Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Belief in monsters and Patagonian cryptozoology


Do people believe in monsters?

Yes, the do, and more than one would expect.

As children, when it is difficult so separate fantasy from reality, many of us may have feared a monster under our beds or hiding in our closet. Perhaps our parents promoted such beliefs, but nowadays (fortunately) parents are less prone to do so, according to a study: “Only between 5% and 10% [of parents] reported encouraging belief in dragons, witches, ghosts and monsters”.[1]


Monsters are scary things (found it on the web. Cute image)

Yet, as adults, even though we don’t fear monsters any more, we tend to be receptive to the idea of their existence. A survey done in 2005 by the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion [2] gave the following outcome to the question “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster will one day be discovered by science?

1) Strongly disagree .... 24.1%
2) Disagree ............... 32.2%
3) Undecided ............ 26.9%
4) Agree .................. 14.2%
5) Strongly agree ........ 2.7%

So roughly 17% of those surveyed agree that there are cryptids out there waiting to be discovered by science. Of course, another 56% believe the opposite while 27% don’t know.

Another survey [3] was conducted among UFOlogists at the 1983 MUFON Symposium in Pasadena California. This was of course a special survey because most people who take part of UFO meetings are “believers” in paranormal phenomena.
The outcome shows a greater quantity of people who “believe”.
The question was “Do you believe in…

And the answers were:
                                     no   yes   undecided
Loch Ness Monster ..... 13%   41%   46%
Bigfoot (Sasquatch).... 10%   38%   52%

So, why do people believe in monsters?

Saint Augustine thought that monsters were the way God chose to prove his power over nature, if he could defy the anatomical constraints and create prodigies and portents, then of course he could resurrect the dead. [4]

The Encyclopedia of Religion [5] indicates that there are many causes for this belief in monsters:

• Imagination: man’s endless imagination peopled the world around him with hydras and dragons, giants and elves.
• Dreams and hallucinations: probably fed the imagination.
• Reality:
    o unexplained predator beasts, that remained undetected.
    o extinct animals that our ancestors once met (i.e. megafaunal creatures).
    o Existing animals seen by their ancestors in their original
     habitat but unknown to their descendants in a new habitat
     (i.e. Maori’s giant lizard myths may refer to crocodiles in
     their former homeland).
    o Fossil remains uncovered by primitive people.
    o Abnormal or monstrous births of humans or animals.
    o Other savage tribes, mortal and brutal enemies that are morphed
      into monsters to make them even more sinister.

New, added December 21, 2010: Carl Jung's theory on a "collective unconscious" may also account for belief in monsters. See my post on it (Monsters, Cryptozoology and Genetic Memory).

An very good phrase that explains the universal cross-cultural apparition of monsters is that they are "born out of the unknown and nurtured by the unexplained" (Guenette and Guenette 1975).[6]

But in our era of science and enlightenment, of universal education, why are things still left “unexplained” and “unknown”?

Maybe we like to suspend our rational abilities, and “want to believe”. Perhaps it is nice and exciting to let out our deep hidden fears. “Monsters, for example, may intrigue us with their unknown aspect as well as provoke terror.”[6]

In other words, we believe in them because it thrills us more than the boring cold logic of science.

Personal comment.

I am an extremely rational person, with a thorough scientific formation. I “believe” that enlightenment and progress can only be attained through science and its by-products. I am not a religious person at all, I am an atheist.

I am aware that there are many phenomena that science has not explained yet. Also that many theories and “explanations” are complicated and difficult to understand. Most of cutting-edge science is beyond the grasp of the layman (i.e quantum mechanics, stem cell research, astrophysics, etc.).

So sometimes science becomes so obscure to the average person, that it requires an act of faith to believe in it. So why not believe in something apparently more reasonable, easier to understand?

It is "Occam’s razor" principle turned against science.

William of Occam was a prominent English philosopher of the 14th century, who stated that “non sunt Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem” which means Hypothesis should not be multiplied without reason, or, as commonly stated “The simplest explanation is likely to be the right one”.

