A Grain of Salt

I’ve mentioned the case of Spring-Heeled Jack in the past.  The story was more than just a curiosity in England during the 19th century, it was a well known news story. Spring-Heeled Jack’s appearance was said to be strange, including red eyes, a pale face, tall and gaunt.  He slashed at his victims with just his fingers, but was able to shred their clothes and tear their skin.  However, the most amazing part of the Spring-Heeled Jack story is that he was able to jump very high, once over a house, hence the nickname.  Was he a madman with an invention?  A demonic being sent to terrorize citizens of England?  Some other creature that we have yet to discover?  No one really knows because he wasn’t caught.

Furthermore, we are left with the words of the “victims” and the newspaper articles as our only source… Did it even really happen?

All odd stories, like the case of Spring-Heeled Jack should be taken with a grain of salt.  Meaning a little skepticism doesn’t hurt.  The story could have been completely made up to sell newspapers or the description of Jack and his escapes could have been exaggerated by real, terrified victims.  Or it could have actually happened, just as the reports said it did.

Being skeptical and being closed-minded are two very different things though.  Skeptics are open to logical arguments and facts that might persuade them to change their opinion.  Like the case of Spring-Heeled Jack, most skeptics think the attacks were real, but either Jack’s description was exaggerated unintentionally by victims who thought he was the devil or by newspaper men trying to sell papers.  They’re also willing to entertain the notion, that to some degree, he did spring away, but probably not over a house.  It’s quite possible that Jack was an average guy who was tall and thin and scary looking with some sort of spring-loaded shoes (yes, things like that do crop up from time to time from the minds of geniuses and usually do not serve much purpose or gain any exposure so they fade from public – see flying saucer prototype) that helped him escape faster than the average person.

Being closed-minded says only one thing happened: the stories are fake -either by the victims or newspapers, it doesn’t matter because it didn’t happen.  This is a dangerous position to hold because there is no fact that will ever change that person’s mind and therefore, they refuse to believe real possibilities.

The most famous case of closed-mindedness clouding someone’s judgment is actually pretty interesting.  Until the 1900s, people in Europe and the US did not believe the panda existed.  A rather famous American biologist was given a panda hide and proclaimed it was a hoax.  Even after seeing a live panda in the 1910s, he refused to believe it was a real animal and declared that the fur had been dyed.  He maintained that stance until he died in the 1930s and we now realize that pandas are indeed real, although rare.

We discover new things all the time; whether it be a new state of matter (such as Jahn-Teller metals) or animals (like the lesula which is a type of monkey discovered in the Congo in 2010).  The basis for everything we know started out as a story or a theory or a leap of logic, being skeptical is fine, not every UFO is an alien visitor, but being close-minded, no UFO is an alien visitor, removes not just the mystery that still surrounds us, but a person’s ability to appreciate that mystery and to grow as a person.

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