A friend emailed me an article about a "ghost photograph" and asked what I made of it. Here is the photo:
And the article's description:
This intriguing photo, taken in 1919, was first published in 1975 by Sir Victor Goddard, a retired R.A.F. officer. The photo is a group portrait of Goddard's squadron, which had served in World War I at the HMS Daedalus training facility. An extra ghostly face appears in the photo. In back of the airman positioned on the top row, fourth from the left, can clearly be seen the face of another man. It is said to be the face of Freddy Jackson, an air mechanic who had been accidentally killed by an airplane propeller two days earlier. His funeral had taken place on the day this photograph was snapped. Members of the squadron easily recognized the face as Jackson's. It has been suggested that Jackson, unaware of his death, decided to show up for the group photo.The photo might represent a genuine ghostly appearance. As evidence for discarnate survival, however, I believe it is of no value.
I enlarged the picture as much as I could on my screen and couldn't see any resemblance between the fuzzy image and the inset photo of the living Freddy Jackson. That, however, is beside the point concerning validity.
1. That the number of (living) squadron members who posed for the picture was definitely known at the time -- not from RAF records or long-ago memories. And, of course, that there was one extra person in the shot.
2. That the members of the squadron, or a large majority of them, recognized their deceased mechanic spontaneously, with no leading questions of the "Do you notice anything strange about this picture?" type.
3. Unlikeliest of all: That the airmen who claimed to recognize Jackson did so independently of one another, and were not influenced by anyone else's perception.
Alleged ghost photographs are one of the least convincing arguments for life after death. They rank far below mediumistic communications and dreams in which people who have passed on deliver meaningful information. Past life regression memories and apparent cases of reincarnation have their problems too, but even they are more acceptable.
Digital photographs can be manipulated to show anything at all. But even film and plates in earlier eras could produce double exposures, on purpose or by accident. I'm not saying all the pictures are deliberate hoaxes, but they lack what lawyers call prima facie validity.
Purported spirits lurking in the images always seem wispy and vague. Consider the best case, the famous picture from Raynham Hall, England, often called the most impressive ever taken:
One reason the photo has received a degree of respect is that its provenance is clear. It was taken by one of a pair of professional photographers on assignment from Country Life magazine in 1936. While not impossible, it seems unlikely that two photographers hired by the ritzy magazine for Britain's carriage trade would risk their reputations and livelihoods for the sake of a trick.
Even the Raynham Hall ghost photo -- best of breed, maybe, but still ambiguous -- is famous mainly because it is so much more convincing than the vast majority of others, which offer endless variations on cloudy, translucent shapes.
Yet accounts from people who have seen ghosts describe a remarkable variety of appearances. By no means were the apparitions all diaphanous. Many are said to have been fairly solid, although sometimes only part of a figure was visible. Now and then, it is claimed, the visitor from beyond looked just as real as a living person, even though their clothing may have been from an earlier period.
Why do alleged ghost photos pick up only see-through blobs? There is the telepathy theory, advanced most famously by G.N.M. Tyrrell. He suggested that people don't really "see" ghosts -- they pick up a psychic impression, which the mind converts into something relatively conventional, and visible. I find his theory ingenious but too clever by half. Regardless, if true, how does the camera record mental impressions?
One more thing. Despite the widespread popular notion that ghosts are spirits from the Other Side, many mediums and occultists say that they are not the formerly living people. They are described as "astral shells," a sort of semi-material equivalent of the dead material body, left behind as the actual spirit or soul moves on to realms of a higher vibration. It is also theorized that ghosts are psychic impressions left in certain locations by past inhabitants, and usually connected with intense emotions. This could explain why so many ghosts are claimed to have been murdered or victimized (as the lady of Raynham Hall was).
The astral-shell and psychic-impression theories are supported by the fact that haunting ghosts seem alive only in that they can move. They rarely interact with or even notice observers. Their appearances and actions are repetitious, scarcely evoking a hint of consciousness.
Interestingly, the spirits that not infrequently interact with the living aren't visible at all. Those are poltergeists, who like to make noises and throw objects around. They don't speak but often respond to questions or requests. Some seem like naughty but basically innocent children; a few are clearly malevolent. For one of the best accounts of the latter, see Guy Lyon Playfair's This House Is Haunted.