Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Imaginary beasts and made-to-order worlds

One general tendency I see amongst woo-woos of all types is a sense that the world has to be a certain way because it "feels like it must be so."  It goes beyond wishful thinking; it's not just a Pollyanna-ish "everything will turn out for the best."  It's more that they espouse an idea because it appeals to them on an emotional or intuitive level -- not because it lines up with what is scientifically demonstrable (and sometimes, despite the idea in question being demonstrably wrong).

I ran into an amusing example of this just yesterday, from the desk of the always-entertaining Nick Redfern.  Redfern, you might recall, is a frequent writer for Cryptomundo and Mysterious Universe, and is a particular aficionado of Bigfoot and other cryptids.  You'd think that eventually, cryptid-hunters would tire of the hunt after repeatedly bagging zero cryptids, and would give up and say, "Well, I guess we were wrong, after all."  But no: they keep at it, coming up with progressively more abstruse explanations about why the cryptids aren't showing up.  We have Linda Jo Martin's idea, that Bigfoot can avoid us because he's telepathic; Erich Kuersten, instead, makes the claim that Bigfoots are aliens, and when they hear us coming they escape in their spaceships.  But if you think those are wacky ideas, you haven't heard nothin' yet. Wait until you hear what Redfern has in store for us!

He thinks that we can't catch any cryptids, because they are created by our overactive imaginations.

Well, okay, you may be saying; isn't that what you've been telling us all along?  A bunch of cryptid hunters go out a-squatchin', and they see a shadow and hear a noise in the woods, and their overactive imaginations turn it into a Bigfoot?  No, that isn't what Redfern is saying at all; when I said he thinks that cryptids are "created by our overactive imaginations," I meant it in its most literal sense -- that we generate these beasts from our minds, and then they become real, real enough for other people to see.

"Could it be that just like Mothra and the saga of the The Mothman Prophecies," Redfern writes,  "The Valley of Gwangi unconsciously inspired people to muse upon the possibility of real flying reptiles in and around the Texas-Mexico border? And, as a result, did phantom-forms of such beasts step right out of the human imagination and achieve a form of ethereal existence in the real world? Granted, it’s a highly controversial theory, but it’s one that parallels very well with the theories pertaining to so-called Tulpas and thought-forms."

Well, I'm sorry, if you start out your argument by citing Mothra, you've lost some credibility points right from the get-go.  And someone really ought to sit down the entire seven billion human inhabitants of the Earth and clarify for them all, simultaneously, what the definition of the word "theory" is, because I'm getting sick and tired of doing it piecemeal.  A "theory" doesn't mean "some damnfool idea I just dreamed up."  It also doesn't mean "an idea that could just as easily be wrong as right," such as the way it's used in the young-earth creationist's favorite mantra, "Evolution is just a theory."  A theory is a scientific model that is well-supported by evidence, and has (thus far) stood the test of experiment.  So, therefore, Redfern's "theory" about actual flying reptiles coming from the minds people reading a novel about pterosaurs surviving until modern time is not a theory, it's a loony idea with no scientific backing whatsoever.

But that's not my main point, here; what I find the most curious about all of this is that Redfern et al. seem to have the idea that just because some bizarre version of reality is appealing to them on an emotional level, that means that the world must work that way.  The universe, then, is somehow made-to-order, constructed to fit what we want, need, or expect the universe to be.  I find this an odd stance, because (plentiful as my other faults are) this is never something I've fallen prey to.  It seemed abundantly clear to me, from as soon as I was old enough to consider the point, that there was no special reason why my desires that the world be a certain way would have any bearing at all on the way the world actually is.  "Wishin'," as my grandma use to say, "don't make it so."

Or, to quote (of all people!) Carlos CastaƱeda, from Journey to Ixtlan, "Why should the world be only as you think it is? Who gave you the authority to say so?" And if my ending my discussion of this topic with a quote from CastaƱeda doesn't introduce enough cognitive dissonance into your day to rock your Monday, I don't know what more I could do.

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