Why Do People Believe in Ghosts?

Across the world, ideas of the paranormal persist.

In June, Sheila Sillery-Walsh, a British tourist visiting the historic island prison of Alcatraz in San Francisco, claimed that she captured an image of a ghost in a picture she snapped on her iPhone. In the frame of what was otherwise supposed to be a picture of an empty prison cell was a blurry black-and-white image of a woman. The story, which was printed in the British tabloid the Daily Mail , featured on the Bay Area’s local KRON4 TV station and mocked by SFist , isn’t the first time the Daily Mail has claimed that strange images have come up on smart devices.

Recommended Reading

belief in ghosts essay

The Balloonfest That Went Horribly Wrong

belief in ghosts essay

The Life of a Professional Guinea Pig

A car is covered in hagfish, and slime, after an accident on Highway 101.

No One Is Prepared for Hagfish Slime

Normally, a paranormal story wouldn’t catch my attention, but a few months before the story came out, a Spanish friend of mine named Laura showed me a weird image she found on her phone while I was traveling in Madrid. The photo, taken on her iPhone while on a trip to Ethiopia, shows a boy looking down at leaves he is holding in his hands. Seemingly superimposed onto the boy is another image of the boy, hands in a different position and eyes looking straight at the camera.

Laura was convinced she captured an image of a ghost.

Then a few weeks later I discovered an image of a man in the background of a photo I took with my own iPhone. The picture was taken in my apartment and the man, whom I can’t identify, was not actually in the apartment at the time. I’ve been using the photo to scare my friends, and myself, ever since.

Recent surveys have shown that a significant portion of the population believes in ghosts, leading some scholars to conclude that we are witnessing a revival of paranormal beliefs in Western society. A Harris poll from last year found that 42 percent of Americans say they believe in ghosts. The percentage is similar in the United Kingdom, where 52 percent of respondents indicated that they believed in ghosts in a recent poll . Though it’s tough to estimate how large the paranormal tourism industry is—tours of sites that are supposedly haunted (rather than staged haunted houses)—there are 10,000 haunted locations in the U.K. according to the country’s tourist board, and sites like HauntedRooms.co.uk list dozens of allegedly haunted hotels where curious visitors can stay. In the U.S., residents of places like Ellicott City in Howard County, Maryland, pride themselves on their haunted heritage.

While the terms spirit and ghost are related and even interchangeable in some languages, the word ghost in English tends to refer to the soul or spirit of a deceased person that can appear to the living. In A Natural History of Ghosts , Roger Clarke discusses nine varieties of ghosts identified by Peter Underwood, who has studied ghost stories for decades. Underwood’s classification of ghosts includes elementals, poltergeists, historical ghosts, mental imprint manifestations, death-survival ghosts, apparitions, time slips, ghosts of the living, and haunted inanimate objects.

It seems that belief in ghosts is even more widespread in much of Asia, where ghosts are characterized as neutral and can be appeased through rituals or angered if provoked (as opposed to our scarier depictions of ghosts in the West), according to Justin McDaniel, a professor of religious studies and director of the Penn Ghost Project at the University of Pennsylvania. “[Ghosts in Asia] can be asked for help in healing humans, winning the lottery and protecting one while traveling or while pregnant,” he says. “Like American ghosts, they have an attachment to the human realm which keeps them haunting and helping humans.”

belief in ghosts essay

In China, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand, the seventh month of the lunar calendar (which falls in August this year) ushers in the Hungry Ghost Festival , when it is believed that ghosts of the deceased are temporarily released from the lower realm to visit the living. In Taiwan, some people believe that the presence of wandering ghosts during Ghost Month can cause accidents to the living. At least one study has shown that people avoid risky behaviors during this time, including those in bodies of water, reducing the number of deaths by drowning.

“Like in the West,” McDaniel says, “people in Asia have kept their belief in ghosts despite the rise of science, skepticism, secularism, and public education. In places like Japan where secularism is very strong, the belief in ghosts is still high. Even hypermodern and liberal Scandinavia has a high percentage of people believing in ghosts.”

It turns out that a significant number of people report having personally experienced paranormal activity. In a study published in 2011, 28.5 percent of undergraduate students surveyed at a southern university reported having had a paranormal experience. In a 2006 Reader’s Digest poll , 20 percent of respondents (21 percent of women and 16 percent of men) reported that they had seen a ghost at some time in their lives.

But it’s also true that if you already believe in ghosts, or are told a place is haunted, you are more likely to interpret events as paranormal. A 2002 study found that believers in ghosts were more likely than nonbelievers to report unusual phenomena while touring a site in Britain with a reputation for being haunted. Visitors who were told that there was a recent increase in unusual phenomena occurring at the site also reported a higher number of unusual experiences on the tour.

belief in ghosts essay

Another study demonstrated that hearing or reading about paranormal narratives, especially when the story came from a credible source, was enough to increase paranormal beliefs among participants. With the abundance of ghost-hunting shows in the U.S. and the UK, like Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures and Most Haunted , which is returning to screens this fall, it’s probably not surprising that studies have also linked belief in ghosts with exposure to paranormal-related TV shows.

“What we have is people trying to make sense of something that, to them, seems inexplicable,” says Christopher French, a professor of psychology and head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. “So you get the misinterpretation of noises or visual effects that do have a normal explanation, but not one that people can think of. People assume that if they cannot explain something in natural terms, then it must be something paranormal.”

According to French, hallucinations are more common among the general population than most people realize, and are sometimes wrongly interpreted as ghosts. He points to sleep paralysis—a phenomenon that occurs when someone wakes up while still in the dream-inducing REM stage of sleep, in which your body is paralyzed—as one example. Studies have shown that around 30 to 40 percent of people have experienced sleep paralysis at least once in their lives, with about five percent of participants reporting visual and audio hallucinations, including the presence of monstrous figures, and difficulty breathing.

The experience has been interpreted as paranormal in several cultures. In a study done in Hong Kong, for example, 37 percent of students reported at least one instance of what they refer to as “ghost oppression.” In Thailand, the term for sleep paralysis— phi um— translates to “ghost covered.” In Newfoundland, Canada, it is known as a visit from the “ Old Hag .” The woman in Swiss artist Henry Fuseli’s famous 18th century painting, “ The Nightmare ,” is said by French and other researchers to be suffering an episode of sleep paralysis.

Michael Shermer, author of The Believing Brain , argues that we see causal, intentional relationships—even when they don’t exist—because it is evolutionarily advantageous to do so and because humans have the tendency to look at patterns and see them as deliberate. In a column for Scientific American , Shermer writes, “We believe that these intentional agents control the world, sometimes invisibly from the top down (as opposed to bottom-up causal randomness). Together patternicity and agent­icity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms.”

One example of this is our tendency to see faces in random images, a phenomenon called pareidolia. In a study conducted at the University of British Columbia, researchers Aiyana Willard and Ara Norenzayan found that participants with a higher tendency to anthropomorphize—meaning those that are more likely to assign human qualities to nonhuman things—were also more likely to have paranormal beliefs.

“There is also the emotional motivation for these beliefs,” French says. “The vast majority of us don’t like the idea of our own mortality. Even though we find the idea of ghosts and spirits scary, in a wider context, they provide evidence for the survival of the soul.”

With that in mind, I reached out to Apple Inc. for a comment on the images at the start of this article. A representative for the company was kind enough to check out the images, but didn’t have a comment for the story. And though a few independent analysts had a good look at the photos and suggested that Laura’s could be something related to high-dynamic range photography , no one was able to come up with a definitive explanation for the man in my apartment.

Maybe more images like mine will surface and someone will come up with a technical explanation for these spectral iPhone photos.

Or maybe, it’s just a ghost.

You may opt out or contact us anytime.

Zócalo Podcasts

Zócalo An ASU Knowledge Enterprise Digital Daily

I Choose Not to Believe in Ghosts

There are enough things in the world to haunt me.

belief in ghosts essay

By Paul Bisceglio | October 29, 2015

Last December, a woman I was dating told me she believed in ghosts. We were chatting at a holiday party with two other guests, one of whom manages communications at the Lobero, the oldest theater in California. The place has an amazing history, the communications director, Angie, said. Oh, and it’s haunted.

The four of us were drinking cocktails amid the bustle of a downtown Santa Barbara restaurant. Yet we still leaned in over our table’s fading candle and lowered our voices, as if to nestle closer to the campfire.

The Lobero is home to two ghosts, Angie explained: Harry Pideola and Dr. Frank Fowler. Harry was the theater’s Prohibition-era night watchman. He lived upstairs in an old converted dressing room, where he also died. Dr. Frank was a founder of a local theater group. Both ghosts were known to cause mischief around the place, Harry with a taste for pranks, Dr. Frank with a habit of popping up in a top hat and tuxedo.

Angie hadn’t seen the ghosts, but she insisted other people had. The theater’s director had a few chilling tales of his own unusual encounters. And had we read the story by the Santa Barbara Sentinel reporter? He’d planned on spending a night in the theater to debunk the myth last Halloween, but fled after a push-broom showed up where one hadn’t been and the specter of a man in tails flashed before his eyes.

This was all fantastic material, I thought, for a person who gets paid to promote the theater. After Angie leaned back to let us ponder the mystery of what she had just revealed, I couldn’t help taking a dig at the story by asking if any of the theater’s visitors ever were gullible enough to believe it.

I looked across the table at my date, expecting some sort of grin. Instead, she looked disapproving.

“You don’t believe in ghosts?” she asked.

“Why, do you?”

“Sure.” She took a sip from her glass and shrugged. “You never know.”

The fourth person in the group chimed in and agreed he’d seen some spooky things. Then they all started talking about what they were cooking for Christmas dinner.

A year later, that conversation still bugs me. Yes, there are countless things about this world I don’t know, but no, I don’t believe in ghosts. And if I did, I wouldn’t be so casual about it. As the group went on, the skeptic in my head climbed on his high horse and rode through a whole thorny meadow of implications that follow from a belief in the phantasmic. Ghosts mean there’s an afterlife. An afterlife suggests we have souls. Souls suggest there’s a god. Shouldn’t believing in even the possibility of ghosts drastically shape our belief about pretty much everything—how we should live our lives, what we’re doing here in the first place?

If I step off that high horse, though, I get it. Ghosts are fun. We love ghost movies, Halloween, that TV show Ghost Hunters . If someone gets a kick out of a ghost story, it’s not that different from getting a kick out of a vampire story, or a zombie story, or an apocalyptic tale. And ghosts do offer hope—that the people we love are never really gone, that there is indeed something waiting for us on the other side. Even a casual belief can provide a creepy sort of comfort.

Still, there’s something deeper about ghosts that nags at me. It’s not what their existence implies, but the fact that I’d have to deal with them if I believed in them. My life, like everyone’s, is already filled with things that keep me up at night. I have deadlines to meet, people to please, student loans to pay. And then there are the big questions: Will the work I do ever live up to my ambitions? Am I a good person? Would life be different if I’d tried harder when I was younger? Would it be better if I’d tried less?

In Tribute to Freud , a 1956 memoir by the poet H.D. about her friendship with the famed psychoanalyst, there’s a line that has stuck with me for years. “We are all haunted houses,” H.D. writes, reflecting on the experience of living through World War I. Her point is that everyone’s haunted by something—traumas, lost friends, lovers, expectations, mistakes, failures.

With so much that bedevils us, what good are ghosts? I don’t believe in them because I don’t want to believe in them. The things that haunt me are enough, and they don’t live in someone else’s theater.

Send A Letter To the Editors

Please tell us your thoughts. Include your name and daytime phone number, and a link to the article you’re responding to. We may edit your letter for length and clarity and publish it on our site.

(Optional) Attach an image to your letter. Jpeg, PNG or GIF accepted, 1MB maximum.

By continuing to use our website, you agree to our privacy and cookie policy . Zócalo wants to hear from you. Please take our survey !-->

Get More Zócalo

No paywall. No ads. No partisan hacks. Ideas journalism with a head and a heart.

Ohio State nav bar

The Ohio State University

  • BuckeyeLink
  • Find People
  • Search Ohio State

Ghosts: Fact or Fiction?

The notion of ghosts has been long debated, whether it’s the existence of Casper, Anne Boleyn’s lost spirit lurking, or your neighbor’s grandma visiting from the afterlife. Ghosts are remnants of the bodies of people that have died and are commonly discussed in folklore. Apparitions can range from a simple strange presence to the aura of a living being. Roughly half of all Americans believe in ghosts or life after death according to a website called Ghosts and Gravestones. Many within the population of believers have shared perceived experiences of the phenomenon, or share a strong belief life after death. In addition, many believers are also religious: numerous religions discuss life after death in one form or another. Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation, and Christianity, Islam, and Judaism believe that the soul is eternal and will continue to exist after death.

People believe in this idea because no one knows what happens after death and wants to believe that there is some form of life, and that maybe humans are able to visit their loved ones after passing on. According to the previously mentioned website, Ghosts and Gravestones,

“We seek explanations for what’s happening around us. It’s just the way the human brain is wired; we need to know why things occur or what’s causing something. And when it comes to inexplicable, mysterious happenings, the only logical explanation is often the presence of something supernatural.”

Information regarding ghosts can be found all over the Internet and on television. There are websites substantiating this belief, but most are reiterating that the idea is false.

The notion of ghosts has been around for thousands of years. One of the only websites I found on the origination of ghosts is Wikipedia, which says that stories of ghosts originated in early Mesopotamia and ancient Greece. Furthermore, ghosts were written into Homer’s the Odyssey and Iliad. In the Bible, Jesus was at first believed to be a ghost before convincing his followers that he rose from the dead. Furthermore, ghost stories circulated during the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, all throughout history until today. More people believe in ghosts in the modern day than they did in the past, with more and more people believing each year, along with the amount of evidence against ghosts increasing over time.