Science often uses it to disprove pseudo scientific beliefs, such as UFOs:

A light in the sky is more likely an aeroplane or a planet, meteor or comet than a spacecraft piloted by extraterrestrials.
Because the first causes are natural, known and provable and reasonable while the second one requires the additional hypothesis of: the existence of intelligent extraterrestrials, their ability to build space ships that can jump across the vast chasms of interstellar space, that can fly into our airspace undetected by our radars, and so on. All of these additional hypothesis are also events with an extremely low probability and most cannot even be proved by science. They require a leap of faith.

It also attempts the same with cryptozoology, classing it with the paranormal pseudosciences. This is unfair.

In the realm of cryptozoology, if a group of people repeatedly state that they have seen some kind of strange animal in the forest, why not use Occam's razor? Why doubt the “simplest answer”? (the critter is there, in the forest). Why not look into it and try to find the creature? Why should science mock instead of investigating?

Belief in cryptozoolgy is not an act of faith, but a scientific process.

Patagonian cryptozoology.

Regarding Patagonia. Which is my personal field of interest, there are many factors to take into account in the process of cryptozoological research:

1. It is large, very large and scantily populated. With a surface area of over one million square kilometers (km2) or roughly 403,000 square miles (sq. mi.) it is equivalent to the combined areas of Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and the United Kingdom. Yet it is home to only two million people most of whom are concentrated in towns located on the coast or its northern and more temperate reaches.

This means that there is the chance that some cryptids have remained undetected by science.

2.It suffered some great ecological changes since the early 1900s that may have altered the habitat of many cryptids that appear in the natives’ myths, making it less likely to find these creatures.
  a. Sheep farming led to overgrazing on the steppe and altered the land available to other grazers.
  b.It also led to the over-hunting of puma and condor (considered predators of sheep and lambs).
  c. Cattle and horses introduced by the natives in the 1700s altered the forest environment and pushed the local deer (Huemul and Pudu Pudu) into less favorable environments.
  d. Hunting by “sportsmen” and farmers have placed both local deer close to extinction.
  e. Salmon and trout introduced into lakes and rivers have preyed on the local relict fish species reducing the Patagonian otter’s food source. Both endemic fish and otter are endangered.
  f. Beavers and European Red deer introduced into Patagonia have caused havoc in their habitat.
  g. Climate change and global warming affect the formation of glaciers and the downstream fertility due to lack of water.

All these factors could have endangered local cryptids and put them on the verge of extinction (if they have not become extinct already). Perhaps forcing them further into the inaccessible regions of the Patagonian Andes.

3. There have been many "wild goose chases" in Patagonia, based on wishful thinking and not on tough scientific facts (i.e. the plesiosaur, the living mylodon, etc.). These tend to make the skeptical even more skeptical.

4. There have also been several hoaxes and unreasonable belief in several cryptids that evidently do not exist (at least as portrayed in the media), such as the reptilian Nahuelito at Lake Nahuel Huapi. All of which support the skeptical's point of view.

So Patagonia is a very intriguing place, home to many interesting myths and folk-tales that may indicate the (current or former) existence of strange creatures.

In this blog we will post articles and excerpts from my coming book on this subject.


[1] Margaret E. Hertzig, Ellen A. Farber, (1998). Annual Progress in Child Psychiatry and Child Development. Psychology Press,. pp. 76 Citing Rosengren and Hickling (1994)
[2] Baylor survey results Here.
[3] UFOlogists 1983 survey Here.
[4] St. Augustine, City of God. Loeb Classical library. Harvard University Press pp. 56-58
[5] Hastings, J., Selbie, J., [Editor] (2003) Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Kessinger Publishing, 2003 Part 16. pp. 826-827
[6] Nickell, J., (2001) Tracking the Swamp Monsters. Skeptical Inquirer. July 1, 2001 No. 4, Vol. 25; Pg. 15. Citing: Guenette, Robert, and Frances Guenette, 1975. The Mysterious Monsters. Los Angeles, Calif.: Sun Classic Pictures.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

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