Others

The podcast “See Something Say Something” which is a Muslim guy and his friends sitting around talking about what it’s like to be Muslim had an episode on Jinns. Everything about it was super fascinating. I was especially fascinated to learn that jinns have the same religions we do (or at least, I guess, some of them do) and that the troubles with jinn/human romances often have as much to do with the jinn being, say, Christian as they do with the jinn being, well, a being of smokeless fire. I guess you can overcome one difference or another, but both?

Anyway, I was really struck in listening to it how much the jinn sound like old-school fairies or land-spirits. Not exactly, of course, and fairies and land-spirits aren’t always exactly the same things either, but as a basic concept, there seems to be a wide-spread belief that we share the world with something very similar to us that is not us.

So, Monster Talk had a cross-over episode with some archaeology podcast and they were talking about fairies in general and this wide-spread belief that there are Other People living nearby. They traced it back to just-so stories about ancient graves and artifacts. Like, what we now know are neolithic burial mounds were understood as fairy mounds and stone-age tools were seen as fairy tools and basically, when people were like “Shoot, did you make this? I know I didn’t make this.” rather than seeing that someone who lived there long, long, long before them did, they chalked it up to fairies or some other sort of Other People.

To which I say, okay, fair enough.

That does explain the physical evidence.

But I kept waiting for the explanation of the similarity of eye-witness accounts. Why do accounts of these Other People being shape shifters or looking like seven-foot-tall three-dimensional shadows, or just like us, but very small, or living in villages near us or with us but invisible to us transcend so many different cultures? Even if we have different names for them and different explanations for them, the accounts of what we see are very similar.

And it seems to me that this means we’re all seeing something. I’d like to hear some ideas about what. I’m even very fine with them being mundane, boring ideas. Like we already know humans are primed to see faces in things and hear voices in random noises. So, could there be a really straight-forward biological explanation for the Other People? Like some known physical or psychological response that we’re interpreting as being outside us?

I mean, as much as I like to believe in spooky stuff, the similarity of beliefs about the actions of these Other People does make me think it has to be something in us.

I mean, think of it this way–historically, there have been a million ways to form households. People from one culture come across people from another culture with vastly different household set-ups and they don’t know how to understand what they’re seeing.

But they come across people eating, even if they don’t know the rituals or taboos at play, they can still say, “Those people eat.”

Some of our very basic biological functions are recognizable across all cultures. If you find something shared across most cultures, it’s usually because there’s some enormous biological component to it. Something we all have to deal with. We have rituals for dealing with death because everyone dies. Even if you’ve only ever fucked in the missionary position with your eyes mostly closed, the Kama Sutra might blow your mind, but it’s not going to be unrecognizable to you.

Maybe I’m not getting at this with the exact clarity I want, but it seems obvious to me that if you have similar descriptions of something across very different cultures either they all have to be seeing the same thing outside them or they have to be having some kind of ubiquitous physiological or psychological experience that they’re interpreting as happening outside them.

Since we mostly agree that there aren’t really any such thing as fairies, what is happening here?

Like, for instance, here’s something I wondered. We know that our eyes don’t see everything we think we see–that each eye has a blind spot and that our brain and our other eye compensate for it. But what shape is that blind spot? Is it a narrow, tall oval? Could there be times when our brain just doesn’t bother to make up what’s in the blind spot and instead just interprets the lack of input as a tall, humanoid shadow out in the world instead of a small spot of nothing inside our eye?

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