Do ghosts really exist? Or, are they just the result of games played by the minds of humans? Whether or not you’re inclined to believing that there is a ring of truth to the folklore existing about ghosts, a team of scientists have attempted to show that they are but a figment of the imagination.
Scientists are known for their tendency to rationalise everything and to dismiss any issue that might be linked to the ‘supernatural’. In the same line of thought, they have always suspected that ghosts are mere illusions conjured up by the minds of people. For instance, patients suffering from psychiatric conditions, or neurological ones, often complain of viewing mysterious apparitions. Many strongly believe that what they are seeing are demised family members or friends. Do the dead come back in some eerie, floating form to haunt the world of the living?
The scientists of the new study have demonstrated that these ‘apparitions’ are created by the mind when the brain is overcome by the effects of the illness, or other stressful condition.
Professor Olaf Blanke, one of the authors, said: “Our experiment induced the sensation of a foreign presence in the laboratory for the first time. This confirms that it is caused by an altered perception of their own bodies in the brain.”
When the scientists exposed their participants to their ghost-like ‘robot’, the latter felt the same sensations as when they make the ‘mysterious encounters’: they felt like being watched, and, touched.
Co-author Dr Giulio Rognini, also from the EPFL, said: “Our brain possesses several representations of our body in space. Under normal conditions, it is able to assemble a unified self-perception of the self from these representations. But when the system malfunctions because of disease – or, in this case, a robot – this can sometimes create a second representation of one’s own body, which is no longer perceived as ‘me’ but as someone else, a ‘presence’.”
People reporting such experience are often those associated with medical conditions involving the brain, like epilepsy, or stroke, migraine and even cancer. Stress, sadness and extreme physical situations might also lead to people feeling such sensations.