Note: if you like this article, you’ll want to take a look at The Seven Paranormal Wonders of the World, too.
One of these has to be real.
When you study paranormal phenomena as intensely as we do here, you can’t help thinking that at least one of these things is going to turn out to be real. Sure, maybe the Jersey Devil is just a legend, and the Chupacabra may be based on misunderstanding. But there are some phenomena that can’t be explained so easily; the paranormal tattoo just won’t wash off.
What do we mean by “real”? If the Yeti is real, it means there really is a creature living in the Himalayas, currently unacknowledged by science, that resembles the being that has been reported for the last century. Real means there is basis in fact, but moreover, it means that we do not have the science to fully explain it — at the present moment. If conclusive proof is ever found, science will need to expand and rework to accommodate it.
Five of these phenomena are stuck in our craw. No good explanations. Weak skeptical arguments.
So join us in our angst. Here are our picks for the top paranormal phenomena that might actually turn out to be real.
Strange things in the sky are certainly nothing new. Historical documents and artwork feature such objects in the heavens that can’t be explained in their context or in ours. But the “UFO” phenomena as a coherent category really started in July of 1947 with the sighting of “flying saucers” and the Roswell incident. Hundreds of sightings were reported in the media by year-end and the UFO become firmly rooted in the popular imagination.
It is next to impossible to go back and prove or disprove incidents 60 years old. However, sightings continue today with great regularity. In the age of cell phones, digital cameras and instant information dissemination, it seems that we should have a plethora of evidence to sift through.
These elusive “craft” seems to outwit us at every turn. They hide from radar, just out of sight of the control towers, then dash away searing a hole in the cloud cover (O’Hare airport, November 2006). Worse, they appear in formation surrounding a military aircraft and are recorded on radar, thermal imaging and cameras but are hushed by an understandably shaken government (Mexico, March 2004). They are seen by literally thousands of eyewitnesses and appear on the evening news, but are discounted by the government as flares dropped by military aircraft (Phoenix, March 1997).
Skeptics say: There may be “unexplained” phenomena, but not “inexplicable” phenomena. Splitting hairs? They’d argue that examples like the object at O’Hare airport, the Phoenix lights and the Mexico City incident have pedestrian explanations that we have yet to pinpoint: military or experimental aircraft, weather balloons, meteorological anomalies and swamp gas are the usual suspects.
We say: It’s tempting to think that eye witness accounts, photographs, video, etc. can be discounted because the resulting question mark doesn’t quite fit so neatly into our scientific world view. After all, who wants to admit that there are things that we just can’t explain and that they’re “violating” our airspace. Might be enough to keep you up at night.
Regardless of whether or not you “want to believe” in little green men, angels or inter-dimensional travelers, it’s getting near-impossible not to believe that some sort of inexplicable phenomena is occurring while we turn a blind eye for fear of ridicule or worse — the truth.
Take an audio recorder — any recorder, digital, cassette, reel-to-reel, what-have-you — put it on record, and then leave it for a few hours. You need someplace quiet, abandoned, free of background noise and people. For best results, put it in a location with some history: an old saloon, a mausoleum, a hospital, a prison, an old ship. Listen to what you’ve recorded, and chances are that you’ll have some strange noises. That’s easy enough to believe. But when you hear voices saying intelligible things: now you’ve got chills running up your spine.
This is what researchers call “EVP”, Electronic Voice Phenomenon. It’s been in practice since the 1950s, but with the advent of good, cheap digital recorders, and a strong public interest in the paranormal, it’s been growing in popularity.
Let us throw a couple of examples at you. This first one was recorded by EVP experts Tom and Lisa Butler at the Cal-Neva Resort near Lake Tahoe in Nevada. The voice they recorded seems to be saying, “We keep looking for peace.” Click to hear it.
Another group of EVP practitioners, the Ghost Investigators Society, recorded a voice that they claim is saying, “Go to your own place.” Click to listen.
I know. It’s creepy, but you can imagine some explanations. Let’s get the skeptics stuff out the way immediately.
Skeptics say: It’s just background noise. It’s RF (radio frequency) interference. It’s fakery. It’s Rorschach audio (you’re imagining noise is something intelligible the same way your mind makes a picture from an inkblot). It doesn’t prove the afterlife exists!
We say: Fakery as an explanation — we’re going to throw that out the window right now. We’ve done our own experiments here at the Area51.Org compound, and we’re obviously not going to fake ourselves out. We believe they were successful. Stay tuned.
As for the background noise explanation and the RF supposition: these are reasonable claims, except that most background noise and RF interferences don’t last as long as most EVP capturings. Even so, just to rule them out, paranormal researcher Alexander MacRae built a double-blocking experimentation chamber — it’s soundproof, and it’s surrounded by a Faraday cage, which blocks all electro-magnetic signals; no radio can get in. The result of his experiments? New EVP recordings. Oops.
