UFOs over China and fireballs over Peru: What the Lovecraft is going on?
So, you know, sometimes we really do need to ask ourselves whether and to what extent our new Internet-created ability to piece together all kinds of events and news reports instantaneously from across space and time is encouraging us to read false patterns of meaning into things.
More pointedly, is that what I’m doing below when I correlate several items from the rash of bizarre astronomical, aerial, and atmospheric events that have hit the media webs in the past few days, weeks, and months, and thereby convey the muted, unstated, but clear notion that they’re somehow connected? Is it even true that statistically there’s a “rash” of such events at all? Or is that very impression created out of whole cloth by the medium I’m using to find them?
In what’s become a legendary quote, Lovecraft characterized “the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents” as “the most merciful thing in the world,” since “the piecing together of dissociated knowledge” might well reveal “terrifying vistas of reality.” Minus their delicious overtones of a sanity-blasting cosmic revelation that would pulverize humankind, can Lovecraft’s words be taken as a valuable reminder that we do, in fact, have an inborn tendency to try and correlate our mind’s contents, and so we should, therefore, be suspicious of the narratives and Big Pictures that emerge from this?
I dunno. But what happened in, or rather over, China on August 18 and 20 and Peru on August 25 is still dazzling to the human sensibility in ways that Lovecraft probably would have relished.
August 18, 2011:
UFO Spotted Over Chinese Airport — Planes were dramatically diverted away from a major Chinese airport after reports of a UFO circling a runway, the Shanghai Daily reported Thursday [August 18]. The mysterious object was spotted Wednesday afternoon floating high above Jiangbei International Airport in the city of Chongqing, an important aviation hub for southwestern China. Worried officials diverted several flights to other airports before it disappeared about 50 minutes later and air traffic was allowed to return to normal. The Chongqing government has not offered any explanation for the UFO, Shanghai Daily said. However, skeptical airport workers believe it was a sky lantern or a large balloon, the newspaper said. Wednesday’s scare mirrors an incident in July last year when Xiaoshan airport in the eastern city of Hangzhou was closed after baffled air traffic controllers spotted a UFO on their radar screens. (Fox News)
This story, reported through various channels, was soon accompanied by many followups assuring us that the UFO in question was “Just an Unusual Cloud.”
August 20, 2011
“Super UFO” Spotted in both Beijing and Shanghai — On the night of August 20th, numerous people and pilots in both Beijing and Shanghai reported seeing a strange ball of light that grew bigger and bigger over the cities’ skies. The topic has been creating quite a lot of buzz among Chinese netizens, with many claiming that the strange glow was actually a “Super UFO”. Several pilots who were mid-air at the time reported seeing a huge white ball flying at an altitude of 10.7km, one that appeared several hundred times larger than the moon. The mysterious phenomenon was visible for 20 minutes and was reported to the East China Air Traffic Control Bureau. As usual, no official explanation for this mysterious sighting has been given. (eChinacities.com)
On August 23, three days after the event, Zhu Jin, curator of the Beijing Planetarium, told the Global Times that this phenomenon was probably caused by “astronautic or military activities.” He also disagreed explicitly and technically with the widespread classification of it as a UFO: “UFO stands for ‘unidentified flying object,’ while the scene this time is more accurately described as an unidentified aerial phenomenon,” he said. The Atlantic commented, “But catching a glimpse of a UAP is so much less exciting!”
August 25, 2011
Meteorite blasts across skies of Peru leaving forest fires in its wake — Blazing with the fury of a mini-sun … a suspected meteor streaked across the sky over the city of Cusco in Peru. It was captured blasting through the upper levels of the atmosphere at 2pm yesterday afternoon [August 25], leaving an irredescent trail in its wake. Astonished residents watched as the impressive natural phenomena eventually disappeared over the horizon. Experts believe it may have caused forest fires to the south of the city, which have been ravaged by drought. Cusco is the gateway to the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu … The Inca trail attracts tens of thousands of tourists every year, with entry restricted to 200 new travelers each day.
Various Internet observers have weighed in saying that the Peruvian fireball really is/was a UFO, meaning a paranormal or extraterrestrial event. Others have dismissed not only the UFO speculation but the identification of the phenomenon as a meteor or fireball at all. They say it was just a jet contrail blazing vividly with reflected sunlight.
Flashback: September 2007
To augment the weird feeling generated by confronting the above items in succession, let’s recall the almost overtly Lovecraftian astronomical event that book place in Peru back in 2007. (Think “The Colour Out of Space.”)
Villagers fall ill after fireball hits Peru — A fireball fell from the sky and slammed into southern Peru over the weekend, creating a huge crater that emitted a sickeningly smelly gas, local authorities said. More than 600 villagers fell ill, the Peruvian radio network RPP reported Tuesday. Video reports from the scene, near the remote Andean village of Carancas along Peru’s border with Bolivia, showed what appeared to be a 100-foot-wide (30-meter-wide), 20-foot-deep (6-meter-deep) impact crater with a bubbling pool of water at the bottom. Authorities said that the crater was made Saturday by a falling meteorite. Agence France Presse quoted a local official, Marco Limache, as saying that “boiling water started coming out of the crater, and particles of rock and cinders were found nearby.” Limache told RPP that the gases emanating from the crater caused nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and stomach pain — so much so that authorities were considering calling a state of emergency. The newspaper La Republica reported that seven policemen became ill and were taken to a hospital. (MSNBC)
“Betwixt the real and the unreal”
Is there a way to make sense out of any of this, or to answer my opening question about how or whether we can tell if we’re reading meanings into instead of out of events? The overarching meaning or narrative that I’m thinking of is, of course, the one that interprets all of the above-recounted events, and also the thousand others in recent news, as clear evidence — or maybe that word deserves scare quotes: “evidence” — that Something’s Going On. Something extraterrestrial or other-dimensional, or otherwise preternatural or supernormal.
Another obvious sense-making gambit is to write it all down to “coincidence,” a word that inhabits the philosophical territory of kneejerk and ranks as one of the most unexamined and question-begging concepts in the English language.
For now, I’d rather bracket the question and defer to Lovecraft, who, even though he was only writing fictional esoteric philosophy that he didn’t really believe when he penned the following words in his short story “The Tomb,” still knew all about the boundary between what the human mind can know and bear and what lies beyond its native capacity, and lived in full awareness that the stories we tell ourselves may conceal as much as they reveal, and vice versa:
“Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism.”