Monday, June 26, 2006

Doggerel #18: "I Know What I Saw!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless. Before I continue, I'd like to thank all the commenters for the various compliments and suggestions you've brought me. This dog intends to be man's best fiend.

This particular phrase is a favorite among ufologists and ghost hunters. Despite what they like to think, a human being's eyes are not cameras, and their visual cortex is not an objective piece of film (or memory card, to stay current). There is a lot of things going on in the human mind, and to minimize the workload, biological organisms often take shortcuts. Human beings, for instance, are distinguishible from most animals because they've reduced their sensory load in order to make room for cognition. Though they miss out seeing everything that twitches, very high and low sounds, and other things, they can think more deeply about the stimuli they do receive: A lion seeing a rock rolling down a hill sees only that. One of the early humans could have been inspired by such an event to make a wheel, starting a revolution in their way of life, leading to a day where humans get so much food, obesity is a leading health problem. (This dog needs to lose a few pounds, too, by the way.)

The problem with this increased cognitive ability is that humans often see what they want or expect to see: Human beings live and die by understanding (or misunderstanding) the way the world around them works. Understanding makes them feel good. Unfortunately, the illusion of understanding also makes them feel good. Additionally, much of human understanding comes about in the form of pattern recognition. Scroll up and look at the opening paragraph. See anything wrong? Here's a hint:
That was inspired by a faint memory of a Mr. Wizard episode: The scientific spellcaster was holding a flashcard with the phrase, "Dog is man's best fiend" on it, showing it to the kid guest, who kept saying it read, "Dog is man's best friend." The latter phrase is common enough that the human brain typically doesn't bother looking for deviations like a missing "r." It fills in the missing information based on what's familiar: There's usually no point in me looking at every KFC sign I come across, just to make sure it isn't KEC.

Such is often the case in ufo, ghost, and Bigfoot sightings: These entities are familiar enough in pop culture that a person, given something indistinct enough, could start filling in particular traits in his memory, simply because his brain assumes the visual patterns from fantasy fit into the real situation. Coupled with boundless enthusiasm, it's easy for a gullible human to turn a bright dot in the sky into an intricately detailed sci-fi spacecraft.

This cognitive trouble doesn't end with visual stimuli, either: It applies equally to the auditory sense, and even dreams. Obi-Wan wasn't quite right about your eyes deceiving you: Your own brain can deceive you, even if your eyes are in perfect working order. Be prepared to second guess yourself.


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Michael Bains said...

This may be one of your best Doggerels yet. Really well done, B-Dog.

The fact that we see what we expect to see is the prime reason that Peer Review is as efficacious to scientific progress as it is. We need others to help us see what we're not expecting, eh.

Michael Schermer(sp?) has an excellent column in SciAm's July issue that hits on this too. Recommended reading, eh.

Anonymous said...

Yes very fine. And since you managed to mention obesity and KFC in a rant about ufologists you win a KFC mashed potato bowl which bears an eery resemblence to a UFO.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting observation about the trick in your first paragraph: I participated in a similar demonstration at my local science museum. I was shown a sign to read aloud which bore the statement, "A dog is is a man's best friend." The second is was completely skipped by my brain. When I went back to see your trick, even with the picture, all I could do was look for a second "is". I guess that demonstrates that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing :)

Anonymous said...

I experienced a similar example where the word "the" was repeated at the end of one line and the beginning of the next. Took forever to find that little puzzler.

"I know what I saw!" Quite simply, no you don't. You think you know what you saw. Or you know what think you saw.

I know for a fact I have at least one false memory. Well, it is a real memory (now), but it's a memory of imagery I fabricated to fit a situation. I know it's a false memory, because I'm watching myself from the outside. I also know how I fabricated it. But whenever I think about the situation described, I remember the imagery, even though I know it's a fabrication.

Anonymous said...

A dog is
is man's
best fiend.

Anonymous said...

From The Times October 20, 2008

US airman Milton Torres told to shoot down UFO when based at RAF Manston. The order came straight out of the Cold War manual: “Arm all weapons and fire on sight.” For Lieutenant Milton Torres, an American jet fighter pilot based in Britain, it was the first and last time that he had received such a chilling instruction.

As soon as he scrambled his Sabre jet from RAF Manston in Kent and headed eastwards, he saw the blip on his radar, indicating the presence of an aircraft the size of a B52 about 15 miles away, and he prepared to close in for the kill with a salvo of rockets. But the “aircraft”, judged to be hostile and probably Russian, simply vanished. The blip on the radar disappeared.

The 24-year-old American pilot's extraordinary experience on the night of May 20, 1957, which he was officially ordered never to reveal to anyone, has come to light after the declassification of another batch of Ministry of Defence files relating to reported incidents of unidentified flying objects appearing in British airspace — in this case the only known example of a jet fighter pilot being ordered to shoot down a UFO.

Mr Torres, now 77 and a retired professor of civil engineering living in Miami, told [i]The Times[/i] that the day after he was scrambled from RAF Manston he received a visit from an American in a trenchcoat who waved a National Security Agency identity card at him and warned him that, if he ever revealed what had happened, he would never fly again.

He took the warning to heart and said nothing until 1988 when, through a solicitor with an interest in ufology, he sent the Ministry of Defence a report giving a full account of the incident. Today his narrative is released by the National Archives.

“I shall never forget it, and for the last 50 years I have been waiting for an explanation, but I've never had one. On that night I was ordered to open fire even before I had taken off. That had never happened before,” Mr Torres said. “I was ready to hit the target with all 24 rockets: it would have been like buckshot out of a shotgun. I asked for authentication of the order to fire and I received it.”

