Casper’s Penseés—Thoughts on Ghosts

Last night was beautiful, cold and clear here in the Great North Woods and just right for walking while regularly stopping to stare up at the stars. Whenever I do this—walk at night, not stare at the sky—my mind naturally turns to larger philosophical questions.

“How many of those stars out there are orbited by dirtballs with life on them?”

“How many of those living creatures are dirtballs themselves?”

“How did humans two-hundred, two-thousand or two-hundred-thousand years ago understand the night sky?”

When I’m alone in the woods, though, eventually I start to ponder ghosts, which is a strange place to do so, since if ghosts existed they’d be more common in cities and towns than the outskirts of nowhere. When I wander in the city, though, I always expect to find dead bodies around a corner, empty containers in their pre-ghost condition.

Last summer I was in England a couple weeks, and spent a few nights walking. When in London, I listened for the tell-tale sound of cutthroats and bottle assaults, because that city becomes Victorian once the gaslights are lit. Although murders have happened for centuries there, I didn’t once think of haunted spots, instead keeping an eye out for still-warm corpses. Or long-cold ones. Luckily, I didn’t find much other than empty beer bottles and an occasional stoop filled with folks enjoying the cool night air.

In the North, though, I was accidentally locked out of one inn I was staying at, and spent the night walking country paths, listening for Hobbits and looking at cows. I went north to walk Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in about AD 120 and maintained for 300 years. Along the wall, once night fell, I thought of nothing but ghosts, and tried to compose a theology of ghostly existence. I fell short. All I came up with was a short series of thoughts and questions, presented below. Think of them as Casper’s Penseés.

  • How long do ghosts live, if that’s the right word? That is, while my understanding of metaphysics and plain-old-physics is limited—for instance, I can’t figure out how ghosts draw energy to begin with—ghosts must have a life span, right? One never hears of Cro-Magnon ghosts or pre-Columbian Native-American ghosts. Still, Perry White, editor of Metropolis’ Daily Planet, regularly referred to Great Caesar’s Ghost, although this may not have been based on actual observation. Do ghosts simply grow bored of their haunting and move on, and, if so, to where?
  • How many humans become ghosts? What are the determining factors in a person’s transformation? If I want to eventually ghostify, what actions should I take now to improve my chances?
  • I speak of humans above, but can animals become ghosts—or, I suppose, leave their spirits to roam the planet? What does a ghost squirrel do, and who does s/he haunt? Are ghost squirrels predated by ghost foxes and ghost wolves? And if they’re caught, how does one completely acorporeal being digest another?
  • Other than spooking the living, what goals does a ghost have? Do ghosts have purpose, dreams, wishes? Do they bask in a sense of accomplishment when they’ve successfully spooked a person?
  • Do ghosts live in community, or are they completely alone in their state? What happens when one ghost meets another? What if a newer ghost has been spooked to death by an older ghost? Do they join forces or isolate into pockets of resentment?
  • From a Christian theological perspective, are some ghosts saved and others damned? If damned, do they have a chance at salvation while in this waiting room to hell? If saved, what have they done to be stuck here on earth instead of joining God? Also, do ghosts have hymns?
  • Of what, exactly, are ghosts capable? Can they go through walls? Fly? Pick up that stone too heavy for God to lift? Do ghosts continue to think and learn in their current state?
  • Is a ghost like that tree falling soundlessly in the forest? That is, if humans no longer inhabit a space, do ghosts still exist there, and for how long? Does Greenland, for instance, have ghosts from the 1300s buried under snow and dirt, still haunting long-abandoned Norse farms? Are they lonely?
  • Is there a waiting period between death and induction into ghosthood, or does the pre-ghost human simply expel its spirit into the atmosphere? Or is there a training/education or orientation program to help the newly-spirited ghost adjust?
  • Are ghosts “catchable” using current technology, or are they able to float through all devices? What research is being done to eradicate ghosts? Do they contribute to human life or detract from it?

Although these questions need to be answered, I have elsewhere written a useful policy to reduce ghost infestation ( Interested/fearful readers are directed there.



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