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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Do you believe in ghosts?
Ghosts don't exist and are all in the mind according to a recent study by UK psychologists.

A chill in the air, low-light conditions and even magnetic fields may trigger feelings that a presence is in a room - but that is all they are; feelings.

Hundreds of volunteers were led by researchers around two of the UK's supposedly most haunted locations - Hampton Court Palace, England, and the South Bridge Vaults in Edinburgh, Scotland.

According to the study, the haunting feelings exist but the ghosts do not - do you agree? Have you ever had any unusual, inexplicable experiences? Do you believe in ghosts?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:

This topic was suggested by Anna, UK
I would like to know whether others agree with Dr Richard Wiseman's conclusion that ghosts are all in the mind?

The brain and the mind are one. No brain - no mind - no ghost. How do I know? Ever had a general anaesthetic? When sensory input to the brain goes then so does the mind. Does anyone really think that the mind can be knocked out by anaesthetic but can survive death? I don't think so.
Stuart, UK

I lived in a haunted house for 8 yrs. I KNOW ghosts exist. Psychologists run around in such tight circles, I doubt they have even noticed the real world outside!
Tracey Luther, UK

It is sad that some people think everything is bound within our minds. To me that is a self inflicted prison sentence!
Amber Robinson, England

I do exist. How else would I be writing this to you?
King Edward I, UK

I've had a couple of experiences that I can't explain but I daresay a scientist would thoroughly rubbish them. I don't believe in 'ghosts' but have had two occasions when friends have died and visited me afterwards. One was very excited, shaking my shoulder and saying "Tell Mick, it's all true" (he was a confirmed atheist). Then a friend who'd died the night before came to comfort me. I could 'feel' his presence and the love that came from him was the most wonderful feeling I have ever felt in my life. I asked him what it was like dying and he communicated that it was a little like giving birth, a struggle, then amnesia sets in so you forget. He seemed excited and very happy, so I became happy for him. Obviously, there's a lot more to it than that but that is the basic outline.
Angela Gelston, England

Elvis CDs would fly across the room
Susan, UK
Two friends of mine purchased a property in the US. They soon discovered that whilst playing Elvis CDs, particular songs would be repeatedly played on their stereo, even if the player wasn't set to repeat. The volume would also go up considerably. If the CD in the stereo was Elvis, the Elvis CDs would fly across the room. I witnessed this myself. One of the housemates actually saw a woman, dressed up in clothing from the '50s, coming down the staircase. They did a search on the house and its former occupants and found out that a woman had died in the house in the 1950's. Can someone please explain to me how this is happening if there is no such thing as ghosts? After all, cold air doesn't cause a CD to fly 4 feet above the ground and 12 feet across a room in full view of all the house occupants!
Susan, UK

I was at a party a few years ago. Nowhere special, a simple council house in an everyday street, no dark spooky atmospheric areas likely to cause feelings of hauntings. We were scattered about the house when a guy called out to the owner from the stairs, "Hey, is your house haunted?"
The owner replied, "Yes, we believe so, why?"
The guy replied "OK, it just passed me on the stairs is all."
The owner replied back, "OK, its harmless."
And we all went back to whatever we were doing at the party. I'll never forget that, I thought our reaction to the comment was so funny, no one batted an eyelid at it.
John Biggs, UK

No I don't believe in ghosts. I believe people get themselves so worked up they believe they saw something. But it's great to have a few ghost stories to tell round the camp fire or during a power cut.
Emma Newing, Berkshire, England

We all have images of ghosts, why should they not exist?
Rose, England
At school I take philosophy and an interesting idea for the existence of God is that those who say they don't believe in God are still able to describe God. The question then arises if God didn't exist then where do these ideas of him come from? Why would atheists have these ideas of God? It's an interesting concept that I think could also be put forward in this case. We all have images of ghosts, why should they not exist?
Rose, England

To respond to Rose: just because we are able to describe something does not mean it exists. We are able to describe or imagine fairies or men with two heads. Do these exist?
Paul, UK

Of course there are no ghosts. It's always the creepy guy from the amusement arcade! Extensive research by experienced ghost hunter Scooby Doo has proved it.
Guy Chapman, UK

I respect the investigations, but I should confess they gave me no new information about ghosts and haunting. The results were conflicting: haunting exists and ghosts don't?!
Maria, Iran

I feel that if ghosts were real, they would be like the wind, not visible.
Phil, NI

