Sunday, December 31, 2006

Heads and hands.

Whenever any supernatural story, fictional or true, involves body parts, it's always a skull, or a mummified head or hand. We never hear of the 'Phantom Pelvis' or 'Evil Elbow'. Always a head or a hand. Where is the 'Foot of Fear' or the 'Tibia of Terror'? Whatever happened to the 'Duodenum of Despair'?

No, always a head or a hand. So there must be logical reason for this, surely?

Yes, there is. Starting in 1940, Dr. Wilder Graves Penfield mapped the parts of the brain that deal with various sensory and motor functions of the body. From there, he constructed a diagram, later made into models, of 'Penfield's Homunculus'.

This is a representation of how the brain 'sees' the body. Obviously, the sensory organs around the face are highly represented. Most of the body is ignored by the brain, but it is notable that the hands are enormous.

The whole of the trunk, the lungs, heart, intestines etc play only a small part in the brain's 'body map'. It is mostly concerned with the sensory apparatus of the head, and those useful appendages, the hands.

In that case, a disembodied consciousness is unlikely to pay much attention to its ex-ribcage, but might be deeply concerned about those parts it regarded as important while brain-bound, in life.

There is also the alternative explanation, that we, the living, set more store by those parts of the body and are therefore more likely to consider them the important parts of the corpse. For writers, the decision to use a head or a hand in their story might be an unconscious reflection of their own brain's body image. That works to explain the fiction aspect.

There remains the real-life reports of screaming skulls, and the preoccupation of both the occult and religion with hands, for example here and here. The Lancashire witches used to collect skulls and fingers from corpses, and the hand of a hanged man was allegedly used in witchcraft to create the Hand of Glory. These are hardly scratching the surface of possible examples where, throughout history, heads and hands have been elevated in importance above all other body parts.

It's always been about heads and hands, throughout history. Perhaps Penfield's Homunculus represents more than simply a neurological map.

Perhaps heads and hands are even more important than we think.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ghostly clothing

Most of my information comes from books, which I can't copy here because of copyright issues. So I ferret around the Internet for accessible references.

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is possibly the most famous ghost photo of all time. It was taken at a time when photography consisted of glass plates; one man removed the lens cap, another fired the flash. In other words, a long, long time before Paint Shop Pro and the like. Yes, there are those who have speculated about 'how it could have been done', but this photo has never been proved to have been faked. The photographers even had witnesses present when the plate was developed.

This lady typically appears in the clothing she wears in a portrait in the hall. So, perhaps it's easier to produce an apparition if the spirit has something to work with. If, as I've postulated, a ghost has to create their image before manifesting, then how much easier would it be if there's a big portrait of themselves to work from? Practising creating a copy is far, far easier than starting from scratch.

There are few pictures of me in existence. One of them is of myself at thirteen, on a holiday in Spain. I was rail-thin, dressed in black and wearing a black sombrero (When you're thirteen you think that looks cool. Trust me, looking back on it, I looked like a carpet tack).

Now, if that was the only picture available to me after my death, I would likely model the appearance of any apparition I formed on the image in that photo (I'd probably leave out the sombrero). If I worked from scratch, I might turn out a grotesque parody of myself.

So we have the basis of an experiment: if you know, or think you know, who the ghost is, leave a photo of them around. Let them use that as a template. If they form an apparition, it would be very interesting to note if they appeared as they do in the photo. Then, provide a different photo. This does rely on the cooperation of the spirit concerned, and does provide any deceptive spirit with a potential 'mask'--although even that does not invalidate the experiment.

The one important thing to remember if you do see an apparition is to stay calm. Think about all those people terrified by flickering lights, noises and images of eyeless heads. If someone, or something, has come all the way from the depths of Hell just to turn the lights on and off, present a Halloween face and make 'booga-booga' noises, then it's not scary. If you're in that frame of mind, sometimes it's hard not to laugh.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Oh, for Pete's sake.

Now, I realise that I have spent most of my life, in university, hob-nobbing with the high-IQ set, most of whom are idiots.

However, I didn't realise things in the the UK were this bad.

There are around sixty million people in this little island (I have found around five of them to be worth knowing), and to quote this article:

About 14.9 million adults in England do not have the maths skills expected of an 11-year old and may have problems working out even basic deals like "20 percent off" or "buy one, get the second half-price", the Department of Education and Skills said.

