A Ghost Story Even I Can Believe

Sep 12, 2014

By Herb Silverman


Many stories describe supernatural events that turn skeptics into believers. This is not one of those stories. I have not had a “road to Damascus” experience, though my worldview did change a little after hearing about ghosts from Will Moredock, a professional tour guide in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.

Full disclosure: I interviewed Will for this article shortly after Will interviewed me for a piece in the Charleston City Paper about our local secular humanist group and our billboard, 20 Godless Years in the Holy City!

Will is a member of the Unitarian Church, a secular humanist, and a Charleston guide for Ghost and Graveyard Walking Tours. Ghosts, like fine restaurants and antebellum houses, are among the many attractions in this historic city, but I thought that Charleston ghosts, as in the film Ghostbusters, were only created for laughs and commercial success. (Coincidentally, Ghostbusters star Bill Murray lives near Charleston.)

I was surprised to hear that almost all who take ghost tours believe in ghosts. Many claim to have seen, or at least experienced, ghosts. An even more shocking report from Will is that lots of his fellow tour guides, perhaps even most, believe in such spirits.

59 comments on “A Ghost Story Even I Can Believe

  • 2
    Bob Springsteen says:

    Mr DArcy, When the former Manchester United star George Best was dying due to liver failure a reporter asked him why he had no money left. The great man replied: “I spent it all on whiskey and beautiful women………………………I squanderd the rest.”

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  • I wonder how this ghost business is supposed to work. What’s in it for the ghost, when they’re not out there haunting? Could be a boring existence…..just waiting around, anxious to be called up to speak at a seance. Do they fraternise with other ghosts. Are there any pleasurable experiences in their lives/non-lives? Why is it that they seem so feeble and yet have the ability to make doors slam and move furniture, but not hold a pen to write? So many questions with potentially interesting answers and yet we’re fobbed off with the ‘it’s a mystery response’.

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  • make doors slam…

    Poltergeists, the little devils, don’t you hate when that happens?

    pleasurable experiences

    ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’; listen, eight bells!

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  • “I especially wondered if belief in local ghosts doesn’t upset those who believe in only one ghost, the third part of the Trinity.”

    Herb Silverman is also very funny, in addition to his mathematical skills:

    ”I wondered how Will might respond if asked about the 3 = 1 God, and, predictably, Will replied, “It’s a mystery.”

    But Will is no less psychologically skilled.

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  • 6
    Patricia says:

    Is this the extent of the article? I thought there would be some accounting of someone’s “encounter” with spirits. But the point of the few above paragraphs are that people actually believe in ghost stories? Didn’t we all know that? What am I missing?

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  • Follow the source “FAITH STREET” link to the full article. My favorite paragraph there is:

    “Charleston ghost stories are usually associated with people who suffered violent deaths and then ‘return’ to fulfill a mission or take revenge. I asked Will how many ghosts are of black people, since revenge for enslavement and lynching might be in order. Will shook his head and said most South Carolina ghosts were once wealthy plantation owners, undoubtedly with large slaveholdings. Just as slaves had been invisible in life, their ghosts are invisible in tales.”

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  • As a lifelong humanist and atheist, I have always enjoyed ghost tours, whether in metropolises like London or in Austin, Texas where I lived until recently. Just as there are supposed to be no atheists in foxholes, there are hardly any tour participants who don’t sometimes feel a shiver when tracing the footsteps of Jack the Ripper or the Austin Servant Girl Annihilator. The right combination of darkness, solitude, quiet and surroundings ring some obscure chimes in our consciousness: perhaps some combination of folklore hardened into Jungian archetypes and hard-wiring of the ancient parts of our brains. I heartily recommend such tours – you won’t go away believing in ghosts, but you will have a good time!

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  • The infamous Laveau house in New Orleans is supposedly full of the gruesome, vengeful spirits of the numerous African slaves Marie Laveau tortured and murdered. There’s another famous house in Illinois where the original owner supposedly captured escaped slaves and either sold them back down the river or pressed them into indentured servitude in his salt works. And then there’s the famous Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana, where a slave poisoned the wife and children of the plantation owner and was hanged for it. The ghosts of the slave, the wife, and the two kids are apparently making good money for the current owners of the place, who run it as an inn.

    I learned all this when I visited New Orleans and its surrounding swampy environs years ago, and of course, back before I got rid of our TV, these “hauntings” were well-publicized on nearly every damn channel.

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  • It would be interesting to see some studies on why people enjoy being vicariously frightened, and why we enjoy the sensation of “eeriness” as long as we’re not in any actual danger. I personally think that, back in the day, scary tales were used to keep people in line, and I think that probably when humans faced real danger, the physical basis for consciousness was not understood as it is today, and death was a mysterious state, people got much less enjoyment out of scary ghost stories – or they used tales of life after death to allay their fears of death.

