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.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The University of Iowa underwear-snitching ghost

I think one of the hardest things for me to understand about the woo-woo mindset is how quickly they're willing to jump to a supernatural explanation.

It's not that I don't have the impulse myself sometimes, mind you.  When I hear a bump in my attic, when I see something out of the corner of my eye, I (like most people) get a shiver up my spine.  But I don't follow that up by saying "Oh, it must be that pesky ghost again."  The first thing I look for is a natural explanation.  And you know what?  When I look for a natural explanation, I generally find it.  The bump in the attic was my cat knocking something off a bookshelf; the motion I saw was leaves being blown past the window.  In my 52 years, the number of things I've been left with that I haven't been able to satisfactorily explain from a completely ordinary perspective is exactly zero.

Apparently, though, I'm in the minority.  Consider the case of the University of Iowa baseball team, who have made some strange enough claims that their story was written up on the New England Sports Network.  (Read the story here.)  Members of the team have contacted ghost hunters after several of their number reported seeing apparitions, and having a variety of other strange experiences in their living quarters.

"We've lived here over the past two years," pitcher Aaron Smit told reporters.  "But over the past few months, we've noticed things getting a little bit weird.  We had a kid in here who thought he saw a ghost -- a shadow in the form of a human."

Others have reported "poltergeist-like" phenomena, with objects moving around, doors being slammed, and television channels spontaneously changing.  One player said he saw a "little girl in his bedroom."  Another, first baseman Brian Niedbalski, says there's an old man ghost living in the house as well, and the team has nicknamed him "Tim."  (The ghost, not the first baseman.)  "I'm on Tim's good side," Niedbalski said.  "I want to leave it that way."

Then, there's the incident in which two of the players' girlfriends, who were spending the night, woke up to find their underwear had been removed, and was elsewhere in the room -- although they were still wearing pants at the time.

Oooookay.  So, what do we have here?

First, of course, we have the complete lack of actual hard evidence.  Doors can slam because of drafts -- I lived in a house in Seattle where that used to happen regularly -- and the "corner of the eye" phenomenon is something that happens to everyone, whether there's a ghost there or not.  I see nothing here that can't be explained through a combination of suggestibility, natural phenomena, and ordinary human perceptual errors, with possibly the contribution of alcohol in the case of the teleporting panties.  None of this seems to me to be especially convincing, and you have to wonder if this may not be a few superstitious guys who convinced the whole team that something ghostly was going on, following which every additional stray noise just added to the team's conviction that they were living in a haunted house.

Of course, I have to admit that I'm drawing all of these conclusions long-distance.  I've never been to the team's living quarters to check out the claims for myself.  Spending a night in a haunted house is one of my bucket-list items -- and who knows, maybe if I get my wish I'll be convinced.  But at the moment, all of the natural explanations for the University of Iowa underwear-stealing ghost just seem to me to be much more plausible.

No comments:

Post a Comment