Friday, November 7, 2014

Microscopic Invaders & Real Zombification

Which one is the fungus?
Perhaps you've heard of zombie ants.

A zombie ant is an ant that has been taken over by a specific kind of fungus found mostly in the tropics: Ophiocordyceps unilaterus.

The spores of the fungi attach to the outer shell of the ant, and soon break through its exoskeleton and begin to grow inside the unfortunate insect.

That would be plenty bad enough (for the ant anyway), but it gets much, much worse.

The cordyceps fungus has evolved to have more than a passing acquaintance with the ant's brain, such as it is, and quickly persuades the ant to leave its home in the trees for a moister, warmer locale on the forest floor.

There, the ant, now controlled by the fungus, attaches itself to the underside of a leaf, where it soon dies.

In the final phase, fungal hyphae (filaments) sprout from the dead ant's head and release spores, which float about the forest looking for another ant to stick to and start the cycle all over again.

Evidence of this kind of ant-parasitism has been found on leaves that are 48 million years old.

So this kind of thing has been going on for awhile.

Mice Who Love Cats

I know that right about now you are thinking, okay Pam, that's pretty weird but so what? What do zombie mice and Amazon fungi have to do with aliens?

I promise I will get to that, seriously.

Stay with me.

Research into a micro-organism that lives in cat feces called toxoplasmosis gondii recently has shown that when mice are infected with this teeny critter they lose their fear of cats.

Toxoplasmosis gondii causes an infection in pregnant women that can result in fetal abnormalities. In people who are not pregnant it is barely noticeable.

Not too long ago the only interesting thing about toxoplasma was that their existence meant that Dad had to clean the cat box for nine months.

However it turns out that toxoplasma have a lot in common with the fungus that zombifies tropical ants.

They are very gifted germs.

Toxoplasma actually change the behavior of animals who inhale their spores. In the case of mice, the loss of fear of cats benefits the t. gondii organism directly by making it much more likely than an uninfected cat will eat a friendly infected mouse and then spread the organism around some more by pooping.

Even more amazing (or troubling, however you choose to look at it), people who carry the t.gondii organism in their bodies, even when it is dormant and causing no illness, become measurably more outgoing and sociable--just like the mice.

Once the t. gondii organism is in a human body in a dormant state, it can't be removed, so the behavior changes are permanent; a finding borne out by the observation that mice who were cured of their toxoplasma infection retained their habits of sauntering up to cats to say hello unafraid of the consequences.

Evidence is also accumulating that dormant toxoplasma may be a partial cause of certain kinds of schizophrenia, opening up a new line of research in the cause and treatment of mental illness.

Researchers who discovered the capacity of toxoplasma to change human behavior decided to see if the same held true for other illness-causing micro-organisms.

Because the researchers did not want to infect volunteers with active sickness, they decided instead to follow a random group of people who had just gotten a flu shot, reasoning that the flu virus in the shot, while not strong enough to make them sick, would still be alive in the subjects' bodies for at least several days while they developed immunity to it.

They found that for the the week following an ordinary flu shot, even relative introverts got the sudden urge to shop, go to the movies, and in short hang out with large groups of people in any way that they could. All were completely unaware that their behavior had changed.

Get Your Flu Shot

I'm not saying that flu shots are bad.

I had some kind of pernicious flu in 1992 that was so bad it took me a month to recover completely. I endured a fever of 103 or more for six days and it hurt to blink let alone move.  By day six I thought, this is it, I'm going to die, but I didn't. The fever broke the next day.

That experience taught me that a small virus can do big damage even to a healthy body, behavior change or no behavior change, so I always get a flu shot.

Crap. I forgot to get my flu shot.
What has been bothering me for awhile though is how, when people get to talking about aliens, what they are  almost always talking about are humanoid creatures about our size and shape.

Maybe the eyeballs are bigger. Maybe these guys have no genitals. Maybe some of them have scales or are excessively tall and Nordic-looking. But basically, they aren't that different in size or kind than Uncle Fred when he wears his Klingon costume on Halloween.

Why should this be so?

Why wouldn't aliens be so small we wouldn't even see them, or so large they wouldn't fit in any UFO, not even the football field-sized craft of recent sightings?

Life on earth is so incredibly strange that it seems incongruous to me to think that life from elsewhere would be so easy to plug into a 50's B-movie.

Why would we even recognize alien life?

We can't even agree on what life is, right here, right on our very own planet.

What's Wrong With the Human Race?

A popular cable TV show talks about a time in ancient history when human beings were bred with aliens and set on an accelerated developmental trajectory that has resulted in rapid technological advancement and population growth.

This theory is appealing to lots of people, because it seems to illuminate many perplexing mysteries about the human race.

