Haunted

Prospect Magazine

Haunted

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My best friend killed himself, but he keeps appearing to me. I don’t believe in ghosts or life after death, but he’s there and I want him gone. That’s why I need you to read my account

I am writing this in the hope that you are a bit like me. You have heard ghost stories and have enjoyed them. Perhaps you have thought that there is more than entertainment in them, that they manifest anxieties which we have about losing loved ones or about our own mortality. But you have never treated them as proof of life after death or confirmation of any religious belief. You have spotted the flaws in them, the apertures that allow you to insert a more rational explanation for what happened. If that sounds like you, then you are exactly who I need.

You’re not afraid of the idea that the end of life is truly the end. You are convinced that science will provide the answers about what our life consists of and the nature of consciousness. You have lost a loved one perhaps and it was tough, and you

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  1. September 8, 2009

    ALASTAIR_BANTON

    I have never had any experiences of the sort you describe and have never been wholly convinced by similar stories told to me by others, although in fairness, your experience of Ben seems more vivid than any I have heard before – except in fairy-tales or films like ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ which don’t count because there is no pretence that these are anything but stories.
    But if something like your second experience of Ben happened to me ie, an ‘encounter’ with a dead person that included conversation, I would, before anything else, ask ‘What the hell are you doing here, you’re supposed to be dead?’ The fact that you didn’t ask this fundamental question makes me think that on some level you already knew the answer and that it is simply that you missed him and you wanted him to be there and that your vivid visual imagination was conjuring him up. You imply that you never had another conversational encounter when you write ‘I should have asked … how are you ..?’ etc, so I gather that the experience is fading, albeit slowly and you will never be able to ask the one person who would have been able to give you the answers you seek. Convenient.
    I don’t of course have a full explanation as to quite why your brain conjured up Ben in this way, nor do I understand why you seem to be still haunted by his presence nor even why you are so keen to get rid of him! Have you read ‘The Black Swan’? I think your experience of Ben is a Black Swan, that is, a startling, totally unexpected and random happening of the type that life chucks at all of us with great frequency. (9/11, the current credit crunch, the Beatles phenomenon, Harry Potter are all Black Swans). The other thing about Black Swans is that we use hindsight in order to find causes and to fit them in to our world-view and that seems to me to be the process that you are now engaged in with this article/ghost story. However we need to recognise that explanations will be very partial – there will always be a major random component. So here is my skepticism that you seem so eager to elicit: you missed Ben desperately; your brain managed (by random processes) to conjure up some strikingly vivid experiences of him; these continue to haunt you. Tough! You need to get used to it or even learn to enjoy it. The experiences may one day entirely vanish and you might even find that you miss them. (And him.)

    I don’t see dead people, but I do sometimes have ‘lucid dreams’ which, as I expect you know, are dreams in which one is fully aware that one is dreaming. These can be fun, but there’s an element of walking a tight-rope – stare too hard or be over-aware of your observational stance and you begin to wake up. This kind of experience might not be a million miles from the ones you have described.

    All the best.

  2. September 22, 2009

    LDZ

    What a fantastic oportunity for you to re-assert your rationality! Here is somebody who you are convinced came from the dead and is not just a figment of your imagination.

    What would a scientist do? Ask questions.

    So, ask Ben about how it is on the other side, in the most glorious Proust-esque detail: sights, smells, sounds, coulours, is there any sort of social order there, is there heaven and hell, how does he appear and dissaper, what happens to him while he is travelling to or from you? Ask him in the same way that you are asking someone from a foreign country to tell you what’s life like there.

    And then listen.

    Because, if he is really from the other side, you will hear thing you didn’t know, or you couldn’t possible even imagine. One confirmed thing with our illusions and halucinations is that we tend to stay within the knowledge and association realms of our ‘real’ selves; if we don’t know it, it is hard for us to imagine it, as far as I understood what other people said about it.

    So, if Ben comes back with things that you could have read previously, it’s likely that you do suffer from some sort of disturbance (I’ll exclude schizophrenia for now).

    If he, on the other hand, comes back with descriptions that are beside everything you’ve ever heard of (and that’s easy to check on Google these days), consider yourself lucky, as you will have such a great material to write about. Maybe even a new Swedenborgian reinvention of heaven and hell?

    Ultimately, treating Ben as a natural phenomenon is not, technically speaking, unscientific. We think that those things are unlikely given our CURRENT knowledge of mind and matter, but – to put it mildly – we know that this knowledge is still woefully inadequate. The future discoveries in physics – the hypothesis of the new multi-dimensional universe, for example – may bring perfectly plausible explanations for the existence of mental energy after physical death, without any need for the God or religion to be involved. We just don’t know, but being human, we are arrogant enough to think that we do.

    Just ask questions. And please let us know if you get any answers.

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Author

Kamran Nazeer

Kamran Nazeer is the author of “Send in the Idiots” (Bloomsbury) 


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