“[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.