Monday, October 17, 2016

Interview with a Critical Thinker: Steven Streufert (Part 3)

Two weeks ago we began our 3-part interview with Steven Streufert of Bigfoot Books. Today Steven brings the interview to a controversial and brutally honest conclusion by talking about the "woo" factor in Bigfoot and the loss of “scientific” pursuit in discovering this creature. After decades of research it's not looking too good for Bigfoot.

Click here to read Part 1 and and here for Part 2

We noticed that in B. Ann Slate's and Alan Berry's 1976 book "Bigfoot" the woo concept was already being explored with UFOs and energy/psychic explanations for Sasquatch. What is the origination of the woo? 
Well, you know, the so-called “Woo” goes back to the old Native American lore, and that is the truth of it. The current fascination in the Woo camp with MindSpeak, psychic stuff, other dimensions, or whatever, is nothing new at all. All of that stuff was present in the UFO contactee movement of the 1950s, and in general occultism going way back through Spiritualism and the “Ascended Masters” of Theosophy, and far back into more ancient lines of culture. At times nowadays it is hard to tell these “paranormal” fields apart. Finding Bigfoot seems very close to ghost hunting to me. One legendary story serves as the basis for another, and no one seems these days to need there to be a solid basis to any of it.

The Slate/Berry book is one of the early ones in Bigfooting to really include the Woo stuff, but it also had the Sierra Sounds, which really are even more weird. Look into it deeply and you’ll find some really odd stuff, like in the Fred Beck book about Ape Canyon. That has all manner of weirdness, including higher dimensions, underground civilizations, and a ton of Theosophy-influenced whackadoodle thinking. The world of Bigfooting can be traced right back to H.P. Blavatsky’s ideas about a prior race of apelike and hairy yet “more spiritual” Lemurians. Every society or civilization of humans really does have its roots in the mythic and magical, as one has to consider that the ancient times of our species were spent without science, and without real rationalism, subsumed in superstition and belief. Consider the Native American or ancient European world views. They didn’t have science as we know it now, but they had to have a very practical understanding of the world around them in order to survive. Without modern tools and technologies, they simply were not able to understand or even conceive of the kinds of things we have discovered in modern times. Where their practical abilities and senses ended, belief and the religious or mythic dimensions began.

We do this, too, with the various gods most of us still follow or seek. We now have deep space telescopes and microscopes, but for the old cultures, the cosmos was a vast mystery to be explained by whatever means, whether mystical or imaginative. The mythic traditions tried to make sense of existence, but with limited means of doing so. For them, the “spirit world” was all around them, but we might just talk about galaxies and sub-atomic particles. In the state of living where the sense of spirits and the unexplainable are so close, and so pervasive, there isn’t much of a separation of the rational from the magical, or the subjective from the objective. Also, they did not have the modern concepts of Psychology, where the psyche is understood through more objective measures rather than just subjective experiences. Out of this, beings like the Sasquatch can emerge, from the liminal margins of the conscious and subconscious realms. It really is hard to tell how much of things described by the ancient or still-immersed traditional cultures were actually meant to be of the “objectively real” world. They didn’t really have the deep distinction (or schism) we have now, this separation of the subjective from the objective. Much of that is the consequence of modern Psychology and Philosophy, systems of thought which have allowed us to objectify and understand our own inner workings, rather than just being part of them.

Many great advances have been made, but surely this isn’t the only way to understand the world and ourselves. In many ways a spiritual approach is necessary, at some level, and is fully understandable. There will always be things we do not yet know or understand.We feel a need to have faith in… something, a set of beliefs that can try to make existence comprehensible or meaningful. However, I would say this is no reason to reject reason, science, and modern understanding as many do, as many increasingly seem to do these days, as the world and its knowledge grow incredibly complex. No one person can be a master of all of these disciplines. There are simply too much information and too many areas of esoteric knowledge. There is no escape back into the past, or into a magical future either. We all have to live in the present.

