The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings

Science 1. Ghosts 0. Creepiness 100,000.
The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings

Right away, you should know that it is the official position of and its parent company that we don't believe in bullshit. It's fun to think about bizarre unsolved myseries and wonder what's actually going on with the whole UFO thing, but we'll always defer to Occam's razor. A blur on a photograph is way more likely to be a weather balloon than a spaceship and a ghostly old woman wandering around an old church is far more likely to be a hallucination or, you know, an actual confused old woman.

The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings

There's a fine line between kooky and spectral.

It says nothing about our belief in an afterlife or lack thereof. There is simply no evidence that dead people wander aimlessly around old houses, and no known scientific principle that would make it possible. But a lot of people have seen ghosts. A lot. There are certain spots and buildings where separate, unrelated witnesses have reported ghosts independently, without having talked to each other or being aware of the area being "haunted."

It appears that science has stumbled across the reason for it. It has nothing to do with the supernatural, but the answer is almost as weird.

The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings

Mole people?

In order to understand the science we need to head back to the late 1950's. While working in his robotics laboratory Vladimir Gavreau noticed that one of his assistants was bleeding from the ears, despite the absence of rebelling robots choking him.

Puzzled, Gavreau started researching the phenomenon by holding vibrating pipes next to clueless assistants. We'll never know what excuse he used when they turned around and asked him why their ears were bleeding, but one way or another Gavreau soon realized that a vibrating pipe of the right length and girth can cause a number of unpleasant effects ranging from mild irritation to serious pain.

The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings

Above: the cause of all human suffering.

What he had discovered, aside from an awesome new way to torture interns, was infrasound. It's noise at a low enough frequency that you don't consciously hear it, but your ears still sense it. The process of receiving sensory input without your conscious mind understanding where it's coming from wreaks havoc with your emotions. Specifically, researchers found that sounds between 7 and 19 Hz it could induce fear, dread or panic.

Knowing this is an article about ghosts, you can already see where this is going.

The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings


They did an experiment where acoustic scientists sneaked in low frequency sounds at a live concert. Since scientists love nothing more than inducing feelings of fear and terror in unsuspecting citizens, most of the concert goers had no idea what was going on. As a result one minute they were enjoying some sweet tunes while the next a feeling of dread invaded their hearts, crushing all hope and happiness. At the end of the experiment approximately 22 percent of the people involved in the experiment reported feelings of unexplainable dread, chills and depression when infrasound was blasted into the crowd.

Why would it have this effect? It may be evolution. It doesn't take a mad scientist mind control device to create infrasound -- mother nature is creating this type of low frequency vibration all the time. Volcanos, earthquakes, strong ocean waves and even winds hitting the hillside in just the right spot can create infrasound. Even animals can create it, and tigers are particularly well known as a source. The frequency of a tiger's roar is around 18Hz -- right in that range we mentioned earlier.

All of the things that create the sound are huge, powerful and dangerous. Evolution might have taught us that this sound means Bad News.

The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings

Nature's way of saying "Shit your pants!"

So now we have a phenomenon that occurs in nature, is invisible, is imperceptible on a conscious level, but can spontaneously make you feel irrational fear, even if you're sitting in an empty room. Notice how we've just described one of the first and primary signs of a "haunting" -- unexplained feelings of fear or dread.

OK, but what about actual sightings of ghosts?

Well, for that we need to go to a researcher named Vic Tandy.

In the engineering building where Tandy worked, cleaning staff as well as fellow researchers complained of feeling dread, depression and a strange feeling that someone was watching them. But what made the situation really worthy of a Scooby-Do episode was the fact that every so often the staff would see dark figures out of the corners of their eyes.

The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings

You can get the same sensation by going four days without sleep.

Now we're talking.

After one particularly strange experience when a gray shape sat next to his desk for several minutes, Vic Tandy was determined to figure out what the hell was going on. Being a man of science, he was going to skip the part where he had an exorcist come and bless the facility.

After eliminating gas poisoning and rogue equipment, Vic realized that the ghostly apparitions seemed to almost always occur in a certain section of the lab. He also realized that if he put a metal sheet in a vice, it would spontaneously vibrate uncontrollably for no apparent reason. Poltergeist, right?

The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings

No. Just infrasound.

Specifically, a "silent" exhaust fan was sending out low frequency vibrations that bounced back and forth on the lab's walls until they formed a powerful wave at... 18.9Hz. Right at the top of the panic range.

And, according to a NASA study, it was powerful enough to resonate with the average human eyeball, causing "smeared" vision. This is a phenomenon where the eye vibrates just enough to register something static -- say, the frame of your glasses or a speck of dust -- as large, moving shapes.

The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings


Predictably enough, once the vibrating fan was removed, the strange apparitions and feelings of fear disappeared.

Convinced that he had stumbled onto something, Vic Tandy went on to test this explanation for ghostly apparitions in the cellar of a nearby "haunted" abbey. According to the locals, as soon as someone would step into the cellar they would freeze up, see strange gray ghosts and have to leave because of nausea. Vic discovered that the shape of the cellar, the hallway leading to it as well as nearby factories all contributed in making the haunted cellar a perfect resonating chamber. The vibrations created were exactly 18.9Hz and were most powerful at the threshold of the cellar, where most people became sick and terrified.

Could it be? All of these hauntings, all of this folklore, all of it caused by something so, so stupid?

The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings

Pictured: fucking pipes.

Also, could somebody with an infrasound generator use this against you? You bet. They even experimented with this during Vietnam, blasting sounds of various frequencies from helicopters, trying to induce panic or at least severe annoyance in the Viet Cong below. Instead of driving away the enemy, infrasound only made them scared and trigger happy. While this was not ideal during a war situation infrasound was later used by the British as a successful method of crowd control.

The problem is it doesn't affect everyone the same way -- obviously not everyone at the abbey saw a ghost. And if you're trying to do it artificially, you need very large and very powerful equipment.

Still, if you want to make people who enter your building feel an otherworldly sense of fear or awe, install an infrasound generator. A large pipe organ will do.

The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings

Better home defence than a 12 gauge shotgun.

So if you're ever troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night or you experience feelings of dread in your basement or attic or even if someone in your family sees a spook, specter, or ghost ...

Well, call the repair guy, because it might be caused by a malfunctioning ventilation fan.


Sadly, it turns out these guys AREN'T who you need to call.

What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror, the third book in David Wong's John Dies at the End series, is available now!


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