For instance, why did humans get along as hunter-gatherers for so many millions of years with so little change and so few problems, and then suddenly decide, for no apparent good reason, to grow wheat, build pyramids, submit to kings, wage wars, and get smarter and smarter and smarter (at least in their own imaginations)?

What the hell was that all about?

Must be aliens, right?

Well, maybe.

But maybe the aliens in question are more the size of a cordyceps fungus or a toxoplasma than a tall Nordic looking guy in a tunic or a lizard with huge eyes.
Take us to yer leader!

Some scientists believe that without fungus, life on earth would never have started at all. That one, tiny spore could easily have come here on a meteorite and seeded Earth in the same way the tiny jungle spores stick to jungle ants.

The theory is more plausible than you might think. Different types of fungus are responsible for creating the kind of soil that can accommodate trees, and fungi can even coordinate the growth and behavior of forests.

Fungi are amazing creatures, if they are in fact creatures.

Neither plant nor animal but something else entirely, the activity of fungi is intertwined with the development of life on this planet going as far back as anyone has so far been able to discover.

And this, you see, is what gets me kicked out of UFO groups wherever they spawn.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Recurring Dreams of Alien Invasion

For the past year and a half, my dreams have been invaded by a persistent alien theme, so much so that lately when they show up I think, "Oh crap, not these guys again."

My recurring alien invasion dreams started out as intense and frightening; not quite nightmares, but memorable and disturbing.

Over the past eighteen months these dreams have gradually taken on a more cartoonish aspect.

I no longer feel afraid in them. I no longer feel susceptible to alien capture or mind control, although the invaders are always trying to win me over.

Meanwhile, how is everyone else doing?

Let's just say, it's not going well for Planet Earth.

In my dreams, most humans have already fallen for the alien schtick.

No one ever sees the aliens directly. When they do show themselves it is in human form, usually in a uniform of some sort, yet everyone understands that this just a meat-suit, not how they actually appear to each other.

Really, we have no idea what they look like.

What everyone notices instead (in fact can't help but notice) is their airships. The airships are huge, silver, and unavoidable. You can't really run from them. You can't hide.

The ships are for us, not them. They are not 'in' the ships, they are just gathering us into them.

Their pitch to humanity is this:

"We can help you guys. Join us. We know what we're doing and we can make each of you into the highest, most realized personal form possible. Why would you not want that? Isn't that what everyone wants? So join us. We can help."

Most people do join them willingly, but shortly thereafter the joiners begin to change rapidly, to mutate into some bizarrely specialized form.

So, say the aliens decide your genetic code predisposes you to computer work. You soon grow to be a part of the computer, you stop looking like other humans, you instead take on a fleshy form compatible with what you are doing, Maybe you meld with the computer at head and hand level.

Once you are assigned a task, that's all you do, and you claim to be happy about it.

Basically, you become a slave, but a seemingly happy one. Bizarre to behold, but totally efficient.

If you decline the aliens' offer of help, they keep after you. They mean for you to have their 'help' one way or the other. They are constantly after you to join.

In the dreams, I don't want their 'help'. I'm horrified by the whole spectacle.

The only fully human creatures left on Earth are me and a few other misfits who won't join.

Just the Way It Is

I used to worry about these dreams. I worried that something was pressing down upon us, (or at least upon me), and that I was missing it. I thought the dreams were prophetic, a warning of some sort.

But lately I've been seeing these dreams as simply an imaginative reflection of how things actually are. As a species, it seems we are actively and rapidly transforming ourselves into an alien force: mutable, cancerous, bizarre. Comic, yet lethal.

Bad for Earth and all its other creatures.

Indeed, in our rush for profit and efficiency, for ever newer and better technology even before we know what to do with the stuff, we seem to be losing our humanity.

Once this interpretation occurred to me, I began to think outside the box.

More on that in the next post.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Truly Alien--Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach Trilogy

Image courtesy of Bujo at Flicker CC
One thing that has always bothered me about ufologists and alien hunters is their surprising lack of imagination.

In 99 out of 100 alien movies or UFO treatises, the aliens are more or less our size, more or less bipedal humanoid creatures like ourselves, who more or less happen to share our madness for technology and also like sex with Earthlings, a lot.

I mean, seriously?

No one ever thinks that aliens might be microscopic, or bigger than multiple sperm whales, or comprised of something so strange as to be unrecognizable to human beings as life.

In fact, science is still arguing about what life is, even right here, on Earth. Definitions elude us. So, how can we look for life beyond Earth if we can't even quite understand the life in front of our noses?

The strangest life of all might be the life behind our own noses.

H.P Lovecraft understood this kind of existential strangeness, and understood how and why people avoid it. His imagination spawned worlds; he created an entire mythos around his unique and awful perception of our plight.

