The simplest explanation

Commentary by Joe McWilliams

A lot of people seem to want very badly to believe there is something ‘out there,’ to which ordinary explanations don’t apply. It may be something in our cultural DNA.

It goes for UFOs, Bigfoot, gods, spirits (good ones or bad ones), little green men in the forest or whatever. Let’s throw in there the ‘deep state’ up to some shenanigans at the expense of the freedom-loving little guy.

A separate question is whether any or some of those things have a grain of factual reality. Or even more than a grain. But leaving that aside, the question we’re wondering about is why some people rush so enthusiastically to embrace the most outlandish explanations.

Thomas of Ockham, the 14th Century British priest and philosopher wondered the same thing. He came up with a piece of advice which seems to still make sense 600-odd years later. It’s called ‘Ockham’s Razor’ and it goes something like this: the simplest explanation is usually the right one. Or maybe that the one with the fewest assumptions is usually the best.

So for example, in the case of a nice, geometric design of flattened grain in a field, the simplest explanation would be human mischief. Case closed, as far as the un-magical thinking portion of society is concerned. But no footprints were observed! point out the magical thinkers. Therefore (big leap!) it must have been aliens in a spacecraft! Case closed!

Well, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of mystery in life to make things more fun and interesting. But for my money, old Ockham had it right. Go with the simplest explanation. It may be boring but it’s probably the right one, or closest to it.

This goes for the rumours flying around when some military helicopters stopped for the night at Slave Lake Airport on Dec. 13 a few years ago. It was a routine training mission, said somebody who seems to know what he is talking about. Not UFOs, not a drone invasion. Not a military field hospital dry run or whatever. As you were. Merry Christmas!

Then there was the strange elongated balloon-like thing hanging in the sky way off to the northwest of Lesser Slave Lake, glowing in the setting sun (this was also several years ago).

At some point the thing appeared to explode and disintegrate, with bits flying off and disappearing.

The simple explanation turned out to be that it was one of those high-altitude weather balloons, launched at Lynn Lake Manitoba, carrying a payload of instruments. Some outfit in Texas does it (or did it) to collect atmospheric data or something. The flights were all registered and approved with the relevant authorities. I found all this out by way of a couple of phone calls.

At the end of the mission, the balloon is popped, remotely, and the payload falls onto what is hoped is unoccupied land, to be collected later.

That explanation went in the paper, and burst the bubble, so to speak of a local UFO enthusiast and true believer. To him, the whole thing was extra-terrestrial. He was utterly convinced. Here was proof! At long last! And then came this boring, earthbound explanation. How dare you? His version had the mother ship blowing up, and an escape vehicle zipping off, just like in the movies.

What fun that would have been. But it was nothing of the sort.

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