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About Those Ghosts

Updated on November 18, 2018

Sometimes children learn about things before they are ready to talk about them properly. If they talk to people who do not understand this possibility of confusion, the child might get labeled for life.

The Ghost Teacher

Ghost in the Machine -OR- Learning From A Ghost?
Ghost in the Machine -OR- Learning From A Ghost?

Seeing Ghosts

In the 1960’s we did not have cable television yet. Television signals were transmitted by way of an ‘over the air’ broadcast. The television receiver set got its signal from a set of rabbit-ear antenna that sat on top of the television. It worked, but the picture was nowhere as clear as what you see on today’s modern cable driven Liquid-crystal displays (LCD). You would often see double images on the television screen. The double images would sort of float across the screen and then come back to together to make one good image on the television. The phenomena had a name, and as a six year old curious child, I asked my father what that name was.

Dad knew the answer (a six year old will think Dad knows everything), and he told me ‘the TV was ghosting’. At six years old, I was still afraid of ghosts, even though I did not believe in them. So of course I said, somewhat fearfully: ‘there’s no such thing as ghosts’.

It turns out that ‘ghosting’ was the real technical term for the phenomena. It is used in the Federal Communication Commissions Interference Handbook of 1993. But, this was the sixties, so Dad explained it with a lot of hand-waving (band leaders are good at that), and eventually I got the idea, something way way outside the television kept on disturbing an invisible wave so that it turned into a ghost on the television screen. Curious, I started to pay closer attention to the ghosts when they appeared, trying to figure out what was disturbing them.

Learning from a Ghost

At the time, we lived across the street from an old rural airport. The airport was home for several small crop-duster sized propeller driven airplanes. There were a few houses across the street, and right behind them was the old airfield. The place was Waukegan, Illinois. It was a different place from where the new international airport was built in Waukegan.

Airplanes flew in and out almost daily. Sometimes the airplanes would drag gliders behind them, airplanes without engines. The airplane would tow a glider up into the air and turn it loose so that the glider could fly all on its own, without an engine. I used to go to the big living room window that faced toward the airport if I heard an engine so that I could watch them take off. Sometimes, we’d have the TV on when the planes took off, and the ‘ghosting’ would be on the TV when I returned from watching the plane. To a curious and observant six-year old, this quickly became a lesson best remembered as ‘hear the plane, go watch the plane, then go watch the ghost’. Sometimes it did not work in that order. Sometimes it was ‘see the ghost, listen for the plane, and hear nothing’. Eventually, I got good at it, and turned the process into ‘see the ghost, go watch the glider land’.

The trouble with that is that gliders do not have engines, Mom did not understand ghosting, and apparently Dad had not told her that he was explaining this stuff to me, so she was totally baffled as to how I could tell when something that did not make any noise was going to land across the street. Calmly, I explained, ‘the ghosts in the machine tell me’. Fearfully, she asked ‘ghosts?’ I patiently explained ‘the ghosts walking across the TV, they tell me when the plane is going by.’

Naturally, Mom became worried at the thought that I thought I could see ghosts. That explanation did not work too well with my Sunday school teacher either. They worried about me seeing and talking to dead people.

Unfortunately, we moved away before folks could understand the truth behind what I had been telling them.

Discussion of the technical term 'ghosting' from the 1993 Interference Handbook developed by the Federal Communications Commission and published by the United States Governement Printing Office
Discussion of the technical term 'ghosting' from the 1993 Interference Handbook developed by the Federal Communications Commission and published by the United States Governement Printing Office | Source

One Word - Different Meanings

Even when living in the same house, words sometimes mean different things to different people, and often times get scrambled up by curious kids who have not learned that yet. This is similar to how different people have different perspectives on life. Different people see things in different ways, different people understand things in different ways, and it often takes a lot of time to clear up the confusion.


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