Note the predictable materialist-reductionist assumption that characterizes a newly reported round of research into the alien abduction phenomenon. Because people could be trained to see/experience aliens and abductions while such phenomena were clearly not physically happening, Michael Raduga of Los Angeles’ Out-of-Body Experience Research Center deemed the phenomena themselves to be, therefore, illusory products of the human mind.
From Live Science and its sister site, Life’s Little Mysteries (with emphases added by me):
Researchers say they have conducted “the first experiment to ever prove that close encounters with UFOs and extraterrestrials are a product of the human mind.” In a sleep study by the Out-Of-Body Experience Research Center in Los Angeles, 20 volunteers were instructed to perform a series of mental steps upon waking up or becoming lucid during the night that might lead them to have out-of-body experiences culminating in encounters with aliens. According to lead researcher Michael Raduga, more than half the volunteers experienced at least one full or partial out-of-body experience, and seven of them were able to make contact with UFOs or extraterrestrials during these dream-like experiences. Read the rest of this entry
A new (Oct. 2) article at Space.com reports that theologians speaking at the DARPA-sponsored 100-Year-Starship Symposium have raised questions about the possible impacts on religion, and especially on Christianity, if the existence of extraterrestrial life is ever confirmed. The symposium itself was a public event held this past weekend (Sept. 30-Oct. 2) in Orlando, Florida, for a purpose that’s worth quoting:
The 100 Year Starship™ Study is an effort seeded by DARPA to develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible. The genesis of this study is to foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder among students, academia, industry, researchers and the general population to consider “why not” and to encourage them to tackle whole new classes of research and development related to all the issues surrounding long duration, long distance spaceflight.
Space.com senior writer Clara Moskowitz attended the event and issued detailed descriptions of its proceedings, including the above-mentioned Space.com article, which reports on a presentation given by philosophy professor Christian Weidemann of Germany’s Ruhr-University Bochum about the meaning of ETs for religion in general and Christianity in particular:
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.”
Here’s a regrettable object lesson in the necessity of maintaining a properly skeptical attitude in today’s hype-prone mass media society, even in the face of the coolest headlines ever:
Word recently surfaced of a new report from NASA that sounds like something from a science fiction film. It started on August 18 in, of all places, the Guardian, with a story bearing the headline “Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilizations, say scientists“:
It may not rank as the most compelling reason to curb greenhouse gases, but reducing our emissions might just save humanity from a pre-emptive alien attack, scientists claim. Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth’s atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control — and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain. This highly speculative scenario is one of several described by a Nasa-affiliated scientist and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University that, while considered unlikely, they say could play out were humans and alien life to make contact at some point in the future.
Naturally, attention was drawn, and the story was soon picked up and parroted by Fox News, the International Business Times, CNET, and more.
Then Universe Today, a damnably level-headed space-and-astronomy-oriented website with a well-documented history of trying to kill all the fun (see their May 2008 article “No Doomsday in 2012” for the smoking gun), stepped in less than 24 hours later to put the kibosh on the party with “No, NASA is Not Predicting We’ll Be Destroyed by Aliens“:
There were some interesting, if not shocking headlines this week regarding a study supposedly put out by NASA, with the articles saying that aliens might come and destroy Earth because of our global warming problems…While the report is real, and one of the authors was a NASA intern, NASA in no way sponsored or endorsed the article, which was basically an enjoyable thought-experiment and was titled: “Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis.” (Available as pdf here.) By comparing the title of the paper to the splashy headlines, as you can imagine, most of the news articles don’t accurately describe the paper’s content and conclusions — over-blowing just a tad the part about alien invasions — and the headlines portray NASA as being behind the paper and the research. But NASA didn’t really have a thing to do with the very speculative, if not fun paper.
Universe Today also noted that one of the paper’s authors, Shawn Domagal-Goldman, the NASA intern in question, acted out of probable embarrassment by posting a statement to NASA’s PaleBlue blog to explain how the whole thing had gotten so out of hand. Even NASA itself ended up tweeting an acknowledgment of the situation.
Killjoys, all. To hell with reasonableness and moderation. I want sensationalism. Thankfully, the culture’s moving my way here in Tabloid USA (and also, obviously, in Tabloid UK).
In Daimonic Reality, Patrick Harpur eloquently describes the surreal, dreamlike feeling that almost always pervades paranormal experiences, including UFO encounters. He also dwells at some length on the implications for our understanding of reality itself.
Although the same level of philosophical focus isn’t evident in a recent article about UFO encounters from the Union newspaper of western Nevada County, California, the article still does an excellent job of conveying just how bizarre these incidents (incursions? intrusions? eruptions?) can seem to conventional consciousness, and just how prone they are to producing profound changes in one’s thoughts, perceptions, and worldview.
“Back in 1965, I got off work at Harvey’s Wagon Wheel (in South Lake Tahoe) and a chum who rode to work with me and I went up Kingsbury to go home after midnight and all of a sudden the sky lit up,” Edwards said. “I thought that maybe there had been an explosion or a fire. We kept going for about a block and then saw this thing come over the mountains. It lit everything up like one of those torches used for welding. It came right at us and I thought it was going to hit us.”
Edwards was not able to see much more than an outline of the object because the light emanating from it was nearly blinding. “It was huge, not quite as long as my house and it was round,” Edwards said. “It came right over us and then stopped like it was looking at us for a second. There was no sound. Then it was gone. My friend and I looked at each other and we said, ‘That was a UFO.’ It had gotten so close to us that I swear with a ladder I could have reached up and poked it.”
Edwards then did what any artist would do. “I was so shook up that I went home and decided that I had better write down what I had seen,” Edwards said.
…“When it happens, your mind almost stops, because it’s such a shock,” Edwards said. “It’s hard to explain — really hard to explain.”
Full story at the Union.
UFOs and aliens have been a widespread subcultural attraction for decades, but presently they’re bursting the subcultural boundaries and extending into Western society at large to reach the status of a bona fide, near-ubiquitous obsession. Even the (weird, incomprehensible, utterly Philistine) people who aren’t interested in them are now confronted by them at every turn, as the trend surges to new heights that were not even reached, I think, back during the 1970s era of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or the 1990s era of alien abduction mania and The X-Files. Significantly, today’s surge isn’t just a matter of pop cultural items like movies, video games, TV shows, and comic books flooding shelves and screens — although they indeed are — but a matter of serious media attention being directed at the real-world question of real-world alien beings or life forms.
I find this cool.
Here are some signposts from the revolution