Holy Ghost Train

When my husband was living in a northern woodland town, the young adults group went on a night adventure to see the Ghost Train.  The story told is that a train conductor rides a ghost train up and down the abandoned tracks holding a lantern.  He is looking for his decapitated head.  My husband appreciates a good campfire tale but was surprised that the young adults group actually believed it.

The group went out in the night into the woods until they got to the spot.  Sure enough, wavering lights appeared.

My husband’s first thought was that he could see lights from highway traffic.  However, many people, including scientists, had gone out on the nearby highways nearby to test this theory, but the roads were at too low an elevation for light to travel to the ghost sighting spot.  For most of the town’s residence that was proof that something supernatural had appeared.

Finally, two highschool girls set out to discover what was causing the mysterious intermittent lights.  Using topographical maps, compasses, a GPS and a flashlight, they determined the exact location of the light.  However, it seemed impossible.  There were no roads close to the direction of the light at the correct elevation.  There was a highway nearly 9 km that matched the exact trajectory but it was much too far to produce a light so big on its own.

That was their answer.  The highway was receiving other help to enlarge the lights.  Somehow the trees blocking the view from the highway to the Ghost Train viewing spot grew in the right places to produce diffraction.  This makes the small lights appear much bigger than they would otherwise be.

One of the girls was disappointed there was no supernatural explanation and said it wouldn’t be as much fun to see anymore.  The other was delighted- not that there was no supernatural explanation, but that the real reason was so fascinating: “If I had heard there’s this really neat phenomenon with light waves, I’d be more inclined to want to see it than a ghost train,” she said.


You can watch the phenomenon for yourself here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYlWGbm-OtY

The comments on the video are interesting. About half of the people refuse to believe that diffraction can cause lights nearly 9 km away to look so large, yet are quite happy to believe that a headless ghost rides on a removed train track or some similar story.

How similar to many aspects of religion.  There are blinking lights that are beautiful and seemingly impossible.  People see visions that come to pass.  People do get flashbacks of events they did not see.  People are healed.

Just because I do not understand these events does not mean I have to deny them.  I can just not understand them.  I am sure the real explanation is much more beautiful and awe-inspiring than anything religion has yet come up with.  The high school girls devoted a lot of time to their experiment.  They also had tools like maps and a GPS to help them navigate.  We may never develop the tools to measure what some people call spiritual consciousness and it will certainly take more time than this mystery.

I’m off the Holy Ghost Train, but that has added to the wonder and mystery of life.  Maybe one day we will have better explanations for the mysterious so-called supernatural phenomena.  Until then, I am content to not know and maybe discover that I am wrong about other headless ghost train stories in different disguises.

9 thoughts on “Holy Ghost Train

  1. D'Ma says:

    I’m definitely more in awe of the real explanations for things than I ever was the “Goddidit” explanation. I didn’t think it would be that way. I thought I’d lose my enthusiasm for learning. No way! I find things way more fascinating now. Natural processes are far more complicated and amazing than a magical being waving his hand.

  2. That’s a neat story. Thanks for sharing!

    They say magic tricks work because you are willing to suspend disbelief; to let yourself be tricked. I like the opposite approach you point out too, to suspend belief; just accept that you don’t know for now rather than jump to an unjustified conclusion.

  3. Cognitive Dissenter says:

    This story is such a perfect analogy for how people go through life. Many will come up with a supernatural explanation for things they cannot understand. Others will study mysterious phenomenon and discover the natural reasons for it. And even after the truth is revealed, still others will refuse to believe it, preferring instead to believe in their supernatural stories …

  4. Jon says:

    Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. The science of life and natural phenomena is fascinating stuff without having to make up reasons for it.

  5. Lorena says:

    Yeap! My husband is skeptical about everything. But, all things religion are true. You know, guiding stars, people rising from the dead… Ah, but he’s a Mensa member genius.

  6. David says:

    In the absence of a good explanation, people will often prefer a bad one to none at all. Then they’ll hold on to it even when the good explanation arrives.

  7. David says:

    Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it too? – Douglas Adams

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