You’re out in the yard and movement past the fence catches your eye. Something is on the other side, you tell yourself. An animal, large, fur rippling in jagged orange and black patterns. You can only see it through the interstices between the slats so you can either see a leg and paw, or musclebound torso, or a section of tail. You start to think it could be a tiger. Bengal. You’d know for sure if you saw its face. And you think with a start that you do not want to see the face of an adult Bengal tiger staring back at you between the slats of a wooden backyard fence.
But even if you see the face you haven’t seen the whole tiger. You have put together the parts you’ve seen and filled in the gaps with educated guesswork and constructed a theory for a tiger. Think about that. There are parts you haven’t seen – fangs, claws, a killer instinct – but you are certain they are there. You don’t even think of them separately, they are part and parcel of the thing we call tiger. There’s no such thing as a tiger without fangs and claws, right? So if that creature really is a tiger you have to assume it comes fully equipped.
Basically, you believe in things unseen because they fill in the gaps between the things you can see. That which we perceive must necessarily be filtered through what we think we know and how we see the world. It’s how we identify animals, it’s how a mess of vocalizations becomes speech, it’s how we recognize patterns even when sections are slightly modified or missing entirely. Sure, sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes what we thought was a real tiger was just an amazing throw rug recent from the wash and left hanging outside to dry.