Neither Lieutenant Torres nor his wingman, flying another Sabre behind him, actually saw what was making the strong blip on their radars. In the years since he has become more convinced that the object, travelling at speed and performing manoeuvres beyond the capability of any known aircraft at that time, was an alien UFO.

The airman climbed to 32,000ft and then flattened out, travelling at Mach 0.92, about as fast as the F86D Sabre could go. “The blip was burning a hole in the radar with its incredible intensity. It was similar to a blip I had received from B52s and seemed to be a magnet of light. It had the proportions of a flying aircraft carrier,” he wrote.

The only possible explanation, according to David Clarke, a UFO expert and lecturer in journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, is that in the 1960s it emerged that the CIA had been engaged in a secret project codenamed Palladium, in which advanced equipment was used to create simulated radar blips close to Soviet airspace.

Dr Clarke said that he thought it was linked to clandestine flights over the Soviet Union of the American U2 spy plane. “But this doesn't explain why Milton Torres was scrambled and ordered to open fire,” he said.

Thinking space

The 19 files made available online by the National Archives and covering sightings between 1986 and 1992 include:

— A passenger jet coming in to land at Heathrow nearly colliding with a UFO. The captain of the Alitalia airliner reported seeing a brown missile-shaped object pass overhead near Lydd in Kent in 1991. The MoD ruled out the object being a missile, weather balloon or space rocket and closed an inquiry by the Civil Aviation Authority and the military

— An MoD request that Army and Navy helicopters should not take photographs of crop circles, for fear of undermining the official line that the military did not investigate unexplained phenomena

— A letter from a woman claiming to be from the Sirius system who said her spacecraft — containing two “Spectrans”, pictured below — crashed in Britain during the Second World War

King of Ferrets said...

1) How fast was it going?
2) Can you give me a rough estimate of the actual dimensions?
3) Is it possible there was a radar glitch?
4) Could it be a false signal caused by weather or something similar?
5) Is there documentation besides the testimony of the pilot and his wingman?
6) Maybe someone was doing some amateur rocketry near an airport? Because a brown "missle" could probably just be an amateur rocket.
7) They shouldn't take photos of crop circles, because THEY AREN'T MADE BY ALIENS. People have admitted they made them, for fuck's sake!
8) Those people are what we call delusional. We generally put them in psychiatric facilities. Also, you said "pictured below", but I see no picture.

Bronze Dog said...

I'm not terribly impressed. Big copy-pasted incident sounds like some radar ghost going into a wild goose chase. The "never speak about this" was probably a plea not to release an embarrassing story that got blown up in the 50 years of being quiet.

You might want to try reading the main post, and you might want to just leave links instead of large blocks of copied text.

Crop circles: Quite mundane as far as I'm concerned. Too easy for humans to make, and silly for aliens to.

Brown missile thing: Why would aliens fit this? So far, all I see is a "huh, that's weird" without much reason to invest more time than has already been given.

And I think I agree with Ferret on the last bit: No picture for us, and the woman's probably delusional, especially since it's highly, highly unlikely an alien from another star system would look human. This ain't Star Trek.

But I'll see about tracking down the original story you lifted...


No picture online, assuming my browser is loading correctly.

Anonymous said...


'Flying saucer' filmed in Turkey
This astonishing video footage is claimed to be the "most important images of a UFO ever filmed" – and is said to even depict ALIENS.
The shots were captured by night guard Yalcin Yalman while on duty in a compound in Turkey earlier this year.
Yalcin, 42, and a number of residents claim the UFOs were spotted over a four month period between May and September near the compound in Istanbul.

Almost two-and-a-half hours of footage was filmed featuring a variety of objects ranging from incredible flying saucer-type 'craft' to clustering orb-like lights hovering in the night sky.
The clips were handed to the Sirius UFO Space Science Research Centre in Turkey who interviewed witnesses and painstakingly combed through the footage frame by frame.

International UFO researcher Haktan Akdogan said: "In this amazing video footage, physical forms of UFOs and their metallic structures are clearly noticeable.

"What is more important is that in the close-up of some footages of the objects, entities in them can be distinctly made out."

He continues: "We have spoken with all of the witnesses and had detailed analysis conducted on all two-and-a-half hours of footage.

"After conducting all of the analysis we came to the conclusion that this video footage is 100 per cent genuine.

"The objects filmed are structured objects and are not the result of misidentification or natural phenomena, aircraft or astronomical objects.


"They are not the results either of any kind of computer animation. Now is it a time for world governments to acknowledge the reality of UFOs."

He added: "The images captured on film are expected to have a tremendous impact throughout the world and they are the most important UFO images ever caught on camera."

The footage will be revealed at the UFO Data Magazine annual conference in Pontefract, West Yorks, on October 25.

And it has earned the seal of approval from British experts.

UFO Data Magazine editor Russell Callaghan said: "This video footage from Turkey, if authentic, represents a serious challenge to science. I can honestly say that this footage is truly unique."

King of Ferrets said...

Okay, the still photo is a goddamn Lego. You can see the little dot on top. Shut up.

MWchase said...

Now, now... I don't think it's just LEGO... I'm not sure, but it looks like they dolloped some glue on it or something, too.

Man, remember those high-quality cg UFO videos? IIRC, the best way to tell they were fake was to notice that all of the trees were the same.

Bronze Dog said...

Color me unimpressed. Video didn't impress me since the only motion I could make out on most things was strictly camera movement, making it look very much like he was just showing closeups of small objects.

The six lights were a bit different, but nothing at all remarkable.

Anonymous said...

"Okay, the still photo is a goddamn Lego. You can see the little dot on top."

Yes, but can't you see its ALIEN Lego, from the Spectran Dominion near Sirius!