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  • I used to enjoy watching a couple of BBC ghost programs because they usually included fantastic footage of interesting sites and history, which I like. I get to see places I wouldn’t otherwise, and, while the ghost stuff is just stupid, it does give one a sense of the depth of history in some of these places.

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  • My sister loves TV shows and movies about the “supernatural”. She also likes to talk about all the supposedly spooky stuff that happened to us as kids and young adults. There were some incidents that seemed freaky and unexplainable at the time, but with perspective and knowledge, I can now see how they could have been completely natural non-events, just misperceptions and paredolia. But I have to admit it is fun to hash over all that stuff and laugh about it.

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  • I was reliably (?) informed by Stephen Fry on an episode of QI that only in the US are house prices actually adversely affected by reports of hauntings. (I think the implied contrast was with other first world countries.)

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  • Where is the “Faith Street” link? I don’t see it.

    Update – I found the Faith Street link. Why not embed it in the short paragraph?

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  • Tell that to the owners of hotels, inns, and B&Bs here in the states. The more “haunted” one of these establishments is reputed to be, the more popular it is and the more money they make. And I believe that someone, somewhere, is still raking in a few bucks from the Amityville Horror schlock. The only downside to the notoriety of a “haunting” is in the hordes of ghost hunters, psychics, mediums, and tourists that swamp the homeowner after he/she goes public. And you have to wonder about that, too. Why embarrass yourself by claiming that you’ve been terrorized by ghosts? I get the feeling that these people either lead pretty mundane lives and see an opportunity for a moment of fame, or they’re trying to find a way to recoup financially on a foreclosure. Either way, I don’t think it’s true anymore that a report of ghosts will negatively impact the sale of a house.

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  • Hi, not sure if this is the place to ask this question, sorry if its not. I am curious why nobody ever talks about Alfred Russell Wallace these days. How do scientists see his work? Is it true, ( according to wiki) that he became some kind of theosophist later in his life? be curious what people think of him and his work. thanks.

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  • there’s nothing empirical to suggest the presence of entities of any kind or a supernatural realm. I was born an atheist and likely die as one. But I will not ignore empirical evidence of anything, if such evidence presents itself in a peer reviewed milieu then I will accept it.

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  • 22
    Katy Cordeth says:

    Tourists often take pictures of our churches and graveyards. If you can see this resident ghost at St. Philips, then your eyes must be more supernatural than mine.

    No, but I do have an excellent pair of spooktacles.


    I can see the ghost in the picture just fine. I’m a sucker for images like these, even if I know they’re either deliberate fakes or else a bit of camera film has been recycled and resold without being properly wiped and when you get your holiday photos back from Snappy Snaps find an ethereal half-presence peering over your shoulder as you smile to camera. Freakin’ scary.

    I love movies having to do with the supernatural too, although anything purportedly based on a true story (with the possible exception of The Blair Witch Project and a couple others) tends to be a big snooze. I forked out for a copy of something called The Conjuring a while ago because it had a spooky, manifestly evil doll on the cover, only to find out later that it was ‘based on a true story’ and even worse was about those two Amityville fakey fakes Ed and Lorraine Warren. Pass. Even if it does have a rating of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes.

    The first time I saw Ringu I did so alone. Mistake. When the little girl ghost (little girl ghosts are the scariest of all ghosts) makes her celebrated entrance in the most frightening use of a television set in a film since Poltergeist, I jumped about a foot in the air then paused the tape before running round the house switching on every light in the building.

    That movie seriously affected me and still does, yet I don’t believe in ghosts for a second. So what the heck is going on? Good question, Kate. Ghost stories, in whatever form they take, speak to a primal part of ourselves: the non-rational, amygdala-regulated id bit of our psyche which isn’t interested in logic and the knowledge that the existence of ghosts is almost certainly precluded by scientific knowledge dating back to Newton’s day. It doesn’t want to hear it, because several hundred thousand years of evolution geared to keeping it and its antecedents from becoming Smilodon lunch or succumbing to spider bite are informing it that it’s in danger, and Sir Isaac can stay if he likes but we’re getting out of here thank you very much.

    This is why when we see the hand shoot out of the grave at the end of Carrie or learn the fate of Norman Bates’ mother, our body gives us a shot of adrenaline (at least it does if we’re involved in the movie experience). We’re being prepped for takeoff.

    Our id monster becomes more of a presence when we find ourselves sans illumination, which is why when Sadako did her telly bit my response was to race around and turn on all the lights. A distant ancestor would have grabbed a burning branch from the fire and waved it defiantly into the darkness, then kept vigil till morning—did I mention I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night?

