Monday, 17 September 2012

Materialists cannot see ghosts

        written by Rich

What would I do if I saw a ghost? Well as we rationalists know, all ideas concerning the supernatural can exist in a way but only inside the minds of those that believe in the actual reality of the supernatural. Beliefs inside our mental world guide our perceptions of reality and of what is possible to be perceived.Therefore those experiencing something unnerving and ambiguous are likely to attribute the event to a ghost or evil demon. Especially if they believe in the supernatural, because their beliefs constitution can accommodate for the supernatural. This may sound very obvious but it is important to express that 'seeing' a supernatural agent is down to matter of perception which is in turn built on previous belief prior to the 'ghost exposure'. The post title of this entry may therefore be considered more informative if it read 'Materialists cannot perceive ghosts'.

Supernatural perception phenomena can be therefore be neatly described using circular reasoning as its role provides a self supportive mechanism within society:

apriori belief => susceptibility to supernatural perception => social communication reaffirming apriori belief within culture

Based on the cultural and societal zeitgeist, spirits, demons and ghosts were much more prevalent in history than today (although there are many, many contemporary witches, mediums and mystic meg wannabes). Therefore, individuals spooked in the middle of the night, or what have you, were much more likely to attribute their unusual scenario to something bad and uncertain, like a ghost, if they sustained beliefs in to the supernatural supported by the current societal beliefs. These frightful stories again reinfoce the Societal zeitgeist and survive through time through to today where there still are many reports of encounters with the supernatural. 

Difference being between a materialist or immaterialist is that a believer of the immaterial will easily attribute an unusual experience to a ghost due to the inherited acceptance of cultural norms upon reflection. A materialist would not be exposed to attribute the belief of a ghost upon an unusual event and therefore would not be able to reflect and report on seeing a ghost in the future.

To illustrate, consider the commonly reported sleep paralysis phenomenon. When asleep, the brain effectively prevents motor commands from reaching the body's muscles stopping you from acting out your dreams in reality. Sometimes people can suffer a terrible malfunction of this temporary paralysis and wake up during the motor-impulse blockade, a scary event described by an immense weight on the individuals chest. A phenomena explained retrospectively by many people of the past by attribution of a succubi demon.


Darwin (as cited in Blume, 2011) expressed a neurological predisposition to the perception of the supernatural. Today these theories revolve around the hyper agency detection. The take home message is that it is conducive to human survival that movement or anything considered powerful (lightning, bushes in the breeze, shadows) be automatically assigned with agency or capable of an agenda. For example, it is much better to mistake a shadow in your home for a burglar than a burglar for a shadow, or a lion for a shadow. So our hyper agency can be seen as an aid for survival, an over anxious part of psyche that jumps at the slightest. Hyper agency theories are considered as a facet of our susceptibility to supernatural belief. Attaching cognitive faculties to natural phenomena here is the basis, or cultural predecessor, of the polytheistic and monotheistic institutions. 

Clearly, in the absence of knowledge and in the presence of unpleasant ambiguity, human beings are frightfully prone to invoking the supernatural. Demons and ghosts and gods are the perfect filler to the gaps in the understanding of our experience.