Occam’s Razor and Marfa Lights

Occam’s Razor, according to Wikipedia, “is a principle that generally recommends selecting the competing hypothesis that makes the fewest new assumptions, when the hypotheses are equal in other respects. For instance, they must both sufficiently explain available data in the first place.” We will examine Occam’s Razon as it relates to the short post by Richard Connelly, on the Houston Press blog: “Marfa Lights Solved!! It’s A Giant Bird.”

First, Connelly’s post was very short, about six sentences, none of which has any reasoning. He does not reason but only makes fun of an idea, the idea that Marfa Lights are from bioluminescent flying creatures. He does not mention “bioluminescent” but that post must surely have been elicited by the press release “Unmasking a Flying Predator in Texas,” which promotes the idea that nocturnal glowing flying creatures PROBABLY cause the more mysterious dancing lights around Marfa, Texas. In that press release, as I recall, the word “pterosaur” is used as a possible explanation, with a more assertive word, something like “probable,” applied to a general concept of unknown bioluminescent flying predators.

Occam’s Razor does not apply for two reasons, the first of which is this: From Connelly’s perspective, we are not comparing hypotheses that are of generally equal value in explaining something. Previous to his exposure to this new Marfa Lights explanation of nocturnal predators, he probably had no idea that anybody was investigating possible bioluminescent pterosaurs living in modern times. Therefore, to him, it seemed an absurd proposition, compared to the apparent conclusion of a group of physics students who had observed car headlights near Marfa, Texas, for a few nights.

But that is a small technicality of language. The weightier matter consists of comparing how competing explanations fit characteristics of the CE-III mystery lights that a few scientists have observed and analyzed over a number of years. Car headlights are irrelevant here, a fact entirely overlooked by Connelly. Not all lights around Marfa, Texas, are from night mirage effects of car headlights. Any train, meteor, ranch-house light, campfire, and flashlight can appear mysterious under some conditions. Those students never came close to proving that all lights called “mysterious” around Marfa, Texas, come from car headlights.

In “Part Two” of James Bunnell’s book Hunting Marfa Lights, one section is labeled “What Are Chemical-Electromagnetic MLs?” (ML stands for mystery lights.) He examines four hypotheses, giving “pro” and “con” for each. I now summarize the “con” of these four, mostly in my own words. Before proceeding, keep in mind that CE-III is only one variation of Chemical-Electromagnetic mystery lights. They are the sub-type-three that travel across the countryside, above bushes but below the background mesas.

Hypothesis 1: Byproducts of Solar Storms

Solar wind is a plasma, particle streams of ionized hydrogen and helium shooting away from the sun at over a million miles per hour. Our planet’s magnetic field protects our atmosphere from this constant bombardment, fortunately, but the solar wind reshapes that magnetic field, making the sunlit side thin and the dark side of earth much deeper. Bunnell suggests that since this high altitude interaction between the earth’s magnetosphere and solar wind causes Northern Lights and Southern Lights, perhaps it might cause CE lights, or at least be part of a larger picture.

There’s a major problem with this hypothesis, recognized and explained by Bunnell: The sun’s coronal mass ejections (CME’s) do not correlate with sightings of CE mystery lights around Marfa. I see this as an insurmountable problem.

Hypothesis 2: Plasma Descending from the Inner Van Allen Belt

This is complex, so if you’re interested read Hunting Marfa Lights, pages 176-179. It has several problems, and Bunnell says, at the end, “This hypothesis appears unlikely to be correct.” I agree, for there are too many problems with that hypothesis.

Hypothesis 3: Liberation of Pyrophoric Chemicals

Bunnell mentions that pyrophoric chemicals involve “autoignition of a single chemical whenever it comes into contact with oxygen in the atmosphere.” That would seem to explain repeated on-off states of the CE Marfa Lights. He admits the serious problem that appears when we examine the type-three, however, for those mystery lights travel cross-country into the wind. Some of those flights—I say “flights” but Bunnell seems to prefer “travel”—he admits are of “long duration and long range” and involve replenishment during those long trips across country. I agree with Bunnell that this pyrophoric hypothesis “does not stretch far enough to account for the full range of observed ML behaviors.”

