Concerning traces, metamaterials and relics…

In the wake of the recently widely-publicized U.S. Navy encounters with Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) and History’s Unidentified:  Inside America’s UFO Investigation, comes the claim that To The Stars Academy (TTSA) has acquired samples of “metamaterials” “reported to have come from an advanced aerospace vehicle of unknown origin.”

Stories of such materials are, however, old news. Keith Basterfield has compiled A Preliminary  Catalogue of Alleged ‘Fragments’ Reportedly Associated with Sightings of  Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Where Analysis(es) was/were Conducted” of cases from 1897 to 2014. Reports of such fragments followed quickly on the heels of Kenneth Arnold’s eponymous sighting of “flying saucers” in 1947:  as will be well-known to the cognoscenti, Fred Crisman and Harold Dahl claimed to have witnessed six doughnut-shaped craft near Maury Island, Washington, three days before Arnold’s sighting, one of which ejected what appeared to be a white-hot, liquid metal. Since, witnesses have reported, for example, oily residues and powders and sometimes metal fragments, which were either ejected from the UFO or all that remained of it after it was seen to explode in midair. Traces of this sort were seized on for their forensic significance, as evidence of the sighting or landing and perhaps of some clue as to its nature.

The most famous of such cases, however, is doubtless Roswell, which, in this regard, added a layer to the merely forensic. Philip J. Corso’s The Day After Roswell sets out how materials recovered from the flying saucer that putatively crashed in July 1947 were studied and reverse-engineered into the components that made the modern, digital world possible, such as transistors and fibre-optic cables. TTSA’s ADAM Research Project (Acquisition and Data Analysis of Materials) was founded precisely to focus “on the exploitation of exotic materials for technological innovation”, namely those metamaterials TTSA has secured, “reported to have come from an advanced aerospace vehicle of unknown origin.”

It’s not my purpose here to judge the authenticity of TTSA’s claims (though they don’t look very compelling, if Robert Sheaffer’s points are valid…). Rather, I propose to reflect on the meaning such traces and fragments hold for the ufophilic. Diane Pasulka, in her American Cosmic:  UFOs, Religion, Technology, argues UFO phenomena bear a strong resemblance to traditional religious experience, likening the Ecstasy of Teresa of Avila to an encounter experience and the fragment she, James, and Tyler find in the American southwest to “an artifact of hierophany” (50), “a manifestation of the sacred.” Of course, such analogies are hardly new. Jacques Vallee, more for stylistic effect than analysis, writes in the opening pages of his Revelations (1997):

Like any emerging movement, this one has its shrines. Examples include Kirtland Air Force Base, with its crypts of mystery, and Dulce, New Mexico, with its great temples to which spiritual energy can be directed by the faithful. Because this is a technocratic movement, its capitals are not called Saint Peter’s, Mecca, Jerusalem, or Salt Lake City. Their designations are code names, words of power:  Hangar 18, Majestic 12, and Area 51. (19)

And, from a less religious but no less metaphysical perspective, Rich Reynolds speculates “if we get our hands on a UFO – really get hold of one – I think that we could find out what our reality consists of, what actually our existence’s sine qua non may be.”

However, as I have argued since my earliest theoretical (as opposed to poetical) interventions into the ufulogical, theses such as Pasulka’s are misguided because ahistorical, as they ignore the radical break between premodern and modern culture:  the modern, if not postmodern, era is, in part, characterized by a loss of the metaphysical or supernatural. Where, for Catholics, for example, the Shroud of Turin is evidence of a supernatural intervention in human affairs, any part of a UFO, whether Extraterrestrial, Extradimensional, or Extratemporal (from another time if not place), let alone merely exotic and all-too-earthly, would evidence only another, however novel, phenomenon immanent to nature and its laws.

The advent of the Scientific Revolution, along with Kant’s Critical Philosophy, is a dimension of a process wherein and whereby any possible object, however strange or uncanny, is never more than natural. This development is evident, too, even in the ways that religion itself is studied, as a sociocultural phenomenon, as possessing some conceivable evolutionary advantage, as rooted in the human nervous system, or being an a priori potential for numinous experience, and so on, that is, as something merely human, all-too-human, no longer as evidence of  supernatural, miraculous incursions into our mundane realm. TTSA’s metamaterials, regardless of the wonder and awe they might inspire, are no sacred relics, as should be acutely apparent in how they are acquired only for the sake of their potential technological exploitation and attendant profits.





12 thoughts on “Concerning traces, metamaterials and relics…

  1. I would probably be in the camp that would say that while religious experiences are a
    fundamental aspect of human nature, this unto itself doesn’t make the existence of such
    experiences so mundane. In point of fact, one could argue they represent an extremely unique,
    highly advanced, and misunderstood (or non understood) phenomena. If one comes from the
    assumption that humans are “ordinary” and that there are no “extraordinary” experiences so be
    it, but the more we learn about communication, consciousness etc.. it tends to be less mundane.
    The point is that from every aspect of human understanding from quantum physics onward,
    the door is still wide open on the question of outside influences / beings. Yes questions require
    answers, but we are at the level in my opinion of 1+1 = 2 when it comes to these topics. A little
    early in the game to make the call, if you will….Cheers.


