Jung’s Ufological Bookshelf: Gerald Heard, The Riddle of the Saucers: Is Another World Watching?

51hyugp-u1lGerald Heard. The Riddle of the Saucers:  Is Another World Watching? London:  Winter and Worsfold, 1950. 157pp.

In the commentary to the third dream Jung analyzes in his Flying Saucers, he writes:

A round metallic object appears, described as a flying spider….we are reminded of the hypothesis that Ufos are a species of insect from another planet and possessing a shell or carapace that shines like metal. An analogy would be the metallic-looking chitinous covering of our beetles. Each Ufo is supposed to be a single insect, not a swarm. (46)

The idea that the Ufo might be an extraterrestrial insect, the footnote to this passage tells us, is found in Sievers’ Flying Saucers über Südafrika that “mentions Gerald Heard’s hypothesis that they are a species of bee from Mars”.

If UFO reports constitute a “visionary rumour” then Heard’s book reads like a link in the chain of gossip, what Jung called “sensation mongering” in the case of ordinary rumours, despite Heard’s calling his book a “report” several times in the Foreward. Loosely written both in presentation of the cases and in their documentation (e.g., Heard refers to what Arnold saw as discs or saucers (12)) Heard’s book might seem a hack’s attempt to cash in on the public interest in the new phenomenon (written between late 1947 and late 1950), until one discovers what a widely-published and highly-regarded figure he was, a graduate of Cambridge, the author of thirty-eight books, and a friend of Aldous Huxley.

Nevertheless, despite being one of the earliest books on the topic Jung consults, it sets out both the (to us) well-known and well-worn history of the earliest years of the modern phenomenon as well as the more general lineaments of the myth with which readers today will be well familiar.

In the opening chapters, Heard recounts Kenneth Arnold’s inaugural sighting of 24 June 1947; the UAL sighting of 4 July 1947; the Maury Island incident; the Muroc sighting of 8 July 1947; and Fred Johnson’s Cascade Mountain sighting 24 June 1947, famously before Arnold’s and including the first association of magnetic anomalies with the presence of the saucers, the hands on Johnson’s compass spinning wildly while the discs he witnessed were overhead. Heard continues with the Chiles/Whitted case of 23 July 1948; the death of Thomas Mantell, 7 January 1948; and the Gorman Dogfight, 1 October 1948. Heard concludes the first, historical half of his volume detailing the efforts of Project Saucer. Heard then, tediously, turns his attention to the mystery of the nature, origin, and intent of the discs, concluding, first, that their technology, because of its performance capabilities must be non-terrestrial. He is thereby moved to reflect on those characteristics, shape, size (including terming the largest “motherships”), velocity, silence, and apparent intelligent behaviour, remarking, in the process, on the earliest photographic evidence, in this case, the Trent/McMinville photo. He goes on to propose mcinvillethe discs’ pilots, like we would soon be, are space explorers. He then ranges over the possible origins of the discs and concludes with the hypothesis Jung notes, that the pilots are likely “super bees”—from Mars. Further evidence of Mars’ being the discs’ homebase is the peculiar size, appearance, and orbits of Mars’ moons, Demos and Phobos, whose oddness prompts Heard to propose they are artificial, orbital launch platforms. Heard then, in classic, ufological style, detours into a catalogue of premodern sightings, from the Eighteenth Century to Foo-fighters and Ghost Rockets, before speculating that the Martian bees’ purpose is likely to observe our industrial, technological, and military development, and to determine what threat the earth might pose to Mars, drawn in the first instance by their witnessing the detonation of atomic bombs. Heard concludes by summarizing the classic argument that, since the flying dics are neither hallucination nor terrestrial they must therefore be extraterrestrial.

In the course of the above narration, he expresses ideas that will become commonplace. Already, in the forward, the flying saucers are “some sort of super flying-machine”. Reliable witness reports are debunked or suppressed by authorities, whether the press or “Air-authorities”. Evidence is murderously suppressed by the military or government, as evidenced by the B-52 crash and death of USAF officers Brown and Davidson August 1947 transporting samples of the Maury Island ejecta. Heard categorizes the dramatis personae of the mystery into three characters: the reliable, trained but mystified witness; the witness reluctant to report his experience; and the suppressing authorities. The haughty dismissal of the mystery of the saucers is compared to that of psychical research or  Eighteenth century reports of meteorites. The UFO is described as possessing what are now the classic shapes of discs or torpedoes and of making impossibly tight turns. Heard posits the explanation that the Flying Saucers were said to be U.S. secret weapons or feared to be foreign, that the public revelation of their extraterrestrial origin would result in a “War of the Worlds” hysterical reaction, their being extraterrestrial borne out by the Saucer’s technology being ahead of ours, likely relying on magnetism or antigravity. Finally, as noted, it was the flash of A-bomb blasts that piqued the Martians’ curiosity.

