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Sceptic or Cynic and do ghosts’ exist?

With so many people interested in the search for ghosts I very often get asked do I believe in ghosts. My answer is I believe there is some sort of phenomena there but what it is I don’t know. I cannot prove that ghosts exist therefore I cannot conclude that they do. This I would guess puts me in the category of a sceptic. A believer will answer without question ‘yes ghosts exist.’ A Cynic would give you a completely different answer ‘No they don’t.’

So what is a sceptic? Derived from the Greek word ‘skeptikos’ meaning inquiring or to look around a sceptic will not investigate the existence of ghosts closed to the possibility that they might exist however they will require evidence to substantiate the existence of ghosts.

A cynic will be completely closed to the idea of ghosts and will also be unwilling to accept any evidence for the existence of ghosts.

In the ever increasing field of people looking for ghosts there are a host of differing belief systems which I have simplified in the chart below.

The bottom labels the three columns as Cynic, Sceptic and Believer with the pyramid apex in between the conclusion at the top, of Natural Phenomena (i.e. explainable) and Paranormal (i.e. ghosts exist.)

Moving to the first box up from the bottom ‘A perceived paranormal event occurs.' Many people would be open to the idea that it may have happened if not you are classed as a cynic from the outset. Someone who requires no further evidence would be in the believer category from the outset. Personally I would hope that everybody would fall into the sceptic category at this early stage.

Step two ‘The occurrence is tested via various methodology' and step three 'results are tested.' During these stages you can note that more and more people are swaying either to cynic or believer.

Step four is the important one to define a true sceptic as this shows 'pass or fail' ie did the methodology used in the investigation process show an event occurred or not. If it did then some sceptics may sway to believe and if it did not then sway to Natural phenomena or not believe the event took place. The line in the middle of the two boxes or the middle ground would be where the true sceptic would report that although test passed or failed the methodology used needs further refining and needs testing again until definitive proof can be derived.

The above of course is a generalisation however scepticism is not a bad trait to hold. It is the key characteristic of scientific thinking. Science is the way of gathering and analysing information with the goal of testing claims. It is also considered to be the most rigorous way of explaining cause and effect.

I.e. ‘Why did that chair just move on its own?’ A believer may conclude it was a ghost without evidence a cynic would say it didn’t move whereas a sceptic would want to test the chair and its environment.

With a solid methodology you can perceive a deductive reasoning to provide comprehensive evidence for a conclusion. This, however is where science commonly disagrees or put simply we need to ask the question ‘What is a solid methodology?’

Michael Shermer (author of Why people believe in weird things 1997) has listed what most people would agree to be a basic concept of methodology.

i) Hypothesis: A testable statement accounting for a set of observations.

ii) Theory: A well tested hypothesis or set of hypotheses.

iii) Fact: A conclusion confirmed to such an extent as to offer provisional agreement.

To summarise a sceptic will form a belief that is in agreement to evidence but will also be open to the fact that evidence may at this time be unobtainable.

So do ghosts exist?

To date there is no substantiated evidence to suggest the existence of ghosts. However with thousands of testimonies to the contrary many from credible witness statements, we could perceive that a ghost is a phenomena of some sort.

Using science to study the phenomena we have to ask two basic questions.

i) Is the phenomena accepted by the scientific community?

ii) Is the methodology used to test the phenomena valid?

Examining phenomena based on these two concepts could potentially give us four basic outcomes.

i) The phenomena is accepted by the scientific community and the methodology is valid. Therefore the phenomena must exist.

ii) The phenomena is accepted by the scientific community however the methodology is flawed. The phenomena now does not exist yet it is incorrectly accepted by the scientific community.

iii) The phenomena is not accepted by science however the methodology is valid. Therefore the phenomena exists but is not accepted by the scientific community.

iv) The phenomena is not accepted by the scientific community and the methodology is not valid. Therefore the phenomena does not exist.

We already know that science does not accept the existence of ghosts so i) and ii) can be eliminated. Therefore even though ghosts are not accepted by science they still may be real. We just need to look at the methodology used in our investigation in order that someday we may be able to support the existence of ghosts.

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