Last summer while staying at an old friend's house, my host said keep an eye on the dog. We were all sitting around the table at a meal when the dog who had been lying down in the corner suddenly sat up and was looking up expectantly, she suddenly snapped at an imaginary object as a dog will if you drop them a titbit she then proceeded to chew on whatever it was she had caught, this happened four or five times. The dog repeated this process several times over the next few days. My host said she had been doing this since her master Ted had died. I don't think she is clever enough to read reports.
Ron, UK

Let's just enjoy the mystery
Birdie Plumb, USA
How many studies have there been, involving equipment measuring electro magnetic fields and changes of temperature? Do we really need another to conclude that ghosts 'probably' don't exist? Let's just enjoy the mystery and romance of never knowing for sure! I love hearing people's ghost stories, and I don't want that ruined by some scientist saying it's all to do with energy fields or whatever.
Andy R, UK

In Massachusetts, we have the following law: If you are selling a home, and it is haunted, you MUST tell the prospective buyer about the ghost on their second visit. I know someone who was viewing an old house and saw the ghost. The realtor informed her of the law. If ghosts do not exist, why do we have this law?
Birdie Plumb, USA

Nobody has proven the existence of aliens. Does that mean they don't exist? Or do they? This study tells us nothing. It does not prove the existence of ghosts, nor the fact that they're an illusion.
Moe, UK

He has neither proven or disproven the existence of ghosts
Steve Smith, USA
"Ghosts don't exist and are 'all in the mind'". As Descartes would have put it, everything reduces to the mind. This is not science; it is just Dr Wiseman's opinion. He has neither proven or disproven the existence of ghosts. Unfortunately science at this time is becoming a secular religion, something its founder had not intention of doing.
Steve Smith, USA

Am I right in believing that we all have electromagnetic fields around our bodies? The building blocks of each living creature are electro-chemical. Is it hard to suppose that sometimes when people pass away that a trace signature of their field is left behind? Is not study of our universe based on reading the trace elements of reactions that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago?
Mary, UK

The mind is a powerful box of sensory gizmos - at the time, dreams can seem as real as consciousness... only when you wake up do you realise it was a dream. Based on this fact and based on the fact that my nervous system and everything I feel is entirely under the control of my brain it's no wonder people think they see ghosts, feel drafts and sweat without reason...
Ollie, London

'Keeping an open mind is virtue - but not so that your brains fall out!'
Kurt Richardson, USA
Some interesting comments... I particularly like the idea that the edifice of science might crumble if ghosts were proved to be real - what rubbish! The suggestion that we must be open minded about these things just seems to be an excuse to believe anything regardless of the lack of evidence. "Keeping an open mind is virtue - but not so open that your brains fall out!" (James Oberg)
Kurt Richardson, USA

I used to be a complete cynic regarding ghosts, thinking it nonsense. Then when working in Gambia, a WHO doctor living a couple of rooms away in the same hotel, died on the stairs. The week after, I encountered his ghost lying on the stairs just as I found him. I would have assumed that it was a hallucination, except for the fact that another person with me at the time also saw the ghostly figure, and we encountered the ghost several times more, before finally moving to a different hotel; the sight was too disturbing. I'm no longer a cynic.
Clive Warner, Mexico

The theory I believe is to do with the earth's magnetic field. No one has experienced a ghost where it was doing something different from what it had done during its life (walking down a hallway, lying on a step etc). To record an image or a sound onto tape, we use magnetic fields. The earth has huge magnetic fields which could potentially capture events in locations due to the environmental conditions. The people seeing these ghosts are under emotional stress; this could trigger them to pick up the recorded messages. I find this more convincing than the life after death or it's just plain in your head theories!
Andrew Southwell, UK

No ghosts? Mmmm... therefore there are no souls? We cannot see or touch those, yet people believe, or is it in their minds? God... I certainly haven't seen or touched him either but millions believe he exists, are they all delusional?
Kim, UK

Ask the local priest for expert advice
Stephen, England
As a priest I have been called to a number of places over the years in which people have seen ghosts. I have not seen one myself but have no reason to doubt that some people have done so. However challenging such experiences are for us either spiritually or scientifically, I have never heard of a ghost doing anyone any harm. Living people obsessed with the supernatural are far more dangerous, both to themselves and to others. In all cases it is best to retain a healthy scepticism, and if reassurance is needed, to ask the local priest for expert advice and help.
Stephen, England

A friend of mine had a poltergeist that haunted his bedroom as a child. This went on for many years - the ghost used to throw his toys across the room. Eventually his family had the room exorcised and the poltergeist left him alone after that (although the room still has a chill when the rest of the house is warm). He's now 26 and still hates talking about it, as it disturbed him so much. How can magnetic fields explain this?
Catherine, Scotland

