“Cryptozoology A to Z”, a handbook of either very elusive or very nonexistent creatures of legend, describes Bigfoot as “bulky and stocky, with an enormous barrel torso and a height, when mature, of six to nine feet. The creature has a small, pointed head, with no neck or forehead.” With that much to go on, how hard can it be to find this giant hairy primate running around in the woods of the Pacific Northwest? Apparently it’s very difficult because, despite decades of sightings, searching and promises from cryptozoologists, the big fellow is still a no show when it comes to scientific confirmation.
His apparent nonexistence aside, Bigfoot is still big. The Animal Planet network currently is running a series titled, “Finding Bigfoot” (spoiler alert: They don’t find Bigfoot). According to a 2006 Baylor University study, 16 percent of Americans think that Bigfoot is definitely true or probably true. That translates to millions of Americans and surely many more millions around the world who are Bigfoot believers. Why? Why are so many people convinced that this creature is real?
There are three primary sources of Bigfoot belief: (1) Eyewitnesses, (2) Footprints, and (3) 1967 Film footage claimed to be of Bigfoot. None of these holds up to scrutiny and skepticism. First of all, eyewitness accounts are interesting, worthy listening to and sometimes worthy of further investigation. But eyewitness accounts of seeing big hairy creatures in the woods are not enough on their own. There are known hairy creatures in the woods. They are called bears and they might account for some of these sightings. More importantly, however, we just can’t trust eyewitness accounts when it comes to extraordinary claims because it’s been shown over and over that honest, well-meaning people make mistakes about what they see. Magicians make their living off of the way human vision can be fooled. We do not actually see with anywhere near the accuracy and consistency that most people imagine we do. Worse, our memory works in a way that is far different from what most people assume. Our brains do not have a record and playback system. What happens is that our brains construct memories. In our head, past events are edited, spliced with other memories, and even embellished with other events that never happened. Given all of these pitfalls known to exist in all normal, healthy human brains, how can we trust an eyewitness account of something as unusual as a nine-foot non-human primate in North America? We need more evidence to back up the stories. We need hard evidence. So what about footprints?
Prints of gigantic ape/human feet would seem to be the perfect proof. Unfortunately, they are far from it. Fake prints made by the mischievous or the profit-minded have been exposed over and over in recent decades. Given all the hoaxing that has gone on, no prints can be trusted.
Finally, there is the famous Patterson film shot in northern California 1967. There is no way you haven’t seen at least a few seconds of on TV somewhere. It shows a lumbering “Bigfoot” stride by and then, as if on cue, glance back at the camera for the money shot. This film, obviously faked in my view, somehow continues to impress people today. What looks to me like a man in an ape suit is to others convincing proof that Bigfoot lives. Defenders of the film say that it could not possibly be a man in a suit because there were no such ape outfits of that quality in existence at the time. That doesn’t seem like very consistent thinking to me. They believe in the existence of Bigfoot but when it comes to the existence of an ape suit, they are too skeptical to bite. Furthermore, nothing in that film shows anything beyond the capabilities of Hollywood at the time. Two late 1960s films, “Planet of the Apes” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”, for example, included actors in ape makeup that was of far better quality than what’s seen in the Patterson film.
To be clear, I would love for Bigfoot to turn out to be real. It would be an exciting discovery and surely tell us more about our primate family. But there is no good reason to believe it until somebody produces a body—or at least a really long femur bone. There is also a common sense aspect to this. How could such a creature could avoid confirmation for so long, especially when more people are hiking and camping than ever in North America—virtually all of them with still cameras, video cameras or cell phone cameras? We should have numerous Bigfoot images by now to analyse, many in high-definition, no less. It just doesn’t add up.
My biggest problem with Bigfoot belief is that few believers account for population size. Assuming he’s not some magical immortal being, there can’t just be one Bigfoot that has been hiding behind redwood trees all these decades. There would have to be a viable breeding population. (Bigfeets?) In order to keep on keeping on, hundreds of them must be alive and reproducing. So there couldn’t be just one solitary animal that has been staying one step ahead of millions of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts; there must be several roaming clans of them out there eluding detection. Not likely.