When I was teaching English in Hawaii, one of my students told me she saw ghosts almost every day. I asked if there were any ghosts in the room at the time. She examined the classroom for a moment and said there weren’t.

This incited a debate among the class about the existence of ghosts and why some people see them and others don’t. Personally, I’ve never seen a ghost. According to my students, only true believes of apparitions can see them. At the time, I didn’t buy into that theory. Now I think there may be a lot of truth to it.

In psychology, they refer to this as Subjective Validation. We see what we expect to see. In other words, we interpret the world according to our personal belief system.

We all have a bias toward our own beliefs. Once we accept something as a fact, we start filtering information, looking for things that validate our belief and ignoring everything that disproves it. As adults, we’re not looking for new ways to interpret the world. We merely interpret our experiences in ways that validate what we already know, or at least what we think we know. We become selective in what we see and hear to a point that we’re blind to anything of the contrary. Hence, selective validation.

Often, as I sit at my computer, working on a story, I catch glimpses of movement out of the corner of my eye. When I turn, I find nothing there. My personal explanation is that my eyes are fatigued and I’m merely seeing spots. However, I know people who contribute such images to spirits, claiming they are easier to see with our peripheral vision and when we’re not actually looking for them. Thus, our belief, or lack of belief, in ghosts influences how we interpret the experience.

Sleep Paralysis

A prime example of this occurs with sleep paralysis. In this state, your body is asleep while your mind is partially awake. Thus, you’re mentally aware for the most part, but are unable to move. It’s often accompanied by vivid hallucinations and an ominous feeling that there’s a presence or entity in the room with you. This is something I’ve experience many times and it can be frightening, especially if you don’t know what’s happening to you. When I was a kid, it used to terrify me. Now that I know what is happening to me, it’s much less frightening but still very unpleasant.

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The psychological significance of sleep paralysis isn’t the experience itself, but rather how people interpret the experience. In ancient times, people believed they were being attacked by witches. Others claimed they were being possessed by demons. This used to be my interpretation, especially after seeing the Exorcist. I believed the devil was trying to take possession of my body.

Many experts believe that sleep paralysis accounts for most stories of alien abductions. In today’s space age society, people no longer see witches or demons while in this state between sleep and wakefulness. Instead, the presence in room has become a terrestrial being performing experiments on them.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis? What was your interpretation of it? Can you think of other examples of selective validation? And, here’s an interesting thought, are people seeing ghosts because they’ve been indoctrinated to believe in them or am I not seeing ghosts because I’ve been indoctrinated to believe they don’t exist?