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Out on a Limb: Nessie & Expectant Attention

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Australian Sue Keogh believes she has solved the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster from her bed in Penrith, New South Wales. After noticing a striking similarity between an iconic 1934 photo of Nessie and the shadow puppets of her childhood, she has concluded that the monster is in fact a hoax created by a man lying under the water with his arm in the air and has even reconstructed it.

“Once you see it you can't unsee it,” Sue stated, somewhat unwittingly highlighting a particular “feature” of our perception: that old skeptic standby of pareidolia. Sue claims that her childhood exposure to her father’s shadow puppets allowed her to see through the hoax, while in fact it seems to have primed her to see such shadow puppets where none are likely present.


In the 90’s, an in-depth investigation into the so-called Surgeon’s Photo of 1934, which Sue claimed to have debunked, by Nessie researchers David Martin and Alastair Boyd had concluded in a death-bed confession from one of the hoaxers. This confession revealed the photo to show a toy submarine with a sculpted plastic/wood head and neck grafted on to the top.


This refutation was, however, too late to prevent this image of a long-necked beastie overriding concerns about food stocks and physiology to cement in the public mind a plesiosaur in the loch. A vision since brought to mind by generations of visitors scanning the loch, allowing for wildfowl, waves and all manner of flotsam and jetsam to elicit cries of, “Monster!”


Somewhat ironically it seems this self-same process, which Nessie hunter Rupert Gould calls “expectant attention,” is at work in Sue’s debunk. Viewing the nebulous stimuli of the blurry snapshot through her own expectations, she saw a something no-one else did. All in clear defiance of Hyman’s Maxim which renders Sue’s explanation not just unlikely but also unnecessary.

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