Saturday, October 27, 2007

Headless white ladies in haunted dorms, elevators

“It is when pain is almost unendurable that I remember what my mother instilled in me: a belief not so much in ghosts but in the limitlessness of love. And then I know how love releases hope, how hope transforms the unknowable, the intangible into something you can grasp and hold close to your heart.” – Amy Tan

It seems to take forever for the elevator to go down. You glance around the mirrored walls and realize that you are not alone. You thought it was only your reflection. The tingling sensation, an icy breath on the back of your neck, travels down your spine as the headless woman in a long white gown grabs your throat. You have no time to scream.

It’s that time of year again when tales of headless white ladies in empty elevators and darkened corridors, of strange smells and of hallow voices, creep into our dreams in the dead of night. It’s the time of year when ghost stories capture our imagination, if not our lives. It’s the time of year when fact competes with fiction on the front pages of national dailies, in radio programs and television shows.

It’s the time of year when we defy the economic and social divide to enjoy the richness of our culture, our tradition and beliefs, many of which were handed to us by our dear departed great, great grandparents. It’s the time of year when we relive our childhood to enjoy a good old tale.

In the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, ghost stories are not just tales. Students, guards and residents all claim to have at least one creepy encounter with the “other kind.” People in this leading intellectual hive easily point to buildings and sites where beautiful white ladies fly and headless priests reveal themselves.

“It’s real. We even watch ghosts play the piano at the College of Music,” said a security guard who refused to be named. He claimed to have seen “apparitions” in other buildings and dormitories.

“I haven’t seen one. But I acknowledge their presence,” said a head of one dormitory for ladies. She said she heard “strange incidents” happening in the campus, but she refused to investigate its veracity.

University campuses have become a favorite source of reports of ghost sightings and apparitions. A lot of stories involve stressed-out students who ended their lives. In one university, a ghost of a student, who supposedly killed herself during the exam week, can be heard sobbing. She has been “spotted” peering from a dormitory window, pleading for help from passersby.

Seeking revenge

If some ghosts just want to have fun, the spirits who supposedly dwell at the old Film Center in Manila want justice from the Marcoses.

“They really want justice from the family of the Marcoses,” Jocelyn Buenafe, a teacher and real-life Filipino ghostbuster, told reporters a few years ago. Buenafe and some 40 members of a group that calls itself Questors held a seance in the deserted building to contact the spirits of workers who died there in an accident in 1981.

A still undetermined number of workers died when scaffolding came crashing down on November 17 that year while work was being done to complete the building in time for the Manila International Film Festival, a pet project of then first lady Imelda Marcos. Several bodies were not recovered. The bodies were simply entombed in cement and work on the building continued.

The Questors attempted to contact the dead to give the spirits some peace, for them to move on “to a higher level.” One of the group’s objectives is to teach the ghosts forgiveness. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have came back from the dead to say if they have finally forgiven the Marcoses.

Are ghosts for real?

People believe in physics or mathematics because proof exists, but in parapsychology, a field that studies things beyond the common experiences of people, evidence is less tangible, so people tend to refuse to believe. Those who believe are thought to have a very particular strong faith.

The experts in the field of parapsychology are scientists who have made a career out of studying abnormal things or strange occurrences, things that cannot be explained in the normal way.

One of these experts in the Philippines is Jaime Licauco. He believes that there already exists a consciousness around the globe of the “Spirit World.” He said: “In every turn of a millennium there is always a surge of spiritualization to prepare for the next generation and for the coming change.”

Licauco claimed that there are evidence to prove the existence of ghosts. There are even countries that have developed machines to detect ghosts, he said.

Ghosts vs apparitions

Javier Martin, an American author, wrote that ghosts and apparitions are not the same. He said apparitions have a much broader definition and application than ghosts.

Ghosts are strictly defined as “visual apparitions of a deceased human being and the term implies that this is the spirit of the person it represents,” while an apparition refers to anything that appears, especially something startling. “It is an aspect of the individual’s existence that survives bodily death.”

All apparitions don’t take the form of visual images. They can manifest themselves as animals and inanimate objects like voices, sounds, even smells. But the most common apparitions are ghosts, that is, human apparitions, Martin wrote.

The belief that identifies an apparition with the spirit of the creature it represents is directly traceable to the ancient and still prevalent doctrine of animism. Animism is the belief that “natural objects and phenomena possess souls or consciousness.”

Primitive man believed that when a man is asleep or in a trance, his soul is temporarily absent. A man’s death is explained by its total absence. The apparition of a deceased person would imply the continuance of the soul’s existence beyond the grave.

In his paper titled “Are Ghosts for Real?” Martin said the custom of closing the eyes of the dead is said to have arisen out of the fear that the ghost would find its way home again.

Among primitive races, the survivors do not mention the names of the departed. Any among them with the same name changes it for another because the name of the person appears to be related to the soul, wrote Martin.

Church view

“Spiritism” is the name properly given to the belief that living beings can and do communicate with the spirits of the departed, and to the various practices by which such communication is attempted.

The Catholic Encyclopedia warns that “spiritism” should be carefully distinguished from “spiritualism,” the philosophical doctrine which holds, in general, that there is a spiritual order of beings no less real than the material and, in particular, that the soul of man is a spiritual substance.

As “spiritism” in the ancient times has been closely allied with the practices of “animal magnetism” and hypnotism, these phenomena have been treated under the same general heading in the discussions of Catholic theologians and in the decisions of the ecclesiastical authority.

The Congregation of the Inquisition on June 25, 1840, decreed: “Where all error, sorcery, and invocation of the demon, implicit or explicit, is excluded, the mere use of physical means which are otherwise lawful, is not morally forbidden, provided it does not aim at unlawful or evil results.

