A ghost is an alleged non-corporeal manifestation of a dead person (or, rarely, an animal, vehicle). It is often thought to be a manifestation of the spirit or soul of a person which has remained on Earth after death. According to some beliefs, a ghost may be the personality of a person after his or her death, and not directly tied to the soul or spirit. Every culture in the world carries stories about ghosts, though they often disagree as to what ghosts are and whether they are just figments of imagination or a part of reality.


Ghosts are often depicted of a human size and shape (although some accounts also mention animal ghosts), but typically described as "silvery", "shadowy", "semitransparent", "misty", "human-like", "big", "scary" or "fog-like". Parapsychologists refer to the "substance" of which ghosts and other spirits are made of as "ectoplasm". Ghosts do not have a physical body like human beings, but only a subtle astral body. Sometimes they do not manifest themselves visually but in terms of other phenomena, such as the movements of an object, spontaneous throwing of a light switch, noises, etc., which supposedly have no natural explanation.

In the West, those who believe in ghosts sometimes hold them to be souls that could not find rest after death, and so linger on Earth. The inability to find rest is often explained by unfinished business, such as a victim seeking justice or revenge after death. Criminals sometimes supposedly linger to avoid Purgatory or Hell. It is sometimes held that ghosts reside in Limbo, a place between Heaven and Hell where the souls of unbaptized infants go. Although this view was once held by the Catholic Church, it is no longer believed according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is worth noting that while mainstream Protestants and Evangelical Christians believe in the existence of principalities, they do not believe in ghosts (as spiritual manifestations of the dead) and would generally attribute more violent ghosts, such as poltergeists, to the actions of demons.

Some ghost researchers approach the possibility of ghosts from a more scientific standpoint, seeking to find correlations and causal relationships between recordable phenomena and the supposed presence of ghosts. Those who follow this approach most often believe that ghosts are not actual disembodied souls or spirits, but rather they are impressions of psychic energy left behind by a deceased (or in some rare cases, still living) person. They assert that traumatic events (such as a murder or suicide) cause mental energy to be released into the world, where it may be experienced by other people who are sensitive to its presence. This way of thinking classifies ghosts in the same category of preternatural unexplained phenomena as poltergeists/telekinesis, ESP, and telepathy. Theories from this approach often encounter difficulties in explaining ghosts that appear to be sentient, such as those which answer questions or react to specific actions from people present. However, it may be possible that enough of a dead person's psyche might be imprinted on an environment so as to give the likeness of thought or autonomy.

In Asian cultures (such as China), many people believe in reincarnation. Ghosts are those souls that refused to be "recycled" because they have unfinished business, similar to those in the West. Exorcists can either help a ghost to be driven away or reincarnated. In Chinese tradition, apart from being reincarnated, a ghost can also become immortal and become a demigod, or it can go to hell and suffer for eternity, or it can die again and become "ghost of ghost". The Chinese also believe that some ghosts, especially those who died of drowning, kill people in order to rob them of their rights to reincarnation. The victims of such paranormal "murders" are called t�s�gu, literally "substitute death ghost" or "substitute devil" which in Chinese is a synonym for scapegoat. Also in China, particularly in the Guangzhou area, the Chinese people usually hold a Chinese version of the Day of the Dead ritual for their ancestors in autumn. The ritual consists of burning Hell Bank Notes and other luxury items made of paper mache as well as pouring wine three times on their grave and leaving food. An older ritual is for the living family to prepare a grand feast for their dead relatives "returning" home. During the time of feast, those relatives amongst the living are not allowed to leave their bedrooms regardless of how much noise the ghost makes.

Very detailed information about ghosts is given in Garuda Purana, a scripture from Vedic (Hindu) tradition. How ghosts fit into this worldview is shown here.

Both the West and the East share some fundamental beliefs about ghosts. They may wander around places they frequented when alive or where they died. Such places are known as "haunted"; the rounds they go on are known as "hauntings". They often wear the sort of clothing in which they would have been seen when alive.

Buddhist Samsara includes the concept of the hungry ghost realm. Sentient beings in that realm are referred to as "hungry ghosts" because of their attachment to this world. Asuras are also referred to as "fighting ghosts".

Skeptical analysis

While some accept ghosts as a reality, many others are skeptical of the existence of ghosts. For example, the vast majority of the scientific community believes that ghosts, as well as other supernatural and paranormal entities, do not exist.

Skeptics often explain ghost sightings with the principle of Occam's razor, which argues that explanations should maximize parsimony with the rest of our knowledge. They may suggest that, since few to none of us have ever had an interpersonal relationship with a ghost, but most or all of us have had an experience of self-delusion or have attributed a false cause to an event, that these options should be preferred in the absence of a great abundance of evidence. They are also keen to note that most ghost sightings happen when our senses are impaired, and that the evidence is unreliable because it doesn't occur when we have full use of our faculties.

