Thursday, September 23, 2010

SP 8 – Ouellet commenting on Lake Monsters

The Lake Monsters phenomenon is another example of what unifies the so-called paranormal, namely elusiveness. UFOs, ghosts, Big Foot and psi effects leave, if any, only feeble traces that invariably fail to confirm the witnesses’ account. Furthermore, every time someone takes the means to have a substantive confirmation of the phenomenon, it also invariably fails to show-up, or if it does it is a hoax. This is elusiveness, which is described by the parapsychologist Walter von Loucadou as follow: “the phenomenon will behave ‘as it pleases’ as long as it is not observed attentively”.

The inherent elusiveness of paranormal phenomena, being a clear characteristic, should lead the attentive researcher to see if there might be a common substratum behind all these apparently discrete phenomena. Yet, very few do investigate the paranormal in that spirit. The armchair anomalists, so fond of their pet theory would see no advantage in taking such an approach; their bestiary of monsters and spirits would simply fall apart. The Fortean collector of stories, being usually completely engulfed in the fallacy of inductive thinking, would not see the point. Parapsychologists, who tend to be afraid of stepping out of their laboratory and their quantitative analyses, would not see any advantage either. All these people, by avoiding looking into the only strong pattern found in the paranormal, leave right open the field to those who destroy phenomena.

To take into account the fundamental elusiveness of paranormal phenomena has two specific implications. The first one, which may appear counter-intuitive, is actually not to try confirming directly the phenomenon. The ones that really destroy paranormal phenomena are the “real” field investigators (anomalist or skeptic), armed with their cameras and sensors. The deep sonar exploration of the Loch Ness figuratively killed the phenomenon, and may only reappear when, perhaps, no one is paying any attention to it. The second is the logical consequence of the first implication. Instead of trying to confirm directly the existence of the phenomenon, one has to allow the phenomenon to “express itself” through a variety of means where there are multiple but non-stringent confirmation processes. In the case of Lake Monsters, this might mean to have a look into strange synchronicities involving lake monsters-related themes, or pay attention to what people dream of at night, or other concurrent paranormal or strange phenomena near and around the sea monsters alleged location, etc. This leads to a very different form of paranormal research.

Paying due attention to the central role of elusiveness has also serious epistemological implications because it implies that one has to work with a mixed ontology. The dualist division between the objective and the subjective, already challenged by many philosophers since Kant, is even more challenged in these cases. How we look at a phenomenon will determine its physical properties and how often it is shows-up. Sea monsters, as far as I can see, follow the same pattern. I remember that there were persistent sightings of a lake monster in Lake Pohenegamook in Quebec. Some witness’ accounts were quite astonishing. After the “field investigators” passed, it was reduced to dead tree trunks emerging from the bottom of the lake to the surface. For sure, a number of witnesses’ account fitted this explanation, but not all. Yet, the monster was “slaughtered”, there was no more reported sightings ever since. There was no more room for elusiveness.

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