Lovecraft is rightly celebrated today, not just for his unique linguistic tics (settle down you eldritch cynics), but for the dense, murky tone of his writing, the way the words conjure up horrors so alien, so ancient, so beyond our most esoteric ramblings that even seasoned Lovecraft readers still shudder involuntarily when they read them.

Enter Jeff Vandermeer with his Southern Reach Trilogy.

Writing in the shadow of Lovecraft, Vandermeer takes language and chops it up in such a deft and horrible fashion that the reader is almost imperceptibly knocked off his or her personal linguistic moorings, whatever they may be, right along with the characters. In this way Vandermeer forces the reader to experience, if only vicariously, the end of personal identity and all the horror, wonder, and madness that necessarily accompanies that loss.

Vandermeer is not forming a Lovecraft tribute band with this series. He doesn't write like H.P. Lovecraft. Arkham is a good thousand (million?) miles away from the unnamed stretch of southern coast that comes to be known in his trilogy as "Area X", a mysterious tract of nature that is invaded by something preternatural and undefinable.

And yet the story is informed by Lovecraft, because early on it lays out the existential horror implied by loss of category.

Philosophy students will recognize what seem at first like gratuitous references to Jacques Derrida and Deconstructionism, but the Southern Reach Trilogy is not some dry exercise in intellectual snottiness. Although not an easy read, the trilogy zigs and zags between startling, even poetic descriptions of the natural territory and dry, irritating expositions of the inner workings of the minds of various characters.

The effect is to mire the reader inside Area X along with the characters; no small achievement, and it isn't until the last page that you realize you won't be able to forget the experience.

Annihilation, the first volume, is a good read, if a bit choppy. The choppiness is easy to forgive or ignore, because the story is original and interesting. You want answers to questions that are raised here. I, for one, could hardly wait for the second volume, Authority, to come out, even while resenting the fact that I had to wait.

But Authority, is a slog. Those questions keep the reader hooked and pushing forward, even while thinking, "Why are you doing this to me Jeff?" He has his reasons, which unfold in the final volume in ways that startle and satisfy and prove that answers are beside the point, really.

The final volume, Acceptance, really sings.  Parts of it are quite beautiful. Written in all three persons (first, second, and third) the events feel natural and preternatural all at once. At some point after finishing the final volume, I realized that I'd just read the first jazz horror novel.

Honestly it's quite brilliant.

I don't want to say too much more, for fear of spoiling the experience for readers new to the Southern Reach, but it did my heart good to see this genre reach these heights.

I think Lovecraft would have loved it.

I know I did.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

California by Edan Lepucki: Eat, Pray, Apocalypse?

About a third of the way into California, the main character Frida encounters a porcupine in the woods and runs back to her makeshift encampment screaming for her husband.

This would be a great scene in a satiric novel, and California could have been written as killer satire, but I don't think satire is what Lepucki intended.

For this reason, and so many others, Lepucki's first novel never really delivers on the cover promise of a "stunning and brilliant... wholly original take on the post-apocalyptic genre."

I wanted to love this novel. I love Sherman Alexie. Love Stephen Colbert. Feel zero fondness for Amazon and buy from Powell's all the time.

Lepucki looked like a nice person who was very excited to be getting this kind of 'bump' on her very first time out of the gate.

I like all of that.

I give Lepucki kudos for writing a novel and publishing it. I give myself kudos for finishing nearly 400 pages patiently hoping things would quickly turn around.

But for me, they never did.

Lots of opportunities were missed in this story.

Cal and Frida are not very deeply drawn and are not very sympathetic main characters. They seem as bland and blonde and California-ish as the state itself seems to people in other parts of the U.S., parts that already deal with severe winters, tornados, hurricanes, all manner of invasive species and diseases, and urban decay with roots in rioting and dead factories.

Again, if this was satire, that could work. It doesn't.

Missed opportunity number one: the title.

Why is the book called California? We never really find out. Frida's husband Cal is teasingly called "California' by Frida's obnoxious brother Micah (who later becomes a sort of terrorist/cult leader), but the story is more Frida's than anyone else's.

California could have been an ironic title, but it isn't. It's just kind of there, like Frida and Cal are there, and then, they're somewhere else, and then they're somewhere else.They leave the city for an unnamed wilderness. Why, it's hard to say. Frida clearly is not into it, and it is hard to understand how their woodland life is any better than their post-apocalyptic city life.

Missed opportunity number two: So much attention is paid to the fairly shallow (and endless) interpersonal dynamics that we never get a real sense of scene, and it seems to me that in a novel about a fallen-apart world, you have to deliver that at minimum. That is one of the must-do requirements of the genre.

