16 October 2018

GHOST WRITINGS

Brandon Massullo. The Ghost Studies. New Page Books, 2017

This is a genuine attempt by someone who is a trained clinical therapist and parapsychologist to scientifically evaluate reported experiences of the paranormal. The author accepts that "95% of reported ghostly encounters are not the result of mental illness"; this does not of course mean that the phenomena, which so many people (including the reviewer) have experienced, are real.

So what then is going on? Some of these experiences can be explained by external magnetic interference with the brain. Ghost hunters (or "paranormal investigators"), on the other hand, use electromagnetic field meters to measure anomalies as evidence of a possible ghostly presence, whereas the sceptic might say that the anomaly is creating the illusion of a ghostly presence in the mind. I liked his account of the research carried out on the metal bed in the Tapestry Room at Muncaster Castle; the room had been the venue for numerous hauntings since the 1960s and high-tech equipment was set up there to measure the electromagnetic field. The upshot was that measurements proved that there was magnetic field variability in the bed area, from which one draws the conclusion that it was this that increased the chances of anyone sleeping on the bed to experience a ghostly encounter.

On the other hand there are a wealth of paranormal experiences across the world which cannot be so easily explained away, and these the author describes in numerous fascinating case studies; one compelling example cited is that of a mother who in 1973 experienced the trauma of her son dying in battle thousands of miles away in Vietnam, presumably by some form of telepathic communication. The author accepts the validity and truthfulness of such accounts, which leads him on into an attempt to explore the various theories around to explain such happenings, such as place theory (the environment can hold the memory of a past event), before proffering his own scientific interpretation. My own take on these ideas is that there must be some things beyond the ken even of science, so I am sceptical about science's power to offer a definitive interpretation.

Massullo concludes by offering the hope that the book has been for the reader both scholarly and entertaining; I mostly found this to be so, albeit there were occasional passages that reminded me of a scientific journal. – Robin Carlile

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