Sasquatch Coffee

Cryptozoological or Paranormal?

Posted by: Nick Redfern on April 9th, 2013

roswell seance

There’s a new post up from me at Mysterious Universe, which addresses a case that some people (depending on their opinions, views and beliefs) may feel has some relevance to cryptozoology, while others will conclude it has absolutely zero connection to the subject.

It starts like this:

“In the week leading up to Christmas 2007, I found myself on the receiving end of one of the strangest stories ever to darken my path. It has been my experience that when people are looking to speak with someone about their encounters with the unknown, they seek out those most amenable to what they have to say. By that I mean: most of my cryptozoological work is focused upon those fringe cases that exhibit evidence of high-strangeness and paranormal qualities. And so, the bulk of the reports that are brought to my attention usually tend to present such eerie qualities, too. Laura’s certainly did.

“She was thirty-six, lived in Rochester, New York, and worked for the Post Office. Laura related to me a remarkable and disturbing series of events that occurred to her and several friends in the summer of 1985 – events that began with attempts to contact the spirit world and culminated in the manifestation of a fearful, hairy man-beast.”

Here’s where you can find the rest of the story, and here’s a new blog post from me that discusses a couple of similar cases to that described in the Mysterious Universe article.

Nick Redfern About Nick Redfern
Punk music fan, Tennents Super and Carlsberg Special Brew beer fan, horror film fan, chocolate fan, like to wear black clothes, like to stay up late. Work as a writer.


16 Responses to “Cryptozoological or Paranormal?”

  1. Drago Makarov via Facebook responds:

    Definetly paranormal!

  2. Fhqwhgads responds:

    Of course, reports of a “paranormal Bigfoot” need not have any bearing on the possible existence of a purely material North American ape, any more than reports of “hell hounds” negate the existence of regular dogs.

  3. David-Australia responds:

    I’m sure I’ve read this exact same story (urban legend???) somewhere else within the last few years.

  4. kryptos006 responds:

    I am just glad that, as the title suggests, we are making the distinction between “paranormal” and “cryptozoological.” If we are to suppose that they are in anyway synonymous (which, unfortunately, has been a fallacious supposition that I have noticed on this site on a number of occasions), we must further assume that theoretical physics is identical to metaphysics as the relationship between these two fields is virtually the same as that between cryptozoology and paranormalcy.

  5. Nick Redfern responds:

    David:

    You may well have seen similar accounts, as there are a number of stories of mysterious apes and hairy wild men appearing in seances and in relation to ouija-boards. In the blog post link in my article, I reference 2 more very similar stories in which seances were the location when the creatures appeared. One in Coventry, England in the 50s and one decades before that.

  6. Fhqwhgads responds:

    we must further assume that theoretical physics is identical to metaphysics as the relationship between these two fields is virtually the same as that between cryptozoology and paranormalcy.

    Not really. Physics and metaphysics really have nothing to do with each other; they just sound alike. (Along the same lines, I have had people mistake physics for phys. ed. But not for long.) On the other hand, it is common for self-styled cryptozoologists to look at indigenous stories of ghost- or demon-like creatures as misunderstandings of normal, if elusive, animals.

  7. Insanity responds:

    Metaphysics is a philosophy, and not a science like physics or chemistry.

  8. DWA responds:

    “On the other hand, it is common for self-styled cryptozoologists to look at indigenous stories of ghost- or demon-like creatures as misunderstandings of normal, if elusive, animals.”

    That doesn’t change the meaning or veracity of kryptos006’s statement.

    “Self-styled” cryptozoologists aren’t cryptozoologists any more than a medium who styles herself a physicist is a physicist. Cryptozoology is zoology. If one isn’t practicing zoology, I’m wondering about including ‘zoologist’ anywhere in that person’s self-label, whether that person sees a problem with it or not.

