What really goes bump in the night?
We've all been there, alone in our beds in the middle of night when a strange bump or thud makes our breath catch in our throats and a tingle run up our spines.
You suddenly find yourself in the classic dilemma; investigate the source of the sound or, much more appealing, pull the covers over your head and hum yourself to sleep in the fetal position.
Luckily for us cowards, Brian Dunning, founder of the popular podcast series "Skeptoid," not only investigates the sources of such unnerving disturbances, but actively seeks them out.
Dunning applies the scientific approach of logic, reason, and thorough research to debunk many popularized theories of the paranormal and other offbeat topics.
A former computer scientist turned full-time podcaster, Dunning presented his showcase "Sounds from Beyond" in the Health and Social Sciences building of Santa Monica College's main campus last Thursday afternoon.
Dunning played audio of a heavy, groaning bloop-like noise recorded somewhere in the deep ocean in 1997 by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The noise which has baffled experts for years, matches no recordings from man-made constructs.
The imagination of the audience conjured images of a sinister, tentacled beast lurking in the ocean's depths, but Dunning was there to alleviate the fear with a much more reasonable solution.
"The sound was created by an iceberg crashing into the loose gravel of a shoreline," he stated.
The rest of his presentation followed the same formula; Dunning would play a strange bit of audio, present strange paranormal opinions attached to the sounds, and then provide the actual explanation behind the audio.
Of particular note was a reversed line from a famous Doors song, which vaguely sounded like Jim Morrison singing "I am Satan." Dunning called this phenomenon "backtracking" which involves choosing small snippets of songs in order to spark the audience's imagination.
When Dunning played the full clip, Morrison's spooky claim of "I am Satan" became "I am Satanamisch-ferg," a decidedly less foreboding proclamation.
Although a self proclaimed "debunkatron," Dunning still finds the unexplained incredibly fascinating.
"People go into the sciences, almost always, because they were interested in science fiction as a kid. The people who work in molecular biology labs are Doctor Who fans." said Dunning after the show. "There's a great overlap between people who are interested in strange stuff as a kid and go on to be interested in the sciences."
The lesson Dunning hopes people take away from the presentation is to never stop searching for the truth.
"Real answers are always cooler than popular guesses," he said.
This ideal is at the core of the SMC Skeptics Club, who were responsible for setting up the event.
Club president Chantelle Jackson and the club's academic advisor Professor Nathan Brown were both present in the audience and gathered with other audience members and Dunning after the show to talk about such topics as Bigfoot, homeopathic medicine, paranormal history, and the club's plan to conduct a paranormal abilities contest.
"I have this vision of us offering a $100 prize. There's got to be students or faculty who have, what they believe, are paranormal abilities that we may be able to have fun with being able to test," said Brown.
However, it's not just the paranormal that the Skeptics Club focuses on. According to Jackson, the club also tackles topics from Nikola Tesla to GMO labeling on foods.
"Currently we have a frequency of about twelve per meeting," said club member Jack Kaplan, adding that they hope to boost their number of members.
Currently in the works for the club is a Superstition Fair which they hope to hold on the main campus quad sometime in late April.
"We'll have all the different things that people associate with bad luck; rabbit's feet, breaking mirrors, walking under ladders," said Brown.
The Skeptics Club urges any students interested in searching for truth in the unexplained to attend a meeting or any of their upcoming events, and they can be found on Facebook under SMC Skeptics Club.
"Everyone loves a good mystery," said Dunning. "I often have people come up to me and say, 'Can't you just enjoy the fact that the mystery is out there?' Well, no, to me that's not interesting."
The club meets every Thursday in Letters and Sciences Room 110 at 11:15 a.m.