Calendar year in review

These past twelve months have been in retrospect surprisingly remarkable at these Skunkworks. Though it felt like production had slowed, thirty-four posts were published, which is more than one a fortnight(!). More interestingly, I managed to eschew the UFO/UAP stories that made the biggest splash, namely those involving the U.S. government’s renewed overt interest in the matter. The only more mainstream topic I did address was that of Avi Loeb, a topic I finally put to sleep.

The year really began in the spring, with the conference proceedings held to inaugurate the Archives of the Impossible at Rice University. I viewed and commented on all the plenary talks—by Jeffrey Kripal and Jacques Vallée, Whitley Strieber, and Diana Pasulka (Heath).

These plenary talks, and other discussions held around the inaugural conference, raised a persistent and increasingly acute topic of reflection here, the relation between the being and nature of the phenomenon and its meaning. Three posts essay this question: ‘“The theme has vista”: the question of UFO reality and the Myth of Things seen in the Sky’, ‘Getting to a root of the matter: a “radical” “theory” of the UFO Phenomenon if not the UFO-in-itself‘, and “A Note on Cultural Seismology…”.

March was also the month that began the publicity for Jeffrey Kripal’s new book, The Superhumanities: Historical Precedents, Moral Objections, and New Realities. Kripal gave a remote lecture on the topic, to which I reacted at length. I was also prompted, in part by having to object to some criticisms of Jacques Vallée’s The Invisible College levelled by Robert Sheaffer, to relate some of those earlier ideas of Vallée’s to Kripal’s project.

Vallée’s earlier work, Passport to Magonia, also gave me the opportunity to extend, broaden, and deepen my forays into the social significance of the UFO myth, in this instance, its colonialist unconscious. Not unrelated were the posts devoted to nonhuman life, the abstract concept of technology at work in ufology, and the textuality of the phenomenon itself.

Spring and Summer saw me in conversation with Luis Cayetano, a conversation that expanded to include the faculty of The Invisible Night School.

Indeed, The Invisible Night School was one of several new research initiatives that caught our attention this past year, including Mike Cifone’s hard-headed Entaus blog (resolutely bent on wringing some coherence out of ufology), Limina: The Journal of UAP Studies, news of the journal’s inaugural symposium this coming February, and the first university-level UAP studies program, at the Julius Maximilian University in Würzburg, Germany.

This coming year, we’d surely like to write more posts! These may include a weekly or fortnightly notice of more mainstream UFO/AUP stories (tentatively titled “What’s Up” or “In the Air”). I hope, too, to return to more fundamental research: continuing to review and study those volumes on Jung’s Ufological bookshelf along with those recently added to the evergrowing research library here at the Skunkworks, more attention to the poetic handling of the myth and more new contributions of my own, and an ever more refined handling of the notion of technology. Likely, the proceedings of Limina‘s inaugural symposium will provide grist for the mill, and the phenomenon itself, in its protean development and our attendant reactions, will doubtless provide some prompts to furrow the brows and click the keys…

“Tethers into Contact” avant le lettre

Anyone who had a chance to catch Diana Pasulka’s plenary address at the recent Archives of the Impossible conference (my notes, here), will know that the promotion of her new book, tentatively titled Tethers into Contact, has begun. Where American Cosmic dealt, more or less, with certain technoscientific elites and their fascination with UFOs and related matters, this latest work shifts focus (as I understand it) to those researchers who are developing technologies that enable the exploration of nonlocal spaces, Pasulka’s working metaphor being James Cameron’s Avatar.

However, back in 2019, Q’ shared this crumb with Skunkworksblog that arguably spilled the beans on at least one version of this research…

SSP a “Blue Herring”
The Stargate Project:  Swedenborg Protocols
C12H16N2 Spirit Molecule
C12H17N2O4P Spore Drive
Mantids in Hyperspaces
C13H16CINO Lilly’s K-Drive
White Hat ECCO Black Hat SSI
Shaman’s Drum
Soul Torus in visible spectrum
Techniques of the Sacred

Zooming in on the Archives of the Impossible Conference: Day Three (5 March 2022): Diana Pasulka, “Mathematicians and Artists: The New Sites of UAP Field Research, or ‘Toto, We’re Not in New Mexico Anymore’”

With this commentary on Diana Pasulka’s plenary talk I write my final post on the Archives of the Impossible Conference. You can read my take on Jeffrey Kripal’s opening remarks and Jacques Vallée’s keynote address here and my reflections on Whitley Strieber’s talk here.

