What would convince me?


“[If]…something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a forth, and so on, it ceases to be revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it….it is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not choose to rest my belief upon such evidence.”

Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1794)

One must spend time and thought on both (or multiple) sides of the issue in order to make an informed decision. I can honestly say I have been on both sides of many topics of the paranormal persuasion at various points in my life.

During and after college, I had discovered the skeptical side. It was difficult, but eye-opening, to see that the stories and “evidence” that I had assumed were valid were actually highly questionable and not too useful to answer the questions that needed to be answered in order to make these topics scientific.

In my professional career, I frequently practice the exercise of sorting fact from fiction and deciding what likely occurred. I learned, thanks to legal tutelage, what does or does not constitute strong evidence. I still have much to learn, for sure, but, I’ve been thinking about the following: 1.) What it would take to convince me of the reality of certain strange phenomena? and 2) Which theories have discounted in my own mind as worthless? I feel sure some of you will disagree!

Bigfoot, Monsters and the Cryptozoo
This topic is my personal favorite. I have been interested in animals since I could toddle after my first dog. I collected bugs, pondered over my wildlife card library, excelled in biology in school, took additional animal science classes in college (not my major), and worked in a vet hospital. The thought of new species out there is ever fascinating to me What would it take to convince me that something as earth-shattering as Bigfoot is out there? Nothing less than a body, preferably alive or at least fresh. You can’t study an organism based on a story someone tells you. How can we determine exactly what this creature is unless we can compare it to what we already know. That takes some detailed study of a body. It’s not pretty (it may not even be moral if Bigfoot is more human than we care to ponder) but it’s valid; it gets us answers we can use.

A recent skeptical guest post on Cryptomundo generated scads of back and forth about the value of eyewitnesses and the voluminous sightings reports bolstering the reality of Sasquatch. It’s just no good. We can name a new species on the basis of a bone or tooth but not on hearsay. So, a body is a necessity for any cryptozoological beast.

My love for ghost stories and haunted houses runs deep. Those are stories so good, they OUGHT to be true. Frankly, I don’t know what to think about hauntings and phantasms of the living. So, I suspend judgment as I do for many other things. What would convince me they are real? Well, can’t have the corporeal evidence. Can we capture the incorporeal manifestation in some way? Not the “Ghostbusters” way but a genuine recording of a physical change in the environment that is associated with an entity. (Temperature and EMF meters aren’t going to cut it. Neither will EVP.) More than that, I would require a darn good theory about how these things could be. This must answer why only some people experience the entities and why ghostly events are so fickle. I suspect we may get closer to these answers in my lifetime (hopefully a long one) but it may not be the Gothic, romantic version of the great stories. It may be a condition of the environment and/or the observer and have nothing to do with surviving into the beyond. We’ll see.

There is no doubt UFOs are out there. We just have to figure out what they are. I’m not leaning toward the belief that they are extraterrestrials. Maybe they are future humans? (I like that one but it makes little sense.) I’m going to pull out the ultimate cop-out for this one – I’d have to see it for myself. I don’t mean just having my own encounter, I mean me and the whole world experiencing an undeniable confrontation. I want the scientific community to move toward a consensus. I want astronomers to say, “Yes. An alien civilization has been surveying our world.” Then, I’d be scared along with everyone else on earth. Until then, I’ll try not to think about it and move on with life.

That’s easy. Produce consistent results and/or a reasonable, testable theory. I will leave judgment of the evidence to professionals. Easier said than done, they’ve been trying for decades.

In summary, it boils down to the following:
1. Physical evidence. There must be something to be studied, dissected, tested by others.
2. Experimental evidence. Scientific experimentation has worked exceptionally well to figure out our world. We should not give any idea a ‘bye’ in this process.
3. A viable theory. We can’t get anywhere without a working explanation. “It just is.”, is not helpful to understanding.

Here are some examples of certain topics that have failed to meet these criteria after years of trying: astrology, homeopathy, creationism, spontaneous human combustion, alien abduction, demon possession. As they have been presented, they are almost certainly false. My opinion only. Your mileage may vary.

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8 thoughts on “What would convince me?

  1. Danny H.

    I am convinced if I witness it and can reason it out to be legitimate. I don’t care who else knows it or believes it. I will know. I don’t need science to tell me what I saw. I find modern science to be snobbish and closed minded. I’m an individual with a brain and I can think and reason. I don’t need science to validate my experience.

