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poofandmook's avatar

If ghosts aren't real, where does the energy go from someone who has passed away?

Asked by poofandmook (17272points) May 5th, 2010

I am not a scientist. At all. I claim to know nothing about science past the fact that caterpillars turn into butterflies and that fat floats to the top.

But I have always liked the idea of ghosts. So a few weeks ago I was reading a book.. just fiction.. and in it was a character who majored in paranormal research or something, and I can’t remember verbatim, but in the book he explained that “ghosts” are just energy; energy can’t just disappear or be destroyed so when someone passes on, their energy has to become something else.

As a science-stupid person, that sounds logical to me. For you science geniuses and non-believers, can you elaborate on why it is or isn’t horsehockey?

I think there was more of an explanation… I am trying to dig through the book a little but I’m at work

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62 Answers

OpryLeigh's avatar

This is something I have always wondered myself. I’m going to hang around and see what other people have to say.

JeffVader's avatar

I think you need to specify exactly what energy you mean before this can be answered…

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

Didn’t you see the Lion King?

When we die, our bodies are decomposed, and the energy is transferred to other organisms (microbes, fungi, plants, etc., etc., etc.,).

poofandmook's avatar

@jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities: right, and didn’t The Lion King say something about spirits being all around us? ;)

@JeffVader: I don’t remember there being a mention of specific energy; like I said it was just a passing thing in a non-related story. But I am still looking for it.

jazmina88's avatar

i saw a man die once and his spirit left him and went up to the corner of the room, a green energy.

majorrich's avatar

My faith tells me my soul goes to a great waiting room awaiting entry into heaven. The energy that makes up my physical body will be expended when they cremate me and my ashes will sweeten (or defile depending on what you think of me) the soil when I am consigned to the earth.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

The energy, along with the matter, is absorbed by insects, worms, and all manner of little critters that decompose your body, and recycle it back into the earth.

poofandmook's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies: Well, yes, sometimes. But is there any scientific proof that sometimes it doesn’t do that? That sometimes it becomes something else?

wundayatta's avatar

As soon as the lungs stop and no more oxygen is coming in and the heart stops so no blood is moving around the body, cells start dying, because they no longer have the fuel necessary for operation (most of the energy needed is derived from food). With cells no longer working, no more heat is produced. The energy in the body, mostly in the form of heat, then slowly transfers out to other things around it—usually the air.

Live cells are required in order for thinking to occur. Again, when brain cells die, they stop passing signals around the brain and the body. It’s like no one is minding the store, so everything else stops, too—heart, lungs, etc. More cells die, and slowly lose heat. Well, they can quickly lose heat if you’re drowning in water around the North Pole.

Anyway, no energy for cells, no electricity for thinking, etc and you no longer have a human being. You just have a bunch of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen (mostly) losing it’s organization. So no more person.

I’m not sure what kind of organized energy the character in your book was labeling as a ghost. All I know is that no one has ever proposed a hypothesis describing the traits of a ghost that has been supported by any evidence. I’m sure if someone were trying to measure some kind of “energy,” we’d have a detector that could measure that much energy. I mean, we can detect the smallest of quarks.

It is possible that there is organized energy out there (ghosts) that we have never detected or somehow become aware of. However, we generally do not consider unreproducible evidence (a person’s personal experience) to be helpful in science. In science, our standard for evidence is, among other things, it must be reproducible. That is, an independent researcher can duplicate your finding.

Thus there is no scientific evidence for magical things. There is only people’s individual experience. And, as we all know, people experience things that aren’t there all the time. Ghosts may exist. Unicorns may exist. Invisible pink dragons may exist. No one can tell you for sure they don’t. But there also isn’t a shred of scientific evidence for any of those things. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to operate using knowledge that has good evidence to support it.

poofandmook's avatar

@wundayatta: In the book they used… oh goodness I can’t remember what they’re called… two rods they held in front of them that reacted to a pocket of energy. Or is that too pedestrian to count as any kind of measuring device?

syz's avatar

@poofandmook It’s considered fiction for a reason. (And it sounds as if that idea was stolen from this)

Rarebear's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Hit it exactly. I was going to write pretty much exactly the same thing.

poofandmook's avatar

@syz: Oh, I know that. But to me, it sounded like a plausible explanation. And there are people who make a living off studying and investigating the paranormal, so there are lots of people who believe the same thing. She probably did some research with someone in that field of study to get that part.

