Physics Proves the Existence of Ghosts?
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 24, 2011
I’ve blogged here before about “professional” ghost-hunters and their woo. And in many cases I have taken such “professionals” to task for not really following any kind of decent, consistent protocols (such as knowing how their instrumentation works, duh) but instead favoring stories that seem to be a combination of the Blair-Witch Project and various kinds of techno-babble. But now I just have to mention a couple of things about how many ghost-hunters just seem to get basic physics (pardon the pun) dead wrong.
… Despite years of efforts by ghost hunters on TV and in real life, we still do not have good proof that ghosts are real. Many ghost hunters believe that strong support for the existence of ghosts can be found in modern physics. Specifically, that Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientific minds of all time, offered a scientific basis for the reality of ghosts. …
Now hold on a minute. As we’ve seen before, it is not uncommon for pseudoscientists and cranks of all kinds to try glomming onto Einstein’s coat-tails as one of the most well-known and respected scientists of the 20th century as a way of trying to gain traction for their ideas. It is as if they think that by simply invoking Einstein’s name and theories, despite the fact that they have no real understanding of those theories, that it will somehow, magically make them correct. Of course, this simply displays a fundamental flaw in the thinking of ghost-hunters, because it shows they have no real knowledge of how science (much less physics) works.
Specifically, in this case the ghost-hunters are claiming that Einstein’s theory of relativity “proves” the existence of ghosts:
… For example, ghost researcher John Kachuba, in his book “Ghosthunters” (2007, New Page Books), writes, “Einstein proved that all the energy of the universe is constant and that it can neither be created nor destroyed. … So what happens to that energy when we die? If it cannot be destroyed, it must then, according to Dr. Einstein, be transformed into another form of energy. What is that new energy? … Could we call that new creation a ghost?”
This idea shows up — and is presented as evidence for ghosts — on virtually all ghost-themed websites as well. For example, a group called Tri County Paranormal states, “Albert Einstein said that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change from one form to another. When we are alive, we have electrical energy in our bodies. … What happens to the electricity that was in our body, causing our heart to beat and making our breathing possible? There is no easy answer to that.” … [emphasis added]
Actually, the answer is pretty easy, as long as you understand how energy is related to matter as outlined in Einstein’s theory. It can all be summed up in what is probably the most well-known, but one of the least understood, equations in all of science…
E = mc2
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
… also known as the mass-energy equivalence formula. The equation basically states that matter is a form of energy, and it quantifies the amount of energy bound up in a certain amount of matter (if you want to calculate it, E stands for energy in Joules, m is mass in kilograms, and c is the speed of light – equal to about 300,000,000 meters/second). We know this formula is an accurate representation of reality because we have performed numerous experiments where matter is annihilated into pure energy (and vice versa), which confirms this equation. Not to mention, we have technology – such as nuclear power plants and PET scans – which operates based upon the physics summed up in this equation.
So when the ghost-hunters are talking about the “energy” of a person going off into some ethereal realm to form a ghost, I think they are simply making stuff up and abusing Einstein’s famous equation. That’s because when someone dies, the matter (i.e. energy) forming the person’s body is simply redistributed when they decay away into the environment. I like the way that Ben Radford puts it:
… After a person dies, the energy in his or her body goes where all organisms’ energy goes after death: into the environment. When a human dies, the energy stored in his or her body is released in the form of heat, and transferred into the animals that eat us (i.e., wild animals if we are left unburied, or worms and bacteria if we are interred), and the plants that absorb us. If we are cremated, the energy in our bodies is released in the form of heat and light.
When we eat dead plants and animals, we are consuming their energy and converting it for our own use. Food is metabolized when digested, and chemical reactions release the energy the animal needs to live, move, reproduce, etc. That energy does not exist in the form of a glowing, ghostly ball of electromagnetic energy, but rather in the form of heat and chemical energy.
Many ghost hunters say they can detect the electric fields created by ghosts. And while it’s true that the metabolic processes of humans and other organisms actually do generate very low-level electrical currents, these are no longer generated once the organism dies. Because the source of the energy stops, the electrical current stops — just as a light bulb turns off when you switch off the electricity running to it. …
Let’s think about it this way: if ghost-hunters were correct that a spiritual realm indeed exists and is populated by the “energy” given off by someone when they die (that is, ghosts being a manifestation of this “energy”), then this poses some pretty sticky questions for the ghost-hunters. First, how much “energy” does it take to make a ghost? And, in relation to this question, exactly how much matter from a dead body must be somehow annihilated to form this mysterious “ghost energy”, since we know that mass and energy are interchangeable? And if, by some miracle, ghost-hunters actually are able to somehow quantify either of the above questions (they haven’t), do they have any way to empirically prove that 1) such a transfer of matter into pure energy indeed takes place and 2) provide an explanation for a physical mechanism which would facilitate such an transfer?
Not to mention, there are other problems. For instance, if people keep dying and this keeps on generating ghosts and disembodied spirits formed out of “energy” which previously existed in the form of living beings, then eventually would we not have some kind of massive “energy crisis” with too much energy supposedly filling up the spiritual realm at the expense of the physical world? And if this spirit world really is populated by “ghost energy”, wouldn’t all of the supposed interactions between ghosts and the physical world be generating a helluva lot of entropy, speeding up the onset of the heat death of the universe?! Wow, and I thought dealing with the future production and distribution of oil was problematic!
In conclusion, it seems clear to me that when ghost-hunters try to talk physics, they just end up looking stupid. They have nothing even closely resembling a coherent theory, they have no consistent protocols, they have no solid definitions (just try asking one of them to provide a clear-cut definition of a “ghost”!) What they do have is over-active imaginations and over-blown stories which they think is all that is necessary to do science. And science just doesn’t work that way.