    And to use only one example, indigenous stories of sasquatch aren’t looked at by serious researchers as misunderstandings by the indigenous people; they are looked at as misunderstandings by the mainstream of what indigenous people are clearly saying.
    Many an animal has been confirmed after native reports steered scientists who were listening in the right direction.

  9. Fhqwhgads responds:

    @DWA

    The bit about “self-described cryptozoologists” is just to exclude calling people cryptozoologists who do not call themselves cryptozoologists. That is a bogus attempt to steal someone else’s legitimacy.

    I suppose the first thing that needs to be done is to try to define what is meant by “paranormal”. I tend to think of it as meaning “relating to ghosts, demons, angels, ESP, etc.” — in other words, relating to the interaction of (minor) spirits with the material world. Life on other planets, alien civilizations, time travel, etc. are things that many people classify as paranormal, but that (if they exist) are firmly in the corporeal realm, so I would *not* consider them paranormal. Still other people seem to consider anything strange or noteworthy to be “paranormal”, which is why cryptozoology often finds itself swept up into that category.

    There is a real problem with trying to say whether an American Indian story fits into the category of paranormal, though, because their traditional way of looking at the world does not so cleanly divide it between the corporeal and the spiritual. Their culture had plenty of Homers and Aesops and Hans Christian Andersons, but no Aristotle. (And if you have to choose, it’s probably better to have Homer than Aristotle.) Yet it is to stories from this culture that cryptozoologists turn when they want to say, “Sasquatch was ethno-known to the American Indians.” They may consider only those parts of stories credible that do not seem “paranormal” to European culture, or they may reject completely any story that has a hint of the paranormal to it, but they are still digging through stories of the paranormal in a way that physicists do not dig through the literature on metaphysics, and that philosophers do not dig through the literature on physics.

  10. DWA responds:

    Well, the zoology starts with recognizing that pocket gophers have supernatural powers, and so the Native Americans endowed every animal, all the ones we know about. That they do this doesn’t mean Natives don’t consider sasquatch firmly in the “real” category, as numerous of them have said on numerous occasions.

    And I’ve never heard of Thunderbird prints nor found those myself, nor seen a movie that looks like it might be one, nor heard of everyday Americans of European descent, driving late-model cars, holding 21st-century jobs and living everyday American lives, finding out that Thuderbird is real right into 2013.

    If science can’t prove it now with the tools at its disposal, I would tend to leave it out of zoology. (That includes Raven and Coyote Build The World.) That crypto doesn’t hampers its acceptance, and it should.

  11. Fhqwhgads responds:

    That’s an interesting take, since some cryptozoologists do take the Thunderbird seriously. Thunderbird speculations have appeared on this blog, and they are a regular element of any cryptozoology-themed series.

    I agree, though, that Thunderbirds are much less likely than Bigfoot, though possibly still somewhat more likely than Nessie.

    Also, to be fair, it is one thing to think something is paranormal, and it is another to think it is “not real”. You may believe that everything thought of as “paranormal” is misapprehension or a hoax, in spite of long traditions of cultural acceptance and sightings by witnesses otherwise deemed credible, but even so, the categories “paranormal” and “not real” are distinct.

  12. DWA responds:

    As I can never deny anything, there being no point to that, I simply await more evidence before worrying much about Thunderbirds.

    Same goes for lake monsters, Mothmen, ropen, mokele-mbembe, Mongolian death worm, etc. The only thing that has me interested in any of them is the volume, consistency, and plausibility of the evidence for those I’m interested in. Again, doesn’t mean I’m in denial about the others. Just means I need to see much more than I have. Intelligently speculate away. It’s just that sasquatch is my model for an animal for which evidence bolsters the intelligent speculation. We know what sasquatch is likely to be. We’ll call it ape; we’ll call it human; or we’ll put a new branch near them on the primate tree. Nessie, not so much.

    And I always say: Today’s paranormal could be tomorrow’s normal. We just don’t know yet.

  13. Fhqwhgads responds:

    And I always say: Today’s paranormal could be tomorrow’s normal. We just don’t know yet.

