Your Turn Yet Again
Today we have the second part in our roundup of listener stories, where you send in a story telling of the weirdest, most unexplainable thing that's ever happened to you, and I take my best crack at explaining what I think might have happened. Am I right? Maybe, but probably not; but at least I hope to stimulate some thought, or maybe together we can think of a possible explanation that either one of us alone might not have considered.
Today we've got six stories sent in by premium members, ranging from some weird UFO stories to a ghostly remembrance of a horse who never was. But we're going to get started with this creepy tale from listener Keith:
The Ghost the Dog Saw
There's a combination of things that lead us to conclude our dog is on the trail of some ghost in the house. It's much more common than you might think, and — believe it or not — dogs act like this even when there isn't a ghost.
We all know that dogs have much more sensitive hearing and smelling than we do, and it's often something like an insect or a mouse — often behind a wall or in the ceiling — that initially grabs the dog's attention, which is why they look up or at the wall where there's nothing for us to see.
But it's what happens next that really triggers the dog's behavior, and that's our human reaction to their guarded behavior. We might lean forward, stand up, go on alert, and say something like "What's that? What do you see? Is there something there?" in a tone of voice that suggests danger to the dog. They are extremely attuned to their masters' behavior, and when we act like there's a threat, they go into maximum threat detection mode. The barking, the hackles, the chasing of something invisible through the house — these are all absolutely consistent with how we expect a dog to react to a mysterious sound or smell coupled with a person's alert and on-guard reaction.
Next, we have some silvery and possibly alien visitors who intrigued listener Alex:
The Elusive Aliens
By now you probably know what I'm going to say to this one: I wasn't there and can't possibly have any idea what you saw. You didn't say how long ago this was, so I wonder if this was something that happened when you were really young, and how much your memory of it may be colored by your interest in UFO literature. I'd love to have photos or descriptions given by other people who saw it, with those interviews having been taken immediately after the sighting. But we don't have any of that, so I can't do much except shrug my shoulders and say that I wish we did. But I also don't want to leave it there. Fortunately, listener Brad sent in a story of his own, that I think might cast some light on yours:
Spaceships Near and Far
Remember how I often point out that there's no way for an observer to accurately judge the distance of an object in the sky? It's nothing to do with experience or training; it's to do with geometry. Without some triangulation, no observer has any way to visually judge the distance of any UFO in the sky. None. Let's let Brad continue:
This surprising-but-not-surprising explanation of Brad's story may apply to Alex's as well. How far away were those silver balloons that were lining up vertically and horizontally? Were they really right over that field, or much farther away, or much closer? Heck, I once watched a UFO for five minutes through the window of a bus before I realized it was a reflection on the glass from a light behind me.
Our human perceptions are pretty good, in fact they're great, but they're not infallible and we get fooled by them all the time. If what you're seeing seems to be extraordinary, always check the possibility for perceptual error.
Next up, listener Glenn Wagner seems to have something wrong with his memory:
The Horse Who Wasn't
The really interesting thing is that we all have some early childhood memory that's almost certainly false. There are all kinds of memory effects that have been documented and replicated in a research setting. False memories can — and do — arise from all sorts of influences, even as simple as something you saw on TV when you were very young.
But suppose you became so obsessed with your horse riding memory that you made life decisions based on it, especially bad decisions like quitting your job and stealing horses trying to relive the glory days. Then it becomes what we call False Memory Syndrome, where you can no longer keep these memories in a healthy context.
Next, listener Bruno reports that he used to have a weird ability:
A Most Useless Prognosticator
It's also true that if you bet on a single number in roulette, you're going to be wrong 97.4% of the time. Those are pretty terrible odds. The same concept applies to anything in life which has a large number of possible outcomes.
One time I had a bet with someone who said the Welcome Back, Kotter theme song was sung by Randy Newman; I bet that it was anyone else. Who had the better odds of winning? Obviously I did, and I did win; we looked it up and it was sung by John Sebastian. This is exactly what Bruno did; he imagined one outcome, and then his "reverse prediction" as he called it caused him to win almost every single bet.
It's not extraordinary because there are many outcomes. If this was flipping a coin, Bruno would have been wrong 50% of the time. But something like a presentation at work? It doesn't have just two outcomes, "goes well" or "goes badly;" both of those are vague and there are many possibly outcomes that aren't an unambiguous match for either.
Finally today, listener Mike has a neighbor with unusual criteria for deciding whether and where to move:
George Washington, Realtor
Was this just some wild coincidence? I'm not convinced it was even that. I did ask Mike some followup questions via email, and he confirmed that all he has is the neighbor's verbal report of an etching of George Washington. He didn't see it. So while that might make most of us assume it was a clearly rendered, professionally made portrait of George Washington's face, I think that's an unwarranted leap. As far as we know, this could be nothing more than a smudge of white scale in the corner of the window glass that the neighbor thinks looks a little like George Washington. If he'd dreamed of George Burns instead, maybe the smudge would have looked like George Burns to him — of course in that case he'd have moved from St George, Utah to Burns, Oregon. It's basically Jesus in the grilled cheese sandwich, or Virgin Mary in the mildew under the overpass. We all see whatever we expect to see.
So do I think this was an extraordinary coincidence? Not yet, because we don't have enough information to support that any coincidence took place. Remember the words of Hyman's Categorical Imperative: Do not try to explain something until you are sure there is something to be explained.
A great big thanks to all the premium listeners who responded to my call for stories and recorded them and sent them in. If you'd like to be in a future such episode, you just need to be a premium member to receive the invitation, which you can do at skeptoid.com/important. Until next time, watch out for the ghosts and aliens, and if you do encounter them, get me an audio recording!
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