For all its turgid near unreadability, Heard’s book possesses at least two (almost) saving graces. For such an early work, it presciently identifies and describes salient cases that will become “classics” and reflects on them in a manner that will be repeated over the coming decades. Remarkably, Heard’s imagining the ETs are insectoid uncannily foresees the various mantid species that will make their entrance most markedly with the advent of the Abduction phenomenon. Most importantly, though, Heard’s “hypothesis” that the pilots of the flying discs are Martian bees is developed from his ruminations about terrestrial bees, concluding they are possessed of an intelligence equal to that of humankind, being social, and capable of both calculation and communication. That he does not anthropomorphize the extraterrestrial as too many will and still do but discovers a nonhuman intelligence in our own backyard makes Heard a radical, ecological thinker avant le lettre, decentering the ontotheological primacy of human intelligence and of humankind in the process.

bee face

Remarks Re: M. J. Banias’ “The UFO Community; a Counter-Cultural Movement”

Over at  Terra Obscura M J Banias finished off 2018 and began 2019 with a bang, probing the nature of the UFO community and the implications of its more-or-less shared beliefs (read Part I here, and Part II here).

The social and political features of the UFO myth is an important topic, one too often overshadowed by speculations around the mystery of the phenomenon itself. Consistent with the intent of Skunkworks, Banias brackets the question of the truth, nature, or being of the UFO phenomenon to inquire into its, here, social meaning.

And it’s the resonance of that topic and approach that inspires my attempts to come to terms with Banias’ thoughts. I must admit up front I find much of what he writes  obscure and his conclusions often unwarranted, but I have done my best to present what I take to be his positions as strongly as I can and to use them more as jumping-off points for further reflection on the matter than as targets of criticism, though I will register my points of disagreement. (I’ll gladly send him my annotated version of his posts on request!).

Banias’ thesis seems to be that the UFO community is a subculture, some of whose defining beliefs are so at odds with mainstream culture they constitute a kind of critique of that culture, making the UFO subculture thereby into a counterculture.

There is a tension in just how the UFO subculture is to be delimited, a tension not without interesting consequences (that I pursue, below). On the one hand, the subculture is nebulous and ill-defined, to the point that it is “difficult to pin down, [difficult] to be able to clearly ascertain who is a member and who is not,” while, on the other, one can identify certain beliefs with sufficient clarity and force making it possible to claim that this sub/counter-culture “challenges every major established power system” in mainstream culture.

The starkest example in this regard is the belief in nonhuman intelligences, an Alien Other, “whether it be the Greys from Zeta Reticuli, Blue Avians, or a complex and intelligent overarching control system.” The single, and exemplary, example provided are the conclusions John Mack draws from his research into the Alien Abduction phenomenon, that “we participate in a universe or universes that are filled with intelligences from which we have cut ourselves off…”

How is that the Alien Other “challenges every major established power system”? On the one hand, by being above and therefore free to ignore political and legal orders, national sovereignty or laws that protect the person or property:

The UFO as object does not obey laws regarding sovereign airspace or national borders, nor do the extraterrestrial beings apply for visas before landing on foreign soil to scoop up plant samples, mutilate cows, or abduct people.

Moreover, “the events that seem to present themselves throughout the UFO and contactee narrative indicate extreme technological and/or intellectual abilities,” i.e., the UFO and ET are possessed of a technology and intelligence or wisdom that equally ignore our present physics and philosophy in their transcending them. And underwriting these challenges are, perhaps more importantly, the ways the UFO and the Alien Other are an affront to the mainstream view of reality, which, more reflexively that reflectively, denies their reality in defense of its own.

What’s important here is that, regardless of the ontological status of the Alien Other, the very idea proposes that our consensus reality, the self-evident validity of our social order, of our scientific knowledge of nature, and of our understanding of ourselves as human beings and of our place in these orders, is relative and questionable, i.e., in a certain sense, unreal. Of course, what gives the Alien Other this critical purchase is its possessing precisely an ontological ambiguity, an uncertainty as to whether it is merely a fictional delusion or not, its being, in this sense, mythological. That such phenomena may be true in a manner so at odds with what passes for the way things are is what irritates orthodox minds to react with such violent, irrational denial in place of sobre, inquisitive curiosity.

