Imaginary

It’s been a little while since I’ve mentioned Finding Bigfoot, my current favorite pseudoscience “reality” show on television.  As I’ve mentioned before, I find shows like this to be fascinating because it illustrates both the virtues of skepticism and the scientific method as well as the dangers of wanting to believe something so much, you’re willing to do just about anything to justify it.

One of my recent favorite moments involved the bigfoot hunters spotting a horse running around in the distance.  Objectively, the only thing that could be said was that, but it didn’t prevent the hunters from reaching the conclusion that bigfoot must be nearby.  Here’s how it works:

STARTING FACT: A horse is running around.

ASSUMPTION #1:  Horses don’t run around for no reason.

ASSUMPTION #2:  The horse has to be running because something has frightened it.

ASSUMPTION #3:  Bigfoot is frightening.

CONCLUSION: Therefore, the horse must have seen a bigfoot.

I wish I was making that up or exaggerating in some way, but this was the exact line of reasoning (to use that word loosely) that allowed our intrepid team of bigfoot hunters to determine they were on the right track.

This is pseudoscience at its finest.  It knows the conclusion and will take any path necessary to reach it.  Honestly, the only known fact in the above chain is the first one:  A horse was running around.  There was certainly no way to know if this was unusual.  There was no way to know about the horse’s state of mind.  And, even assuming the horse was frightened, there was no way to know what frightened it.  Yet the Finding Bigfoot team has no problem contorting the smallest fact into a twisting road to bigfoot discovery.

The fact of the matter is that there is only one real way to prove bigfoot exists.  It isn’t eye witness accounts.  It isn’t historical records.  It isn’t folktales, grainy photographs, panicked horses.  It’s none of those things.  It’s as simple as producing a genuine animal or at least a convincing portion of one.

We all know this is true because if someone walked up to you and said they knew dinosaurs were still alive and prowling the Pacific Northwest, you probably wouldn’t believe them if they offered the same type of proof that bigfoot hunters do.  If someone said that every bigfoot ever captured on film was a bunch of leprechauns in a fur suit, you probably wouldn’t believe them.  Yet this isn’t implausible compared to the notion that a hulking breeding population of hominids are lurking through the woods without leaving anything more than the occasional footprint and hazy photo.

This make me wonder exactly what is it about bigfoot, ghosts, and aliens that makes them more “believable” than leprechauns or ninja-like dinosaurs?  It can’t be plausibility because there are plenty of good reasons to not believe in any of them.  How many grainy photos of leprechauns would it take to convince a bigfoot hunter that they’re real?  How many stories of backwood dinosaur encounters would be required before people started believing it just might be possible they’re out there?

Conversely, how long do we have to search for these imaginary beings before we admit that maybe they’re not real and never were?  Finding Bigfoot has been on several seasons and has yet to produce even a single piece of compelling evidence.  Ghost Hunters have a few creaky doors and some garbled audio recordings.

Will there be a day when we admit that bigfoot isn’t real?

Probably not.  There is something about bigfoot that appeals to us on such a primal level, we’ll probably never be rid of him and his ilk.  And it is our nature to see willful agency in every little noise, every little inexplicable thing that happens to us.

I wish English had a word for Unexplained that wasn’t synonymous with Mysterious.  It’s the same way that Unidentified Flying Object is the same as an Alien Spaceship.  Admitting the limits of our knowledge is probably the hardest thing for a human to accept.

I can’t know, for instance, that bigfoot doesn’t exist.  Not for certain.  I can only look at all the data and say he doesn’t seem to.  But I’ll admit that this is an assumption on my part.  It isn’t a big one, but it’s true it could be wrong.  And if someone ever captures a bigfoot, I’ll happily admit my mistake.

How long do paranormal researchers have to search before they admit maybe they’ve been looking for something that isn’t real?  The hallmark of pseudoscience is vague experiments with vague expectations that can be ignored when disliked and amplified when they suit the researcher’s needs.  Until they define their parameters, they aren’t proving anything other than the woods are kind of scary at nighttime and it’s easy to see human shapes hidden in shadows and blurry images.

The question doesn’t seem to be whether or not bigfoot exists.  It’s whether we’ll ever be aware of ourselves, our flawed perceptions, our wishful thinking, our own biases, to understand that the simplest explanation isn’t found lurking in the woods but in our own minds.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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2 Comments

  1. Doug Johnson
    Posted March 5, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Not that you need any help, but I’d love to read an A. Lee Martinez book that starred a very smart bigfoot that was doing everything he could to avoid humans because they are just so annoying.
    Combine him with a hiking believer and his skeptical girlfriend and “hijinks ensue”.

  2. Posted March 12, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Or the misadventures of a character who only makes decisions based on pseudoscientific assumptions. His inner monologue would be Pulitzer worthy.

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