Hypothesis 4: Electromagnetic Vortexes

To be precise, here is the heading: “MLs are electromagnetic vortexes that burn chemicals to produce light.” It really requires reading Bunnell’s book, pages 181-187. Perhaps this is, at present, the best non-living explanation. But Bunnell admits “this hypothesis is my speculation.” Although it he believes it best fits “the entire range of Type CE characteristics,” we need to keep “best fit” in context: All other non-living explanations fail.

Hypothesis #4 requires a combination of energetic vortexes and combustion of chemicals that are emitted from the ground. Both of them are speculative, yet both are necessary for this to work. I appreciate Bunnell’s research in the field and the potential that this part of southwest Texas may have for unusual geology. Of course we may yet see new discoveries involving vortexes and gas venting. But I agree with his admission that this hypothesis is speculative. I doubt that it has sufficient basis for considering it a mature hypothesis.

Applying Occam’s Razor

Isaac Newton said that “we are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” Perhaps a definition more popular to modern scientists would be something like this: “when comparing two competing theories or hypotheses that make the same predictions, the simpler one is given priority.” That does not mean we should automatically flush down the loser. We simply give more time and attention to the winner.

We now apply Occam’s Razor, comparing Bunnell’s Hypothesis #4 with the “nocturnal flying predators” hypothesis. Both of them seem to account for the ME-III events, so let us see which is simpler.

Bunnell’s H-4 requires two questionable things to interact. The bioluminescent-nocturnal-flying-predators hypothesis, “BNFP,” involves a questionable element, flying creatures not classified in biology, and an unquestionable element, prey such as bats, snakes, mice, and other small living things in southwest Texas. Of course, a predator need not always be hunting. They sometimes mate and compete for mates. Some predators even play. To the best of my knowledge, these aspects of group-predator behaviors can account for all the CE-III lights and more. The simplicity award goes to BNFP.

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Return of the Marfa Lights

It seems easy for some Americans to imagine a modern pterosaur living in some remote jungle in Papua New Guinea. It’s not so easy to imagine one in the United States. But reports of living pterosaurs here in North America keep coming to my attention, and those strange flying Marfa Lights keep returning. Strange as it may seem to most people in this country, there seem to be a number of scientifically unknown animals in North America, and the ropen, even a long-tailed pterosaur, may be one of them.

A web page called “Marfa Light Miracle” mentions a sighting by James Bunnell, author of Hunting Marfa Lights:

“Soon after dark we saw two strange lights . . . These lights pulsed independently and seemed to follow a randomly timed sequence that, in most cases, went from dark to relatively dim, flared to a higher level of brightness, then dimmed and eventually went out. Sometimes both lights would be on at the same time.”

I know I have written about Marfa Lights before, so I’ll refer to those postings:

Are Marfa Lights Nocturnal Scavengers?

Could Marfa Lights be nocturnal flying scavengers? . . . bats are unlikely to be about during the colder winter nights, and some of the stranger Marfa Lights are seen on some of those nights.

Scientific Skepticism and Marfa Lights

To be fair to Mr. Dunning, we need to remember that some of these sighting reports are quite strange: flying lights that seem to fly in ways related to each other. These flights are too complex–I believe “complex” is the word used by James Bunnell–to be easily explained as an ordinary phenomenon. But the strange reactions some person might have to consuming alcohol does not mean that all strange experiences should be dismissed with “whiskey.” . . . not-yet-explained things may exist.

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More Recent Sighting Reports of Pterosaurs

The sightings themselves are not all recent, but the reports are

“Pterodactyl” in California

Well, I think it rather obvious what people mean when they describe the wings of a flying creature as like those of a bat: The wings have no feathers. The “long woolly tail” is interesting, perhaps meaning the creature’s tail had hair; some pterosaur fossils show evidence of hair. Is was obviously no bat, being described as the size of a horse.

New Pterosaur Sightings

North Carolina and Spain have had sightings, as indicated in this post.

New Zealand Pterosaurs

One or more species of pterosaur may live in New Zealand. Even though it is more than a thousand miles from Australia, where many eyewitnesses have seen apparent modern pterosaurs, those creatures would have little difficulty crossing that distance, over a number of centuries.