The forest doesn't seem real, the apocalyptic landscapes are thin and poorly explained, and the weather is surprisingly bland, almost non-existent--and this when at the moment half of real California is either on fire or desperate for water. It gets cold, it gets hot. It doesn't storm. We see a porcupine, a coyote, and a couple of rabbits.

I need more.

Missed opportunity number three: The characters. All of them are sketchy, shallow, annoying.

Maybe it is because Lepucki is still young, I don't know, but she didn't go deep enough, not by half. We never really care about Frida, Cal, or Micah. At their most conflicted worst they irritate us as much as they irritate each other, but having seen the fireworks at ordinary funerals and weddings many times in my 60-plus years, I have to think the interpersonal drama triggered by survival issues would go a lot deeper than, "oh cool, Micah still has the bee toy Mom attached to his stroller," and "wow are our hands ever chapped!"

Missed opportunity number four: A plot.

OK, there is a plot. But it is maddeningly expository, like one of those bad sci-fi flicks where the characters fill in the backstory with longwinded impossible dialogue. Lepucki even kills, then reanimates one of the main characters for no apparent reason, breaking a rule that should not really be broken unless you can dazzle with your surprising plot skills.

The plot almost seems like an annoyance to Lepucki, something that she knows she has to deal with as a writer but that takes away from her focus on the tension between the characters.

I personally think that if your characters are annoying and unsympathetic, they should at least get eaten or something by the end of the novel, and hopefully in a spectacular, unpredictable way, but alas, it is not meant to be. This is what happens in monster movies, but not in Lepucki's novel.

By the end of California Frida and Cal are back in a 'community' not unlike the suburban plats we all see everywhere these days, where everything is beige and all the lawns are perfect. Frida and Cal stop complaining about their chapped hands and go back to complaining about bad clothes, bad food, stupid suburban rules, and they still don't seem to like each other much.

This is the way the world ends?

Not with a bang, but a whimper, tasteless nutritional shakes, and bad retail.

Why, God? Why?!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Most Invasive Alien Species Ever

Us. It's us.

If that sounds like some green terrorist guilt trip, I don't mean it that way, and it isn't even my opinion. I read it in a book called The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.

If you want to get really discouraged and freaked out fast, read that book.

So many anthropologists and paleontologists and geologists now see modern human beings as the most planet-changing species ever to hit Earth that the modern era has been renamed the Anthrocene.

The name invokes our species-specific tendency to alter the environment in drastic ways while spreading alien species around the globe to the detriment of native ones. Apparently we are responsible for the spread of all kinds of species to places they really don't belong: viruses, fungi, zebra mussels, cane toads, kudzu, and on and on.

The upshot of all this altering and spreading is a mass extinction of the same (or greater) magnitude as the one that happened when that comet wiped out the dinosaurs.

The jury is still out as to who is going to survive this particular extinction, and how, but apparently, it won't be the frogs. The frogs are already nearly gone.

The book got me to thinking though, it might just be true that the aliens are us; that if we want to see an invasive alien species up close, get proof positive that alines exist, all we have to do is look in a mirror.

Since the Victorian Era, many writers and even scientists have floated the idea that human beings are actually from Mars--not just men, but women too, all of us. (Venus is too hot.) Many modern day scientists believe that fungi, those tiny strange organisms that make life possible and make bread rise, actually came here on some wandering bit of rock.

We are in a very real sense descended from stars.

Whether or not we as homo sapiens were purposively bred by big-eyed aliens who came to Assyria for the gold is not even the issue. Our very existence, our genetic makeup, the way we behave in such a naturally destructive capacity, proves us to be a cosmic pest.

Evidently, humans are the ape variant of purple loosestrife or Japanese knotweed.

It seems the Earth goes through lifeforms in a cyclic fashion. So you have your slow Darwinian evolution and random mutations and so forth, and then, every four or five hundred thousand years the Earth wipes the slate clean and starts over again with new critters and new plants, as well as a few hardy survivors from the last cycle.

If we are indeed in the midst of the Sixth Extinction, which animals will still be around when the next cycle starts? Rats? Roaches? Snails?

We might not be here to answer that question.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ebola & Emergent Viruses: Real Aliens

:"Pandora" Rackham Public Domain Image
A virus is a single strand of proteins. The ebola virus, an RNA virus, is composed of only 7-9 proteins.

Science cannot decide if viruses are alive or not.

Viruses might even be alien life forms, come here on some meteorite.

Or, they might not be lifeforms at all.

Some viruses can live for eons in an inert state, just waiting for a living host to come along. Once inside the host, they 'come alive' and reproduce themselves inside living cells, so vigorously that the cell ruptures and sends the (now seemingly living) virus in the bloodstream of the host.

From our perspective, we say the host has contracted an illness, is sick, but what's really happening is the virus is feeding off the host in order to reproduce itself. A really persistent virus will jump to other hosts while it does this so that even if the original host dies, it can keep reproducing in other infected bodies.