Ghosts are considered extraordinary because the idea of them is unable to be authenticated by science. There is no replicable experiment known that can validate a ghost’s presence; people coming back after death as spirits defies all scientific laws of nature. Besides hope, the belief of ghosts continues to live on through oral stories that are passed on from person to person. Those in favor of the existence of ghost are mostly believers because they cannot attribute their experiences to normal circumstances. The belief is solely built on personal experience with the help of religious beliefs (life after death, reincarnation, etc.) to explain what happens in the afterlife. According to HowStuffWorks, “the evidence for ghosts is all around us, but only living beings with a certain sensitivity can feel their presence.” In addition, the website states that technology is not yet advanced enough to create physical proof. According to some quantum physicists, “we still do not fully understand the interaction of the human mind and external matter at the quantum level” (HowStuffWorks). Moreover, ghosts may not be dead humans but merely humans from other points in time.

On the other hand, those against the premise of ghosts are more backed by science than those in favor. Benjamin Radford, Live Science Contributor, claims that the stories of ghosts switch between being able to walk through walls but still be able to move them, and that these contradicting ideas go against the laws of physics. Furthermore, he claims that if these spirits were truly lost and had unfinished business, then mediums would be able to help them in a multitude of ways (solve their murders, identify killers). Those who claim to have evidence like ghost hunters use pseudoscience to demonstrate their claims: electromagnetic field meters, cameras, thermometers, and other equipment are used to detect any changes in energy. The change in energy is automatically assumed to be the presence of a supernatural being. Jumping to the conclusion that any change in the atmosphere is due to paranormal causes is logically incorrect; people misinterpret the results due to confirmation bias, only looking for evidence that strengthens their beliefs in ghosts.

All in all, the notion of ghosts is one that has originated and survived over a long period of time. A large percentage of the world’s population believes in ghosts in one form or another, whether it’s life after death or the eternal existence of human energy. Many of these believers claim to have personal experiences with ghosts, while others only believe because of their religion or hope. There is conflicting evidence to whether ghosts exist, as the premises backing them is controversial and up for debate. Perhaps advances in technology over time will give us a final answer or ghosts will make contact with the public themselves.

Ghost. (2019, February 07). Retrieved February 10, 2019 from

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost#History

Ghosts & Gravestones. (2018). Why Do People Believe in Ghosts? Retrieved February 5, 2019, from https://www.ghostsandgravestones.com/believe-in-ghosts

Radford, B. (2017, May 17). Are Ghosts Real? – Evidence Has Not Materialized. Retrieved February 9, 2019, from https://www.livescience.com/26697-are-ghosts-real.html

Stuff Media. (2019). Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know: Ghosts: The Evidence. Retrieved February 11, 2019, from https://www.stufftheydontwantyoutoknow.com/videos/ghosts- part-3-evidence-video.htm

26 thoughts on “ Ghosts: Fact or Fiction? ”

When I was young I was always told that ghosts are bad souls, and spirits and good souls. Ghosts attach themselves to bad people and people who have week souls, whereas spirits are good and their presence makes situations better and positive. Spirit it’s try to protect people that they love from ghost. Is there anyone else who believes this or is it just me?

I was never told that there was a difference in title of good or bad ghosts but it was always discussed within my family that some ghosts are nicer and some are not. I don’t know how much I still believe in ghosts but I think there are spirits and representations of human souls somehow. I’m not religious and never have been but I find it hard to believe that people die and then disappear without leaving a trace of themselves behind. It could just be me, but it makes sense that ghosts could exist especially when something notable like a murder or traumatic experience occurs.

Your comment made me wonder, that is it just our copping mechanism when we are not ready to accept that people who die just leave this dimension. I think it a way people accept their lose so that they can continue to live. If people consider souls of their relatives to be around them, it would be easier for them to move on. Do you think I am right or do you really believe in life after death?

I like how you took a very neutral stance for this post! It leaves us to look at the information you gave and make our own decisions. As someone who believes in ghosts and the supernatural I found it interesting that you found so much information stating believers are those who are looking for a way to explain weird phenomena in their lives. I have never actually had any “weird” experiences, but yet I still find myself believing. Perhaps I just want to believe there is more for us after this life because I am not religious enough to be certain one way or the other.

Hey, I read your comment and started wondering why you still believed in these supernatural phenomena’s even after reading convincing arguments about how it is untrue. I was just curious to know how your belief functions. I mean I have experienced weird things, but I still keep thinking that there have to be alternate explanations to why it might have happened.

My friends and I love watching the show Ghost Adventures with Zak Bagans. On one of the episodes of the show they used an Xbox Kinect to look at the locations of ghosts. The episode I watched had them catch on the connect figures “dancing on the stage.” While I don’t necessarily believe in all of these television ghost hunting techniques, I was just wondering if you came across anything on using the Xbox kinect to hunt ghosts?

When I first read your post I could not believe that this was actually a thing. I mean hunting ghosts with Xbox kinect, sounds like a made up story. That’s why I decided to do some digging. When I first looked this up on the net it took like milliseconds for the internet to come up with a ton of posts regarding this. As I started reading the articles one by one I realized hat this is really considered true. I was really shocked to see claims that harmless Xbox’s were used to hunt ghosts.

I have seen this episode too and at first thought it was a total joke that they were using an xbox. But i think that is some of the appeal of shows like that. they use so many different tools to try and communicate with spirits and sometimes it is really convincing. I know I have always wondered about if they are ever faking anything. On one hand I find it very hard to believe that spirits are capable of moving and throwing objects but on the other hand the amount of work they would have to do to stage things and make it look convincing is staggering and to keep it up for 14 seasons…. leaves me kinda torn on my beliefs.

I was curious reading your response. I was wondering if you continued till the 14th season, because it was really convinction or because you wanted to know how far they could stretch this belief? Just asking out of curiousity.

The belief in ghosts or some form of sentient life-after-death version of our loved ones has always seemed like a comfort mechanism to me. Much like beliefs in magic allow people to assert power over natural but frightening processes, I wonder if it is so easy for us to believe in ghosts because it allows us to feel less scared of death and the loss of the people we care about.

This is so interesting. I never really think of ghosts as an extraordinary belief, and I’m not really sure why. I definitely think that there is some version of truth to it, its hard to sign on to the belief that nothing at all happens after your loved ones pass away,and that they’ll never see you again. I own a ouija board and it does feel nice to even think you’re communicating with someone that you miss so much. However, i dont think i put much stock into the whole possession, scary ghost thing. It’s a slightly larger reach from “a loved one visiting” for me to start thinking “its a strangers ghost and its mad and trying to get me!”. I feel like I’m in a pretty average spot with that belief but let me know what you think @anyone else!

So this spring break, my boyfriend and I decided to take a little ghost tour around Ohio (in order to save money), and in doing so, we came across some wild tales surrounding “haunted” cemeteries and bridges that all seemed to vary among individual retellings. I find that this one aspect lends itself to dispelling supernatural belief because without a concrete story of the history of a supposedly haunted place, the account’s credibility is severely limited. While we did take multiple photos of different locations in order to try and get a glimpse of anything wild, we were left with nothing but plain photos, devoid of any orbs, shadows, blurs, etc. Like you mentioned, until I see some concrete evidence and have an experience of my own, I think I will stand as a nonbeliever.

Oh my god, that would have been so much fun though. I have always wanted to visit haunted places. But I always end up thinking that if the tales are really true, it would confirm a belief that I don’t want to confirm. I would rather think that these thinks don’t exist compared to being proved wrong and being scared for the rest of my life.

So, this is a super random question, but if there was one person in history or the present who you think would be most likely to come back as a ghost, who do you think it would be? For me, I TOTALLY think it would be Nicholas Cage – I mean, if he can’t steal the Declaration of Independence in life, he must do it in death! Or, if he does die (I’m still not convinced he will), I would expect it to be Morgan Freeman!

I just wanted to say I legitimately laughed out loud at this comment. Nicholas Cage would definitely be the one to come back as a ghost, if anything to continue his reign as a meme for our generation. I could also see someone like Shia LaBeouf coming back to encourage us to “DO IT”.

I would say Hitler, I know this might sound a bit random. But according to where I come from, souls come back as ghosts because they could not achieve what they were supposed to. Hitler took his own life (suicide), which means it wasn’t his time to die yet and he challenged the normal order of things. He was not successful with his motives, therefore his ghost would come back to do the needful.

I think one interesting fact about the ghost (or devil) is that many people claimed they have seen a ghost (or devil), it is never the same when they depicting the appearance, but when they were asked to describe the look of the god, they all agree what was him looked like…

I think the ghost is a version of the dead people. Nobody knows where we will go after death, so they try to believe that the ghost exist and they can still company with their family even after they died. I also always think if my ancestors become the ghost and they are watching their grandson. Some people believe after death, the good people will go to heaven, and they punish these evil people to let them stay on the earth. Whatever what happens after death, I believe there must be some places can let these spirit stay.

The idea of ghosts is one that speaks to the human desire to know what can’t necessarily be fully known. According to Terror Management Theory, the ultimate fate everyone will have to face one day is death, and the human psyche tries to manage this terror. And in accordance to this theory, the belief in ghosts is an excellent way to lessen the fear of an eternal loss of consciousness.

Hello! This was a great choice for your blog post! I think most people have some idea if they believe in ghosts or not. I think the belief in ghosts vary person to person. Sometimes people may think of them literally like in horror movies and think there loved ones souls still linger around. I think this is an interesting idea to choose because this is something we still lack evidence on as in science. Where do people go where there gone? Do we know what matter or place they go to? There is so much to be known and its really cool to take a step back and look at what we do know. Personally I dont think ghosts are like they appear in movies, like Casper, but it would be interesting and cool to find out the when people leave earth, they still leave a part of themselves or look over loved ones!

One thing I found really interesting in your article is how people believe in ghost would misinterpret the evidence that not equally support their belief. Confirmation bias is so general that we could see it in every day life. But I think the concept of ghost may also have some culture and literature meaning. Just like the fear of death and the trauma of family member’s death. This is really a complicated belief that combine bias in many aspects.

I find it how interesting in the post, you mentioned how ghost might have unfinished business or rather this is why people thing that ghosts are around. However, my family described ghosts as spirits which was different because spirits were good. Essentially, spirits were only sent down to protect. However, I find it interesting how everyone has their own interpretation of what ghosts are. Overall, I think that people who believe in ghosts use it more as a comfort so they can feel like there is something after death and this is why the fall under confirmation bias so much.

Do I believe in ghosts? You better believe it! My mom lost her sister to some sort of cardiac complication at the age of 22, and ever since then my mother has felt/seen/dreamed her presence many times. This is her recollection, but there are other people around the world who visualize ghosts much differently. I like how someone above mentioned the difference between ghosts and spirits and the idea that one is good and one is deemed culturally bad. Some people I know use “luck” as a way to explain a ghost’s presence. Other’s use close calls, or times of overcoming hardship to explain the presence of ghosts/spirits. Overall though, I believe that the belief in ghosts/spirits is maintained only in a space where it is all together accepted. For example, The Holy Ghost is perceived by some of the population to be a thriving spirit that is there for the purposes of guidance and care. But to an Atheist or a non-religious individual/group of people, The Holy Ghost might be interpreted as a sham or a hoax. This is a religious example, but it still provides support for the fact that if there is no fostering of the idea of ghosts in ones local society, then there is overall subtle consequences (however minor) linked with the belief. This post was really enjoyable to read!

I loved reading your blog post. I am someone who does not want to believe in ghosts, but at the same time, when I am in creepy situations or home alone and hear strange noises, I first think “intruder?” and then “ghost?”. I will say I have had multiple strange experiences at my house where I cannot explained what happened so I resort to ghosts. When I was home alone one night, I had my dogs with me and coincidentally they looked at the entrance to my room just as I had taken a snapchat picture to send my good night streaks and when I looked at the picture there was what looked like a “ghostly” figure standing in the door way. I didn’t want to believe it was a ghost, nonetheless I ran out screaming and called my dad.

I think people believe in ghosts because there is comfort in believing there’s life after death. I am not a fan of ghosts and the supernatural, but I know there is supposedly “scientific” proof. Like people who believe in aliens, people also claim to have experiences with ghosts. Other reasons people believe in ghosts for religious reasons or simply because they want to believe their loved ones who have passed away are still there.

Loved your post! You took a very objective side and explained both sides in a great way. Ghosts is a very fascinating belief that exists. I still do not know if I believe in ghosts and spirits or not. I think, sometimes believing in spirits gives people a feeling of hope. It is scary to think of life after death, but believing that there is something after life makes it a little less of a scary thing.

Comments are closed.

Life's Little Mysteries

Are ghosts real?

One difficulty in scientifically evaluating is ghost are real is the surprisingly wide variety of phenomena attributed to ghosts.

Black and white photo of wooden attic with cathedral-type windows and metal folding chair in center.

The science and logic of ghosts

Why do people believe in ghosts, additional resources.

If you believe in ghosts, you're not alone. Cultures all around the world believe in spirits that survive death to live in another realm. In fact, ghosts are among the most widely believed of paranormal phenomenon: Millions of people are interested in ghosts. It's more than mere entertainment; A 2019 Ipsos poll found that 46% of Americans  say they truly believe in ghosts. (The nation is discerning in its undead beliefs; only 7% of respondents said they believe in vampires ).

And about 18% of people say they have either seen a ghost or been in one's presence, according to a 2015 Pew Research study . Why do so many claim to have such brushes with the afterlife?