Cruiser's avatar

I think it is possible in that a “memory” or mirror image of the energy pattern your body functioned under would or could remain. Almost the way magnetic imaging recoding devices like cassette or reel tape does for music or data. Those particles on the tape “record” a pattern of energy that is or was that sound or data image and can replay that sound or image data on demand or in the case of live or human energy perhaps at will. Hard to say without some very involved research. From my perspective prove to me after-life force energy doesn’t exist.

LuckyGuy's avatar

We are machines that take in nutrients, water, and air. From that we generate energy. Lookup mitochonria . They make ATP which is the fuel our body uses to operate.
Break the chain anywhere and the machine stops. Lights out.
You become fuel for the next critter.

I see that @wundayatta said it better.

Zen_Again's avatar

No wonder you call yourself @worriedguy.


LuckyGuy's avatar

Nah, I’m really not worried. ;-)

I was, when I first joined but everything is ok now.

wundayatta's avatar

@poofandmook Two rods? Well, if they can give someone else a diagram of how to build their own rods, and if those rods detect the same thing, then there is some evidence to suggest the rods are detecting something. You’d have to design a bunch of other experiments to see if you could figure out the nature of what is being detected.

If I can’t duplicate the rods, then I can’t verify what they do, and this makes me suspect that something other than science is going on. Most likely some kind of hocus-pocus. In other words, I could run around with a couple of sticks and have them shake in my hand and say that I’ve detected the energy of ghosts. Then I’d pull out my Ouija board and tell you what they are saying. Not that I need any of these props, but they sure make it easier to sell the idea of what I’m doing.

nikipedia's avatar

If you want to really blow your mind, think of it this way: no, energy can’t be created or destroyed, right? The only thing you can do with it is convert it to or from matter. So I think your question really is about the most famous equation ever: e=mc^2.

All of the energy in your body comes from matter (the food you eat). Your body uses that energy to run all your cellular process, including brain cells firing. I think when you talk about a person’s “energy,” you are really thinking about their conscious experience of the world, right?

That conscious experience is powered by the food you eat + oxygen you breathe. Cut off either of those and your stored energy (fat and muscle tissue) can no longer be used to power your brain. So the energy that is milling around dissipates as heat, and the rest is stored on your body as fat that can decompose and go back into the earth, or combust when you get cremated.

Isn’t biology amazing? :)

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@poofandmook No, there is no evidence that any part of your energy/matter body makeup is partitioned away from decomposing back into the environment. But, there is evidence that the Who In You consists of more than simple energy/matter. Poofandmook is not reducible to mere flesh and bone. There is more to you than that. And there is evidence for the more.

Here’s some that has been recorded. The discovery of Phantom DNA is a giant leap for science. Welcome to Wave Genetics… Science’s first step to discovering the Immaterial Realm.

The paper is not a difficult read, but scroll down to see the Phantom Effect in photographs lower on the page. The Phantom Effect has been demonstrated in Cow DNA and Leaf Cuts. They blow out the cylinder, and the Phantom returns, lasting upwards of a month or so. It’s fascinating research, and also determines that DNA operates not only by transmitting a physical code, but it also produces light and sound phenomenon.

CMaz's avatar

“where does the energy go”
Into the belly of another creature.

poofandmook's avatar

I think they’re called divining rods?

just came back from break and trying to catch up but didn’t want to forget that again. will respond to other stuff in a bit

The_Idler's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies interesting read, but I wouldn’t call that a scientific theory. There isn’t even the vaguest suggestion WRT the mechanics of these processes, which is something I’d like to see, along with;
“This healing wave information was produced by a laser bio-computer when the laser beam scanned the healing matrix. The healing matrix was created when the bio-computer read information from the pancreas and spleen which were surgically removed from healthy newborn rats of the same species as those used in the alloxan experiments.
In some of the experiments the bio-computer was modified to allow successful transmission of the healing information to sick rats at the distance of up to 20 kilometers. Note that no known physical fields have the capability to transmit such extremely week [sic] signals with such unbelievably powerful results.

Also, who is this written for? They use a lot of unexplained technical language and offer spectroscopy results with an assumption that the reader should understand what they respresent, but then see fit to explain to the reader what a pancreas is and what insulin does…?

I’m not poo-pooing the ideas in here, non-coding DNA clearly has a higher purpose not yet fully understood, and it no doubt involves communication on a different level to genetics, transcription etc.

But curing a destroyed pancreas from 20km away?
I’ll believe it when I get an invite to Gariaev’s 150th birthday party.

Also, this is some crazy shit that may just be convincing me to do post-grad in molecular biology or genetics or photochemistry or summat.

