Monday, 30 March 2009
Proof of ghosts or dust on the lens?
A courtly figure dressed in a ruff and staring from a castle window would not be particularly unusual if he appeared in a period painting. But this image was captured on a digital camera some 500 years after the Elizabethan era and has for thousands of people around the world become the ultimate proof that ghosts exist.
The photograph, taken at Tantallon Castle near Edinburgh last May, was released yesterday by Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist, who “just for fun” embarked three weeks ago on an online research project, inviting websurfers to send him their photos of ghosts.
The response, he said, was “beyond all expectation”. Hundreds of images were sent his way, from as far afield as Mexico and Japan. Then, after 50 of the best images were placed online, some 250,000 people voted for the most convincing.
The array of smudged photographs and crazy fakes that caught the interest of this huge audience may do little to prove the existence of ghosts, but it indisputably proves a human need to believe in them, said Professor Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire. “That belief is everywhere, across countries and cultures. It plays on much bigger ideas about life and death, and there's no doubt that, for many of the people who contacted me, there is comfort in the notion that people who have been harmed in life might be able to come back and wreak their revenge.”
In Britain around a third of people say that they believe in ghosts and one in ten claims to have seen one. Proof, however, remains elusive.
One explanation put forward by ghost hunters and some physicists is that in some environments low frequency sound waves - infrasound — vibrate the body, and lead to strange sensations. While Professor Wiseman does not rule that out, he believes that psychology may have a better answer, particularly in oppressive and frightening surroundings such as a ruined castle.
“In the hypervigilance model, as you become scared, you become more on edge. You begin to monitor you own environment and your own physiology,” he said. “In those circumstances, if you hear a sound like a creaking door, it only heightens your own sense of vigilance. The spiral goes on and you might easily have a panic attack.
“From an evolutionary perspective, all this is sensible, because it is comparable to a situation in the "normal world" where you might come under attack. But in these oppressive surroundings, the seemingly inexplicable becomes very worrying and you begin to look for other explanations.”
Read the full story here at the ghost link
The Tantallon ghost ran in the national edition of the Times and for 24 hours it was the most popular stoy in the online edition, followed-up all over the world.