A virus exists to reproduce itself. That is its sole purpose.

Ebola virus is a scary damn virus, period. If you aren't scared of the ebola virus, you don't understand viruses and you don't understand ebola.

But what if I told you that the reason ebola is becoming such a problem is that our familiar Western ways of doing business are causing viruses that once hid in other organisms in self-contained ecosystems (like rain forests), are now forced to find new 'food' when those ecosystems are destroyed for profit?

That happens to be exactly what is going on with ebola, and it's happening with more and more strange new illnesses that 'jump species' (move from an animal host to a human one) when their habitat is destroyed.

Ebola spillovers into humans tend to take place near logging facilities.

Viruses like ebola that jump into humans for the first time are called 'emergent viruses', and they have steadily been growing as a problem and a threat over the last 50 years. Globalization has accelerated the process enormously.

Although our chances of being wiped out as a species by ebola virus are currently small, our chances of being wiped out or nearly wiped out by some other emergent virus are very high. When it comes to global pandemic, the question is not if, but when.

I find all this fascinating, not just because it is dark and scary (it is), but because it shows how connected every living organism in the world is to every other organism. It's a balance: remove one bit (like in Jenga) and the whole system falls apart and then rearranges itself.

Will we be a part of the new arrangement?

That is up to us, in large measure. So far, it doesn't look good.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Cryptoterrestrial Hypothesis

What if the aliens are from Earth?

What if we've been living side by side, right here, for thousands of years?

That may sound like the plot of 'made for Sy Fy' movie or series, but it's a theory that's been kicking around since the 1970s, when Jacques Vallee began to compare UFO encounters of the 50s forward to fairy folk encounters of previous centuries.

Now of course the idea of 'ancient aliens' is so popular that cable TV can't seem to make enough shows about it, and any ancient artifact featuring big eyes or a bird in it gets interpreted as proof that we were visited by space beings in early antiquity.

In The Cryptoterrestrials, Mac Tonnies offers a focused essay on why aliens and UFOs may well be creatures from right here on earth. Tonnies died not long after the book came out, which is tragic. He had a nimble mind and brought a critical perspective to a topic woefully short on intelligent criticism.

Here are a few things to think about:

  • Why would aliens abduct humans for the purpose of genetic merging? Why would we expect to be compatible in that way? Perhaps we are compatible because we are dealing with one branch of human creatures trying to borrow genetic qualities from another branch of human creatures, like Neanderthals and Cromagnons.
  • Alien abductions make the most sense as theater. Using two of the most powerful human emotions--fear and sex--the typical alien abduction seems to parody our science and the way we treat animals in the name of science. Maybe this seeming parody is the point.
  • Grey aliens look way too much like human beings. There are creatures right here on earth, countless creatures, which look nothing like us. Why do supposed creatures from 'outer space' look like more fragile, big-eyed versions of ourselves?
  • Accounts of kidnappings by otherworldly beings (such as fairies) go back hundreds and even thousands of years. Perhaps 'alien abduction' is just the latest cultural explanation for a terrestrial phenomenon that is much older. 
I personally like the cryptoterrestrial hypothesis and would like to expand up on it future posts, even though it is not all the popular at present.

In the meantime, check out Mac Tonnies' book, if you can get your hands on it.

It's sure the be worth more once it goes out of print.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

UFOs and the Paranormal Taint

"Back off Shermer!"
Paranormal stuff is stupid, right?

And UFOs are the stupidest.

Not according to Charles Tart, veteran researcher and author of Transpersonal Psychologies and Altered States of Consciousness, and most recently The End of Materialism.

But, if you take yourself seriously as an academic, a writer, a researcher, a scientist, or, well, as anybody except a total fool, giving paranormal topics serious uptake will give you an indelible case of the 'paranormal taint', and you will be snickered at and ostracized forever after.

The term 'paranormal taint' has nothing to do with ass, although you may well utter a synonym for 'rectum' when someone treats you as though you have it.

In The End of Materialism Tart goes after what he calls 'scientism', which is based on ridicule and on simply declaring something you don't like 'impossible'. Not science at all, but more like someone who plays a scientist in the theater of his or her own mind.

The scientific method by contrast is a step by step method of inquiry which can be summarized as including 1) hypothesis, 2) observation, 3) experimentation, 4) replication, and 5) peer review and criticism, which, ideally, will get you back to step 1) all over again, refining the discoveries as you go.

Tart has spent most of his life using the scientific method to experimentally show that some paranormal topics are real and worthy of continued study. He calls these 'the big five', and they include 1) telepathy, 2) clairvoyance, 3) precognition, 4) telekinesis, and 5) psychic healing.