There's a Department of Education and Skills? What on Earth are we paying them for, if they place the number of illiterate idiots at around a quarter of the current UK population? How many of this department's employees are stupid? Best guess: all of them.

Why not just let teachers do their jobs? Why not let teachers say to some pupils 'You are useless and always will be'. Some, let's face it, are. No, we now have to 'pass' all the morons who drag themselves through school. We have to reduce teaching to the lowest common denominator in the class, so the future nuclear physicist is taught no more than the future supermarket trolley-pusher.

Then we all get upset when our population lacks basic maths skills. No doubt they will work out how to sue the government (ie the taxpayer) when their reality-TV-addled brains finally shift into second gear.

It's not just maths. I have seen essays from students written in phone-text-speak, which to me is not a viable form of communication. I failed them, and was reprimanded.

'We don't say 'fail'. We say 'not achieved''.

They are failures. They are not improved by hiding this fact from them. Failures. They have a place in the world, but it's not in my classes.

Now we are bringing up a world of people who believe they can do anything and are impervious to criticism, because they have been told this is so. Weak, feeble people who will collapse as soon as they are faced with a crisis. Someone's invading our country? Sue them!

The brain is like any other organ of the body. Exercise it, it gets stronger. Ignore it, it turns to useless flab. Schools are set up to promote mental flabbiness these days, and our only ray of hope for the future is that they'll all be too stupid and flaccid even to become lawyers.

Don't blame teachers. They are doing what they can. Blame politicians, and most of all blame the Human Rights, Politically Correct, Brain Dead useless parasitic slugs that infest our current world.

I think some large beer traps are required...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Distraction time

When someone suggests I visit a post on a blog, I usually go there. I'm not obedient. I'm nosey.

That's why I track back through the blog. The excuse is 'to get an impression of the poster's character'. The real reason is just plain noseyness.

Southern Writer suggested this one. An interesting photo showing a light-image, which doesn't seem to be immediately explainable. (Scroll down past the orbs to find it). It's not a lens flare, it's certainly not dust, and since the blog author posts images of the room from several directions, it doesn't look like it's a reflection from anything. The nearest I could come up with as a possible explanation was a camera strap, but you'd have to hold it awkwardly to get that, and straps are usually responsible for dark, not bright images. So it's an unexplained image. Could well be real. The author mentions other sightings, which I have an idea about, but I have to ask a question or two first.

Then, I wandered down the posts. I found a list of dirty jokes I hadn't heard before, and a couple of links to those 'how-clever-are-you' quizzes.

This one:

Your Language Arts Grade: 100%

Way to go! You know not to trust the MS Grammar Check and you know "no" from "know." Now, go forth and spread the good word (or at least, the proper use of apostrophes).

Are You Gooder at Grammar?
Make a Quiz

To which I pronounce a deservedly smug 'Ha!'

And this one:

You paid attention during 97% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Create a Quiz

To which I pronounce a double-smug 'Ha!' because I didn't go to school in the USA, in fact I've never yet visited. The UK's teaching of American history is, I suspect, a little different from that taught in US schools, since we were the ones they won independence from. So it's not surprising I missed one in there somewhere. I wasn't looking at it from the rebel-colonist point of view.

Anyway, procrastination time has to be limited, and today's stops here. I have to go back and look at those photos again, and ask some questions.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Christmas Humbug

Yes, I'm working on Christmas night. Uncle Ebenezer would be proud of me.

I've been looking for good examples of apports and asports. You know when you have so many books, and you're certain you read a particular passage in one of them, but maybe it was another...

Anyway, I decided to have a rummage on the internet instead. I recalled some instances of apports associated with Daniel Dunglas Home, one of the most famous psychics of his day, but can't find specific references (I've been involved with a bottle of very fine vintage port today, so one blurred screen looks more appealing than several hundred blurred books).

However, I did find an interesting thing, on the stage magician Randi's site. D.D. Home is referenced here. Note that it begins with a disparaging comment on the man's name. Then look at Paracelsus. See a similarity? If you want to turn the public against someone, begin by pointing out they have a made-up name. Reducing the argument to insults just makes you look silly, Mr. R.

Of all the remarkable stories concerning D.D. Home, witnessed by many respectable people, Randi picks out one small item and shows how it could have been faked. On that basis, D.D. Home is denounced as fraud.