"But the application of purely physical principles and means to things or effects that are really supernatural, in order to explain these on physical grounds, is nothing else than unlawful and heretical deception.”

This decision was reiterated on July 28, 1847, and a further decree was issued on July 30, 1856, which, after mentioning discourses about religion, evocation of departed spirits and “other superstitious practices” of spiritism, exhorts the bishops to put forth every effort for the suppression of these abuses “in order that the flock of the Lord may be protected against the enemy, the deposit of faith safeguarded, and the faithful preserved from moral corruption.”

Detecting ghosts

In modern times machines have supposedly been developed to detect or contact ghosts. People who are “gifted” with the “third eye” can see ghosts. The third eye is supposedly identified with a small gland in the center of the brain which is the seat of human intuition.

There are academic theories of what ghosts (if they indeed exist) are. Some people believe that ghosts are the residual energy left behind by an emotionally strong person or event. This theory holds that more energy/electrical impulses are expended during periods of high stress or excitement, and that the energy lingers for a long time.

Freud thought that ghosts are actually the visions of people who are afraid of death. In this sense, ghosts would not be real at all but rather a projection of our subconscious mind.

Some people maintain the theory that ghosts are telepathic images, that is, a sensitive person would pick up past vibrations from the area they were in and witness an event or person as it appeared many years ago.

They believe that the telepathic images theory would also explain instances when a person sees a loved one at or near the moment of his or her death because the loved one could be unconsciously projecting his or her thoughts to a receptive person.

Ghosts might also be the result of time slips, if time is nonlinear. An event that happened in the past might be seen briefly in our time because of a fluctuation in time or space.

Bestselling author Amy Tan, however, puts her belief in ghosts this way: “Like many people, I have had times in my life when I desperately wanted to see once again a friend or family member who had passed from life too soon and gone to that favorite spot in the sky. At those moments, I have had to trust that our existence doesn’t end with the last breath and heartbeat.

"What are ghosts if not the hope that love continues beyond our ordinary senses? What is the supernatural if not the irrefutable proof that suffering is not meaningless, that luck, both bad and good, occurs for a reason?”

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Nobel season and more

It's the season of the Nobel prizes.

Doris Lessing was unexpected. I haven't even read a single book of hers.

Al Gore's win was timely. Other than Greenpeace and the hundreds of environment groups, nobody seems to articulate the need to save the world more than Gore.

If only the "mechanism design theory" of Leonid Hurwicz, Eric S. Maskin and Roger B. Myerson would save me from debts, then they deserve the Nobel prize in economics. Who knows?

Then there's Gerhard Ertl of Germany. How could one spend one's life studying chemical processes on solid surfaces. His research supposedly advanced the understanding of why the ozone layer is thinning.

Albert Fert and Peter Gruenberg discovered a physical effect that led to sensitive tools for reading the information stored on hard disks. That sensitivity lets the electronics industry use smaller and smaller disks.

Thanks, Albert, Pete. I still dream of having a 10 gig flash drive.

Then there's Mario R. Capecchi, Oliver Smithies and Sir Martin J. Evans who won the 2007 Nobel in medicine for groundbreaking discoveries that led to a technique for manipulating mouse genes.

Does a mouse have a soul? Oh, well...

What led me to write this entry was Capecchi's story. Do you know that this year's Nobel winner for medicine started as a homeless Italian street kid who never took a bath from when he was four years old until he was nine?

Here's Mario's story from wikipedia:

Mario Capecchi was born in the Italian city of Verona in 1937 to Luciano Capecchi, an Italian airman who would be later reported as missing in action while manning an anti-aircraft gun in Libya, and Lucy Ramberg, an American-born daughter of Impressionist painter Lucy Dodd Ramberg and German archaeologist Walter Ramberg.

During World War II, his mother was sent to the Dachau concentration camp as punishment for pamphleteering and belonging to an anti-Fascist group. Prior to her arrest, she had already made contingency plans by selling her belongings and giving the proceeds to an agricultural family near Bolzano to provide housing for her son. However, after one year, the money had been completely depleted and the family was unable to care for him.

The four-and-a-half year old was left to fend for himself on the streets of northern Italy for the next four years, living in various orphanages and roving through towns with other groups of homeless children.

He almost died of malnutrition. His mother, meanwhile, had been freed from Dachau due to the arrival of the United States military and she began a year-long search for her son. She finally found him in a hospital bed in Reggio Emilia, ill with a fever and subsisting on a daily bowl of chicory coffee and bread crust. She took him to Rome, where he had his first bath in six years.

In 1946 his uncle, Edward Ramberg, an American physicist at RCA, sent his mother money to return to the United States. He and his mother moved to Pennsylvania to live at a Quaker commune called Bryn Gweled, which had been co-founded by his uncle. (Capecchi's other maternal uncle, Walter Ramberg, was also an American physicist who served as the tenth president of the Society for Experimental Stress Analysis. He graduated from George School, a Quaker boarding school in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1956.

Mario Capecchi received his B.S. in chemistry and physics in 1961 from Antioch College in Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in biophysics in 1967 from Harvard University with a doctoral thesis under the tutelage of James D. Watson. Capecchi was a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University from 1967 to 1969. In 1969 he became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at Harvard School of Medicine. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1971. In 1973 he joined the faculty at the University of Utah. Since 1988 Capecchi has also been an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He has taught for Duke University's Program in Genetics and Genomics.


Congratulations to Claire Sy-Delfin, winner of this year's Global Media Awards for 2007, Individual Reporting Category, for her story published on GMANews.TV titled "The forbidden games children play."

Claire will receive her award in Washington DC during the first week of December. Al Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth" won as best documentary in the same Awards last year. Congrats, day. I'm proud of you! Pasalamat ka kay gi-edit nako, ha,ha, ha, ha.