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The Curious Question of Ghost Taxonomy

The nature of ghosts remains unknown despite centuries of collective effort by legions of ghost hunters.

Among the vast constellation of unexplained and Fortean topics, ghosts are by far the most elusive and unknown. Cryptozoologists who search for Bigfoot, for example, have reached a general consensus on what they’re looking for: a tall, bipedal, hairy, manlike animal. Not so with the most popular paranormal subject in the world: ghosts.

What are ghost hunters looking for? It’s not clear. As Owen Davies notes in his book The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts, historically “Ghosts shared certain characteristics with fairies, angels, and devils, and the tricky task of distinguishing between them often depended on the context in which they appeared: and this in turn changed over the centuries according to religious, philosophical, and scientific developments” (Davies 2007, 13).

Over the years various attempts have been made to classify and categorize ghosts (by early researchers including G.N.M. Tyrrell, Eleanor Sidgwick, and others associated with the Society for Psychical Research and more recently by writers such as Brad Steiger and John Zaffis) usually according to eyewitness reports. Of course there are inherent problems with classifying and categorizing potentially ambiguous and error-prone experiences. This was perhaps not obvious in the late 1800s, but over the past decades, it’s become clear from psychology research that sincere people misperceive and misremember events with alarming consistency. Research is only as good as the data, and the testimony and accounts of apparition witnesses simply cannot be taken at face value.

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About Skeptical Inquirer

Progressophobia: Why Things Are Better Than You Think They Are STEVEN PIKER Percival Lowell and the Canals of Mars The Curious Question of Ghost Taxonomy and much more!