Every item on Randi's site is a denunciation. Some are rightly so, others are done just because the magician doesn't like the supernatural and picks out an isolated incident to prove the subject entirely false. Often, as with D.D. Home, the subject is denounced on the basis of a theoretical idea of how one item could have been faked. The word pseudoscience appears in the title of Randi's site. Many of his entries are perfect examples of it. There is no impartial consideration here.

I will not open myself to litigation by quoting from the site. However, if you have a moment, read the last line of this entry. The final sentence, as it references magicians, says it all.

Now, as anyone who's been following this blog for a while will realise, I'm not going to state that D.D. Home was entirely genuine, entirely fake or anything in between. He died in 1886, quite some time before I was born, so all I have to go on are the writings of the time. There are many records, often by people of sincerity and credibility. I don't think it is right to dismiss the man on the basis of 'Oh, I worked out how he might have done one of his tricks even though he was never observed doing so'. Nobody has yet worked out, for example, how Home floated out of one window and in through another, some eighty feet above the ground.

Once a medium such as Home comes to light, they are under pressure to perform. Their abilities are not always easily reproduced. Under such pressure, they might be forced to cheat. The Fox Sisters were caught producing raps by cracking their toe joints. Once this was discovered, they were blasted as frauds. Quite how they produced raps that shook a room by the movement of their toes has never been explained. They must have had impressive toes indeed.

Yes, there are fake mediums. Huge numbers of them. They use cold reading, hidden items that they pretend to apport, assistants, special lighting, etc etc etc. Some can be pretty convincing even when you watch carefully. They won't like you looking under the table, I guarantee, but then neither does any stage magician.

Yes, there are real mediums. A few. Well, there are a lot who report meetings with their individual spirits, but only a few who can, it seems, chat at will with the dead. They do not use any theatrical crap to augment their communications. They don't care whether you believe them or not. When you've seen something that really matters, you stop worrying about trivia. Incidentally, this is one of the things that makes the best mediums hard to find. They are not on TV, on the end of a phone line, on the Internet or in your local paper. They really, really aren't interested in material gain. For a true medium, this life is not the be-all and end-all. This is just the waiting room. An offer of a million dollars to 'prove' themselves evokes nothing but laughter. You really can't take it with you, you know.

There are those between. Real mediums do not--cannot--perform to order. Under pressure, they might cave in and fake something, especially if some 'helpful assistant' wants to give them the suggestion. One faked item, caught, apparently negates all previous and subsequent unexplainable events.

It will come as a surprise to some 'investigators' that mediums are human. They crack under pressure, just like everyone else. Some investigations involve levels of tension that would not be out of place in a Gestapo interrogation room. Investigators, you are dealing with people, not lab rats. In fact, if you subjected any laboratory animal to these stresses, you'd be prosecuted.

Some people will never see beyond their own closed minds. That's fine with me. I'm not here to convince you one way or the other. I'm not going to waste time arguing with those whose position is unmovable. Believe what you like. Speak your opinions. You have that right. Just don't describe opinion as science when it clearly is nothing of the kind.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Apparition definition

I’m going to start with a disclaimer. Everything I say is my opinion. It’s based on what I’ve personally experienced and on the experiences of others, but it’s opinion. I don’t have definitive proof. If I did, I’d be very, very famous.

Nobody has absolute proof of the existence of disembodied spirits. There are many who have seen and heard enough to convince themselves, but nobody can present a physical, testable proof to a sceptic. That’s the problem, and that’s what every paranormal investigator aims for. To produce absolute, incontestable proof. Even if it proves the existence of just one spirit, in one location, then by extrapolation it validates the whole subject. One day…

…but not today. So far all we have to go on are individual experiences, so all we can discuss are individual opinions. This is one of mine, and like all of my opinions it is open to modification as new evidence presents itself.

Ghosts are dead people. That’s one opinion I think we can all agree with. We don’t lose our individuality when we die. Perhaps we discard some things, those trivia such as where we left our car keys, but our essential character survives intact.

Now, living people are individuals. Some are intelligent, some are not. Some are quick to adapt to a new situation, some are not. Some develop new skills very easily, others find it difficult to learn new ways. Some are nice. Some are nasty.

Once we accept that ghosts are dead people, then we can see that all this variation in life also exists in death. We can also assume that, once we die, we are subject to an entirely different form of existence from what we know. No body, no smoking, no drinking, no T-bone steaks – it doesn’t sound all that great, put like that.