Jeruba's avatar

The energy that sustains the body goes into the earth that receives the corpse or into the flames that consume it. It’s transformed in the same way that the energy from the sun that is in food is transformed into energy in a living body.

The functioning of the mind is a process that stops in the same way that a flame is a process that stops when the conditions needed for burning run out.

Fiction is fiction and is free to play with and explore a lot of ideas in the name of entertainment. (They are not “stolen” when they are used in the service of fiction. There’s nothing wrong with adapting an existing idea for a fictional purpose.) It’s not where we get our scientific information. Being able to invent a plausible-enough sounding explanation for phenomena such as this is part of the novelist’s art, much as a painter can make impossible things look real. You suspend your disbelief for the sake of the artistic experience, but you don’t go away thinking those were really watches melted on the trees.

poofandmook's avatar

@Jeruba: Right, but like I said, there are actually people who make a living studying and investigating the paranormal. I’m willing to bet that if I looked into it more and did some research, that’s probably a real argument.

The_Idler's avatar

Yeah and the Church has been making far more than a living, for far more than a thousand years from far more ridiculous ideas than most fiction.

People make a lot more than a living from homoeopathy and Scientology.
They’re still just a load of bollocks.

poofandmook's avatar

@The_Idler: I’m sorry, but I don’t care to start a religious debate on this thread.

The_Idler's avatar

What’s your point?

Mine is: Just because people make a living out of something, doesn’t make it true.
Or even the slightest bit credible.

poofandmook's avatar

@The_Idler: I didn’t say it was definitely true. People were making reference to the fact that I took the bit out of a fiction novel. I responded by saying that it can’t simply be dismissed because I read it in a fiction novel, because there are people out there who make a living off of that theory in the real world, so it’s not just the stuff of Jodi Picoult’s creative mind. It’s something that real people act upon.

The_Idler's avatar

I understood the original post, hence my saying:
Just because people make a living out of something, doesn’t make it true.
Or even the slightest bit credible.
See above for examples.

I didn’t understand your reply to that. “I don’t care to start a religious debate on this thread.”
What do you expect me to say to that?

poofandmook's avatar

@The_Idler: Because nobody, including myself, said it was true, making your point moot. The original question asked where the energy goes after someone dies. Where does your point fit into that?

The_Idler's avatar

“I responded by saying that it can’t simply be dismissed because I read it in a fiction novel, because there are people out there who make a living off of that theory in the real world”

I responded with examples of other things that people out there make a living off in the real world, which are also utter bollocks, disqualifying that factor as a source of credibility for the idea.

nisse's avatar

I think the @the idlers point was that it can surely be dissmissed as having nothing to do with anything except the writers imagination, and definetly not have anything to do with science, although it may still be great prose.

As to your question, you are a bit unclear about what you mean by energy. If you mean the electric potential in our neuronal pathways, it dissipates as heat in the body. If you mean energy as in the body temperature; it dissipates into the surrounding environment. If you mean the bodily mass (after all, mass is energy, that’s what Einstein figured out), it decomposes and becomes wormfood.

As @the idler said, people make a living out of all sorts of hoaxes and non-scientific hogwash, so it is not good support for establishing that some sort of spiritual energy remains after death, or even exists.

Here’s a short list of things that have been deemed hoaxes by science, and still manages to make decent profit:
– Cold reading (John Edwards)
– The occult (Salespeople of Ouija boards, Mediums and occult fairs, to mention a few)
– Crystals and supposed aura energy fields (Shops selling this stuff)
– Playing on the general publics lack of understanding of probabilitiy (The lottery)
– Writing about energy remaining after death (The author of your book)

poofandmook's avatar

Okay, great, whatever. The question had nothing to do with religion, and I have heard one too many inflammatory remarks about it and one too many debates about it here, so I guess my point is that I don’t give a crap if you think religion is BS. Wasn’t my question.

The_Idler's avatar

If you don’t give a crap, why pick it out? It was a reference in passing. An illustration.
Why not declare your similar lack of desire to start a debate on homoeopathy and Scientology?

Obviously I don’t care to discuss any of them here, so if you feel the same way,
Okay, great, whatever.

poofandmook's avatar

I gave a crap about the fact that it DOES NOT BELONG HERE. Are you having issues reading plain English?

