From Paranormal 'Believer' to 'Skeptic'
Why the Interest in Ghosts?
Why does someone become interested in researching ghosts and things that go bump in the night?
In my case, it was something that happened to my family and I when I was a small boy. Now, as an adult, I have a very rational and logical brain that tries to figure things out, and I will not accept stories and experiences that make no scientific sense whatsoever.
Back then, however, I had a child’s innocent mind and was often frightened in the dark and scared of what may lurk under my bed and in the closet!
This is the tale of my journey from believer to sceptic. Please leave your comments at the bottom of the article, as your feedback is much valued.
As a young boy of around three years old, I had an experience that set me on the path to research the paranormal and find out just what I had experienced all those years ago.
Back in the early 1970s, my father left my mother for another woman, leaving her to take care of my sister and I. We lived in a house with just one immediate neighbour in a semi-detached property, with an old couple living next door. A small wood lay to the rear of the house, where endless hours of child’s play could be (and was) had.
Although not far from the city of Stoke-on-Trent, the house was in a very isolated area, the wood behind, farmer's fields to the front and a single track lane leading to the main road about a mile distant, and in the other direction was a farm and a water treatment plant.
An idyllic countryside scene maybe, but also with its potential dangers; poachers who frequented the woods looking for an illicit free meal in the form of rabbits, squirrels and other wildlife; Also a place where people seeking . . . intimate privacy, shall we say, may come to fulfill their urges with each other.
Now, of course, these sort of activities were the kind that takes place almost exclusively in the hours of darkness.
Beautiful during the day, ominous at night, especially to a young child hearing strange noises and seeing lurking shadows on the curtained bedroom window.
Overview of Location
My mother, knowing about the things that were going on in the area, used to worry about ne’er-do-wells breaking into the house and taking advantage of a woman living on her own with no protection.
Due to that fear, she used to have us all sleep in the same bedroom for securities sake. I was around 3, and my sister, five years the elder, was around 8. To bolster her peace of mind further, a tall chest of drawers (she used to call it a tallboy) was also pushed up against the bedroom door. Now, theoretically, even if someone were to attempt a burglary in the property, we would be safe and sound in our secure little nocturnal familial den.
Now, the thing with paranormal stories is that memories can change each time we recall an event, and the further back in time the event was, the more the memory can become distorted no matter how well we think we remember it.
Things are added to, accentuated, and outright fabricated without us even meaning to or realising that we are. It’s just one of the flaws of that amazing organ we call the brain. Our whole lives are built of the building blocks of our memories. Without them, what would our life mean?
However certain aspects of life’s memories will undoubtedly be inaccurate in our minds.
Read the links at the bottom of the article for further explanation of false memories and faulty childhood memories.
'Haunted' Childhood Home?
A Haunting Tale
My memories of what happened on this particular night are one such case.
Not overly surprising when you consider my age at the time I guess, but it had a long-term impact on my belief in ghosts. It is also interesting to note that the majority of people who believe in ghosts have their first experiences at a young age.
This was borne out in a survey I carried out in paranormal groups on a social media network
I will lay out the story as I remember it, and then give my mother’s version of it afterwards.
So, now that we understand that our memories are extremely unreliable over time, let's go back to a night in 1971just outside Stoke-on-Trent.
The night in question would probably have been no different from any other at that time - night had descended upon our little spot of the world, we were all tucked up in our bedroom and asleep.
Something woke me up - a noise. I ‘remember’ waking, sitting up, and seeing that my mother and sister were also awake. We all stared at the door, which was the source of the noise that had woken us from our slumber.
The doorknob—which was one of those old, round, brass types—was turning and rattling violently as if someone was trying desperately hard to open it. My recollection of events following this includes my mother shouting through the bedroom window to try and alert our neighbour that something was wrong and he (Mr Starkey) came with his ladder and propped it up against the bedroom window.
He climbed up and at this point, the doorknob was still turning at the same ferocious pace. However, as he approached the chest of drawers, the doorknob stopped it’s rattling. The drawers were pulled away from the door and a search of the house revealed nothing of note. No windows open, outer doors were still locked and nothing was disturbed.
That’s how I remember it, and I have had this ‘memory’ all my life. Over the last few years, I have been doing a lot of research into the paranormal field, finding that so many people have experienced something that they can’t explain.
