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Of Ghost Traps and Wrist Watches


 

Vitamin C under the microscope
Ghost traps are very useful devices – they can be used to catch evil spirits. What? You say that this does not make sense because ghosts do not exist? You say that ghosts are a product of our imagination? Well… do you believe in time? Could it not be that time is a product of our imagination as well?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit a cultural exhibition. There were all sorts of interesting exhibits, ranging from art work to the local food… and of course there were also rooms filled with religious objects, handicrafts, clothing etc. I also remember the nice photographs of the landscape that were on display. For the purpose of this episode, the country is of no importance. We were a small group of approximately 10 visitors and we had one tour guide for the museum.

One of the exhibits was particularely intresting: Carefully protected by a glass box, so that none of the visitors are able to touch it. It was a very strange and curious looking contraption made of wood and colorful string and cloth, about 1 meter tall. It’s a bit difficult to describe its appearance, in any case, it looked kind of delicate, with all the string and wood sticks, no wonder they put it behind protective glass.

In any case, the function of this device was really not clear to me at all. I mean, if you look at a pot, then you know that it was used to store food, or a statue would probably serve a decorative or religious function. But this device was really a bit different than the other exhibits. It did not look praticularely beautiful either, but it was certainly made with great skill and delicacy. I bent over it and carefully inspected it. I am quite certain that who ever made this in my eyes strange looking “thing” had no idea that it would one time end up inside a museum, but this is a different story.

In any case, our museum guide directed our attention to this exhibit and resolved the mystery. She explained us that we are actually looking at an original “ghost trap”. When I heard the word “ghost trap” I said to myself, “a what?” I have heard of all sorts of objects that were designed to chase evil spirits away, but for me it was the first time that I heard that evidently there are even traps for them.

The museum guide explained us, that the natives used to place these ghost traps in the landscape. When a spirit would float by and accidentally touch one of these traps, then it would entangle itself in the string and the wood sticks and it would not get loose. The people would then collect the traps after some time and burn them. In their view, this was a very effective method of removing evil spirits and preventing them from doing harm to the people.

And now the story started to become interesting. I realized that a few other people of the group tarted to smile, but it was not a friendly type of smile. Rather, it was an arrogant, condescending smile. It was a “What a stupid idea, trying to catch ghosts” type of smile. Maybe I could even identify a bit of a cultural arrogance in the smile – And I have to admit to you that this made me a bit angry.

Well, I was not the only one who recognized this – also our tour guide realized that some of the group members were making fun of the ghost trap and were mocking it. She immediately picked up the issue and explained us the “deeper meaning” of it all. And this is where the TOK part, the Theory of Knowledge part starts.

She told us that the ghost traps were used by the people because, quote “the system of ghost traps worked.“ – “the system worked.” The ghost traps were useful and they did their job.

If you believe in ghosts, and you want to get rid of them, then you have to set up ghost traps to catch the ghosts. The system has its logics and it makes sense. whether evil ghosts really exist or not is an entirely different issue and not the point here. The traps allowed the people to control the invisible, the supernatural. The ghost traps did their job and they fulfilled their function. After all, the ghost traps played an important role in the lives of the people. The existence of ghosts was accepted as a given and was not questioned.

OK, let’s change topics a little bit, but not really…..

I think that many of you are in the possession of a wrist watch to keep time. After all, you have to make sure that you are able to keep your appointments and that you are not late for class, and that you do not miss your bus, etc.

A wrist watch is a very useful device, which allows us to organize our lives. The wrist watches do their job for us. If you believe that time exists and that you can split up time into hours, minutes and seconds, then you can use a watch to keep track of time. The system of using watches has its logics and it makes sense. whether time really exist or whether it is simply a product of our brain is an entirely different issue and not the point here.

Does this sound familiar? We see that ghost traps and clocks are not really all that different. Both of them were invented to serve a purpose.

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