The_Idler's avatar

Issues? ...Me? õ.O

Jeruba's avatar

@poofandmook, people can make a living out of anything that someone is willing to pay money for. It doesn’t have to involve belief (palmistry, psychic reading, spiritual medium). It can be making sentimental-cute ceramic figures, guessing your age and weight on the boardwalk, or selling magazines door to door. The fact that someone can get people to pay for a thing doesn’t prove anything about the merits of the activity. There’s nothing so stupid that somebody won’t pay money for it. Just look at a novelties catalog if you doubt that.

If the question is about where the energy goes, how come you keep bringing it back to the paranormal?

All novels are fiction. That doesn’t mean they don’t use real-world phenomena. The author doesn’t have to invent the idea of people or grass or houses, even if they exist in the story alongside elves and wizards and flying broomsticks. Science fiction in particular is full of the imaginative use of factual material to create experiences that don’t—and can’t—exist.

cockswain's avatar

Possibly it is just dissipated as heat.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@The_Idler “I wouldn’t call that a scientific theory”

I certainly never said it was. It’s just research, and I claimed it was “Science’s first step to discovering the Immaterial Realm”.

I’m pleased it caught your interest. If I was young and schoolish, I might join you in your post grad genetics pursuits. Don’t forget bio-informatics though. You do know how fond I am of the coding aspect. And with wave genetics detecting sound, light, and some mysterious unknown immaterial agent at play, well, if it be true, then that my friend is the new gold rush. Stake your claim while you still can. Best wishes with that!

poofandmook's avatar

@Jeruba: Because I asked the question with the idea that unless there’s proof otherwise, maybe some of that energy becomes what we know as “ghosts”. That’s why I brought it back to paranormal. The question title doesn’t include paranormal, but the details do add that into my question.

davidgro's avatar

I think something that has been implied but not outright stated is that the current scientific view is that the human body contains no Special energy of any kind, we just have thermal energy, chemical energy, etc., and none if it is anything that you wouldn’t find in a tree stump, a pile of dirt, or a pocket calculator. In particular none of it could maintain any pattern outside of the body (and decomposition is the process of destroying patterns that were in the body)

Any other energy you may think exists is pure speculation, outside of science, so science has nothing to say about it for or against, but the default view would be against because scientists generally don’t like to simultaneously believe in all possible non-provable ideas, and it would be discrimination to pick just some of them.

poofandmook's avatar

Ah well. I’m done with this question. I got some good answers. Thanks guys.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

One word: heat.

@cockswain beat me to it. But yes, it really is as simple as that.

cockswain's avatar

@hiphiphopflipflapflop well we don’t know that for sure, but it seems possible. Another analogy I like is it is like when a drop of water falls in the ocean

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

Rather than being itself a form of energy, life consumes energy in the act of being.

cockswain's avatar

Could be. Makes more sense than a lot of other religious notions.

nisse's avatar

@hiphiphopflipflapflop Nothing “consumes” energy. Energy cannot be destroyed, only converted to other forms of energy, see the first law of thermodynamics.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

@nisse I think the word appropriate, because this energy is input in the form of chemical bond energy in nutrients and ends up as body heat being radiated out into the environment. Once out there in the form of heat, it cannot be collected and used again. One can contrive ways of capturing the heat and converting it, of course (i.e. “The Matrix”), but they are never 100% efficient. In the end it eventually dribbles out into the environment as heat. Fortunately, we have the sun to provide a nice constant power input into our system.)

ru5150's avatar

The problem with your question is that it contains an assumptive error the leads to a answer. Your ‘soul’ if you will does not have ‘energy’. Therefore it does not need to go anywhere. What people generally call a soul is their ability to think of themselves as being an entitiy and having some kind of freewill. To use a loose analogy if the mind were a computer that knew of itself, then turning it off does not ‘release’ energy. The self awareness just ceases to exist.

poofandmook's avatar

The example in the book said something about the energy imprinting itself upon something (in this case, it was a lake) and manifesting itself like a looped movie. That’s not to say it’s definitely an apparition that you can see.

I don’t know… I’m not vehemently against the idea of ghosts. I don’t understand why people get so heated about the idea. It’s fun, to me.

nisse's avatar

@Poofandmook: Well, I am trying to sort out my true beliefs from my beliefs that are not true. I put a lot of effort into this, by reading, studying and thinking critically about stuff. I do this because I want to find out how the world really works (and not some illusion). I find the world is mysterious enough without the additions of fairy tales and figments of imagination. Certainly fairy tales can be interesting, and if they are good enough they can definetly teach us things about ourselves, but they are not to be used as proof or evidence for anything, at most they can provide us with an idea, which can later be verified or disproven.

