One of the major disconnects between those who practice effective skepticism and those who believe in paranormal possibilities (or are emotionally invested in unexplained mysteries) is over the topic of anecdotes and witnesses’ testimony.
If there is one fact that I wish we could all accept early in life, I would vote for drumming in the idea that memory is not like a tape recorder. If we learn this truth about the human mind, we could avoid so much trouble.
Memory is constructed. Pause a moment and let that sink in.
Memory is not objective, it is constructed by our own brains. It is not burned, or ingrained, or seared into it, as much as we would like to think that is the case. The truth is less precise, uncertain, and disturbing.
Most of us rely on our short- and long-term memories nearly every moment of the day. For the most part, our recollections are simple and good enough to get us through situations and day-to-day activities without much trouble, but false memories are ubiquitous.
I don’t trust my memory at all. I’ve seen it fail epically. That’s why I try to keep logs and records of what happened and when. I’ll take pictures of things I want to remember and write copious notes.
I’ve had a journal since I was 7. There have been times when I looked back on events and was dumbfounded at the dispute between what I thought had happened and what I wrote happened in my journal. For a moment, I doubt my journal! But that’s incorrect. My current memory had evolved into what I wanted it to be for my state right now. It had been reconstructed each time I accessed it in the intervening years.
I’d bet many of you think you have a great memory — that you can relate your observations clearly and accurately. But you’re wrong, too. Don’t feel bad about this! We are all imperfect when it comes to observing and remembering. Our brains are incredible things but they function mostly for self-preservation and propagation of the species, and only moderately well as an accurate memory collector.
Several paranormal subjects such as hauntings, UFO sightings, and Bigfoot reports rely solely on witnesses’ recollections. Sometimes years or decades pass, but the memory is still taken as credible and true because the people seem sincere. I’ve lost count of how many times the argument has been put to me that the eyewitness reports for Bigfoot are so compelling and voluminous that there must be something to them. Frequently, they present the really poor argument that if this was a court of law, Bigfoot would be ruled genuine. It’s more complicated than that.
Not only are our memories generally far from perfect, perception is poor too.
- Bigfoot Files: Science, Skepticism and the True Believers (illuminutti.com)
- Daily 2 Cents: Eerie Ground Zero Wailing – Who Believes in Bigfoot? – Probing Extraterrestrial Abduction (alternativenewsalert.com)
- Doodle Time #2: Forteana and Related Weirdness (turbolard.wordpress.com)
- Who Believes in Bigfoot? (psmag.com)
- Time for an exorcism? Demons are on the rise for Halloween (nbcnews.com)
- Reliability of Eyewitness Testimony (kmmichas.wordpress.com)
By COLLEEN LONG via The Huffington Post
NEW YORK — One woman was told by a fortune teller that her son was possessed by demons. Another was approached on a Chinatown street by a stranger who eerily claimed her daughter would die in two days. A third was informed that her dead husband was communicating from the grave, telling her to hand over thousands in cash.
“Your son will die in a car accident – he is cursed,” a 65-year-old was told.
In each instance, the women bundled up cash and jewelry in a bag and gave it to strangers they’d just met – self-proclaimed spiritual healers. They were told the contents would be blessed in an effort to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck to the family or heal a sick child – they just have to wait a period of time to re-open it.
When they do, they find water bottles, cough drops and beans. But no valuables.
Detectives say there has been a rash in New York of what’s known as an evil spirit or blessing scam, where older immigrant women, mostly Chinese, are swindled out of their valuables by clever scammers arriving from China who prey on superstition and fear. In the past six months, two dozen victims have reported valuables stolen – in some cases more than $10,000 in cash and $13,000 in jewelry, according to police reports. A total of more than $1.8 million has been stolen.
“They know the culture, they know how to talk to these victims to get them to listen,” chief New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said of the grifts. “One person’s spirituality is another’s superstition, and they prey on that distinction.”
The scam itself has many permutations, but the basic principle is the same: A woman, usually in her 50s or older, is approached by a stranger, usually a younger woman, who asks the woman if she knows where to find a particular healer or fortune teller. Another seeming stranger joins the conversation, says she knows where the healer is located, and convinces the older woman to come along. The healer convinces the victim that in order to ward off some evil, she must hand over valuables in a bag to be blessed. And then they switch the bag.
Similar scams occur in other places in the U.S. with large Asian communities, such as . . .
