In today’s episode, Toren, Joe, and Kevin are joined by Chris “Stewie” Stewart for a look at the spiritual remains of the dearly departed: Ghosts! We talk about The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, Puzzlingly Terrified Ghost Hunters, and Peter Jackson’s first big effects movie and more!


Music: “Space Ghosts” by The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets




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Showing 21 comments
  • QUAZ

    Ok ok Ghosts. The problem is that science rightly is designed to study one thing at time, and it often takes a lot time to come to a synthesis of ideas. Sadly this leave human inginuity to come up with ideas to fill the gaps. There are obviously many problems leading to ghostly tales. Neuroscience, culture, and social interactions holds many explinations for ghost encounters as long as you look at it from a whole science perspective. And if not, it is wrong to assume an unknown is a ghost, just because it is an unknown. Otherwise belief in aliens, miracles, and underwear gnomes must also be default positions as well for unknowns.

    Here’s one example of artificually created ” sense of presene” via electrical stimulation:; while this does not mean external magnetic radation is causing ghost enocunters, it proves that the sense of someone is there can be produced internally. mass hysteria, or perhaps micro-hysteria for a small group does occur. Anyone who can objectively look back at ghost stories told around the campfire as a kid, or even wandering around in a forest at night with a group can attest one persons fear or tension can quickly spread.

    From a cultural point of view that hardest thing to prove is if we are being primed for the expirence of ghosts. Does a witness of a ghost expect to see a ghost, especially in a certain place. Of course there is always the question does different cultural backgrounds affect how you perceive things. A long history of ghost stories does not confirm their existance, again the roman and egyptian gods were beilved in for the vast majority of human history, it does not necessarily mean that there is a entire family trees spreading back to zesus or horus.

    Lastly comes to interviews and the quest of the validity of witnesses and improrer lines of questioning. WE have this odd problem that “why would he/she lie about that” without realizing that there is a difference between purposeful lies, and self deception. The latter is not some immoral lapse, or a question of the witness sincerity. Sincerity does not mean the witness is right simply because they think they are.

  • Andrew

    I absolutely loved The Frighteners. It was a great movie. I saw it in the theater, and I was disappointed that there were so few people there; I really thought it should have done better than it did.

    I was surprised, what with everyone being so into comics, that no mention was made of The Crow. I’m not really familiar with the comic, but I actually quite enjoyed the movie; Michael Wincott makes a great villain, and I thought Brandon Lee was quite good. I know that the movie would not have been nearly as well known as it was if it weren’t for the unfortunate death of its star, but I thought i was a solid piece of film about a ghost out for vengeance.

    Of course, there are so many ghost movies that you surely had to pick and choose which ones to mention. I can’t be the only one who thought of three or four movies that weren’t mentioned, and I’ll bet at least a couple of those any others would think of are not the same as mine. You could easily fill multiple hours with just sound-bite comments about ghost movies and barely scratch the surface.

    • Generaleesimo

      I’m not 100% sure that The Crow qualifies as a ghost because he was pretty corporeal. Although, if he was a ghost he definitely proved that hollow point bullets are indeed the best ones for taking them down!!

  • Jackie Paper

    Thank you Joel! Ghosts are as real as the tooth fairy.

    • Joe

      The vast majority of cuts were me and Stewie going back and forth arguing on this. I agree with you. Obviously there are “unexplained” things out there, but the idea of “ghosts” is so huge and complicated and has zero actual evidence after thousands of years of looking for it that it’s an absolutely ridiculous leap.

      I don’t even understand Stewie’s point of “you can explain some of them, but there are so many that it can’t explain all of them” argument. Apply it to the Tooth Fairy. “Ok, sure, a lot of these kids getting money for teeth under their pillows can be explained by their parents or guardians doing it, but can that explain all of them?”

      James Randi has a million dollars for anyone that can prove things like ghosts and psychic abilities. Nobody’s done it. People have tried they and end up embarrassed and making all sorts of ridiculous excuses.

      Hell, nobody’s even been able to prove to me these things are likely. Science is showing us over and over again that “who we are” is a function of our brains, not some mysterious intangible. There’s no “spirit” there to even become a ghost. Other media — especially those terrible “reality” shows on ghosts — treat the entire subject as a coin-flip. “Was it a ghost? We can’t prove it BUT MAYBE!” Bullshit.

      • Generaleesimo

        Why Joe, you sound downright skeptical !!!

        Don’t let him bother you, true believers, it’s in his nature.

  • Jon Paynter

    I love how Stewie jumped right into the greatest hits of logical fallacies while defending his point that ghosts might be real, including argument from antiquity (i.e. “people have been talking about ghosts for thousands and thousands of years), argument from ignorance (i.e.”that can’t necessarily account for everything”) and straw man (i.e. “science … ignores piles and piles and piles of data). Sounds like Stewie needs some scepticism education. He should check out the Skeptics Guide to the Universe for help.

