- Education and Science
Bigfoot: Fact or Fiction
The philosophical idea of solipsism suggests that the only thing humans can know with certainty is that they themselves exist. True as that may be, I seriously doubt we'll need a court of law or a team of scientists to establish the existence, or lack thereof, of most of the other common things, external to ourselves, that most of us believe to be real. While our own existence is arguably the only thing we can say is real with one hundred percent certainty, most of the other common things we believe in, external to ourselves, are so likely to be real also that there's little point in contesting their existence.
There are a handful of notions a great number of people believe in, however, for which the evidence supporting their existence is so lacking the idea of their reality has proven to be worth a debate. Ghosts, intelligent visitors from outer space, gigantic four-legged sea monsters, and extrasensory perception, to name a few. Perhaps the one that has intrigued me personally the most, however, is the idea that a large hairy ape-like creature known as Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, currently exists within the forests, particularly within the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Everyone's heard of Bigfoot: a lot of people learn about this alleged enormous two-legged species before even learning the alphabet. But what is Bigfoot? Just another urban legend, myth, or far-fetched bedtime story, or is this alleged massive primate really inhabiting various densely wooded portions of the North American continent?
Many believers in Bigfoot have suggested that this creature is the ancestor to the Gigantopithecus, an enormous ape that stood three meters in height and, according to fossil evidence, existed in Asia as recently as 100,000 years ago. While Gigantopithecus is thought have been extinct for the past 100,000 years, Bigfoot believers have indicated that at least some of these large creatures evaded extinction during the last ice age by migrating to North America, much the same way Native Americans are thought to have migrated to North America from Asia, over the Bering Sea land bridge, which would've connected Siberia to Alaska during periods in history of lower sea levels, including the last ice age.
This theory that Bigfoots are merely a remaining tribe of the Gigantopithecus species that evaded extinction is a large reason why the idea of Bigfoots in certain North American forests is so intriguing to me: potential biases aside, it seems to be a very believable theory. However, in order to trace back a specie's ancestry, one must first prove that the species actually does in fact exist. This is the part where the theory seems to face some serious obstacles.
First and foremost is the lack of physical evidence for their existence. There's absolutely no reliable physical evidence supporting the presence of Bigfoots in North America. No live creature with a matching description has ever been captured, and no body, or clear remains thereof, of any creature matching the description has ever been found. Furthermore, all conclusive reliable DNA evidence has indicated that humans are the only primates that call North America their home.
A few Bigtoof fanatics have claimed to have discovered Bigfoot hair, blood, saliva, urine, and stool samples within various North American forests, but without similar indisputable Bigfoot samples to compare these to, how could they ever demonstrate that such claims are true? Even if they could show that the samples came from primates, they'd have to somehow rule out humans as a possible source. The bottom line is, without similar samples from an actual reliable source to serve as a basis for comparison, such claims are about as wishful and unconvincing as claiming that an ounce of beach sand washed ashore from the lost continent of Atlantis.
Despite the complete absence of anything organic evidencing their existence, a recent poll indicated that one-third of all Americans believe this creature probably does exist. That's roughly 100 million human minds believing in something for which there isn't a shred of reliable physical evidence. Why so many believers? In a court of law, it's oftentimes not the physical evidence presented in a case that sells the jury as much as it is the personal testimony, (although when good physical evidence is presented in a case, properly followed jury instructions would typically prevent a verdict based on sole testimony). Right or wrong, people are oftentimes sold on convincing eye witness testimony, and there's been plenty of eye witness testimony for Bigfoot's existence: over a thousand reported claimed sightings in the US and Canada since 1884, a lot of which has come from seemingly credible witnesses.
However, most of these claimed sightings were nothing more than claimed sightings, and as a fisherman I know that it's always the catch that gets away that later becomes the 'monster.' Truth, if that monster of a catch that evaded capture had actually been reeled in, it probably wouldn't have made much of a story to talk about. Point being, if all people have is a story to confirm the claimed details of an unusual occurrence, people, regardless of who they are, are prone by nature to distort their own memories with exaggerated facts, oftentimes enormously. Consequently, with no one else to jar their memories, people frequently believe such exaggerated facts to be the truth. Considering this, along with Bigfoot hoaxes, for which the confirmed number alone has been numerous to date, that have undoubtedly been responsible for a vast number of claimed sightings, I think it would be safe to conclude that eye witness testimony, without any supporting evidence, IS NOT by itself reliable evidence for Bigfoot's existence.
