Loch Ness Syndrome

I first became aware of the Loch Ness Monster legend back in the mid-Sixties. Like most boys my age at that time, I was consumed with the possibility that there really was such a creature. It made the world a much-more-fascinating place than the dull existence I perceived back then. Now I know that the world isn’t dull — but let’s talk about the legend as an exercise in human psychology.

In truth, I wanted to believe in the Monster. If someone tried to make a rational counterargument, they weren’t starting with a totally open mind. I was ready to disbelieve any fact or set of data that might’ve disabused me of this intriguing mystery. Indeed, I thought I knew exactly what was haunting the lake.

I think everyone has seen the famous surgeon’s photo of this unknown animal or cryptid.

Not realizing that the photo dated to the Thirties, and that it would ultimately prove to be a hoax, I immediately identified the creature with this alleged “new” evidence. I remember thinking: why isn’t anybody else seeing this? What is the big mystery here? It was so obviously an aquatic dinosaur called a plesiosaur, and it had somehow escaped extinction. One of the more remarkable discoveries — ever.

Pretty gullible, right?

But at least I never thought there was one immortal monster terrorizing the Scots since the time of its first alleged appearance back in the Sixth Century. I knew that if there was something in the lake, it had to be a self-perpetuating species. And that was the chink in the legend that caused me to have my first doubts.

If there was a population of creatures, what did they eat? Loch Ness is a big lake, but it has a finite volume of water (and, therefore, food). Plesiosaurs were carnivores; how could the lake support a population of large predators? Someone proved mathematically that it couldn’t.

There were other unanswered questions too. Why weren’t more of the Monsters seen? After all plesiosaurs were air-breathers so they had to surface. Also why didn’t sonar routinely pick them up underwater?

To explain these inconsistencies, one had to speculate more and more wildly.


One explanation was that they had evolved. A reasonable proposition. Given 65 million years, what animal wouldn’t evolve a little bit? Maybe they had gills now. If so, they wouldn’t need to surface. And maybe they became plant-eaters; they wouldn’t need a large population of fish to sustain themselves. Sonar still picks up gilled creatures, however, and the peaty waters of the Loch still wouldn’t support such large animals.

There is a more-recent theory that could account for the monster’s elusiveness: they don’t exist full-time in our reality. They bounce from one reality to another. Perhaps there’s a universe where dinosaurs never became extinct. These creatures may have found a way to breach the barriers between realities. And to that I say. Oh, come on! It was like when I was eventually forced to believe my Dad when he told me that pro wrestling wasn’t real.

So the real fascinating story here is not one of crypto zoology, but one of human psychology. Why do so many people cling to the legend, in the face of so many contradictions? The answer is obvious:

They want to believe.


Robert Rines was an American lawyer, inventor, musician, and composer. He earned a science degree from MIT in 1943 and held at least 72 patents. He received the Boston Patent Law Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the field of intellectual property. He also had a Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University in 1946 and a Ph.D. from National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan in 1972. During World War II, Rines coinvented the Microwave Early Warning System.

Pretty smart guy, right? Many people have been touched in some way by his inventions. He practiced unrelenting adherence to facts, data, and their practical application.

Oh, and he was an avid hunter of the Loch Ness Monster.

Robert Rines spent decades looking for the creature with sophisticated sonar technology that he patented. He passed away in 2009, never having found any proof of the Monster’s existence. But this brilliant man believed the legend until his dying day.

He wanted it to be real.

These built-in biases can afflict us in areas other than the search for cryptids. Whether it’s science, arts, finance, criminal justice, or politics, it’s something we’re all susceptible to and have to be constantly on guard against. Otherwise, con artists will have their way with us.

Being open-minded is a good thing. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet said:

There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

But let’s balance it with a little critical thinking before we accept something we want to believe as indisputable fact.

Just for fun: What is your favorite legend?



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  1. Ted Bradley says

    Enjoyed the read. Not sure if this is a legend, probably fits more into the folk lore category. Always wondered how the lumberjack from Maine – Paul Bunyan got his stature or statue for that matter.


  2. Veronica Foy says

    What do you mean pro wrestling isn’t real? 😉

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