What does all this have to do with UFOs?

A lot, actually.

Nothing slathers a person with more paranormal taint than talking about UFOs in a serious way, and yet, thousands of people have had encounters, sightings, and even repeated contact. Many of these people are respected scientists, pilots, military personnel, and government officials.

You might think, so what's wrong with approaching the topic in a scientific (not scientistic) way?

Nothing really, and some people are starting to do it.

In fact, Tart's critique of scientific materialism and the exclusion of all nonmaterial topics from serious study is just one of a rash of recent books calling for the same. Many top thinkers are coming out and saying that science, while it is great and useful and has led to many discoveries, is not the be-all and end-all philosophically.

I will be listing some of those books in future posts.

For now, I just want to say that one of the many reasons UFOs continue to fascinate me personally is that they represent the most irrationally tainted of all paranormal topics. I have the sense that this is important, that in fact we've shoved all of our worst fears and rejected bits onto these unknown aerial whatsits, and for that reason alone we should be interested in taking them more seriously.

So that's my justification. I think it's a good one.

How about you?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Giant UFOs & Triangular Craft

Belgian triangular UFO Courtesy J.S. Henradi
Is the US working on enormous aerial transport vehicles?

If so, why?

In recent years, UFO sightings have increased, although you would hardly know it from watching or reading what we generously call 'the news'.

Sightings have changed, however. The most commonly sighted UFOs in recent years have been enormous UFOs (the size of several football fields), and triangular craft with lights on each point of the triangle and in the center.

(Orange balls of light have also increased, but these will be addressed in another post.)

In Belgium in 1989 and 1990 hundreds of people saw and photographed triangular craft like the one in the photo above. The military saw them, they showed up on radar, they were clearly visible on several occasions over several major cities.

When the U.S. military was asked about the triangular craft in Belgium it said it had no information.

Why does the U.S. take this unhelpful position over and over again? Are these ours? Are they experimental? If so, why would we be flying them over Belgium? If they are not ours, why are we not interested?

I find this really weird.

Mass sightings of huge craft occurred in Phoenix, Arizona in March of 1997, and in Stephenville, Texas in 2008.  One Stevenville man saw a huge craft at close range (several hundred feet) that was so huge he could not see the edges of it or the sky until it rapidly accelerated upward.

That is passing strange if nothing else, and there is no reason to think the man was lying or ill.

Why then are UFOs such a target of ridicule? And why is the US so quiet?

More thoughts on this later.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Which Came First: Aliens or Sci-Fi?

What is the relationship between UFO sightings and UFOs in fiction, stories, and film?

Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, courtesy XRay Delta @ Flickr
You might think that imaginative sci-fi comes first, spawning subsequent actual 'sightings' and experiences as people unconsciously amend their memories to include sexy aliens.

In 1974 Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer conducted research into the development of 'false memories', that is, real memories accompanied by strong emotion and certainty of things that never actually happened. They found that it was possible to implant 'memories' into people, and that some people were more suggestible and easily influenced than others.

By the mid-90's Loftus's research created a firestorm in the psychological community. Some therapists had been uncovering sensational 'repressed memories' in a number of patients.

As a result, lawsuits were filed, talk show hosts were happy and busy, and people seeking help for emotional problems found themselves in the middle of a heated insider battle that was not overly helpful to them. 

Believe it or not, 'repressed memory', 'recovered memory', and 'false memory syndrome' are nowhere to be found in the DSM-IV, the standard diagnostic manual used by psychologists and psychiatrists today. False memory syndrome is as controversial today as the controversial 'recovered memories' it was popularized to fight.

Whenever I see this kind of polarized, heated, go-nowhere debate I think, "What is being obscured by all this arguing over two and only two outcomes?"

In other words, what is getting lost in the messy middle, where most of us actually live?

Much the same argument goes on with the question of which came first: aliens or sci fi stories about them?

The relationship between experience and imagination is complex. On the one hand, if you can't even imagine something you aren't likely to see it or experience it in the material world. On the other, if an experience is toxic, 'hot', or confusing, you may well invoke a more structured fiction to make it understandable.

Extremely unwelcome information can also be screened by memories more palatable to society at large. (I've often thought that people would much rather hear about an alien abduction, for example, than a violent real rape involving all-too-real human beings.)

Some people are also sensitive to the extent that they can tune in to 'big stories', emerging cultural myths, and shepherd them into material reality as an organizing or healing principle. Although we do not recognize such people as legitimate in our modern technological society, every other society that has even existed on this earth does.

None of this answers the question posed by this post. Or, it does.

We never consider than answers to questions can be multiple, that reality can be so disorganized and confusing as to seem alien all on its own, that to get to the heart of a matter you sometimes have to tolerate not having a pat answer for a very long time indeed.

