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Monday, March 4, 2024

Do Most Humans Have a Spooky Encounter With the Deceased at Some Time in Their Lives?

There are very many case reports of people claiming to have seen apparitions of the deceased. A very interesting question to consider is: what percent of humans will ever have an experience like seeing an apparition of the deceased or hearing a voice of a deceased person or seeing or feeling something they regarded as being caused by a deceased person ? Will it be just a small percentage of humans that have such an experience? Or could it be that a very large fraction of the population will have such an experience at some time or another - a fraction as high as 33% or higher? Could it even be that most humans will have a paranormal or seemingly inexplicable encounter with the deceased at some point in their lives?

AI-generated art depicting an apparition

To try to estimate such a thing, I will need to examine reports of percentages of the number of humans who report seeing apparitions of the deceased or report having encounters or contact with the deceased. 

Survey Type 1: Surveys of the General  Public 

Some relevant studies are below (I extracted all the numbers below from the original source materials):

  • In Arcangel's study of 827 people, 596 (72%)  responded that they had had an "afterlife encounter." We read"69% of respondents listed some form of visual encounter (Question 4), 19% were Visual only, 13% were a combination of Visual/Auditory, 8% Visual/Sense of Presence and 8% Visual/Auditory/Sense of Presence."
  • Erlendur Haraldsson surveyed 902 people in Iceland in 1974, finding that 31% reported seeing an apparition or having an encounter with a dead person.  He did another survey in Iceland  in 2007 with a similar sample size, finding that 42% reported seeing an apparition or having an encounter with a dead person, with 21% reporting a "visual experience of a dead person,"  along with 21% reporting an out-of-body experience. 
  • A large survey included some questions about paranormal experience, such as asking whether they had ever "felt as though you were really in touch with someone who had died."  According to Table 1 of the paper here, the number answering "Yes" to this question was 24% in France, 34% in Italy, 30% in the United States, and 25% in Europe overall. 54% of those in the US reported having an experience with telepathy. 
  • A 1973 survey of 434 persons in Los Angeles, USA found that 44% reported encounters with the deceased, and that 25% of those 44% (in other words, 11% of the 434) said that a dead person "actually visited or was seen at a seance."
  • As reported in the 1894 edition of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Volume X, Part XXVI), an 1890's "Census of Hallucinations" conducted by the Society for Psychical Research asked, "Have you ever, when believing yourself to be completely awake, had a vivid impression of seeing or being touched by a living being or inanimate object, or of hearing a voice ; which impression, so far as you could discover, was not due to any external physical cause?"  As reported in Table 1 here (page 39), the number answering "Yes" was about 10%.  Because the question did not specifically refer to the dead, ghosts or apparitions, the wording of the question may have greatly reduced the number of "yes" answers from people experiencing what seemed to be an apparition of the dead or a sense of the presence of the dead. 
  • In the March-April 1948 edition of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, page 187, there appeared the result of a survey asking the same question asked in 1894: "Have you ever, when believing yourself to be completely awake, had a vivid impression of seeing or being touched by a living being or inanimate object, or of hearing a voice ; which impression, so far as you could discover, was not due to any external physical cause?"  According to page 191, 217 out of 1519 answered "Yes." This was a 14% "yes" rate higher than the rate of about 10% reported in 1894. 
  • A 1980 telephone survey of 368 participants found that 29% reported "post-death communication." 
  • The British Medical Journal published in 1971 a study by Rees that involved almost 300 subjects, one entitled "The Hallucinations of Widowhood."  Rees reported that 39% in his survey reported a sense of presence from a deceased person and 14% reported seeing the deceased, along with 13% hearing the deceased.
  • A 2015 Pew Research poll found that 18% of Americans said they've seen or been in the presence of a ghost, and that 29% said that they've felt in touch with someone who died. 
  • A Groupon survey of 2000 people found that more than 60% claim to have seen a ghost.
  • A 1976 survey of 1467 people in the US asked people if they had ever "felt as though you were really in touch with someone who had died?" 27% answered "Yes."  The same survey found that large percentages of the population reported experiences such as ESP or clairvoyance, as you can see in the answers below. 

how many Americans experience the paranormal

From the work here

Below is a quote from the abstract of a paper entitled "Alleged Encounters With the Dead: The Importance Of Violent Death In 337 New Cases" by Haraldsson: 

"Personal encounters with the dead are reported by 25% of Western Europeans and 30% of Americans. Three hundred thirty-seven Icelanders reporting such experiences were interviewed at length. Ninety percent of them reported sensory experiences (apparitions) of a deceased person; 69% were visual, 28% auditory, 13% tactile, and 4% olfactory. Fewer than half of the experiences occurred in twilight or darkness. In half of the cases the experiencer was actively engaged or working. Disproportionately prominent were apparitions of those who died violently and crisis apparitions observed close to the time of death of the person who was perceived, although in the majority of cases, the percipient did not know that the person had died."

