Do Ghosts and Physics Overlap?

by rahmoeller on October 9, 2018

Back in 2009, the Pew Research Center did a survey to see how prevalent a belief in ghosts is in America. They found that about 29% of Americans said “they have felt in touch with someone who has died” and about 18% said “they have been in the presence of a ghost” (“Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths,” Pew Research Center. Dec 9, 2009). What do the physicists say? Well, there are quite a few articles meandering about the Internet that use the various laws of physics concerning energy to argue against the existence of ghosts or at least they argue against the idea that physics as we know it could explain the existence of ghosts. Here are a couple:

Although, according to Wikipedia (my favorite site), there is a term calledĀ ghost orĀ ghost field that exists in the field of quantum field theory – something to do with removing extra degrees of freedom. So, ghosts do exist…right? If you want to know more about this, ask our fellow Physics professors!

But, these are all thoughts from other people. I’m writing this blog post because I want to share an experience I had recently that makes this connection between physics and ghosts very clear. Very, very clear.

On Friday, Oct 5, around 6:15PM or so, I started a tour with the Salem Museum. This was a tour unlike any other tour I’ve ever experienced. We began in the Williams-Brown House and worked our way toward (and through) the East Hill Cemetery…and we ran into ghosts all along the way. The first was a female ghost, who goes by the name Mary Jane Williams Brown (recognize the name?). Yes, she lived in the Williams-Brown House…back in the 1800’s. She died in 1895, but never really left the house.

Get the idea? So, we walked around and got to hear from different ghosts – they shared tidbits of their lives and gave us an idea of how life would have been back in the 1700’s, 1800’s, or 1900’s in Salem, VA.

It wasn’t until the 4th ghostly encounter that it happened…the mixing of physics and ghosts! This ghostly encounter consisted of three ghosts – three Salem soldiers who fought in World War I.

The soldier on the very right is one of our Physics majors, Jake Klein. He was thrilled to see his professor!! And, apparently, got to see several people from the Chemistry department right after.

I asked Jake how he ended up helping out the Salem Museum, and he said, “Oh, it’s a long story.” He went on to explain that it was one of those situations where his friend has a friend who is doing an internship with the museum. When asked, Jake said he’d be happy to help out. Did he know which ghost he was going to be from the start? Nope! When asked, he expressed an interest in World War I, but had no idea what that answer meant. But, he did a fantastic job pretending to be the ghost of a soldier during World War I who was in charge of making food for the boys. He even mentioned he was on a trip to a nearby town to try to find chocolates and cigars for the boys when he was in a car accident. It’s amazing what the Salem Museum has been able to find about these peoples’ lives!

Needless to say, physics and ghosts overlap quite nicely. Happy October!