Alleged Bigfoot Tracks
That being said, a small fraction of these eye witnesses have presented more than just a story regarding their claimed encounters with Bigfoot, or with signs allegedly indicating a possibility of Bigfoot's existence. There's been a number of reports of unusual sound recordings, allegedly evidencing the existence of a large nonhuman primate within various US and Candian forests. However, for the same reason the supposed sample evidence referenced above lacks even the slightest bit of credibility, these reported sound recordings have been been unconvincing, to say the least.
Slightly more incriminating evidence, however, has been presented by several people who have captured on film something resembling a common Bigfoot description. In addition, there's been a large quantity of reported footprints that seem to evidence the existence of a large ape-like creature roaming certain forests in North America. Since eyewitness testimony alone for such an existence should not, by any account, be considered reliable, sound recordings aren't the least bit convincing without knowledge of what a Bigfoot would actually sound like, if it were proven to be real, and with the absence of reliable physical evidence, these footprints and photographic images are, from my perspective, the only evidence for Bigfoot's existence worth examining in determining whether or not this alleged monster may be real. I'd like to start by examining the footprints.
Massive footprints evidencing a large primate in various forests within North America, most of which clearly were not created by human feet, or by other mammals known to habitat these regions, have been discovered in numerous locations within the US and Canada. Over the past century, these ape-like footprints, which have ranged in length from 4'' to 27'', have been discovered from California to Connecticut, and as far North as the Yukon. Hundreds of these footprints have been removed from the ground, plastered, and featured in various museums. Considering the enormous size of many of these prints, averaging over 15'' in length, clearly ruling out the possibility of human origins, there can really only be two reasonable potential sources: hoaxes, or there really is a primate, with an average size far exceeding that of humans, wandering various North American forests.
Without further discussion on this topic, in light of the absence of convincing physical evidence referenced above, which of these two possibilities sounds the most reasonable so far? People love playing practical jokes on others: fabricated crop circles, the Loch Ness Monster "Surgeon's Photo," and War of Worlds are just a few noteworthy examples of some of history's most memorial confirmed hoaxes, by some of history's most notorious pranksters. Just the same, confirmed hoaxes involving the creation of Bigfoot tracks are not uncommon. Even the 16'' prints that gave rise to the term, Bigfoot, discovered in Northwest California in 1958 were later determined to have been created by Ray Wallace as part of a hoax to dupe a crew of construction workers.
Another confirmed hoaxer, the late Rant Mullens, admitted to carving Bigfoot tracks with companions for decades in forests within his home state of Washington, (one of the most famous states for historical claimed Bigfoot sightings). He further admitted to distributing pairs of large wooden feet he'd carved for the purpose of fabricating Bigfoot tracks to other Bigfoot pranksters. Having admitted this, he believes many of the Bigfoot tracks discovered in California throughout recent decades were the result of hoaxers using pairs of the wooden feet he'd personally carved. Mullens claimed to have searched the Washington forests around his home for Bigfoot for years without any luck. With apparent shattered hopes of ever locating such a creature, he confessed that during 1924 he, and several companions, first decided to fabricate Bigfoot tracks near Mount St. Helens for the purpose of "having some fun." According to Mullens, a group of berry pickers, oblivious to the prank, reportedly stumbled over this first set of tracks he had assisted in fabricating and, upon noticing the unusual footprints, they were ultimately convinced they'd discovered genuine Bigfoot tracks.
Prankster admissions, like Mullens' above-referenced confessions, along with the lack of corroborating evidence aren't the only reasons the notion that at least some of the Bigfoot tracks discovered over recent decades were created by actual ape-like creatures seems highly unlikely. Many of the tracks discovered are so distinguishable from one another it would appear highly improbable they could've been created by the same species. Consider the diverse features in the supposed Bigfoot track images displayed below, allegedly replicated from genuine discovered Bigfoot tracks. With that many variations in foot features, it would seem conclusive that if the ones that clearly were not created by humans or other known species were not all created by hoaxers, like Wallace and Mullens, there'd be a an awful lot of different large primate species roaming around the North American continent evasive enough to cover up all reliable evidence of their existence, other than their footprints, (with the exception of a small handful of supposed Bigfoot images captured on film, which leads to this article's final topic of discussion).