"One common cause may be pareidolia, the tendency for our brains to find patterns (especially human faces and figures) amongst ambiguous stimuli," Stephen Hupp, clinical psychologist and professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Told Live Science in an email. "One common example is when we see faces or figures in the clouds and another is when random shapes and shadows in a dark house look like a ghost," said Hupp, who is also the editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Stephen Hupp is the editor of "Skeptical Inquirer" magazine. He is also a clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). He has published several books including "Pseudoscience in Therapy "  (Cambridge University Press, 2023) and "Investigating Pop Psychology" (Routledge, 2022). 

But the idea that the dead remain with us in spirit is an ancient one, appearing in countless stories, from the Bible to "Macbeth." It even spawned a folklore genre: ghost stories. Belief in ghosts is part of a larger web of related paranormal beliefs, including near-death experience, life after death, and spirit communication. The belief offers many people comfort — who doesn't want to believe that our beloved but deceased family members aren't looking out for us, or with us in our times of need? 

People have tried to (or claimed to) communicate with spirits for ages; in Victorian England, for example, it was fashionable for upper-crust ladies to hold séances in their parlors after tea and crumpets with friends. Ghost clubs dedicated to searching for ghostly evidence formed at prestigious universities, including Cambridge and Oxford, and in 1882 the most prominent organization, the Society for Psychical Research, was established. A woman named Eleanor Sidgwick was an investigator (and later president) of that group, and could be considered the original female ghostbuster. In America during the late 1800s, many psychic mediums claimed to speak to the dead — but were later exposed as frauds by skeptical investigators such as Harry Houdini. 

Related: 10 Ghost stories that will haunt you for life

It wasn't until recently that ghost hunting became a widespread interest around the world. Much of this is due to the hit Syfy cable TV series "Ghost Hunters," which aired 230 episodes and found no good evidence for ghosts. 

The show spawned dozens of spinoffs and imitators, and it's not hard to see why the show is so popular: the premise is that anyone can look for ghosts. The two original stars were ordinary guys (plumbers, in fact) who decided to look for evidence of spirits. Their message: You don't need to be an egghead scientist, or even have any training in science or investigation. All you need is some free time, a dark place, and maybe a few gadgets from an electronics store. If you look long enough any unexplained light or noise might be evidence of ghosts.

That vague criteria for ghostly happenings is part of the reason why myths about the afterlife are more alive than ever.

One difficulty in scientifically evaluating ghosts is that a surprisingly wide variety of phenomena are attributed to ghosts, from a door closing on its own, to missing keys, to a cold area in a hallway, to a vision of a dead relative. 

When sociologists Dennis and Michele Waskul interviewed ghost experiencers for their book " Ghostly Encounters: The Hauntings of Everyday Life " (Temple University Press, 2016 ) they found that "many participants were not sure that they had encountered a ghost and remained uncertain that such phenomena were even possible, simply because they did not see something that approximated the conventional image of a 'ghost.' Instead, many of our respondents were simply convinced that they had experienced something uncanny — something inexplicable, extraordinary, mysterious, or eerie." 

Thus, many people who go on record as claiming to have had a ghostly experience didn't necessarily see anything that most people would recognize as a classic "ghost," and in fact they may have had completely different experiences whose only common factor is that it could not be readily explained. 

"There are plenty of misunderstood phenomena that influence ghost sightings. For example, sleep paralysis in a recognized experience that leads to people feeling like they have seen a ghost, demon, or alien," Hupp said.

Personal experience is one thing, but scientific evidence is another matter. Part of the difficulty in investigating ghosts is that there is not one universally agreed-upon definition of what a ghost is. Some believe that they are spirits of the dead who for whatever reason get "lost" on their way to The Other Side; others claim that ghosts are instead telepathic entities projected into the world from our minds.

Still others create their own special categories for different types of ghosts, such as poltergeists, residual hauntings, intelligent spirits and shadow people. Of course, it's all made up, like speculating on the different races of fairies or dragons: there are as many types of ghosts as you want there to be.

There are many contradictions inherent in ideas about ghosts. For example, are ghosts material or not? Either they can move through solid objects without disturbing them, or they can slam doors shut and throw objects across the room. According to logic and the laws of physics, it's one or the other. If ghosts are human souls, why do they appear clothed and with (presumably soulless) inanimate objects like hats, canes, and dresses — not to mention the many reports of ghost trains, cars and carriages?

If ghosts are the spirits of those whose deaths were unavenged, why are there unsolved murders, since ghosts are said to communicate with psychic mediums, and should be able to identify their killers for the police? The questions go on and on — just about any claim about ghosts raises logical reasons to doubt it.

Ghost hunters use many creative (and dubious) methods to detect the spirits' presences, often including psychics. Virtually all ghost hunters claim to be scientific, and most give that appearance because they use high-tech scientific equipment such as Geiger counters, Electromagnetic Field (EMF) detectors, ion detectors, infrared cameras and sensitive microphones. Yet none of this equipment has ever been shown to actually detect ghosts. 

"If someone hands you an electronic device to sense a ghost, then they’re probably doing it to get your money during a ghost tour," Hupp said.

For centuries, people believed that flames turned blue in the presence of ghosts. Today, few people accept that bit of lore, but it's likely that many of the signs taken as evidence by today's ghost hunters will be seen as just as wrong and antiquated centuries from now. 

Other researchers claim that the reason ghosts haven't been proven to exist is that we simply don't have the right technology to find or detect the spirit world. But this, too, can't be correct: Either ghosts exist and appear in our ordinary physical world (and can therefore be detected and recorded in photographs, film, video and audio recordings), or they don't. If ghosts exist and can be scientifically detected or recorded, then we should find hard evidence of that — yet we don't. If ghosts exist but cannot be scientifically detected or recorded, then all the photos, videos, audio and other recordings claimed to be evidence of ghosts cannot be ghosts. With so many basic contradictory theories — and so little science brought to bear on the topic — it's not surprising that despite the efforts of thousands of ghost hunters on television and elsewhere for decades, not a single piece of hard evidence of ghosts has been found.

And, of course, with the recent development of "ghost apps" for smartphones, it's easier than ever to create seemingly spooky images and share them on social media, making separating fact from fiction even more difficult for ghost researchers. 

Most people who believe in ghosts do so because of some personal experience; they grew up in a home where the existence of (friendly) spirits was taken for granted, for example, or they had some unnerving experience on a ghost tour or local haunt. 

Belief in a spirit world may also fulfill a deeper psychological need.

"There’s still so much to this universe that we don’t understand, and it’s comforting to fill in the void with explanations. Supernatural explanations are often stated with confidence, even when there’s no actual evidence, and this confidence provides a false sense of actual truth," Hupp said.

For instance, some claim that support for the existence of ghosts can be found in no less a hard science than modern physics. It is widely claimed that Albert Einstein suggested a scientific basis for the reality of ghosts, based on the First Law of Thermodynamics : If energy cannot be created or destroyed but only change form, what happens to our body's energy when we die? Could that somehow be manifested as a ghost?

It seems like a reasonable assumption — until you dig into the basic physics. The answer is very simple, and not at all mysterious. After a person dies, the energy in his or her body goes where all organisms' energy goes after death: into the environment. The energy is released in the form of heat, and the body is transferred into the animals that eat us (i.e., wild animals if we are left unburied, or worms and bacteria if we are interred), and the plants that absorb us. There is no bodily "energy" that survives death to be detected with popular ghost-hunting devices.

Related: Top 10 most famous ghosts

While amateur ghost hunters like to imagine themselves on the cutting edge of ghost research, they are really engaging in what folklorists call ostension or legend tripping. It's basically a form of playacting in which people "act out" a legend, often involving ghosts or supernatural elements. In his book " Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live " (University Press of Mississippi, 2003) folklorist Bill Ellis points out that ghost hunters themselves often take the search seriously and "venture out to challenge supernatural beings, confront them in consciously dramatized form, then return to safety. ... The stated purpose of such activities is not entertainment but a sincere effort to test and define boundaries of the 'real' world."

If ghosts are real, and are some sort of as-yet-unknown energy or entity, then their existence will (like all other scientific discoveries) be discovered and verified by scientists through controlled experiments — not by weekend ghost hunters wandering around abandoned, supposedly haunted houses in the dark late at night with cameras and flashlights.

In the end (and despite mountains of ambiguous photos, sounds, and videos) the evidence for ghosts is no better today than it was a century ago. There are two possible reasons for the failure of ghost hunters to find good evidence. The first is that ghosts don't exist, and that reports of ghosts can be explained by psychology, misperceptions, mistakes and hoaxes . The second option is that ghosts do exist, but that ghost hunters do not possess the scientific tools or mindset to uncover any meaningful evidence. 

But ultimately, ghost hunting is not about the evidence at all (if it was, the search would have been abandoned long ago). Instead, it's about having fun with friends and family members, telling stories, and the enjoyment of pretending to search the edge of the unknown. After all, everyone loves a good ghost story.

  • The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.
  • Experiments suggest that c hildren can distinguish fantasy from reality , but are tempted to believe in the existence of imaginary creatures, according to an article published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

Sign up for the Live Science daily newsletter now

Get the world’s most fascinating discoveries delivered straight to your inbox.

Benjamin Radford

  • Brandon Specktor Editor
  • Tia Ghose Managing Editor

 alt=

'Yeti hair' found in Himalayas is actually from a horse, BBC series reveals

Haunting 'mermaid' mummy from Japan is a gruesome monkey-fish hybrid with 'dragon claws,' new scans reveal

'Mind-blowing' deep sea expedition uncovers more than 100 new species and a gigantic underwater mountain

Most Popular

By Bryan G. Fry February 21, 2024

By Elise Poore February 21, 2024

By Keumars Afifi-Sabet February 21, 2024

By Jamie Carter February 21, 2024

By Ben Turner February 20, 2024

By Nicoletta Lanese February 20, 2024

By Tom Metcalfe February 20, 2024

By Brett Tingley February 20, 2024

By Emily Cooke February 20, 2024

  • 2 1,800-year-old Roman tombs in Bulgaria included medallion featuring an emperor and glass bottles for collecting mourners' tears
  • 3 NASA grabbed a whopping 120 grams of rubble from asteroid Bennu, and it may contain the seeds of life
  • 4 James Webb telescope finds ancient galaxy larger than our Milky Way, and it's threatening to upend cosmology
  • 5 Ancient language found on 2,100-year-old bronze hand may be related to Basque
  • 2 April 8 total solar eclipse: Why this eclipse repeats itself every 54 years
  • 3 Stunning rock art site reveals that humans settled the Colombian Amazon 13,000 years ago
  • 4 There's an asteroid out there worth $100,000 quadrillion. Why haven't we mined it?
  • 5 1,800-year-old Roman tombs in Bulgaria included medallion featuring an emperor and glass bottles for collecting mourners' tears

A Belief in Ghosts: Poetry and the Shared Imagination

An essay from poet Dorothea Lasky on poetry, ghosts, and the shared imagination.

Ghostly road

Baby hair with a woman’s eyes I can feel you watching in the night All alone with me and we’re waiting for the sunlight When I feel cold, you warm me And when I feel I can’t go on, you come and hold me It’s you… And me forever —Hall & Oates

JSTOR Daily Membership Ad

I. The Materiality of the Imagination

Let’s start first with a question: What do you think about the imagination? Is it a place that you go in your mind to create new ideas freely? Is it a place you fear? Is it both?

People often talk of the imagination as if it is one thing for everyone, a place without context, a specific, singular landscape that we all go to, on our own. This kind of talk sometimes makes people feel that if they don’t have immediate access to this single place, they can’t engage in imaginative thinking, which disempowers infinite possible new ways of seeing the world. Everyone has their own imaginative landscapes, populated with very particular experiences, and when people open the door and let us into those places—through poetry, other forms of art, and other new invention—it helps each of us connect with our own imaginations. It also helps us see the doors that connect all of our imaginations together. Because the shared imagination is both specific and universal, real and unreal, profane and holy, a place of both rest and unrest, that we all can go to and share with others when we make new things.

The shared imagination engages fully with the material world. That’s the other trick to it. The imagination is a physical space that one shares with other people in and through poetry. In a poem we make a haunted land to mimic this haunted one, and that we populate this land with physical reality to connect this world to the next (to other ones).

When we read poems, what is important about reading them, is what we create within the brains of others. This is what makes the possibility of a world past this one possible.

A belief in a material, shared imagination is important to me as a poet, because I want not just to recreate this one through poetry. I want a neverending, generative universe that poetry can help create.

One of my favorite poems by Alice Notley goes like this:

All my life, Since I was ten, I’ve been waiting to be in this hell here with you; All I’ve ever wanted, and still do.

When I first heard the poem it was because my friend Laura Solomon had put it on a mix CD she made for me from Paris when I was living in Boston in 2005. She put it right before a song by Amadou & Mariam called “Sénégal Fast Food,” so that when I listened to the whole CD, the Notley poem was like an introduction to the song, which not knowing French, seemed to me to be about a late night eating fast food in Senegal. But upon reading the translation of the lyrics to the song, I later learned was about falling in love and getting married in a rush, asking the question over and over, “What time is it in Paradise?” Rushing into the question of timelessness.

In my mind, when I heard Notley reading the poem in the 1987 recording, I saw her at the St. Marks Poetry Project, reading it to a roomful of people, telling them all, “I have waited to be here with you, this chamber of poets and seers, this hell, that now I am a part of forever, and by the way, it is hell after all—all this gossip and dark living.” I think I saw her in this place because in a recording of my favorite poem by her late husband, Ted Berrigan, called “Red Shift,” he is reading this poem in the Poetry Project. In my mind, the two conflate timelessly, almost at the same reading. But later, I learned, too, that Notley was reading her poem “All My Life” in a real city called Buffalo , a place very charged for me with emotions, but that is, for many people, its own kind of hell.

Much of my belief in a shared, material imagination has to do with my belief in ghosts and a hope and horror that they really do exist.

