THEORY OF APPARITIONS
A footstep, a low throbbing in the walls,
A noise of falling weights that never fell,
Weird whispers, bells that rang without a hand,
Door-handles turn'd where none was at the door,
And bolted doors that open'd of themselves.
~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 'The Ring'
Haunting apparitions - ghosts - traditionally have been considered spirits of the dead, although skeptics have long had doubts. In Shakespeare's time, one of his characters could reasonably dismiss a ghost as "but our fantasy." And Charles Dickens reflected a Victorian view when his Ebenezer Scrooge attributed a phantom to an upset stomach, accusing the ghost of being "undigested bit of beef."
For the past century or so, however, students of the paranormal have been diligently seeking other explanations. None of their theories has satisfied the skeptics who insist that most alleged haunting phenomena are unsubstantiated anyway. But the proposed explanations have not been proved, some have a certain ring of reasonableness that keeps them alive. The basic elements of a few of those theories, along with the older, Spritualist belief, are given here.
Spiritualists believe that the soul leaves the body at death, as shown here. Under certain circumstances, this spirit may tarry on earth instead of proceeding to the Other Side and thus may be observed as a ghost. Italian psychic researcher Ernesto Bozzano put a new twist on this explanation with his "spiritistic" theory. Apparitions, Bozzano proposed, are not the souls of the dead, but rather thetelepathic messages from their lingering bodiless minds, which he said have many of the characteristics usually attributed to spirits.
As symbolized at right by an eye that both projects and observes a ghost's image, the mind of the viewer may create the very apparition that it sees, according to American parapsychologist William G. Roll. Roll accepts that stored psychic traces from the past can evoke apparitions. But he contends that in many cases the viewers mental state plays an active role, unconsciously creating haunting phenomena to satisfy emotional needs.
In the illustration an apparition emerges from a wall where it has been stored as a trace of psychic energy. According to this theory, first posited by the researcher Eleanor Sidgwick, objects absorb psychic impressions and then back to people who enter the vicinity. Clarity of the resulting apparition of other phenomena depends on the emotional force of the original psychic imprint and the psychic sensitivity of the percipient.
In Oxford University professor Henry Habberley Price's "psychic ether" theory, an image born of mental activity lives on in another plane or in multiple planes, even after its creator has died. Price said that the ether was "something intermediate between mind and matter" that exsists in a dimension or dimensions unknown to us. It is either, not our physical environment, he suggested, that records psychic impressions and plays them back to psychically sensitive people.