    Just to argue against Stewie’s point, scientists have studied ghosts extensively over the years and have never had compelling reasons to believe that they were true. So, unless someone has proper proof of ghosts, they probably won’t spend a whole lot of time searching for them. Just like it is kind of pointless to search for bigfoot or Loch Ness monster.

  • Arlen Woods

    Joe was so offended by the subject matter that he couldn’t be funny.
    Maybe I can coin a new label. Joe is a Rationalist Fundamentalist!
    Not sure if that’s grammatically correct but you get the idea.

    • Toren Atkinson

      We all have our weaknesses. Letting truth and skepticism get in the way of a good joke is one of Joe’s. Luckily taking constructive criticism is not.

      My weakness is babies dressed as bees.

    • Joe

      I’m not offended by things that aren’t real. I’m a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy. I like ghost stories, and magic, and swords made of laser beams that somehow stop at three feet in length.

      I play roleplaying games where all of this is accepted as true and I love it. Ghostbusters is right up there with the rest of my favorite films. It doesn’t matter one bit that ghosts aren’t real. Stories about ghosts are still interesting.

      I’m offended when people make extraordinary claims without providing the required extraordinary evidence. If we’d all agreed that ghosts were brain-farts, semi-waking-dreams, hallucinations, false-memories and legend we’d have moved on and had a great amount of fun with this episode, just like we did with our “Demons” (Psst: they’re also not real!) episode.

      Instead we got stuck on “do they exist?” right off the bat which is — as pointed out above — as ridiculous as “does the tooth fairy exist?”

  • Keeffer

    Ghosts don’t exist.

    But I can’t explain what happened the night I saw one. I actually called my neurologist the next morning to ask if anything I was on caused hallucinations because there’s no way I actually saw a ghost. But I did.

    And I just went to see Ghostbusters in 70mm this weekend at the Egyptian in Hollywood and that movie holds up. Every bit as good as I remember it being, and seeing it on the big screen was a blast.

    • Generaleesimo

      Guilty admission… I’m a bit jealous that I don’t have a neurologist that I can call and consult about hallucinations or anything else that crosses my mind!

  • Chris

    Sounds like Stewie really doesn’t give a shit what you think he needs.
    I didn’t really enjoy getting cornered into bring Joe’s punching bag. Certainly not keen on that being extended to the general public.
    Happy Halloween.

  • Steve

    Ah, this episode made me watch Ghostbusters and the Frighteners again which is always good

  • BTE

    Thank you, Joe! First, I was like, grr, but then you shone your light of reason, and I was like, aww. I had gathered you were the one who had the wherewithal intact, and now I know it. Am a fan!

  • spookyparadigm

    I don’t believe in ghosts, and I have to admit I don’t agree with Chris’ arguments regarding that reality from a materialist perspective. However, I’d note that ghost (and apparition) experiences are far more common than most people expect. Read Gillian Bennett’s book ‘Alas Poor Ghost’ for a handle on this.

    I am, however, very sympathetic to Chris’ invocation of Fort on this. He’s absolutely right that if we just ended with Joe’s “Ghosts aren’t real” statement (again something I agree with), all of the “why do people see them or believe them?” answers wouldn’t be there, and they’re important too. QUAZ above cites Michael Persinger’s God Helmet. I’m somewhat skeptical of Persinger to be honest, but it’s a legitimate approach to the question, and one that has potentially found very very interesting stuff. And Persinger came to this because he’s been interested for decades in anomalous experiences, particularly UFOs and then alien abduction. He floated an idea decades ago that earthquakes cause UFOs (earth lights are static electricity, and then some people are affected by the magnetic field disruptions). This has turned out to be an incorrect hypothesis, but it led him to looking more at the temporal lobe and abduction and related experiences, and there he has had more success.

    If we followed the style of the hardcore skeptics, these avenues would not be examined. Nor would some of the more intriguing religious, cognitive, and social findings that have come out of the study of anomalous phenomena beliefs (have you ever explained something with the concept of cognitive dissonance? Congratulations, you have benefited from the study of a UFO cult, specifically in the book ‘When Prophecy Fails’).

    I think there are multiple middle grounds. I believe myself to be in one. Not one that rejects materialism, but one that thinks it is non-scientific to simply dismiss claims, but instead to answer them. I think there is also a practice of science issue. I’m giving a paper in about three days (I am procrastinating writing it as I type this) on that suggests science has a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, embracing these sorts of topics promotes them. On the other hand, if we don’t answer questions about them in a satisfying manner, other people pretending to be scientific investigators will just step in and answer the questions their way. If you don’t believe me, look at the credentials of anyone on the show Ancient Aliens.