Even though I know that Notley speaks her poem, wherever she does, to a room full of poets, telling them that she has waited to be with them, and now she is, reading her poem, at a real poetry reading. I think she is also telling them, “Here I am in the space of the imagination, where you are, too.”

Poems are special because they make a space, a real space, where we can call go. This place is a city called The Imagination. It is whatever you want it to be, half-hell, half-dreamworld, half-Paradise, half-light and ashes, but poems are the special things that make it real forever.

Let me ask you another question: Have you ever been there?

II. A Belief in Ghosts

My whole life, I had an inkling that there were things like ghosts and that maybe some people were able to actually see them. But up until a few summers ago, I had never actually seen a ghost.

For two summers, I slept in a haunted house, while teaching poetry there through a writing program. The teachers and I had all sorts of encounters with the spirits in the house, but for me, seeing the ghost during my first summer there was the most important event. Nothing other than seeing a ghost has been as instrumental in my thinking about the materiality of the shared imagination and its importance in poetry.

The house has a long history of ghosts. Legend has it that a girl’s shoe was found in the wall. A guard had quit years ago after so many sightings of a tiny girl screaming for help that he could no longer bear it. While I stayed in the house with other teachers and friends, we all heard children running through the ceiling of the abandoned rooms upstairs, screams and voices, computers charged for no reason, locked windows that blew open, hidden pills, broken cabinets, and misplaced plastic necklaces. One teacher channeled an angry spirit in her writing, who simply stated, “I am stuck here.”

All of these experiences are things that could be explained away, but with several people experiencing them, we started to talk about them freely. When some visiting artists came to stay at the house for a few days one summer, we shared the stories with them, too.

Most people I choose to tell about my belief in ghosts are believers or at the very least susceptible to the idea. I am careful not to tell people who are going to laugh it off or call me crazy. As a poet, I have learned to be OK with what my imagination might bring to me.

When people call other people crazy I don’t get mad, I get bored. When people tell me ghosts don’t exist, I just get bored.

Laura Kelly Leuter, a famed devil-hunter, who has devoted her life to looking for the physical evidence of a being lovingly called, the Jersey Devil , has written of non-believers in her plight:

Until someone proves that there isn’t something out there, I will continue to believe that there is, and I will also continue my efforts to find proof that the Jersey Devil does in fact exist. So there.

When these visitors were at the house, a few of us told them about the ghosts. It felt natural enough. I didn’t think so much to censor myself, because the ghosts just seemed real. I have long believed (and longed to believe) what Pablo Picasso told me: “Everything you can imagine is real.”

One night a teacher and I arrived home late from dinner. We heard someone (or something) calling to us from the fruit garden right outside the house. I thought I had heard, “Dottie, come here.” We got very scared and ran in the house, clutching our fashion-forward neon leather purses to our chests.

We talked each other into going back out and seeing who was there. “Who is there? Who is there?” my friend shrieked. We heard “It is Adeline.”

Adeline was an old owner of the house. We walked into the garden with shaky knees only to find not the apparition of Adeline, but the visiting artists laughing at us. I didn’t find it funny.

One of the visitors (let’s call him Demon from now on) proceeded to tell me I needed to see a psychiatrist. After about two minutes, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to control my anger in any sort of good way, so I went inside, happy to be in the arms of the real ghosts in my room, not among the placid thoughts of living demons.

Samuel Johnson has said of ghosts:

It is wonderful that five thousand years have now elapsed since the creation of the world, and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.

All arguments, logical and steeped in what we know of science, can easily refute any belief in ghosts. The most salient argument that ghost-believers have is that they have “seen one.” And the imaginative space of a being having seen something—let alone a dead spirit—is not something that we ever fully believe in. But why not?

As a poet, I think a lot about belief and in the belief of what my mind will bring to me. There are a lot of things that enter my mind that I choose to translate into language. All poems contain images and these images have been in the poet’s brain and hang in the balance always, to be given to the reader upon reading. And in a poem images have weight so that you cannot help but believe in them.

Emily Dickinson has said of belief:

On the subjects of which we know nothing … we both believe, and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour, which keeps believing nimble.

The thing about ghosts is that once they have entered your imaginative space, there is no way not to believe in them.  As I mentioned, I once actually saw a ghost.

III. The Sighting of the Ghost

The poet, John Weiners wrote, “I can only say real happiness yields from the world of poems. And its practitioners are secret, sacred vessels to an ancient divinity.”

As I mentioned before, I think poetry is special because it connects us to the imagination, another world, or perhaps the other world, which is a physical space, that poems interact with and encounter.

In his book, The Imaginary , Sartre writes that when a writer creates something, he or she has “visions” and that these visions are made into a very real space in the brain.

Sartre’s idea seems to me very much in line with what Dickinson writes of in her poem about death, that “after great pain, a formal feeling comes.” She writes:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes – The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs – The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’ And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round – A Wooden way Of Ground, or Air, or Ought – Regardless grown, A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead – Remembered, if outlived, As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow – First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

As Dickinson writes, when a person dies, after pain, comes the formal feeling of cold, to let go of the person as a being, into a space where all voices commingle, as “Freezing persons, recollect the Snow.” To have a vision of a feeling is a type of formality. Perhaps poets are the beings on this earth that can go into the freezing place and bring out the pieces of snow. Something that Bernadette Mayer appropriated for her translation of Catullus #48, which she describes as a formal field of kissing of being in love, a place where one kiss is never enough, where one kiss is just never enough snow.

I think the formal field is the land of light and ashes, a place of visions, a place where as Jack Spicer wrote about in his lecture, “Dictation and ‘A Textbook of Poetry,’” the dead speak from, where a poet receives radio messages from, a place which, as he writes, might be an “outside,…an id down in the cortex which you can’t reach anyway…galaxies which seem to be sending radio messages to us with the whole of the galaxy blowing up just to say something to us.”

In comparing himself rather snarkily to Byron, Keats wrote, “He describes what he sees – I describe what I imagine – Mine is the hardest task.”

I tend to agree with him.

When I first got to the house the first year, I couldn’t sleep for about two weeks. Maybe I slept an hour or two here and there. I couldn’t sleep, because I felt certain something was in the room with me.

It sounds crazy to say all of this to you, I know, but after a while I started talking to the presence in my room. In words, in my imaginative space, she spoke back.

We communicated.

She conveyed whom she was and that she liked my jewelry and just wanted to hang out sometimes. This made sense, I mean, have you seen my jewelry? Also, because I would often see my jewelry in odd places, after being locked away in a drawer or cabinet. She told me she had lived in the 16th century. In my mind, I had the vision of her as a teenager with long blond hair. I was absolutely certain that this is what she looked like.

For fear of seeming crazy, I didn’t tell anyone about our communication. But once it happened, I felt free and slept like a baby.

A few days after, my student told me that she had something important to tell me. She said that when she was in the workout room the night before a sort of creepy-looking blond teenager tried to turn off her treadmill.  But that when she went to touch the girl’s hand and implore her to stop, the hand and the girl disappeared into the air.

I told my student about my encounter with what was likely this same entity. We both felt better. We both shared a belief in another dimension of being. And we had both interacted with the same ghost. There was a comfort in this shared reality, this shared imagination.

This is probably the opposite of how one should feel in that situation. Were we both going insane? Did we both have heatstroke? Did we prove that ghosts exist? Still, it was something very special that our brains connected in this way, with this same image.

Up until this point, I hadn’t actually seen the ghost. Despite my wanting to believe, I’ve always kind of not believed in ghosts too and never having seen one made me feel slightly disconnected from them.

The morning after my student shared her story with me, I came back to the house from a trip to town. As I walked to my room in the early morning heat, I saw a teenager, about 100 feet from me in a woodsy grove. The girl had on periwinkle shorts, a particular shade my mother had gotten into in the 80’s. (I can see a stack of cable knit sweaters piled on her bed in my mind now.) The girl was not so much wearing shorts, as skorts. She was looking at the leaves of a tree, as if she was looking for something—curious, but partially with the manner of a scientist. I thought it was one of my students, so I looked down. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone. A few seconds later, feeling guilty (aren’t teachers supposed to always be ready to talk to students?), I looked up. The girl was gone. I blinked my eyes. There was no way a person could have gotten away so fast. “That’s odd,” I said aloud to myself.

It was only later that day when I revisited the memory again did I remember she had gleaming blond hair.

Only months later did I think of one of my favorite moments of Stanley Kubrick’s (1980) The Shining , where Scatman Crothers’s character, Dick Hallorann, explains to Danny, the psychic boy, that the images in the haunted hotel are like pictures in a book, and that they aren’t real, which the boy repeats to himself for comfort when he sees the ghosts of the hotel, “Remember what Mr. Hallorann said. It’s just like pictures in a book, Danny. They aren’t real.”

It is not important to me to try and figure out if what I saw was “real” or an apparition. What I had sensed through my eyes had been processed into my brain as material space. In that what may have been a real image of my ghost had weight in my brain. It took up space in my brain.

Sometimes we see things in life very fast, so fast that we doubt ourselves, but we still know they are there. For example, oftentimes when we have mice in our kitchen (or is it just me?), they flash by us, with a splitsecond to register what they are. How often we can doubt what we saw, but still we have evidence to know it is there.

In the case of mice, there are droppings, broken bread crumbs, bananas with bite marks. With ghosts, there are often residues that are imperceptible, existing wholly within the imagination. With love, isn’t it love that we have felt, even when the physical reality has passed. Still, love is felt so clearly and neverending without sometimes so much as a sight of the beloved. We don’t need to see or touch a person to love them until the day we die. Just ask someone who has lost a person they have loved to refute this.

IV. Poetry Needs a Belief in a Shared, Material Imagination

You can’t always see what you hold in your imagination, but imagination is deeply felt.

Poetry has the ability to have us interact with the imaginary, because words together in the space of a poem make new realities—they make all the illusions of the imaginary real through language.

In his book, The Double Flame , in an essay called “The Kingdoms of Pan,” Octavio Paz explains that poetry is always about an embodied imagination, of making the unreal, the almost real, actually real:

When we dream and when we couple, we embrace phantoms. Each of the two who constitute the couple possesses a body, a face, and a name, but their real reality, precisely at the most intense moment of the embrace, disperses in a cascade of sensation which disperses in turn. There is a question that all lovers ask each other, and in it the erotic mystery is epitomized:  Who are you? A question without an answer…The senses are and are not of this world. By means of them, poetry traces a bridge between seeing and believing. By that bridge, imagination is embodied and bodies turn into images.

And while any kind of thinking makes the imagination embodied, it is the holy space of a poet’s projected imagination, a space where new language can create new words that does so so poignantly.

Many years ago, as my father was suffering from Alzheimer’s, which he later died from, he would often go into a trance and say that he had been talking to his brother and father, who had both died decades earlier. Everyone around us, all the doctors and nurses said it was a psychotic break of the disease, that what he thought he saw was the residue of his long-term memory, breaking down and making him think the past was the present. They would give him something like the drug Abilify and he would quiet down. But who is to say that he didn’t see his brother again? Who is to say that his long-term memory wasn’t a thing being eroded away by the disease, but a space he was visiting, which he could visit again, one day soon, for an eternity?

In the same 1965 lecture I mentioned above, Spicer wrote of Yeats’ wife Georgie’s encounter with the spirits, how one particular occasion she got possessed by spirits and Yeats was able to speak directly to them. When Yeats asked them “What are you here for?” they spoke to him through her and said “We’re here to give metaphors for your poetry.” A generous set of ghosts that knew Yeats. But I think that all spirits in the spiritworld are generous, when you met them in the space of the Imagination within a poem.

V. Does a Material Imagination Make a Visionary Poetry

I am not the only poet to have ever actually seen an apparition.

Many many years ago, I remember reading an anthology of sorts on visionary poets. In the book, there was a story of Blake and how he saw angels in the trees, as a kind of physical reality of angels. When we see we perceive that the thing we see has weight, especially if it is a person-like thing, like an angel. To have a vision of something, to perceive in a visionary way, is to in some way assume that what we see is real, or weighty, is affected by gravity, is material. Blake saw the angel, believed that he saw it, and it changed him. It created a space in his mind for the angel to go. He wrote poems about it, with new words and new language and new angels from this imaginative space. We read those poems still.

My favorite scene from the movie The Shining has always been when Jack Torrance, the murderous father, goes to visit room 237, the most haunted room in the whole hotel. For many reasons—most of them lifted from the recent documentary called Room 237 , in which theorist Jay Weidner asserts that the movie is Kubrick’s confession of how he helped to fake the moon landing films—this room is always what I think of now as The Moon Room.

When Jack goes in the room, there are very slow shots as he travels up the space the room. The camera focuses on the loud and beautiful purple and green carpet, with its radiating phalluses, the neon lilac couches, black and white bedspread and very mundane hotel wallpaper. Although slightly stylized, the room feels very real and deeply felt.

Next he finds himself in the mint green and gold bathroom, where he encounters the ghost of a murdered woman. She is in the bath, and slowly pulls back the slightly opaque clear shower curtain, to reveal her body, naked and statuesque and she gets out of the tub and moves towards him. She sees him.

I was recently on a tour of a collection of art objects in a very old museum, and the art historian who gave the tour was talking about some of the portraits, about how now we might have a portrait on the wall today, but in the past people kept cloaks or cloth over their portraits. It was thought that a portrait or art object was not something that you looked upon daily, because the act of seeing, of vision, was bidirectional. So, that when you looked at something, it looked back at you, and changed you.

I think in this way that a vision has viscera. That the bidirectionality of the seeing one to the thing being seen means that all vision and imaginative space created between the two things has weight.