However, since we no longer have a body it’s unlikely we’d be affected to any great extent by the absence of those things. Those who are quick to adapt will soon get used to this new way of ‘life’ and will simply discard all those cravings. Some won’t.

The loa of Haitian voodoo are ancestral spirits. They possess a shaman (at his invitation) and impart wisdom in exchange for being allowed to use the shaman’s body to experience, say, a good cigar and a brandy. There are reports of some hauntings associated with the scent of pipe or cigarette smoke. Not all of our departed find it easy to give up the pleasures of the flesh, and will attempt to relive their vices through manifestation of scents or sometimes by hanging around smoky bars. It will be interesting to see what the long-term effects of the UK’s smoking ban will be on such hauntings.

The point is, ghosts are as individual as people. Some will develop their skills, so that they can make their voices record on tape, or produce varying degrees of visible manifestation, or maybe find a way to direct their energy into movement of objects. I think spirits are still bound by some physical constraints, such as the law of conservation of energy (they have to take in energy in some form in order to perform these feats). The reason I think that way is that ghosts don’t seem able to do all these things at once. They don’t seem to have limitless energy reserves.

Let’s try some classification. We have those spirits whose activity results in the chilling of a room, and those whose activity has no such effect. So we can postulate that some use heat-energy, others have a different source, perhaps more than one. Those who might have access to some form of spirit world might be able to bring a supply of energy with them. Perhaps they find the idea of drawing energy from our world—and particularly from the living—distasteful, which is why their visits are of limited duration.

Among the spirits who have not moved on, there exists a whole range of evident abilities, from those who can do nothing at all to those with the skill to move a specified object over long distances. Since this is turning into another long and rambling lecture, I’ll just cover one aspect this time. The production of visible apparitions.

There are some ghosts who can make themselves visible. Some wholly, some in part. I’m going to attempt some definitions, but keep in mind that disclaimer at the top of this post.

1. Visible on film, but not visible to the eye. I suspect the spirit in this case is directly affecting the film or has produced an image in the ultraviolet. I chose ultraviolet over infrared because you need specialized film to record infrared. Normal film is easily affected by ultraviolet. To produce a small image in light, immediately in front of a camera or directly on the film, would be easier than forming a life-sized image. This will work in visible or ultraviolet, and would require little energy but good ‘aim’ to produce the image in the right place.

2. Visible to the eye, but not visible on film. These are the infuriating apparitions who, no matter how fast your camera-work, never appear on the film. These might not be formed from visible light, but could be a direct projection into the mind of the observer. A form of telepathy, perhaps, which can be directed to an individual or a group. Just because everyone sees the same thing, in the same place, doesn’t mean it can’t be a telepathic projection. For the spirit, this would involve less effort than forming and arranging a life-sized, illuminated apparition.

3. Actual, physically-present apparitions. Surely the most energy-intensive form of manifestation, and certainly the rarest. Covering the whole of the visible spectrum of light, these are both visible to the eye and recordable on film. Some are only able to produce blurs, or partial images this way. Very few, I suspect, can direct light energy with sufficient precision to form an entire image, all at once.

None of these requires the actual spirit to be present within the visible manifestation. In fact, it might be easier to produce the image if you’re outside it, looking at it, directing its movement. The spirit forming the image is probably very close. Perhaps even behind the observer.

That’s nothing to be alarmed about though. The effort required to produce any of these images is likely to preclude any other activity by that individual. They can’t make you see them and simultaneously tap you on the shoulder.

Although that’s something I, for one, intend to practice very hard.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A merry bubble-wrapped Christmas

Ah, the good old days. I remember Thomas Salter Toys and Sports, who produced many of the delightful toys of my childhood, most of which have been long since banned.

The chemistry set which contained all the ingredients for gunpowder, along with magnesium ribbon (a magnificent burn!), a methylated spirit burner, a host of chemicals, many of which you'd now be hard pressed to find in a college chemistry lab, and everything - everything, made of glass. No plastic, no safety nonsense.

For plastic lovers there was Plasticraft, which allowed the experimentally-inclined child to embed practically anything in plastic resin. The resin turned out to be highly flammable, or carcinogenic or something. It's gone, anyway.

Were these toys dangerous? Well, yes, but that was obvious before you opened the box. They came with warnings and instructions for safe use. I managed to survive childhood by following those instructions most of the time, and by using common sense when I bypassed them. Neither I nor anyone I knew was ever seriously injured, not even when we outgrew toys and discovered weedkiller-based explosives.