In some regards, Banias is in good company in holding these views, if I have understood him correctly. In terms of the challenges observations of UFOs or UAPs pose to our current knowledge of physics, no less than Jacques Vallee and collaborator Eric Davis state in a paper published 2003 that “continuing study of reported UAP [Unidentifed Aerial Phenomena] events is important: It may provide us with an existence theorem for new models of physical reality.” An important caveat, however, is that UAP or AAP (Anomalous Aerial Phenomena) can challenge our current physics only if they are in fact real phenomena whose behaviour and characteristics are at odds with our theories.

When in comes to potential social repercussions, Banias makes a strong claim:  “alien visitation…would call into question the concept of nationalism, state loyalty, and even citizenship itself. It would call into question the very nature of society and culture.” Ronald Reagan in a famous speech delivered before the UN in 1987 would seem to echo this sentiment:  “…how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” But, in this case, unlike that of the challenges AAP pose to our physics, widespread public acceptance of an Alien presence, i.e., the mere belief in its reality and its thereby becoming part of our consensus reality, would be sufficient to catalyze the changes Banias imagines, if his claim is true in the first place. Those members of the UFO subculture worried about a false-flag alien invasion staged to usher in a New World Order would, I imagine, agree (not that I take Banias to be among their ranks).

And it’s just at this point that the tensions in Banias’ definition of the UFO subculture become salient. Who might be said to be a member, and why? Membership seems to be, to borrow Banias’s expression, a question of ideology, here, what someone thinks. After addressing the difficulty in delimiting membership, Banias goes on to essay some tentative commonalities:

…one common motif that runs through these communal moments is the notion of the extraterrestrial, the alien Other. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs regarding the notion of aliens, the history and mythology of the UFO narrative has fused the ET construct to the subculture….one ought to be clear on the fact that not everyone in the UFO community interprets the idea of the alien in the same way…

Notions, beliefs, discourses (such as history and mythology), and interpretations are all, in what I take to be Banias’ sense, or at least one of his senses, ideological. Membership in the subculture, then, depends upon one’s beliefs and concerns.

Banias is at great pains to argue that this set of beliefs and concerns is marginal to mainstream society; how else could it be counter-cultural? However, because, I would argue, of its ideological character, an interest in, fascination with, or concern over the Alien Other is, in fact, ubiquitous to, at least, North American society. Banias himself quotes anthropologist Debbora Battaglia in this regard:

…the alien Other is a “lived experience.” It is a construct that is everywhere. The alien, the flying saucer, UFOs, and various other paranormal symbols, appear in film and television, video games, corporate logos, beverage containers, laptop stickers, smartphone cases, and much more. These mythological realities are entrenched in popular culture, and perhaps more interestingly, under the control of human economic and social systems [or at least circulate within these systems…].

If “the alien Other is a ‘lived experience'” in this way, then who counts as a member of the subculture? Those fascinated by the mystery, who consume the videos, movies, books (all the commodities Battaglia lists above), who maybe attend conferences, whose obsessions and beliefs and products are too flaky for the mainstream? Those innocents whom the mystery touches, witnesses and Experiencers? Those who study the mystery in orthodox manners (e.g., David M. Jacobs as a historian or John E. Mack as a psychiatrist) or who, like Vallee or other members of the Invisible College, bring to bear the research methods of the physical sciences? Academics and others, like myself, who may not be focused on the UFO mystery itself but are more puzzled by the social phenomenon, from the point of view of religious studies, sociology, cultural studies, etc.? Members of the police, armed forces, and intelligence communities who themselves are either Experiencers or are tasked with dealing with the mystery or even using the mystery for their own ends, (e.g. the infamous Richard Doty?). Journalists who investigate and write on the mystery, whether a one-off article or a book or books? And, further out, what of those fans of UFO/ET themed fictions, regardless of media, e.g., the X-phile or even Trekkie? And those artists who produce the variegated UFO/ET themed works the members of the “subculture” consume? The subculture seems to run deep in the mainstream.

