Watoga Trail Report

Reports of rocks falling out of the sky were called mass hysteria by most scientists until 1803. We now know them as meteorites. Courtesy of Hans Braxmeier/Pixabay

The improbable story about a dog named Bongo
Part One

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
~William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Michael Shermer, science writer and founder of The Skeptics Society, wrote an article for Scientific American magazine in October 2014. In the article, Anomalous Events That Can Shake One’s Skepticism to the Core, Shermer describes an experience that took place at his wedding the previous June.

Hats off to Mr. Shermer for his courage to tell anyone about his experience, let alone publish an article in one of the premier science magazines. Opening oneself up to potential ridicule, particularly in the science world, can have devastating effects on careers and credibility.

Nevertheless, he told the world about the facts of his ineffable experience and had witnesses to back up his claims. A link to Shermer’s story can be found at the conclusion of this dispatch. I heartily urge you to read it.

I also have a strange story I am going to share with readers in next week’s Watoga Trail Report, but, unlike Mr. Shermer, I do so not out of courage.

I occasionally share this curious series of events because I am nearly 71 years old. One of the few benefits of aging beyond career and social responsibilities is that the concern for needing to be believed by others for something I know to be accurate diminishes proportionately with advancing years.

Besides, it makes for a good story to tell at a party of open-minded friends.

We all have certain biases and preconceived notions that arise out of our belief systems, education and experiences. I am not sharing this story to bring you over to another way of understanding reality. I want to state the facts and leave it to you to determine for yourself what meaning my experience has, if any. 

I will ask that you suspend at least a modicum of skepticism for a moment, and allow that we humans are vastly under-equipped to understand the nature of our world in its totality. Some aspects of nature are elusive and may never reveal their secrets to us.

Our brain, ensconced in total darkness inside the skull, makes sense of the world through touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. These senses are converted to electro-chemical activity in the brain that in turn constructs our human version of reality.

Dogs, butterflies and squids may enjoy a somewhat different reality as they may possess significantly enhanced or, conversely, diminished sensory systems relative to humans. My dog’s sense of smell is 40 times greater than mine. Imagine standing in the slow line at the bank next to that guy who gave up bathing a decade ago – while having an olfactory system as sensitive as that of canines.

That same brain has allowed us to create technology that is able to perceive and utilize things that we cannot directly sense; invisible portions of the electromagnetic spectrum like x-rays, for example.

The brain of the Homo Sapiens has brought us the modern technology we use every day; reasoning and abstract thought go as far back and long before the development of the Clovis Point. The scientific method does work; controlled studies work, replicability works, for most things anyway.

But science freely admits to not understanding dark energy and dark matter. These are forces that comprise the vast majority of our universe – an estimated 96 percent. To date, we do not have the slightest idea of dark matter and dark energy, because we cannot find anything that interacts with them.

In the case of dark matter, we infer that it exists because of its apparent gravitational effect on matter, such as planets. But we cannot see it in the scientific sense, nor can we measure it, or make predictions based upon those measurements. We remain in the dark, so to speak.

Few scientists would claim that we know everything there is to know about our world. And even when we do observe phenomena, we don’t always understand it.

Much that is observed in Quantum Physics is counter-intuitive, as well as contrary to Newtonian Physics, which rules our everyday world. It leaves the researchers in a state of chronic cognitive dissonance. We haven’t even the words to create useful metaphors to explain our observations of the sub-atomic world. It is so weird it eclipses our ability to communicate it.

Scientists even debate the existence of consciousness (the thing that we know most intimately); one line of thought goes so far as to suggest that human consciousness is merely an illusion. What you think of as “You” is simply an artifact of neural circuitry. This line of reasoning implies that we are all automatons with no free will.

Some leading thinkers and neuroscientists are convinced this is the case. And if you are searching for a theory that makes life empty of all meaning, this is one you should eagerly embrace.

Until early in the 19th century, the existence of meteorites was considered little more than fantasy by most of the scientific community. Rocks brought to scientists by farmers who claimed that they had fallen out of the sky, served to only garner scorn.

It was following a meteorite shower in L’Aigle, France, in 1803, when thousands of citizens witnessed meteorites impacting the ground, that the scientific community accepted it as fact.

My point here is that despite the marvels and miracles of science, we do not know everything about everything. By odds alone, much more eludes us than what are able to perceive – it is hubris to think otherwise.

As much as we value what we do know, we must be open-minded enough to accept that there may be segments of nature invisible to humans.

Our reality is constructed with limited brain crunching data from limited sensory organs. Perhaps we should remind ourselves to steer clear of the word “impossible.”  History has shown us time and time again that many things thought impossible now, become possible when our minds open up to include them.

I no longer rush to judgment when I hear a story that I would have thought fantasy-thinking a decade ago. I am fortunate to hear many stories, some of which defy a “rational” explanation. What is considered rational now, may fall to the side as we delve deeper into our world.

Next week in the Watoga Trail Report, I will tell you the improbable story of how I came to acquire a little white dog named Bongo.

Until next week, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/anomalous-events-that-can-shake-one-s-skepticism-to-the-core

Ken Springer

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