So, in the world of Bigfooting, what we are seeing is the failure of the flesh-and-blood or rational and “scientific” pursuit of the thing to find anything like solid proof. Ketchum and Sykes failed to find anything in the DNA studies. Decades of searching and gathering ostensible evidence have not coalesced into a solid body of knowledge. The thing recedes farther from being proven, seemingly, with each passing year. The Woo mysticism has become ascendant, offering subjective and imaginative pseudo-explanations to fill the gaps. People have despaired of reason, and have grasped into the shadowy dark for other explanations. Few seem capable of admitting that the null hypothesis is staring them right in the face. Bigfoot simply may not exist. No measure of dreaming and believing really hard in it will suddenly make it so, if it is not.

Perhaps Bigfoot does exist, but forming a religion or cult around it will not advance the cause of real, actual knowledge. That only makes of Bigfoot an article of faith, and then dogma, all based upon supposition, speculation, and worse, pure imagination. These explanations may simply be discarded, using Hitchens’ Razor, "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." The burden of proof remains upon the claimants of extraordinary things. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” That, of course, does not give one a license to just make up whatever shite one wants to believe and call it evidence, now, does it? A delusional man like Matthew Johnson could then simply say “I don’t lie, I don’t hoax, so what I say happened did happen.” No, it didn’t, not if he can’t demonstrate that his subjective “experiences,” dreams, hallucinations, and odd beliefs have some kind of objective correlative. Convincing a few gullible cult followers does not constitute confirmation, either.

You are part of the Bluff Creek Project where multiple trail cams are hidden all over the Bluff Creek valley where Roger Patterson filmed the alleged bigfoot in 1967. How did that come to be and what has been some of your results? We heard you captured on camera a once thought extinct marsupial.
Let include here parts of something I wrote today for the ISF (International Skeptical Forum) guys. I’ll adapt it some to answer your question. Really, to explain Bluff Creek Project a whole long story should be told. I’ll get to your question about the Humboldt marten at the end of all of this. What follows is partly about me, and the founding of the Bluff Creek Film Site Project, and its eventual evolution into the Bluff Creek Project camera study effort.

The question raised was about a blog post I had written six and a half years ago. In it I had said, “Perhaps the most convincing thing to me that tends to prove Bigfoot exists is hearing Bob Gimlin, a guy who obviously would not lie to you, say that he saw what he saw on that sandbar back on October 20th, 1967.” Back then, I was indeed more of a "believer" in the possibility of Bigfoot being an actual creature than I am now. I never fully "believed," I suppose, as I really do not believe in "belief." My attitude is generally one of agnosticism, of curious skepticism, using critical thinking. At first I was pretty impressed with all of the witnesses, and the arguments made by smart guys like Krantz and Meldrum, and by the apparently smart ones among the current "researchers" of Bigfoot. With time, as I was exposed to the community of believers, as I studied and then restudied the claims, the credibility of much of it began to wear thinly. I began to see the sacred cows die, the old icons fall. I began to see that much of the Bluff Creek history did have to do with hoaxing; perhaps not all of it, but a good part of it certainly was the product of humorous human fakery.

How did this happen? We decided in 2009 to investigate the history of the thing, with focus on Bluff Creek and the finding again of the apparently “lost” P-G film site. Over the course of that investigation we learned many things. Once we were reasonably assured in our own minds that we had indeed found matches for the original trees, stumps, and old log piles from the big 1964 flood, we determined to map the whole site using a grid map. We chose the point that Gimlin had identified (privately, to Bobo Fay) as the approximate spot where he thought they had first seen the subject, and with a compass we drew a line directly north. Along the way we marked ten foot segments. From the center we drew the line east and west, planting flags at each grid corner. Then we covered the entire site on foot, drawing in everything we found that was obviously old, removing from our mapping any trees and objects that were obviously too young to have been there in 1967/8 or 1971/2 when images of the site were shot. We checked the entire mapping which was on graph paper, and then Robert Leiterman drew the final first version map which we’ve published.