So it was with some nostalgia for those days of risk and excitement that I read this site . Yes, those toys involved risk, Yes, you could get hurt, but they were fun.

Having a device that could accelerate small steel cars to unreasonable speeds was fun. Having a toy gun that fired plastic darts was fun. A penknife with a myriad ways to cut yourself accidentally? Marvellous. Now, even adults can't carry penknives in the UK without risking arrest. All my school friends had one, and the thought of attacking someone with it never crossed our minds.

Modern children's toys are safe and sanitised. No sharp edges, no high temperatures, no chemicals, no risk, and very little fun. Children grow up to think the world is a foam-wrapped place in which they can come to no harm.

So it comes as a surprise when they finally emerge into the real world, and find it's not like that at all.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Total agreement is a bad thing.

I like it when people disagree. Stops me becoming complacent, and too fixed in my own ideas. The whole issue of the nature of spirits is open: we have really no idea what it's like for them, nor what's in store for us, but our brains are designed to categorize. So we work out a theory and, if nobody disagrees, it becomes entrenched. Sometimes the categories we form need a damn good shakeup.

So it's good to see Southern Writer contesting the points I made in the last post:

I'm thinking there must be more than one kind of ghost, because I don't always find this to be the case (and was glad to see you said, "it's very common," which does not mean it's an absolute, right?)

No, it's not an absolute. The cold part is not universally reported, it's just frequently reported. As I said, it's all conjecture. Nobody has persuaded a ghost to subject themselves to tests. I wouldn't let myself be used as a lab rat, so why should they? It's not even as if we can offer any reward for their services.

It's certainly possible that different ghosts have found individual energy sources they can tap into. One that can make use of emotional energy might well thrive on fear, and would do things to scare people to get their 'fix'. One that could use sexual energy might be labelled 'succubus'. I don't think they're supposed to take energy from the living, but some seem to have worked out how to do that. It's never good when they do.

There's also the possibility that some might visit from that theoretical place where they have all the energy they need. In that case, there would be no chilling of the room. They are, in effect, well-fed.

Let's say for instance, you're out hunting and find a ghost in an old empty house, and it's dressed in something from a hundred years ago. What has that ghost been existing on? Which reminds me of something else I've been meaning to ask you: why are ghosts always dressed? Do you think they still have the same code of decency and shame that the living have? And are they dressed in their burial clothes, or something they particularly liked when they were living?

Lots of questions, to which I have only theoretical answers :)

Even empty houses contain energy; if the ghost can use heat, they might get enough to keep going from the heat absorbed by the stones of the house during the day and released at night. That's a possibility. Plus, if a place is known to be haunted, you can bet it gets visited a lot by the living. We're naturally curious creatures, and we don't like cold, so we'd bring heaters. And a good dose of emotion.

Why are they dressed? Well, let's assume ghosts have some control over their appearance. Most will try to recreate their living appearance. Now, would you appear in front of strangers naked? Remember, the apparition isn't the spirit, no more than a footprint is a shoe. It's a projection produced by the spirit. It can be wearing whatever they choose to think they're wearing. So far, it appears that any individual ghost always appears in the same clothes (think 'lady in grey/white/red type of haunting). Maybe that's their favourite outfit, maybe it's harder to think up a new outfit than to stick with the one they've already devised. Until one of them tells us, we won't know for sure. It's interesting to note that, as far as I'm aware, no investigation has ever questioned a ghost's choice of fashion. Perhaps that should be added to the list of stock questions.

Here's another thing that worries me. Ghosts seem to remain the same age they were when they died. So if I had any plans to get jiggy with an old boyfriend who died when he was 24, and I don't die until I'm 60 or 80, I'll pretty much be s.o.l., won't I?

They're projections, probably from the spirit's memory (my opinion, remember). Their most recent memory of themselves is just before they died, so it's the easiest one to reproduce. Some can project images of themselves when they were younger. I think it depends on individual skill. If they're exceptionally skilled, they might even be able to appear as something other than human.
Don't worry about the ex-boyfriend; unless you plan on taking the succubus route, getting jiggy won't be an issue ;)

I'm not sure I fully accept that ghosts must live by the same laws of physics that we do,

Quite right. You shouldn't accept any 'definitive' view on the subject, because there isn't one. My feeling is that they are subject to some kinds of physical laws, but I can't say for sure what they are. I think they should be subject to the law of conservation of energy but that's based on what my senses tell me. When I'm dead, I might have a completely different range of senses.