Nevertheless, one marginal, UFO subculture is, I think, definable, and amenable to much of what Banias says. Let me call its  members here for convenience “ET Fundamentalists”, those who believe UFOs are real vehicles for really existing nonhuman intelligences (Alien Others). Like their Christian counterparts, ET Fundamentalists share a core of beliefs that separates them from the nonbelievers in mainstream society but whose finer points are subject to differences in interpretation to the point of violent disagreement among believers. This space between the core beliefs and their nuances Banias, following Lorin Cutts, calls “the mythological zone,” which opens the way to schisms, sects, and denominations in fundamentalist Christianity or different “ideologies” in the UFO subculture. Both believe in a cosmos inhabited by nonhuman intelligences (angels and demons or Space Brothers or Greys) that take an active interest in the fate of individual human beings and the ultimate fate of humankind. Where Christians believe in the power of prayer and the suspension of the laws of nature (miracles), the ET fundamentalist believes in telepathy or channeling and the transcendence of our understanding of physics by ET technology. Both engage in a variety of pseudoscientific pursuits that mimic and sometimes engage with mainstream science:  think how similar much of ufology is to Creation Science that seeks to prove the truth of some particular, “literal” reading of the Bible. One might object that, where Christianity is essentially a religion of revelation, much of the fascination with the UFO is inspired by its mystery, but, for the ET Fundamentalist, the strip-tease of Disclosure takes the place of revelation, both the Christian and ET versions moving toward their own versions of Apocalypse, whether the millennium following the return of Christ at the End of Time, or the era “After Disclosure” of the truth and nature of the ET presence. Both subcultures create their own institutions, congregations or conferences, churches or groups, media producers and publishers. Nor should it need much pointing out how much intersection there has been between these two groups, whether Christian Fundamentalist interpretations of the UFO phenomenon or taking up of Christian themes and materials by the UFO subculture, e.g., the Ancient Astronaut interpretation of Biblical events that has been part of ufology from very nearly the beginning. Indeed, the parallels between American Fundamentalist Christianity and the American UFO subculture of ET Fundamentalists and their crossover suggest fertile ground for research by sociologists, scholars of religion, or cultural theorists.

This central problem with Banias’ essay, the character and scope of the UFO subculture, rises, in part, from how he (mis)applies (or so it seems to me) the cultural theory of Dick Hebdidge and his work Subculture:  The Meaning of Style (1979). Simply, Banias’ appropriation elides the materialist aspects of Hebdige’s analysis—class, race, socioeconomic conditions, etc.—in favour of the “ideological” (notions, beliefs, interpretations), which is why, once he brings to bear the work of more materialist anthropologists and political scientists, Battaglia and Jodi Dean, the subculture bleeds out into the mainstream.

That the beliefs of ET Fundamentalists are at odds with mainstream culture is well-taken, but the relation between this “subculture” (that awaits a rigorous characterization) is more nuanced than the ways it might be said to be marginal, critical, or counter. Indeed, mainstream culture takes up, envelops, or includes the subculture variously:  as kooky but harmless, as a market for goods and services, as personally dangerous (e.g., Heaven’s Gate), as a threat to national security (both because of the curiosity of its members and how membership might be used to cloak espionage), as a system of beliefs to be experimented with and perhaps exploited, etc. That the mythology, whether restricted or general, can function as a kind of ideology-critique (as I’ve outlined, above) is not uninteresting, but it need do more than merely contradict and thereby relativize mainstream notions (any fiction can do this); it needs to reveal as fictions those truths the powerful maintain as natural and given (“reified”), truths that serve to maintain power and privilege as natural and unalterable, e.g.. Margaret Thatcher’s quip that “There is no such thing as society.”

Indeed, as I’ve long maintained, the UFO myth tacitly repeats and thereby maintains and entrenches the reigning ideology of present-day, advanced societies, instrumental reason if not the commodity form. Banias himself seems to unwittingly agree when he writes in the concluding remarks to his posts: “To look deeply into the UFO phenomenon…we realize that we are staring into a mirror.” When we behold the humanoid-all-too-humanoid ETs and their technology, we do indeed gaze at distorted versions of ourselves. And it is in the failure to recognize ourselves in this distorted form that reifies, makes immediate and unconscious, everything we project there.

For all my points of disagreement with Banias, his brief foray opens interesting and rewarding vistas. The sociology of the community of UFO believers and the more general semiotics of the UFO and ET as a sign in society in general are fields yet to be surveyed with sufficient thoroughness and rigor. The UFO is, further, and more importantly, a site of social struggle, between experience and authority (witnesses and experiencers vs. skeptics and debunkers, official and unofficial), competing claims to knowledge and legitimacy (i.e. the UAP and nonhuman intelligence as topics of institutionally sanctioned research), access to information and political suppression or disinformation, and much more, all informed, if not formed, by class, gender, race, etc. Here, the analogy is not so much to Plato’s Cave as it is to scientists’ dismissing peasants’ claims to have witnessed meteors and finding meteorites. Let the prospecting begin!


