ParanormalSkepticism

The Haunted Bathroom

We just moved into an old house, built in 1920, and of course the first questions our friends and family asked were “Has anyone died there? Is it haunted?”

I don’t know whether anyone has died here. It’s a 90-year-old house, so it’s not entirely unlikely, I suppose, but I have always wondered why ghosts seem so attached to houses. You never hear about them haunting the deodorant aisle at Walgreen’s or levitating the pen on a chain at the bank.

People don’t generally die in these places, of course, but I don’t think that’s the real reason. Houses are simply spookier to begin with. The fluorescent lighting in a drugstore and the sterile cubicles at a bank just aren’t all that creepy.

The only places that are believed to be haunted are those that have the right atmosphere to begin with. Funny how that works.

We also spend a lot of time in our houses, particularly at night, when, as everyone knows, ghosts like to party. So I wasn’t surprised by our first ghostly encounter, although it didn’t fit the usual M.O. of footsteps, slamming doors, or glimpses of figures. No, our ghost apparently goes around terrifying everyone by (I hope you’re not reading this in a house alone) . . .

flushing the toilet.

Yep. We apparently have a ghost with irritable bowel syndrome.

But I don’t believe in ghosts, primarily because after thousands of years of people dying, you’d think we’d have some shred of irrefutable evidence. In fact, we should have mounds of evidence. People die all the time!

Instead, all we have is anecdote: people describing their own experiences and interpreting them according to their beliefs—beliefs that include ghosts. This is called confirmation bias, and we all do it, no matter how skeptical we are. We tend to interpret the world around us according to what we believe to be true.

To give a simple example, if you think your friend is angry with you, and that friend doesn’t call or text for a while, you are likely to interpret the silence as confirmation of your belief, even if the real explanation is that she’s busy, or sick, or drove off after forgetting her phone on the roof of her car. (Not that this has ever happened to me. Totally hypothetical.)

Anyway, this is but one reason why anecdotal evidence is not reliable for determining whether something is true, yet this is the most common evidence cited for belief in ghosts—personal experience. A good starting point for investigating further, but never a good stopping point for drawing a conclusion.

Still, I can relate to people who believe in ghosts. Even after I stopped believing in God, I believed in ghosts for a long time. I think this was primarily because I wanted to, which may sound weird. Why would I want to believe in something that scared me?

Because the existence of ghosts meant that we lived beyond this life. I no longer believed in heaven or hell, but I desperately wanted to believe in some kind of afterlife. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want the people I loved to die. The idea of death being the end—nothing more, we’re gone—was a concept I struggled with for years. I still struggle with it at times. I think most of us do.

But wanting something to be true isn’t a reason to believe it is.

It turns out that our ghost is really just old, quirky plumbing. Not as exciting as having a spirit living with us, but it’s nice to be able to stay in the house alone at night without fear. And we really don’t need another person sharing the bathroom.

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Melanie Mallon

Melanie Mallon

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer who just moved to a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband and two young kids. When not counting how often the words "pride," "liberty," and "freedom" are used in local business, road, and pet names, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and raising her two kids to be critical thinkers. She is the managing editor of Skepchick Events, a Grounded Parents admin, and a Skepchick contributor. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Google+

3 Comments

  1. April 5, 2011 at 8:00 pm —

    i used to work the overnight shift once a week at a radio station during college. i was always exhausted because i would be at school all day, then the studio all night. during that shift, i had to go down to the basement studio to record commercials. i swear to all that is good and holy that i saw the ghost of a leprechaun, complete with a shamrock in his top hat. how did i know he was a ghost and not a *real* leprechaun, you may ask? he was black and white.

    true story.

  2. April 5, 2011 at 9:56 pm —

    Ha ha ha! Was he murdered at the radio station by someone who wanted his pot of gold?

  3. April 6, 2011 at 10:34 am —

    i like to think that the studio is built on an ancient leprechaun burial ground.

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