Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cryptozoology is not Parapsychology

There's always been a little disturbance in the force known as cryptozoology, one that gives the field some of its difficulties in achieving scientific credibility.  Some zoologists look askance at the whole endeavour because of the perceived focus on animals such as sasquatch which are perceived as highly unlikely, if not absurd.  I have no problems here: as long as the chance of finding an animal is not zero, people can look without making the field scientifically invalid.  In science, most long shots don't pay off, but some do.  The key is whether searching is being done in a scientific manner, proceeding from the evidence to gather more evidence and meeting Popper's classic criteria of the falsifiable hypothesis.  (There can be disagreement on how much negative evidence, or how strong a logical case, is needed to falsify a given hypothesis, but the point is that a hypothesis like "There is a large unknown primate in North America" is perfectly scientific.  The means to search every possible chunk of forest habitat definitively are not available, but the reasoning is fine.)

Then we get into another problem: the allegedly paranormal/psychic/parapsychological nature proposed for some cases.  I don't mean to pick on Nick Redfern, a very dedicated researcher, and a most enjoyable and often thought-provoking writer, but having just read his book Monster Diary, he is the example that comes to mind when thinking of people who class things that look like animals under cryptozoology, even if they are clearly not physical animals.  I'm well aware that sane and sober people have reported apparitions, and I have no particular insight into what mix of causes is behind that phenomenon.  It's not my field.  But here's the part where I and Nick depart ways.  He and other other like-thinking investigators argue that apparitions of animals are part of cryptozoolgy, and, as Nick puts it in his book, cryptozoologists in some cases will go on chasing sightings without results "unless the field of cryptozoology wakes up and and realizes that there needs to be a new approach to the subject."

I would flip that around.  My position is that, if there is no physical animal, or no reasonable chance of one, the case no longer pertains to cryptozoology or any kind of zoology.  If someone believes they saw a sabretooth tiger that disappeared into thin air, for example (and this happened, as Nick recounts) , then the fact that the apparition was in the form of an animal doesn't put the event under the heading of cryptozoology. It can be parapsychology or any other field one may think appropriate, but if it's not zoology, it's not cryptozoology.  People who thing sasquatch is so elusive because it's not a material creature are welcome to hold that opinion, but they shouldn't call that topic part of cryptozoology.  It's part of the whole business of apparitions and spirits and the paranormal. It also, critically, is not a falsifiable hypothesis (you can never prove such a belief to be wrong) and therefore is not part of the physical sciences.  If a definitive search (in the cases where it's possible) fails to find an animal, then it's because the animal either did not exist in the area, has gone extinct, or has migrated elsewhere.  

An animal is by definition a physical thing of flesh and blood. It's there or it's not.  I don't dismiss the possibility of a nonmaterial reality: as a Christian, I believe strongly that the material universe is not all that exists.  But an apparition is not an animal, any more than it can be a human being.  It may be reported sincerely to look like one, or even act or sound like one, but that's not the same thing.  

I wrote in my 2006 book Shadows of Existence that I was dismayed that a very good book by Healy and Cropper on Australian mystery animals spent a chapter on "zooform phenomena" after spending the rest of the book scientifically discussing unknown creatures. I feared that zoologists would dismiss the whole book because of this direction.  I don't know how to take a survey on this, but I have no doubt I was right, and still am.  Cryptozoology will never get the respect of zoology if paranormal entities are part of it. 

And, if cryptozoology is the search for hidden ANIMALS, then they should not be.  The experiences of people who see a big cat seemingly dive into the ground and vanish, or a small herd of camels appearing where none can be, are not beneath our notice. They are simply part of another field of study.


Nick Redfern said...

Hey Matt,

Yes, it may well be argued that if a creature exhibits phenomena that is far more paranormal in nature (however we define that term), it may not technically be considered a creature of cryptozoology.

But, here's the thing: many creatures that are widely accepted as being part of cryptozoology do exhibit such paranormal (or perceived paranormal) traits.

Whether people agree with the data and witness testimony or not, there are a lot of Bigfoot reports that are steeped in high strangeness.

Take, for just one example, Stan Gordon's 2010 book, Silent Invasion, that chronicles very weird Bigfoot activity in Pennsylvania in 1973.

