You Say “Grief Hallucination,” I Say “Ghost”

Via Sullivan, we learn that almost everyone sees dead people.  Oh, Science, I love you, I do, but the term “grief hallucination” has to be the most inadequate thing you’ve ever foisted on us.

I don’t know.  I get annoyed when religion wants to sit next to science, like they’re almost the same thing, and it annoys me to watch science try to barge in on superstition’s territory.

And the other problem that I have is that, if there’s anything I’ve learned from science, it’s that you need to be wary of things that start from an unexamined place–like saying that the universe is here, so it must have been created by Someone.  To me “Well, we know there’s no afterlife, so these must be hallucinations” sounds like the same thing–that we’re starting from a place we haven’t necessarily given full thought to.

Maybe there is an afterlife.  Maybe there isn’t.  Maybe these things are happening only in people’s brains.  Maybe they aren’t.

Here’s the thing.

My dad being a minister, you hear a lot of these kinds of stories, of people seeing loved ones after they’re gone.  Now, my dad has a world-view that makes sense of that–that some part of that loved one is able to reveal itself to you, even after the physical body is dead.  It’s not a scientific explanation.  It’s a superstition (using the word as lovingly as possible).

But the thing is, while probably 60% of those experiences would also fall under the “grief hallucination” scientific explanation–that you are missing someone so terribly that your mind wills them up like some kind of phantom–30% of them don’t.

A good third of the stories are the other kind–where the person does not know that the loved one is dead until after the “hallucination,” either because the “hallucination” informs them of his or her death or because they find out later.

So, Science, what’s that?

I think it’s something.  I don’t have to buy that it’s a ghost (though I want to, I’ll admit).  It could just be that we humans are connected in ways we don’t yet understand and we feel the loss of loved ones even before we have the knowledge that they’re lost.

But dismissing it as a hallucination seems to me like we might be missing out on a greater scientific understanding of what it means to be human.

I’m not arguing that we accept that those are “ghosts;” I’m just not willing to dismiss it as only a trick of the mind.

2 thoughts on “You Say “Grief Hallucination,” I Say “Ghost”

  1. I don’t know either way about whether ghosts are real or if they’re hallucinations, but I’ll share my own story.

    My Dad died 6 1/2 years ago. Daddy was one to walk around whistling. All the time. So about 6 months after he passed away, I was home with my mother sitting in the den – it was about 9 or 10 at night. And we were talking and we both heard whistling. We were the only ones in the house. No televisions or radios were on. We both heard it. It stopped both of us and one of us said “Do you hear that?”

    I don’t know how to explain that.

    I might have shared this before, but a neighbor lives in a house that was built by his great grandparents. Many of the relatives died in the house and their wakes/funerals were held in the residence. When the family moved in, for years unexplained things occurred – sounds of footsteps on wood floors, phone stretched across the kitchen.

    Don’t know how to explain that either…

  2. I agree, but you forgot to mention this:
    What about those “hallucinations” of someone you’ve never met, or of something happening to a place you’ve never been to, and then later seeing those things?

    As a kid, I (and my mother, and two of my three sisters) had dreams of things happening to people or in places I had never seen before, only to see those places/people later, and see or hear of the exact thing happening to them that had happened in my dreams.
    I honestly think that we have become so involved in our bullshit consumer societies that we have forgotten how connected we are to the world, or nature, or God..whatever you want to call it. Just how animals are in tune with nature and see and feel things that we cannot.
    Another example:
    My younger sister, who is 13 with Down’s syndrome, has always been very “in tune”, if you will. When she was about 5 or 6, me and my mom had taken her to a Christmas party at the River Performing and Visual Arts Center (where she had taken art and music classes). Sitting down, waiting for some kind of performance on stage, my sister randomly jumped up and started running toward the door. My mom ran after her, and found her clung to an older lady’s leg crying “Don’t be sad, please don’t be sad”. The lady starting balling and picked my sister up, and my sister said “She misses you, too”….I suppose my mother and I looked as perplexed as we were, because the lady put my sister down and told us that her mother had died the day before. She hadn’t told anyone but her pet cat..

    And that is just one of the many stories of my sister..
    So science, explain that.

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