    This surely must have been how the telling of scary stories originated. Spook your audience, even if that audience consists only of yourself, and they are more likely to remain awake and on the qui vive. Real danger wouldn’t have been ever-present; some nights the Smilodon, having captured and eaten Ug the Slow earlier that day, would have been fast asleep digesting him. You couldn’t guarantee that Diego didn’t fancy seconds though, hence the need to behave as though danger were a constant. Saying “Watch for tiger,” every five minutes would quickly have become repetitive to our big caveman brains so we got creative and the story form was born. If that is how it happened, it would make horror the first literary genre. I always imagined it was medical thrillers.

    Many here will have had the experience as children of sitting round a campfire telling each other stories, sometimes about ghosts although not always. Gross-out narratives and real-life “I swear this is true because it happened to the sister of a friend of my mom’s” accounts of escaped hook-handed mental patients (why they let him keep a razor sharp hook when he was locked up in a lunatic asylum…) are more the norm, or they were in my day. Modern younglings will probably be too busy on Myspace or Yahoo! 360° if their parents force them to go to sleepaway camp at all (Ooh, Sleepaway Camp, that was a good ‘un, predating the The Crying Game twist by a decade) to continue this tradition. Which if true is a shame as it can be a mystical, almost magical thing, one that can only usually be recreated in adulthood by the liberal ingestion of any of several hallucinogenic fungi.

    Say no to shrooms, kids; psilocybin is for saps. Leave your WinPads and Zunes at home and take along a copy of anything by M. R. James, or just the Bumper Book of Urban Legends, if you go to camp. You’ll be connecting with your distant ancestors down through the mists of time. Just be on the lookout out for saber-tooth kitty cats.

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  • Josh Sep 13, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    Hi, not sure if this is the place to ask this question, sorry if its not. I am curious why nobody ever talks about Alfred Russell Wallace these days. How do scientists see his work?

    Wallace was a fellow explorer and field biologist who was in correspondence with Darwin and the co-founder of the Theory of Evolution, after their joint papers on the subject were presented to the “Royal Society”.
    Darwin was more widely recognised, because he was recognised by the elite as a leading scientist, and had years of prepared notes included in his published works.
    More recently, Wallace has been recognised for the substantial contribution he made to the subject.

    Is it true, ( according to wiki) that he became some kind of theosophist later in his life? be curious what people think of him and his work. thanks.


    In 1864, Wallace published a paper, “The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced from the Theory of ‘Natural Selection'”, applying the theory to humankind. Darwin had not yet publicly addressed the subject, although Thomas Huxley had in Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature. He explained the apparent stability of the human stock by pointing to the vast gap in cranial capacities between humans and the great apes. Unlike some other Darwinists, including Darwin himself, he did not “regard modern primitives as almost filling the gap between man and ape”. He saw the evolution of humans in two stages: achieving a bipedal posture freeing the hands to carry out the dictates of the brain, and the “recognition of the human brain as a totally new factor in the history of life. Wallace was apparently the first evolutionist to recognize clearly that … with the emergence of that bodily specialization which constitutes the human brain, bodily specialization itself might be said to be outmoded.”[99] For this paper he won Darwin’s praise.

    Shortly afterwards, Wallace became a spiritualist. At about the same time, he began to maintain that natural selection cannot account for mathematical, artistic, or musical genius, as well as metaphysical musings, and wit and humour. He eventually said that something in “the unseen universe of Spirit” had interceded at least three times in history. The first was the creation of life from inorganic matter. The second was the introduction of consciousness in the higher animals. And the third was the generation of the higher mental faculties in humankind. He also believed that the raison d’être of the universe was the development of the human spirit.[100] These views greatly disturbed Darwin, who argued that spiritual appeals were not necessary and that sexual selection could easily explain apparently non-adaptive mental phenomena.

    The concepts of evolution and natural selection, were in their very basic early stages in 1864, so it is not very surprising that some people fleshed out unknown details with conventional theological gap-fillers, while other establishment figures were aggressively in denial of the whole concept of unguided natural processes.

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  • Nice. But this made me sad. My spooky scare button is missing. It pretty much became inoperative by my early twenties. Its not that I didn’t get spooked, just not by spooks. Spook stuff had to be really really classy and minimal if it were to work at all. MR James still cuts it, but he was savvy about psychology. (His equally brilliant psychologist brother, William, possibly told him where the best buttons were).

    “Whistle and I’ll come to you” (1968) is on youtube in full. (Posting links here is a great bore now.)

    For me the scary stuff was precisely the stuff of minds. “Repulsion” (1965) is the exemplar.

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  • This was the start of a rot for me. Brilliant film making, just brilliant, but that little less content, that little less worthy than Repulsion and more simply for itself.

