I want to believe.
Let us get one thing straight from the get-go. I DO have belief in the paranormal. And being the enthusiast that I am, and with many friends and family knowing of my interest, I have often been asked, “Why?” I then have to explain what I mean when I say “paranormal”. It can be a word that, when uttered in front of certain crowds, can conjure images of ghoulies, ghosties and long leggedy beasties and simultaneously convey the impression of something being “off” with the believer. Having been an advocate for the fringe since youth, I am use to the effects on one’s belief structure caused by the ridicule factor, both negative and positive. I have, over the years, compiled what I feel to be a compelling argument for, at the very least the possibility, of phenomena occurring in our world that cannot be explained with our current understanding of the way things work. To say that we, as humans, have this whole existence thing locked down is downright arrogant. And while I strongly agree with the use of empirical observation of the scientific method, I also feel that those who claim the empirical/scientific standpoint, all too often disregard the evidence presented to them. History has taught us that an open mind is what propels mankind forward. The ability to think outside of what we, as a whole, are able to fully explain or measure. It is the pursuit of knowledge and not necessarily the attainment of a complete understanding that makes us human. To ignore the possibility of the possibility of any phenomenon outside what is in the accepted realm of reality is simply put, ignorant. Now this is nothing that hasn’t been said before. I just wanted to illustrate my viewpoint before I got into my topic. So, with that being said, I would like to state that yes, I do believe in the possibility of ghoulies, ghosties and long leggedy beasties. I also believe in the possibility of Boltzmann Brains, tulpas, little green men and tall hairy wood boogers. That brings us to the crux of the matter.
Not that kind of wood booger…
Belief is a tricky subject. When I set out to write this post, I decided to look up exactly what the definition is. My favorite is from Merriam-Webster’s and it states that belief is “[The] conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence.” There is almost beauty in both the simplicity and complexity of that statement. “Conviction of the truth”, these words alone can be confusing to some. The measure of one’s resolve towards any given “truth” can be a powerful force. But exactly how powerful can it be? Could it be powerful enough to say, wrongfully convict an innocent person with accusations of child abuse or involvement in satanic rituals? Unfortunately, yes, it can.
“We the jury, find the shape-shifting warlock guilty of conversing with the Devil.”
Most people are no strangers to the existence of false memories. That time you remember on that one road trip, your friends car broke down out in the middle of nowhere and you and all of your friends had to hitchhike back to civilization, when in reality, you never took that road trip for whatever reason, but have been told the stories and even retold the stories yourself to others, so many times, that you slowly nudged your way into the memory. And according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, false memories can affect us all. What do false memories have to do with belief? Simple. Memories can directly affect our examination of evidence. Circumstances usually related to supernatural events and encounters naturally tend to be high stress situations. Trying to remember something in a peaceful setting can be hard enough for some, but add an accelerated heartbeat, maybe straining of the eyes to focus in on that shadow just out of clear visibility and then add a shot of adrenaline from your fight or flight response for the cherry on top, and it’s understandable why one’s memory might be slightly off. Let’s not forget that false memories can be created in a calm, stress free environment let alone in a hectic, fast paced one.
“Get to the choppa! We’ll cover you! Don’t forget; LOWFAT milk!”
So why would I bring this up? Am I going to try to make an argument that this could be a reason for some of the paranormal reports made by seemingly believable, reputable witnesses to be skewed? And maybe in some cases, completely fabricated? Of course I am. I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling myself “truly open-minded” if I didn’t. And anyone else, who also makes the claim, shouldn’t either. We as a society are becoming more and more aware how unreliable eye-witness testimony can be. That itself can be a very scary thought with very real implications.
In the case of James Calvin Tillman, we have a man who was, based mainly on eyewitness testimony, wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the crimes of kidnapping, assault, sexual assault and burglary in the town of Hartford Connecticut in 1988. How long did Mr. Tillman sit behind bars? He was incarcerated for eighteen of his forty-five year sentence before DNA evidence exonerated him of his accused crime. Who was the eyewitness that sent him behind bars? Regrettably, it was the victim of the crime who handpicked his photo and the identified him as the assailant in court. Here is a situation where the person who had the firsthand account, inaccurately described her recollection of the events of her experience. This is sadly more common of an occurrence than you may think.
Regardless of the truth of whether or not an event happened, an eyewitness can compellingly recount that it did or did not with real emotions and conviction if they believe it. Belief can be directly influenced by memory and as you’ve just read, memory can be a fickle thing. Now keep in mind that this information can be double-edged sword in that it is true for both believers and the skeptics. It really comes down to perception and the mind’s ability to make sense of the information that it is receiving. That is why believers and skeptics can witness the same event and have two different memories on what exactly happened. This can make a believer perceive something that may not have exactly happened, say perhaps witnessing an object flying off a shelf when really it may have just fell. This can also make a big “S” Skeptic instantly disregard certain details that may have happened in a truly odd experience, say maybe, witnessing an undiscovered, bipedal, North American primate and thinking that what they really saw was just a mangy bear.
© Jason Mouratides
If you made it this far… this is what you look like…
Now since I don’t want your eyes to glaze over (if they haven’t already), I’ll wrap it up here even though I’m sure this topic could go on for quite some time, and in all likelihood, will show up again in following posts. So I’d like to leave you with this, a proposition to the reader, especially if you claim true open mindedness; if you are not already looking at both sides of the argument and all perspectives of the story, then maybe choose to expand your views to allow a complete examination of the evidence regardless of what you may or may not believe.
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