another dimension or reality and we are seeing events develop in that plane of existence.
Interestingly, it is also theorized that each of us even have parallel selves living on different planes in different stages of development and that we may be aware of them at times on a subconscious level. Obviously, this theory is just that - a theory - but it is a particularly tantalizing one, and hopefully we we progress technologically, more scientific light will be shed on this topic. For more information in this same vein, please see Other Dimensions.
Ghosts exist only as figments of our imaginations.
This theory can be made to apply to every kind of paranormal manifestation there is, and in some cases, it is probably at least in part correct. Medical studies have proven that when certain parts of the brain are stimulated, various perceptions are disturbed, such as visual, auditory, and tactile functions. Various external stimuli such as very low frequency sound waves and high fields of electricity can cause hallucinatory experiences that for the subject are indistinguishable from reality.
Indeed, schizophrenics often relate seeing, hearing, and even talking to very real entities that nobody else can see or hear, but medical science thus far has not found the cause for this. Are they really seeing things that nobody else can see or hear? The consensus seems to be no - it is "all in their heads" due to an unknown short circuit in the make-up of their brains, but nobody really knows for sure. Further study in this particular type of mental disorder may eventually shed light on some areas of the paranormal. However, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered by this theory, such as when more than one person sees the same phenomena. Skeptics use the term "mass hysteria" for situations like this, but nobody has offered an explanation for the core catalyst causing many brains to suddenly go haywire.
Obviously, this theory needs a lot of work, but it will probably be among the first to be proven or disproven by science. Time will tell....