    At school aged twelve, shivering and miserable on the school playing fields, I teamed up with Clive Barker in solidarity against the dullness we had found ourslves in. We shared a common interest in science fiction and fantasy, movies and the like and though we started out making little animation films we soon roped in others into making plays, performed at school. Tthrough school and university it morphed into a London based and occasional travelling company performing original pieces written mostly by Clive. We even made a couple of movies. The point is these were interesting and ambitious and had content. Clive, then, discovered the commercial button (connected as it turned out mostly into the heads of American teens) and took things in the direction you see of him now. I can’t blame him. He lives in Beverly Hills.

    But I always regret that horror like porn can be cheapened so and still sell. There is no residuum of innate interest in supernatural horror. And I recall the plans and the plots we discussed in my parents dining room, trees silenty swirling behind the doube glazing in the gale, counterpointed by the ravishing sweep of Delius inside; the nameless, in-between places art could go, where senses run out and things get scary-sublime. When last we met several years ago, in Liverpool where we started, we met also in aesthetic and intellectual agreement, at least, over Miyazaki which was sweet for us both.

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  • The blithering rubbish some people will spout just to get invited to dinner. The upper social classes loved to entertain with all manner of bogey stories and unlikely cobblers. The classic is The Brown Lady of Raynham who grinned diabolically at one Capt. Marryat RN who responded by firing a pistol at her. Allegedly witnessed by 2 accomplices. In some versions he was a captain of marines (not for nowt are they oft called the fighting bull-shitters) Marryat was also a writer and a friend of Charles Dickens who made a good living from writing dreadful stories. I’ve slept in a room supposedly haunted by a Black Lady At Ettington Park. Rarely slept better in a lousy hotel bed and the lady stood me up. No such things as spooks just the hyper-developed agency attribution in human cognition.

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  • 31
    Eddie J says:

    Denis Law on George Best: “On Monday it was Miss UK, on Tuesday it was Miss Europe, on Wednesday it was Miss World, on Thursday it was Miss Training.”

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  • In my 30s, I saw what can only be described as “apparitions” in daylight which I cannot explain while visiting my parents in the Philippines. I saw an arm severed at the elbow come flying towards me one day while I was reading (not a ghost story) in my bedroom one afternoon. I even got off the bed to look under it for the arm because I could not believe what I saw. On another occasion, I went into my room to see a mad dressed in black wearing a wide brimmed hat (like old missionary fotos) looking out the window. I said to him “who are you?”. He turned, looked at me and then started to walk towards me. In terror, I ran out the room and shut the door, screaming for my parents. The whole household turned out and the security guard was called. But no one was in the room when the guard opened the door. To this day, I can still remember seeing the weave of the man’s cassock even though I know it was not real. I ‘m an atheist and I don’t believe in ghosts, and I know what I saw must have been conjured up in my mind. But it seemed so real.

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  • 34
    Katy Cordeth says:

    In reply to Phil Rimmer.

    “Whistle and I’ll come to you” (1968) is on youtube in full.

    Best watched on Christmas Eve that one. Kudos to Michael Hordern and Jonathan Miller for coming closest to capturing on film what an actual nightmare feels like. When Hordern sucks his thumb… The adaptation of Charles Dickens’ The Signalman, starring Denholm Elliot, is also pretty good.

    Straying away from ghosts a bit but still on the subject of bad dreams, there’s an episode—and Red Dog will know instantly what I’m talking about if he reads this—of Buffy, regarded by many as the best in that series, in which a bunch of demons known as the Gentlemen come to Sunnydale and steal everyone’s voice. The town is quarantined and the residents go about their mute business as best they can. The demons are there to harvest people’s hearts and in one seriously scary scene they knock on a college student’s dorm room door, he opens it and the Gentlemen’s lurching minions wrestle him back onto his bed while a Gentleman produces a scalpel and begins cutting into the silently screaming unfortunate’s breast (I’ll include the Youtube link at the bottom of this comment if I can find it—you’re right, hyperlinks now are a major fag).

    Now, I’ll go out on a limb here and say we have all had a dream like this, every human on the planet, in which we’re paralyzed and unable to call out no matter how much we try. This is the basis for legends of succubi/incubi going back hundreds of years. Even today, people who believe they have been abducted by aliens almost always describe the sensation of not being able to move or cry for help. There’s a famous 1781 oil paining by Henry Fuseli called The Nightmare in which this very phenomenon is represented.

    I think this sort of sleep paralysis is an evolutionary thing, so our tree-dwelling progenitors on having a scary dream wouldn’t leap up and fall hundreds of feet to their death, or shout out and draw the attention of any predators within earshot.

    For me the scary stuff was precisely the stuff of minds. “Repulsion” (1965) is the exemplar.