They have the ability to walk through walls and yet, wasn't it interesting in that video of the little girl at the top of the stairs walked through a doorway, like the rest of us (which was the most convincing ghost footage I've ever seen, but why are all his other ones so obviously bad imitations?). Anyway, I'm not sure they have to adhere to the laws of gravity, magnetism, centrifugal force, etc. like we do.

I think they walk through walls that weren't there when they were alive, but are (in most cases) restricted by walls that were there in their lives. Again, it might come down to individual skill. Once you go beyond three dimensions, passing through a wall is no problem, as long as the individual ghost knows how to do it. Some of those that float in the air are walking on floors that existed once, but don't now. Some, I think, are entirely free of our three-dimensional limitations. These are the ones who can bring apports, objects transported over long distances in an instant. Theoretically possible, if you have more than three dimensions to play with.

Thinking about multiple dimensions can make your head hurt. I recommend this little book as a place to start. It explains the concept without frying your brain. The link is Amazon UK: you might get it more quickly from a local supplier.

It is entirely possible that everything we think we know about ghosts is wrong. We work with what our senses let us perceive, and it's likely that the dead have different senses. So argue with me. Every new idea is a good one, until we find some way to set down definitive facts. Every passing thought should be considered.

You never know where those thoughts might have originated.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Do ghosts die?

Something on Southern Writer’s blog, a while ago, set me thinking.

It’s all conjecture, but then everything is conjecture when dealing with the paranormal. I’ve said before that the only way to know for certain what happens after death is to die. For the moment, then, conjecture will do.

The original comment concerned the nature of communication from the dead, and why some come through clearer than others. Now, it seems to me that it must take energy for an incorporeal spirit to manifest as a full, visible apparition. Possibly a great deal of energy. It probably takes far less energy to place a voice on a recording device, whether digital or analogue. Similarly, it would take considerably less effort to affect a small piece of photographic film than to manifest as a full-sized, three-dimensional apparition.

Nonetheless, any effort expended by a ghost must require an input of energy, unless the spirit world is exempt from the laws of physics. Since I believe the ‘spirit world’ to be overlaid on this one, I assume it’s subject to the same physical laws as we are. However, they are obviously not subject to the same biological imperatives: they neither consume food nor reproduce. I have heard of ghost babies, but never of baby ghosts—ghosts are dead people, they are never (to my knowledge) produced by some spiritual union. But I’m straying from the point.

The point is, where do ghosts get the energy they require to perform the feats they do?

It’s very common for a manifestation to be accompanied by a reduction in the local temperature. Sometimes just as a cold spot, sometimes as a chilling of the whole room.

So it seems, at least until someone comes up with a better theory, that a spirit can absorb heat energy and transform it into light (apparition) or sound (EVP) or sometimes even movement of objects (apports and asports). I have never heard of a spirit capable of performing all three at once, or even two of the three simultaneously, so we can assume that it’s not easy to do any of these things.

Now, when we die, are we immediately granted this ability to transform one type of energy into another? Probably. Can we use it to its fullest extent from the moment of death? Probably not.

After all, we are born with vocal chords but take years to learn to speak properly. We are born with legs but cannot walk immediately. These things take practice.

It is reasonable then to suppose that it takes practice to make use of the abilities of our new, unfamiliar spirit bodies when we die.

So why isn’t the world populated with well-practiced spirits grinning at us from every street corner? Why doesn’t every tape recorder pick up a background babble of ghostly conversation?

One possibility is that the religious have it right. Perhaps there is a Heaven and a Hell, and most spirits ‘move on’ rather than hanging around here. Perhaps in those places there is plentiful energy and others to teach the means of its use.

But what of those who stay? They have nobody to teach them how to ‘walk’, so to speak. With practice, many will acquire the skills they need to communicate with the living, but do they all?

What of ghostly sightings that fade into obscurity? Places that were once described as haunted but now are ignored by investigators as silent? Did those spirits finally move on?

Or did they die?

Suppose a newly-released spirit fails to work out how to make use of the surrounding energy? Some, of course, latch on to the easily-available energy around living people and cause all sorts of problems for those people. A few, I suspect, don’t.