We compared this map with the aerial photo from Rene Dahinden and found so many matches it was clearly beyond coincidence, and this had to be the site. Fortuitously, we met an independent geologist, and he did the trigonometry to compare the two images, correcting for viewing angles. The match was perfect with a very small margin of error. The next year we brought Bill Munns (and many others) up there. He confirmed it was the site using his own methods, and did analyses based on the film itself and the best early site photos. There is no doubt that it's the site, and our map is accurate within mere inches, though not quite good enough for exact photogrammetry (according to Munns). We found in fact that our measurements were better than those done by John Green and Dahinden, back in the day. We had managed to prove *something* within the world of Bigfooting, if not the existence of the Bigfoot species itself. It was our hope that the pursuit of this knowledge in an objective way might help to demonstrate objective rationalism to others pursuing various forms of research in Bigfooting, as some kind of positive example.

Proving Bigfoot to exist is a whole different matter, and seemingly impossible. Since early 2010 when I wrote that blog entry I've had to re-evaluate all of the claims and the claimed evidence, usually dispelling the myths and poor logic that had been associated with them by the avid believers. We were trying to find the film site, and to find whatever the accurate history of Bluff Creek may have been, but much of what was claimed did not really hold any water. Instead of anything like real history in this field, we found instead oral tales, things passed down from supposed “expert” to the next supposed expert, with little initial foundation. In many cases, the sacred cows of Bigfooting fell apart upon close examination, including events like the 1967 Onion and Blue Creek Mountain track finds. Other things remained as questions to an agnostic inquiry, but a well-informed one. This is called... learning. There was indeed much hoaxing going on up in Bluff Creek. I met and interviewed some of the old-timers who were in on it, or were privy to the plans, who recalled holding the wooded foot track stompers. Some of this is obvious, like the Wallace tracks. Some of it, like the PGF, is a bit more ambiguous, and not so easily dismissed.

I do not claim that the film is of a real creature. Nor do I declare it false. My position is agnostic, and I think the film is ambiguous and anomalous. It certainly remains intriguing, and has not been finally debunked by anyone, despite all the claims. That doesn't mean I am trying to make it be real despite all the weight against the possibility of Bigfoot actually existing. If Bigfoot isn't real, so be it. I am interested in discovering the truth. This film is a continuing mystery, sitting in the middle of the debates like a big, unanswerable question mark.

I do find Gimlin to be a congenial and honest type of fellow, a seemingly very convincing witness; but that does not mean that I AM convinced. It doesn't seem to me that he is lying when I hear him talk, or when I have spoken with him. But, that is not proof that the film is of a real creature known as Bigfoot. Perhaps he was in on a hoax, or was the one first fooled by one? Even he has admitted this possibility. I said that about Gimlin to indicate one of the real puzzles of the whole PGF controversy, and one that applies to all of Bigfooting witness accounts: How can seemingly honest and sane, ordinary people think they have seen this creature, if it does not exist? If it does not exist, why are they claiming to have seen it? Why would they lie about it, especially as all they usually get for the claim is a real misery of questioning? Is it all hoaxing or delusion, or mistakes of perception? Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not. This is the aspect of the "phenomenon" that I find most fascinating.

Why? Because to me at this point it seems that it is most likely that Bigfoot does NOT exist. The evidence is poor, and has not passed scientific scrutiny in any way. The claims of researchers to this day are highly questionable, and with the internet we are exposed to more and even more outrageous stupidities every single day. I am talking about all the blobsquatches, and the outrageous claims of habituation (without evidence that should be easy to obtain under the claimed circumstances), and metaphysical superpowers, and the presumptuous claims of stick structures, linguistic “glyphs,” and very poor track finds, or DNA claims that never pan out under real scientific scrutiny. After all this time, it seems increasingly likely that some kind of urban legend is at play, rather than an elusive species of primate, spirit being, or extraterrestrial entity. In 2010 I was among friends in the Bigfooting community, and that in part swayed me a little toward the believing side, but by the end of that year I'd hit a wall of serious questions that could not be denied. I saw how the "community" was indeed in denial of these questions, and... I started asking them. It’s a funny thing, but the JREF-ISF scoftics assume me to be some kind of "Gimlin Guard" believer, but within the community of Bigfooter believers I have been known as a notorious skeptic since 2011. Some of them even call me "Evil." Ha ha. Well, I’d argue, there is nothing wrong with critical questioning, and certainly nothing wrong with an agnostic attitude toward things that are not absolutely established as facts.