    When it comes to psychological ghost stories, for me it has to be The Innocents, based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw, and The Haunting, an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which has one of the best opening paragraphs ever:

    “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” would crawl away in shame after reading that.

    Both of these are examples of ghost stories in which it’s never made explicit whether the specters are real or figments of the protagonists’ imagination. The 1999 ‘Haunting’ remake screwed the pooch completely by making it abundantly clear the house was possessed, courtesy of some crappy CGI. Modern Hollywood does sometimes get this sort of stuff right: Nicole Kidman’s The Others, a movie in the tradition of writers like Montague James, is pretty good…

    Pre-posting edit, I’ve just googled it and it’s actually a Spanish film. Spain has some pretty good ghost story movies, along with Japan and South Korea. Modern Hollywood is universally sucky when it comes to celluloid spookery then. It’s a mystery to me why Kubrick’s The Shining is so well regarded; it’s terrible. Tinsel land’s previous best effort was probably The Changeling starring George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere. Since then, if a ghost isn’t hundreds of feet tall and made out of marshmallow, or dueling a kohl-eyed Johnny Depp, or imitating a much scarier Japanese wraith, mainstream Hollywood isn’t interested.

    At school aged twelve, shivering and miserable on the school playing fields, I teamed up with Clive Barker in solidarity against the dullness we had found ourselves in…

    Shut the front door, you were at school with Clive Barker and made movies with him?! Just…wow. Color me very impressed. I find his longer fiction a bit ponderous—Weaveworld took me forever to get through—but I love the Books of Blood. One Liverpool-based horror writer I’ve never really read is Ramsey Campbell, although I’ve heard he’s good. When horror fan extraordinaire and Sherlock/Doctor Who writer (no way would that solid gold arrow have gone more than a few feet into the air before falling back to earth) Mark Gatiss, who in an earlier incarnation was also a member of a group of Gentlemen now that I think about it, appeared on a Yuletide edition of Robin Ince and Brian Cox’s The Infininte Monkey Cage, he mentioned a short story of Campbell’s in which an unemployed man on Christmas Eve encounters a very fed up Father Christmas and agrees to take on his responsibilities, only for ‘Santa’ to reveal itself as a shriveled homunculus that had been imprisoned in the role for centuries. It runs away, gleefully shouting “Free, Free!” as the Santa clothing begins to attach itself permanently around our hero. I’ve searched for the story everywhere but have never been able to find it.

    I’m going to have to check out some of this Hayao Miyazaki’ films. Spirited Away (spirits as in ghosts, presumably, so still on topic; hell, some people on this thread are talking about George Best so this is probably safe) is rated 97% at Rotten Toms.

    From the OP:

    (Coincidentally, Ghostbusters star Bill Murray lives near Charleston.)

    That’s not a coincidence, Herb; it barely qualifies as an incidence.

    Nearest I could find: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53Uk1KITymI

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  • If you start here I’ll follow up with a number of links that can further detail what was going on when you had these experiences.

    10% of the population whilst clinically absolutely normal experience hallucinations at some time in their lives and not at all as the result of particular stress events.

    Apparitions and the like are entirely the fallout of the way cognition works. The theory due to Richard Gregory is that of a top down process where expectations (conscious or otherwise) drive what is perceived.

    Another aspect not covered in the article is the recent insight nicely described by Oliver Sacks in his latest book, Hallucinations, that the tendency to hallucinate is particularly driven by a stimulus defecit, where the brain inerts information (and from Gregory) most likely the subconsciously expected information. My tinitus is an hallucination of my brain inserting the expected noise because my inner ear doesn’t work as well as it should. Temporary dropouts in sensed data may cause occasional hallucinations. You may get a surge in tinitus perhaps if the blood supply or oxygen level drops to those sound sensing little hair cells. Equally a brief drop in local blood supply to the retina or visual cortex may trigger an hallucination.

    Don’t think they must be simple hallucinations either. The exoticness and detail of the hallucinations affecting the newly blind can be astonishing. (Charles Bonet Syndrome.)

    Another source of hallucinations is the lack of access to semantic memories for whatever reason. Our brain doesn’t know how to make sense of what we are seeing and confabulates as best it can. Theses are schizotypal experiences. We all sit on a spectrum of this kind of experience and whilst few of us are clinically schizophrenic very many of us may have some such experiences occasionally.

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  • First. I screwed up. William James was brother to Henry not Mantague Rhodes. D’Oh.

    Yep. CB.

    A couple of our films Salome and The Forbidden (a Faustian retelling in the style of Vesalius’ flayed figures) are out there on the intertubes and also available with some quite random salacious lead in material to blunt the obscure arty stuff on DVD. The longer youtubes contain some very frisky material (all paid for by the Arts Council…Thanks everyone) so remember to put the cat out first.

