Ghosts are in the news. In fact ghost stories are such good news that the tabloids average one a week: from being to blame for the poor performance of English cricketers, to brutally attacking intrepid journalists. Colin Wilson, vice-president of the Ghost Club Society, knows ghosts are real because he has spoken to one. Almost half of US citizens agree, apparently. You can get an app for your phone that uses secretly inbuilt capacities to inform you when ectoplasmic organisms are around, and also lets them leave a message. And now the pesky spooks are even interrupting important rituals of caffeine worship.
Science takes a different view. The NSF blames belief in ghosts for poor decision-making, monetary loss and the decline of the Protestant work ethic. Dr Richard Wiseman has devoted a lifetime to researching beliefs in the paranormal, and concludes that ghostly visitations are more likely to be due to draughts, chills, sub-sonic vibrations or being half-asleep. Other researchers have found that electric or magnetic fields can affect particular parts of the brain, leading to sensations of otherworldly presences. It could be that people want to believe in ghosts as part of clinging to the hope that they too will continue after death (an even more popular idea than the existence of ghosts).
So can ghosts be real? There is no doubt that my experiences with ghosts have been all in the brain. Ghosts of friends long lost and relatives past live on in my (rapidly) fragmenting memory, and most likely the only hope for my ghost is to live on in the brains of others, too.