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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 21.1 > EARLIEST GHOST STORIES


It might not be possible to test ghosts using scientific tools even if ghosts did truly exist. But there are other ways to investigate strange things.

One way is to ask, “How did this idea get started? What form did this story first take—and how did it change over time?” Sometimes history can give us clues about the truth of a claim even when we can’t test that claim directly. For example, if a person today said they spotted a “one-eyed, onehorned, flying purple people eater,” the history of popular music would give us an important clue that this sighting was likely made up or imagined: flying purple people eaters are make-believe creatures created in the 1950s for a famous silly song.

In the case of ghosts, however, even the historical approach is a bit tricky. People have told tales of ghost encounters and haunted places for a very, very, very long time. Ghosts swarm through the oldest stories known to exist! We don’t know how the first ghost beliefs got started or what form they took, because it happened too long ago—probably long before writing was invented.

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About Skeptic

CONFIDENCE SCAMS EXCERPT: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for it Every Time; ARTICLES: America’s Stonehenge: Did Highly Developed Europeans Build a Sophisticated Astronomical and Religious Monument on the American East Coast More than 3000 Years Ago?; Is It ET?: Is Star KIC 8462852 a Sign of an Extraterrestrial Civilization?; Hurricane Strikes as Divine Retribution—An Empirical Test; Ruins of Empires: Thomas Jefferson, Constantin-Francois Volney, and the Separation of Church and State; Winning the Vaccination War in California; Prophet Without Honor: Francis Galton and the Birth of Behavioral Genetics; When Cops Kill: An Insider’s Perspective; Guns and Games: The Relationship Between Violent Video Games and Gun Crimes in America; More on Morals: On Science and Morality (1) Deontologists are Covert Consequentialists, (2) Expanding Science to Include Morals, (3) Clarifying Confusions; Alligators in the Sewers! COLUMNS: Who’s Crazy Now?: DSM-5 and the Classification of Mental Disorders; The Delicate Dilemma of Defining Rape; REVIEW: Red Team: How To Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy by Micah Zenko reviewed by David Priess; JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Haunted Houses; Earliest Ghost Stories; Ghostly Evolution