- ‘Evil Spirit’ Scam Plagues Asian Immigrants in NYC (abcnews.go.com)
- ‘Evil spirit’ scam plagues Asian immigrants in NYC (bostonherald.com)
- ‘Evil spirit’ scam plagues Asian immigrants in NYC (sacbee.com)
- ‘Evil spirit’ scam plagues Asian immigrants in NYC (sfgate.com)
- ‘Evil spirit’ scam plagues Asian immigrants in NYC (utsandiego.com)
- ‘Evil spirit’ scam plagues Asian immigrants in NYC (newsday.com)
One of the hazards of being a “skeptic” about paranormal subjects is that those who have had their own personal experiences or investigated a peculiar case like to play “Stump the Skeptic.”
“Oh, you are a Skeptic. Well, I have a story for you,” and then I get an earful.
How do you explain that?” they conclude, with added self-satisfaction of a story well-told.
I can’t. And I’m not going to try to explain it.
Unless it’s a well researched case which has published documentation, I can’t say anything about it. It’s just a story. If I accepted every story I heard at face value every day, I’d be broke and in a mess of trouble. I am not accusing people of lying. I’m saying “I wasn’t there. It was not my experience,” so I’m not going to speculate about what you saw or what may have happened.
There is nothing to go on when cornered with these stories. I can’t fact check or confirm. I can’t pull an explanation out of a hat. I have no place to go with them except to say, “Hmm, interesting.”
Paranormal books are primarily these types of stories. It’s unusual for a case to be well-investigated compared to the thousands of stories that are related from eyewitnesses or referenced from other sources. Too many stories aren’t referenced at all. I was recently reading a book on local monsters and some accounts lacked accurate locations. There was no town of that name or there were no details. Useless. That is such poor quality evidence, it might as well be discarded since it is more likely wrong than helpful.
Anecdotes do not necessarily garner strength in numbers — not for paranormal subjects. A pile of unreliable tales is no better than one unreliable tale. It’s all hollow.
When it comes to local ghost and monster tales, the stories just exist and it is unclear where they originated. Such tales are great as local folklore. A problem arises when these anecdotes are elevated to “evidence.”
There is an over-reliance on anecdotes in the paranormal community — for hauntings, cryptozoology and ufology — as the basis of investigation. A case will start with an observation but if that is ALL that it is, with no physical evidence, no verification and a cold trail left to follow, there is nothing you can do with it but document it.
Had your own experience? Cherish it as your own. I just can’t help you and it’s a bit rude to put me on the spot. You had the experience. It’s up to you to provide evidence to support it, not for me to disprove your claim.
via Huffington Post
- Weird Word Salad: The Terminology of the Unexplained (illuminutti.com)
- The Internet: A Superhighway of Paranormal Hoaxes and Fakelore (illuminutti.com)
- How Does the Skeptic View Paranormal Folk? (bigseance.com)
- Paranormal Witness – Someone Wants to Tell Me Their Story … (skeptical-science.com)
- Paranormal Corner: Where is Bigfoot? (nj.com)
In a move no one saw coming, A British TV channel set up to offer dial-up psychic services has been fined for not telling viewers it’s all “for entertainment purposes only.”
Psychic Today, a 24-hour psychic network, was fined the equivalent of $19,079 U.S. for claiming on-air that its psychics could provide “accurate and precise” readings for callers, for offering anecdotal stories of successful predictions, and for making claims that presenters had helped solve crimes for the police, according to the Register.
The fines were laid down by Ofcom, an independent regulator of the British communications industry that has strict rules about how psychics can label their skills.
In one case, a psychic told viewers she was involved in the police investigation regarding the death of teenager named Milly Dowler, while another claimed she once accurately predicted that her friend would become friends with Michael Jackson.
Majestic TV, which holds the license for Psychic Today, told Ofcom that while the claims made in both cases were “factually correct,” the reference to Dowler was “unfortunate,” SkyNews reported.
According to a document the organization released in December 2011, anyone claiming to be in touch with a spirit guide or a dead person must qualify their powers by saying it’s “for entertainment purposes,” a phrase that must also be stated by the presenters and scrolled on screen.
Psychics are also prevented from predicting the future, offering life-changing advice, talking to the dead or even claiming to be accurate, the Register reported.
- Skeptical ‘Zombies’ Attack Alleged Psychic James Van Praagh (VIDEO) (illuminutti.com)
- Telly psychics fail to foresee £12k fine for peddling nonsense (go.theregister.com)
- Storage Wars Star: I’m Psychic & God Told Me What The Ratings Would Be – Listen To Her Bizarre Claims (radaronline.com)
- Beware the Psychic Scam (alternet.org)
- How to PROTECT YOURSELF against PSYCHIC ATTACKS AT ALL TIMES (sacredascensionmerkaba.wordpress.com)
Paranormal investigators say they look for evidence of paranormal activity. That phrase always confounded me. I don’t quite get it. What does it mean when someone says they have evidence of “paranormal activity”? And, how do you know it’s not normal activity that you just couldn’t ferret out?