  2. Danny: witnessing an event like these can be very powerful, life-changing. I know it would be for me. However, I could not trust my own senses to correctly perceive and my brain to correctly interpret what I have seen/felt/heard. “Snobbish modern science” is being replaced with a broader, more fun outlook on the world. Try this post: The Science of Godzilla.

  3. Tommy

    I had a poltergeist experience in my early twenties. But if anyone scratched the surface of the experience it would be easily dismissable as an episode of “mental illness.” Dig a little deeper… and I’m not sure. It’s been almost ten years and people tend to want to forget very confusing, fearful or traumatic experiences, especially if the viability of their professional career depends on it. Regardless, I know it happened. I know it was real. And I know it was a “poltergeist.”

    This experience automatically hurled me into a world of confused beliefs that challenged any skepticism on many if not all levels. I’ve concluded that the universe is basically a living, infinitely complex puzzle that likes to play, even though we may only be able to “solve” individual parts and aspects of it, one at a time. Our species, and its objective sciences are very young, and the sciences of psychiatry and psychology, even younger. So, obviously I tend to er on the side of being skeptical of the skeptics. Scientific arrogance, righteousness, and pride are constantly creating blindspots and hinderances in scientific progress. The answers are out there and not only are they stranger than fiction; but the rules are certainly made to be broken, and constants are only as constant as another greater or lesser relative constant.

  4. While I don’t find modern science to be snobbish or closed minded as Mr. H, I do agree that it does not necessarily take scientific evidence to prove these enigmas. I also believe that further research and development of quantum physics will lead to some validations for a few of the strange things in our world such as “homeopathy, spontaneous human combustion, and demon possession or why acupuncture works so well with no valid medical evidence to prove it. I consider myself a realist and don’t waste much energy on getting sucked into this field of study (though the study is fascinating and I understand why people do), I do keep an eye on this matter and always hope for anything, something to just startle the pants off and jaws drop to the floor. Here’s to hoping!

  5. Ann F.

    Good stuff! A few thoughts.
    1. I’d personally consider DNA of an unknown primate (in recent bones, hair roots, or even feces) sufficient to believe in a Bigfoot. Given that there haven’t been reports of unknown small primates, that’s a leap of faith I’m willing to tell, that an unknown primate in areas known for Bigfoot sightings is a Bigfoot.
    2. Ghosts. Maybe you’re getting at it with the idea of a theory, but I see the first missing thing as a definition of a ghost! Is it solely a visual phenomenon, as in the ‘photograph’ theory, is it a form of energy, is it a multi-dimensional entity?

    I personally find modern science the most gloriously mind-liberating thing ever! It fully acknowledges that there is a world beyond what our human senses can detect and explores it for more questions as well as answers. There’s nothing closed-minded about demanding solid evidence. If there were genuine, reproducible evidence and a theory consistent with known facts for anything currently judged paranormal, the world’s real scientists would be among the first to whoop with joy at having more wonderful things to explore.

  6. dogu4

    The application of science,of course, can’t in and of itself be snobbish or close-minded. Those are traits we ascribe to individuals who wield scientific knowledge and technique, and if done in the proper spirit they too function in advance of our knowledge of the universe, just as their opposites (gregariousness and gullibility) can lead any investigation into areas they themselves may have never ventured, but it’s plain to see that operating excessively and exclusively in a single modality is not likely to get anyone very far (though even these instances serve as example of how not to behave), if by that we mean the distance apart from utter ignorance. More is better but it takes fuel to get there. It’s nice if it can be made palatable…and so here’s why I believe in a sense of aesthetics in the universe. We need it, and while the shortest distance across a lake may be a straight line, it may not be where the stepping stones are just beneath the surface.
    I’m prepared to believe in a lot of things, but I’m reluctant to believe that the laws of nature are so well understood that we can rule out strange phenomena and their interpretation. For instance, someone sees a phantom. If it turns out that in the future we discover the brain has a mechanism that is sensitive to some sort of as-yet-to-be-discovered quantum “fuzzy” effect causes our brains to express vivid expressions of other people’s thoughts in ourown brain (sounds impossible, I’m sure but check out what the current thought is on the sense of smell)…does it mean the phantom was “real”…it certainly means it wasn’t supernatural or miraculous or spiritual. Language, that may be the ultimate challenge in understanding the world around us.

  7. …and perhaps our own feeble limitations of perception. There is so much more out there to understand. That’s why I feel it is important to validate the experience, like Tommy’s story above. We may not have the tools yet to truly explain it. I’ve learned not to be afraid or ashamed to say “I don’t know”.

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