Woo! There’s a shocker considering the name of my blog. But, I want to discuss the paranormal in terms of belief and I’d like to describe why I think I’m more open-minded than those who accept paranormal phenomena as real.
“Do you believe in X?”, is the most frequent media take on these topics.
It’s a poor way to tackle such complex topic. One will understand the subject less when it is polarized with such a buzzword as “believe” and where it is simplified to the question of real or not. To discuss them in terms of believers and non-believers simply helps nothing. To examine such a subject strictly in terms of popular opinion is useless.
Previously, I blogged about what it would take for me to accept certain phenomena as genuine. I say “accept” not “believe” because belief is not what I can use to understand the world. If I want to know if a paranormal phenomenon (any one, I’ll generalize and call it ‘X’) genuinely exists, I can do the following: attempt to experience it for myself, listen to eyewitness stories, examine remnant traces that allegedly remain or visual representations that exist. There are scads of everyday happenings that proponents put forth as evidence.
Faith – firm belief in something for which there is no proof.
Trust – an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of something.
Do I believe the evidence? Do I have faith in it? Well, no. I might trust that the evidence is genuine and has not been manufactured, even misinterpreted. Or, I might find the evidence is faulty or of poor quality. (Ben Radford once analogized that you can’t make a strong cup of coffee by combining lots of weak cups. Same is true for poor evidence. You can’t make a strong case on volume alone – you must have high quality).
Belief can be based on faith or on trust. I’m not talking about belief, however, when I’m evaluating nature. I’m talking about evidence and an argument. If I accept the evidence as valid, I’m on my way to accepting or rejecting various explanations for it.
Most scientists have not seen valid evidence to support hypotheses such as:
- UFOs are vehicles from alien worlds
- An unknown primate, commonly called Bigfoot lives in North America
- Ghosts are visitations from the dead or remnant manifestations from the past.
- An all-powerful entity created all life in current (and past) forms at one point in time.
However, a scientist can tell you just what evidence would be required for him/her to accept ‘X’ as even potentially true and thus worth pursuing.
So, I can give (hopefully, reasonable) benchmarks for the ‘X’ proponents to meet. If they did so, I would (excitedly) shift my acceptance. Let’s pose the question to the other side.
What would make one discard his/her theory of ‘X’?
I don’t know. I can’t imagine what would make a UFO proponent give up their interpretation. You can’t very well go back and prove all historical sightings were hoaxes or misidentification. You can’t prove anything if your doing real science. That’s the weird (and rather uncomfortable) beauty of it. Science can’t/won’t prove it doesn’t exist. (By the way, if someone says this in a quote, I immediately know this person knows nothing of science and logic.) There will always be the unexplained residuum.
Many ‘X’ flag bearers have been diligently at it for years. There have been those (like Rene Dahinden, for example) who, after lacking confirmation for their theory and exposing hoaxes, progressively lost hope in the reality (but not completely). But, many do not. They continue on, sometimes devising nonfalsifiable theories (like the supernatural Bigfoot or the idea that skeptics interfere with psychic powers) to sustain their hope.
There are very good alternative explanations, well-rooted in evidence, to consider. ‘X’-ers do not consider them or they discard them as unfeasible. Throughout life, we get reminded that no matter how much we wish something were true/untrue, it doesn’t make it so.
An obstacle to objectivity is when the ‘X’ belief is based in a personal experience. No matter what the explanation for the event is, we can appreciate how profound and life-altering an experience can be. What gets lost in a sudden jump from experience to belief is the full consideration of the alternative explanations. People hesitate to accept alternatives that cause them to question their senses, memory and perception. Their interpretation tells them this happened in this way. It has become personal. Frequently, they will stubbornly refuse to reconsider, the old “I know what I saw” dismissal.
Research has suggested that “nonbelievers” can assimilate information both for and against the concept in question. “Believers” will quickly dismiss the information that does not support their view. I can describe just what evidence would be suitable to reevaluate the reality of these claims. Can the believers do the same?