Alleged Bigfoot Footage
They say seeing is believing, but that all depends on what a person claims to be seeing. If a magician makes the Statute of Liberty appear to vanish before a large audience, anyone in the audience of average intelligence is likely to infer that what they seemed to have witnessed was not likely what really happened. It doesn't require David Copperfield, however, to create a film displaying what appears to be a large ape-like image roaming around in the wild, when such is actually not the case. All it takes, rather, is a convincing costume, and a volunteer willing to display his best ape performance, while working up a bit of sweat.
With the exception a few cases of probable misidentifications, (like the Memorial Day Bigfoot video that was filmed in Washington in 1996, which appears far more likely to display a human running across an open field, rather than an unknown enormous hairy primate), this is exactly what I believe was the case in the handful of claimed Bigfoot videos that have been released to the public to date. The lack of corroborating evidence supporting Bigfoot's existence is obviously part of the reason for this skepticism, but the undeniable fake behavior of the ape images displayed within each and every video in which footage of an ape-like image has clearly been captured is the primary reason for this attack on these films' credibility.
There's no doubt in my mind this was clearly the situation in the most noteworthy claimed Bigfoot film ever recorded. It hardly requires a close examination of the alleged Bigfoot footgage, captured in a film most Bigfoot supporters and critics agree was the best evidence ever presented to this date supporting Bigfoot's existence, to deduce that this film most likely displays nothing more than an actor wearing a costume, and following simple instructions. I'm of course referring to the famous Patterson-Gimlin film, (also known as merely the Patterson film), which was supposedly recorded in a California forest on October 20, 1967 by rodeo rider and Bigfoot fanatic, Roger Patterson.
Now I've watched plenty of footage of genuine monkeys, guerillas, chimpanzees, and apes, and if there's one thing I can responsively say with certainty regarding these animals' behavior, when being filmed in the wild especially, it's that they're very moody and unpredictable. As such, any film displaying an ape walking silently in a straight line at a constant and steady pace for sixty seconds, turning his head back only once, (portrayed in frame 352 displayed below), but otherwise displaying no further behavior would likely become subject to suspicions of fabrication, regardless of how common the purported ape species portrayed in the film may be. And this is exactly what's displayed in the Patterson film. The alleged ape in this film never squats, lifts its arms, scratches its armpits, shifts its direction or changes its speed of motion once throughout this entire film. Rather, it merely walks forward for a full minute displaying absolutely no aggression, or emotion whatsoever.
The fact that at least one individual, Bob Heironimus, claimed years after this film was made public to have appeared in this film wearing an ape costume is less convincing to me than the film's actual content that the film was by all probabilities a hoax. Some Bigfoot believers have claimed, nonetheless, that ape costumes didn't exist in 1967 to create a film portraying an ape-like creature as allegedly convincing as the one displayed in the Patterson film. Most experts in costume design who have made public comments regarding the Patterson film, however, have disagreed with this view. Multiple Academy Award winning special effects supervisor and makeup artist, Stanley Winston, for example, claimed "it was a man in a bad fur suit," which he estimated would've cost around a thousand dollars in 1967. Philip Morris, of Morris Customes, who designed ape costumes in 1967 even claimed years after the Patterson film was made public that he sold Roger Patterson an ape suit in 1967 for the purpose of orchestrating a "prank."
With apparently nothing displayed within this film that couldn't have been fabricated in 1967, considering its content, and the utter lack of corroborating evidence, the Patterson film was likely a well planned and orchestrated hoax created by an amateur film-maker, at best, with apparently little expertise in ape behavior. And yet it remains to this date by far the best of the small number of alleged Bigfoot films. Need I say more on this topic?
In conclusion, there are a lot of ideas that would be fun to believe in, but using our common sense and reason, I think it's best to limit our beliefs to the ideas that are most likely to be real. Unfortunately, Bigfoot clearly does not fall within this category.