Occasionally, the sincerity and motive of the claimant will be questioned. They might make up a haunting for a personal reason. For example, lingering of ghosts is typically associated with seeking justice or revenge. Ascribing such motives and powers to dead people could be interpreted as a scare tactic. Also, a person might claim a haunting for personal popularity and income.

Human physiology may make us more susceptible to ghost sightings. Ghosts are often associated with a chilling sensation, but a natural animal response to fear is hair raising, which can be mistaken for chill. Also, the peripheral vision is very sensitive to motion, but does not contain much color or focused shapes. Any random motion outside the focused view can create a strong illusion of an eerie figure. Also, sound waves with frequencies lower than 20 hertz are called infrasound; they are formally inaudible, but British scientists Richard Lord and Richard Wiseman have concluded that infrasound can cause humans to feel a "presence" in the room, or unexplained feelings of anxiety or dread.[1]

Sometimes ghosts are associated with electromagnetic disturbances, which suggests that they might be attributable to the electromagnetic field and not to a presently dead person. Often, videos of paranormal investigators will show them using E-field or B-field detectors and finding "ghostly" results near wall outlets and electrical appliances.

Psychological factors may also relate to ghost sightings. Many people exaggerate their interpretation of their own perceptions, either when visiting a place they believe to be haunted, or when visiting a site which they know has seen unpleasant historical events. Certain images such as paintings and movies might "program" a person to automatically associate a certain structure or area as haunted because of what they have seen in the movies.

The earliest literature to rationally discuss the issue comes from the Chinese philosopher, Mo Tzu (470-391 BC)

"Since we must understand whether ghosts and spirits exist or not, how can we find out? Mo Tzu said: The way to find out whether anything exists or not is to depend on the testimony of the ears and eyes of the multitude. If some have heard it or some have seen it then we have to say it exists. If no one has heard it and no one has seen it then we have to say it does not exist. So, then, why not go to some village or some district and inquire? If from antiquity to the present, and since the beginning of man, there are men who have seen the bodies of ghosts and spirits and heard their voices, how can we say that they do not exist? If none have heard them and none have seen them, then how can we say they do? But those who deny the existence of the spirits say: "Many in the world have heard and seen something of ghosts and spirits. Since they vary in testimony, who are to be accepted as really having heard and seen them? Mo Tzu said: As we are to rely on what many have jointly seen and what many have jointly heard, the case of Tu Po is to be accepted. (note: King Hsuan (827-783 BC executed his minister, Tu Po, on false charges even after being warned that Tu Po's ghost would seek revenge. Three years later, according to historical chronicles, Tu's ghost shot and killed Hsuan with a bow and arrow before an assembly of feudal lords)... Taken from Chapter 31, translated by Yi-pao Mei

Ghost messengers

A popular genre of literature from the early Renaissance to the early twentieth century was the Dialogues of the Dead. These were based upon the Witch of Endor story and the visions of Hades found in both Homer's Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid.

In Odyssey, Odysseus travels to Hades and sees the shades of his former colleagues, including some he did not know were dead, and pours out fresh blood, which the dead hunger for, until he can find Tiresias and get guidance on his voyages. In the Dialogues of the Dead genre, authors would somehow contrive a device for summoning the dead to a character who would then speak with them and ask them questions about philosophy or current events. These "ghosts" were under control of a great sorcerer or otherwise compelled to speak. The genre was most popular in the 18th century, and examples were written by many. Jonathan Swift satirized the genre in the third book of Gulliver's Travels by having Gulliver summon the ghosts of former kings and great conquerors and finding, instead of nobility, petty, childish, and stupid people who possessed no wisdom and who accomplished their great deeds for mean and selfish reasons. Further, he finds that the ancestors of many great lords and ladies of his day were stable boys, servants, etc.

In each of these cases, the fictional ghost offers counsel to the living and thus acts as a messenger from the implicitly greater world beyond. However, the ghost messenger can also act in a way reminiscent of the guardian angel in fiction. In some fictions, a departed relative (usually) or friend guides the living to either a moral or material benefit. Such ghosts can either act as a deus ex machina by resolving plot points with supernatural power or as a mentor who offers sagacity to the characters with a limited point of view.

Finally, the ghost messenger features in fiction as a ghost in disguise. A character otherwise regarded as living turns out, in the fiction's denouement, to be a supernatural agent. In folk music, there are songs featuring lovers and objects of affection who must leave before dawn (a variant on the Cupid and Psyche story) because they are ghosts. Additionally, some urban legends, such as the "Hitchhiking ghost", turn upon an anonymous stranger (or Elvis Presley in a common variant) who is revealed to be a ghost in the clinch of the story. Such a ghost in disguise usually, in fiction, offers statements or visions that are relevant to the plot, but not in a way comprehensible to the characters. Such gnomic or oracular statements reward the reader with knowledge greater than the fiction's participants.