You might see me at times question what I call the "hoax theories," such as the poor Bluff Creek geography of Bob Heironimus. I do this because I apply the same kind of skepticism to his claims as I do to those of the believers. I'm not biasing my thought or our investigation to favor the film or its supporters. I am questioning ALL of it. It's just a fact that much of what Bob Gimlin has said over the years has proven to be true, on the ground, as we spent time in Bluff Creek analyzing all of it. Much of what I find in Greg Long's book, THE MAKING OF BIGFOOT, and in the Bob Heironimus statements does not prove to be congruent with facts on the ground up there. So, I do acknowledge that Bob H. was somehow involved, such as with his horse being there with P & G, or in the earlier Yakima “docudrama” footage; but I don't see anything really convincing to me that he was really there in Bluff Creek. In our studies we had to throw out many of the statements made about the PGF site by Peter Byrne, MK Davis, Christopher Murphy, Daniel Perez, et al. Many did not seem to have a good enough memory to get us to the actual site, including John Green, Al Hodgson, and the USFS. By rejecting them all, throwing away the false and insufficient, we eventually found that Rene Dahinden had indeed marked the map correctly, and Bob Gimlin had a good enough recollection after all tentatively to identify it in 2003 and 2011. He was right on the spot, within about 20 feet or so, even though the ground itself in that spot had been washed away by the erosion in the creekbed. So, really, I apply the same kinds of scrutiny to Bob Heironimus or whatever other claim. It's a fact that Heironimus' description of the route in to the film site comes nowhere near the actual site, and sounds nothing at all like the real trip there. His statements are full of self-contradictions, and therefore are all questionable.

Since we found and documented the site in 2011, proving it beyond dispute to be the site, we moved on to another kind of investigation. We always wondered how it could be that we spent more time than anyone else up in Bluff Creek, and yet never saw any sign of Bigfoot. Others claimed "action" all the time, but we only found bear tracks, heard owls or pine cones falling, and saw deer in the thermals and night vision devices. We decided to test the hypothesis, with our geologist friend Jamie Wayne S. joining the team, asking "Does Bigfoot Exist?" We started deploying an array of trail cameras that monitored the PGF site, the area around it on the hillsides and up and down the creekbed, and around adjacent lakes in the Bluff Creek basin. These cameras ran 24-7, 365 days a year, and are still doing so, up to 20 of them at a time. We implemented them strategically, such that they observed each other, or viewed the same basic areas from different angles. After five full years coming up soon, with no sign of Bigfoot yet (though lots of other great, real wildlife), we are all recognizing that the null hypothesis seems the most likely conclusion. Of course, one can make all kinds of excuses and special pleading, such as that Bigfoot avoid trail cameras, or can know about them psychically, or whatever magical sensibility; but we don't do that. We are a skeptical and rational group of investigators. What we're doing is amateur science, I think, a valid form of observation and investigation of a real question that could use some answering. It’s just a fact that it would be really inconvenient for any creature living in that area to avoid our cameras, placed as they are in the prime areas for food, water, and shelter, along the best travel routes. Climbing up a steep, rocky slope every day just to go around a camera is a violation of biological economy, and besides, how would then know what a camera is there to do? We get images and video of all the other animals known to live up there, but why no Bigfoot? It’s a good question.
The Humboldt marten is one of the many interesting real animals that we have documented up there in Bluff Creek with our trail cameras. It was once thought to be extinct, but not too long ago, in 1996, a photo of one was captured, proving that they were actually still alive. It was not quite as shocking as the rediscovery of the coelacanth, but it was indeed significant. This is a distinct subspecies of marten, the coastal marten, and from the distinct and very small California subgroup. There are small numbers of them as well in Southern Oregon.
There is a lawsuit now being waged to protect this subspecies. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Sued over Humboldt Marten Status:

Don’t listen to certain jealous fools in the Bigfooting community about this, as they ARE endangered. A politically-motivated decision not to list them was made by the federal government, but that is being challenged by a lawsuit that is certain to win. The government went against their own scientists to do this. There are only an estimated 100 individuals left in California, and if that isn’t endangered I don’t know what is. This is not the common pine marten. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of biology knows of the importance of regional subspecies, and the need for their protection. Michael Merchant and Kelly Shaw, or Brent Dill, have no clue what they are talking about, or else they are just simply liars, out babbling about this because they are jealous of the attention that Bluff Creek Project gets. Our work is objective, and not based upon egotism, nor is it all done for YouTube hits and cash like these other fellows do. Our photos of the marten were accidental at first, so there really is no issue of ego in this thing. Now we train our cameras to capture more images and video of them, and our work has shown that they are prospering in small numbers in this small area of Bluff Creek. These images give hope to all concerned with the work of preserving this wonderful subspecies from extinction. We’ve been recognized by advocacy groups and scientists, so there is no question that we are on the right track with this.

The USFS knows about what we've been doing, and approves. In fact, we took them and some of their scientists up there and showed them the P-G film site, where most of our cameras are deployed, because even they didn't know where the site really was. They were all convinced by the work we'd done and agreed that we'd found the site. They like the fact that our trail cameras are out there helping to document the wildlife that live within the area of their managerial jurisdiction. They don't mind that we have removed dead branches and stuff to make the site more accessible for our studies. In fact, they want us to make an informally-marked trail with an explanatory message board there, so that all of those going in there don't just get lost or endanger themselves in a rather rugged environment. We are happy to be learning about one of our favorite places on Earth, whether or not there ever was a Bigfoot, or if there is a Bigfoot up in there still.

A common question your critics say is, if Bigfoot is real, how come you guys haven't caught one by one of your many, many trail cams?
Maybe Bigfoot ISN’T real, eh, DeeCee? I’ve answered much of this question above already. One has to consider the null hypothesis. We keep testing the hypothesis of “Bigfoot Exists,” but after decades it’s not looking good. Five years of camera study should have shown at least one sign of this creature, if it is real, utilizing the most prime area of the local habitat, which it would need for food, water, and easy transit through those steep canyons. Either that, or it’s moved off into more deep and remote areas, where people rarely go.

I continue onward as an agnostic about the thing, though I’ve definitely become more and more skeptical with the years. One *has* to be skeptical, or one is lost. Skepticism should be a curious inquiry, looking into things, especially all the mysterious claims out there; but it cannot believe without good evidence. Why should anyone do so? If you really think you have seen a Bigfoot, that’s great! If you think you may have “encountered” one, be careful not to assume things without considering all of the common options. Don’t trick yourself just because you want this thing to be real so badly. I always advise that people be willing to live with mysterious things, without putting banal human solutions onto complex realities and questions, and without leaping into the paranormal and metaphysical to explain things. A claim of a mystery cannot be explained by yet another, deeper mystery. That is an infinite regress into mystification, without a single possible answer coming from it. Everything else that we’ve ever known and proven has been within the natural world, and not magical just because it at first seemed strange. Go forth and see that the world we already know is infinitely complex and wondrous. Look into the eyes of a dragonfly and answer me, Do we really need extraterrestrials, the Illuminati, and Bigfoot walking through interdimensional portals?

