Thursday, February 18, 2010

Never judge a spook by its coverage

You may have seen this image in the papers in the past day or so. It purports to be a ghost, caught on camera at Gwrych Castle in Wales. The man who took the shot, Kevin Horkin, told The Sun newspaper, 'I did feel a presence there. ' He now wants to investigate further with a ghost hunting team. Already, an expert has suggested that it is the ghost of Winifred, countess of Dundonald.
Photos like this turn up from time to time (The Sun actually prints their 'Top Ten' here) and, whenever they do, there's the inevitable flurry of speculation about the ghost's identity. Close behind these professional guessers come the hordes of so-called 'experts' who, having been raised on re-runs of Ghostbusters, come out of the shadows with their divining rods and weird electronic devices to try to convince us all that (a) there is an afterlife and (b) that those who have 'passed on' occasionally want to contact us. And, after all the furore and blather has died down, we are all left with exactly the same amount of proof of the existence of ghosts as before: Zero.

Undoubtedly some of you out there do believe in ghosts and similar phenomena. That's fine by me; I won't think anything bad of you. Everyone is entitled to believe whatever they want. But that's the point isn't it? It's 'belief' not 'fact'. And while I'm more than happy to open-mindedly look at any evidence, no matter how curious it may be, I do still require some proof. The only evidence put forward for the Gwrych ghost is that the floor in the upstairs room has long since disappeared so the 'wraith-like' figure is apparently floating on air. While that may sound compelling it does pre-suppose that the image is actually that of a girl standing there and not some curious double exposure. And while I have no cause to question Mr Horkin's honesty, a great many such shots have been proved to be fakes in the past - think Cottingley Fairies or the 'Doctor's Photo' of the Loch Ness Monster. In this age of a billion Photoshoppers I'd like that option to be explored long before calling out Derek Acorah.

Unfortunately, showbiz always trumps science these day and I suspect that Mr Horkin's specialist ghost hunting team will be unregulated, untrained and unscientific; the kinds of people who love to make all kinds of unsubstantiated claims and expect us all to accept their word as fact. For example, the idea that the ghost could be Countess Winifred sounds plausible when told to us by 'an expert'. But who is this expert? Upon what evidence are they basing this conclusion? Looking at extant portraits of the countess, she bears no similarity whatsoever to the Horkin photo, which shows a young woman looking remarkably contemporary.

Why does a photo like this become newsworthy? Surely it's because of rarity. Which is a real puzzle to me. Why aren't we inundated with high quality images of ghosts, demons, Bigfoots, the Loch Ness monster, aliens, UFOs and Chupacabras? As I discussed in a previous post (here), we are surrounded by digital cameras and phone cameras and webcams and our every twitch is being recorded on CCTV 24/7/365. We should be seeing millions of photos like Mr Horkin's shot. But we're not are we? Why not?

Surely it's not because such apparitions are rare; it's because, rarer still, our cameras occasionally go mechanically doolally and record something odd. It happens. I have two examples here myself:

This one turned up on my daughter's digital camera a couple of years ago and appears, if you choose to interpret it this way, to be a woman (some have said a skull) facing left and having long hair or a shroud or headscarf. Trust me, probably no ghosts involved.

This second one turned up on the end of a roll of film in 1999 and is maybe a woman in a blue dress? It's certainly no one I know and I don't remember taking any shot that would result in this picture. But I am pretty convinced that the dead weren't posing for me. For a start, it would have been taken in a house built in 1985. Hardly the venue for bloody murder and restless spirits.

I'd love to believe that when I pop my clogs, I'll get to go on to a new life. Wouldn't that be great? There's so much I'm going to miss if my death really is the end of my existence forever. But if the best evidence anyone's managed to produce in 5000 years of civilisation is a few dodgy photographs, I'm not holding out much hope for getting my wings.

I may just not bother with the harp lessons after all.


Debby said...

I ain't scared of no ghosts....

I do not understand everyone's need to turn the ordinary into some paranormal event.

Spud said...

i think the only gracious thing to do is eat plenty of fibre if you know your time is up.... at least the insects will have a healthy diet.. dont quote me - but I'm sure the government have already started pre prod on the anti-obese insect campaign.. there really are some fat feckers out there. I guess it's all that processed corpse they eat.

Piers said...

Debby: I think it's because none of us want to die. And wouldn't it be nice to believe there was something afterwards?

Persephone said...

I've never seen a ghost. I don't particularly want to. I have plenty of friends and relations (whose connection to me admittedly makes them suspect) who are, as far as I know, intelligent, well-educated and sane. Their stories of what happened to them all share three things in common: the story is told calmly and clearly; whether they are believed or not is not the issue -- they are reported what they experienced; I feel a strange dropping sensation in my midriff during the telling.

Oh, and in my own experience, "seen" is the operative word. Not very scientific, of course, but frankly, there are weirder things in physics.

chris hale said...

Some people subscribe to the "stone tape" theory; that ghosts are just information stored in walls or buildings that are then "played back" when conditions are right. No scientific proof, of course, but if you had told a Victorian he could watch images of living people by bouncing a very bright light off a small plastic disc he wouldn't have believed you.

Not sure what I believe in, other than cake and taxes.