Years ago, as a graduate student studying earthquakes, I developed an interesting hypothesis that connected earthquakes with perceived ghostly experiences (more on this below). I started to turn that idea into an unofficial research project that I hoped would give me the opportunity to do two things:
- I wanted to see if there really was a connection between earthquakes and ghostly encounters people were having.
- I wanted to use the paranormal as an opportunity to introduce people to real science, and I wanted to better clarify the limits of what we could understand with real science. I wanted to be a bridge between science and the paranormal.
I didn’t know how to get funding for the project, so I started it as a labor of love. It actually started to take off and I was even meeting and working with ghost hunters, when a couple of things happened. First, the site that had taken me so long to build got hacked. I fixed it, and then it got hacked again. Second, I got a job with “real” scientists. I was terrified of the impact on my career if “real” scientists found out I was doing anything related to the paranormal (even if my work would have established a new, “rational” explanation for paranormal events, and it would have been an amazing science-communication opportunity). And so, when I had the opportunity to take a job working with some of the most elite scientists in the world, I quit my ScienceGhost project. I quit out of fear that I wouldn’t be accepted.
I’d kept the URL though. There was clearly a part of me that always hoped I would come back to this. It’s who I am. I love the mysteries of the world. I want to be that bridge between what we understand fairly well and what still falls into the category of the unknown. I want to help non-scientists understand how science works, and I want to help scientists recognize the limitations of their work.
Long Covid was the wake-up call I needed. Recovering from that illness and all of my other chronic conditions took place far outside the realm of current scientific and medical dogma. I want to use this site to provide information for others who are desperate to be healthy, and who haven’t found sufficient help from either western or alternative medical models. I am now in awe of how the human body works, in awe of how my human body works. There’s so much we don’t understand, and I increasingly suspect many of our basic assumptions about health and biology may not be right. And so I also want to use this site to question everything we think we know about health and well being.
I feel like I’ve been hiding under a sheet for decades, but instead of spooking others, it’s me who’s been too spooked to share what I think and feel. It’s time to let go of fear and face the spook that’s been haunting me.
Earthquakes and ghosts
Eugene, Oregon, on a Thursday evening in January of 2000: I’d just returned to college from the merriment of festivities around the turn of the century. Classes would begin the following Monday, but for now, college students were partying every night they could. My roommates and I were at a house party when I found myself in the strangest predicament: I’d started reading the Harry Potter series, and I had the strangest urge to leave the party and go back home to read! (It should come as a surprise that I was about to get a degree in English.) I went home, but my roommates stayed at the party. I was alone the rest of the night, reading in bed, when all of a sudden, there was a tremendous thud hit my bedroom door. It sounded like someone had taken a running start down our hallway and charged at the door. But I was alone. And we lived in a house in the suburbs, so it wasn’t rowdy neighbors, though I did suddenly remember that the woman who had lived there before us had supposedly died in the house. I froze in fear, staring at the doorknob, waiting for it to turn. Nothing happened. Had it been my imagination? Had I gotten so involved in Harry Potter that I’d imagined something hitting my door? No! The mirror hanging on my door was still vibrating from the impact. I froze again. Still the doorknob didn’t move and I didn’t hear any footsteps. Finally, I got up and locked the bedroom door, not brave enough to confront something outside the door, and also 100% convinced there wasn’t a living thing on the other side of the door.
For years, I’d tell people this story, and they’d try to convince me there was a logical explanation for the event. I didn’t disagree, but I was frustrated by the number of people who didn’t have the slightest bit of curiosity about what that explanation might be. I was even more frustrated by the people who insisted I’d either imagined it or that I’d fallen asleep without realizing it and had just dreamed it. I didn’t know what had happened, but it was not in my head.
Fast forward about a decade, and I was studying earthquakes for my masters degree in Virginia Tech. Between my time in Eugene and my studies at VT, I’d also spent a few years in San Francisco, and I’d even been a historical tour guide in the city during the 100th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake. So I’d experienced a few smaller earthquakes, and I was terrified of being in SF if the Big One struck, but like most people, I thought of earthquakes as something that shook buildings. One day at VT, I was looking at a chart of what a person might experience for earthquakes of different magnitudes, and there it was: a magnitude 4 earthquake was described as feeling like a truck hit the building! Yes! I’d even experienced that exact sensation in a San Francisco building. A magnitude 4 earthquake struck the city, and I turned to my roommate asking if our building had just been hit by a truck, but she’d lived in the area her whole life and knew it was an earthquake.
But Eugene didn’t get earthquakes, did they? By then, I knew better than to think the answer to that was automatically no. I was studying intraplate earthquakes, which are earthquakes that occur within a tectonic plate, rather than between two plates interacting, and intraplate earthquakes can occur anywhere. I knew how to look up earthquakes, and the Eugene event had left such an impression on me that even years later, I still remembered when it occurred. I plugged in the location and time frame, and sure enough, a magnitude 4 earthquake had struck that night! It was far enough away to explain why my experience was more like a person charging the door, rather than a truck hitting a building, but there was my logical, non-imagined explanation.
For a while after that discovery, I thought more and more about low magnitude earthquakes and ghosts. Low magnitude earthquakes, especially around magnitude 3 are lower, aren’t typically felt by people, but they have other impacts. The earthquake waves travel at low frequencies, which are known to trigger feelings of dread and paranoia in people. Even though people don’t feel the earthquakes, animals can, and so dogs might bark or get scared and other animals might act weirdly. The right frequency could even do things like knock a picture off a wall or knock a glass over if it’s sitting a little precariously. All of these are classic signs of supposed hauntings. Moreover, many of the most “haunted” regions in the US Southeast are also the most seismically active–but they’re active with low-magnitude earthquakes, so most people aren’t aware the earthquakes are happening or even that they’re in a seismically active region.
I don’t think my earthquake theory accounts for all “ghostly” experiences that people have, but I do think that many supposed paranormal experiences may actually be the result of low-magnitude earthquakes, rather than the supernatural.