“Ghosts” and “souls” haven’t avoided our human characteristic described above. Here also, the believer creates in his or her mind a complete virtual picture, bearing its own rules. This is done by collecting pieces of alleged data from others. The picture includes various worlds of life after death, reward and punishment, heaven and hell, good spirits and bad spirits, tunnels and lights, souls that are attached to the body by an invisible thread, prayers and text segments in this world that presumably do good for the souls in the next world, words and deeds not to be dealt with during a seance, bearded religious authorities with a wise look, who seem to know well the “real” secrets of what’s happening behind our backs.
There are certain interesting characteristics of the phenomenon of the imaginary conspirative world, whether it has to do with ghosts and souls, or with aliens and flying saucers: Its rules and its habitants change slightly according to the belief and the cultural background of the addict. The rules by which that world functions, shall always complement each other, like pieces of a puzzle brought together in our mind. They will be somehow related to our basic fears. In any case, they will always be on the edge of clarity. The nature of such cosmic conspiracy is being incomplete and suffering missing pieces of data, in order to continue teasing the imagination. The so-called “proofs” integrated in it, will be, like the sayings of the famous oracle from Delphi, subject to interpretations both ways. Those who promote the conspiracy will always seek (and find) other people with certain scientific background, whose name is involved in believing similar things.
Our love of conspiracies and intrigues generates and nurtures them out of purely natural events: President Kennedy’s murder, the landing on the moon, Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination, the events of September 11. It’s very likely that some of our ancient mythologies were formed this way.
The connection to religion is pretty obvious. Some of these ancient myths found their way into our most popular books. The system itself teaches their stories. We’re thrilled by the mystical promise embedded in them. We swear on their printed version in the court of law.
In 1970, a somewhat strange story hit the media. Headlines told about a complex computer program used by NASA, to calculate planetary and lunar positions in the future and in the past. It appeared that the program was stuck at some point of the calculation – a problem that was interpreted by some as if a day was missing somewhere in the processing. Then (sparing you the gory details), a consultant named Harold Hill suggested that the missing day represented the time when Joshua made the Sun stand still (Joshua, chapter 10, verses 12-14). Some quick calculation done by the scientists indeed proved that the missing time matched the estimated delay of the Sun, as told by the Biblical story of Joshua!
This could have been a very exciting story, except for the minor issue that it never took place in real life. Still the tale became widespread, and even Mr. Hill himself – a real person – had an interesting time denying the world yet another myth.
It’s easy to believe when someone tells you what you want to hear. Carl Sagan wrote a lot about it in his wonderful book The Demon-Haunted World, where he made the distinction between science and pseudoscience.
We do not live in a dull world. There are plenty of interesting and exciting things to learn about it: From sub-atomic particles to pulsars and quasars, from chromosomes and genes to nerve cells and brains, from prime numbers to differential equations. It’s also quite all right to invent legends and tell myths – as long as we treat them as such.