Friday, 26 February 2016

The ideal witness?

Crows in a treeI sometimes see reports about anomalous incidents where the profession of the witness is prominently displayed. The implication is, presumably, that the training and expertise involved in certain professions make their practitioners more credible witnesses to strange phenomena. But I think we need to be careful here. The problem is that even people well qualified in their particular field may not match the range of attributes of an 'ideal' witness to a paranormal incident. To demonstrate this I'll describe my 'ideal' witness!

What would the ideal witness for an anomalous incident be like? There are some obvious general factors to start with. For instance, the ability to notice things. People are easily distracted, by phones for instance,so that they notice little of what is going on around them. Another factor would be an eye for detail, even when it is not immediately obviously important. An open mind would be important too. If you have preconceived ideas about what you are observing it is easy to see what you're expecting rather than what is actually there.

Next there is the matter of relevant expertise which would be useful in eliminating xenonormal explanations. So, for instance, a naturalist might make a good witness for an apparent alien animal. But with anomalous phenomena, a wide range of expertise is required because of the many different possible xenonormal explanations for a particular observation. Take UFOs, for instance. The 'perfect' UFO observer would need a range of reasonably detailed knowledge covering many likely natural explanations, from sky lanterns and aircraft to planets, balloons and drones.

Another useful area of expertise iwould be a working understanding of the limitations of observers. So a good knowledge of misperception and hallucinations, and how to detect when you are having them, would be highly useful. A reasonable knowledge of actual xenonormal explanations for previous similar sightings would obviously be incredibly useful too. And a familiarity with anomalous phenomenal in general would be also be helpful.

It is obvious from the above that there are few, if any, 'ideal' witnesses for anomalous phenomena out there. And even any 'ideal' witnesses that exist would still still be subject to misperception, hallucination, psychological suggestion, faulty memory and so on. So I think we need to be wary of giving undue weight to the reports of witnesses simply because of their professions.

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