For me it's a fascinating piece of local history in my area, and I'd like to see some kind of resolution to it all. I'm sitting here in the Bigfoot Mecca, and also ensconced in my own way within the "Bigfoot Community," and the lunacy of it all never ceases to amaze me. I've been living here in Willow Creek since 2001 (and in Humboldt since 1993), and never once have I seen anything that would convince me absolutely that the thing is a real creature. Yet, all the time I hear about "encounters" and "sightings," either here locally or (mostly) through the online venues. Of course people lie, sometimes to others, and often to themselves. There are both con men and fools involved. Both are fun to identify and debunk. It's great practice in applying the tools of skepticism and logic, and for learning about the scientific method. However, I do think there is another category, that of the person who is honest and sane, and yet still feels and thinks deeply that they have indeed seen or “encountered” Bigfoot. Often, they have no motivation to think this, nothing to gain, and nothing to prove. Some of them are rather convincing, and it's hard to know what to say to them as they tell me of their experiences here in my bookshop. They aren't apparent liars, or delusional believers. Maybe they are mistaken in their interpretations, but really, they DO believe it. What are we to make of this?

I'm curious as to why some appear so sincerely to believe they have encountered or seen a Bigfoot. There are many types of claimed witnesses. Some obviously have tongue in cheek, and there's usually a punch line at the end like, "It was my big, hairy uncle Joe who made that stench." Some just don't seem credible, either because their claims are outrageous, or they seem delusional, or they don't seem trustworthy. The other sort are really just ordinary people saying they saw or experienced something odd and anomalous. They don't seem to be exaggerating, and the details are there and quite normal or prosaic, and they are usually people who have nothing to gain and perhaps much to lose (I know, you've heard this one before) by telling such a story. Everyone's motives are different, as are their perceptions.
Perhaps they were wrong about seeing a Bigfoot. Perhaps they are not fools, crazy or disingenuous, and really believe it. Often the claimed experience is life-alerting or at least disturbing, shocking, or surprising to them, or so they act. This is, anyway, how they seem, and I've spoken with dozens and dozens, more like hundreds, of such people. I'll always take everything that people say with a large amount of grains of salt, but I'm also not so inclined to call *everyone* a liar or an idiot. Witness claimants should not just be dismissed with a scoffing sneer, in my opinion. Their claims can and should be considered as at least somewhat possible. If you can’t trust anyone to tell the truth at least as they see it about supposed Bigfoot sighting, whom do you trust in life? There has to be some kind of human social accountability, surely, and I just can’t call *all* of them liars, or all of them fools. Perhaps some of them are right and their tales are true, after all? It’s a big question that still remains.
I maintain an interest in the history of it here locally, and as a general cultural element. I try to keep up the agnostic viewpoint mainly to allow people to tell their experiences, and to ponder what it could be that is causing these people to think they've run across a Bigfoot. To me, that is the real mystery now. However, we do keep on looking up in Bluff Creek, on foot, by truck, with drones, with our five senses, and with our trail cameras. Heck, maybe Bigfoot is out there somewhere hiding, after all, but these days I kind of doubt it.

I would like for Bigfoot to exist. I would "like" to believe in such things that are unconfirmed in objective reality. But, I do not believe in belief. I keep my mind open, in an agnostic and skeptical way, to the possibilities. I don't rule it out absolutely, as logically that is technically impossible. “You can’t really prove a negative,” they say. There may be something to it all, all the claims of claimed actual witnesses, beyond the silly ambiguous "encounter" assumption and stories. I've had some of those latter kinds of experiences myself, but they do not add up to certainty. Even if I saw one in front of me with my own eyes, I'd have to question the entire experience, so long as they are not objectively confirmed and verified for all human beings with actual science. It is conceivable that I could think I've seen one, due to some strange glitch of the mind and circumstances, such as we are ALL subject to having. Perception and interpretation of experience are never absolutely accurate. Do I *think* that Bigfoot exists? Well, right now, I have to say that, weighing all the supposed evidence and the history of this field of study, it is unlikely that they do. I’d be happy to be proven wrong in that tentative assumption.

Thank you Steven for doing this interview. 
Anyone who wants to see the kind of skeptical application I do within Bigfooting in general is welcome to come over and join our Facebook discussion group, which tries to apply skeptical methodology to the various crazy claims. Coalition for Critical Thinking in Bigfoot Research,

My blog addresses are, for BIGFOOT’S bLOG, and for The Bigfoot News and Review,

Bluff Creek Project can be found here:

No comments:

Post a Comment