When the ghost in room 237 looks at Jack, she starts to charm and mesmerize him. He becomes transfixed by the eroticism of the scene and forgets the possibility that she isn’t a living being, that her image isn’t real. (He never heard Mr. Hallorann say her image was just like pictures in a book.) She uses the bidirectionality of their interaction to get him to move towards her. It is more than mere seduction, between ghost and living being. It is the magnetic pull of faith that he has in his imagination through either his erotic feelings, her supernatural allure, or her intent. It is a mix of this magic spell.

Everyone knows how this scene ends. As he kisses her, she reveals herself to be an old crone, then a corpse, and laughs in his face at his faith in his own stupidity. Still, even in her decay, she is deeply felt in our imaginative spaces. She exists as some force and we see her and hear her, as she chases him out. There is a materiality to her presence, whether only in Jack’s mind or our minds now. I mean this, even though she is just a projected image on a screen. She exists, in some dimension, in some version of real space and time.

My reading of Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling is that the book is really about three levels of perception of the realms of being: aesthetic/sensual, moral, and spiritual. Most people go the three-step path—an aesthetic or sensual experience leads to a moral understanding, which leads to an interaction with the spiritual world. But I think he is really saying in that book that the aesthetic/spiritual, when done right, takes a person right up to the spiritual realm. That when we make a truly beautiful piece of art we make a fast train into the land of specters.

When a poem happens, meaning and a shared imagination happen between a poet and a reader. The poem is the testimony. The poet and reader are in mental and aesthetic—and then spiritual—communion.

VI. What About Reality That is Not Real, What About Poetry

I have always loved the poem “Song of a Man Who Has Come Through” by D.H. Lawrence:

Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me! A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time. If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me! If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift! If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed By the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the chaos of the world Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted; If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge Driven by invisible blows, The rock will split, we shall come at the wonder, we shall find the Hesperides. Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul, I would be a good fountain, a good well-head, Would blur no whisper, spoil no expression. What is the knocking? What is the knocking at the door in the night? It is somebody wants to do us harm. No, no, it is the three strange angels. Admit them, admit them

There is a lot to say about it, but, of course, what I have always loved the most about the poem are the “three strange angels.” Who are they?

The word “strange” doesn’t really tell us much about who these angels are. But it gives us enough to know that they aren’t of this world, that they are part of the imagination.

Sometimes I think (and it isn’t exactly an original thought!) that when we write poetry, we always engage with ghosts. Maybe what we perceive quickly is what poetry collects for us, a space of half-impressions, of sensual residues. And maybe the things we only see or feel for an instant are the spaces of non-reality—superreality—coming into this world.

Is this maybe what Alice Notley meant when she wrote that all her life, since she was 10, she had been waiting to be in this hell here with us?

Is the living within the real, but a radio connection to a peaceful world of specters, what for Blake was the hell of reality in his “Book of Thel,” where he had to ask “Why a little curtain of flesh on the bed of our desire?” His question has haunted me all my life. Snow snow.

Surely the ghost in room 237 is part of the imagination, part of Jack’s and now part of ours. Or was her presence a weighted thing always? Is there a space somewhere, where Room 237 exists and she does, too? And does she touch Jack over and over again and make him run away, on a loop? And will we meet her too, in another time or place, because she has been born within our brains and will live there forever, a constant loop of imaginative memory?

Did the blond ghost bless me with the knowledge that the unseen is real, an openness to a door where other ghosts can pass through? Or did the blond ghost make a crack in my sanity that may never been re-glued? Did she make it impossible for me to ever see reality as wholly palpable again?

What seems most important about the event is how my student and I both shared her image. How much did our tellings and retellings of our encounters change her and change our memories of her and make her alive? Alive at once or alive again—isn’t it all the same thing?

V. To Conclude

To conclude, I bring to you an image of William Blake’s “The Mathematician,” an image of a person bent over his studies, his eyes focused on his theorem and not on the world around him. To me, he has always looked so much like a poet. Sitting with his back bent, the burden of gravity and language and light, and the night, upon him.

Perhaps an interpretation of this image is that the mathematician is so obsessed with the abstraction of reality that he can’t see the beauty of the world around him. That maybe he sees only with, not through, the eye, because he thinks and does not experience, the world.

Still, I can’t help but think that this image is about the materiality of a shared imagination. That Blake’s Mathematician or Poet makes a space with his paper where other thinkers can go, a space where we all can dare to go.

In a show a few years ago at the Whitney museum, I watched a movie of Ken Jacobs’ “Apparition Theater,” which required 3-D glasses. Among other images, one part of the theater was a group of shadows playing with balloons, and at one point, a sign goes up that reads: “Balloons go into the audience and you can’t tell what’s real.” Even though I knew they were not real balloons, I held my hands out to catch them as they bounded towards me. It was the magic of wanting to see the boundary between the real and unreal dissolved. To see the curtain of flesh on the bed of my desire lifted once more.

The imagination is a space where things can go. Where we make things up and share them with others. But the imagination is not a vortex to suck the world up, like the annihilation of death. The imagination is a holy space where things can live forever.

Maxine Greene, in her Releasing the Imagination , writes of the imagination:

The way things are for our life and body allows us only a partial view of things, not the kind of total view we might gain if we were godlike, looking down from the sky. But we can only know as situated beings. We see aspects of objects and people around us; we all live in [a] kind of incompleteness…and there is always more for us to see.

Once again, this is where the imagination enters in, as the felt possibility of looking beyond the boundary where the backyard ends or the road narrows, diminishing out of sight.

I once had a dream—I don’t remember the details—but I remember I woke up and I shot up in bed and said, “Maybe they give you the flowers in a different way. That’s poetry.”

There is a shared consciousness among humans––and likely all animals, maybe all living things, but most definitely humans––that we can share. We share the material imagination through poetry.

Alice Notley wrote in a poem, “Last night I saw that when I flowed out and became all else I was nothing./ I was everything. We are the electricity.”

Carl Sagan has said, “We are all made of star-stuff.”

We are the star-stuff. We are the electricity, the hope of the balloons bounding towards us, the holy holograms. This reality may be a violent one, but isn’t it the case that we will all be glad to know each other forever through poetry. To always choose one root of the pink sort over a million blue-violets. To be in the hell and the heaven of the space of imagination. To take a chance that this space is there and make this life the immortal one.

If you love someone and they die, make them come alive again in a poem.

Read a poem again and the dead don’t have to be gone. I promise you this much.

Think of it another way. Read a poem. Then you won’t have to be gone one day, too.

To hell and back again, I send you.

JSTOR logo

JSTOR is a digital library for scholars, researchers, and students. JSTOR Daily readers can access the original research behind our articles for free on JSTOR.

Get Our Newsletter

Get your fix of JSTOR Daily’s best stories in your inbox each Thursday.

Privacy Policy   Contact Us You may unsubscribe at any time by clicking on the provided link on any marketing message.

More Stories

Photo of Bob MARLEY; performing live on stage,

  • From Jamaica to the World: Contextualizing Bob Marley

Gremlins, 1984

PG-13: Some Material May Be Inappropriate

Paul R. Williams

Paul Revere Williams: An Architect of Firsts

Rationale of the Dirty Joke by G. Legman

G. Legman and the Bawdy Eclectic

Recent posts.

  • Ukraine, Russia, and the West: A Background Reading List
  • Suppressing the Black Vote in 1811
  • Camellia sinensis : Labor and the Tea Plant
  • 100 Years after the “Great Debate”: How Edwin Hubble Expanded the Cosmos

Support JSTOR Daily

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Sheila Kohler

  • Child Development

Why Do We Believe in Ghosts?

Is there any truth in a ghost story.

Posted July 17, 2017

When I was seven years old, my Aunt Hazel, the youngest of my mother's sisters read me the first two chapters of “Jane Eyre” in the big green nursery with its black board across one wall, at Crossways, the house where my father had just died. You will remember how Jane is carried off unceremoniously and locked in the Red Room where she thinks she sees her uncle’s ghost.

It seems a strange choice of lecture for a seven year old, though my sister who was present was two years older than I.

It had a terrifying effect on me, one that has lasted all my life, and perhaps led me, too, to become a writer in an effort to render active what I had submitted to passively. Mr Reed, Jane’s uncle, in the book, like my own father just down the corridor from the nursery in the big bedroom, with the mauve velvet curtains, has died in this somber, silent room with its crimson curtains.Jane believes her uncle has come back to see if his wife, Jane’s cruel aunt, Mrs. Reed, has carried out his death-bed wishes and is taking good care of little Jane, his sister’s child.

I was terrified that my father might be similarly inspired, that his ghost might come back to make sure my mother was taking good care of my sister and me. This seemed a real and reasonable possibility, one that came to me in the night after the reading, when I lay in the dark beside my sister in the nursery and saw a glimmer of light burning in the bay window and was not able to cry out or move so frightened was I .

What was the origin of this thought? Had I overheard some critical conversation about my mother?

There were various times when the women in our entourage dared to make critical comments about my mother, despite the considerable power of the money she inherited when my father died . I remember the nanny, when our mother finally fired her, shortly after my father’s death, clacking the door behind her and firing her parting shot: “These children would be better off in an orphanage,” she dared to say. And I still see my aunt putting her head in the window of my mother’s Jaguar after a party and saying: “You should not drive with children in the car in the condition you are in!”

Whatever the reason, my father’s ghost hovered over my early childhood until Mother sent us off to boarding school on the suggestion of our head mistress who also seemed to think it was a wise move.

Perhaps I believed Father was watching out over his domain to make sure his fortune was spent wisely. My father, I was vaguely aware, from the large house and garden where we lived, the number of the servants and mother’s continuing travels to foreign lands, had made a fortune in the timber business and left his money to this much younger, less-educated woman whom he had married after divorcing his first respectable wife of many years. I remembered how my father would say, “Money does not grow on trees” and go out into the gloaming of the garden at twilight to check that all the taps had been turned off. Would he come back to see if the taps were left running?

As for this fortune, though my mother always told us as children that everything she had was ours, she did not ultimately leave it to her one remaining child. It went to her sisters and her younger brother and their families. What would my father’s ghost think of this? What, above all would my father have thought of his elder daughter dying so violently, the mother of six children— without a father to protect her from an angry Afrikaans surgeon, and wife- battering husband?

Thus my sister's ghost and my father's came to haunt my life. Both these ghosts seem close to me, my sister particularly watching over me as she did in the garden of our home where we wandered as children. I have written of her and her life repeatedly in fictional form, and recently in a memoir. As so often happens with a book particularly with non-fiction there are those who have responded favorably, sharing their own tragedies and thanking me for what they call my courage and honesty.

Some have objected strongly to my book. I have had letters from some of my sister’s children who protested at the public airing of the private linen of their lives. In fact one of my sister’s daughters has told me in strong words that her mother would not have wanted me to write this book.

What would my father’s, my sister’s ghost say? What would she have wanted me to do? My intention here was not to hurt anyone but rather to give voice to my silenced sister, and with her all the women or men who have been or remain in her dangerous position, someone killed thirty five years ago on a dry night on a curve in the road, her battering husband at the wheel. My aim was to make people aware of the danger of this situation.

Yet what right did I have to tell this story, where her dead father is not able to tell his my niece asked. Why was I not able to move on? To forget and forgive ? Why do these ghosts still come to haunt me? This question comes up repeatedly at readings of my work. Have I now, with the catharsis of writing this memoir, of writing down the truth as I see it, put all my ghosts to rest: my father’s, my mother’s, my sister’s? Well, the answer as you can see by this essay is no. Surely our ghosts, our memories of our past, of those we have loved and lost, are what we have of most precious. They are the only known parts of our lives. We cannot know the future or interpret the present moment. Our ghosts give us our identity , help us to know who we are. Above all, they give us our ability to reach out to others, to love.

belief in ghosts essay

Sheila Kohler is the author most recently of a memoir "Once we were sisters" published by Penguin.

"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte. Penguin Classics

Sheila Kohler

Sheila Kohler teaches at Princeton. She is the author of many books including, Open Secrets; Dreaming for Freud; and Cracks, which was made into a film with Eva Green.

  • Find a Therapist
  • Find a Treatment Center
  • Find a Psychiatrist
  • Find a Support Group
  • Find Teletherapy
  • United States
  • Brooklyn, NY
  • Chicago, IL
  • Houston, TX
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • New York, NY
  • Portland, OR
  • San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Washington, DC
  • Asperger's
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Chronic Pain
  • Eating Disorders
  • Passive Aggression
  • Personality
  • Goal Setting
  • Positive Psychology
  • Stopping Smoking
  • Low Sexual Desire
  • Relationships
  • Therapy Center NEW
  • Diagnosis Dictionary
  • Types of Therapy

January 2024 magazine cover

Overcome burnout, your burdens, and that endless to-do list.

  • Coronavirus Disease 2019
  • Affective Forecasting
  • Neuroscience

There’s a fascinating psychological reason behind your belief in ghosts

Halloween is a time to celebrate ghosts, vampires, and everything supernatural.

But if you truly believe in ghosts, you're not alone.

According to a Gallup survey from 2005, about three out of four Americans harbor at least one paranormal belief. More than a third of people surveyed also said they believed in ghosts or spirits returning from the dead. Another 37% reported believing in haunted houses , and a whopping 41% in extrasensory perception (ESP).

But just what makes us susceptible to these beliefs, despite an utter lack of evidence  that they're real?

It's how our brains are wired

Part of the reason many of us believe in ghosts simply comes down to the way our brains work, Barry Markovsky, a sociologist at the University of South Carolina, told Business Insider.

The human mind seeks patterns to make sense of ambiguous information. "Ghosts are almost always seen under ambiguous circumstances — such as in poor lighting, or when we're just waking up or falling asleep, when our senses are not at their peak function," Markovsky said.

