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David Holub

As a skeptic, am I missing out on real-life ‘Stranger Things’?

A few weeks back in this space, I publicly espoused my beliefs on “The Universe,” discussing how the world is spectacular enough on its own, how knowing scientifically about how it operates and how we all came to be makes the natural world more interesting; ignoring the complexity actually makes it less miraculous.

Ever since, a number of friends have not so much tried to convince me that I’m wrong, misguided, or lacking understanding so much as they have tried to convince me of how convinced they are of their beliefs, forwarding articles on the subject or sharing their testimonies – stories on how they came to believe what they believe.

At other times, “Universe” talk has come up and friends have apologized for discussing it in my presence, as if my sensibilities had been offended. For the record, I don’t judge (or I try my best not to); those beliefs just aren’t ones I hold. Nonetheless, among my circles, I’ve been branded the skeptic.

Sounds fine by me. Except, after re-watching the series “Stranger Things” in preparation for Season 2 (Oct. 27!), I came to the conclusion: When it comes to such shows – and boy do I love this one – I always hate the skeptic!

Take a show like “Stranger Things,” which takes regular people with recognizable worldly surroundings and, through a series of events, turns them into believers in the supernatural and paranormal. Everyone always roots for the characters who believe in something otherworldly, as opposed to the stiff holdout who refuses to believe. Nobody likes that character – he’s always the boring dad, or the play-it-by-the-rules friend. Even when presented with adamant testimonies and evidence that is seemingly unbelievable, the stubborn skeptics still hold out, to the frustration of audiences everywhere.

Of course, everyone’s a skeptic at first. In “Stranger Things,” Hopper is, and all the kids are, Nancy, Jonathan, all of them. That is, until their skepticism is met with something they themselves experience and can’t unsee or unknow.

I’ve experienced this myself. I have friends who span the spectrum of paranormal belief. Some are ardent skeptics, while some discuss the power of tarot and crystals as they would gravity and plate tectonics. I have friends who consider themselves ardent skeptics go to mediums – sometimes not on their initiation – and come out the other side firm believers, assuring me that if I had experienced what they experienced, I would believe, too.

It’s easy to nod and go along, to say, “Sure, maybe.” I don’t doubt their conviction or even the validity. I truly believe that they believe what they believe. I believe they totally experienced what they describe. I’m just not convinced that what they experienced comes from the origins they believe it does. That is, I hold out the possibility that the mind is much more powerful than we even know.

But what would it take for me to shed my skepticism on such topics? Encountering a glowing, gooey, gaping hole in a tree? Seeing a girl freeze a boy in mid-fight and making him wet himself? Watching the same girl flip a speeding van on its side like a toy?

I wonder how the susceptibility of those who believe reinforces those beliefs (after all, if we are looking for an unexplainable phenomenon to happen and believe that it will, the chances of us experiencing that phenomenon go up). At the same time, I wonder how my skepticism could shield me from seeing or experiencing something because I have been predisposed to non-belief (see: the apocryphal tale about how the natives couldn’t see Columbus’ ships on the horizon).

I wonder to what extent my faith (if you will) in science and the scientific process is an impediment in participating in the magic of life. Just like in movies and TV, magic can be fun. And there are always people you love to hate (or just plain hate) who never believe, whether it be Santa Claus, or the underworld of “Stranger Things.”

Though I can’t see myself investigating every tin-foil hat theory I come across, I have definitely criticized others for refusing to give different belief systems a chance, dismissing them before they really tried to understand or experience them. I wonder if I’m doing the same thing.