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Ghosts: Fact or Fiction? - Reading / Writing - Exercises

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Assignment: Read the following text and answer items 1 to 5 below by underlining the option which best matches the information contained in it. Apply the Skimming and Scanning technique and remember to time yourself.


1 Told by the campfire or as the plot of bestsellers, ghost stories have long been a popular form of entertainment. But, entertaining as ghost stories are, do ghosts themselves really exist? According to a 2001 Gallop poll, 38 percent of Americans would say yes. They believe that the spirits of dead people do indeed walk among the living here on Earth. Others, however, argue that no solid proof of ghosts' existence has ever been found. They support their argument by pointing out that ghosts seldom appear to those who do not already believe in their existence.

2 Believers answer by citing eyewitness accounts of supernatural events that have supposedly occurred in buildings or locations where violent deaths took place, leaving behind restless spirits. For instance, hundreds of visitors to Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana claim to have encountered poltergeists moving furniture or hurling objects both day and night. The poltergeist activity is said to be a consequence of a violent murder that took place in the nineteenth century when a slave retaliated for her master's brutality by taking his life. Yet another of America's most allegedly haunted places is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of one of the bloodiest Civil War battles in 1863. Over the years, scores of tourists have reported seeing the ghosts of dead soldiers. Because these supposed sightings occur every day in places all over the world, many people insist that ghosts exist.

3 Some paranormal investigators even try to back up claims about ghosts by using scientific instruments. Merrill McKee, president of the Northern New York Paranormal Research Society, says that his own investigations, which rely upon electromagnetic field detectors and laser thermometers, produce evidence that unexplained phenomena do exist. Other ghost hunters have claimed to capture evidence of paranormal activity on instruments such as thermal scanners, infrared cameras, video cameras, and tape recorders.

4 However, skeptics assert that the laws of physics can easily explain away the vast majority of alleged ghostly encounters. "Cold spots" are actually just drafts. Ghostly "voices" or other noises are just low frequency sounds caused by household appliances or other sources distant from the supposedly haunted site. Photographs that seem to show ghostly apparitions are really showing the effects of light, dust, fog, mist, or smoke. Professional ghost buster Joe Nickell, of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), has investigated more than 40 different cases of paranormal phenomena, including ghost sightings and found that all were either tricks or unusual events with natural explanations. Nickell, a former magician who made a career out of exposing fraudulent spiritualists, insists that he will believe in ghosts if someone gives him solid evidence proving that they do exist. So far, no one in Nickell's decades-long career has managed to come up with that evidence.

5 Nickell is not the only skeptic. Many others also believe that ghosts are all in the mind. In his book on spiritualist frauds, The Psychic Mafia , former psychic M. Lamar Keene coined the expression "true believer syndrome" to explain why people think they've seen a ghost. The true believer way of thinking is characterized by a willingness to believe in something even when there is no firm evidence. In other words, some people convince themselves that ghosts exist because they simply choose to believe, and they ignore other rational explanations. Another professional paranormal dissident, James Randi, says that people who see ghosts are overly imaginative or even experience hallucinations. Randi also claims that these credulous souls are encouraged in their misguided beliefs by greedy cheats, who can be men or women, and who are only too willing to call up a ghost for the right price. Some psychologists insist that all the issue about ghosts is related to the power of suggestion, which leads people to imagine things that aren't really there. In other words, if a person visits a place described as haunted, he or she is very likely to "see" the ghosts others have suggested are present.

CBS News , October 30, 2003; Skeptical Briefs , June 2004


1. Which statement best paraphrases the main idea of the entire reading?
• Ghosts do not exist.
• Some people believe that ghosts exist, but others remain highly skeptical due to the lack of any evidence.
• The question about whether or not ghosts exist will never be answered.

2. Based on the text, how would you define the word "poltergeist" in paragraph 2?
• People who believe in ghosts
• Ghosts who move objects
• Haunted houses

3. Which sentence best paraphrases the topic sentence of paragraph 3, "Some paranormal investigators even try to back up claims about ghosts by using scientific instruments"?
• Paranormal investigators are fascinated by ghosts.
• Several paranormal researchers have proven that ghosts really do exist.
• Some paranormal investigators have tried to prove the presence of ghosts with high-tech machinery.

4. Which sentence best paraphrases the topic sentence of paragraph 4, "However, skeptics assert that the laws of physics can easily explain the vast majority of alleged ghostly encounters"?
• According to nonbelievers, ghosts are nothing more than a misinterpretation or misunderstanding of natural phenomena.
• Skeptics believe that most ghostly encounters are really just tricks.
• Joe Nickell's research proves once and for all that ghosts do not exist.

5. Which of the following explains best the phrase "true believer syndrome"?
• A fraudulent mental illness.
• A belief in ghosts.
• A desire to believe in something whose existence is not confirmed.

6. Which of the following best describes the topic of this reading?
• Although a large percentage of Americans believe that ghosts exist, paranormal activity usually has rational explanations.
• This text, which is about ghosts, explains some of the positions held by believers and non-believers.
• It says ghost stories are a popular form of entertainment because people love to debate whether or not ghosts actually exist.