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File this under "Pet Peeves" / Ramblin' 'bout the paranormal

I was listening to a spoooooooky story on a podcast the other day, and something really rubbed me the wrong way.  The story-teller invoked a trope that's one of my biggest pet peeves.  A phrase that should be banned from all discussion:

"What other explanation could there possibly be?"

It was dropped into a paranormal context, essentially framing the tale of a haunting as being definitively caused by a ghost rather than, oh, literally anything else.  And it came at the tail end of a lot of poo-pooing of more mundane explanations as to why all the creepy stuff was happening: "There was nobody else in the house, there weren't any open windows, and even if there were, it wasn't a windy day, etc."

So, according to the storyteller, if a mundane explanation isn't immediately obvious, the only possible conclusion is ghosts.  Sigh.  Y'see, this right here is where the skeptical part of me that enjoys a good debunking aligns perfectly with the creative part of me that enjoys a good tall tale.

The mindset that there could "only" be one explanation, one answer, one cause, is in fact the whole reason that skepticism exists in the first place.  Skeptics don't like to look at the world in extremes.  We don't like to lock our answers in stone and say, "This is definitely the answer and it cannot be challenged."  We like the flexibility of being wrong because we usually are.  So we ask questions and we demand evidence.  The more clear evidence you can provide, the more we're able to accept it as being correct, until eventually we say, "Ah, that's enough, we'll go ahead and just accept that as the truth until something new comes along."  We always leave room for alternatives - as long as there's evidence.

And from a creative standpoint, having only one choice is boring.  As a writer and creative type, I hate the idea that you're locked into one track, one path, one route.  I tell stories because I want to go in new directions and try new things.  I'm not opposed to a familiar story if it's done well, but the things that attract me are the strange and unexpected.  If you said that ghosts are the only possible explanation, well, why bother?  You're giving away the ending.  "Ghosts are real, there's one here.  Welp.  Thanks for reading, I guess."  Ghosts are a punchline, not a premise.

Hell, you don't even have to stick with mundane explanations.  Why not aliens?  Why not gremlins?  Why not a miniature black hole?  Why not time travelers who showed up, did spooky shit, and then immediately zapped back into a portal to the future?  If you're going to go the supernatural route, then you might as well suggest all the options.

I think this is the thing a lot of people misunderstand about skepticism, especially when it comes to story-telling.  Folks like me - those who get misrepresented in movies as stuffy atheists who hate joy and seek to disprove things just to ruin the protagonist's fun - aren't looking for boring answers.  We just want earned answers.  If it's real life, we want those answers to be grounded with evidence.  If it's a story, we want those answers to be challenging.  What we don't want is the easy way out.

"What other explanation could there possibly be?" is one of the biggest cop-outs you'll ever hear.  It's an admission that you've given up, that you're too lazy to try other options.  It's just one big closed door rather than the invitation that good literature hands out.  It ranks up there with the "It was all a dream!" ending.

And I'm just talking about fiction so far.  Hearing this in real life?  Ugh.  Talk about punchable moments.

I put this out there as unsolicited advice to anybody who's writing a horror story.  Never close those doors.  Take the skeptical approach.  Your story doesn't have to be grounded in fact - you can make it as wild and paranormal as you want.  Put in all the ghosts you like.  But don't pigeonhole your readers.  Give them the room to consider everything.  Your reader's speculation, their uncertainty, their tension?  That's the whole point.