The Science Behind Ghosts

Brian Cox is one of the most widely respected scientists of our generation. He’s also a rather lovely bloke. So when he was asked about ghosts and he bashfully replied “no, sorry” you best believe he wasn’t joking. Most scientists don’t believe in ghosts. Here is why…


For many, the school of thought is that ghosts are human souls that didn’t make it to the afterlife and in fact, it looked for a while that science had proven the existence of such a soul. In 1901 Doctor Duncan McDougal performed a famous experiment where he weighed people before and after their deaths and showed a weight loss of approximately 21g after death. He used the escaping of a soul to explain this loss. To further the point it was proved this weight loss does not occur in dogs.

Case closed, right? Well, no. The great thing about science is that it is always trying to improve itself. To disprove theories. That’s exactly what Dr Richard Wiseman did by explaining the weight loss. Often humans heat up right before they die. The weight loss is easily explained by the expulsion of sweat from our bodies due to the extra heat.
But what about the dogs? Well, dogs don’t have pores all over their body in the way that humans do. That is why dogs pant so much when they are tired. Dogs lose their water in a localised way which explains the differences. Sorry to take away your soul Mr McDougal.


Throughout history, there are reports of people being attacked in the night. Having beasts straddle them and prevent them from moving. Sorry, science has this one covered too. It is explained by sleep paralysis. When you sleep you dream. Your body goes into a sort of stasis to prevent you from acting out your dreams, sometimes when you awake suddenly this is still in place so you feel you can’t move. You can usually see around the room, but you are still half in a dream sleep and so hallucinations are common during this experience.

A presence in the room

Many of us have had that feeling of a presence in the room. There has to be something in that, right? Well no actually. In fact, without the use of ghosts, Swiss scientists were able to recreate that feeling in subjects. In fact, so successful was their experiment that two perfectly healthy participants asked to finish before it had been completed.

The premise was simple they used a robotic poking device. The person doing the experiment had an attachment to their hand that controlled the device. When their hand moved the robot would poke them in the back. This was fine until the team conducting the study put a few seconds lag on the device that reacts to the movements. The slight disconnect between their actions and the counteraction made people feel like it was somebody else touching them.

Ghosts in a lab

But what about when people spot a ghost in a lab? That’s exactly what happened at Coventry University. Even scientists were reporting strange feelings. One person even reported seeing a shadowy figure. Turns out it was the air conditioning! Fans create a noise, right? Do you know how there are different frequencies of sound? At one end of the spectrum, you have ultrasound. Which is so high frequency you cannot hear. At the other end, you have infrasound. Again you cannot hear it. But just like ultrasound which can be used to break up kidney stones, the vibrations from infrasound (created by the fan) can have a physical affect, including messing with your eyesight! Once the fan was turned off all the reports ceased. Who are you gonna call? Fanbusters!

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