  • spookyparadigm

    BTW, the perspective I state above, it is inspired in part by David Hufford’s book on sleep paralysis, The Terror that Comes in the Night. It’s an excellent read, and some of the transcripts are downright creepy to read.

  • Derek

    Well, I just watched Ghostworld ( and although some of the acting was okay, I was bored witless! Where were all the ghosts?!

  • Frothy_Ham

    While I agree with Joe’s point of view, I can’t agree with why/how he gets so angry about it. Unfortunately, I can relate all too easily to people who choose to believe in ghosts (or aliens, angels, etc…).

    As technology, civilization and populations have grown, the world has indeed gotten “smaller”. The ease of communication and proliferation of information due to the internet and 24 hour news networks have changed the landscape of memetic knowledge. We no longer have those “little” mysteries, the fun little unknowns that most of us secretly loved as a little kid. Stupid things like “I heard their are Nudalities in Mortal Komat 2” or urban legends passed along between kids in school about their friend’s uncle who saw a werefolf…things that we knew were probably fake, but still…we weren’t sure.

    Now, I’m not saying we are worse off for being so interconnected in this modern age. So much good has come from the internet and the ability to learn almost anything about anywhere in the world with a few clicks of a mouse, but I feel like people miss those little mysteries still.

    Science, time and time again has almost completely discredited the existence of the supernatural…if you are willing to put in the time to understand how science works and buy into it, but face it, science requires patience, skepticism and a complete lack of bias which are things that the majority of people just don’t have.

    What I’m trying to say is that, it’s more fun to believe in ghosts in a way, just like it’s more fun to believe in those little mysteries.

    • Toren

      The reason Joe is so angry at ghosts is because he was abused by one as a child.

    • Joe

      Stories are great. I love stories, especially ones about magical and fantastical beings like ghosts (and dragons, superheroes, and Jedi…).

      If you want to talk about how much fun it is to play with those stories as a “what if?” then I’m on-board. I’ll roll up my character and jump right on in, sit in the movie theatre and become engrossed, or curl up with a book (and my dog) and read page after page about Daenerys and how her dragons are bringing magic back to Westeros.

      When we talk about things that aren’t real on Caustic Soda, we label them as such. For ghosts to be real, far too much about what we know about how the Universe functions has to be wrong. Not just “there’s something more we don’t know”, but wrong.

      When you “see” something, what you’re seeing is the light reflected off (or generated from) that object. How does that work with a ghost? If light is reflecting off something? If so, what? Is it made of atoms? Why don’t they cast a shadow? If they’re generating their own light, why aren’t they lighting up the walls near them? They’re obviously not purely mental figments, because people have claimed to take photographs of them. Believe me, I could go on about this stuff…

      The reason I’m so opinionated is that far too many people in the world make real-life decisions based on bullshit like this. Breaking leases and sales agreements because a house is “haunted” is nonsense. Ignoring the logical inconsistencies in supernatural claims leads to more support for those supernatural claims when people are using them to rip you off.

      While I don’t believe our knowledge ever really leads to an absolute truth, if you put claims on a sliding scale of possibility “ghosts” is waaaaay down into the “ridiculously improbable” end of falsehood — so close to “absolutely untrue” that anyone who makes a claim of “well you never know” is going going to get derision from me.

      If I shuffle up a deck completely (and can guarantee there is no slight of hand or trickery going on) and handed you four random cards the odds of you having four Aces is 1/270725. Believing you have four Aces without checking first would be pretty silly. If I offered to give you $100 if you had four Aces, but if not you’d pay me $10 it would be ridiculous to accept that deal.

      Claims of the supernatural are claims that you can be dealt five (or more) Aces, even though every time you look through the deck seeing how that could be you only find four. Every test you come up with shows four are there to be seen, every one of them shows that even the odds of four Aces itself is very low, and there is no explanation as to how a fifth could actually exist, much less be dealt to you.

      But there are still people who claim they got five Aces, even though they were dealt four cards, even though nobody else can really corroborate, and even though every single time their claims are investigated it turns out to be delusion, a con, or something improbable-but-not-actually-impossible like a reflective surface nearby and them getting confused.

      So is somebody mistaken, or is there something about the deck that’s currently unknown? People are mistaken all the time, but every time you check that deck there’s only four Aces.

      As for mysteries… we’ve got plenty of actual mysteries out there and as we learn more truths about the Universe we’re finding more mysteries behind them. Time spent considering the supernatural as even possible is time wasted from studying the actual truth of the Universe.

      It also muddies up that study. Can you imagine “Sources of error: A ghost may have interfered with our measurements.” on a thesis?

      Fiction should stay as fiction.