Me Being Silly
For a long time my computer was only putting out audio in mono. This meant I was missing half of the pristine sterophonic sound I’ve come to expect. I tried reinstalling my drivers. I tried switching to my other soundcard. Nothing worked. I still couldn’t hear half of the guitar parts on my new None More Black album. I was convinced my computer was infested with a freakist virus whose only effect was to eliminate one channel of my audio. Eventually I was adjusting the volume through volume control in the system tray and I realized that the balance was adjusted all the way to the right. For weeks I was convinced I needed a new soundcard or that someone in my house was messing with me when in fact I had just turned the balance all the way right and not remembered. I felt foolish, but also relieved. Nothing crazy was going on, I was just lazy and unthorough (story of my life!).
Rob Being Silly
Let’s turn to Rob. Rob is a hypothetical person but stories like his can be found all over. (4) So, Rob is lying in his bed trying to sleep when he becames conscious of a prescense in his room. The presence moves to Rob’s chest and begins putting pressure on Rob’s body. Rob tries to move away but discovers that he cannot move his body. The presence comes accross as malicious and Rob freaks out. The next morning he researches all the past owners of his home. He looks for any “strong emotional vortices” that may exist in the proximity of his bedroom. He buys and EMF meter to find any abnormal flucuations in electromagnetic fields in his bedroom. He brings in a medium to try to communicate with the presence. What Rob hasn’t yet realized is that the balance on his speakers was set all the way to the right, I mean, he was probably experiencing sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is a well documented occurance. Susan Blackmore of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry states, “In a typical sleep-paralysis episode, a person wakes up paralyzed, senses a presence in the room, feels fear or even terror, and may hear buzzing and humming noises or see strange lights. A visible or invisible entity may even sit on their chest, shaking, strangling, or prodding them.” (1)
Putting It In Context
Occam’s Razor states, “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate” or “plurality should not be posited without necessity.” (2) This is often interpereted as, “All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.” (3) In my story, the simple line of inquiry would have been: 1) sound is only coming out of the right speaker 2) I should see if that’s how my audio is set 3) yep, set in back towards the middle. No need for crazy viruses or broken soundcards; I had simply skipped the most likely error.
We can be a little more forgiving in Rob’s case. Maybe he has never heard of sleep paralysis, but he’s certainly heard of ghosts. However, if Rob thought that perhaps a ghost had visited him, it is his duty to see what kind of evidence there is for ghosts. He would find very little good evidence for ghosts. What he would find is a lot of anecdotes and wishful thnking. But maybe during his search he runs across the definition of sleep paralysis. Huzzah! No need for rewriting Rob’s entire way of dealing with the world. There is a simple, well-documented explanation for what he experienced.
This is not to say that the crazy, involved explanation is never correct. It sometimes is. Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity’s explanation of gravity seems strange and complicated when contrasted with Newton’s theory of gravity. Newton said that objects are attracted to each other. Einstein said that mass actually causes space-time to warp and that this is why objects seem to attract each other (this is a complicated topic of which I cannot do justice, see the further reading below for more on gravity, space-time and the Theory of General Relativity). The weird and convuluted explanation can be right. But we should never jump to this conclusion without strong evidence.
Bonus Cliche Quote
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”
-Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996)
Citations and Further Readings
Gravity and Relativity:
Simply Einstein: Relativity Demystified by Richard Wolfson