June 28, 2020

Being Cool is Not Evidence for Paranormal Phenomena

lunar eclipse

Aliens, ghosts, Bigfoot creatures, psychic powers, various paranormal phenomena, and even gods all have something in common. Well, they all have a few things in common I suppose, but I'm going to focus on one for this post. During conversations I've had with people who believe in any or all of these things over the decades, one theme has surfaced regularly. It emerges once I have explained that I do not believe in the particular phenomenon and mention the lack of evidence for it. The person who does believe says something along the lines of, "But wouldn't it be cool if they did [exist]?"

I answer this query the same way every time I hear it. "Hell yes!" With the possible exception of gods, I think it would be seriously cool if these things existed. I have to exempt gods because the coolness factor would depend greatly on which ones we were talking about. Some gods would be much cooler than others, and there are horrible gods I'd never want to exist. As for the other phenomena, sure it would be cool. I'd welcome evidence sufficient to support the existence of any of this stuff, and I suspect I'd have a lot of company. As long as whatever we were talking about didn't present a serious threat to us, I'd bet that many people would be thrilled to discover it was real.

The problem here, as you have undoubtedly figured out by now, is that the person I'm having this conversation with is presenting this "argument from coolness" as a partial justification for believing what they believe. That is, Bigfoot creatures are real, at least in part, because it would be cool if they were real. This is wishful thinking, and it cannot be counted as evidence of much of anything. It would be incredibly cool if I could read minds and control the weather with my thoughts (or prayers), but this is irrelevant to my ability to do so. That's unfortunate because I could certainly use the $250,000 that would be mine if I could demonstrate such powers.

I've found the whole Bigfoot mythology to be appealing for as long as I can remember. I've enjoyed reading about it and watching truly bad TV shows and movies drawing upon it. And you know what? I still do. That doesn't mean I believe these creatures exist. If the opportunity for me to join one of the many silly Bigfoot expeditions presented itself, I'd probably consider it. That doesn't mean I'd expect to find anything. I find the mythology appealing, and I would agree that it would be cool if we learned that these creatures really do exist. But none of that leads me to think that they do exist. In fact, none of that even influences my thoughts about the likelihood that they might exist. Wishful thinking is not evidence.

The countless TV shows featuring hunts for Bigfoot creatures, ghosts, aliens, etc. are packed with people who believe in these things. The people depicted as Bigfoot enthusiasts, ghost hunters, or whatever else almost always believe in whatever they are hunting. I suppose this makes sense in that these are often extreme examples of people who have devoted a considerable portion of their lives to this stuff. Still, I don't think it is required. I think someone could be a Bigfoot enthusiast without believing Bigfoot creatures were real. After all, someone could enjoy classic Greek mythology without thinking any of those gods were real. And who's to say you must believe aliens are visiting the Earth in order to enjoy the bizarre culture that has developed around this possibility?

I've enjoyed haunted tours even though I don't believe in ghosts or hauntings. While aliens have never held much interest for me, I suspect I'd enjoy visiting Roswell at some point. I've never believed the Loch Ness monster was real, and doubt I'd go out of my way to visit Loch Ness; however, I suspect I'd enjoy seeing it in the unlikely event that I was in the area. The point is that my anticipated enjoyment of these things has little to do with whether I believe in them.

You might think that someone who is both an atheist and a skeptic would relentlessly mock people who are really into this stuff. In my younger days, I certainly did so. When I look at many of them now, I see people who are enjoying themselves. Yes, much of what some of them believe is silly. But as long as they aren't harming anyone or attempting to legislate their beliefs, I'm generally content to leave them be. Sometimes I'm even entertained by them.