Universal extinction is the assumption, in Western culture, regarding pterosaurs, so when somebody reports a pterosaur sighting in Raleigh, North Carolina, we can expect objections from skeptics. That’s what we got earlier this year, on a musicians’ forum called “The Gear Page.” The sighting was around March 24, 2013:
Ok… so I saw a Pterodactyl up close tonight. Not joking. . . .
I was driving along on I-540 in Raleigh at sundown tonight, cruising at about 70 mph, heading to my weekly jam session with my buddy. All of a sudden I see the HUGE bird looking thing fly across the overpass I was on, maybe 20-25 feet in front of my car and about 7 or 8 feet off the ground. . . .
. . . it had an enormous pointed beak, with a pointed top of its head. . . . the wingspan was probably about 5-6 feet . . . bony wing structure ending in points (almost like sails) with what looked like small claws in the middle . . . the body looked like greyish fur or dark skin. . . .
The eyewitness also reported what appeared to be two legs that were held out behind the creature and a long tail that had “a spade at the end.” Perhaps the most critical factor in the observation was that the legs were separate from the long tail that had a structure at its end, for that suggests a non-extinct Rhamphorhynchus-type pterosaur.
Highway I-540 near Raleigh, N.C. – photo by Dougtone
Remark by a Critic-Skeptic
More than likely what your brain remembers that you saw, is not what [occurred] in reality. . . . [Eyewitnesses] are the most unreliable source of information that I know of.
I understand that eyewitnesses sometimes appear to remember one or more details that turn out to be completely wrong; in fact, this is common. I myself have encountered that human mental weakness after answering police questions about my observations of a man who was running away from the scene of a homicide in Pasadena, California, many years ago. After that, and after other personal experiences with misinterpretations, I have learned to be more careful about drawing conclusions about what I remember about an experience.
But the skeptic who made the above remark appears to be unaware of a human weakness that has even greater potential for error than eyewitness error: interpreting another person’s experience according to our own pre-conceived assumptions.
What is Even More Unreliable Than Eyewitness Testimony?
To best understand this problem, let’s examine what can happen with eyewitness error. We’ll use a true-life example from years ago, in a usually peaceful neighborhood, not in North Carolina, in Long Beach, California. I don’t recall all the details, but what I add does not change any relevant principle: In the basics, this really happened.
Brad brought his daughter home from high school one afternoon and walked with her into the house; she was crying, obviously upset about something. They soon left, leaving the house with nobody home.
Later that day, Brad returned but entered through the back door, or at least entered where the back door used to be. He called the police to report the door that had been broken down. The police officer was embarrassed in answering the report. Here’s why:
While Brad was gone, a neighbor had reported to the police that a strange man had taken a young lady captive at gun point, taking the girl into that house. You know the rest.
So what happened in the mind of the eyewitness? He saw a man, with something in his hand, walking with a young lady who was in tears. The eyewitness unconsciously used his imagination to fill in the appearance of a gun, or saw only just enough that he believed that it could have been a gun. Also critical in this misunderstanding, he did not recognize that the man was his neighbor, not a stranger to the neighborhood. If he had recognized the man as father to the young lady, the eyewitness would not have allowed his imagination to run wild.
But what about the police officer who received the report? Would it have been appropriate for him to assume that no gun was involved? Of course police officers must be prepared for the worst and respond to that kind of report.
What if a police officer received a report of a man with a gun, a man who had a Nazi swastika emblem on his shirt? If the police officer had been raised from childhood with the believe that all Nazis had become extinct in 1945, would that justify ignoring the report and assuming there was no gun involved? This reveals another weakness in reasoning.
What is less reliable than eyewitness testimony? It’s imagining that somebody did not experience what was described because it does not fit well into the assumptions of the person who received the report. Changing a report to be more in harmony with our own assumptions is far more likely to result in errors than reporting a personal experience.
Both the eyewitness and the one receiving the report are human. Both are subject to the human weakness of mentally manipulating what is experienced to become more harmonious with deeply held assumptions. The different between these two persons is that the eyewitness directly experienced what was reported; the other person has no direct experience, only the report and his imagination.
Changing details in a report of another person’s experience is like looking out a window smeared with rain drops and observing what is happening in the living room of your neighbor’s house across the street. You do so by looking through two windows that are both smeared by rain drops. The eyewitness, on the other hand, looks through only one window smeared with rain drops. Beware of trying to peer into another person’s mind to manipulate things to harmonize with your own assumptions.
At about sundown, but with sufficient light, on March 23, 2013, the eyewitness . . . was driving on the I-540, in or near Raleigh, North Carolina, when he had his encounter.
I saw [it] in October 2009 in Charlotte, NC . . . it was at night. I was standing outside my car on the phone when I saw the creature emerge directly over the three-story building I was standing next to. . . . It looked like what I had seen in a Jurassic Park movie . . . [I got] my cousin, who was in my passenger seat, out the car so I didn’t see it alone. He did . . . I know what we saw. [North Carolina pterosaur sighting in Live Pterodactyl blog]