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...