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I (Don’t) Want To Believe

Just a few days ago, I was chatting with a colleague in the field of Cryptozoology about what the creatures of Loch Ness, Scotland really are – presuming they do exist, of course! I found it pretty enlightening that he got quite defensive over my remark that maybe the beasts are not still-surviving plesiosaurs – as so many, including pretty much the entire Scottish tourist industry, want or hope them to be. When I suggested the possibility of giant-eels roaming the deep waters of the old loch, a distinctly frosty atmosphere developed.

Why? I’ll tell you why: because I had dared to question his carefully developed and nurtured belief system. And, for him, the image of giant eels swimming around was nowhere near as exciting and as engaging as a colony of plesiosaurs on the loose.

As we’ll now see, belief – whether relative to Nessie, UFOs, ghosts and the rest of the world’s many and varied paranormal puzzles – is a very dangerous thing.

So many people in Forteana profess to being open-minded on whatever happened at Roswell, New Mexico in the summer of 1947, the true nature of Bigfoot, whether or not life after death is a reality and…well, the list goes on and on. But, that’s actually not so – unfortunately. Time and time again I have seen researchers – in pretty much all aspects of Forteana – take that arms-folded, barriers-up approach when their cherished theory is questioned or doubted.

Are these people for real? Indeed, they are. I’m not saying I’m anything special, because I’m most certainly not. But, correct me if I’m wrong, the reason why Mysterious Universe exists, the reason why books are published every year on a mountain of mysteries, and the reason why paranormal-themed radio and TV shows exist is specifically because we don’t have the answers. If we did, I wouldn’t be writing these words right now, because I wouldn’t need to! Instead of having answers, we have beliefs.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with belief – it does, after all, fuel every single religion on the face of the planet. But belief – in a deity, in a Heaven or Hell, in aliens, in Bigfoot or in anything else of a potentially supernatural nature – should be recognized, and more importantly admitted, for what it is: an acceptance that something exists without hard, definitive proof of that existence or its nature.

Now, of course people see UFOs, encounter lake-monsters and giant hairy ape-man, and have profound near-death experiences. But, this is all very and vastly different from having proof that UFOs are specifically alien spacecraft, Bigfoot is without doubt an unknown/unclassified ape, or that there really is a God and a Devil. The former are unusual events and experiences that require explanations. The latter are beliefs constructed to try and explain and rationalize those same experiences and events.

Is that a problem? Well, again, not if there’s an admittance that any explanation is theoretical and belief-driven. The problem, however, surfaces when a demand is made (consciously, deliberately or otherwise) that belief equals fact. It doesn’t. Or, it shouldn’t. But, for so many, it sadly does.

I very well remember the fury that erupted in 2005 when my book Body Snatchers in the Desert was published, and which suggested the events that occurred in the desert outside of Roswell, New Mexico in the summer of 1947 had far less to do with careless aliens in need of a few good lessons in flying, and far more to do with dark and dubious military experimentation.

While debating the book at a conference in Roswell itself in the summer of 2007, it became very clear to me – and very quickly, too – that whole swathes of people didn’t just disagree with the data contained in my book. They clearly – from an emotional and an “I want to believe” perspective – just plain did not want the alien theory threatened. Why? Because the ET angle was exciting, reinforced their hope that there’s more to life than just birth, school, work and death, and made them feel that researching Roswell, and the bigger UFO issue, hadn’t been a big waste of time.

But, here’s my point: if we solved Roswell and it was proved to have been an alien event, well that’s great. Ufology is vindicated. But, if it’s one day proved not to have been an ET encounter, then why is that a problem? For me it isn’t. Research should be about finding answers, no matter whether we like those answers or not, and no matter if they utterly shatter our preconceived beliefs or add significant weight to them.

I don’t know with 100 percent certainty what happened at Roswell. Neither does anyone else in Ufology. Maybe the number of people at an official level who know the full story is incredibly small. I don’t know if the people I interviewed for Body Snatchers were telling the truth or were a bunch of manipulative liars. But, I do know that denying the validity of this or that simply because it doesn’t sit comfortably with what someone wants to so desperately wants to hear is utterly ridiculous.

It’s the same with Bigfoot. Most researchers of the phenomenon support the “unknown ape” theory to explain the many sightings that have been reported for so long. But, the fact is that there is barely a Bigfoot enthusiast out there who has not come across at least one case of Bigfoot high-strangeness in the course of their research. That’s to say where the witness has reported the creature vanishing in the blink of an eye, when the beast has been seen at the same time – and even at the same location – as a UFO, or when something else, but equally mystifying, occurs.

But, so often, these rogue cases are dismissed as mistakes and hoaxes. Or, worse still, they are just outright ignored. Why? Because they threaten the orderly belief-system that Bigfoot is just an unidentified large ape and nothing else.

And, here’s the danger: by ignoring or dismissing certain data that does not fall comfortably into an accepted zone of belief, the field of research (Cryptozoology, Ufology, the whole bloody lot) is doing itself a huge disservice by limiting its ability to finding the answers.

When it comes to the unknown, a mind already made up is a mind deceiving itself.

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  • jamesrav

    Perhaps when I was 15 I held the “don’t even dare try to convince me Nessie isn’t a surviving plesiosaur”.  Then you read more, analyze the data, see what’s *really* going on (Loch Ness Tourist Board anyone?) and slowly but surely the defenses crumble.  At this point I’m pretty convinced it was all nothing more than a mix of the mundane (rogue waves, an occasional deer, etc) sprinkled with some hoaxes.  Frankly I’d be in a state of crypto-euphoria if it was even ‘just’ 10 foot eels – that’d be quite an eel!

