Long before modern science began to understand the processes that create our weather, people made up their own explanations. Many of these accounts were fantastic in nature, with evil or benevolent gods, monsters, and spirits controlling the elements. In this series, we’ll explore some of these ancient myths and share the science behind them. Weather + mythology = weather-ology!
One of the most common beliefs about ghosts is that you can detect their presence by temperature. “Cold spots” – areas where the temperature is much lower than the surrounding air – are said to accompany paranormal visitors. This belief can be found everywhere from the most ancient ghost stories to contemporary ghost hunters who come equipped with sophisticated modern instruments.
A common theory among believers is that ghosts leach thermal energy from the air in order to manifest themselves in our world.
Skeptics posit alternate explanations for purported ghostly cold spots. For one thing, they say, the body’s response to fear superficially resembles its response to cold. A person exhibiting goosebumps, hairs standing on end, tight muscles, clammy hands, or other common signs of fear may mistake these responses for coldness.
In addition, temperatures are not uniform across even relatively small areas. Many factors can influence the temperature of a given spot, including drafts and proximity to a source of heat or sunlight.
Furthermore, according to the second law of thermodynamics, heat can neither be created nor destroyed. If ghosts were responsible for a cold spot, say skeptics, there should be an accompanying hot spot somewhere nearby.
Of course, ghost hunters and other believers have their own answers to each of those explanations. Because modern ghost hunters use thermometers and thermal imaging equipment, they say the subjective experience of a person’s fear response doesn’t factor in.
In addition, they say, science has yet to understand – or even acknowledge – paranormal entities, so the laws of thermodynamics could be flawed, or at least incomplete, when it comes to the effect ghosts have on the physical world.
So what do you think? Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever felt a cold spot you couldn’t explain?
Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.