People who believe in ghosts are often in situations where they're expecting to see them , such as in a "haunted" house, Markovsky added. In other words, if you're looking for something, you're more likely to find it.

"Humans are hardwired to seek out explanations for what happens around us," Radford adds.

It's related to belief in life after death

A wide variety of supernatural beliefs exist in different cultures, but ghosts are by far the most common one,  Benjamin Radford, deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine and author of " Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries ," told Business Insider.

Part of the reason for this is that believing in ghosts may be  related to a belief in the afterlife , a tenet of most major religions.   Believing in the supernatural also has its roots in our desire to have control over our world, Radford explained. After all, a world where random things happen is a scary one.

Another Gallup poll found that in sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of people surveyed believed in witchcraft, and those who did tended to rate themselves as less happy than nonbelievers. And a 2008 study found that lonely people are more likely to believe in the supernatural.

Some seek the thrill of it

Of course, another reason people believe in ghosts is the same reason that people like to watch scary movies or play Bloody Mary in girls' bathrooms: for the thrill of it.

There's a word for buying into these scary stories: legend-tripping. Basically, people do this because they know they're not in any real danger, Radford said.

But there's a contradiction at the heart of our belief in ghosts. One the one hand, there's the idea that ghosts are scary and wish to do us harm, but on the other, there are people who go looking for ghosts.

Many ghost hunters see themselves as "traffic cops for the afterlife," Radford said. Instead of believing ghosts to be evil, they think of them as spirits that have simply gotten lost on the way to the hereafter.

As Radford put it, "If you're genuinely terrified of ghosts and think they could kill you, why the [heck] would you go looking for them?"

Of course, movies and TV shows about ghost-hunting, which are often presented with very little skepticism, aren't helpful.

It's all good fun, but as Radford said, "Don't believe everything you see on TV!"

belief in ghosts essay

Watch: This 'Ghostbusters' superfan spent over $150K recreating the famous vehicle from the film

belief in ghosts essay

  • Main content

Logo

Essay on Why Do Many People Believe In Ghosts

Students are often asked to write an essay on Why Do Many People Believe In Ghosts in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Why Do Many People Believe In Ghosts

Belief in the unknown.

Ghosts are part of many cultures and stories worldwide. These tales often describe ghosts as spirits of the dead. People believe in ghosts because they offer an explanation for things that are hard to understand. For example, strange noises or lights in a house might be seen as signs of a ghost.

Emotional Connections

People also believe in ghosts because they provide a connection to loved ones who have passed away. The idea of ghosts can give comfort, suggesting that those we care about are still with us in some way. This helps people cope with loss and grief.

Fear and Excitement

Fear and excitement can also lead to belief in ghosts. Ghost stories can be thrilling, sparking our imagination and curiosity. This mix of fear and fascination can make the idea of ghosts very compelling.

Influence of Media

Movies, TV shows, and books often portray ghosts, reinforcing belief in their existence. These stories can make ghosts seem real, especially to those who are already open to the idea. Media can be very influential, shaping our perceptions and beliefs.

250 Words Essay on Why Do Many People Believe In Ghosts

Introduction.

Ghosts are a topic that stirs up a lot of interest and curiosity. Many people around the world believe in their existence, even though there is no scientific proof. But why is that so? Let’s explore this fascinating subject.

Stories and Folklore

One reason people believe in ghosts is because of stories and folklore. From a young age, we hear tales about spooky spirits from our elders or in books and movies. These stories make a lasting impression and can convince us that ghosts are real.

Personal Experiences

Sometimes, people believe in ghosts because of personal experiences. They may feel a chill in a room, see a shadowy figure, or hear strange noises. These unexplained events can make them think that a ghost is nearby.

Fear of Death

The fear of death also plays a part. It’s hard for us to imagine what happens after we die. Believing in ghosts can make us feel like there’s something beyond death, which can be comforting.

Religion and Culture

Lastly, religion and culture can influence our beliefs about ghosts. Many religions and cultures around the world include spirits or ancestors in their teachings, which can make the idea of ghosts seem more real.

In conclusion, there are many reasons why people believe in ghosts. From stories and personal experiences to fears about death and cultural beliefs, these factors can make the idea of ghosts feel real and tangible. Even without scientific proof, the belief in ghosts continues to be a part of human nature.

500 Words Essay on Why Do Many People Believe In Ghosts

Ghosts, spirits, or phantoms have been a part of human culture for centuries. These unseen beings are believed to exist by many people around the world. But why do so many people believe in ghosts? Let’s explore this question in simple terms.

The Influence of Culture and Tradition

One of the main reasons why people believe in ghosts is because of culture and tradition. Many societies have stories and legends about spirits and supernatural beings. These tales are often passed down from generation to generation. As kids, we hear these stories from our elders and grow up believing in them. This cultural influence plays a big part in shaping our beliefs about ghosts.

Media and Entertainment

Movies, TV shows, and books also play a role in making people believe in ghosts. These forms of entertainment often depict ghosts in a way that seems real and believable. They show ghosts interacting with people and the physical world. This can make the idea of ghosts seem more real to us.

Some people believe in ghosts because of their own experiences. They might have felt a strange presence, seen an unexplainable shadow, or heard weird noises. These experiences can be very powerful. Even if there is a logical explanation, people might still believe that they have encountered a ghost.

The Need for Explanation

Humans have a natural desire to understand and explain the world around us. When we encounter something we can’t explain, we often turn to supernatural explanations. For example, if we hear a strange noise in the night, we might think it’s a ghost. This need to explain the unknown can lead us to believe in ghosts.

The Comfort of Belief

Believing in ghosts can also offer comfort. For some, it provides a way to stay connected with loved ones who have passed away. The idea that their spirits are still around can be comforting. It can also make the idea of death less scary, as it suggests that there is a form of life after death.

In summary, there are many reasons why people believe in ghosts. These range from cultural influences and personal experiences to the need for explanation and comfort. While not everyone believes in ghosts, it’s clear that the belief in these unseen beings is deeply rooted in human culture and psychology. Whether ghosts are real or not, the belief in them reveals a lot about us as humans and our desire to understand and connect with the world around us.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

If you’re looking for more, here are essays on other interesting topics:

  • Essay on Why Do I Want To Become A Nurse
  • Essay on Why Do I Want To Be An Entrepreneur
  • Essay on Why Do I Want To Be A Team Leader

Apart from these, you can look at all the essays by clicking here .

Happy studying!

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Reflection on Why Do People Believe in Ghosts? (Essay Sample)

Have you ever thought about why so many people believe in ghosts and are so desperate about learning more about them? People want to believe in ghosts because a lot of it is neurological and there are a lot of instances that can’t be explained. While some scientists believe that ghosts are not realistic since we can’t see them,  I still believe that ghosts are real, and here’s why more people should too.

Ghosts are really a lot of instances that can’t be explained Sometimes the ghost stories had no easy conclusions? according to Open House on Haunted Hill “The sound makes Ana pinwheel around, and she points at the door. She says, “Daddy! It’s ghosts!”. Ghosts' stories most of the time can’t be explained therefore the idea of ghosts actually exists or not. It also states “With the sound of an affectionate kitten, the door opens. Shock hits the adults, who definitely don’t remember there being a room there”.  this means that a lot of people are really eager to see what would happen and that’s what makes them keep exploring. 

People want to believe in ghosts because a lot of it has to do with neurological. Also, a lot of people want to believe that there’s life after death and this is a common belief among lots of cultures and religions. This belief gives many people comfort when they lose a loved one. People also are eager to learn and believe in ghosts because it’s thrilling and there’s proof. In the same way, people love scary movies and terrifying rollercoasters, believing that there are spirits of the dead is just plain thrilling. Most ghost hunters don’t even see ghosts as evil spirits but as a way of thrilling and searching for the afterlife. Also when someone is touching your shoulder and no one else is around who is it? A ghost?. A lot of believing in ghost have to do with people wanting to believe in them. In their minds, for example, they hear a lot of stories and be convinced that they truly do exist.  According to “the crying lady in the Dakota New York, where a lot of rich people live there happens a story where Jhon Lennon and Yoko Ono moved into the building in 1973, Before Jhon’s death, he claimed to have seen a ghost and described her as “ the crying lady ghost. In addition Lennon green interview that included him reading a letter that predicted his death”. Also in the text, it says that “Musician Joey Harrow, who lived near the Dakota, claimed to see Lennon’s ghost standing in the archway just a few years after his murder, surrounded by an “eerie light.” This shows that this story is not only neurological but it’s true as well.  

So people believe in ghosts for so many different reasons. One can be because people hear lots of different stories and by the time they believe in them or because ghosts are not always viewed as evil by people sometimes they can be viewed as another way of spirit and life. People might believe in ghosts because they’re neurologically convincing or at other times people can’t explain why they feel a certain way. By all counts, it is no wonder that people believe in ghosts but different beliefs that connect them back to life and living.

Related Samples

  • Essay Example on Choices in Modern Society
  • An Essay on Criticism Analysis of the Passage by W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Reflection on Freedom (Essay Sample)
  • The Trolley Problem Essay Example
  • Beliefs on Life After Death Essay Example
  • The Path To Success Essay Example
  • Essay on Transcendentalism in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail
  • Essay about Utilitarianism
  • Wealth is First of All a Mindset (Free Essay Example)
  • Reflection Essay Sample about Wants and Needs

Didn't find the perfect sample?

belief in ghosts essay

You can order a custom paper by our expert writers

Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Ghost — The Enigma of Ghosts: Fact or Fiction?

test_template

The Enigma of Ghosts: Fact Or Fiction?

  • Categories: Ghost

About this sample

close

Words: 850 |

Published: Jun 5, 2019

Words: 850 | Pages: 2 | 5 min read

Image of Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Let us write you an essay from scratch

  • 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help
  • Custom essay delivered in as few as 3 hours

Get high-quality help

author

Prof. Kifaru

Verified writer

  • Expert in: Literature

writer

+ 120 experts online

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy . We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

No need to pay just yet!

Related Essays

8.5 pages / 3959 words

3.5 pages / 1498 words

2 pages / 922 words

3 pages / 1304 words

Remember! This is just a sample.

You can get your custom paper by one of our expert writers.

121 writers online

The Enigma of Ghosts: Fact Or Fiction? Essay

Still can’t find what you need?

Browse our vast selection of original essay samples, each expertly formatted and styled

Related Essays on Ghost

Hope in the face of death seems to be an impossible concept to adequately convey to a reader. After all, death itself seems to be the epitome of hopelessness and despair. However, Anne Bradstreet conveys in her poetry this very [...]

George Santayana’ s oft-quoted aphorism—“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”—has entered cultural ubiquity and become a cliché, paraphrased ad nauseam by politicians and philosophically-inclined [...]

Anne Bradstreet is one of the most prominent literary figures of the colonial era of American history, and she is often cited as one of the primary sources of Puritan literature. Some of her work carried undertones of [...]

In the year 632AF (the year 2540AD, 632 years after Ford) the world has finally eliminated many inconveniences including war, famine, dissent, disease, depression and jealousy. This conquest, however, came at a cost: cultural [...]

­Traditionally, drama has been an outlet for the extraordinary; only fairly recently with more modernist plays have the focus been shifted onto more ordinary lives. Greek tragedy follows the fall of a noble protagonist; by [...]

Karen Russell’s modern Southern novel, Swamplandia! is informed by various works of Southern Literature through different time periods. It is through the use of themes and motifs specific to literature of the American South [...]

Related Topics

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and Privacy statement . We will occasionally send you account related emails.

Where do you want us to send this sample?

By clicking “Continue”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.

Be careful. This essay is not unique

This essay was donated by a student and is likely to have been used and submitted before

Download this Sample

Free samples may contain mistakes and not unique parts

Sorry, we could not paraphrase this essay. Our professional writers can rewrite it and get you a unique paper.

Please check your inbox.

We can write you a custom essay that will follow your exact instructions and meet the deadlines. Let's fix your grades together!

Get Your Personalized Essay in 3 Hours or Less!

We use cookies to personalyze your web-site experience. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy .

  • Instructions Followed To The Letter
  • Deadlines Met At Every Stage
  • Unique And Plagiarism Free

belief in ghosts essay

I do not believe in ghosts Research Paper

Today, many people believe in the existence of ghosts. However, there is no enough evidence to prove that they really do exist. A ghost can be defined as the spirit of a deceased person that can appear in the form of a body to living people and haunt them (McCormick 38). Once a person dies, he or she ceases to exist in bodily form and makes a transition to the spirit world.

Seeing the bodily image of a person who is already dead can be very scaring. The media is a major factor that has led many people to believe in ghosts. Through it, pictures of ghosts are made available to people in the whole world. The television channels, movies, internet, and other forms of media have played a major role in this. Seeing ghost pictures on the media creates a permanent image of the same on people’s mind.

In addition to that, everyone can bear me witness that all people in the world have been told ghost stories in their childhood. Such stories that have been told include those of phantom armies, ghost trains, ghost animals just to mention but a few (Schwartz and Chess 104). From these stories, children create permanent pictures of the ghosts in their minds and that keeps reminding them of the ghosts.

All the above makes people believe in their existence. However, I refute the claim that ghosts exist because apart from being told stories about them and seeing their images in the media, I have never encountered one. People should not believe in ghosts because they have never seen a real one and there is no enough evidence to prove that they really exist.

The person who initiated the creation of horror movies involving ghosts made the greatest mistake. Horror movies are watched across the world and after watching a movie involving ghost like characters, it is quite possible to keep dreaming about them (Buse and Stott 93).

There are countless number of cases where by people are heard screaming in the middle of their night. Some even get out of their beds and flee claiming that they can actually see the ghost. I have also experienced the same and got very frightened for that matter. It was so serious that I could not sleep alone and somebody had to be there to drive away the fear.

