Thursday, November 02, 2017

The Plausibility of Modern Legends

I subscribe to the magazine SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, which I highly recommend to fans and writers of SF and fantasy. Its coverage of myths, legends, and hoaxes offers lots of story seeds and can help authors ensure that their characters respond rationally to incredible events rather than acting overly gullible. The latest issue contains a review of a new book about the Loch Ness Monster. I would like to believe in the monster (alas, the only mark of its presence we saw on our one-hour Loch Ness cruise during a tour of Scotland was a steep hill where Nessie was supposed to have slid down into the lake). Everything I've read about it, though, seems to support the position that the reported sightings in modern times comprise a combination of mistaken perceptions and deliberate photographic hoaxes. That a breeding population of large animals could survive in a confined area with no physical evidence being found after decades of searching does seem unlikely. (If the monster weren't a natural animal but an intelligent, magical creature, as in Jean Lorrah's Nessie series, that would be a different matter.)

Bigfoot (which I'd also love to believe in) seems more plausible. If Sasquatches existed, they'd be a small breeding population of a near-extinct species of primate, a very few individuals living in a vast tract of millions of acres of forest in the Pacific Northwest. There's nothing inherently unlikely about their existence being real but unproven, since they would have a strong motivation to remain hidden.

On the other hand, while I certainly believe life exists elsewhere in the universe, I reluctantly disbelieve all UFO "evidence" I've read about. Sightings and photographs have been convincingly debunked. As for the personal narratives of face-to-face contact and abductions, they sound like attempts at writing science fiction by people who don't know much of anything about science fiction. They don't make sense in terms of motivation. If aliens advanced enough to travel here from other stars wanted to make contact with us, maybe to pass on their wisdom and save us from extinction, wouldn't they reveal themselves openly to people in a position to change the world? Would beings of superior intelligence and unimaginably powerful technology make contact with an alien planet by grabbing random inhabitants whose reports are certain to be disbelieved? And if the aliens wanted to observe us without being noticed, they'd surely have the ability to do so.

Now, maybe they're observing us and don't care about remaining unseen. Maybe they're gradually accustoming us to their presence, like Jane Goodall with the chimpanzees. In that case, though, the alleged abductions don't make sense; the events as reported couldn't be telling the aliens anything about us they don't already know.

Slightly more plausible motivations: Earth is under galactic quarantine; visits to our solar system are forbidden under the alien equivalent of the Prime Directive. The briefly, ambiguously glimpsed craft in the sighting reports aren't supposed to be here. They're interstellar smugglers or other shady characters taking refuge from pursuit in a forbidden zone. As for the abductions, if they actually happened, I can think of only one credible explanation—the aliens are just messing with our heads. Either the rogue visitors are playing random pranks in a spirit of cruel fun, or extraterrestrial scientists are conducting psychological experiments on us inferior beings to find out how our culture will interpret this irrational behavior on the part of superior entities.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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