 “She became aware of a little creature sitting next to her,” but gave it little attention at first. She thought it to be just a small green bird with a long tail. When it became noisy, she tried to shoo it away, whereupon the creature bit her finger, spread its leathery wings, and flew away.

Pterosaurs in Canada

In British Columbia, to be specific.

The creature was larger than any bird the eyewitness had ever before seen. It had a long tail “with something on the end of it just like the Ropen. Then I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked at the wings and they weren’t feathers, they were like huge bat wings.”

Another sighting mentioned there, was in the Cariboo area of British Columbia.

Significance of Recent Reports

I think that new sighting reports strongly support the work of cryptozoologist who believe in modern pterosaurs. If large pterosaurs live anywhere on the planet, in modern times, they should live all over the planet, should they not? How can they be confined to any one island? Recent reports support this: Those flying cryptids, I say “cryptids” because they are not yet acknowledged in traditional scientific culture, are now reported in various countries around the globe.

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A Real Pterosaur in Pennsylvania

I refer to the blog post “Pennsylvania Pterosaur

What caught my attention to this sighting was the obvious rebuttal to the model-pterodactyl-misidentification suggestion that I occasionally read about. There is no mechanical model, of a pterosaur, that catches and eats ducks or rats. Let me explain with reference to this apparent pterosaur in Pennsylvania, quoting from both the Live Pterosaur blog mentioned and the source for that posting on that blog.

In 2006 myself and two of my students were standing outside of my karate school. My school was located on route 119 . . . In Southwest Greensburg PA. This is by no means a rural area.

I noticed a large black bird in the sky. . . . I observed it for about two minutes as it flew towards us very slowly (it seemed slow) until it was maybe another 50 feet away from the tree line . . .  Being that far up the “birds” body still appeared to be much larger than my 100 pound dog (wider and longer).

I called my students attention to it and they were both instantly mesmerized. The wing span appeared to be at least six feet . . . you could clearly make out a long “horn” or “cone” type protrusion coming out of the back of its skull, which was at the end of an elongated neck . . .

This “bird” also seemed to have a long tail . . . As it was almost directly over us we all agreed we couldn’t see feathers anywhere and my student Carrie said “It looks like pterodactyl . . .  doesn’t it?”

It flew over top us and landed in the water behind the school. It was like city run off or whatever and was in a concrete ravine about 15 feet deep [the water itself is shallow] . . .

We could here it splashing around, and Carrie ran around the building to see it. There are always ducks in that water as well as rats and other things. When she came back . . . she said it had taken off, Carrie said it was in the water splashing and eating or grabbing something in its mouth.

No mechanical model would dive into a pool of water, grab an animal or bird, and fly away with the meal in its mouth. But before setting aside the subject of misidentified models airplanes or model gliders, in the shapes of pterosaurs, I refer to the 1944 “pterodactyl” sighting by Duane Hodgkinson. In that sighting, the flying creature with a wingspan of a Piper Tri-Pacer could not have been a man-made model.

I could go on with other sightings but let this suffice: model pterosaurs have no relevance to many critical sighting reports. Critics needs to be more careful before commenting.

Pterosaur Misidentification in Cuba?

“I saw two pterosaurs . . . flying together . . . perhaps 100 feet [high], very close in range from where I was standing, so that I had a perfectly clear view of them.

Eskin Kuhn, a talented artist, drew a sketch of the two pterosaurs, soon after observing them. Misidentification is unlikely, since he was in close range of them and there was no obstruction, and they were very unlike any bird or bat.

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Pterosaurs in British Columbia, Canada

Canada might seem too cold, in winter, for flying pterosaurs, but British Columbia, at least, seems to have them, at least sometimes. Regarding the following two sightings, I don’t know if either one was of a living pterosaur, but I believe it likely enough that they should be examined for that possibility, in light of the many sighting reports from the U.S.A.

From the Blog “Live Pterosaur”

A lady in British Columbia saw what she thinks was a ropen. She told me, ”I don’t know what else it could have been. . . . I understand that the Ropen is nocturnal but I saw this creature during the day about 2:30 pm so maybe i’m wrong . . .”