What’s so compelling about ET, Cover-up and Disclosure?

A post of Robbie Graham‘s at Mysterious Universe coalesced with some of my recent, casual ufological reading (Jung’s Flying Saucers, Heard’s The Riddle of the Flying Saucers, Keyhoe’s The Flying Saucers are Real, Vallee’s Revelations…) to prompt the question that titles this post.

Of the “10 Shocking Statements about UFOs by Scientists and Government Officials” Graham presents, eight have to do with official secrecy or dissimulation (that governments in fact know the nature of UFOs but suppress that knowledge), while four openly espouse the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), that UFOs are spacecraft piloted by intelligent, unearthly beings. What’s as curious (if not shocking) is that this coupling of the ETH with accusations of an official suppression of its supposed truth has been part of the fabric of the UFO myth from the very beginning:  Project Sign’s “Estimate of the Situation” proposed the ETH as a possible explanation for flying saucer sightings in late 1948, while Donald Keyhoe concludes the Author’s Note that begins his 1950 The Flying Saucers are Real

I believe that the Air Force statements, contradictory as they appear, are part of an intricate program to prepare America—and the world—for the secret of the discs[,]

namely, that they are extraterrestrial spaceships.

Given that flying saucers first appear as such within the horizon of the Cold War, it should come as little surprise that the USAF personnel tasked with identifying them had to come up with some positive answers. If the flying discs were in fact real objects (as observations seemed to imply) and that aeronautical technology, domestic or foreign, was incapable of manufacturing such aeroforms, some alternative explanation had to be supplied; the urgency of the times could not allow for a shrug of the shoulders and admission of ignorance. That the most persuasive alternative proposed was that the flying saucers were extraterrestrial artifacts produced by “civilizations far in advance of ours” is as curious as it proved to be fateful for the development of the myth….

This concatenation of the ETH and an early instance of conspiracy theory will develop over the coming decades into a complex tale of crashed saucers and the retrieval of their pilots living and dead, reverse-engineering of alien technology and secret treaties between governmental or even more shadowy organizations and an ever-growing number of ET races, alien abductions and ET-human hybridization programs, secret ET bases, Secret Space Programs and Breakaway Civilizations, the suppression of free energy and other technologies, and, hanging over all this, the ever-imminent official Disclosure of these matters engineered by government insiders, ever-growing numbers of whistleblowers, and even benevolent ETs. (One should not ignore that alongside this more secular development is an equally lively and creative religious one rooted in Theosophy, that extends through the early Contactees to channelers and the New Age and various New Religious Movements). As Jacques Vallee relentlessly discloses in his Revelations (1991), the genesis and on-going production of this “powerful new myth, perhaps even the emergence of a new religion” (18) has more to do with human machination and manipulation than any suppressed science-fictional reality. Nevertheless, as Jung himself discovered in the 1950s “news affirming the existence of UFOs [and ETs] is welcome, but…scepticism seems to be undesirable” (3). Why should this be?

One might venture the following. Since the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, humankind, especially in the West but increasingly globally, has found itself displaced. In the Christian cosmos, Man was the crown of creation, made in the image of God. With Copernicus, the earth ceased to be the centre of the universe; further discoveries in the Eighteenth century revealed the earth to be vastly older than 6,000 years; Darwin disabused homo sapiens of pretensions to any uniqueness in the animal kingdom; and cosmological discoveries since have revealed a God-less universe, if not multiverse, as vast in time and space as the earth and humankind upon it have become correspondingly tiny and insignificant. Add to this story the existential threats of nuclear war and ecological collapse and one will be unsurprised at attempts to imagine ways to alleviate the anxieties such a precarious situation inspires.

Enter one or more ET civilizations “far in advance” of our own or Space Brother incarnations of Ascended Masters to lead us on to a higher plane of spiritual evolution. In the first case, the history of one society on earth, that of the technologically advanced “First World”, becomes an instance of a universal tendency of life in the universe, to evolve towards intelligence, a sentience like our own, and evergrowing technoscientific knowledge and mastery of nature. In the latter case, again, the human being is understood as a stage on life’s way, from matter to spirit, from ignorance to enlightenment. In both cases, that dethroned, decentred, disoriented species finds a new orientation in a universal scheme, as either one species among a galaxy of others ranked according to their place on a  linear scale of intelligence and technoscientific development, or on an equally linear scheme of spiritual wisdom; humankind finds again a home in a cosmic order, a kind of Great Chain of Being, whether material or spiritual, except this time, humankind creates God in its own image. Even the paranoid and fearful version of the myth, that certain ET species and their human allies are evil, working toward conquest, colonization or domination, weaves itself on the loom that projects our kind of intelligence, the self-image of our present technoscientific culture, onto all forms of life, on and off the earth.

