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Which way does Occam’s Razor cut? Scientific American has posted an online article, misleadingly titled “Ghost Stories: Visits from the Deceased“. The author discusses how bereaved people often experience ‘contact’ with the recently dead, which they say is quite obviously a hallucination:

Mourning seems to be a time when hallucinations are particularly common, to the point where feeling the presence of the deceased is the norm rather than the exception. One study, by the researcher Agneta Grimby at the University of Goteborg, found that over 80 percent of elderly people experience hallucinations associated with their dead partner one month after bereavement, as if their perception had yet to catch up with the knowledge of their beloved’s passing. As a marker of how vivid such visions can seem, almost a third of the people reported that they spoke in response to their experiences. In other words, these weren’t just peripheral illusions: they could evoke the very essence of the deceased.

…We often fall back on the cultural catch all of the “ghost” while the reality is, in many ways, more profound. Our perception is so tuned to their presence that when they are not there to fill that gap, we unconsciously try to mold the world into what we have lived with for so long and so badly long for. Even reality is no match for our love.

The article does not mention at all any of the evidence which suggests that these ‘hallucinations’ may be something more, such as ‘crisis apparitions’ (where the experiencer is not actually aware of the death, and therefore also not subject to the stress of grief), veridical hallucinations and so-called ‘Peak in Darien’ experiences. One of the earliest comprehensive reports on the above can be found in Phantasms of the Living (Volume 1 and Volume 2), a publication of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) more than 120 years ago. In the more recent Irreducible Mind, Kelly et al note that…

Although no subsequent study of veridical hallucinations has approached those of the early SPR in scope or thoroughness of investigation, such experiences have continued to be reported (see, e.g., Dale, White, & Murphy, 1962; Green, 1960; Stevenson, 1970, 1995; S.H. Wright, 1999). An ongoing study at our research unit in the University of Virginia over the past several years has identified more than 200 cases of dreams, telepathic impressions, or hallucinations occurring at the time of some crisis (usually death) occurring to a person at a distance.

They go on to point out that “apparitions of people that the percipient already knows to be dead have been reported in all times and cultures… Although most such cases cannot be attributed to anything other than subjectively generated imagery, some cases do suggest a more objective origin, including collective hallucinations of a deceased person; cases in which veridical information unknown to the percipient was conveyed by the apparition; and cases in which the apparition was later recognized by the percipient in a photograph of someone he or she had not known in life.”

Previously on TDG: