Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brains and Ghosts

I don't believe in ghosts, but I'm afraid of them. This is something I love admitting because it's at once true and it betrays absurdity of the easily-fooled, agency detectors we call brains. I have a hyper agency detector, and that always strikes me as a faaar better explanation for odd phenomena than "there is an alternate plane of existence intersecting with ours that... [insert completely ridiculous claim here]." But am I afraid of things that go bump in the night? Sometimes, yeah. And I'm even afraid of it being a ghost? Bear with me... yeah.

The problem is my friggin' brain and its overactive imagination, and all it needs is a catalyst. If I don't bother to think about ghosts or aren't reminded of anything horrible, I can fumble around in the dark or around weird noises without batting an eye. But thanks to years of entertainment, I tend to associate the dark with all kinds of terrible things. And my brain goes out of its way to imagine of the exact thing -- say a ghostly little girl -- I don't want to see. This image present, for each second of time I spend staring at darkness or rounding a corner, is so unwanted that it works me into such a frenzy that the rational mind just gives up as I entertain the urge to get out of my situation (hell, even a bathroom at night) is swiftly as possible is.

It's hard to fight that instinct, but I do try. An anecdote that helps me at times is to remember that a ghost could scare the bejeezus out of me whenever it wants. Even if I was in a company meeting giving a presentation, if a ghostly little girl came walking up to me from the back room, I'd be scared out of my gourd, so who cares about the dark? If a ghost wants to get me, it has all the control in the situation. (And is the frequency of ghostly encounters in the dark just weird? I always wonder whether blind people are as afraid of going into "dark" or isolated places, just for the sounds or distance from help.)

One last anecdote to backup the overactive brain theory. I used to enjoy watching Fear on MTV, where kids had infrared cameras strapped to them to be sent on "dares" into haunted places (e.g., abandoned prisons, psych wards, hospitals, etc.) to complete creepy challenges (e.g., sit in an electric chair in the dark for 15 minutes, etc.) to break down on camera in freaked out fits. I'd freak out too. But one of the shows was particularly fascinating because the girl most immune to every challenge they could come up with was a complete airhead that couldn't get over how "totally, like... eWWWW!... dirty" everything was. The other kids constantly cited paranormal experiences non-stop while all she had was, "Oh my god, I have to sit in that? It's so dusty," or, "Oh my god, that wire could totally hurt someone." She didn't appear to have much going on in her head, let alone an overactive imagination.

Following, by the way, are my two favorite questions of ghost believers. If you believe (feel free!) answer them before hitting the last paragraph.
  1. Are ghosts affected by gravity?
  2. Can animals (like pets) be ghosts?
Keep thinking! All done? These questions are fun, because (1) I love the idea of Earth leaving behind a trail of the dead, haunting empty space as it hurtles around the sun; and (2) I always wondered why we didn't see more ghosts of dinosaurs. Raaawwwr!

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