If we don’t eat, we become thinner and weaker. If ghosts don’t absorb energy, they too become weaker. Personally, I don’t think a spirit can die, but it is possible they might become so weak that they can no longer act for themselves. Delirium and madness is the lot of the excessively starved among the living. Would it be different for the dead?

Naturally, no matter how deranged these starved spirits become, they can do us no harm. They cannot manifest, they cannot make their voices heard on tapes, they cannot move objects. With no means to make use of the energy around them, they can do nothing. Perhaps they are the howls in the wind, the whispers in the grass, those wordless sounds that surround us.

Perhaps that is, indeed, Hell. Not the abundance of heat-energy described by the Christian version, but rather an absence of energy within the spirit. Then again, the world might feel unbearably hot if your own level of energy is extremely low.

The stated intent of almost every religion is to prepare its followers for the afterlife. Was that, I wonder, the original purpose of what is now, in many cases, a political mechanism for population control? Before anyone shouts, I am aware there are exceptions.

Atheists steadfastly refuse to consider the possibility of an existence after death. All religions pronounce it as fact. I have seen enough evidence to believe there is a continuation of spirit beyond death, although I have not seen evidence to suggest there is any being in overall control. This argument is not about the existence of God, so I will leave that for another time.

However, consider this: Suppose you were conscious before your birth, and refused absolutely to believe that legs were for some abstract concept called ‘walking’. In the womb, legs have no function so you could convince yourself that their purpose is to poke the walls of your little world, and nothing more.

When you’re born, would you easily let go of such a firmly-entrenched belief? If not, it might take you a lot longer to learn to walk than someone who had, say, somehow experienced a meeting with a person ‘outside’ who could walk.

So those who deny any form of afterlife are likely to take longer to accept that they have to derive energy in a new way, and therefore longer to figure out how to do it. Some might never work it out.

I doubt ghosts can die, but they might be able to fade to a non-recoverable level. On that basis alone, assuming the total-denial stance of the atheist is too much of a risk for my liking.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Serious mirth

There are some things we shouldn't laugh at, but sometimes those things contain a coincidence that makes us blurt out a chuckle. It can be embarrassing, when someone is telling us some deadly serious news, to find our minds make connections it finds inappropriately amusing.

Try it for yourself:

This is a very serious matter.

I defy you to keep a straight face throughout.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cry 'Humbug' and let loose the dogs of Christmas.

I don't consider myself Christian, neither am I atheist. I'm firmly in the 'don't care' camp. So Christmas decorations mean nothing to me.

However, I would never dream of complaining about the nativity scenes, trails of lights, dancing Santas and other pointless baubles that everyone seems so keen on at this time of year. I admit I'm partial to Christmas pudding with brandy butter, lemon sauce and cream, so the season isn't all bad news.

However, three-quarters of British firms are banning Christmas decorations in case they get sued.

By who? A raging Santa, a miffed Rudolph, a band of non-union elves?

No, they are terrified of offending non-Christians. These same non-Christians who have never voiced the slightest complaint about Christmas decorations in the past, and who don't care now. They are also scared in case someone falls off a chair while putting up the Terrible Tinsel and sues them for damages. That's easily avoided. Don't employ morons.

Funny, these businesses don't seem in the least bit concerned that they might offend Christians.

The UK has become a very silly place indeed. I have never heard a Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Sikh or anyone else react with anything other than bemusement to claims that they might be offended by Christmas. Once more, it's all in the imagination of the scared-of-shadows politically correct lunatics. Once more, it will result in Christians blaming non-Christians for denying them their festival.

Wrong target, people. Look to the Left.

The whole thing is pitiful. Really.

What makes it all the more ludicrous is that these decorations have nothing at all to do with Christianity. Fir trees, in Palestine? I think not. Fairies and elves, Christian emblems? Nope.

The tinsel harks back to a Druidic festival of the winter solstice. An animal was sacrificed and its intestines draped over the bare tree branches to ensure their gods would make the trees bloom again in spring. Think of that when you're draping those sparkly guts over those branches.

I'll leave you to work out what the other baubles represent.

One thing the Druids would never have done, and which is in no version of the Bible I've ever seen, is to cut down a tree and watch it die in the living-room.

The season of goodwill to all. Unless you're a Christian in the UK.

Or a Norway spruce.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Take a deep breath....

...and press the button.

So, I have changed to Blogger beta. It took a while to change over, which was nerve-wracking, but it seems to have come out the other side more or less exactly as it went in.

Now, let's just wait for all those problems to start...