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Bigfoot, Cryptids, Skeptics and the Burden of Proof.

An exercise in critical thinking.

By Jason Zane SmithPublished 3 months ago 17 min read

Bigfoot is perhaps the most well-known of all cryptids, it is an established pop culture icon ranging from movies & TV shows to products and even an espresso store chain. If you drive through any number of tourists stops outside of national forests, particularly on the west coast, you’ll probably see wood carvings and billboards depicting the elusive creature(s). Gas stations and gift shops sell everything from coffee mugs to keychains or magnets with depictions of the enigmatic forest giant. No other undiscovered animal has such mass notoriety or public presence, yet based on polls, only between 10% to 30% of the population thinks they exist or are real.

So why is Bigfoot a household word? What makes this particular cryptid so popular? The US population is now well over 130 million people, our cities and suburbs are encroaching further in on what used to be wild land, and consequently there have been over 23 thousand reported sightings of Bigfoot in the US alone, not counting Canada or Mexico, or those that have gone unreported. That’s a pretty substantial number for something that doesn’t exist.

The name Bigfoot was established back in the 1963 when logging crews in Northern California found evidence someone with exceedingly large feet had been tampering with various equipment on the job sight leaving behind tracks that looked like human footprints of significant enough size to defy typical human proportions, so thus the word "Bigfoot" was established. The topic was further escalated in 1967 when the Patterson–Gimlin film became a media sensation that to this day remains a subject of controversy.

Even though 45 of the 50 US states have documented reports of Bigfoot like cryptids ranging from the Ohio Grass Man, the Florida Skunk Ape to the Missouri Monster called Momo, as well as actual police reports on public record in New York, the creatures remain the stuff of urban legend. The witnesses range from all walks of life including police officers, fire fighters, first responder medical technicians and military personnel. Despite all this, bigfoot is not recognized by the greater scientific community and still classified as a “cryptid”.

Let's talk a little bit about what a “cryptid” is. Merriam-Webster defines a cryptid as “an animal that has been claimed to exist but never proven to exist”, therefore it remains only acknowledged as legend or cultural belief, and this seems like a good place to note that the “proof” required to establish something exists has become something of a moving goal post in the scientific community on topics of the paranormal, a double standard that somewhat hypocritically ignores commonly used forensic science based methods of evidence routinely accepted in our court system to convict or exonerate people of serious crimes.

The only acceptable evidence to establish the existence of living creatures is a physical specimen, dead or alive, and that is what every cryptid lacks above all else. The list of other available forms of evidence is actually quite extensive but ultimately ignored or even ridiculed. The lack of evidence cannot be automatically construed as proof of nonexistence however, especially when the very reason we even have any knowledge of them is in itself the first form of evidence!

The study of cryptids is called “cryptozoology”, and what creatures qualify as cryptids kind of depends on who you talk to, but in general mythical creatures such as unicorns and dragons don't count because we know they don't exist, (or do we?) Cryptozoologist George M Eberhardt has broken cryptids down into 10 categories including seemingly paranormal or supernatural entities with some animal-like characteristics. Animals not known from the fossil record nor related to any known species, as well as animals only known from fossils but pronounced extinct due to a lack of any living specimen to establish their continued existence.

One creature that belongs in the latter category is of course Bigfoot, or Sasquatch as it is also known. Sasquatch is a part of many indigenous traditions around the Pacific Northwest described as a massive upright hominoid with a distinctly human looking face that includes a hooded nose. Throughout North America many nations of native people had a variety of different names for them. Additionally, they also are described in a variety of different physical characteristics. For example, the “Skunk Ape” of Florida and Southeastern US are described as being more like an upright walking Orangutang with slit nostrils and an exceedingly foul odor. A Gugwe is a type that lives along the Mississippi up into Canada, it has a notorious reputation for aggressive behavior and baboon like snout.

The Yeti is another creature that many believe to be one and the same as Bigfoot, a large, upright walking ape native to southern Asia, where it is also known as the “Abominable Snowman”, thanks to a bad translation in a 1921 newspaper story of a local woman’s account. The Yeti in particular has been a subject of much controversy regarding its existence, partly due to the surfacing of alleged Yeti “Scalps” which were analytically proven to be nothing more than goat or bear fur. This did not, however, change the minds of people who have encountered the creatures personally, and other more compelling pieces of evidence get routinely dismissed.