The creature was larger than any bird the eyewitness had ever before seen. It had a long tail “with something on the end of it just like the Ropen. Then I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked at the wings and they weren’t feathers, they were like huge bat wings.”

From “abovetopsecret.com”

When the eyewitness was about ten or twelve years old, his (or her) family was taking a camping trip in the Cariboo area of British Columbia.

As we drove along the highway, I saw something fly by, like three cars distance away. . . . Small parrot-like head, same body, but the one I saw had a long tail with a circular tail flap thing on the end.

I know that these two sighting accounts in British Columbia, Canada, are brief accounts. But they do seem to fit into the larger picture of pterosaur sightings in North America.

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New Zealand Pterosaurs

New Zealand Flying Slasher

A recent post on the blog Pterosaur Eyewitness, titled “Misidentification,” refers to the “New Zealand Flying Slasher.” The post deals with the potential for misidentifying common things as modern pterosaurs, and this sub-category brings up the concept that those flying “reptiles” may live in New Zealand. Whitcomb refutes both the misidentified bat concept and the misidentified eagle concept.

What interests me is the concept that one or more species of pterosaur may live in New Zealand. Even though it is more than a thousand miles from Australia, where many eyewitnesses have seen apparent modern pterosaurs, those creatures would have little difficulty crossing that distance, over a number of centuries. With each deathly failure of a wandering flyer, another wanderer would follow, with some of them eventually succeeding in crossing that stretch of ocean.

Another Report of Pterosaurs in New Zealand

Someone with the pen name “Undeadskeptic” did some research and uncovered several accounts that suggest pterosaurs may live in New Zealand. No references are given for those stories, but I found it interesting that the one doing the research and reporting all those potential sightings is a skeptic. I refer to those stories that interest me the most.

“The bird that bit Catherine” involves a child who was reading while sitting on a fence. “She became aware of a little creature sitting next to her,” but gave it little attention at first. She thought it to be just a small green bird with a long tail. When it became noisy, she tried to shoo it away, whereupon the creature bit her finger, spread its leathery wings, and flew away. She then realized how unusual it was and ran to tell her father that she had seen a “dinosaur.” I think that story deserves looking into.

Another account reported by “Undeadskeptic” involves a man and his wife who, in 1981, witnessed one of their pigs, a large piglet, being attacked by a “bat-like” creature with a “long beak.” The farm animal died and the flying creature flew away.

Report Your Sighting

Should anyone in New Zealand have a pterosaur sighting to report, I would advise that person to report the sighting to Jonathan Whitcomb through the email form of Live Pterosaur. I give the same advice regardless of the country involved.

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Marfa Lights, Ghost Lights

I cannot emphasize enough the importance or avoiding simplistic evaluations and careless classifying of mysterious lights. Marfa Lights of type CE-III move unlike hunting barn owls and unlike car headlights. Some of the ghost lights in the United States do behave like hunting barn owls. Whether future discoveries reveal a species of bioluminescent pterosaur causes Marfa Lights or some other nocturnal flying predator causes them, we cannot at this time expect those mysterious lights to be caused by Tyto Alba, the barn owl.

Even the term “Min Min” has a vague reference. I look to the writings of the Australian expert Fred Silcock, who has researched, for years, the wandering lights of Australia, the lights that act like hunting barn owls and have been observed to be that bird, called “Great Owl” in that land. The important question to ask and ask again, as long as we evaluate strange lights, is this: How does a particular like act? If it flies like a barn owl might fly while hunting, it is probably a barn owl with intrinsic bioluminescence, according to the research of Mr. Silcock.

Intelligent meaning to the light movements is difficult to calculate. People just have a way of feeling something is behind those Marfa Lights. They sometimes call them “dancing devils” or some other silly thing. But they sense something or someone intelligent is causing those particular flight patterns, the light splitting and light rejoining, in a sort of dance.

Let’s reason this out, this idea that ghost lights are actually ghosts, that Marfa Lights are from spirits of the dead who come to this part of Texas to glow and fly around. Assuming ghosts regularly make bright light, which I do not believe, why would they fly over those empty fields around Marfa, Texas? If there were something about a location that attracted ghosts, would it not be a specific location like a house? Why do CE-III Marfa Lights fly over such a large area?

