KIDS ASK! Can Scientists Study Ghosts? Part II

It’s true that most scientists do not investigate ghosts, but there are a few scientists out there who do use the scientific method to investigate ghost sightings.  This means that the scientists are objective and that they carefully test the evidence they have for all possible explanations.  Vic Tandey, an engineer and researcher at Coventry University in the UK, was one of the most famous of these kinds of scientists.  There’s Dr. Chris French at University of London, who specializes in what’s called “Anomalistic Psychology,” and the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee, a team of ghost hunters who use the scientific method.

No one has yet seen a ghost under a microscope.

Let’s talk about a real-life ghost story that took place in a science lab at Coventry University, UK.  Wouldn’t an actual lab full of scientists be the perfect place to find real evidence of a ghost?  In the Coventry University lab, people always reported bad and creepy feelings there at night, like being watched.  Some people even reported seeing dark figures out of the corner of their eyes.   People in the lab felt stressed, depressed, and terrified!

Ever had the feeling something is standing just behind you?

Vic Tandey, who was working at the university, did not start by looking for a ghost.  He started by studying the laboratory environment, to see if there was any explanation for these feelings and sightings.  Was the lab too cold?  Was there a chemical in the air that made people feel bad?  What he found was something that might explain a lot of ghost hauntings, in a scientific way. 

A normal, non-haunted science lab.

The sounds we hear every day are vibrations that travel in waves on the air around us.  The energy in sound waves means that sound waves can also affect our bodies.  If you have ever heard a song with a strong thumping beat and felt it in your body, you know how powerful sound can be!  You probably know that there are some sounds are so high-pitched, humans cannot hear them, like the high sounds only dogs can hear.  But there are also sounds that are so low-pitched that humans cannot hear, called infrasound. 

Sound vibrations can carry a lot of energy.

Vic Tandey learned that scientists who studied infrasound in experiments found that it can cause feelings of fear, anxiety, and can even cause people to see things, because the infrasound vibrations affect people’s bodies, and seem to affect people’s eyes especially. Infrasound is often made by large machines, especially large fans.  What did scientists find in the laboratory? Not a ghost, but a very large fan!  When they turned off the fan, the ghost sightings all stopped.

Are sound waves the source of ghost sightings?

When scientists are objective and test their evidence of ghosts with the scientific method, they usually find other explanations.  Many of the explanations found have to do with things in your environment that can affect your brain.  This is why most scientists who investigate ghosts work in the fields of psychology or neurology.  For example, it’s been proven that breathing in the poisonous gas called carbon monoxide can cause symptoms that feel like a haunting.  People with carbon monoxide leaking from their stove or heater usually don’t know it, and so they breathe in the gas constantly, which hurts their brain.  This causes them to see things, and to feel very frightened.  There have been many cases of people reporting ghosts, but finding a leaky heater instead. This has happened so many times that scientists now say that if you are seeing ghosts and feeling scared, check the carbon monoxide levels in your house right away, because carbon monoxide can kill you!  There is even fascinating evidence that magnetic or electrical fields can affect people’s brains and give people the feeling that there is someone in the room with them, watching them.

The best scientific evidence for ghosts is mostly found…in your brain!

When scientists study ghosts, they often find that there is something around a person that is influencing what they see, hear, or feel.  So science friends, people who use science to investigate ghosts have to be objective, and they have to find evidence of ghosts that cannot be explained by anything else.  Most times, ghost sightings can be explained by things like infrasound, magnetism, carbon monoxide, or electricity. Because of this, so far, no one has ever scientifically proven ghosts exist – but they haven’t scientifically proven that they don’t exist either! 

Sources and Further Information:

Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee: an awesome team of real ghost researchers who use the scientific method:

The science of ghosts and the Coventry Lab Story:

Dr. Chris French explains why people see ghosts:

A famous tale of a carbon monoxide haunting:

Scientific study on how electricity can produce feelings of being haunted by a ghost:

The GHOST FREQUENCY, the infrasound that makes people see ghosts:

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