Psychology May Explain the Supernatural


The Woman in White haunts riverbeds, The Man in the Hat haunts bedrooms, and a handsome, hooved stranger haunts dancehalls. And the question often arises: are these ghostly encounters fact or fiction?


Stories about ghosts, demons, and other paranormal entities have been told for centuries. TV shows that focus around supernatural””everything from reality shows about ghost hunters, to horror series””have gained popularity in the past decade.

The public’s fascination with the supernatural can be traced back through time with folklore that circulated long before TV existed. Folklore is often just unbelievable enough to be interesting, while still believable enough that it could be true.

Much folklore is used to teach lessons, such as the story of La Llorona used by parents in the Southwest to keep their children from playing in arroyos. But it can’t be denied that folklore also provides entertainment and piques the interest and curiosity of people around the world.

Is there any truth to folklore and ghost stories? Of course, skeptics have likely been around for as long as ghost stories themselves. And, in many cases, psychological disturbances can explain hallucinations. But how can it be explained that individuals who seem to be psychologically healthy have also reported sightings of ghosts, demons, and shadow people?

Experiments Seek Explanation

An experiment was done last year in Switzerland that may be able to explain ghost sightings, according to a 2014 online article published by  The Telegraph entitled “Ghosts Created by Scientists in Disturbing “Lab” Experiments.”  

In short, the results of the experiment showed that individuals hallucinate ghosts, or feel a ghostly presence, when they feel confused about their own body’s location. When the brain doesn’t know exactly where the body is, it will compensate by adding another “body”””an illusion””in a different space.

When this happens, people have reported seeing shadows, ghosts, or apparitions, or have reported feeling a presence.

Same Old Story

Though this explains why some people see or feel ghosts, it doesn’t explain why more than one person sometimes see the same ghost or entity. One case in particular is a  shadow person””or apparition that is seen as a solid black, or shadow-like form of a human””who has commonly been referred to as the  Man in the Hat.

Sightings of the Man in the Hat, or Hat Man, have been reported in various locations by various individuals. The stories are always strikingly similar: a shadow of a man wearing a hat appears to these individuals while they are sleeping and attempts to strangle them.

The same story told by different individuals who have no relation to each other could be explained by the concept of a collective unconscious.

Ghostly Archetypes

Psychiatrist and psychotherapist, C.G. Jung explained the concept of the collective unconscious as an instinctual and inherited part of the human brain in which lie universal archetypes. This concept has been used to explain similarities in myths around the world.

“In addition to our immediate consciousness”¦.there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals.” Jung said in his book The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.  “This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited.”

Jung explains that common archetypes seen in dreams, and told in stories, could be inherited in the same way that instincts are inherited. He says, “There is good reason for supposing that the archetypes are the unconscious images of the instincts themselves.”

So, in other words, if there is any truth to the idea of a collective unconscious, it could mean that images seen by different people of no relation to each other, could be inherited images that exist in our brains in the same way that instincts do.

So, are ghosts, apparitions, and shadow people nothing more than a hallucination? Something we see when we’re too tired or under emotional stress? An image that exists already in a part of our subconscious that we inherited? Or something that can’t be explained by scientific means? After all, Jung, himself believed in ghosts.


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