Along this line of literal ghost lights, why would they be gone for weeks at a time? Why such a long time between brief appearances? CE-III mysery lights only show themselves for about one or two nights at a time, thereafter vanishing for weeks. Does not that better fit the behavior of roaming predators?

I would not place too much confidence in the Whitcomb hypothesis of bat hunting. The Marfa Lights, as predators, may on occasion hunt bats. But their diet probably consists of other things, even carrion. But Marfa Lights, regardless of the idea of ghost lights, act like living intelligent predators, not like dead ghosts.

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Are Marfa Lights Nocturnal Scavengers?

Vultures scavenge in daylight. Could Marfa Lights be nocturnal flying scavengers? I don’t mean to put down the bat hunting hypothesis, regarding the splittings and rejoinings that may have given rise to the comment from residents about “dancing devils.” That may have a place, during seasons when bats are about around Marfa, Texas; details are available where the press release on Marfa Light Predator is published online. But bats are unlikely to be about during the colder winter nights, and some of the stranger Marfa Lights are seen on some of those nights.

Since the kongamato of Africa and the ropen of Papua New Guinea are known to scavenge at least on some nights, according to some reports, similar modern pterosaurs could do the same in North America. At least this could be used as a working hypothesis.

Marfa Lights and Science

The results of that analysis might appear more like science fiction than science: nocturnal biolumionescent flying predators that might be related to ropens, even if that means a living pterosaur interpretation. Nevertheless, when extinction dogma is set aside, there is nothing unscientific about the hypothesis that Marfa Lights are caused by the bioluminescence of flying predators.

Marfa Light, How Bright!

The distance from start point to end point was, according to Bunnell’s triangulation calculations, eleven miles, and the time of travel was eighteen minutes. That makes the average speed about 37 mph, assuming a straight flight, which it seems to have been. That speed is critical to the reasoning that follows.

Some birds can fly 37 miles per hour, but most do not fly that fast, at least not for long. Barn owls are not known for flying straight for many miles, even if one of them could keep up a pace of 37 mph. But the ropen of Papua New Guinea is said to fly “faster than birds but slower than airplanes.”

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Another “Pterodactyl” in California

I’m not yet finished with the subject of Marfa Lights in Texas, but they can be set aside, I suppose, for a moment. We have another report, from the Facebook Group “Living Pterosaurs.” It’s not new news, coming from a 2007 article in The Signal of the Santa Clarita Valley; but the original report is much older, a Los Angeles Times article about sightings in the 1880’s. I don’t yet have the Times article, but I’ll quote from The Signal.

The creature, according to Lyon, was “as big as a horse, had wings like an oversize bat, big bulgy eyes the size of mushmelons that glowed like Southern Pacific headlights, and a long, woolly tail.”

Well, I think it rather obvious what people mean when they describe the wings of a flying creature as like those of a bat: The wings have no feathers. The “long woolly tail” is interesting, perhaps meaning the creature’s tail had hair; some pterosaur fossils show evidence of hair. Is was obviously no bat, being described as the size of a horse.

I am open to reports of flying lights in California, if there is any possibility that the lights may be from a bioluminescent flying creature. Anyone have anything to report?

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Halo CME’s and Marfa Light CE-III’s

James Bunnell, author of Hunting Marfa Lights, seems to have made an objective evaluation of the conjecture that the earth’s magnetosphere may be related to ML’s (mystery lights near Marfa, Texas). On pages 173-176, he goes into detail, and explains how halo CME’s, violent solar wind slamming into the magnetosphere, have no relationship to the appearances of ML’s, during a period of about seven and a half years. He admits that there is no direct relationship between the two. I see no problem with his analysis here.

That leaves open the perspective that biology may be involved, in particular through intrinsic bioluminescence of flying predators of high intelligence in their hunting techniques.

For more information on the solar wind, magnetosphere, and relevant comparison with the biological possibility, see “Marfa Lights – From Magnetosphere or Pterosaurs?

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