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The Science of Ghosts: Searching for Spirits of the Dead Paperback – June 26, 2012

2.7 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Winner of the 2013 Robert Balles Prize for Critical Thinking!

"This is it—the definitive book on ghosts from a scientific perspective, written by the world's foremost science-based ghost hunter. Nickell is the go-to guy for all things paranormal, and with this book he has once again asserted himself as a fair and careful investigator whose conclusions we can trust."
—Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and author of The Believing Brain

"In [this] important new book Joe Nickell-the premier skeptical paranormal investigator alive today-explains his expert techniques while presenting various paranormal cases, looking at the actual evidence for the existence of such spirit beings. This is a book that everyone interested in ghostly evidence for the afterlife-believer and skeptic alike-will benefit from reading."
—D. J. Grothe, president, James Randi Educational Foundation

"[Nickell is] the epitome of [a] skeptical investigator...coming to a subject without prejudgment but with an honest desire to find the truth...." 
—Kendrick Frazier, editor, Skeptical Inquirer

"[The Science of Ghosts] will find a home in science and new age collections alike, and considers the actual evidence surrounding psychic contacts with 'the other side… a balanced assessment of the evidence for ghosts and hauntings."
The Bookwatch

"Filled with case studies, this book will interest other fans of ghostly affairs academia."
—Bookviews by Alan Caruba

"This is a well thought out, intelligently written book."
City Book Review

About the Author

Joe Nickell (Amherst, NY) has been called "the modern Sherlock Holmes" and "the real-life Scully" (from The X-Files). He has been on the trail of mysterious creatures and phenomena for four decades. Since 1995 he has been the world's only full-time, professional, science-based paranormal investigator. His careful, often-innovative investigations have won him international respect in a field charged with controversy. He is the author of numerous books, including most recently Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More and Real or Fake? Studies in Authentication and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation. See www.joenickell.com for more.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 412 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (June 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616145854
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616145859
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
From the amount of repetition of terms and definitions, I assume this is a collection of articles slapped together to make a book, which I find a little annoying. The parenthetical notes at the end of sentence after sentence, listing sources, etc, are like speed bumps and a bit distracting. In spite of these few minor gripes, I still found the material itself quite interesting and engaging. The author states from the start that when he makes an investigation into a claim, he's going to go with the simplest explanations requiring the least amount of assumptions, (Occam's razor). Some see this as having the intent to debunk and dismiss, but in reality it's simply to find a solution to a mystery. Were the solution actual proof of the paranormal, so be it. But this has yet to be the case.

One interesting thing brought up that I never really thought about myself- why exactly do ghosts wear clothing? Aren't they existing in a different plane of 'spiritual' existence? How then did non-spiritual, material items 'pass on' along with them?

Other, probably even better scientifically based paranormal books exist, (I have two in mind to read), but this book I believe is the only one dealing solely with ghosts/spiritualism. Recommended if the interest in the subject is there.
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Format: Paperback
It's rare for me to read a book and find that I agree almost entirely with the author's conclusions, but yet find the book very unsatisfying. There are several reasons for this.

First, the book tries to cover too much ground. Dozens of cases are discussed, but most in such minimal detail that there's no sense of the scope of the investigation. This is made doubly irritating by the plethora of references to earlier works, many of them by the author, which presumably (I haven't read any of Mr. Nickell's other books) do deal with cases in greater detail. This book reads more like 'The best of Joe Nickell' in which the author cherry-picks his own favorite past cases and gives a few highlights.

Second, there is very little actual science in the book. I appreciate that it is extremely difficult in some cases to prove a negative, but Mr. Nickell offers up various terms as though they are explanations in themselves. To go through some of them: Occam's razor (the simplest answer is most likely to be right) is merely a study in probabilities, not an answer to anything. Extremely simple answers have proven to be wrong- creationism is simple, evolution is extremely complex, but evolution is what actually happened. Arguing through ignorance is a logical issue, not a scientific proposition. Even if someone is arguing through ignorance they might still be right- because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. Waking dreams and fantasy-prone individuals just increase the number of possibilities; indeed, unless it can be proven (and this book doesn't do it) that the purported paranormal experience was a waking dream or the result of a fantasy, suggesting that either of these are the explanation is actually arguing through ignorance.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Everyone interested in the paranormal should have at least one book by Nickell. He quickly puts to rest all the ridiculous efforts of television ghost hunters, if we were gullible enough to believe them in the first place. This is a competent work, well documented. Anyone looking for sensationalism will be disappointed, Those looking for rational truth should be satisfied.
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Format: Paperback
The description says "Taking neither a credulous nor a dismissive approach, this first-of-its-kind book..." Yet "dismissive" is exactly the word I would use to describe Nickell's writing. I am curious about the subjects he writes, but I neither believe nor disbelieve, as I have not seen enough evidence in either direction. Nickell's cannot demonstrate anything that definitively supports his views, so he embellishes stories to try an explain away what others report seeing. He does exactly what he insists paranormal researchers do, but at the opposite end of the scale.
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Format: Paperback
What I was looking for was hard science. What I got was a self-important author, casually dismissing cases with 3 or 4 pat "answers" over and over, ad nauseam. There's little investigation, for the most part he just recounts a ghost story and then dismisses it as a dream, a waking dream, a day dream, etc. Honestly, this 350 plus page book could have been a 20 page pamphlet, considering how often the author repeats himself.

Occasionally he does find a good scientific answer, such as the discovery of an adjacent iron staircase to the MacKenzie house used by cleaning crews at night. I wanted more of those, but they were few and far between. I can't recommend this book to anyone.
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Format: Kindle Edition
When I purchased Joe Nickell’s The Science of Ghosts, I had no knowledge of the author or his previous body of work. I've since learned that Nickell is a well-known skeptic who’s published several books covering everything from apparitions to UFOs. He also writes for the Skeptical Inquirer.

In The Science of Ghosts, Nickell dismisses mediums and psychics, as well as various paranormal phenomenon like premonitions, spirit photography, and automatic writing. He also examines, and debunks, several famous hauntings which is what I found most interesting.

Nickell offers a variety of explanations for so-called ghostly experiences. For example, he argues that bedside apparitions are the product of “waking dreams” and that spirits seen during waking hours are mental images briefly projected from the subconscious mind. Other experiences, he argues, can easily be attributed to hallucinations, misperceptions, pranks, or flat-out trickery.

In The Science of Ghosts, Nickell also notes the human propensity to exaggerate or invent spooky stories. He cites several legends in which a tragic figure is said to haunt a castle, lighthouse, or old mansion despite no evidence of the person’s existence or the events said to befall them. All it takes is a creepy legend and the power of suggestion, Nickell says, for people to start seeing ghosts.

On the whole, I enjoyed Nickell’s book even though he refutes the existence of ghosts and refers to paranormal bloggers like myself as “credulous ghost mongers.” Nickell’s arguments raise a lot of interesting points even if they do take the fun out of spooky tales.
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