Halloween is coming! | Photo: William Warby, CC BY 2.0
Halloween’s coming up, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about ghosts, the burden of proof, and a trip I just took to “one of the most haunted places in America.” Read on… if you DARE! oooooOOOOoooOOooOoooOOoooooooo…… *cough-sputter-hack-cough*
So I just got back from a trip to San Antonio, in the (strangely-nationalistic-for-a) state of Texas. I stayed in an old hotel right near to the Alamo, which appears to me to be the most celebrated military blunder and loss in American history, the result of intense hubris being sold as heroism (seriously, Bowie went down there to help them evacuate and was convinced to stay and fight and they all died). Anyway.
So this hotel, which I’m not going to name but is pretty easy to figure out, is also billed as one of the most haunted places in America. If that sounds familiar, it’s because everybody claims that their favourite spot is “the most haunted place in America,” and because it’s such a patently unfalsifiable claim that — I mean what are you going to do?
“No, ghosts aren’t real.”
There have been ghost stories as long as there have been people to tell ghost stories. The Epic of Gilgamesh even has people coming back from the dead (check out the Akkadian tablet twelve, which even then didn’t fit into the storyline). But even now, when we’re all carrying cameras with us all the time, we still don’t have any convincing proof of the existence of ghosts, and this has led to all sorts of special pleading on the one hand and “reality” TV on the other. (My wife refers to the latter shows as “Ghost Bros,” even though I think there might be more than one TV show that we just can’t tell apart.)
The thing is, as many very clever people have said before me, “Extraodinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” We have literally no evidence for the existence of (a) the soul, (b) the continued existence of the soul after death, or (c) the continued existence of the soul after death in a very specific and idiosyncratic manner (i.e. “hauntings”). Does that make ghosts impossible? No. Does it make them very very unikely? Yes. Either way, the burden of proof is on anyone who tell you “ghosts are real” to provide evidence of that claim. You don’t need to prove they aren’t real until someone has provided evidence that they are, any more than you need to provide evidence that unicorns, gryphons, and the Easter Bunny aren’t real.
The universe contains a literally infinite number of things that don’t exist; evidence is only required to demonstrate that something does.
So to that end, here is what I did see in five nights at the hotel in question:
- A wedding in the courtyard
- Lovely cleaning staff
- A misery-inducingly bad plumbing system that had me either freezing or losing skin
- Pretty decent WiFi for a hotel system tbh
- An overzealous air-conditioning system and windows that (like all hotels, wth) don’t open
- A 1980s Otis elevator that really needed convincing to operate properly
- VERY THIN WALLS
- VERY LOUD AMERICANS
- Many sandshrews, growlithes, cubones, and other San Antonio-native pokemon
Here is what I did not see in five nights at the hotel in question:
- Evidence of ghosts
Now of course, I admit this doesn’t disprove the “hauntedness” of the hotel in question. But if you think ghosts need disproving at this point in the post, I don’t know what to tell you.
Have a safe Halloween, everyone. Enjoy your parties.
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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.