There is a problem with how the word paranormal is used because it is often utilized in a way that is perhaps not consistent with the original intent.
Language evolves. Let me take a shot at unpacking some of these definitions about unexplained phenomena. See if it makes sense.
“Paranormal” and other terms for strange goings-on have changed over time. The word paranormal was coined around 1920. It means “beside, above or beyond normal.” Therefore, it’s anything that isn’t “normal” — or, more precisely, it is used as a label for any phenomenon that appears to defy scientific understanding. Ok, right there is a tripping point. Whose scientific understanding? The observer who is calling it “paranormal”? If so, that is problematic as a theoretical physicist sees things a lot differently than a dentist or a police officer. So, it appears too subjective to be precise. Each person may have their own idea of what constitutes “paranormal activity”.
The term “paranormal” used to just mean extrasensory perception and psychic power but, since the 1970s in particular — thanks to TV shows and proliferation of the subject in popular culture — the term expanded in scope to include all mysterious phenomena seemingly shunned by standard scientific study. It was a convenient way to bring many similarly peculiar topics under one heading for ease of marketing. So today, it can include everything that sounds mysterious: UFOs, hauntings, monster sightings, strange disappearances, anomalous natural phenomena, coincidences, as well as psychic powers.
Not everyone agrees that fields of study such as UFOlogy or cryptozoology (Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster and the like) should be considered paranormal but, if we think about the fact that after all this time, we have yet to document what these things actually are, that is beyond normal. Therefore, paranormal (arguably).
What appears as paranormal could essentially one day become normal. This has happened before with meteorites and still mysterious but likely explainable earthquakes lights and ball lightning. Or, we might not have developed the right technology or made the philosophical breakthrough yet to provide an explanation for some seemingly paranormal events. Perhaps we may find an instrument that can measure whatever it is that results in “hauntings” of a particular type. (Notice that I didn’t say an instrument that detects ghosts — an important distinction.)
Contrasted with paranormal is “supernatural.” To say something is supernatural is to conclude that the phenomenon operates outside the existing laws of nature. We would call such phenomena . . .
It’s been a hot time for hoaxing thanks to the Internet. With Photoshop, citizen journalism sites, YouTube, and postboards for the latest photo leaks, it is way too easy to send a lie half way around the world before the truth can pull its shoes on.
In this post, I wrote about a busy week in paranormal-themed news. In chatting with a correspondent — Jeb Card, Visiting Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department of Miami University — over a shared interest in the state of the paranormal today or “occulture,” we got to talking about the state of hoaxing.
Make no mistake, hoaxing has always been around. Hoaxers have been trying to fool people by displaying their special skills (scams) or stupendous stories since the beginning of civilization, I think. But there is a particular history of hoaxing in occulture. Lately, it has gotten more frequent (or we sure notice it more), more absurd (to outdo the last one) and more involved (because the payout can be big while the scrutiny greater).
There are many famous hoaxes from this scene. It’s hard to say if it’s more common now than in the past. Some of the hoaxes, notes Jeb, have been very influential in the creation of popular folklore. Big ones have defined UFOlogy: Roswell and the Men in Black. Not everyone would conclude these are deliberate hoaxes — there is a grain of truth to them — but they went way out of control and now there are hoaxed videos, documents and tales based on these events that never happened the way the lore says it did. Stories like that, which have taken on a life of their own as if they were true, are called “fakelore.”
The Bigfoot field is trampled over with fake footprints, stories, casts, photos and videos. It can’t be denied that the majority of Bigfoot stories are unbelievable, without supporting evidence, or obvious hoaxes. Every new bit of Bigfoot “evidence” these days makes us roll our eyes and say “SERIOUSLY!?” This reputation is damaging to those who truly believe something is out there to be found. The credibility of Bigfoot researchers scrapes the bottom of the barrel. The history of hoaxes colors this topic deeply when we realize that the seminal story of “Bigfoot,” Ray Wallace’s trackway, was revealed to be a hoax.
A longtime follower of the occulture fields, Jeb says he can’t think of a time when these communities weren’t awash with . . .
