The scientific reason why some of us see ghosts

It’s that time of year when thoughts naturally turn to stories of boogeymen, lost souls, wandering spirits, haunted houses, and other unexplained phenomena.

There’s actually a growing body of scientific research into these kinds of “paranormal” activities and perceptions. In fact, parapsychological researchers at reputable institutions around the globe—and even within the U.S. armed forces—now study these phenomena and the people who perceive them.

So, today, with the big election coming up, I’m sharing with you a passage from my book with Mike Jawer, The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion. It recounts some little-known, but fascinating stories about ghosts in the White House:

Ghost stories are as old as the hills and cover the gamut from prince to pauper. Here is one I came across quite by accident. It is taken from a reminiscence by Christopher Buckley, a former speechwriter in the Reagan White House who now satirizes politics through his novels. Buckley relates that, in 1983, he had the privilege of dining with the president and two royal princesses visiting from abroad. Discussion at one point turned to the Prince of Wales Room, where, in 1865, a partial autopsy and embalming were performed on the martyred President Lincoln.

Buckley writes: “…Reagan turned to one of the princesses and remarked that his…spaniel, Rex, would begin barking furiously whenever he came into this room. There was no explaining it, Reagan said. Then he told about Lincoln and suddenly the president of the United States and the two princesses began swapping ghost stories and I was left openmouthed…”

Like many other history-laden buildings, the White House has long been rumored to be a haunted locale. Lincoln’s ghost has reportedly been sighted (and nebulously felt) often…No less a pragmatist than Harry Truman wrote to his wife, “I sit here in this old house, all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway. At 4 o’clock I was awakened by three distinct knocks on my bedroom door. No one there. Damned place is haunted, sure as shootin’!”

Over the years, Lincoln’s presence (or some type of presence, at any rate) has also been remarked on by residents ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt and Ladybird Johnson to presidential daughters Susan Ford and Maureen Reagan; as well as by notable guests such as Winston Churchill and Carl Sandburg. So, clearly, apparitions and other strange phenomena are not merely the province of the ignorant, the backward and the lame.

Mindful, perhaps, of this aspect of the building’s reputation, the [Bush] White House marked Halloween 2003 by adding a page to its website featuring an interview with its longtime chief usher, Gary Walters, concerning some of the strange phenomena that staff members there have been privy to. In a video clip showing him to be entirely sincere (since taken down by the Obama administration), Walters gave a firsthand example:

“I was standing at the state floor….The [two] police officers and I felt a cool rush of air pass between us and then two doors that stand open closed by themselves. I have never seen these doors move before without someone specifically closing them by hand. It was quite remarkable.”

It is often said that ghosts represent the spirit of someone who still had something to do in this life, who had an unresolved purpose (or perhaps a lingering regret), and who is either unaware of being deceased or unwilling to depart from earthly existence. Such superstitions, I posit, are not far from the truth—but the truth lies in the biochemistry of the brain and the body, and in the emotional energy retained in our being. I will state my concept again: that the frozen energy of the stress reaction, combined with issues or preoccupations held in the brain, can generate the phenomena we know of as ghosts, poltergeists, and similar haunts.

Mind-body explanation for sensing ghosts

Most Americans report having seen or felt a ghost or spirit in their lifetime. And it turns out, there may be a genuine mind-body foundation for this kind of mysterious perception. In fact, some people seem to have a greater sensitivity to “feeling” or “sensing” such supernatural phenomena, based on how their brains process emotions.

These same emotional sensitivities also determine the kinds of chronic medical conditions to which you may be more susceptible—and help determine which kinds of mind-body therapies will work best for you.

I’ll tell you more about these emotional sensitivities in tomorrow’s Daily Dispatch. So, as always, stay tuned!

In the meantime, you can learn more about how your emotional type may impact your health by checking out my book with Mike Jawer, Your Emotional Type.


Jawer, M.A. & Micozzi, M.S. (2009). The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion. Park Street Press.