Monday, April 27, 2009

A Dragon in my Garage

The Dragon In My Garage

by Carl Sagan

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage"

Suppose (I'm following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

"Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle -- but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon?" you ask.

"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon."

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.

"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."

Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

"Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."

You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

"Good idea, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick." And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so. The only thing you've really learned from my insistence that there's a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You'd wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then, why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I've seriously underestimated human fallibility. Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don't outright reject the notion that there's a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you're prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you. Surely it's unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative -- merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of "not proved."

Imagine that things had gone otherwise. The dragon is invisible, all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch. Your infrared detector reads off-scale. The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you. No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons -- to say nothing about invisible ones -- you must now acknowledge that there's something here, and that in a preliminary way it's consistent with an invisible, fire-breathing dragon.

Now another scenario: Suppose it's not just me. Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you're pretty sure don't know each other, all tell you that they have dragons in their garages -- but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive. All of us admit we're disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence. None of us is a lunatic. We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on. I'd rather it not be true, I tell you. But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren't myths at all.

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported. But they're never made when a skeptic is looking. An alternative explanation presents itself. On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon's fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons. Such "evidence" -- no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it -- is far from compelling. Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.



lin said...

Serg...what compelled you to write/post such a deep blog on a Monday morning? Was it the sunshine and warmth this weekend? Was it the Penguins advancing in the NHL playoffs? Or is it because all of us would love to believe that there are some people with dragons in their garages? Dragons in garages or demons in their bodies and there a difference? Who are we to dispute the spiritual and physical pain that we cannot even begin to see or understand? OK, maybe I get it or maybe I am just discussing it in my head. Either way, you made me think.

Debs said...

You had me at the words Carl Sagan--he's long been a man I deeply admired and his death was so unnecessary and far, far too soon!

As I was reading this, I was thinking of paranormal research. In fact, how odd the mention of flour to gather footprints; Ghost Hunters 2 weeks ago suddenly claimed they ALWAYS carry a bag of flour with them to sprinkle on the floor to try to gather footprints. If you didn't see the episode, I'm still sure you can guess the outcome--of course they got a footprint in the flour and 2 that led away from it. Strange tho, the tread in the print. You see, shoemakers didn't start to put tread on soles until much later than these supposed spirits lived.

YET...the claims of hearing footsteps, the claims of seeing apparitions, can we dispell those so easily? The people experiencing them are convinced. I've seen several different types of shadow people and I can tell you that my first encounter changed me. I know what I saw, I know the other things I have experienced. My own house has some activity, one phenomenon did affect a 3rd person who was unaware of our claims. Is that validation enough for the "dragon in the garage? For some yes, for others no. I can't claim to know much of anything of the field of paranormal investigating, as I've only been on 3 or 4 investigations and don't belong to a formal group. However I can tell you this--for the field to gain respect, methids must be found that can validate all of our they Ghost Kitty in form or possession and torment by demons!


Doolz said...

Without sounding like I'm sitting on the fence, I would say that when a claim can neither be validated nor debunked, we simply have to wait for proof. If I can't definitely prove that your dragon ISN'T there, and I can't prove that it IS there, I have no conclusion to make. The only thing to do is make an attempt to find out either way whether your dragon is in your garage or all in your head.

Reminds me vaguely of Schrödinger's cat: the cat is both dead and alive at the same time, until we open the box. Your dragon both exists and doesn't exist until we open the garage and find out.

The silly thing about humans is, we want to know things. And when we can't figure something out, we desperately cling to a particular belief to explain it. I don't see why we can't wait until the truth reveals itself to us.

Nature hides her secret because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse.--Einstein

It is open to every man to choose the direction of his striving, and every man may take comfort from the fine saying that the search for truth is more precious than its possession.--Einstein

Painted Butterfly's Strange Beautiful World said...

One way to look at it is reality in perspective. If you believe there is a dragon there and it exsists to you, then it exsists. In your reality you know it is there therfore it is real. If I don't believe it is real from my perspective then it doesn't exsist in my reality therfore it is not real. All reality is based on perspective and each individual creates their own reality so if there is a dragon in your garage then there actually is a dragon in your garage.

Btw what's the dragons name? :)

Anonymous said...

If a tree falls in the forest... Just kidding! I believe dragons exist whether we see them or not. Maybe they only choose to show themselves to people who believe in them because those who don't wouldn't recognize them for what they are. Since someone else quoted Einstein I will too:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

How will we ever know what is real if we pick and choose whether not something can exist? If you immediately know the candle light is fire, the meal was cooked long ago.

luciddreamer78 said...

Hmmm... The wonders of the mind. I would estimate that these particular "dragon" people have an unbalanced third eye Chakra, which can lead to overindulgence in visualization and a tendency to believe their fantasy life.(Perhaps, they really want to believe there is a firebreathing dragon in their garage. And maybe the others want to keep up with the Jones'.) My advice- get their chakras aligned or else, there will be even more serious problems. :) However, also having like minded people in the mix will only exacerbate and accelerate the eventual downward spiral of the mind.
However, I am most keen on a blog that incorporates Carl Sagan, The FAIL principle and where its comments include discussion on Schrödinger's cat.

