Saturday 7 August 2010

The Secularization of Nessie

You may have noticed a trend in recent years towards an increasingly skeptical frame of mind in treating the more unusually held beliefs about life, the universe and everything. With that comes a definite opposition and even belligerency towards those who hold such fringe views beyond what is accepted by those who champion logic and science.

Now that tends to be focussed in the works of such people as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens when they turn against religiously held views of the world. But their contempt is not just reserved for them but for those who tend to hold views unsupported by science such as UFOs, ghosts and of course our own Loch Ness Monster.

Now I am not saying that one needs to be religious or believe in flying saucers to be believe in a large, unidentified creature in Loch Ness but you can be certain of being treated much the same way by the modern skeptic.

Sad to say, some of the leading spokesmen on the Loch Ness Monster could be classed as "skeptic" in that they do not believe that the Loch Ness phenomemon is anything other than something that can be explained by natural and human phenomenon. Oh for the days when a Dinsdale, Mackal or Gould would hold forth on the reality of large beasts in Loch Ness! Now there is at best silence.

The questions will be asked:

What is easier to believe in: the back of a large unknown animal or just some unusual wave conditions unfamiliar to the observer?

What is easier to believe in: The head and neck of a large unknown animal or just a long necked bird resting in the water?

The principle applied is Occam's Razor - that "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity" or as some say the theory with the fewest assumptions is usually the best - as long as it also explains the phenomenon in question.

It is more a guiding principle than an axiom but in our case it rests on the statement that a hump-like appearance being explained as a wave formation requires less assumptions than that of the back of a large creature.

Well, not quite. It requires the assumption that the observer of our example hump cannot distinguish between water waves and the back of a large creature. In fact, I would go further - the skeptic theory requires more assumptions that the traditional "large creature" theory for it requires hundreds of assumptions that each observer of each reported sighting over the years is delusional or lying.

The traditional theory requires one assumption - Loch Ness harbours one or more large creatures.

A thousand or more assumptions versus one assumption. Which one would Occam's Razor favour?

Of course, one may say that that one assumption is a pretty big assumption. What is the probability of Loch Ness containing a creature possibly unknown to biological classification?

But perhaps it is not Occam's Razor that is required here but Sherlock's Axiom:

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

Part of the motivation of this blog is to take the Sherlock route and not Occam's. Prove enough so called logical explanations of sightings untenable and whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Classic Sightings - The Spicers

Date: July 22nd 1933
Time: 1530-1600
Location: Between Dores and Foyers heading south
Witnesses: Mr and Mrs G. Spicer
Type of sighting: Land

There is nothing better when talking about Nessie to look back on historical sightings and see what we can glean from these more famous incidents against the larger backdrop of the Loch Ness mystery.

They don't come much more mysterious than the sight beheld by the Spicers on that summer afternoon 77 years ago. The original account first appeared in the Inverness Courier of August 4th 1933 where George Spicer (a director of the tailors Todhouse, Reynard & Co.) described seeing something like a prehistoric beast cross the road in front of him at about 50 yards ahead.

Rupert Gould who wrote the first work on the creature in 1934 read the account but fancied it a pleasantry or hoax and went to London to interview the Spicers and went away convinced their story was bona fide.

Gould's interview we take to be the most accurate record of the sighting and hence reproduce it here.

"They had passed through Dores, and were on their way towards Foyers when, as the car was climbing a slight rise, an extraordinary-looking creature crossed the road ahead of them, from left to right, in a series of jerks. When on the road, it took up practically the whole width of it.

He saw no definite head, but this was across the road before he had time to take the whole thing in properly - it was in sight for a few seconds. The creature was of a loathsome-looking greyish colour, like a dirty elephant or a rhinoceros. It had a very long and thin neck, which undulated up and down, and was contorted into a series of half hoops. The body was much thicker, and moved across the road, as already stated, in a series of jerks. He saw no indications of any legs, or of a tail - but in front of the body, where this sloped down to the neck, he saw something flopping up and down which, on reflection, he thought might have been the end of a long tail swung round to the far side of the body. The latter stood some 4-5 feet above the road. The whole looked like a huge snail with a long neck."

On reaching the point where the creature had lurched across, they could not see whether the loch was disturbed and he had heard no splash but the sound of his car would have covered any other noise. I can concur with these sentiments adding that I was watching the loch between Dores and Foyers this July and can say that the waters were particularly choppy and noisy in this area compared to further south.

Gould made a drawing under the Spicer's direction and this image is taken direct from his book.

Constance Whyte in her 1957 book "More Than A Legend" corresponded with the Spicers and give her own record of the sighting but does not add anything substantive in my opinion. Her drawing (which presumably was supplied by the Spicers) is shown below.

Of course, some take things a bit too seriously and end up with this:

An intriguing tale you must admit and the classic of its genre - the land sighting. Now nothing annoys the debunker more than a land sighting because they are more difficult to explain. No unusual wave formation or distant bird can dismiss them but nevertheless they have to be explained away. Arch-debunkers such as Maurice Burton and Ronald Binns in their anti-Nessie books both agree that the Spicers obviously saw one or more otters crossing the road. Burton puts more flesh on it by suggesting the undulations were young otters and the main body the parent(s). I thought any young would follow the parents, but who knows?

Well, if you don't believe in Nessie, all sightings are misidentifications or lies. Binns also indulges in some libel by suggesting George Spicer was a publicity seeker who embellished his account. It's easy to speak against those who are now in the grave.

Would you mistake a line of otters for a lumbering leviathan? I wouldn't, but such an explanation will satiate those who apply Occam's Razor to everything.

More classic sightings as time progresses.

Monday 2 August 2010

Follow Up on Surgeon's Second Photo

Feedback from my previous blog suggested that the second photograph could have been achieved because the toy submarine was capable of diving.

My problem with this is that the experts on the subject - Alastair Boyd and david Martin do not see fit to defend this or even mention it as a theory in their book. Hence their reasons to dismiss the 2nd photo on other grounds. Perhaps Spurling said something about the capabilities of the altered toy or they thought it through themselves - they don't suggest it and I accept their silence as proof that a toy submarine with a 12 inch lump strapped all over its hydrodynamics is too unstable to do much else than float.

Here is a picture of such a toy from that period.

Reagarding the plotters rephotographing the best photographs so they knew exactly what to give to the Inverness chemist - again I have a problem with this subplot.

Four plates were submitted to the chemist but only two came out. Perhaps my knowledge of 1930s photogaphy is incomplete but that doesn't sound like the work of meticulous hoaxers to me!