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Your Turn Yet Again

Donate On Skeptoid we're always digging into the true science and true history behind some of the weird phenomena that a lot of people believe in, but sometimes bizarre events happen closer to home. Today we're going to examine some of your own personal strangest experiences to see if we can find a science-based explanation.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Conspiracy Theories, History & Pseudohistory

Skeptoid Podcast #793
August 17, 2021
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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

When I was about 13, I was home alone with only my dog Jessie, the border collie; I heard this noise come from my parent's bedroom on the other side of the house. It sent literal shivers down my spine and gave me goosebumps. It was loud and did not stop straight away. Jessie took off towards the noise in my parent's room, barking as I have never seen her before. By the time I got to Jessie, she was already in the room. I stood just back from the door; Jessie then yelped like she hurt herself and backed out of the room, showing her hackles showing like she was about to attack. I peered into the doorway of the bedroom and seen…. nothing.

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

I was in the car with my grandmother, and I looked over at this empty field behind it, and there were a couple of I guess you could call them unidentified flying objects. They were spherical, silver colored, and I couldn't judge their distance or altitude or size or anything because no frame of reference, but they didn't seem that far away. I think they were roughly vertical when I first saw them, and they moved a bit, and they seemed like roughly horizontal, and then they were out of sight because I couldn't persuade my grandmother to stop and pull over. I really didn't know what they were, but I was a little worked up into the literature of UFOs of the time so it kind of excited me.

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

Hey, it's Brad from Ajax, Ontario, Canada. In late summer 2019 I went for a swim at my local health club's outdoor pool. As I was looking up, I spotted a UFO several thousand meters in the sky. It was bulbous in shape with a long tail. After several minutes I concluded it must be an errant weather balloon that had drifted dangerously close to Toronto Airport's main flight path.

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:

Turned out I was completely wrong. As I continued to look up, I noticed that the pool had transparent string right across the entire length of it. Right where my UFO was, right where my weather balloon was, I saw a knot with a ball of string. As it turned out, my weather balloon, several thousand meters up, was about two and a half meters away from where I was floating.

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

I remember an incredible amount of detail about horseback riding as a kid with my family. I can remember the horses my brother and I both rode, including their names. I remember specific events that happened along the trail ride. However, my parents and siblings don't share this memory.

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

Whenever something of a certain result was going to happen, like a big presentation at work or something with the kids, I used to imagine an outcome. That specific outcome never realized, it was always different. It was even like a reverse prediction. At one point, I was even gaming on this ability like imagining something bad happening, which of course didn't realize.

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

I live in a nice semi-gated community in St. George, Utah, and I was talking with my neighbor, and we got to talking about how they decided to buy their house here in this community. He woke up one night in a dream, and he was told in the dream, "George Washington." As he analyzed the dream, he realized that meant he should move to Washington, Utah. The funny part is when he picked this house, after he picked it, he was looking around at one of the upstairs bedrooms, and he claims that there is an etching in the window of one of the upstairs bedrooms of... George Washington.

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!


By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.

 

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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Your Turn Yet Again." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 17 Aug 2021. Web. 24 Sep 2021. <https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4793>

 

References & Further Reading

Anastasio, A. "Can Dogs See Ghosts?" Expert Advice. American Kennel Club, 13 Oct. 2020. Web. 5 Aug. 2021. <https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/can-dogs-see-ghosts-spirits/>

Ceci, S., Loftus, E., Leichtman, M., Bruck, M. "The Possible Role of Source Misattributions in the Creation of False Beliefs Among Preschoolers." International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 1 Jan. 1994, Volume 42, Number 4: 304-320.

Nickell, J. "Rorschach Icons." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 Nov. 2004, Volume 28, Number 6: 15-17.

Radford, B. "UFO Sightings & News." LiveScience. Future US, Inc., 20 Oct. 2017. Web. 13 Aug. 2021. <https://www.livescience.com/20645-ufo-sightings.html>

Ross, S. A First Course in Probability. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2009.

Yau, S., Xu, J., Wang, K., Bose, P. "Triangulation." ScienceDirect. Elsevier B.V., 13 Aug. 2021. Web. 13 Aug. 2021. <https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/triangulation>

 

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