I saw the trailer for 1408 the other day, and had meant to write something about it – specifically, the tendency of the media to write stories involving the supernatural skeptic who experiences the supernatural and has no choice but to accept its existence. But, it looks like Chris Mooney and PZ Myers beat me to the punch.
1408 Movie trailer:
Of course, a screenwriter or author has complete control over the forces and events in the story. It is just as easy to write about a skeptic who becomes a believer as it would be to write about a preacher who begrudgingly admits the non-existence of God, or a self-deluded psychic who comes to the realization that all psychics are either self-deluded or frauds. The author has the power to make “irrefutable evidence” that only exists in the fictional world. I think this has the tendency to make believers feel superior to skeptics because they can mentally frame the real-world skeptic as being similar to “that skeptic guy in the movie who will eventually come to see what we already know”. Why does the media do this? Simply because it’s a more interesting storyline, which means (hopefully) more viewers.
On a similar note, I had recently listened to some old episodes of Skepticality – specifically, Episode #38: A Very Houdini Halloween. They talked about Houdini (who was a skeptic and believed mediums were frauds) and how he and his wife had an agreement that when he died, he would attempt to make contact with her. They figured if anyone could make contact from “the other side”, it was Houdini because he was an escape artist, and now he had an agreement to make contact. They had even decided on a secret password that could be used to verify whether Houdini was really making contact from the spirit world – to prevent psychics from making false claims about being in contact with Houdini’s ghost. Predictably, quite a few physics claimed to be in contact with Houdini’s spirit, but none could ever tell her what the secret password was. (Or at least not until Houdini’s widow made the mistake of telling someone what the password was.) She gave up trying to contact Houdini after ten years of futile attempts. I’ve heard other stories of skeptics creating passwords before their deaths, but no psychics have been able to reveal the correct password.
Now, I’ve heard people claim to have experienced a ghost. Just a few weeks ago, some of my friends were talking about this. One of my friends says that she was sleeping in her old house when she felt someone sit down on the bed. No one was there, and she yelled at the ghost saying that it was her house now. My own theory on this story is that what probably happened was that her leg moved suddenly, making the bed move. With her half-asleep mind, she interpreted this as someone sitting down on the bed. I’ve had something similar happen just as I fall asleep. Every once in a while, just before I drift into sleep, one of my legs will suddenly and involuntarily lurch. It doesn’t move very far, but the force of it is enough to rock the entire bed – something that could easily be interpreted as someone sitting down on the bed, or pushing the bed. In the absence of anyone else in the room, this could be interpreted as a ghost. I think something similar happened to her.
While we were all talking about this, I told my “ghost story”. This happened a few days after moving into my new condo – in a building nearly a hundred years old. I was in bed trying to fall asleep when I heard a faint noise in the other room. It was just loud enough that I was sure I wasn’t imagining it. I got up, walked into the other room, turned on the light and looked around to see if I could figure it out. Nothing. The sound had stopped. I turned off the light and went back to bed. A few minutes later, I heard the faint sound again. I was getting creeped out. So, I got up again, turned on the light, and looked around. But, the sound had stopped again. This time, I turned off the light and waited. A few minutes later, in the darkness, I heard it again – coming from the other bedroom. I snuck in quietly, and when I figured out which area of the room the sound was coming from, I turned on the light. A tiny little mouse came running out of the garbage. It wasn’t a ghost, afterall. Some of my friends were disappointed that my story wasn’t a real ghost story (which is an interesting reaction to think about), but it was the closest thing to a “real” ghost story that I had. Actually, it was kind of a subtle anti-ghost story since it involved the debunking of what could have been a ghost.
One odd thing that I’ve noticed with people who tell their ghost stories, is that of the four people (off the top of my head) who have told me their ghost stories, all of them were women. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence, or what exactly that means, but it seems like an odd pattern.