Tales of the Yowie in Australia are also saturated with odd overtones.

FW Holiday, while investigating the Loch Ness Monster, began to experience a lot of high-strangeness, including a MIB sighting at the loch and strange synchronicities.

Tim Dinsdale alluded to the possibility of a paranormal explanation for Nessie.

There's Britain's Owlman, West Virginia's Mothman, the "pterodcatyls" of the Texas-Mexico border - all steeped in high strangeness.

Merrily Harpur's book, Mystery Big Cats, places the UK's Alien Big Cats into a non-physical category, a book well worth reading.

So, if even just one example of high-strangess in all these cases is valid, using your criteria for what passes as a creature of cryptozooloogy, would we not have to remove all the above "things" from cryptozoological study and hand the data over to paranormal researchers?

Or, perhaps, we should modify what cryptozoology is and represents.

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

It does seem clear that that the concept of "zooform phenomena" refers to the paranormal and tends to cloud the distinction between the natural and supernatural. This would obviously be harmful to any scientific study. Still, we should not be too quick to exclude the extraordinary as much in nature is extraordinary. For example, the reports of bigfoot suddenly disappearing at astonishing speed could be due to reflexes and cunning.

Matt Bille said...

Nick (and Clark), thanks. The point is taken that sometimes there is not an obvious bright line: you can start investigating an animal and then, as you describe in your books, become involved with something quite different. It's my opinon that, once you encounter "high strangeness," the subject of further investigation is no longer cryptozoology. I would argue that the classic definition of cryptozoology by Heuvelmans excludes anything that does not deal with a material animal.

theo paijmans said...

The question whether a distinction should be made between cryptozoology and the paranormal was already answered by a book of Elliott O' Donnell.

Entitled 'Animal Ghosts, Or, Animal Hauntings And The Hereafter', it was published in 1913.

I must confess that I find the accounts belonging in the zooform dept. most fascinating.

Best regards,


Neil A said...

If cryptozoology is the study of 'hidden animals' how do we define a hidden animal? Mothmen, Owlmenm, hellhounds, are clearly not biological entities, but then again it seems as if Nessie, Bigfoot are taken seriously as cryptids despite an alarming lack of evidence. Maybe cryptozoology needs a restructure, but if an animal turns out to be real after springing from tribal myth, then it's almost a zooform come to life. Out of place animals most certainly are not cryptids, but again, how do we define a cryptozoological creature when there is no evidence to suggest a majority of such creatures' exist. It's only natural that such 'animals' get thrown into the zooform melting pot,because all the while science/cryptozoologists fails to find them, then they are open to question and only exist as myth.

alanborky said...

I'm pretty much with Nick on this Matt but for the sake of argument let's keep things unhigh strange.

Zoology and Evolution for example used to teach animals where biochemicals robots devoid of consciousness or self awareness and only humans were capable of producing and manipulating tools because they had self reflection and opposable thumbs.

And because of those self evident 'truths' Zoology and Evolution thrived within the boundaries they insisted were incontrovertible.

But here's the problem from Aesop onwards people were reporting birds exhibiting signs of consciousness and tool use but of course Zoology and Evolution knew better and even around the turn of the Millennium I was reading online someone asking about the Aesop-Crow-stones-water-jar and some expert reassuring the individual oncerned oh no no such thing ever happened because Aesop was merely using animals to make points about self-reflective opposable thumb possessed humans.

And that expert had to know what he was talking about because he was a professor!

Similarly we still hear repeated Sasquatch etc can't possibly exist because how could dumb apes possibly avoid detection by self reflecting opposable thumb possessed geniuses called humans?

And this in spite of the fact since the Seventies at least other types of dumb apes've gradually been recognised as capable of self-reflection cultural transmission hand signing and comprehension of human language.

But if various mavericks'd accepted the dictates of Zoology and Evolution then we wouldn't reached the present situation where dumb apes're whupping the arses off university types going up against them on iPad screen manipulation based IQ tests because if Zoology and Evolution'd had their way such things'd still be considered impossible.