    That really brings up an interesting philosophical question.

    Let’s say someone hears scratching in the walls and says it is due to a demon. Later on it is discovered that the sounds were in fact caused by rats. Would it make sense to say that demons are really rats?

    Most people, I think, would say no: demons are defined through religion, philosophy, and folklore as having a certain nature, and they can only be meaningfully said to exist if some real being has at least the preponderance of the specified characteristics. Just being the misunderstood cause of one or even many “sightings” is not enough to say demons = rats.

    Well, how about the kraken? In this case, the kraken of legend does share a number of similarities with the giant squid of science. It is certainly safer to say that the kraken was inspired by the giant squid, and it might even be OK to say that the giant squid is the kraken. It all depends on what the meaning of “is” is, to coin a phrase.

    To a large extent, this is an old and unavoidable problem: our models never really capture the whole of reality; so does the name go with the model, or the reality? Is “hydrogen atom” a theoretical concept, or is it the reality that the theory tries to capture? “Hydrogen atom” probably best refers to the reality, since we have gone through several models using the same term. “Caloric” and “phlogiston”, on the other hand, clearly refer to obsolete models. There does not seem to be a universal answer.

    For a case more relevant to this thread, though, there are a number of models of Bigfoot. The one thing you can really be sure of is that none of them are entirely right. Let’s imagine, though, that tomorrow a rancher near Spokane finds a sick and dying creature. Close inspection shows it to be much more closely related to us than chimpanzees, but still too distant to be a member of genus Homo. It is even more distantly related to Gigantopithecus. Would this be Bigfoot?

    Not to everybody! I guarantee you there would be people who would say, “Well, that explains some sightings, but not all!” They would proceed to argue that some evidence points for some “Bigfoot” being Gigantopithecus, or Neanderthals, or Homo erectus, or interdimensional beings, or whatever, mostly because they have a real emotional investment in one model. Rather than agreeing that the newly discovered species probably explains all the legitimate Bigfoot sightings, they would say, “The fact that Spokanthropus could go undetected so long shows that it is plausible that other creatures, including the true Bigfoot, are still out there and will one day be officially discovered.” And maybe at least some of them would be right, but the thing is, the cryptozoological paradigm would guarantee that there would always be people feeling bitter and resentful that scientists, whether out of (as they see it) laziness or pure malevolence, still refused to accept their model.

  14. Fhqwhgads responds:

    Whoops, I never brought that argument home, which will leave people confused.

    I think DWA meant that all phenomena which today seem to have no corporeal cause may one day be shown to have corporeal causes. I am convinced that this is not the case, but if it were, it would just mean that the model named “paranormal” does not correspond to reality and we should drop all that terminology, just like we don’t call rats demons or talk about phlogiston when discussing heat.

    I have zero patience with the kind of half-baked, pseudoscientific explanations for ghosts on paranormal TV shows. What happens to your energy when you die? True, the energy is not destroyed, but what happens to it is neither mysterious nor romantic. Your thermal energy warms your surroundings as you approach the ambient temperature. Your chemical potential energy is devoured by bacteria and fungi, or possibly by fire, depending on circumstances. Whether you have an immortal soul or not, your soul is not energy!!

  15. DWA responds:

    Fhqwhgads: A lot to talk about here, so let’s.

    “Let’s say someone hears scratching in the walls and says it is due to a demon. Later on it is discovered that the sounds were in fact caused by rats. Would it make sense to say that demons are really rats?”

    Not knowing what demons are, I’d say we found the problem, and I’d hope most people would.

    “Just being the misunderstood cause of one or even many “sightings” is not enough to say demons = rats.”

    As true as that may be, saying something isn’t what it is alleged to be based on zero evidence that it is anything other than what is alleged doesn’t strike me as the scientific way to go. But scientists frequently do that. They’re people, and it’s a bad habit people have.