    Ramsey Cambell came to our school. It was a formative day for us. (But then we also had underground film makers come talk to us about a career in subversion and agitprop. It was a progressive school.)

    Yes. The Books of Blood. Some of the best, least ponderous of his story telling. My favourite, In The Hills the Cities.

    Spirited Away is precisely the one to watch. It is scary and strange and hauntingly beautiful. It was where I wanted us to be.

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  • I always thought the appearance (only to Macbeth) of Baquo’s ghost, at the banquet, was pretty scary. The ultimate unwanted dinner guest. No bloody manners at all !

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  • 39
    Katy Cordeth says:

    The Forbidden and Salomé can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViRQBo2Tnkk, and here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=li1wTbfxkpI

    And sonofagun if old Pinhead himself isn’t a costar. And Vindicator from one in the inexhaustible series of movies featuring the mutton-chopped, adamantium-knuckled Honeybadger (wait, that’s not right) superhero.

    I haven’t watched them yet—forget what I said in an earlier comment, I’m definitely going to have to be on something when and if I do and it might as well be psilocybin—but these films do seem to have a… what’s the word… a ‘ghostly’ quality to them, making any discussion of them here very much on topic.

    I’m a big fan of Human Remains.

    I’ll try and watch Spirited Away. First I have to convince myself I’m not just viewing an extended episode of Pokemon. I’m experimenting with not italicizing film, TV and book titles in comments as no one else seems to bother with this convention. I’m acutely aware however that I’ve just said I’m fond of human remains. For the record I’m not a cannibal, and if I were I wouldn’t be the sort to subsist on carrion; I’d get my long pig delivered, freshly killed that day, from Ocado. I might make sandwiches or soups from the remains of any meals I made from these deliveries though.

    Mantague was the brother the Jameses never mentioned. Every family has one. In the Cordeth dynasty it’s Great Uncle Juan. Forever getting arrested for demanding sexual gratification with menaces, although he swears he’s innocent.

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  • . I’m a big fan of Human Remains.

    Do you mean the excellent short tv series by Rob Brydon? Or is this one of the infinitesimally small number of films I’ve not seen?

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  • Phil. I thought you posted recently that you disliked Miyazaki because he included the notion of evil? Perhaps I’ve misremembered?
    I think the Japanese excel in the production of creepy horror films. I watched Ringu in an equally creepy cinema in Sydney ( the Valhalla, in case any readers can recall) and this proved my introduction to the Japanese, horror genre. I don’t include any efforts from studio Ghibli in this the overview but put them into a class of their own.
    Spirited Away is without equal in my estimation. It contained images burnt into my memory that will probably haunt me ( see,on-topic!), for the rest of my days. I don’t think he’s ever been able to recapture the magic with offerings such as Howl’s Moving Castle, though he’s tried valiantly. His films are crammed with fantastical drawings from his fertile imagination.
    Regarding Japanese horror genre of the non-animation kind; have you ever noticed the frequent depiction of schoolgirls in their sailor-styled school uniforms? Maybe it’s just me. ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense!’

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  • . …resist the siren song of italics, Cordeth, go with the majority,

    It’s a hard move to make. I had to go against my better instincts and employ physical restraints. I’ve already bowed to the majority in using single quote marks in cases where doubles are required. This is hard! Going against decades of teaching the ‘correct way’ does not sit well.

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  • No. I disliked the old fairy tales because in them sometimes people, creatures etc. can be simply bad or evil. This is a quite terrible idea favoured by religions of old and Republicans. I commended the Ghibli narratives because acts of apparent evil have justifications or implied justifications. Its just that these are most often obscured from protagonists by alienness or otherness.

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  • Every culture has endured some version of the notion of spirits, sheaths, ghosts, wights, shades or some variation of essences that have left the physical side of this mortal coil. Which is hardly surprising as it fits perfectly both with our need to explain what we don’t understand about death and the afterlife and fulfills a need to perceive our love ones as never truly dying if their shade is somehow still with us and able to on occasion make them selves known.

    What is curious about all of this is the manner in which all of it takes: the spirits good or ill seem to be attached to the night, the people who hear the voices of the dead are almost invariably trying to make a buck with what the ‘dead’ have to say, and the most fascinating to me of all, even if one could present tangible evidence for spirits none of it would prove the existence of a given person object of worship.

    I say this because typically believers in ghosts and such also tend believe in some manner of deity or are at least open to the possibility. But if all cultures at some point or another have dealt with this idea in some manner and all deities can’t be true, the only thing this really says is that all mankind has been trying to come to grips with death. Which we already knew.

    Ultimately the subject interests me not because the ideas are valid or because it stretches across all cultures, but because of what timeless idea it still presents about people as a whole: we still struggle fervently to come to grips with what we don’t know about death, and we still guide much of our existence in fear of what we in general don’t know.

