What Bigfoot Can Teach Us About Belief

What Bigfoot Can Teach Us About Belief


[ Music ]>>Alright. So, let’s think about Bigfoot. Bigfoot — you may have heard of Bigfoot. But for those of you who have not heard of Bigfoot, Bigfoot is an eight to ten-foot tall ape-like bipedal creature who lives mostly in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Bigfoot has been spotted in Ohio. Bigfoot has been spotted several times in Texas. And there’s even been sightings in Florida. Alright. I like Bigfoot. We have a lot of data to support the existence of Bigfoot so there’re a lot of eyewitnesses who have seen Bigfoot. There are many films and videos. You can find them on the internet at YouTube; of course. We have footprints that have been measured and studied. There are hair samples. There was a Bigfoot nest, evidently, found where they were able to get hair and document what the genetic makeup or something; I don’t know. The idea of Sasquatch has been with Native American tribes for several hundred years. The thing — oops, sorry — the thing I like about Bigfoot is that it teaches us some things. Alright. Bigfoot teaches us how we connect observations to explanations. Bigfoot demonstrates how as a society we transmit and share ideas. Bigfoot also helps us think about how we filter our world. And how our minds interact with the world around us which is what I’m going to talk about. Now throughout the history of philosophy we’ve been trying to understand the difference between knowledge and the difference between belief; okay? We think of these things; knowledge on one side, belief on the other. Here’s a quote from Plato speaking with the voice of Socrates, “Knowledge should be his guide.” And by “his” he’s talking about the philosopher. Knowledge should be his guide, not personal experience. And, of course, personal experience is the things that happen around us. The beliefs that we hold. We should have knowledge, this solid thing that we rely on. We see our brains in the modern age kind of like computers; okay? Or the cameras that are around us. These are our onboard recording machines. They capture the world. That document what we see. That we can easily access our memory banks to remember what happened on this day or what happened during this time. That our brains are fact-capturing machines that are at our disposal. But what we’re learning is that that’s not quite true. And that we don’t like to admit it, but really beliefs come first. Beliefs happen and then we find the facts. Beliefs are very closely intertwined with knowledge even to the degree that when they put people in brain scanners and MRIs and they watch what areas of the brain get activated when certain questions are asked, we don’t see the difference between the knowledge area or — and the belief area. Which is actually what they thought may happen when they looked. But we see this complicated intertwined interaction that goes on. And, trust me, I’m not a brain scientist so I’m not going to give you — there’s many places you can go for more solid information on that, but I find it amazingly fascinating. So what are we left with? Beliefs are our filter. Beliefs are how we know what counts and what doesn’t count. Most of you may — this is always something I think about working at a college — most of our beliefs are very well established by the time we’re seven or eight years old. So you can imagine by the time you’re a student at Moraine Valley, you know, what impact do we have on your beliefs? So these are our beliefs about authority, our beliefs about what men do and what women do, beliefs about how we make money, beliefs about how we interact in our society are very well established very early in life. And beliefs are almost like our defense mechanism that help us knock all the information away. Beliefs add meaning and beliefs help us function. So as an example, without some kind of mechanism to make decisions, we couldn’t go anywhere. So I have a orange pen and a green pen. Pick. Orange or green? Orange. Now if you had to sit and do the pen’s function, right, the exact same way, there’s no difference besides the color. She was able to say, “Hm, I like orange better than green. So I’m going to take the orange.” If you had to sit and do a cost-benefit analysis; right? Do I wear the blue shirt today? Do I wear the red shirt today? You would never get out of the house in the morning. So our beliefs become like our shorthand. Part of our decision-making process, part of how we see the world and our ability then to function in that world becomes really important. Alright. Or else, what would we ever get done? But here’s the problem with belief which you probably can see coming; right? The problem with belief is that we tend to believe things we already believe. It leads us to do things that we already do, try things that we already try, and we really see the world in the same way. And it becomes challenging especially the older we get to see the world in new ways and to get new experiences. Now you may say, “Well, so what. What does that matter to me? I don’t care about that.” But as individuals and as a society we should care. As a society as we know there’s many problems that we face. And there’s things that we need to figure out how to get to those solutions which we’ve heard some ideas today; right? So if our beliefs prevent us from seeing solutions, the beliefs become an obstacle to us. As individuals, I think education is a great example. Alright. The beliefs that you hold about education absolutely impact how you learn and your opportunities that will open up in your life. So if you think education is a thing that happens to you, where an instructor opens your mind and pours in knowledge and you do not see education as a thing that you do, as a thing that you’re actively involved with, you will have problems growing down the road. So when you’re faced with a problem, you will think, “Hm, how can I find someone to pour that into my mind?” Instead of thinking, “This is a problem that other people have solved, I can solve it too. I have the ability to problem solve and figure it out.” This is a big thing. There’s many studies that firm this up, document how strong our beliefs are tied with something like education. So there’s some things at work that trouble me a bit that we should talk about. One of these is called Selective Exposure. So the problem — this is where this — where we only believe what we always believe. I’m not going to get new ideas because I’m not going to recognize things. I’m not going to go and find things that help me understand something new. Selective perception happens when I have these opportunities in front of me but I will, because of my beliefs, ignore certain things and attach myself on to other things that support what I already think. And the one that troubles me the most is the idea of seizing and freezing. The idea of seizing and freezing is if you have no knowledge on a topic, the first thing that you