Memoirs and Ivory-billed Woodpeckers: Altered Realities
In the following paragraphs, I highlight a few things about fraudulent memoirs—which reveal something about our human psyches—that seem to have a connection to purported sightings of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. All of the quotations that follow are taken directly from Mendelsohn's article.
"One of the most interesting defenses of memoirs that turn out to be 'enhanced' or downright invented is that they accurately reflect a reality present not in the world itself, . . ., but in the author's mind." In other words, the mere process of believing something, no matter how outlandish, makes it true.
In defending what was later revealed to be a fraudulent memoir, one author is reported to have said, "It is not the actual reality—it was my reality."
"The seemingly pervasive inability on the part of both authors and readers to distinguish their truth from the objective truth [emphases added] is nothing new in the history of . . . literature." Perhaps the same can be said of some "scientists" and the literature they publish.
"When readers defended . . . [the author of a fraudulent memoir] on the ground that his book, however falsified its 'memories' were, had nonetheless (as he had hoped) provided them with the genuine uplift they were looking for, they were really defending fiction; an uplifting entertainment that can tell truths but cannot tell the truth."
Reacting to the discovery that some of the events in a memoir describing government atrocities against indigenous Guatemalans had not happened in the way related by the author, one sympathetic college professor proclaimed, in a scholarly journal, "Whether her book is true or not, I don't care." So much for objectivity!
Mendelsohn concludes that the public's "susceptibility [to improbable claims] suggests how an immoderate yearning for stories that end satisfyingly [as in, for example, enhancing a belief in the continued existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker] . . . makes us vulnerable to frauds and con men peddling pat uplift."
Claims of sightings (or even photographs) by folks like Steve Sheridan and Daniel Rainsong, and others before them, help perpetuate the fiction of the continued existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker among people who, for whatever reason, want to believe that this species remains alive. In the minds of these people, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker will forever live among us, however flimsy the evidence.
Disclaimer: The preceding article was originally posted as a Comment on Bill Pulliam's Notes from soggy bottom blog in response to his review of the recent history of fraudulent Ivory-billed Woodpecker claims. It has been slightly modified from the original.