I’m currently reading “Unexplained New Zealand: Ghosts, UFOs and Mysterious Creatures” by Julie Miller and Grant Osborn. It’s “interesting” thus far; i’s just a catalogue of haunted sites from post-colonial New Zealand with little theory as to how and why. Chapter Three, however, is a collection of sightings by celebrities. It doesn’t present the material explicitly as “And here are famous people you admire who claim to have seen ghosts; must be something to it” but the implication is there. We get a litany of celebrities such as Peter Jackson, Sir Edmund Hilary and… Rachel Hunter. I can’t really judge her as an expert; I’m no follower of former fashion models, but whilst these people might well be examples of New Zealanders who have excelled in their field I can’t really imagine them to be examples of clear and critical reasoners. Hilary, for one, has been responsible for some fairly weird statements about conservation, eco-tourism and the like (and made the unfortunate mistake of not condemning outright the theory that the Celts got to New Zealand first).
I’m not sure whether I’ve written about the fallacious appeal to authority and I’m not sure I need to. Some of us will remember the ad for painkillers fronted by one of the actors from “The Flying Doctors:”
Hi, I’m not a doctor but I do play one on TV. When pain persists I use…
I don’t seem to recall it lasting particularly long; I think the public rightly found it laughable. Still, such appeals seem to fool certain parts of the population and it’s probably because we value celebrity in a fairly obnoxious way (which could be cultural or it might just be a biological urge; evolution has done some funny things to the development of our psyche (he says in such a way that it seems to suggest it could have been formed otherwise)). Beliefs, such as those found in ghosts, which are usually frowned upon seem to gain some kind of weird, context-specific, justification if you find out so-and-so also believes it. This seems true of Conspiracy Theories; much is made (on the interweb) of the fact that Charlie (sorry, Charles) Sheen not only thinks 9/11 was an inside job but that he believes it so fervently that he wants to narrate the third edition of “Loose Change.”
Convinced? I wasn’t….That’s what people like me think, anyway.
(A short note, seeing that I’ve just finished the book. It seems that a lot of sightings of anomalies are often made by the same person and this seems suspicious, but as I was deliberating what to make of it there was a section on the catching of the record-breaking colossal squid that was caught a few years back off the coast of Aotearoa and the skipper of that trawler was responsible for catching the last record-breaking colossal squid. Sometimes these things happen; no one said probability theory was intuitive.)
I wrote this post several days before Sir Edmund Hillary died. I make no apologies for the tone in re his intellect. He did do great things with ‘Citizens for Rowling,’ after all.