Anyone who has sat around a campfire with scouts, played with a Ouija board, or listened to ghost stories in the company of impressionables late at night, knows what can overtake even the most seemingly rational of beings.
“What was that noise?!” “Did you hear that?!” “I saw something!” “Arrgghh!”
Psychiatrists call this an illusory effect.
A delusion, you see, is a belief held with unshakeable conviction despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It is a symptom often seen along the psychotic-spectrum of mental disorders. An example is the mindset experienced by the person who is convinced that the FBI is constantly following her, despite not having a criminal record or any history of actually breaking the law or consorting with real live scofflaws.
A hallucination, another psychotic symptom, is a waking perception in the absence of actual external stimuli, one that is nevertheless perceived by the sufferer as real. An example is that experienced by the person who hears voices of those not physically present and in the absence of any other source of such a sound, and which is undetectable by others in the vicinity.
An illusion, on the other hand, is a distorted sensory perception, but not one that is fulminantly psychotic. Illusions warp reality, but arise from actual environmental stimuli, and are commonly experienced by most if not all of humanity without the imprimatur of any mental pathology.
Enter the group-think regarding ghosts referenced above, in which those present ‘feed’ off one another’s misperceptions and magnify the entire situation. A branch knocking against the window, noisy water pipes, shadows cast by the moon – all the stuff of illusions.
Which brings me to my desired experiment.
When I was living in Sullivan Co, Tennessee, years ago, there was an old stage coach tavern nearby that had been converted into a trendy restaurant in the historic part of town. The waiters at the eatery often said that closing the establishment late at night was spooky because of odd sensations that most, if not all, of them had felt. The tavern had been used as a hospital during the Civil War (and the attic contained still-visible painted numbers on the walls that corresponded to patient beds, long since removed). It is not known if some of the soldiers who expired during the conflict were buried on the property. Either way, given the documented history and the tendency of old buildings to creak anyway, it wasn’t difficult to understand how such illusory effects infected everyone who worked in that old manse after dark.
I moved away from the area before I had a chance to meet the proprietor. But had I been fortunate, I would have asked if he would allow me to stay overnight in the building, alone.
Well, alone… except for a very large dog (and my stainless steel .357 Ruger snubnose revolver – I realize that lead is of no use against spirits of another dimension, though arguably of use against ne’er do wells of this dimension.)
Dogs, as far as we know, not only have more sharpened sensory abilities than do humans, but they aren’t affected by the suggestible hysteria of otherworldly visitation. A dog will react to what its senses actually perceive, but otherwise will sleep contentedly while its master lies awake hearing the ‘ghost noises’ that every passing breeze renders audible in the rafters.
Seriously, I would like to do this experiment. I will leave the heat at home, but will need Cerebus to accompany me. If anyone out there knows of such a venue, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll discuss.
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