Ghosts and other mysterious beings have haunted dreams, imaginations and stories for as long as humans have been on the planet. Even in the “enlightened” and scientific age in which we live, many people still believe in ghosts. Some claim to have even seen ghosts, but do they just need glasses?
Researchers now suggest that ghost sightings may be no more than a glitch in the brain. The theory is that a breakdown between the eyes and the brain may trick people into thinking they have seen something moving that is in fact standing still.
An example of this in the research lab (apparently the ghosts did not cooperate by attending the research sessions) is achieved by using the Pinna illusion—concentric circles that form an optical illusion. The image appears to be sitting still, but sometimes appears to be moving when people move their heads back and forth.
MRI brain scans done on test subjects showed different brain activity when the image appeared to be still or moving. The brain’s medial superior temporal area was active when the image appeared to be moving. Researchers attribute this to a temporary miscommunication between the eyes and brain.
This apparent brain glitch prompted researchers to theorize that ghost sightings also are not real. The theory is that pieces of visual information are not relayed correctly to the brain, and this leads to tricks where stationary items appear to be moving.
It could be argued that scientists are trying to ruin all of our fun. After all, telling ghost stories around a campfire loses some of its appeal if you have to worry about a science aficionado arguing that it wasn’t really a ghost and you just need new glasses.
Of course, just because researchers demonstrate that it is possible for our brains to think something is moving when it is not does not disprove the existence of ghosts. There are plenty of people who are convinced they have seen a supernatural being whether scientists agree or not.