Survey Type 2: Deathbed Visions or Deathbed Apparitions

It seems that the chance of someone reporting an apparition of the deceased (or a voice or sense of presence identified as coming from a deceased person) greatly increases in the last days and last hours of a person's life.  The first major reference to this phenomenon that I can find in the literature of parapsychology is the fascinating 1906 paper "Apparitions of Deceased Persons at Death-Beds" in pages 67-100 of the February 1906 Annals of Psychical Research, (Volume 3), which can be read hereThe main work on this topic (one finding a strong effect) is the work "At The Hour of Death" by Osis and Haraldsson, which can be read here.  A survey of family members of deceased Japanese found that 21% reported deathbed visions. A study of 103 subjects in India reports this: "Thirty of these dying persons displayed behavior consistent with deathbed visions-interacting or speaking with deceased relatives, mostly their dead parents." A study of 102 families in the Republic of Moldava found that "37 cases demonstrated classic features of deathbed visions--reports of seeing dead relatives or friends communicating to the dying person."  We read the following on a page of the Psi Encylopedia:

"In 2017, Una MacConville carried out a study with Irish health care professionals. The carers reported that 45% of their patients spoke of visions of deceased relatives, often joyful experiences that bring a sense of peace and comfort."

 A 1949 book states this

"It is a commonplace truth, observed by many physicians and clergymen, that a dying person, when conscious near the moment of death, acts or speaks as if he saw standing near loved ones who have already died. Dr. Russell Conwell told Bruce Barton in the interview quoted earlier in another connection, that he had witnessed this phenomenon 'literally hundreds of times.' "

Estimating the Lifetime Likelihood of a Person Reporting an Encounter With the Deceased

Let us imagine you were to ask a large and varied group of people this question: "Have you ever felt an extremely severe pain much worse than a headache, one that lasted for more than ten minutes?" You would get a particular percentage answering yes, maybe 20%. But if you wanted to estimate the percentage of people who will have such pains at least once in their lifetimes, you should at least double whatever percentage you got answering yes. There are two reasons why:

(1) The people answering would have an average age that was only about half of their expected lifetimes. So to estimate what percentage of these people would have such pains at least once in their lifetime, it would be reasonable to double the percentage answering yes. 

(2) It is well-known that at the end of someone's lifetime he would have a much higher chance of having "an extremely severe pain much worse than a headache, one that lasted for more than ten minutes." This gives an additional reason why you should at least double whatever percentage you got from asking the above question to a varied group with a variety of ages. 

For similar reasons, in estimating the percentage of people who will at some time in their lives have what they will report as a spooky encounter with the deceased, we should roughly double an average of the percentages reported in the first section of this post (the Survey Type 1 section).  Those percentages came from surveys of people with a varied mixture of ages ranging from 18 to 80 or more.  We can assume that the percentages of people who will have such experiences at least once before they die will be roughly twice as high as the fraction who report having had such experiences at least once in their lives. And the fact that such reports seem to be all the more frequent at the end of life gives an additional reason for doing such a doubling when estimating how many will have such experiences at some time in their lives. 

Doing a doubling of the figures listed in the first section of the post, we end up with an estimate that most humans at some point in their lifetime will have what will seem like a paranormal encounter with the deceased.  It would seem that a majority of humans will experience such encounters at some point in their lives. 

There is a strong additional reason for thinking such a thing. There is a strong reason for suspecting that the survey results given above are underestimations, because of self-censorship by survey respondents. We must remember that authorities in our culture have a long history of shaming, gaslighting, misrepresenting and attempting to pathologize people who report experiences of the paranormal. For many decades and centuries such authorities (including professors, skeptics and clergy) have attempted to portray people reporting paranormal experiences as neurotic, psychotic, liars, fakes, fools or people dabbling with the diabolical. Consequently we should assume that there is a significant degree of self-censorship in which many  people who had paranormal experiences do not report them, for fear of "getting in trouble" or being embarrassed, shamed, ridiculed or gaslighted. To help limit such self-censorship, all surveys of paranormal experience should be secret-ballot type surveys, but probably most of the surveys above were not surveys that guaranteed confidentiality and anonymity to respondents. Because of the self-censorship factor, the number of people experiencing the phenomena asked about in the surveys above could easily be 25% or 50% larger than the numbers reported in the surveys. 

gaslighting of the paranormal
Examples of gaslighting

There is one other reason for suspecting that the percentage of people who will experience what they regard as an encounter or contact with the deceased may be 50% or higher. The reason is that questions asking about such experiences usually are phrased in a way that may pick up only a minority of relevant experiences, or fail to pick up a large fraction of such experiences.  For example, in the surveys mentioned above we had questions such as whether you have seen a ghost or whether you have had a visual experience with a deceased person.  But very many people report spooky experiences that would not produce a "yes" answer in such surveys, even though someone may suspect that the experience was caused by some contact with a deceased person.  

There are very many reported experiences of this type, having a great variety (as I discuss in this post). For example, at the moment of mentioning a deceased person, someone may report lights in the room flickering. Or someone may report a framed photo of a deceased person mysteriously falling.  Or someone may report a case like the one here, in which a circuit breaker mysteriously switches off, or a light mysteriously switches on,  while that person was thinking about a deceased person, or maybe on the deceased person's birthday. Or someone may find some type of object associated with a deceased person mysteriously appearing or being displaced in a way that seems naturally inexplicable. 

In short, because of all the reasons and data discussed above,  we have a strong rationale for suspecting that most human beings at some point in their lifetimes will have at least one experience that they regard as a mysterious or paranormal encounter with the deceased.  Such experiences may therefore be reasonably regarded as  experiences of the majority, rather than some small minority.  The fact that such experiences that may well occur to a majority of humans are ignored or "swept under the rug" by our academia authorities is a sad commentary on the dysfunctional belief communities of such authorities, in which it is often true that never-observed things (constructs of theorists) such as dark matter or dark energy or abiogenesis are treated as cherished darlings, and many types of very abundantly observed things are senselessly denounced as impossibilities. 

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