I Ain't Scared of No Ghost

on Monday, November 21, 2011



Around Halloween ghost stories come out of the woodwork and get told and retold, news organizations send reporters out to the area’s “most haunted” places and do fluffy, one-sided “news” reports about the ghosts that people have “seen” or “experienced.” I saw one recently that took place at one of my favorite venues in St. Cloud, the Pioneer Place Theatre/Veranda Lounge. Now I hear tell that there is going to be a “documentary” made about the so-called “ghosts” that “haunt” the place.

The theatre’s artistic producer and all around great guy, Dan Barth, was interviewed and he stated that the theatre had hired four different psychics to come in and each of them said that, yes, indeed the place was haunted. One of them said there were four ghosts, I don’t know if any of the others came up with a specific number, but four has become the accepted number.

Now, I will say nothing bad about Dan, he is one of my favorite people in the world, but I will say something about supposed psychics. Of course the four people hired by the theatre are going to come in and say they “feel” something, that’s how they get paid, so right away I am dubious about their motivation and their findings. No psychic in the history of their profession has ever been shown to actually have psychic abilities (Don't believe me? Look here), their methods are unproven and using a unproven method to measure an unproven phenomenon is of little scientific value.

Everything else about the supposed haunting of the Pioneer Place is based on stories (anecdotal evidence), feelings and other equally unmeasurable, ambiguous and non-confirmable phenomenon. Flickering lights, cold spots and things that go bump in the night can be caused by a thousand different things, especially in a building that’s 100 years old.

A few years back I worked downtown, two doors down from the Pioneer Place, and I once saw movement out of the corner of my eye at 3:30 AM and another time heard strange thumping noises coming from the floor above. Some would cry “ghost” if they had the same experiences. Not me, I’d require proof and there is none.

The question I like to ask people who have had “ghostly” experiences is, “how do you know it was a ghost?” People who believe in ghosts will take a spooky, unknown thing and turn it into a ghost in their mind, “what else could it have been?” they ask. Well, it could have been some other equally fictitious creature like a leprechaun, a fairy, a unicorn or Santa Claus. It could have been Harry Potter wearing his Invisibility Cloak or someone doing a Jedi Mind Trick. Bring that up and you’ll usually get, “but I know it was a ghost!” Sorry, that’s not evidence, it’s an appeal to ignorance and it’s one of the oldest logical fallacies in the book (I don’t know what it was, so it must have been a ghost). Where does a True Believer draw the line between what they believe is real (a ghost) and what is patently ridiculous (Harry Potter)?

Ultimately I have a problem with the “documentary” that is going to be made because it will take a narrow, one-sided view of the Pioneer Place “haunting” and will not look at the other side, the skeptical side. Stories, anecdotes and the findings of so-called psychics will be held up as the only evidence and no one will bother to look into more plausible explanations of the experiences that are based on science. An unbalanced view is not a documentary.

I fully understand that “sex sells,” and a scientific response is like a cold shower to a nice sexy ghost story, but I think that accepting the “evidence” as it is delivered and believing that something unconfirmed is responsible is doing a disservice to critical thinking, and it ultimately makes us more ignorant and more open to the type of chicanery that is practiced by psychics, those who “speak to the dead” and people who “channel” 45,000 year old warriors from Atlantis.