Some believe that the Yeti and Sasquatch are actually a species of animal that went extinct hundreds of thousands of years ago called Gigantopithecus, a polar bear-sized ape native to southern Asia. You've probably heard of these, but there are plenty of ape men and other hairy humanoid cryptids you likely haven't heard of. In Caucasian folklore, an Almas, Alma or Almasty is a cryptid folk creature said to inhabit the Caucasus, Tian Shan and Pamir Mountains of Central Asia and the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia. The Almisty, which apparently shares some characteristics of Neanderthals and roam central Asia.

Because of its geographical status, the Yeti is also known down into India and the Middle East and Eastern Europe, but China has its own version known as a Yeren or the Chinese “Wildman”. A distinct characteristic of this variety is having reddish hair like an Orangutang but often standing well over ten feet tall! Meanwhile Southeastern Asia has a wide range of smaller Wild men or ape like humanoids like The Orang Pendek of Indonesia and the Rock Apes of Vietnam. The Amomongo is an ape man of around five feet tall that hails from the Philippines and apparently likes to disembowel goats with its long fingernails, while a larger, darker hominoid known as the Kapre is reported to smoke cigars and hang out in large trees. The Japanese Hibagone or Hinagon is known in the mountainous area around Hiroshima.

Australia has a similar version of the creature most commonly known as the Yowie, also called Quinkin, Ghindaring, Jurrawarra, Myngawin, Puttikan, Doolaga, Gulaga and Jimbra by the various Aboriginal communities who are quite familiar with them, which is seven to twelve-foot-tall extra hairy man like creature roaming the outback. As with North America, Australia has no indigenous primates or monkeys, and additionally, skeptics will point out, Australia has been separated from the main continents for so long that only marsupials evolved there naturally, so somehow these creatures would have had to migrate there like people. Whatever name they are identified by, these massive ape-like humanoids have been described on every continent of the world except Antarctica!

Even the British Isles have their fair share of giant, hairy humanoids with apish attributes, like the Big Gray Man, or by the Scottish Gaelic name "Fear Liath Mor" of Scottland, on Ben Macdhui in Britain, the highest mountain in the Cairngorm Range of Scotland. It seems to blur the line between giants and apes, but nonetheless it has its place in this category. While the UK is not well known for having sightings of such cryptids, a compilation over the last half century indicates they do get spotted from time to time even on islands that have eliminated all the major predators such as bears, wolves and big cats.

The African continent is also no exception, but because it does already boast two large primate species, chimpanzees and gorillas, it’s much harder to decipher reports of creatures that may not be identified known apes. Cultures in Africa also make it difficult because so many people believe in spiritualism, mysticism, a vast array of different religions, all deeply rooted in daily life to the point where identifying real world creatures from spiritual beings is not always clear. Even so, the Lion Killers, Bili Ape, Bondo Ape, Chemosit, Kerit, Kikomba and of course … Raka and other ape-like creatures remain a constant source of speculation.

Now that we’ve just barely scratched the surface of a single type of cryptid, admittedly, possibly the most commonly known ones, consider this; all these different creatures with similar characteristics span across unconnected cultures, vast geographical divides, and even throughout the history of time itself. This is no small thing. The very first stick of evidence to the pile in favor of their existence comes from a massive accumulation of stories too numerous and too similar to dismiss as simple legend or myth. This is also an ongoing occurrence; people continue to see, have encounters and interactions with such creatures every day. The reports never stop.

Now let’s talk about skepticism. Most of us are quite aware that humans are not always honest. Lying can even be called a basic human trait, and deception is something we deal with on a daily basis, wither it’s to scam us out of money or to pull a simple prank and laugh about it, people make falsehoods for any number of reasons, so it demands we become skeptical about what our fellow humans present to us. By default, skepticism is a necessity to human development, otherwise we could all be chasing our tails looking for things that aren’t there 24/7.