    “To a large extent, this is an old and unavoidable problem: our models never really capture the whole of reality;…”

    I’m not sure there is anything that scientists more frequently and thoroughly fail to understand, as witness the scientists that have argued with me that North American faunal models specifically state, I think they say in Paragraph 5.a.iii.(a), that Bigfoot isn’t real, and that’s a guy in a suit. When there is no evidence supporting a suppostion, no model even addresses it. It’s simply unaccounted for. (And when evidence exists that the model is incomplete, one might want to do something about that.)

    “For a case more relevant to this thread, though, there are a number of models of Bigfoot. The one thing you can really be sure of is that none of them are entirely right.”

    No model for any known species is entirely right; so yes, I’d think that would be the case for any that remain unconfirmed.

    “Let’s imagine, though, that tomorrow a rancher near Spokane finds a sick and dying creature. Close inspection shows it to be much more closely related to us than chimpanzees, but still too distant to be a member of genus Homo. It is even more distantly related to Gigantopithecus. Would this be Bigfoot?”

    I’d be the last one to say that. It’s what it sounds like. “Bigfoot” might be the first model to go out the window.

    “Not to everybody! I guarantee you there would be people who would say, “Well, that explains some sightings, but not all!” They would proceed to argue that some evidence points for some “Bigfoot” being Gigantopithecus, or Neanderthals, or Homo erectus, or interdimensional beings, or whatever, mostly because they have a real emotional investment in one model.”

    Or because they have a scientific investment in being thorough in order to be right.

    We have one critter here. You haven’t given a full description of it; nor gone into detail as to what the close inspection entails. Is it the spittin’ image of Patty? Do we know it’s the same species (provided we even know what Patty is, which, in the technical sense, we never will, although maybe we’ll get close enough to say, close enough, we can consider Patty to be this)? We have more than one of about every kind of animal (except primates…yet) in North America. Everywhere we know there is one ape there is another. To jump to a conclusion that we just locked down the whole primates-in-America question based on one specimen is simply not something science does (although scientists do it, all the time). Particularly given what would be clearly shown as scientific incompetence in scouring its own backyard. You took this long to find this one, and we’re taking your word for it that we’re all done now? Oh. OK.

    “Rather than agreeing that the newly discovered species probably explains all the legitimate Bigfoot sightings,…”

    [which is a conclusion no truly scientific mind could possibly countenance]

    they would say, “The fact that Spokanthropus could go undetected so long shows that it is plausible that other creatures, including the true Bigfoot, are still out there and will one day be officially discovered.”

    [which, except for the “true Bigfoot,” is a truly Einsteinian statement. THAT’s a scientist talking.]

    “And maybe at least some of them would be right, but the thing is, the cryptozoological paradigm would guarantee that there would always be people feeling bitter and resentful that scientists, whether out of (as they see it) laziness or pure malevolence, still refused to accept their model.”

    And that’s people. And neither you nor I can help that.

  16. DWA responds:

    And a little about this.

    “I think DWA meant that all phenomena which today seem to have no corporeal cause may one day be shown to have corporeal causes. I am convinced that this is not the case, but if it were, it would just mean that the model named “paranormal” does not correspond to reality and we should drop all that terminology, just like we don’t call rats demons or talk about phlogiston when discussing heat.”

    Well, I would never be convinced of something for which no evidence exists that I am right. I might lean in one direction or another, and demand proof if one disagrees. But I’d be open to being shown.

    I personally believe that ghosts are the mental experiences of the people that ‘see’ them. But I am aware that people who don’t from any angle I’m inspecting seem unhinged claim experiences that aren’t that neatly tied up and slap on a bow. What are those? I can guarantee that no scientist right now can give me an explanation he can back up with evidence. And any scientist knows, that’s a problem. So I remain open on the topic. I don’t go trolling on ghost sites. I just say, well, that’s an open question, isn’t it? And it is.

    Many scientists believe that there are only two things to do with allegations of a phenomenon: prove it or denounce it as wrong.

    There’s a third. It is “get me interested.” That’s where evidence comes in.



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