But if you still insist on doing things the old Zoology/Evolution way Matt howsabout Cryptozoology Parapsychology and ParaCryptozoology?

I suspect though Matt in your heart of hearts you're secretly much more of a maverick than a mainstreamer otherwise you couldn't talk about cryptozoology without your jaws dripping with bile and loathing.

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

It seems that the concept of zooform includes both natural and paranormal creatures. Isn't it useful to define cryptozoology as concerned with reports of potentially physical creatures? Many mythical creatures have turned out to have originally been real physical creatures as in the origin of the unicorn from the rhino.

Lance M. Foster said...

I would refer you to "Paranormal America" (Bader, Mencken and Baker). You have to look at the whole thing as overlapping Venn diagrams. Most people in the U.S. (about 60% or more) believe in the validity of at least ONE topic (Ex: ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, etc.) but the more you add of those kinds of subjects, the number of people believing in several goes down. Certain subjects have a believer component that vehemently deny the "paranormal-ness" of their particular interest, especially cryptozoology fans and UFO folks. They see Bigfoot and UFOs as falling within a materialist "scientific" paradigm. It is an interesting book you all should read.

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

I am not interested in denying the paranormal nature of an alleged creature. I am only interested in limiting my search to creatures potentially of physical nature.

Lance M. Foster said...

I can understand and respect that, Clark.

Matt Bille said...

Thanks to everyone for the comments. Alan, I'm not sure I grasp the connection you are drawing. Because we long underestimaed the intelligence and emotional capacity of other animals, particularly mammals, doesn't make a link in my mind the questions of whether cryptozoological solutions are material or nonmaterial. My personal wish is that everyone would move away from conflating cryptozoology with anything in the "paranormal" domain. People sometimes report apparitions of buildings that no longer exist, but such reports are not considered part of the field of architecture. Likewise, because someone reports, however sincerely, an apparition that looks like an animal, there's no tie created to any form of zoology.

Howard said...

I'm with Neil A on this. Cryptozoology is a kind of grab bag now that ranges from mundane new discoveries (e.g., a new species of earthworm, or the division of one well-known species into two sub-species), to animals known to have lived recently but believed to be extinct (ivory-billed woodpeckers, Tasmanian tigers), to animals that are biologically possible but lack solid evidence of having ever existed (Bigfoot), to creatures of pure fantasy (Mothman, dragons). Sorry, but the new kind of earthworm does not make Mothman any more likely to exist.

Lance M. Foster said...

The way I have always conceived of cryptozoology is as a grab bag of questions about "hidden animals"...what have people said they've seen? What evidence is there?
(which makes me ask, is there also cryptobotany?)

As long as it is a question about an animal people say they've seen but there is not yet proof either way, I think of any of it as cryptozoology and the creatures as cryptids.

My own involvement has been with the Shunka Warak'in, which I first brought to Loren Coleman's attention as a legend from my tribe back in the 90s, and its connection to a stuffed mounted hyena-like animal that was shot in Montana in the 1880s. A real live hide-and-fur thing. We never thought of it as a spirit, but a regular but very rare animal.

After its inclusion in the cryptozoology oevre, if an animal is proven to exist as a biological species, like the coelacanth or okapi, then it is no longer a cryptid, but is a full-fledged object of zoology. If it is a physical animal, even if it proves to be a case of error in perception or mistaken identity, like most of the so-called "chupacabras" which are really mangy coyotes, dogs or raccoons, or that rotted carcass that washed up on the beach that proved to be a bulldog, then it is still zoology that takes over at that point.

FOR ME, and speaking only for myself, ANYthing that is an animal, or possible animal, can be considered literally within the (remember) -informal- field of inquiry people call "cryptozoology." Hidden animals. Mysteries. Loch Ness monster. Bigfoot. The jury is still out. There are things about these creatures that seem biological sometimes and apparitional or folkloristic at other times. The only reason I haven't rejected Nessie and Bigfoot as creatures of folklore, is because some very believable people swear they have not only seen them, but had close experiences with them. Dr. Jeff Meldrum still is open to the possibility of Bigfoot as an anthropoid biological creature.

