Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cryptid Comments

A frequent hobby of mine is to investigate what is now commonly termed "cryptozoology," or "unknown animal studies." (How can you study the unknown?) This is the branch of "pseudoscience" which concerns itself with possible animals and possibly extinct animals that may still exist. It concerns itself, to some degree, with creatures ranging from the Tasmanian Wolf to Bigfoot to, at a particular extreme, such creatures as the Jersey Devil.

Now, I view these subjects with a skeptical eye. I'm not going to suddenly one day declare that it's my life's work to find solid evidence of the Mongolian Death Worm's existence and insist on proof for the scientific community. On the other hand, while I find the idea of a five foot long worm that spews sulfuric acid and can arc electric shocks through the air at its enemies improbable, it's not totally impossible, and while I'm not saying it's a real creature, I won't dismiss it out of hand, either. (For a genuine controversy in cryptozoology, see the Patterson-Gimlin film. Too many genuine experts find themselves forced to say, "Okay, that wasn't a human in a suit, or at least, I can't be sure.")

Occasionally, there are strange details that make the speculative side of me curious. For instance, the aforementioned Jersey Devil has some characteristics that are strangely similar to those of the Chupacabra-namely, eyes that flash red and cause disorientation, nausea, or paralysis in their victims. I'm hardly saying I believe this. I am saying that it's an interesting shared detail. I mean, even as improbable as the Jersey Devil is (a horse-faced and -hoofed creature with wings, the height of a man, with powers of flight), during a single week in January 1909 there were hundreds if not thousands who claimed to have seen the creature. (Want a quick way to make $1,000,000? The Philadelphia Zoo apparently posted a million dollar reward for the capture of the creature in response to the mass sightings; they have not officially retracted it.) Further, sightings of the creature are reasonably consistent with one another, whereas other creatures, like the chupacabra, have descriptions ranging from reptilian alien to doglike beast.

All I really want to say about the matter of cryptozoology is that dismissing the existence of a creature out of hand is no more science than embracing its existence religiously without evidence. Scientists are awfully closed to a lot of ideas these days.

Signing off.

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