That's what a scientist would do anyway:

Tolerate the confusion. Stand in the center. Watch. Take notes.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

UFOs, Aliens & the Singularity

Flickt Creative Commons XRay Delta
If you've never heard of the singularity, you seriously need to hone your geek 'cred'.

Science fiction writer Vernor Vinge popularized the term singularity to refer to a moment in time when technology outpaces human intelligence.

Given the arguably sketchy state of human intelligence these days, you might think that the singularity came and went long ago, but according to futurist Ray Kurzweil (who is looking forward to the singularity the way kids look forward to Christmas morning), it should arrive in the year 2045.

Vinge thinks the singularity will come sometime before 2030, and he's busy mainlining vitamins in the meantime in preparation.

Vinge is pretty sure the singularity will allow people who are excited about merging with machines with big brains to basically live forever.

I guess he is one of those kinds of people who never spilled coffee on his keyboard.

Well, never mind. I'm giving myself away here.

The point is, once artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence, all bets are off. Not only will the future be unpredictable to the extreme, we might not even recognize what is happening because we lack the intelligence to accurately perceive and process it.

If this is all true, how do we know the singularity hasn't already happened?

We don't, not really. We could all be virtual beings inside some computer brain right now. And that's where UFOs come in.

According to author and blogger Micah Hanks, UFOs might not be directed by an extraterrestrial biological intelligence, but rather a notably terrestrial machine intelligence, and there is pretty much no way of knowing when this intelligence was born and what its intentions are.

All we can really be sure of is that it is probably smarter than we are and its aims are not human ones, and not necessarily benevolent.

That's all pretty creepy. But it's an idea that's infected popular culture to the point that we are seeing it in our films and television shows. The recent CBS hit "Extant" seems headed in this general direction, and in the most recent version of "Battlestar Galactica" A.I. creatures originally designed by humans decide to just exterminate us before we ruin the universe for everybody.

I personally think that there's a good chance we'll exterminate ourselves way before our favorite robots get a chance to slip Armageddon past us, but that's just me.

I just broke yet another toaster. I have spilled coffee on my keyboard. And I think living forever as part of a machine could well be some post-modern version of hell.

But what a great time to write science fiction!

What am I doing blogging???? (Don't answer that!)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Do UFOs Really Possess Superior Technology?

Definitely projected
UFOs are often said to display superior aerial technology--technology that is somewhat like ours, but shows itself to be a much more advanced version.

Justifications for this belief include the way some UFOs appear to rapidly accelerate and decelerate, the way they appear to travel at tremendous speeds, or their capacity to blink in and out of sight, as if hopping between dimensions.

The fact that UFOs are more often than not completely silent is also commonly mentioned as proof that they operate via a technology far beyond our understanding.

I'm not so sure this is as obvious as it is commonly taken to be.

Projected and/or holographic images also can be made to seem to blink in and out, or 'fly' silently overhead. Although sometimes radar evidence would seem to indicate a solid object, not a projected image, if someone was bent on deception there are ways to 'fool' radar.

In fact, the US government has developed (and is probably developing, as we speak) some of these methods. One of the best examples is the stealth bomber, which was mistaken for a UFO often before its existence was disclosed.

I am not saying that no UFOs are a true mystery or that the US government is responsible for all of them by way of weapons development. I'm just saying that given the propensity for deception that has come to be a major part of the phenomena, we should be difficult about projecting our own ideas onto something that might not be what it appears to be.

Somehow, people who want to understand the phenomena have to disentangle themselves from the ET hypothesis and stop projecting ideas that fit that hypothesis onto the UFOs themselves.

I personally think that pushing human beings toward a greater tolerance of paradox and uncertainty is at least part of what is going on.

But I should probably not get too invested in that either.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Myth America

From a painting by Magritte
People who are passionate about UFOs tend to get really testy about the 'm' word.

OK, I get that it's way more fun to talk about aliens and spacecraft and parallel dimensions and Nbiru and Reptilian takeovers and expanded states of awareness and--well, you get the idea.

But myth is important and it can also be really fun.

Myth is the key to J.K. Rowling's stupendous Harry Potter success. (That, and writing talent.)

Myth is what we in the United States wave around on the 4th of July, be it red, white, and blue, or sparkly and combustible.

Most of us know very well that America has some serious problems right now. Statistically speaking, we are not the greatest nation of all time on any number of quantiifiable parameters--from infant mortality rates to social mobility to the number of people we throw into prison for long periods of time.

But the myth of America is sacred to many people, even liberals. Even cynics. The myth of America is a map of where we'd like to be--and how can we ever get there without a map?

