The time I saw a ghost.

It is christmas and that means we need a ghost story. This is mine.

So as a kid I was obsessed with the paranormal. Properly obsessed. UFOs, ghosts, supernatural powers, the whole deal. It was pre-internet so all this arcane knowledge had to be deciphered from from tatty second hand books pilfered from car boot sales and dusty shops.

Eventually I headed to secondary school and where I was lucky enough to encounter some tremendous science teachers. They infected me with the scientific method and, surprisingly, it didn't immunise me from the paranormal at all.

It strengthened my belief in it. For I knew I could use the scientific method to prove it all true.

But over time being skeptical and scientific knocked down the crazy things I wanted to be true. One little piece at a time. I saw the contradictions and intentional reproductions of previously admitted hoaxes and began to lose faith in the paranormal community.

But then I saw a ghost.

I would often walk down by the canal near my house. The entrance was especially pretty with trees overhanging the path that opened up to a view of a metal bridge and the canal itself.

Then one day as I walked up to that path I saw a man with his back to me. He was wearing jeans, and a top that was a green, or maybe blue. He had dark brown hair and he was clearly staring at the water from the bridge.

I was certain he was going to jump and try to kill himself. Completely certain. I remember my heart leaping. Striking my chest like a solid punch. I actually shouted out to him, but he ignored me. I was so worried I was routed to the spot. Eventually I snapped out of it, shouted again and rushed towards him.

He disappeared.

I don't think I've ever felt fear like I did when the suicidal man disappeared. I was rooted to the spot again with fear. I was physically shaking; a sudden cold washed over me and I didn't know what to do.

So I just stood there.

It all made sense, it was a ghost of a man who jumped to his death. It wasn't a tall bridge, but the water was full of junk and he was bound to have got caught on a trolley or something, been unable to resurface, and drowned. As it was suicide he had never found peace and was stuck repeating what had already happened.

As shaken as I was I suddenly realised I was right, and I was damn well going to use science to prove it. And so, on little more than a whim, I started pacing around the area I had been standing before I moved.

I must have looked a little strange.

I stood there inching around and moving my head this way and that for maybe 5 minutes. Which is a very long time to be acting like that. And it all seemed fruitless. But science requires rigour and so I stuck at it.

Eventually I got the ghost to return.

The branches of the trees were crossing the bridge in such a way that they outlined a crude shape of a man. The colour of the canal, grass, sky and concrete filled in the shape with jeans and a top, and gave him a reasonable head of hair.

As the wind blew the trees the image came and went and never had the absolute, complete reality that it's first appearance had, but even now I knew what was happening, it was a damn impressive optical illusion.

I was astonished at what a complete picture and story my mind had created with just this simple nudge from a random arrangement of the environment. If I was in a rush and had to keep walking, if I couldn't have spent all that time tilting my head this way and that like a moronic bird then to this day I would still be willing to bet my life, and that of my families, on the existence of a ghost on that bridge. I also realised that not once in the retelling of the tale would I ever think to mention the overhanging branches and soon I would forget they were even there. No skeptic, no matter how talented, would be able to solve the mystery from the most honest testimony I could give.

But I had the time, the good fortune, and scientific curiosity to stop and stare and rock back and forth and to test. And so I managed to disprove my very own ghost, and in doing so I got first hand experience of how completely and utterly my brain could lie to me.

And so seeing a ghost changed my life.

14 comments:

Jo said...

Your story is almost identical to mine. Similar background, grew up reading about the paranormal, discovered science in my late teens (most of it after I left school, sadly) and one day when I was about 19 I too saw a ghost.

She looked like the old lady from Ghostbusters. She hovered a foot or so off the floor, was glowing and she tilted her head when I tilted mine. Frightened the life out of me.

Came back later that night with my brother and we both saw her. He was scared, ran back to the car.

Went back the next night with more people and we saw her again.

I was determined to find an explanation - if I eliminate everything else then I was prepared to accept it could have been a ghost.

Discovered it was the most amazing optical illusion caused by a light hitting the hull of a boat that was resting vertically against a building.

A little magic and mystery died that day, but at the same time it killed my belief in the supernatural and gave me a better understanding of reality.

Bard said...

It's refreshing to read an anti-ghost story for a change. I myself had an interest in the paranormal as a child, and even today I enjoy the topic as a source of fictional entertainment, but there comes a time when you have to face the reality of your own experience.

I've never seen a ghost nor a false ghost. I've seen UFOs, but that says nothing other than the fact that I could not personally identify what they were. I like to keep an open mind, and while I'm sure that science can eventually prove that something like extraterrestrial civilizations with advanced technology exist, (though whether they are composed of little grey men with large heads who conduct obscure medical experiments on humans is another matter) beings like ghosts and goblins seem to be stretching things a bit. Everyone has the right to their own subjective reality, but they shouldn't go expecting to prove to others the veracity of their claims without sufficient evidence.

Your story makes a great point about the dubiousness of taking a single, fleeting sensory experience at face value. Our brains are wired to fill in a narrative even when one doesn't naturally present itself. The good thing about the scientific method is that it forces you to slow down, take a step back, and rely on reason rather than emotion in seeking the truth.

bertologika said...

great blog entry mate.

i remember when i was about 11 using a telescope in my back garden i was trying to find andromeda in the sky and this great big orange saucer shape flew over my house! it looked like a classic glowing saucer with a sort of motion blur.

obviously my first thought was 'cool a UFO'! then i felt a little vulnerable out there in the dark...then i remember being confused about what else it possibly could have been...
i never believed it was anything alien for a second...but i was a little shaken as i couldnt readily explain it...

im going for reflection off clouds as a solution but never really been satisfied with it. powerful thing paredolia eh.

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