Ghosts have been part of the human experience for as long as stories have been recounted. They have been recorded in one form or another by almost every culture, from Europe to the Far East, particularly Japan, in Africa, and in the Pacific. What are they? Do they exist? These are questions that continue to persist. Modern television has hosted several shows about ghost hunters. So far, no concrete evidence has been forthcoming.
Richard Dawkins, in his book, The God Delusion, references a work by Julian Jaynes entitled: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. He writes, “It is one of those books that is either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between! Probably the former, but I’m hedging my bets.”
“Bicameral” refers to the fact that the brain is divided into two hemispheres. According to Jaynes, the normal neural activity in the dominant left hemisphere was modulated by auditory verbal hallucinations in the normally quiet right hemisphere, which was heard internally as voices of the gods in early history.
There are many recorded cases of people hearing the voice of God or that of one of his angels. The number of religions inspired by such experiences is well documented. In Western culture, the most famous is the one heard by Joan of Arc that led to the defeat of England and the rise of modern France.
“Voice hearing”, although uncommon, was accepted for the most part up to the early twentieth century, after which it was classified as a psychological disorder linked to schizophrenia. In spite of this unsavory association, not all familiar with the manifestation are schizophrenic or unbalanced.
The Third Man Factor describes a phenomenon that has manifested to many while under intense physical duress. The phantom aids the sufferer by giving hope and instructions that lead to their surviving almost certain death.
Those who have witnessed the third man have stressed that it was real. The entity who accompanied them during the ordeal never stood or walked in direct sight but behind or to the side. Many described their rescuer as a presence without specific physical attributes. Its appearance was wraithlike, similar to what we call a ghost.
I have never seen one myself, although I have wanted to. Others in my family have.
My grandfather mentioned the ghost of an officer recovering from TB in the Crimea who visited his mother. He arrived at the house and was announced by the butler but disappeared in the middle of the introduction. They learned of his earlier death sometime later.
My father mentioned the ghost of Alice, my grandmother, in a story he told me over lunch at the St. Regis in New York. Although some of the details were changed, the letter from Sir Henry in Eye of the Moon is a recounting of that incident but with certain details withheld.
Ghosts, whether real or internally generated, continue to fascinate particularly at this time of the year.