Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Truth is Out There

The Truth is Out There

            I’ve been revisiting The X-Files lately. With each episode, I am reminded of why I gravitated toward this show in the first place. It wasn’t just the interplay between Mulder and Scully, though that was a big part of it. It was also the concept that one must search for answers.

            As the old adage goes, “People do not seek the truth because it is lost, but because they are lost.”

            Some seek the “truth” through a religious system, and feel they have found it. Others, seek the truth internally. Still, there are others who seek truths by going into the world, and exploring it. I’m into two of those categories. I explore the world, and then I reflect inwards on what it all means. Religious systems brought up more questions than they did answers. The majority seemed to cast the world into shades of black and white; a view that I’ve fought against for ages. Though, I will admit, not all faith-based systems are like that. Still, one must find their own path.

            So, that brings me to the concept of truth, and how we are taught “truths.” There is no “post truth.” Nor, is there “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert used to say. There’s reality, and unreality. What appears to be either depends on what you were taught was the truth.

            This brings me to Mr. Kort, and our discussions about The X-Files.

            Mr. Kort was the traditional eccentric science teacher. He taught biology, and earth and space science. He had a way of smiling at you that suggested great humor, warmth, and a possible eureka moment. I can picture him now in his aviator glasses, and monotone shirts. He kind of looked like Keir Dullea in 2001, if Dr. Bowman weren’t as tall. Mr. Kort had more of a robust build.  

His frequent comment about lichens, “The more you lick’em, the more you like’em,” also comes to mind. 

Somehow, we’d gotten to talk about the The X-Files. I seem to recall that it aired during the infamous “Friday night death slot,” and yet it became a hit, along with Millennium, and the short-lived Brimstone. When the X-Files premiered a few years prior, it was expected to be a flop. Fox had little faith in it, and assumed that the Bruce Campbell-staring show The Adventures of Briscoe Country Jr. would be their big Friday night hit. I like Bruce as much as the next nerd, but Brisco County ran for little less than a season, whereas The X-Files became a cultural landmark.

This was at a time when interest in the paranormal was flourishing. This was largely tied to the New Age movement, which gained it’s second (and last wind) around this time. Shows like the classic In Search Of… (which I also watched) made a comeback, albeit in reruns. As did the eponymous trilogy of shows hosted by Sir Arthur C. Clarke; Mysterious World, Universe, and Strange Powers. This was also during the era of the Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown book series, which I’m still putting together a full set of. Just before The X-Files premiered, a showed called Sightings made its debut. Much like its predecessors, Sightings was a paranormal show, though it was presented in the form of a news magazine, rather than a docudrama. As the title would suggest it focused on UFO sightings, as did I at the time. To me, the idea of life on other planets was incredibly probably at the time. My faith in things such as ghosts, for example, were already on the wane. Though it was still fun to think of such things, though I put little stock in them now.

This commercial ran incessantly late at night. 
It features Julianne Moore before she was famous! 

            The beginning of the skepticism started with my conversations with Mr. Kort. We’d talk about The X-Files either before, or after class. I took the Mulder “pro” side of things, while Mr. Kort took the Scully “con” side of things. We debated such episodes as the one about the giant alligator, the one about the Fluke Man, and yes, the infamous episode titled Home. That requires a stiff drink to talk about now. It’s the one episode that was seldom repeated. I still can’t listen to the Johnny Mathis song Wonderful Wonderful without thinking about that episode. Though my favorite episode is still Jose Chung’s From Outer Space. That’s the one where the Air Force is faking an abduction, right when a real alien abduction happens!

During these conversations, I learned a lot. I learned that while faith isn’t a bad thing, it must be tempered with reason. I don’t mean religious faith, but instead a faith in the world around oneself. It was then that I realized that belief in such things as UFOs or ghosts are cultural phenomena. They are not something one must believe. We are often taught to believe them because the friend of a friend of a cousin, or someone’s brother’s uncle’s nephew’s sister’s aunt swears they saw them! That’s not meant to ridicule anyone that has seen such things, but we must start with the null hypothesis. We must ask, “Did anything actually happen?” Then, we go onto, “What actually occurred?” The X-Files was about the truth, and this is how we get to the truth; investigation, and testing the evidence. In the words of Feynman.

“If a theory doesn’t hold up to experience, or experiment…it’s wrong!”

Speaking of theories…

            This was also the era of the conspiracy theory. Well, that deserves a post unto itself. As it stands now I can’t stand conspiracy theories. The convoluted path they take on one could best be shaved away by Occam’s Razor. The sad thing is that most conspiracy theorists are content to grow beards, or have hairy legs. When you try to gift them shaving cream, they assume you are part of the conspiracy. It was at that time that I began to question all the right-wing rhetoric that I heard at the time. Where these stories about the Clinton’s true? Was there a secret plot to take our guns away? Did a UFO crash land in Roswell, and was the government doing a really piss poor job of covering it up? I mean the fact it was covered in the news meant they failed to keep it a secret, right?

            It was then that I started to think, “Well, did anything crash in Roswell at all?”

            I also found Mr. Kort challenging. At the time, I attended a VERY right-wing church with my father. So, attending a secular science class would inevitably bring up conflict. I wasn’t raised with a religion My father wasn’t opposed to my interest in astronomy when I was a child. But then he went through a conversion experience after the divorce from my mother. That’s another story; one in which my father made one last ditch effort to get my mother back, by pretending to be extremely religious. It failed, as she saw through it. I began to see through it as well. I don’t want to belittle anyone’s faith, but I don’t know anyone who can walk on water, so it’s a longshot that it’s even possible. I think I was content to grow up secular. Being told that I was someone wrong-headed for it, and needed to change, was a bit more than I could handle. This was one of the causes of my depression, which lasted for about seven years. 

            There I was in a biology class, where I learned about evolution. That deserves a blog post unto itself, entitled How I Learned to Stop Fearing Darwin, and Love My Inner Monkey.

            Mr. Kort said, “For some people ‘evolution’ is a dirty word. For me, it just means, ‘change.’”

            He was right.

            It wasn’t until I was at university that evolution finally made sense. I don’t know if that was because I was finally mature enough to understand it, or because it was explained in a way that I could grasp. But I finally understood that one’s environment changes on physically. The Earth influences all its species, just as we influence it. You don’t know what a revelation that was, if you’ll pardon the pun. It meant that whether God made the universe, or not, was beside the point. The point was, we were figured out how the universe works. Evolution is just another mechanism, that’s all it is. So, stop freaking out about evolution, people! Don’t be a baboon about it!

            I will always be well-versed in the paranormal, and the macabre. Though, I will admit, my skepticism is firmly rooted in reason. Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t speculate on some things. I'm still free to believe, or not believe. I believe humans have souls. I believe we all carry a divine spark inside of us. I believe that it’s possible that my mother tried to get some message to me from beyond the veil. It doesn’t mean I’m off my rocker, but it means I’m open to contemplating such things. But, as the saying goes, “It’s good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.” One must guard against that.

            Ultimately, what The X-Files teaches us is to question authority. Don’t just accept the answers we are given. Instead, search for the answers, and follow the evidence wherever it may lead. Then, you will know the truth.  
             Yes, the truth is out there…it’s also in all of us.

Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

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