However, I have also found that many of those people are not open to the possibility of it not being a ghost or spirit. Their minds are completely closed to logic and scientific reason. The paranormal field has almost become its own religion, with a fiercely held belief in spirits, ghosts, demons, guardian angels, psychic abilities etc. that makes little or no sense.
Surely it is better to know the truth than hold onto a notion of something that doesn’t fit in with nature's laws?
The human brain is a very complex organ, and like most complex machines, they can go wrong, and also have built-in flaws that have stayed with us through evolutionary progression.
Check out the video below for a quick overview of how memories are constantly changing (or may never have even happened at all!)
Can Memories Be Trusted?
So What Do I Believe Really Happened?
Only one person could dispel this dramatic memory from my mind, and that’s my mother.
I recently asked her about it (I have no idea why it took me so long!) and to see what she recalled of the events. The scenario I explained was correct, the same bedroom setting, the chest of drawers against the door and the doorknob rattling, my mother shouting the neighbour.
However, the search of the house and the ladder were made up memories. They never took place and the neighbour merely walked around the outside of our property with his dog and a torch.
On reflection, I think someone had got into the house and was attempting to gain entry to the bedroom which makes the whole incident even more frightening than had it been something more otherworldly. It also shows that my mother’s prudence in putting the drawers against the door was a correct decision.
Who knows what the intent of this person was?
Another thing I remember from my short 4 years in that house, was the very real sound of footsteps going up our stairs when we were all in the lounge watching TV together.
Again, upon reflection, I believe that our neighbours were the cause of this noise as they went up and down their staircase, which due to the mirror image layout of the properties, would have been directly adjacent to our own with just a wall between them.
So, looking back on the whole episode of living in a house I grew up considering to be haunted, I am now in a position to say that I categorically no longer believe it was.
Simple and logical reasons exist to explain away what happened.
False memories, the sound carrying from next door as if it was in our own house, and a setting which made creepiness a constant factor of the nighttime period. All accentuated by my mother’s (justified as it turns out) fear of the possibility of people getting into the house at night.
If you have a little time to spare, I strongly recommend you watch Carrie Poppy's amusing tale of her journey from believer to skeptic in the video below.
Believer to Skeptic: Carrie Poppy
The Future and an Offer of Rational Help
I am not saying that everyone’s experiences can be explained away this easily, but having studied many cases and talked to a lot of people about their experiences, I believe that 99% of the time there are logical explanations.
Some are easy to discover, some less so.
A skeptic’s hardest challenge to overcome is to convince someone that there are very rational reasons for people to believe they have witnessed something paranormal.
Cognitive dissonance (knowing that ghosts aren't likely because of the natural laws of physics but wanting to believe they exist for other reasons) and confirmation bias (Wanting something to be true and looking for evidence that supports this belief and excluding anything that doesn't) combine to make it almost impossible to dissuade someone from their version of events and memories of those events—remember how I said that only my mother could have persuaded me that my memories were wrong?
The plethora of Hollywood films and 'reality' TV shows sensationalising the topic, only serve to make this task even harder. If some of those programmes are to be believed, demons who want to scratch our necks and make us feel nauseous and faint, surround us.
We will one day fully understand the human brain through the study of psychology and neuroscience and this will bring us a lot closer to understanding spooky happenings in my opinion.
While not everything occurs within our minds, it is how our minds perceive and translate the sensory input that confuses us. Every human being is an individual, with different thoughts and interpretations of their surroundings.
Finding out the truth has not distracted me from furthering my research. It makes me more determined to get to the bottom of other people’s experiences and find out what happened.
I have continued to try and help people who are genuinely trying to understand their experiences with rational explanations for events. As I have previously stated, a good percentage of people do not wish to have their experiences explained with logic, preferring instead to believe their loved ones are with them.
While I understand this sentiment, I do not believe it to be the case and I hope this sentiment doesn't offend you, the reader.
When it comes to finding the real answer, the old saying rings true, “The devil is in the detail”.
Thank you for reading this article, it is much appreciated!
Resources on Memories
- False Memories: We all recognize that our memories are like Swiss cheese; what we now know is that they are more like processed cheese.
- False Childhood Memories: This is a very common occurrence.
- Rewriting Memories: Even people with good memories can have a hard time remembering the past accurately.
Do You Believe in Ghosts?
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Ian McKay