Why Do We Believe in Ghosts?


It’s the 21st century and despite all the scientific and technological developments we still believe in ghosts. This belief has been persisting for centuries (if not millennia) and will likely to continue perhaps even after we colonise the moon and Mars (will there be ghosts there?).

More than 33% of Australians believe that ghosts exist and in some polls the number is up to 50%. Almost half of Americans believe in ghosts and in Taiwan up to 90% of people report seeing ghosts. The numbers might vary but one thing’s for sure, many of us believe there are things that cannot be explained by science. We want to believe that there’s something beyond the here and now.

Ghosts have an unfinished business

But why do we believe that ghosts and souls still roam around not just in old creepy homes but also in newly built residences? One common belief is that ghosts haven’t received the justice they deserve. They’re still here because of an unfinished business and in many movies the living can help them get to the other side.

Many victims of murder and suicide haven’t received the justice they deserve which is why a few of them haven’t settled yet. It’s a persistent belief many of us share because there must be a reason why they’re still here. Most of us are really inclined to believe that there must be a reason or pattern of everything (i.e. everything has to make sense). It’s similar to how we see random faces and objects on different cloud formations and unusual light specks and movements. There should always be an explanation and we just can’t move on.

But where’s the evidence? Many images and videos coming from all around the globe “show” the ghosts and in some cases they resemble a loved one. Ironically though, in this age of selfies and live streaming the evidence has thinned out. Ghost sightings were much more common when people were still using old cameras and recorders. Even with the little evidence the belief in ghosts still persist and might have become more widespread in this modern age.

Perhaps part of the reason the belief persists is that it’s a harmless belief (like believing aliens exist). Whether we believe it or not, it won’t much affect our personal and financial life. In addition, it gives some freshness and variety to our boring routine. When we’re bored there are just those times when we’re searching for something out of the ordinary. There must be something exciting out there that we don’t encounter every day.

Role of media and religion

We are also quick to blame the movies because almost every month there’s a blockbuster horror movie. It’s really profitable and perhaps producers and studios have that financial incentive to keep creating horror movies (and some of them have become decades-long franchises where the concepts and characters are being recycled). We the masses still continue to watch those movies because well, we want to stay occupied and with the dozens of movies we watch each year, it’s inevitable that some of them will be about ghosts.

What about religion? Is the belief in ghosts going against what religious texts say? Those texts might not directly deny or confirm the existence of ghosts but if we look at various religious practices around the world, it seems religious institutions actually encourage the belief in ghosts. For instance, in Christianity some people pay the indulgences to help their demised loved ones successfully go to heaven. In Buddhism and in many Asian countries (especially China, Korea and Japan) there’s this Ghost Month (with a central Ghost Day) when ghosts were believed to roam around.

Despite the belief about the Judgment Day where people who died only “sleep” and they will only wake up when it’s time for judgment, we still believe that souls roam around. Our beliefs are full of contradictions similar to how some people say that “human life is sacred” and then when you look at their Facebook feed you’ll immediately see that they push for abortions and death penalty. It’s amazing how our minds hold contradictory beliefs and still manage to survive and function well in this complex era.

Why do we believe in ghosts?

Well, it’s a harmless belief and perhaps our beliefs in ghosts strongly suggest that we want to believe there’s life after death. All the debts will be paid and there’s some form of punishment or reward for the things we’ve done here. This belief might be helping us to behave rationally and ethically.

Ghosts bring variety and some excitement to our predictable and science-oriented lives. We’re in the age of reasoning but still supernatural beliefs persist. Our lives are full of contradictory beliefs and they bring flavour to how we conduct ourselves every day. Perhaps a horror movie or two each month won’t hurt as well as when visiting haunted places. Whether or not ghosts directly affect the world of the living, they actually complete our existence.