Given the current anti-science hysteria it is hardly surprising that people would rather believe in ghosts than that MMR is vital to their children's health. However, the fact is that there has never been a single scientific experiment that was able to confirm the existence of ghosts. Personally, I know, on the basis of the laws of thermodynamics, that ghosts as popularly imagined cannot and do not exist. This is a simple fact, not a matter of belief.
Tom, UK

Before people get too worked up, I should point out that the published article describing this research (British Journal of Psychology 94, p195-211) concludes that: "These findings strongly suggest that alleged hauntings may not necessarily represent evidence for ghostly activity, but could be, at least in part, the result of people responding to normal factors in their surroundings."

It's not definitive proof that ghosts (whatever you think they are) do or don't exist. What it is saying is that, at least in the "haunted" locations that were investigated, environmental factors played a large role in creating an experience that people interpreted as being "ghostly". It's akin to saying that understanding that pressure waves in air create sound, and that this tells us something (but by no means everything!) about people's experience of music.
Paul Stevens, UK

When I was living in Canada as a small boy, I remember a ghostly man in the top corner of my room at night. It was only years later when I told my sister, who is two years younger than me, that we realised she also had the same figure in her room next door to me.
Lee, England

Science will explain why they happen, but not until we have a better grasp of the human brain
Russ, UK
Of course they are "just feelings", but then isn't everything we perceive? I believe that ghosts exist, as a phenomenon that people experience, but not that they are "supernatural". I think science will explain why they happen, but not until we have a better grasp on the functions of the human brain.
Russ, UK

I was on my way to a disciplinary hearing at work after being convicted of a criminal offence. My job and my whole life were on the line. There were no buses, in fact no traffic at all, and I was going to be late. An old man in a Triumph Toledo pulled up and gestured to me to get in. Puzzled, I started to tell him my destination and he finished the sentence for me. I got to the hearing, was let off with a warning and continued to have a successful career. I discovered later that the reason why there were no buses was that there had been an accident and the road was completely blocked - the road from which from which my little old man emerged.
Chazza, Scotland

Yet again another pointless study. Do I believe in ghosts? I am not sure but I would rather believe (even if rather naively) that there is more to life than just the physical body than being told by a bunch of scientists that this is all there it. If they proved ghosts existed wouldn't that make quite a few of these scientists redundant?
Jennie, UK

I believe in them. Every month I work to exhaustion, and as soon as I get paid a mysterious ghostly hand dips into my pocket and walks off with half my wages. I never see it happen, but I feel kind of uneasy, and it frightens me to death. Then occasionally I see a very transparent man, who looks like a washed out version of the bloke who won the election in 1997, promise to put my mind at ease spending my money on improving public services. But it never happens. Now tell me that's not real.
Peter, UK

I have personally never seen or felt a ghost or anything similar. The rest of my family have all seen and felt my mother's mother when she passed away many years ago before I was born. They all saw her and felt that she was protecting them until they had "got over" the grief of her passing. It is something that is just a part of our family and is nothing exceptional or strange.
Rick Eastwood, UK

In the mid-1960s whilst working on a farm in Hampshire one evening the discussion over dinner turned to the local ghost, Dame Alice Lisle. She could be seen travelling along the road in her coach. She was, of course, headless. Late in the evening I left the farm house, to return to my lodgings on the local disused airfield.

As I approached I felt a 'presence', I heard a noise, there was something there. It was bright moonlight, the sort of night that Alice Lisle was known to travel; I was in an area where many people had met violent deaths. I swallowed hard, entered the hut and switched on my torch. I saw it, a red shape in the corner of the hut. A fox had entered to examine my stock of food! Without a torch would I have believed that it was a ghost?
Barry P, England

People who believe in ghosts do so because they want to
George, UK
Paranormal phenomena have been researched to death (and beyond?) without a shred of irrefutable evidence ever being found. People who believe in ghosts do so because they want to.
George, UK

I visited Gettysburg at night once, and couldn't help but be freaked out. Our minds are powerful, and I know my imagination was controlling my fears, because all we know is what we perceive, and our subconscious ultimately controls how we perceive things like changes in temperature and unknown sounds.
Joe, USA

So I suppose cameras producing bizarre pictures after filming a certain scene and that some 'coincidental' deaths after a sighting are the just the result of the mind? This is just a bad theory as the one where scientists claim that people 'dream' about alien abductions. If you can't explain it, than blame it on the mind. The world of science is the new religion and like any religion is determine to deny anything that might destroy it's foundation.
Daniel Tormey, England