  • “The map is not the territory”~Alfred Korzybski

    Our maps are still too inadequate to sort the vastness of the Fortean territory.

    Even the ‘Nessie=eel’ hypothesis is inadequate, because it would have to explain the small number of land sightings 😉

  • Dogma

    I think that people want to find consensus in their (already unconventional) belief so that other like-minded people can make it a reality.

    In other words, bringing new theories into the fold just unecessarily muddies up the already murky waters. You’re just pushing the goal further out of reach.

  • DoubtfulNews

    Nick: I enjoy your books even though I don’t agree with some ideas that you propose. I love ideas. They are fun but they are not theories. I appreciate you pointing out this difference in belief and something stronger.

    Two points. First, I see skeptics doing this too (using the term in the defined scientific skepticism way, not armchair way). It happens that we all get a little tired of subjects, lose focus on occasion and get dismissive. So, the point you made about challenging a POV goes across the board.

    Second, I question how the broader public can judge between a position promoted only from beliefs and one that has actually evidence. I say, they don’t do well. All they see is the position, not dig deep into the foundation. That can be a bit dangerous.

    I advocate more opportunities for reasoned debate. And for us to lay on the line where our foundations originate. I believe we’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than the subject matter suggests. This piece shined some light into those shadowy areas.

  • I’d only add to that Nick the whole belief thing of course also applies the other way round: you only have to contradict someone in the midst of pontificating to their adoring ‘audience’ ghosts UFOs Bigfoot etc’ve been proved to be products of delusion/belief/misidentification/dying brains etc to get not so much a frosty atmosphere as the cold of the very grave.

    They can actually become extremely hostile to the point of all but barging you with their chest because you’ve dared to tell them in front of their cronies it’s perfectly possible to interact with something that looks behaves and feels exactly like your own dead father (in a number of different forms over a long period of time) and still retain the awareness it might not be your father (and certainly doesn’t automatically prove there’s a life after death or for that matter a God) [though it does make it incredibly difficult not to wonder if life’s far less straightforward than many people like to think].

    The reason for their aggression being of course they want to BELIEVE they’re dealing with people less intelligent than themselves (and thus perfectly capable of mistaking a gleam on a crispbag for a fleet of flying saucers or a speck of dust for the ghost of Elvis) and here’re you darin’ to gatecrash their backslapping fest by suggesting some if not many of their ‘idiots’ may actually be seeing exactly what they claim (without necessarily understanding it better than anyone else).

    The greatest unspoken offense they take though’s the possible implication rather than being superior to their targets they MAY actually be comparatively deficient (in the way a man born without eyes is visually deficient compared to even a one-eyed guy).

  • Nick Redfern

    True…if the land sightings are genuine! A lot of questions have been asked about some of those classics, such as the one of Arthur Grant. Admittedly, the land reports are very, very intriguing, because they also rule out a plesiosaur, as there is a near 100 percent concensus they couldnt move on land. My guess is we’ll only ever know for sure if we ever get a body. But, will that happen? Probably not. The main reason being that if these creatures spend nearly all their life in the water, that’s where they will die, and sink, and quickly be eaten by the loch’s resident fish population. So, no evidence will be found.

  •  Aside from draining the loch, what would you suggest to get evidence from the beastie?

    How about introducing some seals equipped with cameras in their heads? 🙂

  • W Shaw

    A refreshing approach. I come from the other side of the fence — an open minded skeptic, rather than a believer, and the two things that frustrate me most from the believer side are:

    1. People defining “open minded” as “accepting my theory without question.” I’ve met so many people who accuse me of being closed-minded, because I suggest alternate theories, while they say, “I know what it is and nothing anyone can say is going to change my mind,” and consider themselves open-minded.

    2. People who claim to take a “scientific” approach, but then say it’s not fair that in order to be taken seriously, they must be held to the same standards as anyone else in a scientific field. Why shouldn’t they be? I’ve worked for 20+ years in a field that was considered very controversial but is now totally mainstream. The change didn’t happen because we whined about how it wasn’t fair that no one would believe us without properly designed studies. It happened because a lot of researchers buckled down and did the science — worked out the details, refined the controls, documented scrupulously. and produced well-designed studies and data that stood up to scrutiny. Yeah, it takes time and meticulous work, and that may not seem like as much fun as just winging it, but that’s what science is.

  • Ionracer24

    I myself have been researching the ufo phenomenon for almost 20 years and have come to the conclusion that people have seen something in the sky. Its not extraterrestrials on joy rides that much is certain. There is no hard evidence anywhere of landings, crashes, etc….What happened at Roswell is just what they say, the reflectors were destroyed and blown in the direction of the storm winds that night. Nothing more. Interstellar space craft are not made from balsa wood, aluminum foil, and scotch tape. Sorry to disappoint all the believers, but facts are facts. There were no alien bodies, no other crashed ships. The material was taken away and the incident covered up because the fear of Russia attacking us with nuclear weapons was the number one concern of that time period. We had to protect ourselves from Russian spies in the us trying to discern what we were up to just like we spied on them for the same reason. It was a clever ploy to throw them off the trail. Some seventy years later there is still a huge group of people fooled into thinking that roswell was anything out of this world……