It seems that a gentleman living atop a mountain near Casar, NC, recently recounted an altercation with a human-like creature that was ten feet tall, covered with blond hair and sporting six fingers per hand. The fellow poked the beast with a stick and after "I rough talked him" he ran away but then returned a little later. Local media said the 911 call came in at 3 AM and was logged as a "Suspicious Person" report. Sgt. Mark Self of the Cleveland County Sheriff's Dept. said the story is similar to accounts of a Sasquatch (referred to as "Knobby") that was believed to prowl the area back in the 70's. It was said to have an ape's body with a human face and that it broke into barns, killed chickens and made a whistling sound. In a final quote, the rough talking gentleman brandishing the stick said: "This thing was messin' with my dogs and tryin' to get to my back porch. If he comes too close to me, I'm gonna kill him."
What I find remarkable is that such a yarn made the national news. Americans, it seems, are inordinately keen on such tales of woo. I recently wrote a column dealing with Crop Circles and the readers were almost evenly divided between those who saw them as obvious pranks and those who imagined all sorts of mysterious (perhaps even otherworldly) machinations. Here are just a few of the comments:
"It's hard to write a good investigative piece while on your high horse, but that's all academia seems to know how to do. Enjoy you superiority over us mortals, oh great pompous sickology today PhD; As for crop circles: the authentic ones entail anomalies such as the bending of stems by directed microwave radiation, a method not available to civilians - or military - as far as we know. There are many other physical anomalies that differentiate the genuine circles from the hoaxes; Another enduring myth is that people with letters after their name have some authority regarding subjects they have obviously not researched; Have you ever even step foot in one of these creations? They are massive and complex. Why don't you do some research instead of clinging to boxed-in scientific mindsets... and fear. Psychology Today needs to open THEIR minds and really look into what they disregard out of hand; I don't have all of the answers to fully explain the crop circle phenomenon, but it seems to be one of the most intriguing and relevant mysteries of our generation."
Isn't it odd that, living in a society almost totally dependent upon science and technology, the hoi polloi will shower fame and fortune on someone who can put a ball through a hoop but heap scorn and derision on educated professionals? Is it any wonder that scholastic standards in the US are woefully behind those of other industrial nations?
Perhaps you've heard about the psychology professor who presents a magician friend as possibly having supernatural powers. After a few tricks, most of the students in the class are believers. And even after the ruse is revealed, a significant number still remain convinced. It's like the mobs that still think the Israeli who went around bending spoons is somehow gifted. Is it any wonder that adults flock to Superman and Batman and Spiderman movies or pray for the oil to stop flowing in the Gulf? This may come as a shock but the young fellow who sits in a block of ice for days and the old man who's had nothing to eat or drink for seven years are just making believe. Ditto the TV favorite who blows on a dead fly and then watches it take off full of life. It's only a matter of time until that guy starts a new religion. And audiences already worship the hustler who uses a simple Cold Read to talk to the dead. Is life really so unfulfilling, so utterly unsatisfying that there's a virtual stampede to fantasy?
But let's look specifically at tales of woo. Legitimate scientists aren't going to waste their efforts questioning Bigfoot and Crop Circles because the answers are all too obvious. It's true that a breeding population of perhaps several hundred hairy giants might have existed in North Carolina since the Pleistocene without leaving any tangible evidence but the odds of such an occurrence are vanishingly small. And what is it exactly about Crop Circles that would attract the limited time and expensive talent of trained professionals? That said, if anything truly mysterious turned up, the knowledgeable elite would be all over it in an instant. Don't kid yourself. Cracking a true conundrum in science is how stature is accorded and a place in history is assured. What's more, there are few things that would excite and delight me more than having a Flying Saucer land on the Whitehouse lawn tomorrow morning. Actually, off hand, I can't think of a single one but despite my desire I'm not going to suddenly become any less rational.
Truth be told, professional athletes often ridicule the marshmallows with legs that rabidly cheer them on from the security of the stands. So too, those with hard won skeptical inquiry skills can only shake their heads at those who have "researched" the microwave bending of corn stalks. When it comes to games with balls and sticks or matters of science and technology, it's best to leave it to the pros. Trust me on that.