Every culture has a central myth, called a 'founding myth', that maps out the values, hopes, and dreams of the culture. Modern culture claims not to have a founding myth, but that's not true. The myth of the Hero, the man who sets out and explores and conquers, coming back with new information and new discoveries--that's the modern world's founding myth (according to myriad scholars and philosophers).

Isn't the myth of the Hero the template for scientific knowledge as well?

Sure it is.

Science "boldly goes where no man has gone before" and we applaud.

So, getting back to UFOs and to ufology's distaste for myth and other smushy concepts as applied to unidentified aerial stuff, ask yourself this question:

If you were an alien intelligence (not to say extraterrestrial but just 'not us'), and you wanted to influence the direction of human evolution without detection, what would you do?

Would you plop down on the White House lawn and say, "See here now, we'd like for you to start thinking about and doing things a bit differently!"

Or would you tinker with the universal template for human consciousness? Myth.

Yes, I have some ideas about this topic.

More later.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ten Things You Might Not Know About UFOs

Medieval rendering of UFO
Over the past 60 years an entire mythology has built up around the subject of UFOs in America.

A mythology is a cycle of important, interconnecting stories that we come to believe or at least value because they tell us something important about ourselves and our place in the world.

Often, people who have seen a UFO or who are invested in UFOs and believe something important is going get angry when anyone talks about 'UFO mythology'. That's because mythology is devalued in modern culture, and is often understood as 'a bunch of untrue stories made up to explain something'.

That is not the definition of mythology I accept. In a sense, a mythic cycle is made up of stories that are more real than simple physical reality. UFOs can be physically real, and we can still attach a mythology to them, and in fact, we have.

Here are a few things you might not know about UFOs, because they are not part of the cultural mythology attached to them:
  1. UFO means 'unidentified flying object', not 'spaceship from another planet'. In fact, some researchers would like the axe the term 'UFO' altogether and use 'UAP' instead. 
  2. 'UAP' stands for 'Unidentified Aerial Phenomena' and is preferable in a sense because we don't really know for sure if unidentified sky sightings are objects.
  3. UFOs can be found in ancient, medieval, and modern art.
  4. Small 'eye idols' resembling gray aliens were common in Sumeria, the oldest known civilization in the Middle East, and were associated with the Goddess.
  5. Roswell is not even mentioned in the earliest UFO investigations (i.e. Project Blue Book, etc.) and did not become a topic of popular interest until the publication of The Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz and William Moore in 1980.
  6. Bigfoot and other cryptids have been sighted in conjunction with UFOs. 
  7. Jacques Vallee and other ufologists have suggested that Marian apparitions (such as at Fatima and Medjugorge) are consistent with UFO close encounters.
  8. US intelligence agencies routinely use UFO groups as training grounds for new agents, purposely providing disinformation and setting one faction against another.
  9. The US is the only nation with a modern air industry and/or military that publicly claims to have no interest in investigating UFOs.
  10. In 1999 France published The COMETA Report, officially titled UFOs and Defense: What Should We Prepare for? The opening statement includes the following quote: 

“The accumulation of well-documented sightings made by credible witnesses forces us to consider from now on all of the hypotheses regarding the origin of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, and the extraterrestrial hypothesis, in particular.”

I would summarize these 10 points this way: UFOs are not easy to understand (hence the term unidentified), they have been around for thousands of years, if not longer, there is broad agreement among nations that they are a serious concern, and last, but by no means least, the US is a bad player in terms of coming to an understanding of what is going on.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Time to Ditch the ET Hypothesis?

The ET hypothesis is the idea that UFOs come from outer space and are sent here by extraterrestrial life forms.

Most people don't consider the ET hypothesis to be a hypothesis at all.

If anyone brings up the topic of UFOs at all (which, it seems to me, happens less and less these days) most people will respond with something like, "Yes I think the universe is just too vast to rule out the possibility of life on other planets."

Skeptics might say something like, "We don't know how to travel those vast distances. I think it may be the case that highly advanced civilizations might well die out before they develop the technology to travel to other planets."

When we look at our own situation as supposedly intelligent creatures on planet Earth, both of these positions seem plausible. We hope there is life on other planets and can see it is probably so. We also see that out own civilization is in danger of snuffing itself out. Soon.

What everyone seems to have forgotten at this point is that the term 'UFO' is an acronym that means Unidentified Flying Object. UFO is not shorthand for "technologically advanced craft visiting earth from some other planet."

Some of the best recent writing on UFO phenomena comes from people who suspect UFOs might not be extraterrestrial phenomena at all. Since I am currently writing a book that takes some of these newer ideas into account while placing UFOs into a different context, I thought I would resurrect this blog.

Maybe eventually I can sell e-copies of the book or offer it for free on this site.

Maybe not.

But I felt like I was ready to talk about this in a new way and that doing it here might be a good option.

More to come, stay tuned...