Saturday, November 10, 2007
Back in September the Bigfoot crowd got an unintended boost from a hunter in Pennsylvania's Allegheny National Forest. Rick Jacobs had set up an automatic night-vision camera equipped with a motion sensor and infrared flash in his elevated deer stand hoping to sight a wall-worthy buck. What he got, instead, was a few pics of some adorable bear cubs, and the above shot. To his credit he makes no claims that the critter is anything. All he says is that he doesn't know what it is. The 'experts' at the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization say it's a 'juvenile sasquatch'. Real animal experts, like Jerry Feaser of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, say it's a sick bear, possibly with mange. While the appearance of such beasties is rare, it is not unheard of. And the fact that the critter in question appeared with other bear cubs was sort of a give away. Back in July a rancher in Texas killed what she claimed was a chupacabra, a legendary creature of Hispanic lore that supposedly drinks the blood of livestock. DNA tests showed that it was a diseased coyote. Then, of course, there is Nessie herself. Reports of some large creature inhabiting Scotland's Loch Ness date back to the 500's, although the stories have been garbled over time. The most significant photo, the Surgeon's photo(below) was later proved to be a hoax.
So why is it that despite the most tenuous of 'evidence' people insist on believing in things that are, at best, improbable? I used to be a devout believer in Bigfoot, Nessie, aliens on Earth, etc. But as such things continued to go unproven, and as I grew more aware of the difficulty in such things remaining unfound, I abandoned such beliefs. It may be logically impossible to prove that something doesn't exist, but to paraphrase Carl Sagan, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. It seems rather unlikely that a population of large, air breathing animals could live in a land-locked lake for centuries without a corpse washing up, or a fisherman catching one, or given the number of people looking for the thing a decent picture being taken. Sure, it's possible for Nessie to be like the Sith, with only two alive at any one time, but that would have lead to a genetic dead end centuries ago. It is highly unlikely for a species in a closed environment like the loch to exist without a significant breeding population. It's the same with Bigfoot. I won't say that there has never been a large hitherto undiscovered primate living in the forests of North America, but as we encroach further and further into the wild areas of the continent I find it harder and harder to believe that encounters with the creature are still so scarce. As for aliens and UFO's, one would think that I would be at the vanguard of folks screaming I Want To Believe, but until the theory of relativity is disproved, and the speed of light can be circumvented, it seems improbable to me that some race would dedicate millenia of space travel to come all the way out to the galaxy's edge just to shred some cows and probe redneck colons. And as for the conspiracy theorists who claim the government has been hiding alien presence on Earth for decades, just look at the Iraq war. We are governed by the Keystone Kops who can't keep even minor secrets out of the press for more than a couple of days. I doubt they could keep a lid on aliens for half a century. Do I believe that we are the only intelligent life in the universe? Absolutely not. I just find it hard to believe that another space-faring race would travel hundreds of thousands of light years just to hide in the closet.
So I still ask why. The universe is so exciting and fascinating on its own, why do people need to invent stuff to make it 'more' interesting. Before the industrial revolution people saw fairies and angels, now it's aliens and cryptids. What is it about people that they will gladly believe in the highly improbable, when with just a little effort and research the possible and extant is every bit as fascinating? Is it because it's easy to believe in something, but more difficult to actually do some research? Or is it the need to live in a world that is, in some way, mysterious and unfathomable? And does that ineffability mean that, since understanding is innately impossible, the believer is relieved of the burden of proof? I have no idea. All I do know is that the chip in my head that the CIA implanted when the aliens took me aboard the mothership is telling me I need more coffee.
The truth is out there.
Trust no one.