Actually, I don’t believe in “spooks,” ESP, alien abductions, or much of the other paranormal rot that crops up so often this time of year, but apparently 24% of 1,013 polled adults do. While I take issue with surveys asking a relatively insignificant amount of people their opinion and then projecting those numbers on the whole of the population, I have run into many people who have some, erm, interesting ideas about rather ordinary phenomena. I’ve been told that cats can detect human souls, that saber-tooth cats were aquatic predators and bit their prey sideways, that there are living pterosaurs in Papua New Guinea (the “Ropen”), and that an abandoned mine shaft was filled with “spirit orbs,” among other things, and I’ve seen no real evidence to support any of these ideas. Such discussions, however, usually make me want to buy a crate of Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World and distribute them to those who espouse such notions.
The last “unexplained” phenomena is perhaps my favorite, some people not realizing that when you take a flash picture in a dusty old mine you’re going to capture (gasp) dust on film, the little bright lights being nothing more than what has been kicked up by the person entering the room, cave, mine, or whatever you like. Not surprisingly, people who’ve tried to tell me that spirit orbs are real often believe in other odd explanations of natural phenomena, preferring to believe in supernatural explanations than really pursue the questions that they have about what they experienced.
What is somewhat surprising about the new survey, however, is that more people seem to believe in ESP than in witchcraft or ghosts, respectively, the majority of those believing in ESP being white college graduates. Strangely enough, I also got this impression from a town-wide yard sale I visited a few months ago, lots of upper middle-class families selling various books about balancing body energies, detecting psychic waves, and similar topics. The success of the scam The Secret alone shows how easily people are taken in by this sort of thing, and I can’t help but wonder why that is so. Obviously, in the case of The Secret, the theme is based upon Western materialistic culture and appeals to the desires of a path to living Your Best Life Now (the Christian version of a similar scam), but it seems that as science moves forward public understanding is still mired to greater or lesser extent in explanations that have long been abandoned. Indeed, old ideas die hard, especially when packaged as the “wisdom of the ancients” who somehow knew more about the way the universe works than we do today.
I don’t mean to be overly condescending, but it boggles (as opposed to scrabbles) the mind how so many people can be taken in my loony ideas that were discredited long ago. The natural world is absolutely amazing, science making sense of phenomena that were previously left only to supernatural interpretation, and I can’t quite seem to understand why so many prefer fanciful explanations to the more-enthralling reality of nature. Why isn’t the desire to know more about the actual world we live in as extolled as “having faith” in unknowable constructs that we place ourselves at the mercy of?