Are we making random noises into “intelligible” words? Perhaps, although some of the recordings (like those we’ve included here) are awfully clear to be explained away as just noise.
But perhaps the larger question is: where is it coming from? If it’s not the radio, and it’s not the house settling, and we stipulate that it’s not fake, we’re left with a genuine mystery. Does it prove there’s an afterlife? Certainly not — that’s a leap. It does suggest, yet again, that our science cannot (currently) explain everything we encounter.
Somewhere in West Africa lives a tribe called the Dogon who have a special affection for the star we call Sirius. In ancient Dogon traditions, the star has two companion stars. One of the companion stars circles Sirius every 50 years, is very dense and extremely heavy. The thing is, these legends are thousands of years old, but they’re dead right.
Curiously, we westerners didn’t even know about Sirius B until the 19th century. It’s a white dwarf, a tiny, dense leftover from a star that has seen better days. You can’t see it without a telescope. And we should also mention that Sirius C, the second companion star, has only recently been proposed in theory, to explain a “perturbation” in Sirius B’s orbit. The Dogon have a 400-hundred-year-old statue that depicts all three stars.
What else say the Dogon? This is where it gets even weirder: thousands of years ago, they were visited by the Nommos, an amphibian-like race that came from the Sirius star system in a noisy “ark” that spun and whipped up wind while it landed. (Other ancient people, including the Babylonians, Accadians, and Sumerians, also have a legend of the Nommos, said to be ugly half-fish creatures–hello, Chthulu!) They came to aid humankind, and apparently spent years with the tribe, teaching them the secrets of civilization. Author Robert Temple, who wrote The Sirius Mystery, suggests that these visitors (if real) may have also stopped by to see the Egyptians and Babylonians.
So how does an African tribe have traditions that lay down specific astronomical facts — traditions that go back millenia? Lucky guesses?
Skeptics say (#1): Astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that vagabond traders or missionaries might have told the Dogons about Sirius B and C, and this was folded into their mythology.
We say (#1): Problem is, this fails Occam’s Razor: the simpler explanation is that the Dogon already knew. The more complicated scenario is that these mystery men, who do not appear in any records (Dogon or European), told the Dogon about Sirius B and suggested Sirius C (what, and didn’t mention anything else, like world politics or the price of tea?), then left without a trace of their visit(s). Not to mention that there were thousands of Dogon statues, blankets, and other objects that depicted the Sirius/B/C family. Old objects.
Skeptics say (#2): Another critic, Walter van Beek of Belgium, has cited objections that have repeatedly been called a “devastating blow” to the mystery. His beef: he lived with the Dogon for years, and most of them didn’t know anything about Sirius. The ones who did, he claims, seemed to contradict each other.
We say (#2): Given that the original researcher, Marcel Griaule, had reported that only 15% of the tribe were in on the secret, we shouldn’t be surprised that van Beek found the same thing. Contradictions in their legends? Maybe, but since Griaule didn’t find any, it’s simply the Belgian’s word against the Frenchman’s — hardly a “devastating blow”. Maybe the Dogon simply didn’t like van Beek — or perhaps he was simply talking to the wrong guys.
Know what we’re thinking? Then you too might be experiencing the phenomenon of extrasensory perception, or “psi” as it is called in the academic world today. The catch-all term covers any forms of cognition outside what is regarded as the norm including telepathy, psychokinesis, precognition, clairvoyance (remote viewing) as well as out-of-body and near-death experiences.
Parapsychology has gone from quackery to cutting edge in the past century, largely due to the efforts of skeptical researchers bent on disproving the alleged phenomenon. Ironically, studies have shown statistically significant anomalies that haven’t been able to be explained through conventional psychology.
Researches such as Dr. Daryl Bem of Cornell University have conducted rigorous experiments such as a remarkable instance of telepathy using Ganzfeld tests. Participants viewed iconographic images and “sent” the image to other participants at a remote location using only their minds. Laws of chance suggested the images would be “received” correctly 25% of the time. Instead, Bem found the subject was correct about 34% of the time. Visual artists scored higher (about 50% correct) and musicians hit upwards of 75%, suggesting a connection to creativity.
Why is this a big deal — after all, we can just send an image in an email, right? Psi suggests a few tantalizing possibilities: (1) the capacity of the human mind has been vastly underestimated; (2) the philosophical split between body and mind may be spurious; (3) paranormal phenomenon that have been unable to be understood by other means may soon have an explanation.
Skeptics say: Parapsychology can best be summed up by talk show hosts who “speak to the dead” — it’s a staged show for the entertainment and befuddlement of the unwashed, uneducated masses. It’s all about Ouija boards, channeling Ramtha, and following the light at the end of the tunnel. Hogwash.