However, when you are talking about things that don't act anything like an animal, and seem not to likely be one, like the Mothman or the Jersey Devil, I don't consider those to be part of cryptozoology at all. Very very unlikely. I think a lot of the answers lie not in zoology but in "high strangeness" (another term people argue about and no one can agree on just what it means). I think the answers lie more in the direction of Harpur's Daimonic Reality or Hansen's Paranormal Trickster or Holiday's Goblin Universe or Mangonia, ...whatever those are.

So, as long as an "animal" is apparently biological and the jury is still out on it, I consider it a topic for cryptozoology, which to me, is really a place-holder concept. Once it is proved to be biological, it is no longer cryptozoology, but plain old zoology. If it doesn't seem to be a biological (zoological), REAL, creature, I push it to the folklore end of the spectrum of cyptozoology, which some would reject, and some include. It's not a formal field. It's not zoology. It's just an area of inquiry.

Neil A said...

I'm unsure as to why the Jersey Devil can't be considered cryptozoological, the Pine Barrens is vasted, the legends have persisted for centuries although like many so-called cryptids it could be a sum of many parts - there is so much of an overlap between cryptoozology and paranormal it would be ignorant and arrogant to dismiss one or the other. How can we steer clear of the paranormal when so many cryptozoological creatures could well be of that realm. Until a creature is found, i.e. Bigfoot, it remains in folklore.

Lance M. Foster said...

To each their own. I explained my own position, that's all.

As I understand it, the Jersey Devil is a single being (no dying, no reproduction, no mates) that has existed since 1735. Since 1735, when it was born from a witch known as Mother Leeds.

Really, that's all I need to classify it as folklore or a being of Forteana at best, a thoughtform, whatever. But that's me :-) To each their own.

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

The Jersey devil involves all kinds of genres yet there could still be a cryptid at the core of it.

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

I wonder what Karl Shuker would think of this discussion as he is very broad minded and eccentric and well versed in the concept of zooform phenomena.

Loren Coleman said...

I have a sense that this is very much a byproduct of the biases of the researchers/writers exposing the rest of us to their insights into the data.

Nick Redfern has certainly been clear about his zooform frame of reference, and parapsychological sense of almost every "cryptid" he's ever investigated. There does not seem to be a parapsychology theory that Redfern has encountered that he doesn't like. That's fine.

What he fails to see, however, is that all of the writers he usually cites to support his thesis (e.g. Gordon, later writings of Dinsdale & Holiday, Downes, Harpur, and parts of Healey/Cropper), all share his same bias.

He actually interprets the data in a parapsychology fashion by using the writings of people already sharing his tent. But he does not reveal that this "chosen" data are only a small minority of the creature, monster, and cryptid cases.

I too have a bias, and am honest about it. I look at the cryptozoology world via zoology and anthropology, but do not exclude the psychology of the eyewitnesses and the researchers. In this matter, I feel Matt Bille raises a valid point. There is an entire field from which Redfern can study the reports he cherrypicks, and it is called "parapsychology."

I see no one discouraging him from doing that, but I think this view of his that "we should modify what cryptozoology is" entirely smells too much of colonialism. Cryptozoologists can study the data from whatever angle they wish, but for those who understand that the history of cryptozoology issues first and foremost from zoology, there is firm grounding.

For those who want to add their insights, from whatever angle they wish, there is no one stopping them. Indeed, most cryptozoologists with a foundation in biology do not demand any kind of rigid channeling of the topic in their direction, as Redfern seems to be stating we all should do in our "ology" - our study of this field through his "zooform" and nonzoological screening.

Frankly, I am certainly tired of anyone saying it's "my way or the highway" in cryptozoology. I'm interested in the zoology in cryptozoology, without excluding an understanding of the psychology too. I don't think there's a thing wrong with that.

Ivan T. Sanderson said once that there is no real science in explaining one unknown with another unknown. If Nick Redfern wants to do that, that's okay with me. I would rather continue study cryptids and doing my cryptozoology more scientifically by basing my examination of these possible new species by looking at the database through zoology/biology/anthropology, thank you.

Lance M. Foster said...

I agree, Loren. Everyone has biases, and they emphasized that over and over in my education as an anthropologist. There is no way getting around it. But you owe it to yourself and others to be explicit in your biases, IF you are aiming at science.