So how can skepticism become a problem? When it becomes your first reaction based on belief, it literally becomes a reverse form of gullibility. Belief is irrelevant to the existence of anything, so establishing skepticism from a belief without evidence is essentially the exact same as accepting something without evidence. Evidence, while not always factual, is a system by which we can establish a shared understanding of something, but too often skeptical behavior bypasses all evidence in favor of a comfortable or safe belief system.

In other words, a skeptic can be just as devout to the denial of something as a believer who has faith in its existence without proof. This is counterproductive to objectivity and finding the truth. To truly be objective in evaluating the existence of anything, you must first cast aside all beliefs and start with a clean slate, possibly even doubt, but you cannot begin evaluating anything objectively by starting off in favor of one side or the other, which is what belief does.

This is often a flaw exhibited in science-based studies. Even scientifically minded individuals will often start off an experiment with an unfounded belief. Science is a great tool, but ultimately it is just a “tool”, and as a tool it is only as accurate as the individuals who wield it. Anyone who tackles a problem starting out with a belief will generally try to guide their findings in the direction of that belief, consciously or subconsciously, objectivity will be compromised.

There is also a distinct difference between critical skepticism and popular blanket skepticism. Choosing to be skeptical of something simply because the perceived majority of people don’t believe it or it’s a more popular opinion to oppose it, is not even a genuine form of skepticism, it’s technically just siding with the winning view. That’s neither objective nor scientific, so it basically only contributes confusion and false authority to any target topic. Unfortunately, such behavior is just as common as lies and hoaxes.

To best understand the evidence of cryptids we must start with an empty scale, one side of the scale will represent evidence “against” its existence, and the other side will show evidence “for” its existence. The very first form of evidence we must put on that scale is someone said it exists. So even from the most objective possible standpoint we already have evidence “for” its existence. This is not a matter of belief, because we wouldn’t even be talking about the subject if there was nothing to talk about. As I outlined above, there is a LOT to discuss, even with just one type of cryptid.

How about we try on a skeptical argument now? The first point to be made is that human beings lie about things like this. That would indeed be a fair point, but can we establish that all those people in all those cultures throughout the world and history were all just making this stuff up? If not, then that argument fails to balance the first weight. If even just 1% of the claims are true, that still establishes the first evidence. Another argument is that people misidentify animals. Again, this depends on the benefit of doubt, the concept that like liars, all witnesses are basically incapable of distinguishing the difference between a bear and an ape and therefore are untrustworthy.

The number one argument proposed by skeptics is the lack of evidence, primarily one specific piece of evidence, no physical “body”. Now keep in mind this isn’t an actual form of evidence, this is the lack there of. To put this into perspective, let’s just use black holes as an example. For many years a black hole was just a theory with no evidence, so did that mean black holes didn’t actually exist before they had scientific evidence of their existence? Of course not, they clearly existed for billions of eons before we ever confirmed it, so a lack of evidence is not technically proof of anything, except a lack of evidence.

That same lacking evidence is vastly offset by a lot of secondary physical evidence, such as footprints, handprints, tree structures, droppings, hair samples, blood samples, fossil records, video and audio recordings. This is where the real tests of the evidence should be established, but more often than not it is a one-sided evaluation where skeptics automatically claim everything is a hoax or lie without even having to demonstrate how it was accomplished as a hoax. This process has become a needlessly uphill struggle where all forms of evidence must prove its legitimacy while the naysayers simply sit back and call everything fake with no obligation to prove their claim.

It’s important to note that someone who is skeptical of paranormal topics in general has no stake in it whatsoever. A skeptic can take the most comfortable position in a conversation, not risk his/her reputation, be reasonably certain the matter will never be resolved, has no obligation to back up anything they say, lives with zero accountability and basically contributes to the continuous lack of authenticity and awareness in the public discourse.

On top of this the skeptic has the benefit of casting doubt based on association or reputation, and this in turn causes people to shy away from the entire topic as if to even consider the possibility is foolish and toxic. As a part of human nature, people don’t like to be wrong about things, and even worse, to be ridiculed for being wrong or on the wrong side of a subject. Skepticism depends heavily on peer pressure to maintain legitimacy in a discussion, so the use of skepticism devoid of legitimacy has become a form of intellectual bullying and harassment, particularly in this age of social media communication.

