Saturday, July 06, 2019

I Ain't 'Fraid of...

In a Facebook post on a friend's page, folks were talking about ghosts.

You might want to grab a snack because this might be a long one.

Just this very morning, I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. It seemed to dash quickly across the doorway to the kitchen. For the briefest moment, I thought it was our cat.

Our cat died 6 months ago.

At some point in your life, you might have had a strange feeling, seen something you couldn't explain or had some kind of odd sensory experience.

It wasn't a ghost.

It wasn't a flying saucer, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, a chupacabra, a vampire or any of the other myriad denizens of cheap novels, tabloid headlines or "history" channel programs.

What was it?

I don't know. But neither do you.

The human mind is a pretty amazing thing but we all have to admit that it's not infallible. It can be tricked. It can even trick itself.

When you think you see something, your mind wants to fill in the gaps and will often try to make sense of that sensation.  So it will attribute that sensation to something it knows, sometimes from experience and sometimes due to exposure to your culture and media. It will attach the meaning to what it most closely resembles.

This morning, my brain was convinced it saw the ghost of our cat.

But what did I actually see?

I don't know.

Believe it or not, that's an entirely satisfactory answer. It's satisfactory because it's true. I really don't know what I thought I saw.

I'll entertain some possibilities of what it might have been based on actual experience and more likely explanations.

It might have been the shadow of  bird flying past the kitchen window. Given the angle of the sun this morning, it's not the best explanation but it's possible.

It might have been an afterimage of my tablet screen. I'd been talking with my wife while holding my iPad in my lap. The screen was bright and at the periphery of my vision so when I looked back at the tablet, that afterimage could have looked like it was moving across the entry to the kitchen.

This latter explanation is plausible.

But the truth of the matter is that I don't know and will probably never know. And I'm OK with that.

At times like this, I often apply what is called the law of parsimony (often mistakenly called Occam's Razor which is almost but not quite this): the answer that requires the fewest assumptions is likely the correct one.

Which is more likely?

  1. In defiance of the laws of physics, some vestige of my cat has remained in the house she occupied for nearly 11 years and appeared briefly in my peripheral vision only to completely disappear when I looked directly in that area.
  2. A transient visual phenomenon (possibly an afterimage) was at the periphery of my vision and my fallible human mind interpreted it as seeing my departed cat.

Logic dictates it was the latter.

But even if I never know exactly what I saw, it's erroneous thinking to attribute it to something supernatural. There is probably a perfectly mundane (if unsatisfying) explanation.

And this applies to things other than my experience this morning.

I leave you with these things to consider:

Unknown doesn't mean unknowable.

Unexplained doesn't mean inexplicable.


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