It is a useful exercise to unpack one's concepts, experiences, and biases and lay them out on a table, even if it's just for oneself, to remain as clear-minded as possible, if that is also part of one's goals.

Loren, correct me if I am wrong, but some of the earlier books you wrote that I read back in the 70s-80s, you included more apparitional kinds of beings in your books like clowns, gassers, mothmen, springheel jack, along with more zooform cryptids.

You don't really look at those kinds of things anymore, not that I've seen. Does this represent a change in your interests or an evolution in your thinking? Or am I mistaken?

Thanks, Lance

Loren Coleman said...

Lance, my first two books, with a strong coauthor, were experimental efforts by two young men who were open to looking at unexplained phenomena in terms of a Jungian point of view. Jerry Clark (ufologist) and I (cryptozoologist) were and are Forteans. Our early work was in line with that foundation, and we both, since then, specialized in our specialities.

But I have not been afraid to discuss non-biological notions. I often use my broader Fortean, political, and social science platforms (books entitled Suicide Clusters and The Copycat Effect, and my blog Twilight Language) to touch noncryptozoological topics, in which I have always been interested.

Nick Redfern said...

One thing to remember: although me and Loren disagree on the nature of certain cryptids (probably Bigfoot more than any other), it's important to note one thing: we are both believers in Bigfoot. Loren has a flesh and blood approach, whereas I have a more Fortean approach. But that the creature exists (in some fashion) is not in any doubt. My belief is as strong as Loren's - albeit from a different perspective.

Loren Coleman said...

Nick's characterization of my thoughts above merely reinforces what tends to make me feel he little understands me or my work. A close reading of all statements I have given in the media and in my writings since I began expressing myself through those public venues in 1969, demonstrate I think "belief" and "believing" is faith-based. I use concrete frames of reference; Nick does not. As my mentor, who was most definitely a Fortean too, Ivan T. Sanderson often said, explore the tangible first and foremost when investigating what appears to be intangible. Sanderson, of course, was a cryptozoologist too.

Furthermore, Nick does not work from a more Fortean point of view than I do. Indeed, I would submit that he completely turns the Fortean view on its head with his stances and investigations, for Forteans do not use theorizing the way he does to try to redefine cryptozoology into parapsychology. If he wishes to put up his Fortean credentials against mine, in a beat down on that point, I have no doubt I would come out on top.

Loren Coleman said...

And just one more concrete example: Nick says he thinks we disagree mostly about Bigfoot. I think it is much more broad in our conceptualized investigations than merely about Bigfoot. Writers like Nick tend to forget that before the Fortean, demonologist and writer John A. Keel launched into his novel-like Mothman book, he openly was in consultations with Ivan T. Sanderson who felt Mothman was an unknown new species of a large bird.

Lance M. Foster said...

Ok, I gotcha, Loren.

So, how do you see such things as the Jersey Devil, Mothman, and such now?

Do you think at the core these are biological creatures, either visually misinterpreted known species (the way people misinterpret mangy coyotes as chupacabras, or a sometimes a half-glimpsed bear as a bigfoot)? Do you think these are unknown species like the okapi or all those new species they are finding in the Mekong? Do you see these things as essentially biological (known or unknown) but with layers of folklore and mistaken and exaggerated sightings?

How would you consider such things as Mothman or Jersey Devil?

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

I have always had the impression Loren is really a folklorist deep down.

Loren Coleman said...

I really think it is inappropriate to go down this side branch of "my" thoughts on specific cryptids, Lance. This is Matt's forum, and I am clearly on the record through my articles, books, and blog postings, which number in the 1000s. I do dishonor to my own work to summarize them here, where the topic under discussion is Matt's view of Nick's frame of reference. My Mothman illustration above was in terms of the Fortean/cz view.


Matt Bille said...

I personally never put the Jersey Devil in cryptozoology because it was such a grab bag of unrelated features that it's hard to believe that even the most bizarre of physical animals could be behind it. (It did make one of SyFy's better movies, though....)
Lance has a point when he says that, if a reported creature is possibly a physical animal, it's in cryptozoology until ruled out of it.