Look! Up In The Sky!

Posted Thursday, June 18, 2009, 6:34 PM

When I was a teenager, I was not as sceptical as I am today. I assumed that what people said was happening, really was what was happening.

I was fascinated by mysterious goings on, like Bigfoots and Yetis, Loch Ness Monsters, Ghosts, and UFOs. I devoured any book I stumbled upon with this subject matter, though I didn't really seek any of them out otherwise. If they were there waiting, I'd pick them up and read them. And believe them.

That is, until I was about 14, when things started to sort themselves out in my head, and I began to realise that the niggling inconsistencies of these tales of supernatural wonders did not actually stand up to any further scrutiny than a cursory glance.

Most of the best "sightings" had photographs. Many of those photographs truly were amazing - but some were just absurdly clearly obviously fake. This picture below, for example, purportedly showing a ghostly figure in a photograph, is obviously a double-exposure of a man dressed in a sheet. How can anybody take that seriously?

This image below, the best ever of the Loch Ness Monster, which was fully accepted as genuine for such a long time, and was the one that all other sightings were basing themselves from, turned out to be completely faked. And, in retrospect, obviously so; you can see the part where the neck meets the body is shaped like a submarine conning tower. And that is what it was; a plasticine moulded neck and head, stuck to a toy submarine.

And the most famous Bigfoot film ever, showing the beast walking through the woods, has long been doubted. It's certainly very convincing, but there are many unofficial stories behind its origins, usually speaking about the special effects technician who built and wore the suit. It's clearly just a fat guy in a costume.

UFOs are the most persistent, mostly because you don't need to be in a specific situation to see them - you just have to look upwards and sort of catch something out of the corner of your eye that you can't at first explain, and it's enough to claim it's a sighting, and it only takes a little bit of imagination to convince yourself it was a flying saucer from Beta Centauri.

When I read about a lot of these UFO sightings, a consistent description was of a "cigar shaped craft, with windows and coloured flashing lights". Now, as that stands, you can imagine something like a cylinder, with flattened ends, a bulge in the middle, big round windows, and rows of blinking lights flashing off and on down its side.

Except that's not what they actually described. Imagine a cylindrical shape, with a rounded front, and a pointed end. A row of small squarish windows, thirty of them, down either of the cylinder's sides. And suspended off from the sides of the cylinder, and positioned at the front and the end, are tiny lights, alternating a blink every few seconds. And, most importantly of all, if the cylinder was to tilt to the side just slightly, coming into view would be... two wings.

Yes, what they are all consistently describing is a standard jumbo jet.

I realised that's what they had been describing all this time, after watching planes fly overhead here at my new place, as I am right under the flight path for the airport.

It's all about perception. If you are already conditioned to believe the possibility of something exotic and supernatural, it is very tempting and very difficult to stop yourself, to choose to believe that's the explanation for what you saw.

But if you are already a skeptic, and regularly question everything, then more often than not you are more likely to figure out a logical and realistic explanation.

2 Reasoned Responses:

Shannon said...

I'm not uber-skeptical (I have a weakness for cryptozoology and the suspicion that science will one day explain residual ghosts), but I don't believe in much of the supernatural despite having a great love for those sorts of stories. My dad, who it turns out believes a lot of whoo whoo stuff, was really disappointed to learn that I don't really believe in vampires, werewolves, alien abductions and the like. It was a pretty strange moment when we each figured out what the other really believed.


GuanoLad said...

That's the hardest part about being a skeptic - some of your closest friends and family can have wildly different ideas about the supernatural, and you secretly end up dismissing them as a kook, yet you also don't want to end a pleasant close relationship.

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