- Inside Source Claims “Shooting Bigfoot” Documentary Climax is Just a Big Hoax (illuminutti.com)
- Foiled Again: Lake Monster, Bigfoot Body and Alien Humanoid All in One Week (illuminutti.com)
- Where’s the Beef? Thoughts on the Lack of Paranormal Evidence (illuminutti.com)
- List of UFO-related hoaxes (Wikipedia)
- Join Us for Sharon Hill’s Workshop: “I Doubt That: The Media Guide to Skepticism” (randi.org)
- Yet Another Sylvia Browne Fiasco (randi.org)
- The Internet: A Superhighway of Paranormal Hoaxes and Fakelore. (zedie.wordpress.com)
- Score: Aliens-1 Bigfoot-0 (yankeeskeptic.com)
- The Loch Ness Monster Search & Bigfoot Mystery (disclose.tv)
- Rumors, hoaxes and myths of the week, then I tell you how to sort through it (idoubtit.wordpress.com)
- Friends spreading Internet hoaxes? How to make them stop (today.com)
Citizen Hearing on Disclosure: ET Believers To Get Congressional-Style Grilling From Former Lawmakers
Are we alone in the universe? Could UFO sightings actually be extraterrestrial spacecraft?
We ask these questions every day, especially on HuffPost Weird News, but now, four former lawmakers are about to open up the discussion to a congressional-style grilling.
The former federal legislators will convene in Washington, D.C. later this month and hold a serious meeting on the subject, called the Citizen Hearing on Disclosure. They’ll hear some 30 hours of testimony from researchers, military personnel and witnesses, all claiming to have proof of alien life.
Don’t worry, taxpayers, this isn’t an official meeting at the public’s expense. But it’s meant to focus public opinion.
The man organizing this event — Stephen Bassett of the Paradigm Research Group — is essentially a lobbyist for extraterrestrial issues.
The retired representatives will be paid, but they won’t be speaking to the press. That said, having a pseudo-official congressional-style hearing about aliens is an ambitious one, and it’ll all be recorded and released as a documentary.
Some even say that the “truth” will be revealed at the hearing.
Is the world going to end right in the middle of the upcoming holiday season? While that wouldn’t be good for retail sales, many people feel that Dec. 21, 2012 is a date that will linger in our minds forever — assuming we all survive the calamities that are supposedly headed our way.
The ancient Mayan civilization calendar is believed to end this year on Dec. 21. And somehow, through word-of-mouth, movies, books, the Internet, etc., a cult-like belief system has sprung up in our culture suggesting any number of awful things will take place on that date.
Some of these include:
- An unknown planet on a collision path with Earth.
- A close encounter between Earth and a black hole in deep space.
- More natural disasters around our planet.
- A shifting of Earth’s magnetic poles.
But where did all of these rumors actually start?
Many believe it goes back thousands of years to the ancient Sumerian culture who reportedly discovered a twelfth planet they called Nibiru — aka Planet X — which was predicted to have a close encounter with Earth in 2003.
When that didn’t happen, a new Doomsday was moved to December 2012.
On the other hand, there are some who believe the December date heralds not doom and gloom, but a more positive transformative experience for Earth and its inhabitants.
It all sounds rather sketchy, especially to a scientist.
“It’s all a hoax, and it’s based on absolutely no factual information. None of the things that are supposed to happen are real, and so it’s kind of hard to even have a scientific discussion about what they’re worried about because there’s no science there,” said David Morrison, a leading space scientist and director of the Carl Sagan Center for Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute in California.
Watch this Doomsday video with David Morrison
While SETI scientists are involved with the ongoing search for extraterrestrial intelligence, they also want to quiet any fears the public has about the alleged Doomsday.
To that end, Morrison created a special Doomsday 2012 Fact Sheet in September that’s posted on both SETI and NASA websites.
According to this fact sheet, “opinion polls suggest that one in 10 Americans worry about whether they will survive past December 21 of this year.”
“Think about that. It means when you walk down the street and look around, there are 25 million people who presumably have no stake in anything because their world’s going to end in [December]. That is scary,” Morrison told The Huffington Post.
When Morrison was researching information for his Doomsday fact sheet, he didn’t find anything that confirmed that the Mayans left us any dire predictions.
