Monday, November 09, 2009

Dead man...walking?

I found this story of the Brazilian man who attended his own funeral intriguing. He "died" in a car crash and the next day the family held a funeral for him. Problem was, he didn't get the memo that he was supposed to be dead and strolled into his funeral.

I'm sure that's not the first time that this situation happened. What I found intriguing was this quote:
The sight of Ademir Jorge Goncalves alive shocked relatives, some of whom tried to jump out of the windows of the funeral home in southern Brazil.
I don't doubt that seeing him alive was shocking. It's the ones who tried to jump out of the window that is strange. The dissonance between what they believed to be true - based on vague or second hand evidence - and what they could actually see was true was too much for them to handle. Since many in these Latin, Catholic-infused, countries believe in spirits and ghosts the combination of "facts" drove them to a faulty and weird conclusion: The dead man's ghost had just strolled into the room.

Was it the emotion of the situation that caused the panic and confusion? Was it the religious soaked culture that virtually "saw" ghosts and spirits in every shadow? Was it simply a normal reaction? I imagine that I also would have been very confused at my Grandfather's funeral had he strolled into the room during the service. Yet why would we not immediately believe our own eyes and search for a reasonable explanation?

Carl Sagan addressed this in Demon Haunted World. Our minds are so easily fooled that even solid facts are at first rejected in favor of our long-held beliefs. In this case, the man who attended his own funeral had not been in the car that crashed - someone else was in the car. Lacking the advanced testing capabilities of dental records or DNA I don't suggest that they were wrong to conclude that he was the driver - especially since he was nowhere to be found. Yet, deciding to jump out of a window when he walked into the room is a ridiculous response; I doubt this response would have happened if the culture did not believe in ghosts and spirits of the dead.


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