However, that was long in my childhood. Even with all this, I do not believe in ghosts because I have never seen them in reality. People who assert that ghosts exist because they see them in their dreams commit a fallacy of invalid analogy because whatever they say is not based on reality but dreams. However, some dreams tend to come true, a dream is not a true story but rather a false one.

Peer pressure drives people to do things that they would rather not do. It also makes them believe in issues that are not real, all because other people believe in the same (Billings and White 118). There is no need of engaging in any given activity without a good reason for doing it. Neither is there any importance of believing in certain things because other people who are of great influence believe in the same.

Many people believe in ghosts because their peers do the same or claim to have seen them. Those who do this commit a fallacy of appeal to the bandwagon. This is common in many people and especially among high school students. Most people claim to see ghosts only in the darkness. Many are the times that they see people or other objects in the dark and assume that they are ghosts (Guiley 29). Fear is instilled in them because the things they see appear dark as a result of the darkness.

Seeing a dark image in an area where a person does not expect to see something like that could be frightening. The image could well be that of another person or an object that was placed there without your knowledge. After all, if you are in that particular place, then there is a possibility that another person could also be there.

Many learning institutions experience students’ unrest because of ghost related stories (Zepke 108). A claim from just one student that he or she has seen a ghost is enough to send the whole institution wild. Others may not be there but on hearing the claim, they can actually convince you that they have actually seen the ghost. I would not believe that a person has seen a ghost unless I see it myself.

Many people who claim that a ghost exists cannot provide statistical evidence in support of their claim (Buse and Stott 97). Many of them argue that they can feel the presence of the ghosts, hear them, and communicate with them. These people commit the fallacy of unsupported generalization since they cannot prove that the ghosts actually exist. In order to prove to people that something really exists, tangible evidence should be provided.

I have never heard of any factual recorded evidence that a ghost was seen somewhere. We only hear of stories that some people have seen ghosts but the evidence is not there. People rush to believe in the same even when they have not been provided with a single form of evidence. Pictures from the internet and other social media cannot be termed as evidence because they are not real but rather created by human beings.

The bible and other religious books contain stories about ghosts (Winzeler 35). This could be another reason why people believe in the existence of ghosts since most of the world’s population is religious. In the bible in the book of Samuel, King Saul is disguised as a witch who summons the spirit of Samuel. Most religions believe in life after death where by people will continue living after death but in a different form.

Once a person dies, he or she is buried and there is no any one moment that the body can be exhumed unless it is done by living human beings. Therefore, if people believe in life after death, the life must occur in a different form and that is the spirit. Most religions teach people that those who commit wrongful deeds while on earth will be punished after death.

People interpret the bible and other religious books in different ways some of which are not proper. Some believe that spirits of people who acted against the creator’s wishes are left to room on earth as a way of punishment. That leads many people to believe that ghosts do really exist. Things that appear abnormal to us cannot be termed as ghosts without proving that they really are.

Imagines of ghosts have been planted in people’s minds and that is why anything that appears unusual to them makes them suspicious. Although people believe that ghosts are not friendly and are out to harm human beings no one has ever proved what they have actually ever done. People have died and their deaths have been related to ghosts but no one has ever been able to prove the truth of the matter. Those who believe in this indulges in the fallacy of misleading evidence.

As mentioned earlier, many stories about ghosts have been told and movies about the same have been created too (Schwartz and Chess 101). The images of ghosts told about and seen are either dark, misty, airy, or subtle in nature. Most people who claim to have seen ghosts have seen such characteristics and jumped to conclusions that they had seen a ghost. Therefore, they commit the fallacy of hasty generalization because they do not provide enough evidence.

Claiming that they have seen such a thing is not enough because moving air can take different shapes depending on weather conditions and weather can result into misty conditions. Wind can even assume a circular shape and curl up the sky causing fear to people who might be new to this. In addition to that, any object will always appear dark when observed from far distance or in darkness (Holzer 51).

The fallacy of ignorance is committed when people make decisions based on what is not known (Billings and White 120). I may be committing this fallacy by claiming that I do not believe in ghosts because I have never seen one. However, my rivals could also be committing the same fallacy by claiming that ghosts exist because other people make them believe so.

They do not have any facts to support their claim and have done nothing to find out the truth. I can compare this with the very many religious teachings that we hear about. We are made to believe in things that were done by people who lived a long time ago in our absence. There is no evidence from a living person about anything that happened in the past.

This is what is termed as ignorance as no one has ever proven that whatever is talked about is true. People just believe in written material, which although many people believe is true, they cannot prove it. This is what happens to most of the people, who believe in ghosts. They do it out of ignorance because they do not know anything about them.

Ghosts are said to bring harm to living people and hence everybody fears an encounter with one. It is a common believe that a ghost will only be seen to the person or people that it intends to harm (McCormick 28). You may be in the presence of a person claiming to see a ghost and fail to see it yourself. This casts a lot of fear in people who are left imagining the next thing that would happen to that particular person. This is a fallacy of slippery slope and it leaves people quite traumatized.

Some people argue that some ghosts exist in the form of animals. However, no one can or has ever pointed at one and said that it is a ghost. Although the bible has ghost stories, it also states that the dead do not know anything about the living. Therefore, it is my conclusion that they cannot come back to bother people in the form of ghosts. Ghosts are merely expositions of people’s imaginations because they seem to exist to only those who believe in them (Guiley 37).

In most cases, ghosts are said to live in abandoned houses and especially those where murder has been committed. People will claim that they hear strange sounds coming from that direction but are not in a position to prove that fact. These sounds could possibly be coming from that direction but from a different place. It only needs one person to claim that there are ghosts in a certain house. Once that particular person makes such a statement, others will follow suit even without ever seeing one there.

Many people fear ghosts and once they hear that they exist in certain places, they will automatically believe and cease from going near the mentioned area (McCormick 40). This is ignorance of the highest degree since these people do not take further steps to prove the truth of the matter.

Therefore, all the people described above engage themselves in the fallacy of ignorance because they base their argument on something that is not known to them. They have never seen ghosts, they just hear about them but they believe in them without tangible evidence that they do really exists.

Works Cited

Billings, Simone, and White, Fred. The well-crafted Argument . Cengage Heinle. 2012. Print.

Buse, Peter, and Andrew, Stott. Ghosts: Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, History . London: Macmillan, 1998. Print.

Guiley, Rosemary. Ghosts and Haunted Places . New York: Chelsea House, 2008. Internet resource.

Holzer, Hans. Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond . New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1997. Internet resource.

McCormick, Lisa W. Ghosts: The Unsolved Mystery . Mankato: Capstone Press, 2009. Print.

Schwartz, Alvin, and Victoria, Chess. Ghosts: Ghostly Tales from Folklore . New York, N.Y: Scholastic, 1993. Print.

Winzeler, Robert L. Anthropology and Religion: What We Know, Think, and Question . Lanham: Altamira Press, 2008. Print.

Zepke, Terrance. Best Ghost Tales of North Carolina . Sarasota: Pineapple Press, 2006. Print.

  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2018, November 9). I do not believe in ghosts. https://ivypanda.com/essays/i-do-not-believe-in-ghosts/

"I do not believe in ghosts." IvyPanda , 9 Nov. 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/i-do-not-believe-in-ghosts/.

IvyPanda . (2018) 'I do not believe in ghosts'. 9 November.

IvyPanda . 2018. "I do not believe in ghosts." November 9, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/i-do-not-believe-in-ghosts/.

1. IvyPanda . "I do not believe in ghosts." November 9, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/i-do-not-believe-in-ghosts/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "I do not believe in ghosts." November 9, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/i-do-not-believe-in-ghosts/.

  • Ghost's Fear
  • Debunking Ghosts in the World Literature
  • Debunking the Existence of Ghosts
  • The Ghosts in Homer’s The Odyssey
  • The Existence of Ghosts
  • Objective Look at the Paranormal and Ghosts
  • Consideration of the Ghost in "Hamlet" by Shakespeare
  • Ghost Dance Religious Movement
  • The Ghosts of Iceland-book Report
  • The Ghosts in Henry James’s the Turn of the Screw
  • What is the value of the examined life?
  • The Question of Loyalty and Patriotism
  • Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood
  • Personal Development in James McBride's "The Color of Water"
  • Practice Makes Perfect Essay
  • Election 2024
  • Entertainment
  • Newsletters
  • Photography
  • Press Releases
  • Israel-Hamas War
  • Russia-Ukraine War
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • Asia Pacific
  • AP Top 25 College Football Poll
  • Movie reviews
  • Book reviews
  • Financial Markets
  • Business Highlights
  • Financial wellness
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Social Media

What does it mean to claim the US is a Christian nation, and what does the Constitution say?

FILE - A statue of Benjamin Franklin is seen at The Franklin Institute, Feb. 10, 2015, in Philadelphia. Franklin, like some other key founders, admired Jesus as a moral teacher but would not pass a test of Christian orthodoxy. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

FILE - A statue of Benjamin Franklin is seen at The Franklin Institute, Feb. 10, 2015, in Philadelphia. Franklin, like some other key founders, admired Jesus as a moral teacher but would not pass a test of Christian orthodoxy. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

  • Copy Link copied

Many Americans believe the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and the idea is energizing some conservative and Republican activists. But the concept means different things to different people, and historians say that while the issue is complex, the founding documents prioritize religious freedom and do not create a Christian nation.

Does the U.S. Constitution establish Christianity as an official religion?

What does the constitution say about religion.

“(N)o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” (Article VI)

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (First Amendment)

FILE- President Joe Biden, with from left, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., pray and listen during the National Prayer Breakfast, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, at the Capitol in Washington. Johnson has spoken in the past of his belief America was founded as a Christian nation. Biden, while citing his own Catholic faith, has spoken of values shared by people of “any other faith, or no faith at all.” (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

If it says “Congress,” does the First Amendment apply to the states?

It does now. Early in the republic, some states officially sponsored particular churches, such as the Congregational Church in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Within a few decades, all had removed such support. The post-Civil War 14th Amendment guaranteed all U.S. citizens “equal protection of the laws” and said states couldn’t impede on their “privileges or immunities” without due process. In the 20th century, the Supreme Court applied that to a number of First Amendment cases involving religion, saying states couldn’t forbid public proselytizing, reimburse funding for religious education or sponsor prayer in public schools.

What does it mean to say America is a Christian nation?

It depends on whom you ask. Some believe God worked to bring European Christians to America in the 1600s and secure their independence in the 1700s. Some take the Puritan settlers at their word that they were forming a covenant with God, similar to the Bible’s description of ancient Israel, and see America as still subject to divine blessings or punishments depending on how faithful it is. Still others contend that some or all the American founders were Christian, or that the founding documents were based on Christianity.

That’s a lot to unpack. Let’s start at the top. What about the colonies?

Several had Christian language in their founding documents, such as Massachusetts, with established churches lasting decades after independence. Others, such as Rhode Island, offered broader religious freedom. It’s also arguable whether the colonies’ actions lived up to their words, given their histories of religious intolerance and their beginnings of centuries-long African slavery and wars on Native Americans.

What about the founders?

The leaders of the American Revolution and the new republic held a mix of beliefs — some Christian, some Unitarian, some deistic or otherwise theistic. Some key founders, like Benjamin Franklin, admired Jesus as a moral teacher but would fail a test of Christian orthodoxy. Many believed strongly in religious freedom, even as they also believed that religion was essential to maintain a virtuous citizenry.

Were the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution based on Christianity and the Ten Commandments?

References to the Creator and Nature’s God in the Declaration reflect a general theism that could be acceptable to Christians, Unitarians, deists and others. Both documents reflect Enlightenment ideas of natural rights and accountable government. Some also see these documents as influenced, or at least compatible, with Protestant emphasis on such ideas as human sin, requiring checks and balances. In fact, believers in a Christian America were some of the strongest opponents of ratifying the Constitution because of its omission of God references.

Were most early Americans Christian?

Many were and many weren’t. Early church membership was actually quite low, but revivals known as the First and Second Great Awakenings, before and after the Revolution, won a lot of converts. Many scholars see religious freedom as enabling multiple churches to grow and thrive.

Were Catholics considered Christian?

Not by many early Americans. Some state constitutions barred them from office.

How did that change?

Gradually, but by the time of the Cold War, many saw Catholics, Protestants and Jews as God-believing American patriots, allied in the face-off with the atheistic, communist Soviet Union.

Was it only conservatives citing the idea of a Christian nation?

No. Many proponents of the early 20th century social gospel saw their efforts to help the needy as part of building a Christian society. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt prayed on national radio for God’s blessing “in our united crusade ... over the unholy forces of our enemy.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that civil rights protesters stood for “the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.”

What do progressive Christians say today?

“Christian nationalism has traditionally employed images that advocate an idealized view of the nation’s identity and mission, while deliberately ignoring those persons who have been excluded, exploited, and persecuted,” said a 2021 statement from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, an umbrella group that includes multiple progressive denominations.

What do Americans believe about this?

Six in 10 U.S. adults said the founders originally intended America to be a Christian nation, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey. Forty-five percent said the U.S. should be a Christian nation, but only a third thought it was one currently.

Among white evangelical Protestants, 81% said the founders intended a Christian nation, and the same number said that the U.S. should be one — but only 23% thought it currently was one, according to Pew.

In a 2021 Pew report, 15% of U.S. adults surveyed said the federal government should declare the U.S. a Christian nation, while 18% said the U.S. Constitution was inspired by God.

One-third of U.S. adults surveyed in 2023 said God intended America to be a promised land for European Christians to set an example to the world, according to a Public Religion Research Institute/Brookings survey. Those who embraced this view were also more likely to dismiss the impact of anti-Black discrimination and more likely to say true patriots may need to act violently to save the country, the survey said.

