Tonight is Halloween, a night for masquerades. There will be less trick-or-treating this year because of the COVID-19 problem, but there will still be many masquerades. Little girls are dressing up as princesses and little boys are dressing up as superheroes. We also see the masquerade of skeptics that always appears around Halloween, when we see a bunch of stories online with titles such as "Why Your Brain Causes You to Believe in Ghosts" and "How Your Brain Causes You to Hallucinate a Ghost." When they author such stories, skeptics masquerade as apparition scholars, and they masquerade as people who understand some neural basis for belief or some neural basis for hallucinations in normal people.
In general, our skeptics are not apparition scholars, and are not scholars of human observations of the paranormal or human reports of the anomalous. The literature on human reports of the paranormal is a vast body of literature consisting of so many books you would need a small library to hold all the books. In general our skeptics show no sign of having read any such books, other than a few books written by fellow skeptics. They do not busy themselves reading the classic observational reports of apparition sightings. They do not study the countless volumes of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research or the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, even though such volumes can be very conveniently obtained online at sites such as www.archive.org or this site.
But in their Halloween articles attempting to debunk apparition sightings, our skeptics try to masquerade as scholars of the paranormal. We can tell they are no such thing by their lack of references to the relevant scholarly and observational literature. We can also tell their lack of scholarship on such topics by their incorrect generalizations about apparition sightings.
A skeptic describing an apparition sighting will tell us all kinds of imaginative narratives that do not match the observational characteristics of apparition sightings. He may say that you went to some spooky house and got scared, and that fear caused you to hallucinate seeing a ghost. Or he may say that you were filled with grief, so your brain caused you to see the ghost of some person you wanted to believe has survived. He will not typically provide narrative examples of such cases, because there are so few of them.
What our skeptic will not tell you about is a type of apparition sighting far more common, that he cannot explain. In this type of apparition sighting, a person who is in a completely normal state of mind will suddenly be surprised to see an apparition of someone he did not know was dead or even close to death; and will then soon learn that the same person died about the same time the apparition was seen. There are hundreds of cases of such apparitions, which you can read about here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Our skeptic will typically not know about such cases, because he is not actually a scholar of human reports of the paranormal, but merely masquerades as such a thing.
Another very common type of apparition sighting is when the same apparition is seen by multiple observers. Examples can be found here, here, here, here, here and here. Our skeptic will conveniently ignore all such cases.
Because he has not actually made a scholarly study of apparition reports, our skeptic will continue to advance his lame "fear or grief causes hallucinations" theory, even though such a theory totally fails to explain any of the more interesting reports of apparition sightings, which occur to people when they are not afraid or grieving, and often involves more than one observer seeing the same apparition, which could never happen from brain hallucinations. Our skeptic will not cite any scientific experiments supporting his theory, because it is a fantasy without experimental support.
If there was some tendency for people to hallucinate when they were afraid or grieving, it would be very easy to prove such a thing with experiments. For example, you could test 100 subjects with an experiment in which you told them something terrifying, such as that a tornado or earthquake will soon strike the building they are in. Then ask such people to describe what they saw, to see how many of them hallucinated. Or you could tell 100 subjects a lie that some beloved figure or one of their relatives had died. Then ask about their observations, to see how many of them hallucinated from grief. Of course, there are no experiments supporting the fanciful notion that fear or grief causes hallucinations of apparitions.
Besides masquerading as scholars of the paranormal, our skeptical writers of Halloween stories about apparitions will engage in other types of masquerades. They will masquerade as people who understand some neural basis for hallucinations in normal people. No one understands any neural basis of why normal people would report seeing dramatic things in front of them that are not there. Or, our skeptic may masquerade as someone who understands some neural basis for belief. No one has any real understanding of how a brain could create an idea or form a belief or store a belief. Just as no one can give a credible explanation of how a brain or neurons could either store a memory or remember something for decades or instantly retrieve a memory, no one can give a credible explanation of how a brain or neurons could derive or deduce a belief or preserve a belief or store a belief. So when skeptics write articles with titles such as "Why Your Brain Causes You to Believe in the Paranormal," they are masquerading as people who know something they do not know. No one can explain why your neurons or your brain could ever handle any such thing as forming a belief or neurally representing a belief or preserving a belief, but we do know a little about why some people may think they understand things that are a hundred miles over their heads. It has to do with the fact that the mind can take pleasure from such intoxicating but groundless conceits.
When someone imagines that there are memory traces in your brain of the sensations you had years ago, he is at least suggesting an idea based a little bit on reality (the reality of you having such sensations long ago); but it is an idea ignoring the neural reality of short protein lifetimes that should prevent any such traces from surviving for more than a few months (the brain replaces its proteins at a rate of about 3% per day). But the idea of beliefs stored in brains is not based on any neural reality. If I one day think to myself, "If there came to our planet lizard men from outer space, they would be evil," and then that thought becomes a belief in my mind, this is nothing based on any neural reality, since I have never even had a sensation of lizard men. If there were any neuroscience understanding of how a belief could be stored in a brain, we would sometimes read very concerned writers talking about the grave danger of some government or neurologist changing your beliefs or political views or religion by doing something to your brain or giving you some pill. We read no such stories.
The complete lack of any understanding of how a brain could store a belief is shown by the fact that there is not even a word for the concept of a place where a brain stores a belief. There is a word ("engram") for the dubious claim of a neural storage place of a memory, but there is not even a word in neuroscience literature for an alleged neural storage place for a belief. The lack of such a word is Exhibit A that there is no real scientific basis for the claim that brains store beliefs.