How Ghosts Work

Ghostly Encounters

People describe ghostly encounters in lots of different ways. People see apparitions or strange lights, sense a presence in a room, hear noises or feel a sudden drop in temperature. They smell a deceased relative's favorite breakfast cooking in the kitchen or hear a favorite song playing while the stereo is off. Objects fall from shelves and doors open and close on their own. The electricity goes haywire, causing lights to flicker or televisions to turn on and off by themselves. Sometimes, people don't experience anything unusual at all, but they notice strange apparitions or shapes when they look at pictures they've taken.

Is it a ghost?

Some ghost stories involve visible apparitions that are bound to specific locations or families. These ghosts often appear as a warning that someone is going to die. They aren't always human -- some take the form of animals. Similarly, some reports of ghosts involve apparitions that inform friends or family members of recent deaths or impending crises. Some paranormal researchers classify this as a form of telepathy rather than an actual ghost.


Other ghosts are reported to be the spirits of people who died violently or suddenly; they may re-enact their deaths or try to seek vengeance. For example, some people believe that North Carolina's Brown Mountain Lights -- flickering lights that appear on the slope of the mountain -- are the spirits of Native Americans who died in battle. Sometimes, ghostly reproductions of inanimate objects, like sunken ships or crashed cars, reappear after accidents or tragedies.

Then, there are the ghosts who are simply sticking around, either unwilling or unable to leave the Earth. Paranormal researchers often refer to these ghosts as earthbound spirits. An earthbound ghost may haunt a specific location, like its home, its favorite place to visit or the place that it died. It may be trying to pass a message to friends or loved ones, to complete a task that it started while alive or to hold on to its home or possessions. Some researchers and mediums claim to be able to encourage these sprits to let go of their ties to the Earth and move on to a spiritual realm.

For a lot of people, seeing, hearing or sensing a ghost is enough to prove their existence. But researchers have found several possible explanations for the phenomena most often attributed to ghosts. We'll look at them in the next section.­­