Horatio…

ghostAre there ghosts? According to one statistic, 45% of Americans believe there are. If they are correct, what are ghosts?

Throughout history, the common belief is that ghosts are the trapped souls of the deceased. Most often the trap represents something unfinished. What if that’s not exactly the case?

I’ve recently heard a theory that equates ghosts with a fading body of memory. A friend has made a distinction between ghosts and haunts, the latter being more echo than spirit.

Ghosts appear in either evil or good roles. What if they, like the living, can alternate between these two (or any two other) states. In nature, fluids flow around objects – sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right.

CapeVerde.A2005005.1225.250mFlowing fluid sometimes creates what’s known as a Kármán vortex street†. In addition to some oddly organized cloud patterns when winds are disrupted by a particularly tall structure or mountain, the same aspect of fluid dynamics can cause singing cables (vortex-induced vibration).

Vortex-street-animationWhat if something comparable is part of the cause of what we call ghosts? Or, to be more precise, around and “downstream” from each ghost. The key question might then be – “What is the fluid?” The most common answer, I could predict, would be æther. A century± ago the answer might have been ectoplasm. Ghosts are traditionally associated with a specific location but appearances do not occur on a reliable schedule. This could mean that the ætheric flow rate is not a constant.

This is, of course, not to say that there hasn’t been some attempt at science vis-á-vis ghost phenomena. Beginning in the Victorian era, and lasting well through both World Wars, many celebrated minds and names were engaged in the study — perhaps most famously the Doyle camp vs that of Houdini — but that is another story.

doylehoudiniSome who report sensing ghosts claim to see them. Others hear them. These variances could suggest either different fluids or they might depend on the relative “shape” of the ghost involved. There are a fair few TV shows about detecting ghosts with indistinct recordings (both audio and video) offered as evidence. These shows are ultimately unsatisfying from the perspective of what hauntings may truly be, how they’ve been caused, and what to do about them. Perhaps ghost hunters and –busters is the wrong calling.

I’m fairly certain the term “ghosts” does apply to something real and observable – given the proper circumstance. I’m not as certain about why they exist or what causes them to do so. Is there something we should do? Is there an opportunity to learn something useful? The terms in use for millennia could be profoundly wrong. If there were real science being applied to this field of study, we might find reason to compare current belief and theory to the differences between astrology and astronomy, alchemy and chemistry.

Recall the Indian parable of the blind men and an elephant…


† named for Theodore von Kármán, engineer.

Note: The animation above is part of the wiki entry for Kármán vortex street and was designed by Cesareo de La Rosa Siqueira. The aerial photograph is from NASA. Use here implies neither ownership nor credit.
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