Most people are too oblivious of what is happening in their own dimensional world to worry about spirits in co-existing ones. Some-times an open mind is necessary, if only to avoid sounding like a self-satisfied scientist.
Rick, UK

I think that there is obviously a lot more to this subject than can be easily explained away with this type of study. If one of these scientists was to return to the house they lived in by themselves to find all the electrical appliances unplugged and all the kitchen chairs upside down, they might be forced to revise their findings.
Mike Stanton, Netherlands

In this day and age, rational explanations can be proven beyond doubt
Tim Laughton, Kent
In the past phenomena that could not be explained was put down to supernatural forces, as there was no way of proving otherwise. In this day and age, rational explanations can be proven beyond doubt. It seems to me that it will only be a matter of time before the myth of ghosts and paranormal happenings will be exploded.
Tim Laughton, Kent

Science is unable to explain many things. What is at the heart of black holes? What exactly is consciousness? What happens after death? For scientists to simply dismiss ghosts as figments of people's imagination, because they can't find an explanation based on known science is rather sad. I'm a mathematician and I believe in ghosts. We have one resident in our home. Don't see her much, but she is there, and to be honest, its rather nice!!
Paul, UK

We have for the last 15 years observed and felt the presence of a black cat in our house; this has included relatives and strangers who have had no prior warning of its existence.
Mike, UK

How wonderful. Psychologists have found a 'scientific' explanation for ghosts. Now they can go to bed at night feeling safe and sound, while the rest of us can still believe in ghosts, and have ghostly encounters, knowing that people with such closed minds wouldn't have seen anything anyway. Psychological research rarely produces results that cannot be interpreted differently. Psychologists know relatively little about the workings of the brain, and still less about ghosts.
Sarah Whitehead, UK

I was the world's biggest sceptic. A few years ago my friend and I were exploring a large empty house. It was a still, warm day. The first 'event' was a strong gust of wind that blew a bush by the entrance of the house but nowhere else. Inside there were no floorboards upstairs, only the joists, so one could see all the way up to the roof. We both clearly heard someone walking above our heads on the non existent floor. We did not imagine the experience, and then met someone else who had a similar experience in the same property. These were not 'feelings'.
Greg Barr, UK

Do some people still believe in ghosts? How about witches, vampires and the tooth fairy? I can't believe researchers are wasting their time on this mumbo jumbo.
Chris B, UK

Was it Mark Twain who said "I don't believe in ghosts, but they scare the hell out of me"? Anyway, interesting study - far from being 'mumbo jumbo', this kind of research allows us to study perception, belief etc...
M Dodds, UK

It seems to me that we don't take people's psychological experiences seriously enough. I mean if someone believes something has happened to them, it is real to them. We don't criticise priests whom have had religious experiences. So I think it's perfectly reasonable to suggest that an unknown phenomena exists, it's just whether we blame it on ghosts or psychological conditions or something else. People don't like to blame the psychological aspects because of the stigma surrounding mental health.
John Everitt, UK

I'm always intrigued when people say they've seen ghosts of monks, maids, soldiers, knights, etc. Presumably these people believe that, not only does a person survive into some sort of afterlife, but their clothes and belongings do as well?
Ann Wright, UK

The fact that magnetic fields can induce feelings of unease and disturbance of peripheral vision is nothing new. However, these limited phenomena certainly do not fully account for the large range of paranormal experiences loosely classified as 'ghosts'.
John, UK

I was visited nightly by a ghost throughout my childhood. When I confessed this to my mother we found that between us we could describe every item of clothing he was wearing. He used to sit at the end of her bed at the same time as he sat on mine.
Dyanne, Italy

Perhaps ghosts and aliens only speak English..?
Elias Kostopoulos, Athens, Greece
How come all ghosts and UFO visits take place only in the US and the UK lately? Could it be because US folk would do anything to be on TV for five minutes, and the UK enjoys receiving 10 admission to "haunted castles" from (mostly American) tourists? Or perhaps ghosts and aliens only speak English..?
Elias Kostopoulos, Athens, Greece

The body may well react but... what causes the air to suddenly chill and the magnetic fields to change??
Martin, UK

It's fairly arrogant to say (based on only two sites) that ghosts do not exist and it's all down to our environment. When I was nine I saw something I couldn't explain - later when I told my parents, they confirmed that I may have seen the ghost of a girl who died in the 1960s. Anyway, how do the scientists explain many pictures that have been taken of these 'spooks', where computer analysis has shown that they are not down to poor processing?!
James, UK

