Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Still haunting us

This week I completed an article dealing with haunted places in the Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia area. When I got the assignment I told the editor that I was not a believer, to which she said okay, that doesn't matter.

It has been at least 50 years since I could say that ghosts in the poltergeist fashion exist. I'm not sure what convinced me way back then that there was no need to bother myself with the possibility of ghosts. Most likely, an evening of gentle kindness in the arms of my loving father eased me into a life without ghosts.

Later, but not too much later, the religious side of my intellect rejected the whole notion of ghosts on new grounds: Jesus freed humans of ghosts. That notion evolved over time, eventually becoming: Christ's life - in spite of the possession story in the Gospels - makes ghostly spirits meaningless. Sometime in my early twenties I blended my understanding of Christianity with my understanding of Whitman's "oversoul" and realized that there was no place on Earth (or elsewhere in the universe) for ghosts, again, of the poltergeist fashion.

Of course, a very good reason for having a world view that does not include ghosts lies in the fact that there are no haunted physics laboratories. No physics experiment in a laboratory has ever been influenced by the action of ghosts. That would be enough, even if I hadn't experienced the love of my father and the Christ.

So, here I am: not just a skeptic but one who knows that ghosts do not move things around or glow or create chill drafts in old houses.

Having read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I cannot get into this discussion without recalling the passage in that book in which Robert Pirsig and his son ride through the Dakotas, I believe, and Pirsig says something about the Indian ghosts. The son thinks he has caught his father in the untenable position of having told the son there are no ghosts and now speaking of the Indian ghosts as though they are real. What I don't recall is the exact way that Pirsig explained this apparent internal contradiction to his son, so I suggest to my readers that they read the book and find out from the original source.*

Anyway, I know there are no ghosts such as the ones that inhabit our European-dominated American ghost stories. And I just assume that anyone would agree with me. Now, I am learning that I assume incorrectly.

At my writers group meeting tonight each of the other three in attendance said that she does believe in ghosts. This astounded me. I was asked, as if my disbelief in ghosts needed to be explained rather than the opposite, if I hadn't ever been in a bad place - not referring to the wacky relationship that I endured far too long many moons ago. My fellow writers told me of places where people had died and that since we are energy the energy of the dead must still be there. I heard them speak of places that generated eerie feelings, strange sensations, discomfort, as though that might convince a reasonable person of the presence of lingering spirits.

All of a sudden I felt like I had followed Alice down the rabbit hole. Why was it up to me to accept the absolute lack of evidence of supposed phenomena as evidence of those phenomena? Why was I supposed to abandon the scientific method so that I might rejoin others clinging to notions that I had discarded in my first decade?

Are there any answers out there? Please post if you have one.

*Should one of my readers know how Pirsig responded (either at this time or after reading the book) I would be pleased to see an explanatory comment here.