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Definitely Not Finding Bigfoot With That Attitude, Mister

Henry Paterson over at Ghost Theory had some insights regarding a post of mine on the topic of finding Bigfoot.

Consider this: Four children are told a terrifying campfire story one September night in 1980. One child sits in his tent for hours, coming up with reasons that the monster in the story is not real. Another child sits in her tent for hours, coming up with reasons that the monster in the story is just outside, waiting for everyone to fall asleep so that it can feed. A third child leaves his tent in the darkness and goes looking for evidence to prove that the creature does not exist. The last child leaves her tent, determined to find proof of the creature.

Which child is the most rational? Or do they all share in the same human folly?

Let us re-consider Bigfoot, in light of Mr. Paterson's concerns and objections. Why haven't we found Bigfoot?

(1) I argue: We aren't looking hard enough; we have no major apparatus in place to seriously undertake the search. Paterson says, "It is no longer true there has been no large scale organized attempt at identification." He then points out that a supposed Yeren-oriented Chinese expedition was just conducted in the Shennongjia region of Hubei province in 2012. That's an exciting revelation, but it completely misses the point. It's also a lie - see the article here.

The skeptics inevitably ask, "Why haven't we found Bigfoot yet ?" My argument stands, for the same reason that when my 7-year-old wants to know why he can't find his toy yet, the answer is that he isn't looking hard enough. One expedition does not a long, hard look make.

No less, consider this from the Ghost Theory article on the supposed Yeren expedition: "While the expedition being launched is not necessarily specific to Yeren research, at least it is acknowledged to be a potential item on the agenda." Link ... A "potential item on the agenda" is not indicative of an expedition whose purpose, composition, equipment and techniques are intended to find a hominoid population that is deliberately in hiding.

So, Paterson's argument that a large scale search for an undiscovered hominoid has been conducted is in fact smoke and mirrors. The expedition he cites was not targeted upon the Yeren at all. I am again reminded that the skeptical community's assertions are no more trustworthy than the reports of the credulous which the skeptics themselves so often deride. This is because there is just as much money to be made in selling skepticism as there is in selling snake oil to simple folk.

People will buy whatever they feel gets them through the night. A sense of security can be gained by setting comfortable limits on what is in all probability a terrifyingly huge and endlessly varied reality.

(2) I suggested that Bigfoot is possibly a hominoid that evolved in a different "direction" from us, relying less upon technology and more upon complete integration with the natural environment. My guess is that, if such a hominoid existed, its comfort with exposure to nature would - in combination with human-like intellect - give it a significant advantage in remaining hidden. Paterson calls this, "...a reiteration of the idea of the Noble Savage."

While political theory sometimes figures here at the Lamp, I am not one to use it in a discussion of the merits of Bigfoot-hunting and Sasquatch-belief... Not yet, anyway. But Paterson seems to be serious: he appears to believe that I share in the 18th Century romantic, poetic perception of indigenous peoples as somehow innately superior to all civilized populations, because human goodness is all the better when it exists in an uncomplicated, primitive state. How my argument regarding a hypothetical hominoid meeting Bigfoot's general description is somehow a resurrection of this sentimental idea, I do not know. I was unaware that it should even require resuscitation... The trope is still widely used. But this has nothing to do with my argument, or the "superiority" accorded to Bigfoot under this view.

The sensory abilities suggested for this human-like animal in my hypothetical are not set by some romantic notion. Rather, it comes from a guess at what such an animal would have to be capable of in order to remain hidden so well, for so long.

I am not Montaigne or Rousseau or Shelley by any means, though the literary association is an appreciated and undeserved compliment. But in labeling my argument thus, I think Paterson sought to do away with it. After all, if we can name-call, we do not have to resort to actual debate and intellectual exchange. The underlying idea is that the Noble Savage is a falsehood because humans are not innately good. But I wonder - morality aside - if my critic understands what he proposes. The Noble Savage was dreamed up as a way of countering the Catholic argument for absolute monarchy: that we are as a species innately bad, and need a powerful authoritarian force at the pinnacle of society to keep us all in line. By way of argumentum ad absurdum: Does this mean that Paterson favors authoritarianism?

You see, reducing arguments about the existence of Bigfoot to the realm of dueling political philosophies serves no purpose, and I cannot imagine why Paterson went this direction. It also only allows us to ignore the otherwise valid proposition that is still on the table: What would a hominoid be like if it evolved specifically to avoid our species as a basic survival tactic? But this, Paterson does not address. I must therefore conclude that the argument still stands: Bigfoot could be a representative of an undiscovered hominoid population, a version of humanity or a related species that does not use tools to survive, because it has evolved a general physical structure that permits it to succeed without all of the things we have used since our earliest origins as homo sapiens - fire, shelter, tools, weapons, and clothing.

(3) Paterson points out an apparent hole in the argument, however, as he states: "[There is] many a wall adorned by a trophy taken of an animal firmly within its natural environment." So, can we really expect our Bigfoot to have avoided being killed and made a trophy of after so many centuries of sightings and encounters?

Here, it appears my skeptical critic has forgotten the underlying basis of the argument: Bigfoot is not an elk, or a bear, or a rabbit. Bigfoot, in this hypothesis, is a type of human being, or at least a near relative hominoid of some sort. For the record, there are few if any walls adorned by trophies made from human body parts... at least not these days, and certainly not publicly. And while human beings can and do successfully hunt anything they want to, is it not possible that there is one sort of big game that eludes us, precisely because it is not "game" at all?