Sources: Pew Research Center; Public Religion Research Institute/Brookings; “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” by John Fea.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

belief in ghosts essay

  • Share full article

Advertisement

Supported by

Guest Essay

Many Americans Believe the Economy Is Rigged

A color photo of a cracked sidewalk with a large puddle at its center. There is a reflection of the top of the U.S. Capitol building in the puddle.

By Katherine J. Cramer and Jonathan D. Cohen

Ms. Cramer is a co-chair of the Commission on Reimagining Our Economy at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Mr. Cohen is a senior program officer at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

When asked what drives the economy, many Americans have a simple, single answer that comes to mind immediately: “greed.” They believe the rich and powerful have designed the economy to benefit themselves and have left others with too little or with nothing at all.

We know Americans feel this way because we asked them. Over the past two years, as part of a project with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, we and a team of people conducted over 30 small-group conversations with Americans from almost every corner of the country. While national indicators may suggest that the economy is strong, the Americans we listened to are mostly not thriving. They do not see the economy as nourishing or supporting them. Instead, they tend to see it as an obstacle, a set of external forces out of their control that nonetheless seems to hold sway over their lives.

Take the perceived prevalence of greed. This is hardly a new feeling, but it has been exacerbated recently by inflation and higher housing costs. Americans experience these phenomena not as abstract concepts or political talking points but rather as grocery stores and landlords demanding more money.

Income inequality has been in decline over the last few years. But try explaining that to someone struggling to pay the rent. “I just feel like the underdog can’t get ahead, and it’s all about greed and profit,” one Kentucky participant noted. It is not necessarily the actual distribution of wealth that troubles people. It is the feeling that the economy is rigged against them.

There is a clear disconnect between the macroeconomic story and the micro-American experience. While a tight job market has produced historic gains for lower-income workers, many of the low-income workers we spoke with are unable to accumulate enough money to build a safety net for themselves. “I like the feeling of not living on the edge of disaster,” a special-education teacher in rural Tennessee said. “[I am] at my fullest potential economically” right now, but “I’m still one doctor’s visit away from not being there, and pretty much most people I know are.”

If there is a singular explanation for dissatisfaction with the economy, it is a lack of financial certainty. While direct government assistance early in the pandemic certainly helped many in 2020 and 2021, millions of households still struggled to get food, and many millions fell behind on rent. These feelings of instability do not dissipate quickly, especially when rising prices make trips to the store adventures in budgetary arithmetic and the threat of an accident or a surprise medical bill looms around every corner. “Uncertainty really affects your well-being. It affects what you do. It affects how you behave,” said a unionized airport worker in Virginia who tutors in the evenings.

An absence of economic resilience prevents people from spending time with family, from getting involved in their community and from finding ways to build a safety net. “The way the economy is going right now, you don’t know where it’s going to be tomorrow, next week,” a human resources employee in Indiana said. Well-being “is about being financially stable. It’s not about being rich, but it’s about being able to take care of your everyday needs without stressing.”

Stress is a rampant part of American life, much of it caused by financial insecurity. Some people aspire for the mansion on the hill. Many others are looking just to get their feet on solid ground.

One does not need to look hard beyond traditional metrics to see the prevalence of insecurity. In June an industry report found that auto loan delinquencies were higher than they were at the peak of the Great Recession. Credit card use has swelled, and delinquencies are at among their highest rates in a decade. After hitting a historic low in 2021 thanks to the expansion of the child tax credit, child poverty more than doubled in 2022 after the tax credit’s expansion expired. Also in 2022, rates of food insecurity reached their highest levels since 2015.

Such trends do not affect all Americans equally. Most disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic households, which perhaps helps explain Republicans’ gains in these communities, according to recent polls. Geography plays a major role, too. In some parts of the country — particularly rural areas — many people feel they have been left out of the progress and promise of the high-tech economy. Even if their finances remain in good health, they seem to fear for the future of their community, and they blame the economy.

The political system is supposed to make all this better. Instead, even as both major parties have vied to cast themselves as the standard-bearer of the working class, many Americans see politicians as unable or unwilling to do anything to help them. “In my democracy, I’d like to see us get rid of Republicans, Democrats,” one Kentucky participant told us. “Just stand up there, tell me what you can do. If you can do it, I don’t have to care what you are.” Many Americans seem to see Washington as awash in partisan squabbles over things that have little effect on their lives. Many believe that politicians are looking out for their political party, not the American people.

It should not be surprising, then, that so many are so pessimistic about a seemingly strong economy. A rising gross domestic product lifts lots of boats, but many Americans feel as if they are drowning.

What would make the people we talked to less stressed? The ability to accumulate savings. Low-wage workers have seen their incomes rise only for many of these gains to be wiped out by inflation. And the costs of housing, health care and child care can quickly absorb even a very robust rainy-day fund. Without a safety net that can propel people into security, the threat of these costs will continue to make many Americans feel unstable, uncertain and decidedly unhappy about the economy.

A helpful starting point would be to address benefit cliffs — income eligibility cutoffs built into certain benefits programs. As households earn more money, they can make themselves suddenly ineligible for benefits that would let them build up enough wealth to no longer need any government support. In Kansas, for example, a family of four remains eligible for Medicaid as long as it earns under $39,900. A single dollar in additional income results in the loss of health care coverage — and an alternative will certainly not cost only a buck.

Reforming these types of cliffs for health care, child care, housing and food assistance programs would allow the millions of households receiving state aid to achieve a sense of stability. Take this mother in Chicago who told us that her income is just above the eligibility cutoffs. The cliff “knocks me out of a lot of the opportunity to qualify for a lot of the programs that could assist in benefiting myself and my child,” she said.

The Americans we listened to want resiliency so they can feel that they are in control of their lives and that they have a say in the direction of their community and their nation. They want a system focused less on how the economy is doing and more on how Americans are doing. As one Houston man observed: “We’re so far down on the economic chain that we don’t have nothing. It seems like our voices don’t matter.” But they do matter. The rest of us just need to listen.

Katherine J. Cramer is a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Jonathan D. Cohen is the author of “For a Dollar and a Dream: State Lotteries in Modern America.”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , X and Threads .

IMAGES

  1. ⇉Do You Believe in Ghosts? Essay Example

    belief in ghosts essay

  2. Do You Believe in Ghosts Essay, Printables, Rubrics (Sleepy Hollow or

    belief in ghosts essay

  3. A study of ghosts

    belief in ghosts essay

  4. ⭐ Do you believe in ghosts why or why not essay. Free Essay: I Do Not

    belief in ghosts essay

  5. Do You Believe in Ghosts Essay, Printables, Rubrics (Sleepy Hollow or

    belief in ghosts essay

  6. Speech on ghosts essay sample

    belief in ghosts essay

VIDEO

  1. facts about ghost 👻

  2. The Sad Truth About the Ghostwriter Industry

  3. Is there a ghost?

  4. Unveiling My Paranormal Obsession Belief in Ghosts

COMMENTS

  1. Why we should believe in ghosts

    The widespread belief in ghosts turned the sale of indulgences into a lucrative practice for the church. It was such beliefs that contributed to the Reformation, the division of Christianity...

  2. Why Do People Believe in Ghosts?

    A Harris poll from last year found that 42 percent of Americans say they believe in ghosts. The percentage is similar in the United Kingdom, where 52 percent of respondents indicated that they...

  3. I Choose Not to Believe in Ghosts

    Essay I Choose Not to Believe in Ghosts There Are Enough Things in the World to Haunt Me By Paul Bisceglio | October 29, 2015 Last December, a woman I was dating told me she believed in ghosts. We were chatting at a holiday party with two other guests, one of whom manages communications at the Lobero, the oldest theater in California.

  4. Ghosts: Fact or Fiction?

    Roughly half of all Americans believe in ghosts or life after death according to a website called Ghosts and Gravestones. Many within the population of believers have shared perceived experiences of the phenomenon, or share a strong belief life after death.

  5. Many Americans Say They Believe in Ghosts. Do You?

    The last time Gallup surveyed people about ghosts, in 2005, 32 percent of respondents said they believed in "ghosts or that spirits of dead people can come back in certain places and...

  6. Are ghosts real?

    Belief in ghosts is part of a larger web of related paranormal beliefs, including near-death experience, life after death, and spirit communication. The belief offers many people comfort —...

  7. A Belief in Ghosts: Poetry and the Shared Imagination

    Baby hair with a woman's eyes. I can feel you watching in the night. All alone with me and we're waiting for the sunlight. When I feel cold, you warm me. And when I feel I can't go on, you come and hold me. It's you…. And me forever. —Hall & Oates. I.

  8. Why Do We Believe in Ghosts?

    My intention here was not to hurt anyone but rather to give voice to my silenced sister, and with her all the women or men who have been or remain in her dangerous position, someone killed thirty...

  9. Why Do People Believe in Ghosts?

    Oct 23, 2015, 11:55 AM PDT Fox Halloween is a time to celebrate ghosts, vampires, and everything supernatural. Advertisement But if you truly believe in ghosts, you're not alone. According to...

  10. Opinion

    I Believe in Ghosts. Two years ago, faced with the rising cost of living in the greater Boston area, my family decided to put our lots in together and buy a property that could accommodate my ...

  11. (PDF) Ghosts: do they exist or not?

    This article is intended to examine some empirical evidence and some scientific arguments regarding the existence /non-existence of ghosts and how a psychologist can practice ethically when...

  12. Essay on Why Do Many People Believe In Ghosts for Students

    People believe in ghosts because they offer an explanation for things that are hard to understand. For example, strange noises or lights in a house might be seen as signs of a ghost. Emotional Connections People also believe in ghosts because they provide a connection to loved ones who have passed away.

  13. Saying Thanks To My Ghosts

    Peace comes from love. "Now you know," my mother said. I believe in ghosts. Whenever I want, they will always be there: my mother, my grandmother, my ghosts. Amy Tan was born in the United States to immigrant Chinese parents. She wrote "The Joy Luck Club," "The Bonesetter's Daughter" and other bestselling books.

  14. The Existence of Ghosts

    The Existence of Ghosts Essay Exclusively available on IvyPanda In the traditional cultural beliefs, a ghost is universally thought of as the spirit or soul of a dead person. It could even be that of an animal, which can appear to the living in different manifestations.

  15. Argumentative Essay About Ghosts Are They Real

    Christianity, the most common religion followed, believes that ghosts are not spirits of deceased bodies or angels of the Lord. They are believed to be followers of the underworld, demonic angels that rise to earth and deceive humans and alter their knowledge of the Christian message.

  16. Reflection on Why Do People Believe in Ghosts? (Essay Sample)

    Philosophy Reflection on Why Do People Believe in Ghosts? (Essay Sample) Have you ever thought about why so many people believe in ghosts and are so desperate about learning more about them? People want to believe in ghosts because a lot of it is neurological and there are a lot of instances that can't be explained.

  17. Do You Believe in Ghosts?

    Scientists who have witnessed and seen ghosts are believers, but universal belief is based on evidence, and even with photographic, video and audio evidence, many people aren't yet willing to universally accept that ghosts exists. As one who has seen them, I of course have no doubt, and it has caused me to rethink many things of a spiritual nature.

  18. Paranormal Activity Beliefs in the Victorian Era

    Essay Sample: Ghosts, paranormal activity, and superstitions are all phenomena that are interesting to the human mind. These phenomena have an interesting origin dating ... (Ghost stories). A new belief called spiritualism, which is the belief in spirits, emerged. More specifically, it is the idea that the dead can communicate with the living ...

  19. The Enigma of Ghosts: Fact or Fiction?: [Essay Example], 850 words

    Get original essay. It was believed that ghosts are the spirits of dead people which appear in invisible form to the people. Spirits of deceased try to communicate with the family member. This procedure is called Spiritism. People in different religion practice different religious practices designed to rest spirt of the dead.

  20. Essay about Why we believe in ghosts

    29 March 2013 Why people believe in ghosts. Lying in bed in the middle of the night while sleep eludes me, a noise breaks through the silence. Oh my God! What was that!? Maybe it was just my imagination, or maybe it was just the house settling. There it is again! I must be hearing things. I get cold and my body starts to shiver uncontrollably.

  21. Ghost's Fear

    Ghost's Fear Expository Essay Exclusively available on IvyPanda The mention of the word ghost scares many people. Mention it and people will be at the verge of breaking their bones as they escape from something that they have not even seen. Ghosts can be defined as the spirits of the dead people that are said to appear to human beings (Ibsen 17).

  22. I do not believe in ghosts

    However, that was long in my childhood. Even with all this, I do not believe in ghosts because I have never seen them in reality. People who assert that ghosts exist because they see them in their dreams commit a fallacy of invalid analogy because whatever they say is not based on reality but dreams. However, some dreams tend to come true, a ...

  23. Opinion

    Mr. Biden is the same age as Harrison Ford, Paul McCartney and Martin Scorsese. He's also a bit younger than Jane Fonda (86) and a lot younger than the Berkshire Hathaway C.E.O., Warren Buffett ...

  24. Is the US a Christian nation? What the Constitution says

    Many Americans believe the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and the idea is energizing some conservative and Republican activists. But the concept means different things to different people, and historians say that while the issue is complex, the founding documents prioritize religious freedom and do not create a Christian nation.

  25. Do You Believe in Ghosts?

    People, trapped between life, and death, are forced to walk the earth, invisible to everyone else. There are shows, movies, and even books on this topic. Many people do not believe in this though. I for one do believe in ghosts and the other things that exist in the paranormal world. I truly believe in ghosts because I've had a scary ...

  26. Opinion

    Ms. Cramer is a co-chair of the Commission on Reimagining Our Economy at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Mr. Cohen is a senior program officer at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences ...