“Don’t underestimate the power of your vision to change the world. Whether that world is your office, your community, an industry or a global movement, you need to have a core belief that what you contribute can fundamentally change the paradigm or way of thinking about problems” – Leroy Hood
Perusing the skeptic literature on strange phenomena caters to my masochism, particularly when I see un-ironically intended statements like, “It’s long past time to say that there is no Bigfoot or Nessie unknown species out there. And there’s no reason to think that any technology will reveal spirits of the dead or alien visitors since what we have now doesn’t even hint at that eventuality” (“Well-worn paranormal paths go nowhere: When to give up“). I kept re-reading this, punctuated by occasional bangs of my head against the table. Consequently, I may incorrectly use the past perfect tense in inappropriate places. Screw you, grammar Nazi, I have head trauma.
I’d like to say that the perspective is more subtle and that the author has a legitimate philosophical viewpoint. I’d like to say that. Sadly, the thesis of many skeptics is that if we haven’t proven it yet, we never will. The author graciously admits that we need to keep an open mind “in case something astonishing is found”. By the same logic, Einstein should have given up the Theory of Relativity as it represented a paradigmatic revolution; Freud should have gotten a job as a coke-snorting barista, as the whole idea of the unconscious has yet to be proven; all those post-modernist social theorists were just flagellating a dead horse; Heck, whatever caveman had the bright idea of taming fire would have been better off shelving his invention and eating raw meat or letting the wolves into the campsite. As Carl Sagan famously said, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!”
The skeptic says, “Bring me the proof, and I’m willing to consider it”, neglecting the fact that they have made the a priori assumption that our current paradigm encapsulates all that exists or ever will exist, and that the lack of evidence acceptable under their standards was indicative of unreality, and that the method of peer review in a flawed institutional model will ensure that truth wins in the end.
Humans are a tough nut to crack. We have this pesky thing called consciousness that allows us to look beyond the purely material and derive meaning. The hardcore physicalist denies the significance of anything that cannot be atomized, but worse than that they deny the fragile boundary between our minds and the universe we inhabit. Lack of ontological reflectivity and a smug acceptance of the prevailing view of the universe does not equate to true skepticism. In fact it reeks of elitism and a confidence that you are among a rarified few that have risen above the unwashed masses, who need to be protected from themselves.
I don’t particularly care whether Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, or aliens have phenomenal existence. In terms of consciousness, we have a sample of one, and as disturbing as that is to the empiricist, it’s all we’ve got to go on. Across time and culture we tell ourselves stories about monsters and mysteries. We are clearly trying to communicate something of value. This is why folklore persists as a medium of exchange, not so the self-satisfied can laud their logic and faith in the ontology of the day, but so we can pass on truisms in a form that eschews containment by an elite, who rarely have ever had to deal directly with the dark things that lurk in the forest.
I don’t feel the need to believe, but neither do I feel the need to laud my lack of belief as some sort of philosophical advancement or intellectual superiority, which more often than not is the modus operandi of the devout skeptic. I care not to live in your joyless universe and think that I’m better than everyone else in my disbelief, ignoring the simple fact that we have been noting anomalies in our perceptions of the world since we first began speaking to each other in something more than grunts and squeaks.
How many times throughout the history of science have luminaries declared that there is nothing left to discover, only to be proven wrong by the next generation? So, look for Bigfoot, try to talk to spirits, and do a little UFO-spotting. If we can’t learn about the universe in the current paradigm, perhaps we can learn something about ourselves in the process, or as Edwin Hubbel Chapin said, “Through every rift of discovery some seeming anomaly drops out of the darkness, and falls, as a golden link into the great chain of order”.