Skepticism Destroyed my Childhood Memories

Skepticism Destroyed my Childhood Memories January 12, 2016

Unsolved Mysteries

I grew up with a show called “Unsolved Mysteries”. The music and presentation to it is nostalgic to me. In a moment of weakness, I hopped online and grabbed a DVD set that’s all UFO-related episodes. That was a thing within my family’s interests.

I popped in the DVD and started watching. I hadn’t sen these in about 20 years. Guy starts being serious and talking about creepy things.

Serious man

First up was a story about a USAF Base in the UK being visited by winking UFOs. I was basically enjoying the episode until it started… the skepticism. I began explaining to the episode that things like eerie glowing in the woods, likely have mundane explanations, such as headlights from someone else.

Light in the woods

The people involved were giving their testimonies to Unsolved Mysteries, when I thought, “You know what? I don’t buy it.”  The show dug at skeptics. Whenever I hear something to the effect of, “Well, I was a skeptic at first, then I saw it for myself“, I wonder what’s the point of the statement. Since you stopped being a skeptic, I should too? Sometimes, the person is just recalling a sequence of events, but sometimes it comes across as more of an argument (“I was a skeptic like you, once“).

I became increasingly irked.

The highest ranking officer involved sent a memo up the chain of command, which took the Freedom of Information Act to make public (supposedly), which the show seems to use to justify all the claims… even if the memo is simply stating the claims, themselves. “Yet, many remain unconvinced…“, the show explains, as though the memo wasn’t incontrovertible.

Helpfully, they brought on a party-pooping skeptic to lend some semblance of balance to the story.

Hapiness-destroying Skeptic
Hapiness-destroying Skeptic

 

 Spacecraft from another world, although not impossible, is extraordinary… and the burden of proof for any event that is extraordinary is upon those who are making the claim, not upon those who look at it from a skeptical perspective.

“Exactly!”, I yell. Finally, someone on the show had their head screwed on straight.

Where is the evidence? Show me the evidence. And that’s what science is all about.

It strikes me that this is basically identical to many theist/atheist debates we have today. I also note that, I don’t remember this guy at all. I remember the episode in general, but it’s as though when I was a kid, everything he said went in one ear and out the other.

He continued to describe various things that they probably mistook for alien-UFOs, such as meteors. He didn’t doubt that they saw something, but thinks the servicemembers misunderstood what they saw.

They weren’t having it.

I’ve seen meteor showers. It wasn’t a meteor falling out of the sky, and it went up, not down. Meteors fall down from the sky. They don’t go back up into the sky.

I don’t disagree, however, those are the claims. We also don’t know to what degree his memory is faulty, since we have no evidence that any of that happened.

Maybe it’s just me, but the approach with bringing the token skeptic into the show was framed as pitting him against the sympathetic story tellers, and why won’t we just believe them? Why are we being mean?

 

The show soon moved onto the next segment, about four people in Maine who got naked in a spaceship.

Chased in a canoe

Like the first segment, this started off as just a story, then… the skepticism returned.

According to the story, they spent 12 years talking about the incident, with their friends and families not believing them. My immediate thought was, “oh, so you achieved a group consensus that’ll be remembered as the official sequence of events. Nice.” They started having nightmares along the way, and decided to seek professional help.

Finally Jim contacted UFO Researcher Ray Faller for help…

Ugh. Not exactly the professional help one would hope. I stopped watching the DVD almost immediately later.

Faller suggested the “Allagash Four” undergo hypnosis with a trained hypnotherapist to recover details of the sighting. … From the beginning, Ray Faller suspected the four men had been abducted by a UFO, but did not tell them. One by one they underwent hypnosis.

… and I’m out.

I'm out

Now, I don’t know exactly how this was done, but so much for having a properly blinded investigation. Faller wrote a book about this investigation, so he had some level of investment in the outcome being interesting. Objection, objection, objection.

Out flung the DVD on the tray, and I haven’t gone back since. There’s 3 other discs. Thanks, skepticism. I can’t enjoy a VHS-quality 90’s show? It’s not fun to be frustrated and yelling at it.

This is why I’ll likely never again be a believer. My mind is trained now to detect these reasoning and epistemic errors. I can’t merely set them aside. Like my beating heart, these detectors continually scan whether I want them to, or not.  When I was a kid, I didn’t have them. I believed in God merely because those who I trusted presented that as reality.

It occurred to me a couple months ago that this concept of “spontaneous human combustion” may be bogus too – yet another concept I got from Unsolved Mysteries… and that’s long after I was already in skeptic-mode. I just realized that this notion got in long before my skepticism was up and running, and now it’s corrected.

Skepticism is about applying a verification filter for new claims. Critical thinking is continually re-examining the claims that may have slipped by. If only I had these in place earlier.

(Screenshots taken from the “Unsolved Mysteries – UFOS” DVD set, Disc 1)

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