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  • 47
    Katy Cordeth says:

    Every culture has endured some version of the notion of spirits, sheaths, ghosts, wights, shades or some variation of essences that have left the physical side of this mortal coil.


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  • I am in an odd situation of having seen ghosts, spirits, poltergeist or what ever you wish to call them. But I STILL don’t believe in them, or any deities. I think it is just a projection of my mind someway, or somehow! It is merely SOMETHING that is not understood at this time! They used to frighten me, and some others that occasionally see them (or it), as well, But now, I simply make a deal with it! …..”Leave me alone and don’t frighten me, and you are welcome to stay!” Not sure if it is the same thing that has followed me all my life or something different where ever I’ve gone, but haven’t been bothered for almost a year now!!!!! Or maybe I just found a way to cure myself of this malady of 60 years….. Either way, it has worked!

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  • My ghost story: I had become ill with hepatitis and mononucleosis (undiagnosed but presumed leukemia), and I was staying at my parents place to recuperate. I heard someone walk down the hall each night. I called out. They did not respond. I asked the family. No one admitted walking the hall. Dad said to call out the next time it happened and he would investigate. That night it happened again. My Dad came running out his bedroom with a baseball bat. The dog woofed excited to attack. But no sign of anyone. My nominally atheist mom was convinced it was my grandfather come to take me to the afterlife. Years later my sister said, “I wish you would not tell that ghost story. It was me sneaking in late. I hid behind the curtain. The dog sniffed me but did not give me away.”

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  • I once saw a very good interview with a schizophrenia sufferer. He explained how difficult it was having a conversation with someone at the pub who’s head was turning into that of a horse before his eyes. “So what’s it like being a horse he asked?” as I suppose you would. These thinks are perfectly rational questions to ask if you can understand what is going on in their head.

    I’m a bit of an insomniac and as a result am often semi-conscious as I fall asleep. As a teenager it was far worse and I literally forgot how to go to sleep normally for a couple of years. It did have the interesting off shoot that I became very aware of my stages of going to sleep as I would start to fall asleep and re-stimulate myself mentally and then wake again. I did maintain a certain level of awareness of these stages because of this. For me at least, sleep usually begins with audio hallucinations, music voices chatter as real as could be, visual stuff next then a wave of what I think must be whatever hormone knocks you out, at this point things get very weird terrific visual stuff, rooms changing all sort of things all very, very vivid. I also used to get frequent sleep paralysis incidences until I discovered I always got them when I had too many blankets on and was overheating. I learned to wake myself from these which was hard because they were so convincing that you were convincing yourself you had woken up but had only done so in your dream state. I’d focused on lifting an arm once I go this to happen I’d wake and sure enough the menacing figure in the room was not there. I fully understand just how real hallucinations can be and still know they are not real. I can only imagine how terrifying it would be if fully awake when it happened to you.

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  • It’s mostly devising pussles for stage mediums. so, like when you’re dead and got some time on your hands, if your loved ones are self-centred enough, they will naturally go to see psychic sally or someone who will ask you lots of questions to meake them feel better about themselves.

    but here’s the thing, in psychic performances it’s considered very bad form for you to walk (float?) up to the said entertainer and say “Hi Sally, I’m Nitya, big fan etc, anyhoo… my old friends don’t seem to be able to hear me when I try to tell them my opinion on moving house, which I have very firm opinions on as it happens so could you ask the lady in seat R43 to stand up and repeat this consice message for me?”

    No that’s quite rude, you need to give the poor, underapreciated millionare little snippets, like the first letter of their name (or maybe just a letter in their name) and basically make the overburndened medium do all the hard work of guessing who they are then giving them some nebulous version of your very specific (after all you are dead, you don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea) instructions.

    I understand this makes the whole imortal business much more interesting though

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  • Like the idea on evolutionary origins of sleep paralysis. The body is paralysed in REM sleep supposedly to prevent people enacting out their dreams. Being able to fly is my favourite dream and could be a real problem.

    Supposedly in somnambulism the paralysis is ineffective allowing the sleep walker to get in on the act. My step-father had periods of severe somnambulism that included on different occasions, climbing out of a first floor bed room window, climbing trees, microwaving chocolate biscuits and mistaking the grandfather clock for a urinal.

    I think we don’t just have two extremes of consciousness but rather a continuum between the two. As a sleep apneoa sufferer with a RDI of 70 I know that it is possible to wake up sufficiently to respire spontaneously hundreds of times a night and never know you’ve been hypoxic and yet while you never sleep properly you’ve no recollection of ever being awake.

    Before diagnosis and treatment for central and obstructive sleep apnoea. I had a good share of sleep paralysis episodes and hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations due to chronic sleep deprivation. The hallucinations weren’t horrifying in appearance but nearly always accompanied by a feeling of utter terror.

