Seeing Is Not Always Proof of Reality

Seeing Is Not Always Proof of Reality

If you see a picture of it, it must be real – right? The answer is absolutely not. Human gullibility is astounding, and fake pictures are as old as photography. In 1839, Hippolyte Bayard convinced people that he had committed suicide by creating a photo showing himself as a drowned man. In fact, Bayard lived until 1887. Seeing is not always proof of reality.

In the early 1900s, there were many faked pictures using double exposures, cropping and rephotographing, or even using models. One of the most famous pictures was the “Loch Ness Monster.” The photo got worldwide distribution in 1934. However, in 1975, the son of one of the pranksters admitted that it was a picture of a toy floating in the water.

In our day of technological altering of photographs, anyone can doctor a picture to appear authentic. This is especially true when there is a lot of media hype about a monster, an alien, or a ghost. Reflections from a window have confused many people, even pilots who mistook what they saw as a UFO. Unfortunately, seeing is not always proof of reality.

Many years ago, I helped my wife on a hike with a bunch of young girls
. We stayed too long in the woods and were walking back in the dark. An object that looked like a ghost appeared in front of us. It had two eyes, a round mouth, and a narrow nose. It had an odd green glow, and it didn’t move, but the girls started screaming and crying. When I turned my flashlight on it, we could see that we were looking at a hollow, dead tree with holes in locations that made it look like a face. It was glowing because of the northern lights. Around Lake Superior, there are veins of glowing minerals, and ghost stories have arisen when people saw that effect and didn’t know what it was.

Another personal ghost story involves a haunted house in Scotland where we were invited to spend the night (for a fee). We were told to expect haunting ghost sounds, including moans and screams and footsteps on the stone floor above us. The windows in the house were very old, and, given enough time, glass flows. Unfortunately, the glass had flowed to the point that there were holes in the windows. When the wind blew through the holes, it made sounds. The house cooled rapidly in the evening, and as the stones in the floor contracted, they made sounds that resembled footsteps.

Seeing is not always proof of reality. There is no credible evidence of ghosts, aliens, monsters, demons, or zombies roaming around. We do not live in a world full of non-human spirits trying to harm us. People often resort to ghost-like explanations when they see something they don’t understand. When Jesus walked on the water (Mark 6:49), the immediate response of His disciples was to cry out that they had seen a spirit. Jesus told them not to be afraid, and He would say the same to us.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Smithsonian magazine, December 2021, pages 14-20.