Susie said...

Interesting Mr. Sagan knows without a shadow of a doubt, the dragon is female and not the usual male. Puff the Magic dragon was male, well so we believe right? Hmm, is this where you get that term "dragon lady" from? :p Haha.

All kidding aside, after reading Mr. Sagan's discussion, it pointed to "faith". Isn't faith the same as having a firm belief in something that you have no concrete proof of? Believing in something so passionately that it's real to us personally? Regardless of what skeptics, nay-sayers, or whomever else voices? Guess it's the matter of all of the above and those discussed on this blog.

Great topic Sergey (as always)! I think my thinking cap has a crack in it from brain overload! Heh :)

Have an awesome week! Look forward to watching tonight's epi.


P.S. Albert Einstein rocks! He's my main man! ;p Loved that a few of the bloggers here posted his pearls of wisdom! :) Pure awesomeness!

Lyssaboo said...

"Painted Butterfly's Strange Beautiful World" is absolutely right. If it exists to you.. then it exists. That also got me to thinking that we see in different like, color hues, if you get what I'm saying. Like if we switched bodies with someone you'd get confused because red to you might look blue or brown to someone else.

It also reminds me of this time in my senior year in high school when we were talking about the arctic regions. This kid Brett (who I still talk to, and was hit by a car when he was twelve or thirteen so his head has been kind of jumbled since) brought something up about a guy who found a dragon in the ice. This was just after I went to see Transformers in theaters and I thought maybe he was mixing his stories up :P

Kris said...

Ah, Serg! Like Debs said, I was also thinking about Paranormal Research as I read this. It really made me think about what I posted in my latest blog entry.

But, getting back to the whole evidence thing:

Most people think that seeing is believing, but really, when YOU see something and someone else can't, then what does that do? If you hear something, and try to convince someone else and tell them about it, they may not believe you if they don't hear it themself. It sounds crazy in my words, but really what I'm trying to say is that there will always be people who believe you, some who have to have proof, and others who will never believe you even with good evidence and proof.

The way I look at it, If I see it, or hear it, or believe it, then it exists to ME, and really, isn't that all that matters (except for if your trying to prove it to someone else, then that's complicated...).

I could go on and on about this whole subject, but it's Monday, I'm tired, and I don't want to take up all the comment space! Hehe.

ncchapman said...

It's total human insecurity and self-righteousness that makes us believe that life was gifted to us and us alone. People forget that God said not only was he the God of our world but the God of the Universe.
If no one questioned there would be no answers. The meaning of our lives is found in our searches while we reaching out for validity. It's to close to call what is real and what is fake, and it has always and will forever be to each his own.

Anonymous said...

Such a small word....

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's just...amazing! That's so deep serg! -hugs-

I think i'm with the last post here, faith. Have faith that there is more out there then what we know or care to know about. Have faith that one day we will learn all the secrets in the world, or have faith that we don't.

Either way, we all know that dragons DO exist and that only time will show us where they hide out from the skeptics.:)

JokerQuinn said...
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JokerQuinn said...
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JokerQuinn said...

I believe Dragons were once real. Perhaps they had very brittle bones once they died and the bones just turned into dust over a short period of time. Perhaps they lived when the dinosaurs did....I just think it is strange that many cultures on earth describe something along the lines of Dragons yet there is no evidence for it.

Although the Giant Squid used to be considered and old fisherman's tale and they turned out to be true.

ncchapman said...

Will you show us of baby picture of yourself?

Maren said...

I believe that what makes something real is how we feel about it. Dragons are inspiring in their strength and majesty. Almost every culture has a version of dragon lore. I have always connected with dragons and, yes, when my chakras were out of balance, I did see one on a canvas of blue sky on a gorgeous So Cal afternoon. I should mention that it was made out of clouds and that in my pain, I took it as a sign of strength and solidarity with God because that is what it felt like to me.

Einstein stated the world of quantum physics was "spooky" and did not attempt to delve to deeply. Could one produce a dragon in their garage with the strength of their conviction or "faith?" Would a courtroom verdict such as one in 'Miracle on 34th Street' enable us to except the possibility of it's existence simply because a lawyer could not disprove it?

Pretty heady stuff, Serg. Gotta love Carl Sagan. Personally, the few experiences I've had with the paranormal were solidified by my physiological and emotional responses. Seeing things out of the corner of one's eye is normal. Feeling your heart beat accelerate, getting tingly all over, having the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and, my personal favorite, feeling like your about to wet your pants, literally. Add in the image of "it" that keeps popping up in your mind to the point of obsession. Then there is that skeptic friend who looks at you with a pale face and eyes ready to bulge out of their sockets. You know that buddy with Popeye like forearms that is on the verge of tears and can't form a coherent sentence. That pretty much cinched it for me. "D-d-d-id choo see..." "Yeah, dude, I did."

Does a dragon exist in your garage? I don't know, but I am willing to take a look and I'll be honest about how close I am to peeing my pants.