Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ghost and Dreams by George Harris 1916

Ghost and Dreams by George Harris 1916

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I DO not believe in ghosts, but there is a truth in this superstition which had best be thoroughly understood and minded.

Ghosts, so I hold, do not exist, but the fact that they do appear cannot be denied. Ghosts are vivid dreams and dreams may occur not only when we sleep, but also when we are awake, in which case they are called "hallucinations" or "visions."

Accepting this broad view of dreams, I will say that I have seen ghosts repeatedly and especially once. It happened recently and under peculiar conditions. I consider the appearance of ghosts as rare and exceptional but not as extraordinary or remarkable. They are as all dreams, subjective phenomena and do not have any objective existence, but granting that they are subjective phenomena, they may, sometimes, possess objective significance, and if that happens it makes us pause.

There is one case in my own experience that has startled me and set me to thinking, because it was like a prophecy and seems to have possessed a validity which I am inclined to deny to the entire domain of dreams in general and ghosts in particular. So I regard this experience of mine as a remarkable coincidence; but the coincidence is so extraordinary that it seems to me to illustrate plainly the truth that exists in the belief in ghosts.

The dead are not absolutely dead. They live on in the memories of the living. This existence in memory seems to us unreal and futile but memories are as real as all our intellectual activity and also our emotions, in fact, as all our spiritual life. They are as live and real as is the psychic life of any living being and we ought not to underestimate their power and efficacy.

The law of persistence is general. It extends to mental life and occasionally may produce what we call the apparition of ghosts, but it applies also to our deeds. What we have done is past but the past is not dead. The effect of the past remains and we cannot obliterate it. We may be pleased with the advantages of an evil deed, but the evil effect of it will be indelible too. It will reproach us like a bad conscience, and a bad conscience works like a disease in the human body, a disease that has power to kill.

This feature of a bad conscience is perhaps well known; it works like a bodily disease, as Shakespeare represents it in Lady Macbeth. But what are ghosts? Ghosts are our subconscious thoughts which assume a concrete shape in dreams or in waking dreams, i. e., in hallucinations. Such is the appearance of the ghost in Hamlet; and the truthfulness of hallucinations depends upon the correctness of our thoughts. As our normal thoughts may be correct, so our subconscious thoughts may anticipate the future and it may happen that visions predict events that will be fulfilled.

My experience does not prove the reality of ghosts, but it does prove that there is a truth at the bottom of ghost stories. The belief in ghosts is a superstition, but the truth that underlies the superstition keeps it alive and preserves the recurrence of apparently supernatural phenomena even in a rationalistic age.

The same is true of many beliefs that have been denounced as superstitious. There is, for instance, much truth in the ideas of Heaven and Hell. The "Choir Invisible" is as real as the curse that rests on evil deeds, and there are protecting angels that guide children and childlike characters through dangers, although the notion of winged messengers that come down from God's throne are mere inventions of Christian art. The psychologist will describe them in abstract terms as influences or good instincts.

Further there is a plan in the development of the human race as if it followed the design of a personal providence, while in fact it is obviously due to natural law.

Thus I have come to the conclusion that our religions are true, not in the literal sense of the dogmas, but in their allegorical meaning; and it seems to me that the infidel is totally wrong if he rejects religion altogether when he finds out that some religious doctrines in their literal interpretation are untenable before the tribunal of reason.

My experience of having met a ghost face to face is one instance only of a whole class of spiritual phenomena. It was a dream, but it illustrates a broader truth and is generally applicable to the entire domain of our religious and psychical life.

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