Occam’s Razor Burn
Hello my fellow Grimericans! After a short hiatus, partly due to a horrendous tooth ache and partly due to writer’s block coupled with the ever-growing responsibilities of this Family lifestyle that I have chosen for myself, I am back. Now before you start emailing me telling me that the title for this post has already been done, let me tell you, I know. Not for a blog here on this site, but for other blogs, a couple articles, I even found a website with a similar name. Nevertheless, I thought that I was very clever when I thought of it. And far be it from me to take joy away from someone who obviously craves recognition. I didn’t read any of the other bodies of work with the same title as I didn’t want to be persuaded in any particular direction and instead, wanted to make sure that I write what originally gave me the idea for the post. So here we go, cue the confetti.
Well that was anticlimactic.
We all have our vices. After I gave up taking colored bubble baths at the tender age of 20, I began watching paranormal TV shows. I can’t lie; they are the reason my fervor for the fringe was rekindled. Like I mentioned in my first post here, I have always been an advocate for things of the paranormal persuasion and although my interest never waned, it did however level off for a few years. Then a friend of mine asked me if I had seen Ghost Hunters. We watched an episode and I was hooked. Now please don’t mistake this post as an avocation for all of the tom foolery that goes on with these reality paranormal shows. I’m simply stating that they caught my eye, as I’m sure they caught many of yours, and in doing so, re-sparked my inquiry into the unknown.
“BY JOVE! I THINK I’VE GOT IT! IT’S A MAGNIFYING GLASS!”
But over the years, I, along with many other viewers I’m sure, have become disenchanted with the ‘scientific’ aspect of these shows. But how scientific did we really expect them to get. With SPIKE TV’s new show, ’10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty’, we have two actual scientist who help contestants actually use the scientific method to collect data and construct theories. This is all well and good but they also belittle them as well. Well known in the cryptozoological world, Dr. Todd Disotell is an evolutionary biologist, professor of anthropology and runs the molecular primatology lab at New York University. He has appeared on many a show about cryptids and has helped perform the DNA testing on samples provided by the shows. I like Dr. Todd. He seems like a pretty cool, knowledgeable guy, plus his Mohawk just screams ‘I don’t play by the norms of society!’ and ‘Damn the Man!’ But here is my gripe.
“Yeah! Damn… Well… Me!”
On a recent episode of ’10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty’, while critiquing a team’s thermal footage, Dr. Todd made the statement, “They brought in a terrible FLIR image. It’s clearly of another team or something else.” You can read that again if you have to. If you missed it, let me point it out. How can it be “clearly of another team” or “something else”? A definitive statement mixed with an open ended one in one sentence. And why can’t “something else” be a Sasquatch? Or a group of Sasquattle? But I digress. I’m not here to harp on Dr. Todd. Like I said, I like the guy. I’m more curious as to why a learned man such as Dr. Disotell would make such statements. The answer could lie in one of the most basic heuristics of science; Occam’s razor.
Need I say more?
If you do or have watched those “scientific” paranormal TV shows (or Mythbusters) you have undoubtedly heard of Occam’s razor. (Also written as Ockham’s razor after William of Ockham.) It is a basic tool of deduction used to arrive at the most probable solution. It states that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex or that explanations of unknown phenomena be sought first in terms of known quantities. In other words, the most obvious answer is probably the correct one or in laymen terms: Keep It Simple, Stupid. So what does this have to do with Dr. Todd’s statements? Good question.
It occurred to me that using this principal can sometimes negate one’s ability to think outside of the box. If the most simple of explanations are inside the box and the unknown is what dwells on the outside, how then can we expand our perspectives to encompass all possibilities? Since we are on the phenomena known as Bigfoot, let’s use it as an example. If you are hiking in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and on your trip you see what appears to be a very large, hair covered, bipedal creature moving through the trees just beyond the range of clear identification, Occam’s razor would suggest that what you saw wasn’t a relic hominid, but another outdoor enthusiast such as yourself, albeit a larger than normal one with some sort of weird coat or hiking apparatus, maybe a ghillie suit. What’s that you say? Although you weren’t able to get a clear identification, you know what you saw was not human? It didn’t move like any human that you’ve ever seen? Simple! What you saw was one of the Pacific Northwest’s deadliest predators, an adult bear, in a rare occurrence that it walked on its two hind legs. Problem solved! What’s that you say again? You’ve seen many bear in your day and you know that that creature was definitely not a bear? Well then, my friend, Occam’s razor would suggest that either: A) you don’t know bears as well as you think you do, or that: B) what you saw you only think you saw and that you probably need to get your eyes checked.
If you said, “hiker, Bigfoot, bear” in that order for line three, you can legally operate a motor vehicle.
So my question is when, if at all, does Occam’s razor begin to lean toward the fringe? I think that it would come down to a numbers game. In what I have heard referred to as the “1% Argument” in an episode of the podcast ‘Monster Talk’ by the host, Blake Smith, there is an idea that can be applied to all things Fortean. The argument made by UFO researchers, cryptozoologists, ghost hunters and all other investigators under the ‘supernatural’ sun, is that if 99% of all sightings, encounters and experiences are either misidentifications, hallucinations or just completely fabricated, there is still that 1% of “unexplainable” reports. I feel that it is a good argument in my opinion, but maybe that is my bias of wanting such things to exist. I also feel that by putting labels such as the “1% Argument” on ideas is an attempt by the more skeptical of society to try to reduce the logic of the argument as a just a thing that believers and researchers say to try to help validate their theories and interest in such topics. I’m not accusing Mr. Smith of such shadiness. Like Dr. Disotell who, funnily enough, was the first guest on ‘Monster Talk”, I think Blake Smith seems like a pretty cool, knowledgeable guy. But unlike Dr. Disotell, Mr. Smith, as far as I know, does not have the scientific training of the former but still adheres to basic scientific tools and principals, which, as I’ve said before, I feel is a necessity for anyone who deems themselves a logical person. So using those scientific tools, or more precisely, the one in question, what would Occam’s razor have to suggest about the 1% Argument?
Is it more likely that the 1% of experiences that are still unexplained are merely so because there is simply not enough collaborating evidence to swing one way or another? Or is the most simplest of competing theories that there is indeed still unknown elements in our universe that we have yet to understand? Tell me and the other readers what you think! I love to hear theories and ideas. As for me; well again, this might just be my bias rearing its ugly head, but I’m more inclined to, logically, look at the latter.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to follow me on Twitter where I tweet about the world of the fringe, ya know, when I have time, at @ForteanMindset and if you’re like me from the Pacific Northwest or more precisely, Washington, you can follow my twitter feed dedicated to the high strangeness associated with the evergreen state at @WeirdWashington.Thanks for reading.