I was trained to be a scientist. That fact may surprise some readers who regard the articles on this web site to be as believable as voodoo or worse, Bill Clinton! Well, I have a B.S. in geology, although I never worked in the field, literally or figuratively. Instead, for many years I did another left-brain, rational activity, i.e., engineering automobiles at General Motors.  In the end, I retired as a senior intelligence analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency. That too may surprise some readers... and scare others! I was your tax dollars at work!

I mention all this because it probably seems that I believe really weird things. In fact, some people ask me how I can believe some of the things I do.  Actually, I never said I did.  If there is anything I learned from my education and work, it's that we all constantly make choices on what to believe, and in most cases, there simply isn't any way to be sure you're right. 

Certainly, engineering is a nuts and bolts proposition. What you build either works the way you planned, or it doesn't. In other words, an engineer experiences the results of his or her efforts as validation. That hands on experience means that the choice to believe whether something works or not is made by the outcome, not the engineer's hopes or expectations.  It's not often that an engineer forgoes testing a design because some channeled entity assures him or her that it works.  The engineer can't merely believe; he or she has to know. Knowing is the result of experience, while belief is a mental choice. And that mental choice is usually the result of psychological needs or social conditioning.

A scientist uses the scientific method to essentially gain an experience. Having observed some phenomena, the scientist comes up with a hypothesis that explains the data. Then an experiment is conducted to test that hypothesis. If it appears that the outcome confirms the hypothesis, the result is submitted to the scientist's peers so that they too can run the experiment and duplicate the results. If it turns out that they had the same outcome, the hypothesis is generally accepted. The "scientific method" works well for testing phenomena that can be controlled. Chemists and physicists, for example, are mostly dependent on laboratory experiments to validate their hypotheses. In some respects, the "hard" sciences are much like engineering. You design something and either it works or it doesn't.

When you get to other sciences, however, you start entering the realm of interpretation, not experimentation. A biologist can conduct many experiments, but he or she can't duplicate most life functions. The most the biologist can do is observe living organisms, sometimes with very sophisticated tools, and then posit a hypothesis to explain what was seen.

Likewise, in my erstwhile field, geology, some laws of physics can be applied to small-scale models of natural processes.  For example, at the Army Corps of Engineers Waterway Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi, you can see tanks with waves sloshing around to simulate shoreline erosion, or sandboxes with water trickling in a little stream to study how water forms channels.  I haven't seen them bring in the actual Mississippi River to run an experiment, however.  Geology is very much an interpretive science.  A geologist can go into the field, observe the rocks, take measurements, and bring back samples to the lab for testing and analysis.  But ultimately, a hypothesis cannot be tested under controlled conditions.  The geologist has to make a call based on incomplete knowledge. 

Then again, there are other disciplines that would like to drape themselves with the mantle of scientific prestige by insisting that they too observe systems that have mathematically predictable processes and outcomes.  Sometimes, that can be ludicrous.  A cultural anthropologist or a psychologist may think that the subject of their observations is a predictable system, and if only complete knowledge were obtained, the tribe or person's behavior could be reduced to a statistical equation.  So you have behaviorists (the Skinner school) who believe that human action is all stimulus and response.  And you have neurologists who believe that human action is a theoretically predictable outcome of the brain's biochemical reactions.  This mechanistic version of life is, however, a belief, not a fact.  Nobody has been able to locate the source of consciousness much less predict what it will do.

Science has another drawback.  The scientific establishment is essentially hierarchical.  In other words, like most human societies, it's essentially a sophisticated baboon troop.  Ranking in the troop is determined by age, dominance and acceptance.  An older scientist who is recognized by his peers as the dominant authority in a field will likely fend off all challenges to his (almost always a "he") pet theories.  Nobody wants his life's work to be proven wrong.  Likewise, challengers are few because nobody wants to be ostracized, ridiculed, or thrown out of the troop if the alpha males turn on them.  So most scientists are very conservative, which is to say, docile and meek.  They advance the state of their knowledge incrementally.  A scientist, then, cannot publicly believe any claim that hasn't been tested by the scientific method or have solid, tangible evidence because it wouldn't be real knowledge, and because it would be detrimental to their career.  As Thomas Kuhn observed in his classic book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", science only progresses with the death of each authority.  The irony, of course, is that in those scientific fields that are largely based on observation, untested hypotheses abound.  It's the weight of the evidence that convinces scientists to believe, rather than actually know, the validity of a hypothesis.  Yet, those scientists are unwilling to use the same epistemology to examine and validate hypotheses that are the least bit off the wall.  Most will go to extreme logical contortions to invalidate what in any other field would be considered good evidence. 

