Ghost Hunting

Natalie Osborne-Thomason. The Ghost-Hunting Casebook, Blandford, 1999.

A collection of modern ghost-lore memorates, by a researcher with the Ghost Club Society. While the author is clearly a believer, more sceptically minded readers can still find this book of interest as a source of folklore and a record of the sort of beliefs which grew up around anomalous personal experiences. We can see an interesting blend of traditional, new age and technological belief systems merging. Very old folkloric themes mix in with 19th century spiritualism, early- to mid-20th century ideas about ghosts being natural records, the post 70's New Age, leys, and now Albert Budden's theories of electromagnetic fields and electrosensitivity are being added.

Some of the experiences are interesting because they may point to a non supernatural explanation emphasising the role of memory and expectation in perception. For example a guy goes into a pub where a nephew works as a chef, nephew walks past him, says "Hi uncle Fred" and goes into the back. Only then does Uncle Fred remember that the nephew is dead. In other cases people 'see', 'hear' and 'feel' dead relatives or pets.

In all of these cases we might suggest, that the memory based perceptual shorthand, in which a sensory cue summoned up the remembered image of the person approaching, was inappropriately called into action. Explanations of the 'phantom limb' phenomena tend now to concentrate on them being based on the brains internal body image, perhaps there are environmental images too, filled with the characters of day to day life, 'stored' in the brain, which perceptual clues summon up, and which can sometimes be triggered by mistake, particularly in conditions of stress and fatigue. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, first published on-line, winter, 1999


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