Isn't that the very essence of the fascination with monsters of myth and legend? Such things elude us; they must be found and this begs the quest - rather than begging any question.

(4) Paterson uses a still from the Patterson-Gimlin footage to argue that Bigfoot does not appear to have "a nasal cavity significantly outside of the range of human norm." I realize that Ghost Theory is about hybridization of skepticism and speculativism, but... Seriously? If the creature in that film is real, then how isn't it an alternative hominoid clearly more adept at moving in the natural environment than are we? If "Patty" is Bigfoot for real, then Bigfoot is almost exactly what I and hundreds of much more qualified researchers [with whom the notion originated] have suggested: A cousin of ours, whose ancestors did not follow the path that ours did. They stayed in the wilds, and became much differently adapted to the conditions of the natural environment. What else could the thing in the Patterson-Gimlin film most logically be?

(5) Paterson takes issue with the use of the term, "more evolved" and I must concur. Language certainly has its limitations, and today this is more evident than ever, as we struggle with loan-words and phrases from earlier, less politically correct eras. I suggested Bigfoot is more evolved than are we. The term in this context means that if we can order hominoids in a chain of evolutionary sophistication, then it is possible that we are not at the top of the chain. I merely propose the possibility that Bigfoot could be evolutionarily superior to us, and capable of evading us with ease due to superior intelligence, sensory capacity and/or processing, and a distinctly inhuman mobility within its rugged environment. In essence, Bigfoot can perhaps do things we cannot, and operates when we are least likely to be aware, in areas that are sparsely populated.

(6) Above is a population density map. Google these if it should interest you to realize that the bulk of the human population is concentrated in a relatively small percentage of the Earth's landmass. This means that there are very large, open areas on the planet that are not regularly traversed. This does not mean that there are no people at all in the white areas above. But it does mean that they are so few, and the density is so thin, that there are regions where one can go for days without encountering other people. And there are a great many regions where we simply do not live. Could something else live in those remote areas, without our realizing it in any official way?

(7) Bigfoot is not entirely a physical entity. Paterson finds this notion upsetting, as I believe I predicted some people would find it. I also said, this is a delightful thing - because what troubles us, reveals to us our own natures. Through this, we grow.

My argument is this: The universe is vast, and we absolutely do not understand how anything works. The handful of things we can do that we find impressive are impressive only to us because we can do them. What we think we know is considered certain only because we have decided that we know these things with certainty. We invented our own standards by which to judge reality.

All of our reasoning - including my own words right now at this moment - is subject to the fact that we are one type of animal on one type of planet orbiting one type of star in one galaxy out of hundreds of millions or even more... or so we think. Who knows? In such a state of mind lies peace and wisdom and balance. We do what we can with what appears to work, and much of it is good. But none of it is the be all and end all. None of it is maximal and perfect.
Skeptics and science types will tell you - and I know this because in the real world, I am sciencey for a living - that the uncertainties are greatly reduced by our reliance on objective processes and measurements, and by application of core principles that we can demonstrate to be reliable and repeatable. Scientific method gives rise to hypotheses, theories, and laws. While this makes doing certain kinds of business much easier and more useful, it also means that we are, as a species, greatly impressed with repeatability.

That's awesome. What makes that the only or even the best way to perceive our reality? Are only repeatable things real? Or are there a category of things beyond us precisely because we find that they defy and frustrate our techniques and methods? How do we know that our ability to sense repetition of patterns in the environment is not merely one of trillions of possible effective evolutionary strategies for survival, some better and others worse, with ours likely somewhere in the middle?

Paterson says this kind of thinking surrenders credibility. He is of course correct, within the context of a certain audience. What I think he prefers to ignore is the clear fact that his kind of thinking surrenders credibility within the context of a different audience. To each their own.

(8) Paterson decides there is a contradiction in my thinking. I argue in one place that there need to be large-scale searches for Bigfoot, but later I argue that the techniques currently used by reality television dramas are too noisy. My preference would be for adept wilderness survival experts to go quietly in small groups and remain embedded in remote areas for very long periods of time - up to a year or more.

There is no conflict in thinking here at all. Large-scale has nothing to do with techniques. It is important to synthesize ideas that are presented together as supporting and interconnected elements. What we need are many small teams all over the world operating quietly and using low-impact camping techniques, moving through specified remote ranges and using unobtrusive equipment. Even this - in short bursts of a week or two - is too much a deviation from the natural norm, I believe. If an animal like Bigfoot is out there, it is only officially undiscovered because it specifically steers clear of us. Nearly all of our sightings tell us this: Bigfoot retreats from people. "Curious Bigfoot looked in my window tales," also exist, but I'd wager these, when true, are cases in which Bigfoot detected no threat... And was right, because we still don't have a body.

Ergo, a large number of people need to go respectfully and quietly into deep woods and wait for a year to see if they can belong to the area enough to lure in a Bigfoot.

Then somebody can shoot one, and the scientific community can hunt the rest down and throw them into zoos. It'll be great.

(9) Paterson said openly on his blog that Santa does not exist. I hope no children accidentally stumble across this. Shame on you, Paterson. For shame.

Sometimes, the quest for a thing requires a certain mindset from the very beginning. We cannot understand what we are dealing with if we do not make an effort to be open to alternative possibilities.

Sometimes, weird shit happens, and who you gonna call?