Perhaps the most pressing question in cryptozoology right now has to do with readily-accessible recording equipment. Everyone has a smartphone. There are wildlife cameras placed all across the globe. And all that information can be uploaded to the internet near instantaneously. How, then, has Bigfoot and other cryptids stayed hidden in the wild for so long?
There is no singular answer. Perhaps Bigfoot simply doesn’t exist. That’s one possibility. Or maybe they’ve developed the ability to camouflage into their surroundings. If video recording devices can’t see them, it doesn’t matter how many cameras we have.
But what if Bigfoot has been seen in the wild? And what if we just refused to acknowledge or process that information?
Spotting the Extinct Tasmanian Tiger
The New York Times recently published an article attempting to explain why people keep “seeing” Tasmanian tigers if they’re currently extinct. The conclusion: they don’t. Instead, people are creating incorrect details in their minds based on unclear sensory data.
For example, if you catch a quick glimpse of a wallaby, and you’re familiar with Tasmanian tigers, you might think you just saw the latter. But in fact, you saw the former.
This is because the human brain isn’t capable of processing every single sensory detail. It’s impossible. And when you catch a quick glimpse of something, or see a blurry photograph, your brain relies on preconceived patterns to make sense of the sighting.
“This means that there is an interesting interaction between perception and cognition,” Dr. Susan Wardle of the National Institutes of Health told the New York Times. “Our beliefs and prior experience can influence what we see. Or more accurately, what we think we see.”
So What About Bigfoot and Nessie?
New York Times writer Asher Elbein goes on to explain that this could be the reason some people see Bigfoot, Nessie, or other cryptids in blurry photographs. But wouldn’t this also work the other way around?
Sure, there are some instances where cryptozoologists or Bigfoot and Nessie fanatics might see elusive, perhaps-mythical monsters when, in reality, it’s just bears or tree branches. But the cryptid community is far less populated than the non-believers. Only 11 percent of Americans believe that Bigfoot exists. That means that 9 in 10 people are operating under the assumption that there is no way they could spot the cryptid (the number is dramatically lower for most other cryptids).
If our brains are using preconceived patterns to make sense of incomplete sensory data, how many potential Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster sightings are getting brushed off as impossible?
“Oh, that was a strange-looking bear.”
“Did you see that eel breach the surface of the loch?”
Confirmation Bias Works Both Ways
“The single most pervasive cognitive bias we all suffer from is confirmation bias,” founder of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, Dr. Christopher French told New York Times.
Confirmation bias is a real concern in cryptozoology. We have to keep an open mind about what the possibilities of certain sightings are. Not every Bigfoot sighting is real. Maybe none are. But confirmation bias works both ways.
“We all make mistakes,” Dr. Darren Naish, a paleontologist at the University of Southampton in England, told New York Times. “Even the most experienced naturalists make misidentifications, sometimes hilarious ones.”
If even the most well-trained professionals are capable of making mistakes, so are we. And so are ordinary people who insist cryptids aren’t real.
Keep an Open Mind
The best way to avoid confirmation bias and other pesky human psychological quirks is to keep an open mind. Listen to evidence, but never create a starting point of impossibility for yourself.
“Bigfoot can’t possibly exist,” is just as ridiculous as someone guaranteeing Mothman is real. More accurate hypothesis are: Bigfoot probably doesn’t exist and Mothman is probably real based on this evidence.
After all, animals are everywhere, and we rarely notice them.
“There are animals that visit my own garden,” said Holly English, a doctoral student in wildlife ecology and behavior at University College Dublin, “that I only know about through camera trapping.”
If mysterious creatures visit our own backyards without us knowing, imagine what might be lurking in the forests or oceans.