Ghosts of egos past and present

There is a “ghost room” in my house. Every time I enter this room in the dark, I think of ghosts. Sometimes I even get a chill on the back of my neck. Ghosts!

Although my thoughts and emotions in these instances are real, that does not mean that there are ghosts, or even that I believe in ghosts. In fact, I do not believe in ghosts, nor are there any. My would-be “ghosts” are simply lingering childhood memories of frightening stories about ghosts in the dark.

It is amazing that one can reach the age of 66, yet still respond to events with the reflexes of a 6-year-old. But that is human nature: our psyches are like nesting matrushka dolls, with the latest on the outside and the very earliest experiences and beliefs innermost. Whatever fears and superstitions we acquired early on are with us always, to some degree, and affect how we see the world.

In a group discussion about near-death experiences, many of my colleagues spoke of having out-of-body experiences. One fellow told how he seemed to have left his body and saw a Catholic priest administering the last rights to him. This fellow is Jewish!

Most of the men in the group believed that out-of-body experiences are supernatural in nature, or are evidence of a supernatural realm. On the other hand, after my secular daughter had an out-of-body experience during an appendectomy, she immediately investigated and found that such events are a frequent result of anesthesia.

The fact is that out-of-body experiences, and other kinds of “spiritual” experiences can be brought about by trauma, drugs, famine, exhaustion, and even by direct electrical stimulation of certain areas of the brain.

There is a point to these anecdotes. So-called “spiritual” experiences are in our minds. Since the mind is part of what the brain does, the only reality these experiences have is that the brain has reacted in an interesting way to a physical internal or sensual stimulus. No matter how intensely emotional and realistic the experience of “spirituality”, or “revelation” might be, it is all within us; it is natural, not supernatural.

Once, when I received a helium balloon for my birthday, I carefully weighted it with paper clips and bits of paper until it was perfectly balanced, neither rising nor falling. After toying with it for awhile, I went into another room to read. After half an hour, I saw something in my peripheral vision, and looked to see that the balloon was hovering near me.

It was as if the balloon had purposely followed me into the other room! Of course, I knew that it had simply followed air currents, and its path was coincidental.

The point of this anecdote should be apparent: it is very easy to assume that events and the actions of inanimate objects, not just humans and other animals, have volition or purpose and are somehow responding to oneself or to others. This is supernaturalism. Again, once we know the causes of the actions we can dispel this idea, locating the actions within nature, where they belong.

Finally, note that in all these cases, ego-centrism has a dominant role. So, too, in all religion. Without ego-centrism, religion cannot exist.

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