11/09/2012 | Share this article: View CommentsBy SilverMarten ~
If you were a friend of mine and if I were to tell you this, you may be inclined to think that something is wrong with me. Perhaps I am making some sort of joke about the recent Harry Potter movie or maybe I have said that statement as some sort of obscure metaphor. Surely it is not likely that I would have a mythical bird in my possession. It is unheard of for someone with a sane mind to say that they own such a thing. But let's say you are open to the possibility. Firebirds are quite common in mythology and folklore. They may exist in some form and here is an opportunity to discover them.
You ask, "Can you prove it?"
I lead you into my house and walk upstairs to the master bedroom. What is there is pretty standard: A large bed, a lamp, a television set, and perhaps a big movie poster hanging on the wall. However, there is no sign of the supposed phoenix. There is not even as much as a birdcage.
"Where is it," you ask. "Where is the phoenix you've told me about?"
"Oh, she's right here." I point my finger at an empty corner of the room. "I forgot to tell you that she's invisible."
At this point, most people would think that I have gone mad or at least playing a cruel practical joke. Let us suppose that you are still open to my claim. If the phoenix is invisible, that does not leave out any other possible ways to detect it. You walk over to the corner and wave your hand. You feel nothing but air.
"I forgot to mention that she is not made of solid matter. She's made of a gas you can't feel." I say.
You decide to make some whistling and chirping noises, hoping to entice a song out of it.
"That's not a bad idea, but she can't sing."
You pull out a thermal camera that you just happen to have with you, hoping to detect some sort of heat signature.
"She doesn't emit heat either."
For the next few minutes, you try out every possible physical test you can perform and every time they fail to yield results, I counter with a special explanation.
The question I ask is: What is the difference between an invisible, intangible heat-less phoenix who cannot sing and a phoenix that isn't there at all? If any test you perform yields no results, no explanation I can give would prove the existence of my phoenix. Special pleading does not count as evidence.
Assuming that you are still open to the possibility of my claim, you are inclined to ask, "If the phoenix is invisible and intangible, how do you know what it looks like? If you and I cannot detect it in any way, how do you know that this thing is a phoenix and not a dragon or a unicorn?"
I simply reply, "Because I just know it is a phoenix. I 'believe' that it is a phoenix."
Again, this is special pleading but there is an element to this answer that is worth noting. I have unintentionally suggested that no matter what manner or amount of scrutiny you give me, I will still state my claim as true because I merely wish it to be true. In spite of the lack of evidence and that whatever explanations I have give no definition to any conceivable thing, let alone a phoenix, I will still remain convicted.
Right now, you are probably convinced that something is truly wrong with me and you may be concerned for my mental health. I couldn't be making it up or have imagined it because I am taking it so seriously and personally. Why would I be so convinced of this despite the lack of evidence? Is it possible that there may be some sort of truth to what I am saying?
But let's say that I am not the only one and that many other people in the neighborhood claim to have invisible and incorporeal firebirds sharing their living spaces. Since a belief of this nature would surely be noticed by the outside world, many of us phoenix-owners would have to provide some sort of proof in order to protect our names and image.
Suppose that some evidence is popping up from time to time. Some non-phoenix owners say that they have felt something when they stick their hand out into a corner, but that could easily have been a cobweb or a gust of wind. One phoenix owner claims to have caught the phoenix's call with a tape recorder and you can hear a strange birdsong you have never heard before. But again, there are other explanations to this. There are plenty of other birds who can sing strange songs.
In spite of our insistence, any evidence that we give is lousy at best. There is nothing we have presented that cannot be faked or misread. There is no evidence at all that support the idea that a species of mythical bird is living in our homes. This hypothesis would have to be discarded until future data explains what it is we phoenix-owners are experiencing. But let's suppose that in the face of much scrutiny, the phoenix belief not only continues, but grows exponentially. Over the course of a few years, tens of thousands of people in hundreds of towns and cities say that an invisible phoenix lives with them. Some phoenix-owners have a slightly differing view on their birds from others. For some, the plumage (despite being invisible) is blue instead of red. The birds sing different songs depending on the owner. Some believe that the birds can telepathically speak to them while others claim that their birds cannot. As the phoenix belief attracts more followers, so does the variation in those beliefs.
To try and make sense of this mass delusion, a few people, including myself, decide to write a book. In this book, several people and I have written down various things ranging from stories to poems to rules in order to create the Ultimate Truth regarding the Phoenixes. In may be revised over the course of several decades or even centuries, but it will be touted as the infallible truth. Most people will have taken it to heart, but not everyone agrees of course. The Book says that the birds have red feathers and anyone who says otherwise is a liar. The same can be said someone claims that their phoenix has telepathy when the Book clearly says they do not. Anything that is not in the Book is not part of the Truth.
Over the course of multiple generations, the Phoenix Belief has grown out of obscurity into a major system that has been ingrained into our culture. People begin wearing firebird symbols around their necks. Special buildings where people convene to discuss and compare their bird beliefs are being built. The word "phoenix" enters the common vernacular in reference to an intangible force that affects all humans. People judge, hurt and even kill one another over which phoenix is better than the other. Other nations are being pressured to adopt the Phoenix Belief at the risk of being invaded and destroyed. Anyone who disbelieves or even doubts the existences of the firebirds are to be punished or even put to death in some places. What was once an obscure and peculiar notion grows into a major force that has real consequences. And in spite of the millions of hypothetical believers, there is still no evidence of phoenixes living in people's bedrooms.
This is a purely hypothetical and highly unlikely scenario, but I suspect that the process in the creation of the Phoenix Belief is similar to that of the formation of real-world beliefs and notions. Typically, they would come out of obscurity in a form their contemporaries often refer to as weird or even cultish. Often, there is a special document or set of documents, usually seen as divine, which dictates how the followers should behave. If the belief system is lucky, it would grow in size and influence, convincing countless droves of people regardless of evidence and become a major force in people's lives. At this size and power, no amount of scientific analysis and scrutiny would convince the believers that they may be wrong.
I am aware that some components in today's belief systems are worth having such as love your neighbor, respect nature, don't try to be a prick, and so forth. However, much of what forms the foundations of these systems are often not practical everyday notions but stories and concepts of an almost mythical quality that is said to have created those notions. People must be careful not to let down their skepticism in favor of a notion that simply feels good. If such a notion makes people happy and beneficial to society, fine, but we should not claim such ideas as ultimate truth unless that truth is evident.
Now that all this has been said, I shall go and talk to my phoenix about cosmology, quantum mechanics, and world history.