The Ghosts of History

History is full of ghosts, but ghosts do not seem full of history. It’s a shame; one would think them to be good witnesses. But they do not speak to use in any useful fashion – or if they have, no one has proved it.

Straight up: most cultures have some sort of ghost tradition, and there is no scientific evidence for any of it.

Why would we believe in something we can’t prove? Well, some of it has to do with the fact that any serious scientist who hunts ghosts runs the real risk of lo longer being considered a serious scientist. But most of it has to do with how unreliable our senses are under duress in dark, noisy places. Scientists have studied that fairly extensively.

LiveScience has a good summary of this sort of research..

http://www.livescience.com/26697-are-ghosts-real.html

And Listverse, of course, has a List:

http://listverse.com/2013/09/30/10-scientific-explanations-for-ghostly-phenomena/

If you skipped the second link, go back and scroll down to #1:

Or we’ll just quote the list (written by Nolan Moore) at length here:

No idea where ListServe got this.

Quantum mechanics is the study of the smallest types of matter, and it has led to some pretty awesome inventions. However, it can get pretty weird when physicists start talking about souls and ghosts. Take, for example, Dr. Stuart Hameroff and his physicist friend Roger Penrose. Hameroff and Penrose theorize that human consciousness comes from microtubules inside our brain cells, and these tubules are responsible for quantum processing (our souls basically). Hameroff and Penrose believe when people have a near-death experience, all that quantum information leaves the brain, yet continues to exist, which is why some people report out-of-body experiences and lights at the end of tunnels.

As you might expect, a lot of scientists have problems with Hameroff and Penrose’s theory. But Dr. Henry Stapp isn’t one of them. As a respected quantum physicist who worked with the famous Heisenberg, Stapp believes that a person’s personality might be able to survive death and exist as a “mental entity.” Stapp theorizes if these entities could return to the physical world, then concepts like possession and channeling could really be possible. Are men like Stapp, Hameroff, and Penrose just wishful thinkers? Or are they modern day Galileos?

Now here we have some basis to start making some stuff up. Let’s stipulate, for the sake of coherent fiction, that there’s something to that, and this is how ghosts work.

I’ve already done this. This is what I wrote for my time-travel role-playing game

Ghosts are incorporeal undead who retain some of their wits and memories of their time among the living.

Ghosts are the souls of the living who did not wish to, or could not depart this dimension as they died. Many are evil, and fear punishment in the afterlife. Many are simply so determined to finish their life’s work that they refused to go. Some remain because their deaths were so horrific that they could not accept the finality of it. And many are stuck for reasons beyond their control.

Battlefields are notorious for ghosts, not because of the nature of battle so much, but because the sheer number of deaths guarantees a certain amount of ghosts.

Ghosts are bound to a particular space (most often) or particular time. They cannot move freely beyond these limits. A ghost stuck in a place will be present in that place forever-after (unless some action is taken to counter this), but can move about in time as if it were no more than a long corridor. A ghost stuck in time can appear multiple places at the same instant, but never beyond that instant. To this ghost, the world seems frozen still as he just wanders endlessly about it. This weirdness is rarely evident to the living.

Because ghosts have no set physical form, they have no real stats, but they do have a core competence that depends upon their power level. Power level is determined by the strength of the character at death, and by the trauma of the death and/or burial. Horrific, unjust deaths tend to increase the power of the ghost.

Ghosts are divided loosely among five levels:

  • Haunt: (2 dice) generally do no more than make strange sounds, move small objects here and there, and bewilder the living. Haunts retain the least of their memories, and are often puzzled as to their condition. Haunts are rarely directly detected by the living, and the Haunts themselves rarely possess the means to directly reveal themselves. If they do appear, it is often little more than a floating orb of light. Sadly, this is by far the most common sort of ghost.
  • Phantom: (3 dice) are aware of their state, and can interface with the material world to a greater extent. They can move small objects on purpose, or appear visually (as they were at death), though not corporeally. Also known as Poltergeists when they move things or Apparitions when they appear. Most phantoms can do one or the other, but not both at the same time.
  • Ghost: (4 dice) are able to appear in any form they choose, and interact to a limited extent with the physical world, as separate tasks. Most ghost stories involve this level. This is the highest level an extra can achieve.
  • Shades: (5 dice) have some connection to negative energy and  are able to do emotional damage by touch, and cold damage by touch. Most of these are evil – the neutral tend to stop at Ghost.  Also known as shades or shadows.
  • Wraiths: (6 dice or more) all of the above plus one or more of the additional powers: possession (of a weaker personality); animation (or a recently deceased); corporeal form (where they will appear to be alive save for temperature). Almost all Wraiths are evil, and connected to negative energy.
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Welcome to Fantastical History

Fantastical History covers the intersection of history and myth, and how this informs popular fiction and role-playing games (including my own).

For history to be reliable and understandable hundreds much less thousands of years hence, two things have to happen: 1) human beings must record events with some diligence and rigor and 2) those records must survive. The first condition happens with surprising regularity. Every civilization raises a batch of self-important nerds who can take good notes. The second condition, however, requires great fortune, as calamity, warfare and the antics of tyrants all conspire to obliterate the past.

Honest historians, then must peer and grasp into this thick mist and admit how little they actually know. Story-tellers, in contrast, fill in these gaps by making stuff up. Some of that stuff is really fantastic, and this blog and its associated sites cover that: ridiculous lies about the past.

For folklore and even mythology has some basis in truth – somewhere. We’ll look for those seeds of truth but also we’ll talk about the legends themselves, and why we concocted these particular lies.

But we won’t really spend a lot of time on that, because this is not an academic blog. We are not searching for truth so much as we are celebrating the ridiculous lies, particularly as they appear in popular fiction and in role-playing games. These are the new campfires around which we tell stories – and this blog is here to help keep all these lies straight in your head.