posted on Dec, 8 2012 @ 03:13 PM
"If you make enough predictions, you're bound to get some of them right; and if you look for patterns in noise, you'll probably find them."
These very reasonable remarks are often uttered by intelligent skeptics in response to claims of the extraordinary or the supernatural. Relevant
examples might include: beliefs in 9/11 foreshadowing, numerology, 'Bible Code' prophecies, or any kind of 'hidden message' imbedded in another
Take, as a more detailed instance, Morgan Robertson's 1898 novella, "Futitility or, the Wreck of the Titan," published only a few short years
before the sinking of the Titanic, which describes - with surprising detail and accuracy - the sinking of the titular ocean-liner by an iceberg during
a trans-Atlantic voyage. Many conspiracy theorists believe that this similarity between the work of fiction, and the later extraordinary event,
implies some element of psychic foreshadowing, or perhaps a ritualistic plan by the Illuminati to subliminally foreshadow events of ritual murder by
inserting them in the popular culture beforehand.
Naturally, when confronted by such a claim, the intelligent skeptic replies that coincidences happen, and that if you go about looking for psychic
foreshadowing in literature, you will of course find something similair to a real event that happens later on. If he is truly wise, the skeptic
may even take note and point out the fact that it is only the relative extra-ordinariness of the real event that makes the alleged
fore-shadowing even remotely convincing: It is only because the sinking of the Titanic was a rare and unusual event that its similarity to something
found in popular culture strikes the mind as unusual. Were I to go searching for foreshadowing of my breakfast this morning (bacon, eggs, and toast) I
would, perhaps, find numerous examples on my own bookshelves of such an event having taken place. But this would not surprise me, because breakfast is
not an extraordinary event.
My purpose in this thread is to point out that this irrational pattern-seeking is not the sole province of conspiracy theorists. Skeptics themselves
are often guilty of this rather embarrassing pareidolia.
Take, for instance, the case of Betty & Barney Hill: One of the seminal cases of early research into alien abduction. In the wake of the original
story, many skeptics commented on the similarity between the aliens described by Betty Hill while under hypnosis, and a monster that appeared on an
episode of the "Outer Limits" twelve days before the supposed abduction. The resemblance was not particularly striking... but there were the
“large, wrap-around eyes” Betty had described... sort of.
The trouble with this argument is that it's identical to the fallacious reasoning used in the “Wreck of the Titan” example: With virtually all of
contemporary art, media, and popular culture to cherry-pick from, a determined skeptic couldn't but help find something that was slightly
similar to a short, humanoid creature with minimal features and large eyes. It's a given: Something previously unknown, whence become known, will
always be found to resemble one thing more than it resembles others. This is trivially true.
After all the pompous and precise comparison of Betty Hill's abductor to the TV monster, the single most impressive fact at the end of the day was
just how dissimilar they were! This cheap and lazy pareidolia, which skeptics lament whenever it's used by conspiracy theorists, is, ironically, used
all the time by skeptics themselves when they argue against the objective occurrence of the extraordinary or the supernatural.
Take, as a second instance, the case of John Titor, the alleged time traveler. The story is almost certainly a creative and brilliantly executed hoax,
and there is ample evidence to suggest this... which is precisely why it is so mind-boggling that the most commonly voiced objection to the John Titor
story is that it bears a strong resemblance to the apocalyptic novel, Alas, Babylon, written in 1959 by Pat Frank. For this is not an argument
I must confess that I was quite taken by this theory at one time, and cheerfully suggested it to others. That is, until I actually read Alas,
Babylon for myself, whereupon the first thing that struck me was just how dissimilar the two stories are. Indeed, the supposed points of
similarity were as vague and superficial as the TV monster and his rather comical eyes. Aside from the name of the town (Fort Repose) and locale
(central Florida) nothing else of the setting or characters really comes through. And the events of the novel are in no way similar to the events that
John Titor describes. A nuclear strike by Russia, and a generally positive and patriotic outlook are all they really have in common. A few odd
coincidences pop up (seeing a mushroom cloud over Jacksonville, for example, or the safety of Omaha Nebraska) but nothing even approaching the level
of synchronicity present in the “Wreck of the Titan” case. If they were just two novels, we would surely notice the similarity, but we wouldn't
Now, my only purpose in this thread is to point this out: This way in which skeptics argue that extraordinary claims are contrived, merely because
they bear some resemblance to something from popular culture. This is not a good argument. It is as fallacious and unsupportable as 9/11 foreshadowing
in an episode of the Simpsons.
A confused but otherwise reasonable skeptic, having heard my argument, may now rejoin that the two cases are not similair: That what is important is
the extra-ordinariness of the claim being supported by the similarity, not the nature of the similarity itself. The similarity between the
"Wreck of the Titan" and the sinking of the Titanic is rejected because the claim of psychic fore-shadowing is extraordinary and unnecessary - there
is a better explanation: That the similarity is a coincidence. Whereas, with Betty Hill's alleged abductors, the similarity to the TV monster is
accepted, because the claim that the similarity supports (that the alleged abduction was a hoax, dream, or hallucination) is less extraordinary, and
more reasonable than the claim that the abduction took place.
I hope, having now seen the objection laid out, that you can spot the obvious problem with this line of argument: It is a logical fallacy to accept or
reject evidence on the basis of the conclusion it is meant to support. The problem is not the claim itself, but that the pattern being used as
evidence was cherry-picked from random noise. We reject the "Wreck of the Titan" similarity because it is pareidolia, not because it is used to
support a claim of psychic foreshadowing.
Furthermore, we have already noted that in the case of pareidolia, it is only because the real event is itself extraordinary that the alleged
foreshadowing convinces the untrained mind that there is a connection between the two. Consequently, I assert that in the absence of physical
evidence, we must resist the temptation to reject claims of an extraordinary or unusual occurrence as contrivance or fabrication on the grounds of
their similarity to previous incidents found in history or popular culture. To use such similarities as evidence of contrivance is as fallacious
as using them as evidence of conspiracy.
If we must, we may reject such claims on the basis of a lack of evidence, but that is all.