October 25, 2016

Do Ghosts Have Vocal Cords?

ghosts

If we were to completely remove someone's vocal cords, this person would cease to have a voice. If you do not have vocal cords, I cannot hear your voice. Nobody can. You can still communicate with me in a variety of ways (e.g., writing, using technology to convert text to computer-generated speech), but these methods do not involve what we all would have recognized as your voice. Without vocal cords, you no longer have a voice.

With me so far? Great. So here's the question: do ghosts, spirits, or any other sort of entities without physical bodies have vocal cords? If not, how are they producing the voice some think they hear? Many claim that these entities speak to them. How exactly is this happening?

I do not believe in ghosts, spirits, demons, angels, devils, or gods. In spite of what I routinely see on TV this time of year, I do not believe in the supernatural at all. There is insufficient evidence to support the claims of any entities existing outside of the natural world. It is not even clear whether someone inhabiting the natural world could collect evidence outside of nature. How would they do so? It is also not clear that it makes any sense to posit that entities existing outside of nature could communicate in any way with those of us inside the natural world.

Of course, some of those who believe in ghosts disagree with my characterization of them as supernatural. Some ghost believers think that ghosts very much inhabit the same world we do and that they are presumably made up of energy if not matter. After all, the entire ghost hunter phenomenon would not make much sense if one was truly convinced that these entities existed outside of nature. If they were completely outside our natural world, none of the contraptions designed to detect their presence would be able to do so.

If ghosts are natural beings that are part of the same natural world we inhabit, they are subject to the same laws that govern everything else in our natural world. And so, it makes sense to ask how they speak to us without vocal cords, how they appear and disappear in front of our eyes, how they move through solid objects without leaving a trace, and so on. If, on the other hand, ghosts are supernatural beings that exist outside of our natural world, then we might ask how they communicate with us in any way. If they cannot make vibrations in our world, we cannot hear their voice. Why is it any more plausible to assume that they communicate telepathically or by any other means?

Most religious believers, at least most Christians, take their god several steps beyond run-of-the-mill ghosts. For example, they often assert that their god is not only supernatural but that it exists outside of time and space. If this is an accurate characterization, it is no wonder that we have found no evidence supporting the existence of their god. It hardly seems reasonable to expect that we ever could find evidence of something so far removed from the reality we inhabit. This leaves us with an important question: is there really any difference between something that exists outside of nature, time, and space vs. something that does not exist at all? If there is a difference here, it is difficult to see how it is a meaningful one. I'm not sure we can distinguish an entity with these characteristics from one that does not exist.
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