Spooky Things at a Distance

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

My grandson, Levi, loves to pretend we are hunting and catching ghosts. While he tends to push me forward first, he is right there behind me bravely yelling along with me as I pretend to wrestle and capture these ethereal creatures.

It occurred to me that, while in this case it is a harmless and beneficial expansion of his imagination, there are many among us who are firmly convinced of the existence of the great beyond. They see such phenomenon everywhere.

I don’t completely discount the possibility of cross-dimensional travelers, but the idea of spirits of the dead coming back to visit, or haunt, the living is a bit simplistic. It is more likely some “undigested mutton” roiling your dreams as Ebenezer Scrooge would say. That people see these things, or at least claim to, is more a confirmation of the human behavioral characteristic of pareidolia.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term—although throughout everyone’s life you routinely engage in it—pareidolia is the tendence of humans to see patterns, especially faces, in random or accidental arrangements of shapes.

It is why people see images of Jesus in hunks of grilled cheese sandwiches or moldy stains on walls. Although there is not one actual photograph of the person, there is one everyone recognizes. There’s even a YouTube Video claiming to have actual photos so it must be true.

This tendency to see patterns is actually an evolutionary survival technique. Better to think you see a lion lurking in the shadows and run then ignore it. What if it really is a lion? You’d end up the carnivore’s lunch.

The little game I play with Levi also reminds me of those Ghost Hunter or Big Foot Tracker shows that seem to proliferate everywhere yet never actually find anything.

When I worked at Southwest Airlines, there was a group of these paranormal “investigators” who frequently traveled with mounds of equipment. I asked them one time to show me the best image they had of a “ghost.” The best they could come up with was a grainy, blurred smudge in shadows they claimed had moved about the room.

“What, no video?” I asked. “Then why lug all this equipment if the best you can get is a picture that looks like a stain on the road?”

They shied away from talking to me after that.

Now that’s not to say I don’t consider the possibility of something existing we cannot explain. But it’s not Casper the Friendly Ghost or old Aunt Sally come back to haunt you.

I titled this piece “Spooky Things at a Distance.” This is a bit of a twist on a quote by Albert Einstein on quantum entanglement. This involves two objects separated by a distance where the action on one is also simultaneously exhibited on the other. Something which defies the speed limit of the universe, the speed of light.

What Einstein actually said, because this troubled him his entire life after he’d formulated his General Theory of Relativity, was “Spooky Action at a Distance.” I just liked spooky things better to meld with the “spirit” of the article.

Which leads me to the appellation by which we refer to strong liquors. We call them “Spirits” simply because we’d invented alcohol before we understood its effect on the human body. Before the fire, after a day’s hunt spent chasing prey and avoiding becoming prey, a good drink of the magic elixir unleashed the “spirits” to take over our minds.

Of course once we had figured it out we came up with the brilliant deduction, “In Vino Veritas.”

For now, I’ll keep the game with Levi a simple one. I hope to be around long enough to talk with him about things like “Spooky action at a distance” but I’m in no rush to have that happen. I’ve become really good at catching ghosts. I haven’t missed one yet, but for some reason I just can’t get a good picture of them.

Maybe someday if the spirit moves me.

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