    1. Thanks for the comment, Mark.

      My position is based on the claim that since the Scientific Revolution even what might appear now as miraculous (which before would be seen as evidence of a _super_natural realm) is now grasped as merely an anomaly to be ultimately explained in naturalistic terms. There is no “outside” nature, not even in a multiverse. Every existing discipline, which researches communication (linguistics, semiotics) or consciousness (their name is legion: from phenomenology to neurology), and even and especially quantum physics would agree.

      Or maybe I fail to understand just where you might situate the “outside” or extramundane you refer to.


  2. This ‘so called modern’ seems to be the result of cherry picked data. To The Stars might not treat its misidentified Slag as a Catholic would treat a bone, but they aren’t representative of the average member of modern UFO subculture. Its easy to find explicitly Shamanic/Mystic UFO accounts.

    The mainstream media curate the elements of UFO and Cryptozoology that it chooses to present, explicitly to reinforce this false perspective of a modernised world. Meanwhile the average Bigfoot Hunter is much more animist in his outlook while the Abduction survivor is haunted or spiritually inspired. TTSA are not captured by a world view of disenchantment, they are just playing along with it in a diplomatic move.

    Disenchantment is not a feature of an epoch, its an illusion maintained by the way media companies curate their presentation of certain material. In pre-modern societies it was well known that only a minority experienced the supernatural, the ‘wyrd’ experience of the ‘seer’ has become the ‘weird’ experience of the ‘kook’ but the normal world of the ‘common man’ has not changed at all. Seers and gurus abound as much as ever.

    Though I guess if there’s a modernism of Kant and Darwin there’s also a modernism of Swedenborg and the Fox sisters.

    One could even argue that TTSA’s scientific posture is a performative Scientism, not a form of modernist science. TTSA appropriate elements of Science the way pre-modern Europeans adopted pastiches of Latin Mass in non-Church contexts like professional inititiation rites or folk magic. TTSA is a media company, its not a real material science company and its interest in various artifacts are purely symbolic.

    TTSA’s product is a book of ‘Astro-Gnosticism’ written by an under higher occultist. Their business model is to attempt to create a privatised common out of a recent cultural trend in New Age circles.

    The explicit goal of the New Age, since its origins in the Theosophical Society of the late 19th century, was to close the divorce in the previous century between theology and natural philosophy. The New Age appropriation of terms like Energy, Field, Quantum, Dimension, Extra-terrestrial, these are not ‘pseudo science’ in the manner of a quack doctor. They are a conciously and deliberately updated demonology and angelogy that deliberately counters the modernist concept of ‘non-overlaping magisteria’. To understand the perspective of the authorities of disenchantment by reading their prophet; Kant but if you want to understand their opponents you can’t rely on Kant, you have to defer to his counterparts in the New Age.


    1. Alex, thanks for the spirited, carefully articulated intervention.

      I detect points of disagreement and congruence. To address the most general of these:

      The shift I refer to goes back centuries (the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment), so referring to “mainstream” media as the driver of that immanent, materialist worldview reduces it from what Hegel might have referred to as “the Zeitgeist” or phenomenologists a “horizon” to something hovering between the vulgar and Marxist understandings of ‘ideology’. Moreover, if I understand you, you seem to believe that the bedrock of the Zeitgeist is the belief (consciousness) of the individual, as if the horizon of an epoch were a democratic or statistical question. I side with the post-Kantian philosophers in this regard (Fichte, Novalis, Schelling, Hegel) that the I is dependent (determined) on a ground that is neither of its own making nor transparent to it (which does not entail a “death of the subject” as in the early Foucault or Derrida, et al.). Differences of belief find their very coherence in this shared horizon. *What I attempt to take to task in this post is the refusal to take history (the radical temporality of the human being) seriously.*

      That we’re dealing with both a “deeper” and more inescapable shift is hinted at in your referring to the way New Agers or other New Religious Movements (e.g., the Raelian Movement International) appropriate concepts from the natural sciences. Offhand, this attempt at dialogue/appropriation strikes me as analogous to the various ways established religions had to come to terms with the worldview developed by the natural sciences, whether, e.g., the ways Christian denominations come to terms with evolution, either by accepting it (the Catholic Church) or developing competing theories (Intelligent Design). One could (should) point, too, to the way Muslim fundamentalists unproblematically relate to technology, a richly suggestive phenomenon in this regard…The Gestalt has shifted, from a time when Galileo could be threatened with being burned at the stake (science figures on the ground of religion) to the present, when religious/spiritual beliefs are relatively on the defensive (religion figures against the background of secular society).

      All that being said, I’m the first to entertain the idea that society has become post-secular. On a related note, I’m not unaware of Latour’s and Porter’s _We Have Never Been Modern_ and the more recent and more pertinent (to this discussion) Storm’s _The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences_, which despite my good intentions, I have yet to secure and read. I am (despite my occasional ironic use of the plural first person pronoun at Skunkworks) only one man.

      I do hope I have engaged your very cogent points both respectfully and with something approaching understanding, if not agreement. Again, your comment is very much appreciated, and does, despite the appearance of my protestations, above, give me food for thought.


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