Today, CNN covers camp Wonewoc, one of 13 spiritualism camps in the U.S. The article introduces us to Judy Ulch, who passes on messages from the dead for 40$ per half hour (a bargain compared to Sylvia Browne’s rumored 750$/30min rates). It also introduces us to… ghost stubble:
“Sometimes I see them [the dead/spirits] so close, I see the stubble on their face,” Ulch says.
Eww. Ulch probably already knows this, but hair does not actually continue to grow after death: the reality is a little more gruesome. Presumably though, Ulch is referring not to an actual walking corpse but rather some sort of spiritual substance or image.
That, however, just raises the question of why it would have stubble at all. Hair growth is, of course, a complex biological process intricately connected to the reality of having particular cells operating in a particular manner, fed by specific amounts of various molecules and raw materials from the blood, and so on. That such a process would apparently be so closely reproduced in death raises all sorts of fascinating further issues. Do ghosts breathe some sort of spiritual oxygen to power the process? Does discarded hair and other spiritual detritus from this sort of process fall off spiritual bodies? Have mediums ever seen the spiritual dust bunnies that would result?
No doubt all of these questions would be immediately regarded by Ulch and others of her profession as quite silly: as the CNN article describes, spiritualism is “very non-dogmatic,” which in this context means that exactly how anything “works” is impossible to nail down or get any consistent, verified answers about. One could simply say, as many spiritualists do, that the spirits are simply ghostly images which reflect those people’s sense of themselves in life: no biological processes involved. The stubble, then, is just due to some scruffy spirit’s eternal self-perception.
If this were so, then all of my previous questions would become instantly irrelevant: in scientific terms, I’d have the wrong model of things.
The thing is though, at least in science, when your old model is invalidated, you don’t just stop asking questions altogether, you just start probing deeper into the new model. If these things are really images, what would happen if a medium saw them through, say, a cleverly designed microscope? Down to what resolution could they still see the fine details of the image? Seeing stubble is already pretty good, at least for a ghost. If highly variable human eyes can make things out, then better optics should be able to enhance things further, at least if these images involved something akin to photons.
And if they are images, then they must work something like that, because the same sort of bending of light that is necessary for a microscope is necessary for any image to focus via the lenses of the human eye. Could we see these images in high enough resolution that we’d be able to make out, say, individual skin cells in those ghosts who, in life, understood basic biology enough to envision them there? If so, what sorts of things would we see at the same resolution in ancient ghosts who, in life, didn’t know anything about cells or what they looked like?
No no no, a medium might say. Those questions are all ridiculous as well. The ghosts aren’t images seen by the eyes, but rather directly in the mind by some sort of special mental sensitivity (some mediums say this ability can be learned, others say it cannot: is there then perhaps a gene for it?). Ok, then, so discard my images model. If someone is “seeing” images directly in the mind, though, shouldn’t we be able to learn more about that? I mean, various tests of brain activity are able to distinguish between someone seeing a particular complex, detailed image (remember, detailed enough to see stubble!) and, say, a blank wall. Will areas of the brain associated with processing detailed images actually light up in mediums when they say they are looking at spiritual stubble that other people (the control group, I guess) cannot see?
I’m honestly not trying to be a pain here: I’m genuinely curious. When someone claims that something out of the ordinary has happened, even in some sort of untestable spiritual realm, it still has all sorts of cascading implications in the material world. And that means, at least to me, a chance to learn something new. How can anyone resist taking advantage of that opportunity?
What’s frustrating, however, is that most of the mediums I’ve dealt with seem far too eager to at least temporarily invalidate any model (no matter how many we go through) by which someone can ask probing, skeptical questions. They seem both curiously uninterested in what the right model is, as well as uninterested even in permanently ruling out some of the “wrong” models from further consideration. But if anything is really going on here, then surely some models of how the images of ghosts supposedly get from some localized spiritual reality into a medium’s brain must be more accurate than others. If we can definitively rule out my model of spiritual dandruff, haven’t we (or at least the mediums who believe that they can see these scruffy spirits) learned something new?
Why then would mediums act like that’s such a bad idea?