hold onto — the first thing that you hear — will fill that void. And will be overly emphasized. So we see this a lot with like conspiracy theorists. So the people who think that the government blew up the World Trade Center — this happens all the time. “I don’t know anything about what happened, but I hear that the World Trade Center was blown up by the government.” So even though there’s a million pieces of information to counter that, all of those get discounted and I hold on to that one thing that I heard first. And this bothers me a little bit. So let’s get back to Bigfoot. Believers find ways to believe. And this true with many things and especially with Bigfoot. The first thing they do is they like to distort the evidence. So they say, “Well, look at — there’s a track in the mud. What else could’ve caused Bigfoot or — what else could have caused this track besides Bigfoot?” I mean, they don’t think maybe this a bear? Maybe someone made this up? But no, it HAS to be Bigfoot. They deny all the scientists. So clearly, the scientists have a bias. If they would accept Bigfoot, all of their careers will be flushed away and so they will totally ignore Bigfoot. And then I really like all the creative, you know, creative examples. Bigfoot lives in another dimension. When Bigfoot dies, Bigfoot spontaneously combusts. Bigfoot lives underground so, you know, we don’t go there so we don’t see Bigfoot. But really there’s all kinds of great evidence. And if you don’t watch the History Channel, you can actually find this evidence. First off, ape-like creatures don’t live in temperate climates. They live in tropical climates. We have a long fossil record in North America that we can see when humans came to North America. We can find dinosaur bones. We can find this whole history, but for some reason there’s not one Bigfoot fossil that has popped up. We’ve been digging up all these other things, where is Bigfoot? Why is Bigfoot invisible? And, of course, the one I like the most, right, is in order for primates to live there’s a certain population density that has to be reached; okay? This is true for many mammals. I drive almost every day across the forest preserves of Cook County. I see deer. I’ve see gray coyotes. I’ve seen red foxes. I’ve seen turkeys. I’ve seen all kinds of stuff; right? How come when we’re out on a hike in the mountains, when we’re driving our car, we don’t run over Bigfoot? We see Bigfoot out in the distance. We get a blurry picture of Bigfoot. But for some reason, there’s not like, “Oh, look! Dead Bigfoot.” And then we step over Bigfoot on the trail. Now there are experts who have supported the idea of Bigfoot. Most notably the late Grover Krantz who tragically passed away in 2002. And if fact, if you watch older documentaries, you will absolutely see Grover interviewed. And you’ll have Grover on one side saying, “Bigfoot is real. He’s a lost missing link. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” On the other side, will be another scientist and he’ll say, “Bigfoot’s not real. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” But what they don’t show, because it’s bad TV, is that behind the scientists on this side are 14,000 other scientists that go that way; alright? That there are every other scientist on Earth thinks Bigfoot — it would be nice if we found a Bigfoot because it would really teach us a lot about primates but all of these things say more than likely Bigfoot does not exist. And probably within certainty Bigfoot is a myth. So why is Bigfoot out there? Bigfoot is an answer waiting for evidence. When you are walking through the woods and something weird happens to you, Bigfoot fills in the gap. Something weird just happened to me, I need an explanation. I have a belief that’s ready in the back of my head and I pop in Bigfoot. So partly because we don’t see the full scope of information, we’re not able to think clearly about could — why would I not believe in Bigfoot? Must have been Bigfoot. Also Bigfoot makes awesome TV. So the History channel — I use quotes around “History” — has many, many television shows that keep Bigfoot healthy. But this translates really easily into some other areas. So aliens. You know for some reason aliens don’t really land in Asia. Lots of aliens in North America. Not in South America. You can fill in aliens, you can fill in witches. You can fill in a lot of things. But there’s more serious things that trouble me like the — not too long ago — concern about the health of vaccines. There’s been this panic that vaccines are linked to autism and its absolutely not true. But we have that belief. And then when we find out, “Oh, vaccines are tied to autism because of the mercury.” So we took mercury which was a preservative out of the vaccines. Then they say, “Oh, no. They’re still tied to autism because you get too many shots.” So the beliefs hang on; okay? And you can do this — there’s an interesting thing about pasteurization of milk. How awful it is to pasteurize milk even though it’s just heating up milk; right? And kill bacteria. I’m really concerned about the vaccine thing because it’s fine if you want to drink unpasteurized milk and get sick. Cool. But if you don’t get vaccines and we allow things like small pox to come back and we allow other diseases that have been almost eradicated to come back, my kids that are too young to get vaccinated are now at risk. So that bothers me. Of course, I don’t want to miss the end of the world is coming in 2012. So when these videos are on minus 2013, we can all smile that the world has not really ended. With all of this, the first principle should be “don’t fool yourself.” This is a quote from Richard Feynman who was Nobel Prize winner, famous physicist in the 20th century, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” Because you have those beliefs in your head right now and things will interact in your life and beliefs will give you opportunity and some beliefs will prevent you from going down another path. So what can we do? One thing we can do is to think about the preponderance of the evidence. Which is one of my favorite terms that I use when I teach research classes. Can I really see all the evidence? Am I looking at a sliver of the evidence? Am I looking at a taste of the evidence? What can I do to get more evidence? Second, is read widely. So if you’re a Republican, don’t just read the Republican blogs. If you’re a Democrat, just don’t read the Democratic blogs. Open yourself up. And don’t think that you’re right. Even though you believe in things, but recognize what beliefs do. And that’s the last point. Is that we can’t function without beliefs; okay? Beliefs matter. They’re our shorthand. They help us survive. Some beliefs match reality. Other beliefs, not so much. So we need to be aware of how our beliefs interact and look for opportunities when our beliefs might be incorrect. And that might take us down those wrong paths.

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