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  • I invite those interested in the root psychology of apparitions to look at the answer I gave to Isabel and its one link.

    Richard Gregory is one of my three hero Richards. Along with Feynman and Dawkins he gave me a life’s worth of fascinated thoughts. His key idea here of Perception as Hypotheses (Representationalism) is probably correct and underlies our tendency to perceive what we wish, fear, or merely think about consciously or unconsciously, rather than what is actually there.

    Just one further thought on why we hallucinate when we experience a deficit of sensed input (and our expectations my be a tad less wonky as a substitution when the blood sugar or oxygen drops). Ok two thoughts. We have the illusion of seemless continuity though eye saccades tell us the sensed input is highly discontinuous. We know we interpolate a lot of material that comes from short and long term memory to plug the gaps. Next, with longer term losses due to illness or age, hallucinations may guard against the ruthless brain pruner, the microglial cells implementing a (mindless!) algorithm of use it or lose it. It may be that this tidying away of energy sapping brain matter, no longer doing anything, is paused by the granting of a reprieve by a second evolved process. Hallucinations may defeat the “use it or lose mechanism” if sensory deprivation is temporary. This mitigation may save perfectly good brain processes. Dreams may serve a similar process.

    Brains are energy intensive and the evolved drive to be energy efficient is ruthless. Some sea animals (sea squirts) digest them entirely, not just prune them back, when they have finished their job of moving it to its chosen feeding spot. This Daniel Wolpert points out is akin to the process when professors achieve tenure.

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  • My mother was a very level headed woman; but she saw a ghost.

    She woke up in a hotel room to see a female standing at the foot of the bed, charred black, with ears and hair burnt off; she cried out, waking my dad, who complained about the fuss. Mum said sorry, explained that she’d had a nightmare and they both went back to sleep.

    Shortly afterwards she woke again, and there was the burnt figure once more, but this time she screamed so loudly that the manageress was called and came to the door. Mum apologized, saying that she’d had a frightening dream, and I dare say dad cursed under his breath.

    The next day when my parents were booking out, the manageress asked them if everything had been satisfactory; she also asked mum what the dream had been about; mum told her.

    The hotelier then asked my mother to come outside and look at the building, asking her if she noticed anything about it; she then pointed out that it had a flat roof.

    The reason for that was that the top floor had been destroyed by fire – and a woman had been burnt to death in the blaze. She then said that numerous guests had claimed to have seen the same apparition.

    Eventually, my mother, who as I said was a rational individual, realizing that the death was a well known event, came to the conclusion that she’d probably unconsciously overheard someone talking about it under the hub bub in the bar while having drinks before going to bed.

    So, mystery solved? Who knows; Oooooh!

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  • 57
    Katy Cordeth says:

    In reply to Sue Blue’s response to Phil Rimmer. No reply button.


    “I was reliably (?) informed by Stephen Fry on an episode of QI that only in the US are house prices actually adversely affected by reports of hauntings. (I think the implied contrast was with other first world countries.)”


    Tell that to the owners of hotels, inns, and B&Bs here in the states. The more “haunted” one of these establishments is reputed to be, the more popular it is and the more money they make.

    If you believe in ghosts, the idea of spending a weekend with your significant other in a haunted bed and breakfast might be quite appealing. You get to snuggle up in a big four-poster or in front of a roaring fire which casts flickering pareidolic shadows on the room’s walls, while sharing a bottle of good red wine as the wind howls against the window shutters demanding entry. It’s a recipe for romance. Similarly, every guy knows the perfect date movie isn’t an actioner or a comedy but something scary that will have Becky-Anne clinging onto him and burying her face in his letterman jacket.

    A weekend in a haunted inn is a different prospect to making ones permanent home in a property that has a gateway to Hell in the basement. There’ll be times you’re alone there, when a creaking floorboard overhead isn’t romantic at all but will have you grabbing your car keys and running like billy-o for the front door. Then there’s the fact you might start trying for a family and don’t want one of your offspring to pull a Ronald DeFeo when he hits seventeen.

    I’d have to give it some serious consideration before investing in a house that was reputed to be haunted; not because I believe in ghosts but because others do and this could affect the resale.

    …Either way, I don’t think it’s true anymore that a report of ghosts will negatively impact the sale of a house.

    Stambovsky v. Ackley: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stambovsky_v._Ackley

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  • Sagan
    Ha ha! My point exactly. Just how credulous would you need to be, when everything is so conveniently skewed in favour of the fraudster! The mediums do not encourage any sort of critical thought! It’s almost as if the whole exercise has been dreamed up to cover the loopholes! Just like prayer…sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes no! How could you fail with odds like that?

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