Ghost tours, ghost walks, haunted houses etc are big business for tourists these days. Some people will pay money to believe anything.
Gladys Stovies, UK

Are we THAT arrogant that we claim to know everything about everything? Why can't we be content to wait and find out for ourselves..?!
Liz, UK

Liz, UK: Yes we ARE THAT arrogant. Like the world is flat, the world is the centre of the universe, the sun revolves around the earth, man will never fly... Speaking as what could be loosely described a scientist myself, there are too many who are prepared to follow the party line. The truth is most scientists say "No" when in reality they mean "Don't know".
Jay, UK

Every night in my new (old) farmhouse I felt cold, and a person watching and hovering above me while I slept at night. I was woken up and was too frightened to look. I saw a TV documentary and learned that people see visions if their brains are within an electrical field from a domestic appliance etc. I discovered my bed was directly over the hot water immersion heater in the room downstairs. Since switching it off at night I no longer get 'visits'. It is all to do with the temporal lobe in your brain which is effected by the electric field.
Alastair, UK

To the believer no proof is required, to the sceptic, no proof is sufficient
Doug, UK
It's arrogant for even the top scientists to dismiss the existence of ghosts. Less than 600 years ago, the top scientists believed the world was flat. I believe that the existence of ghosts will one day be proven. We do not have the equipment yet. To the believer no proof is required, to the sceptic, no proof is sufficient
Doug, UK

It ISN'T arrogant of scientists to try and seek evidence either for or against the existence of ghosts. I am a scientist and we DON'T claim to know everything about the world. However, until evidence does exist to support the idea that ghosts exist then it will remain only a hypothesis. Inventing and believing in something for which there is no definitive evidence is purely a matter of faith and not science.
Steve B, Bristol, UK

I agree with the findings of the study. I think that if a place feels haunted then people will be inclined to be more on edge and therefore sense things that really are not there. Then again a ghost is meant to be an unexplainable apparition so who is to say people that claim to have seen one are wrong? I think that when given the right prompts, the human mind can dream up pretty much anything, and that is how ghosts come to be.
Michael Shaw, UK

I worked with someone who told me there was a ghost in the lecture theatre next door who could be seen sitting in one of the seats as you walked past. I saw this "ghost" for myself and was able to show that it was an optical illusion created by viewing an overhead projector at a certain angle when looking into the room, but my colleague insisted that her explanation was the more rational!
Dougal McKinnon, UK

Just because they didn't show up when they were doing the experiments, doesn't mean they are not there!
Hannah, UK
Humans think that science can explain everything! How do we know there is no such thing as ghosts? Just because they didn't show up when they were doing the experiments, doesn't mean they are not there! People are afraid of things they don't understand so they try to explain everything away. I believe in ghosts and the supernatural, who are we to decide what does and does not exist?
Hannah, UK

In Islam, we have an explanation for ghosts: they're called Jinns. They co-exist with us in this world and are known to interfere with humans.
Abdurrahman, UK

The real question is why must everything be summarily dismissed as nothing more than a series of chemical reactions or brain activities? What's next on the agenda? Love?
Dan Mead, Addlestone, UK

This is not new information and does not explain photographic and audio evidence as well as objects being moved in sealed rooms. One explanation of how people feel in certain places is not the same as saying that ghosts do not exist. It's like saying that UFOs don't exist because some sightings have proven to be natural phenomena - who cares about the ones that can be dismissed? What we really want to know about are the ones that can't.
Nik, UK

No, I don't believe in ghosts. Ninety-nine and nine-tenths of the time, fear is simply the improper use of the imagination.

I'm not sure that ghosts can be entirely explained away by that. I have been alone and felt a tap on my shoulder, I'm not sure if air conditions or magnetic fields could cause the feeling of being physically touched. I think that there are too many sightings and accounts of ghosts for it to be put down to the environment entirely.

A person might go to a place that they've never been to before and see the ghost of a monk, for example, and later discover that other people have seen it as well. If ghosts were entirely created by things such as magnetic fields, would different people see the same thing?
Sarah, UK

Ghosts 'all in the mind'
21 May 03  |  Science/Nature
Ghostbusters probe Edinburgh Castle
04 Apr 01  |  Scotland
Palace ghost laid to rest
29 Mar 01  |  UK News
Britain's favourite haunts
20 Mar 00  |  UK News

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