Hence, a dozen people may see a large metallic disc hovering over their houses, but a scientist will presume to tell the witnesses, despite never having been on the scene, what it is they actually saw. The scientist's explanations are frequently ridiculous. Must have been the planet Venus. Apparently, people are unable to distinguish a large, metallic object from a point of light in the sky. Or they are victims of mass hysteria. Or they are hoaxing. Note that the scientist may not have any evidence at all that these are the real explanations, but in this case, lack of evidence doesn't stop a scientist from making a hypothesis. That, of course, contradicts the scientific method.  Preserving the current scientific paradigm is apparently more important than investigating natural phenomena and deriving a reasonable explanation. In other words, doing science.

The public apparently thinks the intelligence community is omniscient, with amazing technology that can pry into everything from outhouses to people's brains. The truth is that if interpretive science has to fill in some data gaps with assumptions, the intelligence community normally has yawning chasms to fill. An intelligence analyst typically has very little data with which to make assessments. None of the "national technical means" are particularly adept at reading people's minds, and human sources of information are typically inaccurate or worse. (Just think.  If most human intelligence, or HUMINT, reports concerning mundane events or things are fabrications, distortions, or disinformation, what then should we think of human reports on paranormal experiences?) As with science, an analyst is mightily discouraged from making assessments that go beyond the available intelligence. That's considered speculation. So if the available intelligence is meager, the assessment must be very conservative. As in science, if an analyst comes up with an assessment outside the conventional wisdom, the other analysts will attack him or her, especially if their very own assessment would be shown to be wrong.  Egos are egos, no matter where they work.  Now you know why the intelligence community always misses the big ones.

On the other hand, it's dangerous to make national policy or conduct military operations based on mere speculation, so the process isn't entirely wrong.  An intelligence analyst, then, has to be willing to accept uncertainty as the normal analytical environment, but is paid to make a call, preferably conservative, regardless. An intelligence analyst, then, seldom knows, but is always called upon to believe.

When we were children, the world was a magical and wondrous place, filled with fairy tales, Santa Claus, and miracles.  A cartoon might show a particularly stupid coyote falling thousands of feet to the valley floor, only to shake himself off and think up another hilarious scheme.  A brave knight could rescue a damsel from an evil wizard in some fairy tale.  And the child who read or heard all this was filled with excitement and joy at the adventure and possibilities of life. 

But then came adulthood.  There was no Santa Claus after all.  There was only the boring job and the struggle to make a living without the convenient use of magic.  Maybe it was the need to add color and excitement, awe and mystery, or maybe just fun to life that made many people believe in adult fairy tales.  The Photon Belt is coming, or is it Planet X this year?  People are being abducted by space aliens in UFO's.  Crystals have healing properties.  Your personality and fate are written by the stars.  And so it goes.  None of these are proven.  Most aren't even plausible under any semi-rational belief system.  But does it matter?  The world is a richer and more interesting place because we are willing to entertain ideas and beliefs that the scientist deems preposterous.  The imagination is fired up.  The mind leaps beyond the mundane and embraces creativity and joy.  And who knows?  Some of it may be true! 

So, if you ask why I believe these crazy things, the answer is that much of it I don't.  As Aristotle said, the mark of an educated man is the willingness to entertain an idea without necessarily accepting it. I'm just willing to entertain the possibilities. That doesn't mean that I dismiss all paranormal events.  In fact, I use the same methodology that I use on my regular job. If I see a report, I ask myself if the source has reported reliably in the past, if there are similar reports from other sources, if there is corroborating or contrary information, what the motives of the source might be, and whether the claim is beyond the bounds of possibility. In that way, I can assign a degree of acceptance to the report. Most reports are simply interesting and possible. But that's enough. A reasonable degree of acceptance is all that is required to keep an idea alive and worthy of study.  I sometimes wonder how many worthwhile ideas have been assassinated by arrogance.  So, if you sometimes find the stories and articles you see to be ridiculous, then I suggest you simply entertain the possibilities and look for the evidence.  And that's what's fun!


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