Diana Pasulka’s talk was meagre, for anyone already familiar with her American Cosmic and who has followed her career since, being, as it was, an overview of precisely this work, helpfully bringing it into focus in a way that contextualizes her present research.

She began with a resumé of the years 2017 to 2021, punctuated by her submitting American Cosmic to Oxford University Press and the U.S. government’s official confirmation of the reality of UAP, prepared for by, first, the 2017’s New York Time articles, then growing media interest. In the context of this most recent official confirmation of the reality of the phenomenon, she spotlights “the visible college” of researchers—Jeffrey Kripal, Brenda Denzler, Gary Nolan (“James” in American Cosmic), Karla Turner, Jacques Vallée, Whitley Strieber, and Greg Bishop, among others—before dovetailing to the main topic of her lecture.

The mention of a visible college leads easily to a discussion of the “Invisible College”, in both senses: of that one described in American Cosmic and that other, historical forerunner that inspired J. Allen Hynek to recoin the expression that Jacques Vallée later used as a book title. This original college, exoterically understood to refer to what became the Royal Society, Pasulka links to Renaissance esotericism, claiming that some members of this original Invisible College were initiates of the Rosicrucian order. (The fuzzy way this claim is made and developed—characteristic of Pasulka’s discourse—leaves one wondering if she had consulted Frances Yates’ authoritative The Rosicrucian Enlightenment…).

This introduction of esotericism brings us to the heart of her talk, the contention that some researches, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, such as the late Kary Mullis, American Cosmic‘s “Tyler”, and Jack Parsons, all used or use various esoteric practices to which they attribute their ideas, discoveries, and breakthroughs, said practices being a means whereby they access some nonlocal realm of pre-existing knowledge, comparable to the Akashic Records of Theosophy. Pasulka, somewhat frustratingly, offers no formal example of what these practices might be, but adds that corollaries include entheogens (as proposed by Aldous Huxley), and, most importantly, technology, the focus of her latest research, including the figure of Iya Whiteley.

That Pasulka’s research has revealed a kind of spontaneous, shared spiritual practice and perhaps family of beliefs among the STEM elite is surely curious and a promising vein of research for a religious studies scholar. What is frustrating is Pasulka’s methodological tact. As a scholar of religion, like the ethnologist, one does not judge the subjects of one’s study, but Pasulka often leaves one with the impression that she has, as they used to say, “gone native”, that she actually shares the beliefs of those she studies. As frustrating, and perhaps not unrelated, is her not presenting either a history of these ideas or competing hypotheses. For instance, speculations concerning the reality of the known go back to the philosophy of mathematics at the turn of the century, when the question of the nature of the certainty of mathematics split thinkers between those who attributed it to mathematics’ being a purely syntactic system and those who posited that numbers were “real”, in the manner of Platonic Forms. Given that she is studying what more mundanely might be termed a species of the scientific, creative method, the means whereby scientists come up with ideas (a famous example is the dream that led to the discovery of the form of the benzene molecule), one might rightly wonder what other historians and philosophers of science might have to say on the matter.

For my part, I am struck by a kind of naive “romanticism” in this fascination with the figure of the scientist-as-hero, as if scientific discovery is the work of lone genii, apart from the society that underwrites their lives and research as a necessary condition, and independent of the arduous labour of actual, often fruitless research and subsequent confirmation of experimental findings. As unquestionably interesting as Pasulka’s subject of research is, once it’s scrutinized in this more thorough-going, comprehensive manner, its significance for, at least, the history and philosophy of science is acutely contextualized. And such considerations are apart from the more pressing matter of the need to reflect on the way technoscience frames its object (as Heidegger reminds us in his Essay Concerning Technology), an urgent question in the midst of an ecological crisis and under the cloud of the threat of nuclear war….