You clearly do not have the same aim, but instead want enjoy and belive in the wonderful things human imagination can make up, and there’s nothing wrong with that :)

However, you asked us “science people” to give a comment as to what we think about the veracity of your idea from our standpoint, and I think I can sum up the previous posts as “no, we don’t belive in it”.

You are not reasoning like a person who is interested in critically examining the truth of their own beliefs and ideas, a key cornerstone in the scientific philosophy. If you want to understand why we are so sceptical and where we are coming from, i suggest you read up on the scientific method and critical thinking. Here’s a link to a great book on critical thinking; Asking the right questions, on the off-chance that you would be interested.

cockswain's avatar

@nisse I like your points. I too have vehemently sought to identify and eliminate “magical thinking”, old wive’s tales, and superstitions from my life in favor of seeking truth. I never will definitively say “there are no ghosts” as they could be some multi-dimensional, quantum physical phenomena (maybe), but I won’t go around truly believing their existence and using them to explain away unusual occurrences.

poofandmook's avatar

@nisse: Oh, I didn’t mean anything when I made the comment about people getting heated. I don’t necessarily mean on this thread, but in past discussions. It was more of an aside than a comment on this particular discussion. I am interested in the real scientific possibilities, if there are any. Sorry for any misunderstandings!

myopicvisionary's avatar

I’ve not heard a convincing explanation yet about what about what makes me me or you you. When the body is gone am I gone? If I ask you to point at your “soul”, do you point at your head, your heart, your gut, or the sky? Deprived of all your senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell), would you know you are you? Is our universe simply and atom on the fingernail of a giant? “Men” have spent a lifetime postulating plausible answers to countless philosophical questions. I say believe in anything that makes you at peace with yourself and that allows you to concentrate on the task at hand at this very moment .

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


Believe in anything?

What does that say to the abuser who finds peace in butchering an innocent child? The belief in conquering the world brought peace to many rulers over the course of history. Some believe that peace is found in their addictions.

What happens when your peace, and my peace, cannot coexist?

myopicvisionary's avatar

The only thing I was talking about is the “soul” not good and evil. If you are at peace with the thought of going to heaven or reincarnation or simply ceasing to exist, all are valid. I love the thought of going to heaven and I love the thought of reincarnation and I love the thought of existing as energy in this world for all eternity. I don’t don’t want to accept the idea that “I” will cease when my body is no longer alive. I don’t know what the “truth” is. I only think about it from time to time and I don’t let it distract me from my “now”.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

now here is nowhere

Something to think about. Would you agree that it is impossible to conceive of yourself as nonexistent? It is literally beyond our imagination, to imagine a state of non-being. This, I believe, is a clue to the eternal “I-ness” of being.

And in this light, it is the eternal spirit of I-ness that is the true reality behind the veil. The physical realm of energy/matter space/time is the illusion… hence, now here is nowhere.

nisse's avatar

@Myopicvisionary: Why would i choose to fool myself into some random belief about the “I-ness” of our experiences. As you say no fully satisfactory explanation has been found yet, so why not simply suspend judgement. “I don’t know” is more satisfactory to me than just randomly picking a belief and forcing myself to believe it.

At least “we dont know” leaves open the possibility of actually finding the answer.

myopicvisionary's avatar

@nisse “I don’t know” is perfectly legitimate.

Joybird's avatar

Einstein was working on a mathematical formula for what he thought “spirit” was. He felt it was the void between what we know as matter. And he felt this void had the ability to hold information…all the has been or will be. If this is true than know that it is consistent with just about every mystic of every spiritual perspective around the world. I would tell you that I experienced my grandmother about six months after her death and what I experienced is similar to the near death experiences of many people around the world. This experience was somewhat different than the typical “ghost” material people talk of experiencing. I have been around people who have experienced ghosts and later identified whom they saw. We don’t know everything about our experiences as humans. We learn new things all the time.
Since I was in a field that provided me with the ability to assess others for mental health issues I can tell you that perfectly sane and highly functioning individuals experience these kinds of phenomenon that can not be “logically” explained away.

elspethe's avatar

My goodness can we maintain a bit of the magic? Kidding. I found a 39yr old former male model friend dead on the floor of his apt. After I realized he wasn’t kidding me, and within my ever-spiraling hysteria…all I could see was he was gone. Body there. He not. Since he was bipolar with high energy often, I think his “energy” moved outward and upward to affect…in some subatomic way…other bodies…and those particules are probably still going. That’s what I’d like to think. But I am not a scientist.

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