Friday, November 3, 2023

#2699: Loren Coleman

Note: We messed up the alphabetical order here, but we had already written up this one and it’s likely that there will be some time before we get back around to this spot in the alphabet, so here we go.


Loren Coleman is a full-fledged and somewhat legendary pseudoscientist and cryptozoologist, and a writer on a range of (allegedly) paranormal phenomena. His earliest work is heavily suffused with appeals to New Age magic – Coleman was a major promoter of the psychic projection hypothesis – though his more recent work tends to try to offer instead less quasi-religious and magical interpretation of various nonsense (primarily cryptozoology), without being at all closer to taking any reasonable, evidence-based approach. Coleman is sometimes viewed as a person of some authority in certain pseudoscience groups insofar as he has legitimate academic credentials – never mind that his academic background is in social work rather than anything remotely relevant to the pseudoscientific claims he is making. He has been featured in numerous TV series dedicated to unsolved mysteries and cryptozoology run by the familiar promoters of pseudoscience and alternative facts such as History Channel, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, and is also the founder of a Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.


Coleman’s early, 1970s work, such as the books The Unidentified: Notes Toward Solving the UFO Mystery and Creatures of the Outer Edge (both with Jerome Clark), was largely responsible for, in Coleman’s own word, “the amalgamation of Bigfoot and UFOs”. In particular, Coleman suggested that UFOs, poltergeists, yetis and other “manimals” and what have you were to be explained by virtue of psychokinesis: human thought, according to Coleman, would sometime manifest itself as physical phenomena – “borderline phenomena”, in Coleman’s terminology – in the world: “Whatever the source may be its signals must be filtered though human consciousness and perception, which shape the manifestations to conform to certain archetypal forms that are both strange and yet oddly familiar to us. Strange because they appear supernatural or extraterrestrial, but familiar because, in a sense, we have created them,” said Coleman and Clark. The mechanism by which this would work was of course left largely unexplained, so the hypothesis wouldn’t have been much of an explanation even if the target phenomena to be explained – physical UFOs, yetis and other “manimals”, and ghosts – had existed, which they don’t; calling the explanatory attempt “pseudoscientific” is accordingly somewhat, well, charitable; “incoherent nonsense” is probably more accurate. Reality-oriented commentators were not impressed.


As mentioned, Coleman’s more recent work tends to eschew appeals to magic; unfortunately, they aren’t much less ridiculous for that. Though he official rejects the “believer” label regarding Bigfoot, Coleman’s book Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America (2003) does, rather unambiguously, state that “One day Bigfoot will be recognised as a living creature” and he bases his case mostly on the familiar Patterson–Gimlin film, the Minnesota Iceman, footprint casts, (alleged) eyewitness testimony, and no actual evidence. His 1999/2006 book (with Patrick Huyghe) The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide is reviewed here. Coleman apparently also believes in the Loch Ness Monster.


Diagnosis: According to commentators, Coleman knows how to spin a yarn, but that’s no reason to take any of the nonsense he spews seriously. He remains something of an authority in groups devoted to motivated reasoning about the paranormal, however, where the null hypothesis “maybe we’re wrong” is never taken particularly seriously.


Hat-tip: rationalwiki

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