“So, do you believe in bigfoot?”
This is a question I am asked fairly regularly. Sometimes the asker is dead serious, sometimes merely curious, sometimes sneering. But over the last couple of years since I’ve become a connoisseur of the subject, I’ve learned how to answer it.
“I don’t believe in anything,” I say. “My brain doesn’t work that way.”
It’s true. If we get in the way-back machine and revisit one of my first posts on this blog, we’ll see that I proclaim my skepticism of nearly everything. Little has changed. I don’t believe in bigfoot, space aliens, Nessie, ghosts, god, or (especially in an election year) in politicians. I do, however, believe that the existence of all of those things is certainly possible.
Here’s another question I get. “What’s a skeptic doing organizing a bigfoot conference?”
Sigh. Why does this community insist on using “skeptic” as a bad word? There’s nothing bad about being skeptical. It simply means you wish to evaluate the evidence instead of launching headlong into your opinions. Unfortunately, the word has taken on some negative baggage thanks to those folks who call themselves “skeptics” but who really just dismiss the whole subject out of hand. (Maybe we need a new word.)
No, I don’t believe, and yes, I am a skeptic. I have never seen a bigfoot; therefore, I question its existence. However, I happily concede there are more than enough anecdotal tales and physical evidence to justify exploration of the squatch phenomenon. I am willing to listen to pretty much all of it and evaluate all the stories as they come rolling down the pike. And as it is an unproven entity, from my perspective no bigfoot theories are off the table. Personally I lean pretty hard toward the flesh-and-blood animal theory, but if you want to throw some psychic-healer-space-alien-interdimensional-portal-shape-shifting-woo into the mix, that’s cool, too.
Philosophy, defined broadly, is the study of knowledge. Although I’ve done the reading and talked to witnesses, I have zero first-hand knowledge of bigfoot. But maybe you do. You own your experiences and your truth is your truth. If you say you saw a portal open up and a bigfoot appear before your eyes, well, I wasn’t there (dang it!), I don’t know what you saw. If you say you got “zapped,” I may ask you to clarify the circumstances of the zapping, ’cause I don’t know what caused it. But I will not deny that you had that experience.
The other day this line from Hamlet popped into my head (forgive me, I don’t often quote Shakespeare): “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” If we close our minds to all possibilities, no matter how improbable, we thwart our ability to come to a true understanding — both of the natural world and what’s in it, and of ourselves.
Plus, life wouldn’t be nearly as fun.