We say: While there is more than enough B.S. to go around, it might take a B.S. (or a PhD) to understand the technical data coming out of university laboratories in support of this phenomenon. You may have to be a statistician to be impressed, but it’s difficult to argue when there is observable evidence of psychic effect on random number generators reported by Princeton University’s Engineering Anomalies Research lab, for example. These folks study the effect of the “global consciousness” on random number generators. Astoundingly, they’ve found that when millions of people share the same intentions and emotions, there is a correlated effect on the generators. That’s right, call all your monks, stoners, and hippie buddies and start the consciousness raising now. And put in a good word for us, m’kay?
Yeah, that’s right, the hairy guy. The giant monkeys who hide in the forests, leaving all those footprints.
While we could never cover all the reasons why we find Sasquatch the most compelling of legends, we can touch on a good smattering of them.
Plausability? Put a checkmark there. See, the Pacific Northwest, the purported home base of the big guy, is vast and dense with forest — much larger than you might imagine (it covers Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia). Given that new species of primate are discovered in Africa frequently, it’s certainly possible that there is an unknown species living in an unlikely place. The best hypothesis is that gigantopithecus blacki, a race of intelligent apes that lived alongside our ancestor homo erectus in Asia, migrated over a land bridge into North America. Gigantopithecus‘ bulky physique matches Bigfoot well, including the big foot and the big height — he’s said to be the largest ape that ever lived. Dr. David Begun, a paleoprimatologist at the University of Toronto, says in an article for Scientific American, “There is no reason that such a beast could not persist today.” In other words, even if the legend of Bigfoot turns out to be false, it could have been true.
Plethora of evidence? Checkmark there. Although there are more good-quality footprint casts than you can shake your big toe at, they’re not the whole story. Consider the whole-body print discovered in Skookum Meadows in southern Washington state. All known species have been ruled out as the print-maker, and a hair sample found on the site — although inconclusive because of a damaged DNA strand — could not be matched with any known animal. Meanwhile, video evidence, sightings by reliable witnesses, recordings of vocalizations, and scatological evidence point to the existence of an unknown ape-creature.
About those footprints, by the way: while tracks alone don’t prove anything — nothing short of a body part would be conclusive proof — hundred and maybe thousands of prints have been discovered in the Pacific Northwest. The best casts, made from successive footprints, show the weight of a large animal weighing hundreds of pounds. Toe positions vary in the casts, dermal ridges (like the lines in a fingerprint) are apparent, and there is often evidence of scarring and callousing. Sure, someone might be able to fake all that — if they knew exactly what they were doing, and knew where and when to leave the fake prints. Somehow this doesn’t seem all that probable.
Got history? Check. Tribes of Native Americans throughout CA, OR, WA, and BC have their own legends of the huge hairy man who lives in the deep forest; often these legends are built into tribal rituals, including vocalizations that are surprisingly similar to modern descriptions and to modern recordings of alleged Bigfoot aural encounters. Sightings by European settlers in the Northwest date back to the 1800s.
Got serious scientists at work on the mystery? Check. The most dedicated of these eggheads would be Dr. Jeff Meldrum of the University of Idaho, but there are scores of other scientists working full- and part-time on the Sasquatch subject. Then there are the casual fans, such as renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, who has gone on record saying she’s convinced that Bigfoot is a real species.
Skeptics say: Show me the monkey! Bigfoot doesn’t exist because we have no corpses and no fossils. How could a being exist like this when we haven’t found a single bone or fossil? Ray Wallace was Bigfoot; he said so himself. He was responsible for countless fake footprints all over the Northwest. If Sasquatch is real, what do they eat, treebark?
We say: we’d sure love to produce a living being, and that day may come. But, as researchers point out, you don’t find a lot of bear corpses up there, either. Why? Because they hide before they die. If the Sasquatch species is real, and an intelligent primate, they may even bury their dead.
As for fossils: they’re a lot more rare than you may realize. Fossils are the exception — it takes special circumstances to preserve and petrify bones. The Pacific Northwest doesn’t have an especially fossil-friendly environment, so finding even a fossilized deer-ancestor would be a surprise. Besides: who is actually out there looking for fossils in the forest?
What Bigfoot eats is obviously unknown, since we can’t even prove he’s real (yet!). Hypothesis: since he’s an intelligent animal, and probably had to adapt as he made his way from Asia to America, he’s learned to eat what he can, and store his food during the winter season. It’s unlikely that he hibernates like Cousin Bear, but he certainly could keep enough food around to make it through — nuts, leaves, fish, what-have-you. We doubt treebark is on the menu, but stranger things have happened.
Our top five:
5 Unidentified Flying Objects
4 Electronic Voice Phenomenon
3 The Sirius Mystery