We need to grasp that simply because something can BE a fake doesn’t automatically mean it IS a fake. Just because someone comes out and claims they hoaxed something is not actual proof it is a hoax. If you have no means to replicate the results of something you say is a fake, then how can you establish it is a fake? If the ultimatum of proof is needed to establish the legitimacy of existing evidence, then the same ultimatum of proof should also be required to establish a claim of falsehood or lie. If you can claim something is a fraud, then show us how it was done. If you cannot do that, then any such claim is disingenuous and based on nothing, except perhaps belief.

Most skeptical arguments stem from a level of arrogance regarding the supposed superiority of humankind. Most of us have been taught our species is the most intelligent animal on Earth, that we survived because we out competed all the other Homo Erectus descendants, that our big brains give us the advantage over all other life, so the very concept that another similar but primitive species could be out smarting us by sneaking around under our noses undetected for countless generations greatly undermines that self-engrossing perspective and cannot be tolerated by those with fragile egos.

Skepticism of an unreasonable level can also be attributed to the lack of seriousness when addressing the topic, viewing the entire concept as an endless joke to mock others for. The negativity of this greatly impacts many people in their daily lives, because they’re not comfortable discussing something they saw or had an encounter with for fear of being called crazy or a liar. Personal reputations get destroyed by speaking the truth, and this becomes a stigma that unjustly shames many witnesses into silence. This alone makes the whole topic toxic to many.

Why is this a problem? What does it matter if something like Bigfoot exists or not? The human population is growing constantly, human activity continues to expand into parts of our world that have been mostly untouched, so imagine if we had no proof that bears exist, yet we are entering their territory. Would you want your family wandering around where there are bears simply because the authorities say there are no such things as bears? Without being able to acknowledge the existence of bears we would risk being attacked by them.

Hoaxes are unquestionably a serious problem, like the little boy who cried “wolf”, they convince a majority that everything involved in a subject is a falsehood, and ultimately endanger everyone, not just themselves. What most people miss from that story is how the danger was also caused by people who became so indifferent to what the little boy said that they let a real wolf do real damage. Although it’s just a story to teach a moral lesson about fibbing, it also teaches us how through unrecognized behavior we expose ourselves to real danger by becoming too critical of something.

What if something like Bigfoot qualifies as “human”? Would they not be legally entitled to rights and land as an indigenous type of people? Wouldn’t killing them qualify as murder? How could we even protect them if we can’t admit they exist? How would we know our governments or other organizations are not only aware of their existence and take advantage of the unacknowledged status to use them for lab rats or military experiments? The open acceptance of such creatures would have a massive impact on society, exposing many dark corners of humanity itself and potentially safeguarding against another form of exploitation and/or abuse.

We all need a reasonable level of skeptical behavior to survive, but when it becomes a blindfold, a wall, a counterproductive reactionary preventing us from even being aware of our own surroundings, then it is no longer a benefit, it becomes a hindrance to our development and a crux to our progress as a species. We certainly have an obligation to scrutinize every detail of what is presented before us by others, and there is indeed a great deal of fabricated information to sift through, but a single nugget of true knowledge is all it takes to justify a genuine artifact.

In staying ever vigilant to our quest for knowledge and the truth it is important that we not become the very instrument of self-deception that we try to avoid by approaching topics of the paranormal with an excess of doubt. Wither it is the existence of Bigfoot, UFOs or ghosts, they must all be treated with the same level of unbiased inquiry we afford all other forms of scientific investigation. Indeed, we would barely advance beyond caves ourselves if we applied this same level of skeptic scrutiny to general technology or science, it becomes a telltale sign of an unbalanced belief system.

We can’t expect human behavior to change overnight, but skeptic-based arguments should be held to the same level of standards as the evidence or subject they criticize. People need to be empowered to challenge them as seriously as they challenge everything else. If a skeptic has a legitimate point, if they can produce solid evidence to support their perspective, then that is good, that is how it should be. We need a balanced playing field for honest scientific objectivity to take place and not hinder our greater understanding of the world we live in.

fact or fiction

About the Creator

Jason Zane Smith

Professional freelance writer and connoisseur of many subjects, I'll address topics in ways you may never have considered!

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