Are Ghosts Real? 13 Theories for and Against Their Validity 

Updated September 2, 2021
Ghostly image in front of a gravestone in a graveyard

Unexplained lights and noises, random cold spots, an overwhelming sense out of nowhere that you aren't alone... lots of people have experienced these telltale signs of the presence of a ghost. Nearly half of Americans believe in ghosts, and nearly 20% of people claim to have experienced a ghostly presence. Is it their imagination, or do ghosts really exist?

Are Ghosts Real? Arguments Against Their Existence

There are plenty of arguments against the existence of ghosts. Scientific, psychological, and environmental phenomena can explain many of the things that people attribute to ghostly presences.

High-Pitched Sounds and Vibrations

Sounds at a level just below what humans can physically detect, known as infrasound, can nonetheless affect people. These sounds and vibrations can make a person feel as if something is "off." They can lead to a sense of unease or unbalance, and this very sense is what many people claim to experience in the presence of ghosts. It can be caused by a number of things, from mechanical in the building (such as fans) to tension held in the building's structure causing low-level sound vibrations.

Dealing With Loss, Loneliness, or Fear

It's not uncommon for people to have a ghostly encounter at a time when they're otherwise emotionally overwhelmed. The loss of an acquaintance or loved one, a new job, a new home, a breakup, or even just general loneliness put people in a more vulnerable emotional state, one in which they might experience an everyday occurrence (such as the wind slamming a door, or a creak in the hallway) as something supernatural. Psychologists reason that this is part of the brain's way of dealing with emotional overwhelm.

Ghost of woman embracing young man on bench

Mold-Induced Overactive Imagination

So, here's an interesting explanation: some types of mold typically found in damp old houses and (very commonly!) in old books can have hallucinogenic effects when someone is exposed to them for long periods. This could very well explain why there are so many ghost sightings in old houses.

Old Houses Being Old

Old houses have quirks. Creaky floors, windows that rattle, weirdly-pitched floors that can make doors seem to swing closed of their own volition. Older heating systems don't heat efficiently, resulting in random cold spots. Many ghostly sightings and experiences can easily be chalked up to the idiosyncrasies of old buildings.

Physical and/or Mental Fatigue

When you're tired, your mind is open to all sorts of things. Whether you're physically tired after a day of manual labor or exercise, or mentally tired from work or family obligations, an exhausted mind is more likely to imagine all sorts of bizarre things, including sounds, sensations, or the sight of orbs.

Blind Spots

It's not uncommon. You're absolutely sure you see something out of the corner of your eye, but when you turn your head, there's nothing there. While some might very well chalk this up to a ghostly encounter, an article in Psychology Today explained that it's mostly likely your peripheral vision playing tricks on you. The article explains that each of our eyes has a "blind spot" at around 18 degrees to either side. Psychologists explain that this little glitch in visual sight sometimes causes the brain to play a bit of fill-in-the-blank, and the results can sometimes make people uneasy.

Carbon Monoxide

Aside from just being generally dangerous, carbon monoxide can also lead to hallucinations and a sense of pressure in your chest. These can feel like something out of a horror movie and can cause people to believe they're experiencing a haunting when, in fact, it's the poisoning that results from a carbon monoxide leak.

Are Ghosts Real? Arguments for Their Existence

Science can explain many things, and there are plausible explanations for most things. But what evidence is there that ghosts do exist?

Images Captured in Photographs or on Tape

While some ghost videos and images are clearly fake and can be explained as such, there are occasional cases in which the image can't be re-created, or there really is no plausible explanation for what the camera has picked up.

Electromagnetic Activity

If you've watched any of the ghost hunter shows, you've likely seen them using an EMF meter. These pieces of equipment are often debunked by those who believe ghost hunting is a scam, and they do have a point in that they pick up all sorts of interference. Anything from live electrical wires to cell phones and even camera batteries have been known to set them off.

But surely there have been cases in which the investigators ruled out any of those things. It's possible that the EMF meters are just glitchy, or that there truly is something else there.

Sightings Regardless of Location, Time, or Culture

The fact of the matter is that ghost sightings or spiritual visitations have been part of human culture for as long as the written word has existed, and probably before that as well. How is it possible that regardless of time period, culture, language, or particular religious belief, ghost sightings happen? There must be a reason they're so timeless and ubiquitous.

Ghost of little girl sitting in the rocker chair

Energy Cannot Be Destroyed

This idea comes from science itself; the First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. So where does a person's energy go when they die? The body itself becomes food for other organisms in one way or another, of course, but what about psychic energy, or the electrical impulses that inform cognitive function? While some scientists believe this energy just sort of drifts and becomes part of the surrounding atmospheric energy, the fact of the matter is that it has to go somewhere.

Psychic Mediums and Séances

Mediums and séances seem to be one of those things people either believe in, or consider a scam. Either the mediums are playing a part or deluding themselves with the belief that they can communicate with spirits, according to skeptics. But the fact is that there are plenty of instances of a medium knowing things that cannot be explained any other way, and that those instances are too precise to be just dumb luck.

An Argument Both For and Against the Existence of Ghosts

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there's one thing both sides can agree on: science hasn't proven either side, yet.

Science hasn't proven that ghosts exist.

It also hasn't proven that they don't exist. And while any student of logic would call foul on this argument as a logical fallacy (that something must be true just because it hasn't been proven as false), the fact is that there is no proof for or against. There are plenty of scientific, psychological, and physical things that explain what might be happening instead of a haunting. And there are those nagging unexplained things that still make people wonder.

Do Ghosts Exist? You Be the Judge

In the end, this is one of those cases in which those who either believe or don't are unlikely to be swayed by the other side's proof. Skeptics will scoff at the idea of séances and unexplained readings being real, and believers will continue to look for the gaps that science can't explain. It's something each person will have to decide for themselves for the time being.

Are Ghosts Real? 13 Theories for and Against Their Validity