- Doomsday 2012: Do You Believe It? (jessicasimien.com)
- Rogue planet discovered: is the Mayan apocalypse coming? (theweek.co.uk)
- NASA refutes December 21, 2012 doomsday claims based on Mayan calendar (troyrecord.com)
- Two Months Until the Mayan Doomsday Nonevent (news.discovery.com)
- Mayans demand an end to 2012 doomsday myth (rawstory.com)
- Waiting for doomsday: Our apocalypse obsession likely to last long past 21/12/12 (news.nationalpost.com)
- World Ends in Only Five Weeks! (sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress.com)
- NASA: The world is not ending on Dec. 21 (whas11.com)
- NASA: The world is not ending on Dec. 21 (krem.com)
- NASA: The world is not ending on Dec. 21 (kgw.com)
By Glenn D. Braunstein, M.D. via huffingtonpost.com
If you buy into the current pop-culture craze about vampires, they’re simply the most intriguing, seductive creatures around, trapped in torrid love triangles with young, beautiful people. With super-speed, super-strength, killer wardrobes and a thirst for blood that can’t be slaked, the “undead” now dominate the box office, rack up ratings and top the bestseller lists. Whether it’s vampire Bill guzzling True Blood in the swamps of Louisiana, Edward Cullen brooding in the twilight of the Pacific Northwest, or revenants hunted by Abraham Lincoln (?!), the public never has seemed more obsessed with saying fangs you very much to these mythical demimonde.
But let’s dig deeper into their past, racing beyond creepy Count Orlok of black-and-white cinematic fame and dashing across historical Europe to ask whether whispers of health, medicine and science can stake out a different view of vampires: A considerable body of scholarly work seeks to explain what might have created the folklore of the vampire or Nosferatu — a name that comes from the Greek nosophoros, or plague-carrier.
Records of vampire-like creatures can be found in ancient religions of Tibet, India and Mexico. Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian and other ancient cultures also appear to have held beliefs involving a dead figure who returns to life in its own body and feeds off the living. Similar myths exist in European, Chinese, Polynesian and African cultures.
Our modern ideas about these monsters probably originated in Scandinavia and the British Isles but really took hold in Central and Eastern Europe in medieval times. In a region of what is now Romania, the unspeakable deeds and a reputation for barbarism gave rise to the posthumous name for Vlad III Dracul, a prince of the region, as “Vlad the Impaler.” In turn, this inspired author Bram Stoker‘s legendary tale, making Dracula a synonym for vampire. Of course, even in modern times, we occasionally read about a psychotic killer who cannibalizes his prey (remember Jeffrey Dahmer).
Even more fundamental to vampire lore may be a misunderstanding of the death and disease people once encountered in their everyday lives.
MORE . . .
- Vampire-themed attractions (telegraph.co.uk)
- Prince Charles, heir to Dracula’s blood line (telegraph.co.uk)
- Vampire Films Through The Years … Other Than Twilight (radioalice.cbslocal.com)
- Prince Charles the vampire? Romanian tourist board claim royal is Dracula’s heir (express.co.uk)
- How Vampires Learned to Love Virgins So Much (nymag.com)
- Vampires: there will always be blood (telegraph.co.uk)
- Science Behind Vampire Myths (science.kqed.org)
What would it take to get you interested in heading to remote wooded areas of America to try and prove the existence of the legendary creature known as Bigfoot? How about $10 million dollars.
Spike TV is offering the largest cash prize in television history for its new reality show, “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty.”
Hoping to whet the appetites of Bigfoot hunters everywhere, the cable television channel has partnered with the international insurance market, Lloyd’s of London, to put teams of explorers on the track of the elusive, tall, hairy, human-like animals that allegedly live in the wilderness areas of North America.
“If this series idea had come in without that Lloyd’s of London mark attached to it, I don’t think we would have taken it seriously, but that’s no small chunk of change,” said Tim Duffy, Spike TV’s senior vice president of original series.
“What it signified to us was an opportunity to attract the best scientists, zoologists, trackers and Bigfoot hunters in the world in an attempt to prove or disprove its existence,” Duffy told The Huffington Post.
The 10, hour-long episodes of “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty” are in pre-production now, with teams being assembled that will travel to various locations in the U.S., applying different methods in the search for their evasive quarry. The show has a scheduled launch on Spike TV in the fall of 2013.
In an odd twist for a new television series, besides the outrageous dollar amount prize for the first person to prove Bigfoot’s reality, Duffy said he and other Spike TV executives actually hope the show doesn’t last more than one season.
“Yes, absolutely! No one has ever done anything like this before, and that’s what I love about this show,” he said. “We’re going to do this right, not fast, and we’re not going to do it purely for entertainment purposes.”
Certainly one question that must be considered is: Does the $10 million bounty depend on whether Bigfoot is captured dead or alive? In some states, like Texas, it’s perfectly legal to shoot the alleged creature.
“We haven’t gotten to that point yet with Lloyd’s of London. Because they are the guarantors of this prize, they have a huge say in it. We’re still in the process of figuring out what the requirements will ultimately be for the retrieval of the bounty by whoever is successful bringing Bigfoot in,” said Duffy.
The most controversial piece of evidence to date that has been …
Watch this analysis of the Patterson-Gimlin 1967 Bigfoot film