Hey Bill Nye! Do You Believe in Ghosts and the Afterlife?

Bill Nye tackles a tough question that every person alive has been hung up on – what happens after we die? Where does our life energy go?

Marsalina: Hi Bill Nye. My name is Marsalina. This is my son Ohenu. And we have a question about your perspective on ghosts and also what do you think happens to your life energy that ceases after you die? Is it just pushing daisies? Thank you.

Bill Nye: Marsha. Greetings. People have wondered about life after death since there have been people. It goes way, way back. We started with ghosts. I’ll tell you I don’t think there’s any such thing. I don’t think there’s anything to be afraid of when it comes to ghosts. I’m a member of both the skeptics and the counsel for scientific inquiry and we have looked and looked for haunted houses, for ghosts in cemeteries, for psychics who believe they’re in touch with people who are dead. And there’s absolutely no credible evidence. There’s no reason to believe that there are ghosts or life after death. People have tried and tried. And you may know that Houdini the famous magician said if anybody can come back from the dead it’s me man. I’m coming. And he never got in touch with anyone. No one ever heard from him. He had a secret word between he and his mother that he said I’ll give you the secret word when I come back. And do you know what the secret word is? Nobody knows, it was secret and he never came back.

But what happens to humans our brains are so active. We imagine so many things and we’re always looking for cause and effect. That is to say when you hear a bump in the night you want to know what caused it. You want to know what brought it on. And the first thing you might imagine is that there’s somebody or some entity out there causing this effect, the bump but you can’t see it. So then we intuitively or instinctively for ancient reasons put a pattern on it. We imagine it has an agent as we call it but there’s something out there, some agent is causing this. But it could be the wind blew and knocked the candle over and there’s no ghost and just get over it. Don’t be afraid of that. Now when it comes to life after death I’ve thought about this quite a bit and what happens, what are you like when you’re dead? If you watch people age like my grandmother, my beloved grandmother. She was so smart when I was a little kid. She collected wildflowers. She was very skilled as an artist. She could draw landscapes and she was like a naturalist.

Traditionally she would draw detailed pictures of flowers depicting their very detailed parts, petals, stamen, pistols and so on. But as she got older she got dementia. She could not remember things. She didn’t recognize me. And so she eventually died of old age. And I just don’t see any evidence that she would suddenly be a young person as an after dead ghost entity. It looks like to me this life is all you get. This is it. There’s nothing afterwards. So what you’ve got to do is live this life as best you can. That’s the way to go. And if it does turn out there’s an afterlife and we all turn young again and can play rugby or whatever it is we want to do so much the better. But I see no evidence for it. And for your son there are no ghosts, sorry. And your friends who believe in ghosts you can outwit them. You’ll be ahead of them because you will not waste energy running around looking for ghosts. Instead you’ll close the window to keep the candle from blowing over or whatever made your friend believe in a ghost. Carry on. I’m sorry but it seems to be apparently this is all you get.

Bill Nye tackles the big question, a little apologetically it seems. As much as Nye would probably like to believe in heaven, messages from the ghosts of your loved ones, and an afterlife where you return to your peak and share eternity with your favorite people, he is bound by truth and science, and admits that there has been no evidence for it.


Ghosts and supernatural occurrences usually have explanations in science. A candle that blows out spookily may logically be due to a draft of wind. A feeling of being unsettled and on edge can be due to infrasound – sound at levels so low that humans can’t hear it but whose vibrations cause distinct physiological discomfort. There's also the fact that many of us want to believe in supernatural dimensions, so we create symbols and meaning where there isn't any. 

Nye cites the famous magician Harry Houdini, who said if anyone could come back from the dead in ghost form, it was him. But, he never got in touch. He had the determination, but if the laws of nature don't provide an option, it may simply not be possible to come back. It’s not quite evidence against ghosts and the afterlife, but Houdini seemed pretty intent on it, so it’s something of a nail in the coffin of ghost theory.

It might seem like grim news that Nye is delivering, but the upside is that you can pour all your energy, creativity, and love into the life you’re living now. There’s no need to save anything in your reserve engines for the afterlife. Nye advises that you live the best life you can while you’re conscious – do as much good, travel all you can, learn and make those around you happy. If our human life span is all we have, it makes living even more precious and more of a gift than ever before.

Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

Develop mindfulness to boost your creative intelligence

Sharon Salzberg, world-renowned mindfulness leader, teaches meditation at Big Think Edge.

Image: Big Think
Big Think Edge
  • Try meditation for the first time with this guided lesson or, if you already practice, enjoy being guided by a world-renowned meditation expert.
  • Sharon Salzberg teaches mindfulness meditation for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Vikings unwittingly made their swords stronger by trying to imbue them with spirits

They didn't know it, but the rituals of Iron Age Scandinavians turned their iron into steel.

Shutterstock
Culture & Religion
  • Iron Age Scandinavians only had access to poor quality iron, which put them at a tactical disadvantage against their neighbors.
  • To strengthen their swords, smiths used the bones of their dead ancestors and animals, hoping to transfer the spirit into their blades.
  • They couldn't have known that in so doing, they actually were forging a rudimentary form of steel.
Keep reading Show less

For a long time, the West shaped the world. That time is over.

The 21st century is experiencing an Asianization of politics, business, and culture.

Videos
  • Our theories about the world, even about history or the geopolitics of the present, tend to be shaped by Anglo perspectives of the Western industrial democracies, particularly those in the United States and the United Kingdom.
  • The West, however, is not united. Canada, for instance, acts in many ways that are not in line with American or British policies, particularly in regard to populism. Even if it were united, though, it would not represent most of the world's population.
  • European ideas, such as parliamentary democracy and civil service, spread across the world in the 19th century. In the 20th century, American values such as entrepreneurialism went global. In the 21st century, however, what we're seeing now is an Asianization — an Asian confidence that they can determine their own political systems, their own models, and adapt to their own circumstances.
Keep reading Show less