I should have been a brilliant sceptic, even now jostling for position as James ("the Amazing") Randi's anointed successor. With a psychological imbalance towards thinking (as opposed to feeling) that makes Spock look like Mother Theresa, two lawyer parents to instill the partiality of perspective and a healthy dose of Irish Catholicism to rebel against, I should have been on the fast track to Woo-woo Debunker General. Instead, I find myself unable to dismiss the ghosts that lurk just out of sight and am far more attracted to the position of the parapsychologist than the scientist. And the blame for this derailment from my predestined path I lay firmly at the paws of Scooby Doo.
As a child of the seventies, I watched most of the episodes from the Golden Age of Scooby Doo – before the introduction of the odious Scrappy. I enjoyed, even then, the quest to track down and trap the various monsters, ghosts and aliens. And although it became immediately clear that the point was all about the whodunit rather than the supernatural, I still felt cheated after every denouement. In the build-up you would see (for example) a wonderfully sinuous Loch Ness monster but by the time Velma had done her unmasking, you would be told that this was actually a steam engine with less points of articulation than the Sheriff Garrett action figure I got for Christmas around the same time. Immediately, my sense of outrage kicked in. I knew instinctively that I had been swindled. This was not about the suspension of disbelief – I can do that comfortably and instantaneously – this was about a contract with the viewer being broken. The "deal" in Scooby Doo was that rationality would win out over irrationality. What at first glance appeared to be supernatural, turned out to be the natural, if misguided, actions of villains. However, the disjoint between the early glimpses of the "monsters" and what they eventually were shown to be was so great that, at least in my case, it undermined the message it was supposed to be delivering and drove me towards conspiracy theories and the supernatural.
Crop circles are a crystal clear example of how I have been scarred. In the interest of transparency, I have to admit that I don't have a particular opinion or interest in crop circles one way or the other. My natural skeptical inclination is to strongly doubt that they are a form of extraterrestrial communication with us (surely there would be better ways). However, when the likes of the sexagenarians Dave Chorley and Doug Bower are unmasked as the creators of (at the time, all UK) crop circles my Scooby Doo reflex kicks straight in: "What? You expect me to believe that all the crop circles in the UK were the work of these two guys? You have to be joking."
But this suspicion of official, rational explanations is neither confined to me nor the realms of the supernatural. Take the tragic example of the suicide of the UN weapons inspector David Kelly. In a BBC poll 22.7% of people surveyed didn't believe that he had actually committed suicide. This is an extremely strong swing against a government-endorsed position. The death of Princess Diana is another example although here elements of grieving and a sustained campaign by Mohamed Al-Fayed may have skewed the spontaneous "suspicion factor". For our US cousins, the JFK assassination still exerts a pull with three polls carried out in 2003 showing a disbelief factor of between 68-83% in those surveyed
The suspicion of governments may be age-old but the widespread collapse of confidence in simple, clear answers seems to be a more recent phenomena that has been accelerated by, for example, the impact of postmodernism and quantum physics. Suspicion destabilizes society and, from my trickster perspective, this can only be a good thing as ambiguity is introduced to the system which in turn creates the conditions necessary for the truly strange to actualize. But if Scooby Doo had only given me an explanation I could believe in, it could have all been so different.
12 November 2011 at 9:43 pm
The witches ghost – one of the scooby doo feature films that does have a real ghost – set in Salem.
As for aliens – the drake equation –
N = N* fp ne fl fi fc fL
N* represents the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy
Question: How many stars are in the Milky Way Galaxy?
Answer: Current estimates are 100 billion.
fp is the fraction of stars that have planets around them
Question: What percentage of stars have planetary systems?
Answer: Current estimates range from 20% to 50%.
ne is the number of planets per star that are capable of sustaining life
Question: For each star that does have a planetary system, how many planets are capable of sustaining life?
Answer: Current estimates range from 1 to 5.
fl is the fraction of planets in ne where life evolves
Question: On what percentage of the planets that are capable of sustaining life does life actually evolve?
Answer: Current estimates range from 100% (where life can evolve it will) down to close to 0%.
fi is the fraction of fl where intelligent life evolves
Question: On the planets where life does evolve, what percentage evolves intelligent life?
Answer: Estimates range from 100% (intelligence is such a survival advantage that it will certainly evolve) down to near 0%.
fc is the fraction of fi that communicate
Question: What percentage of intelligent races have the means and the desire to communicate?
Answer: 10% to 20%
fL is fraction of the planet's life during which the communicating civilizations live
Question: For each civilization that does communicate, for what fraction of the planet's life does the civilization survive?
Answer: This is the toughest of the questions. If we take Earth as an example, the expected lifetime of our Sun and the Earth is roughly 10 billion years. So far we've been communicating with radio waves for less than 100 years. How long will our civilization survive? Will we destroy ourselves in a few years like some predict or will we overcome our problems and survive for millennia? If we were destroyed tomorrow the answer to this question would be 1/100,000,000th. If we survive for 10,000 years the answer will be 1/1,000,000th.
When all of these variables are multiplied together when come up with:
N, the number of communicating civilizations in the galaxy
The real question is – can they be bothered with our very young bit of space?
13 November 2011 at 9:56 am
The Ghost Witch of Old Salem – apparently never unmasked!!! I didn't know that – nice 🙂