The Anthropocene as the Beginning of our Descent to Eaarth

The myriad, variegated narratives inspired by UFOs—from sighting reports to the wildest, baseless fantasies to more sobre, scholarly research and reflection, as well as fiction, films, documentaries, and even poems—taken in toto can be grasped, as Jung proposed, as a “visionary rumour” or “myth of things seen in the sky”, the manifest content of a collective dream expressing the anxieties and aspirations of a technological civilization that can imagine its own species suicide as readily as relocating to another planet. It makes perfect sense then that the Contactees of the Cold War era were warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons or that in the 1980s Abductees were shown by their captors depictions of environmental devastation.

The UFO mythos in this way takes up in its vortex both our aspirations nazi-ufosto interplanetary travel and the Anthropocene. That is to say, humankind can be imagined to be already on an interplanetary journey, from Earth to Eaarth, propelled by the same man-made forces that have driven the world from the Holocene to the Anthropocene.

Regardless of when the Anthropocene might be said to have started (as if geological epochs are so finely demarcated) and to a lesser extent of whether we term this new age the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, or Cthulhucene, the earth is no longer the relatively temperate place that nurtured homo sapiens’ recent cultural development, the civilization we live in. It is undeniable rising levels of atmospheric carbon, ocean acidification, and ubiquitous “plastification” have markedly modified the earth, along with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, the extinction and pressurized evolution of plant and animal species, and human transformations of the landscape and sprawling, artificial constructions all have changed the earth in unnerving, unrecognizable ways. Given a description of the chemical composition of the environments of two planets, we wouldn’t be too far amiss to believe we were observing two different worlds, rather than one in two different epochs. Humankind has transported itself en masse from Earth to Eaarth by an unconscious and unintentional “exoforming” (rather than terraforming) and now faces the challenge of having to colonize a planet unpredictably different from its homeworld.

What propelled human beings to this new planet itself gets caught up by the myth, which points to a Promethean intervention that created the sapience that underwrites the cultural explosion and rapid technological development within the matrix of the Holocene that results in the exoforming of the earth as a by-product of industrialization. The laughably perverse hermeneutic of the Ancient Astronaut Theorists like dreams, slips of the tongue, and other psychopathologies of everyday life, unconsciously discerns a truth, that our present predicament seems destined and out of our control. Whether the cultural heroes and gods of antiquity were Extra-terrestrial teachers, or if they interbred with proto-humans or genetically modified them, the Ancient Astronaut Theorists intuit that human beings are not quite at home on the earth (an insight they share with, among others, certain strains of Gnosticism), that there is something uncanny and “alien” about us, whether we call it sapience, intelligence, science, or technology, or, as I do here, technoscience.

It is just at this point that for all its way-outness the myth harmonizes with those concepts and values that make the accidents and historically and socially contingent forces that led us to this cultural point seem natural, universal and necessary. The assumptions that orient the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), for example, posit that intelligent life is intelligent in the way humans conceive themselves to be, that ET civilizations will follow the same tool-using vector as our own, that technological civilizations follow a linear path such that they can be judged more or less advanced than each other, and that our and their histories will be sufficiently analogous in these regards that once we make contact and learn to understand each other then perhaps we can learn from them how they negotiated their way through the impasses that seem to threaten the existence of the very civilization that led to these crises. In more mundane terms, we tend to have faith that scientific ingenuity will be what will get us through precisely the grave dangers that ingenuity has wrought. This faith in science or “being-scientific”, this assumption that the radically contingent and social history of our civilization’s history as we write it from this moment is somehow more assured than that equally chance-ridden story of our or any species’ evolution and that it is moreover universal to all beings like us is the ideology that underwrites and guides both the speculations that UFOs are spaceships from other planets and that our stories of the gods who descend from the sky in chariots of fire (or more elaborate mechanisms, like that witnessed by Ezekiel) to remake if not make human beings in their own image are actually ancient astronauts.spaceships-ezekiel-1

And it is just here that a darker, more paranoid thread of the myth can be picked out. If we bring together the proposal that ETs have genetically engineered homo sapiens from the beginning with the stories about alien abduction and human-alien hybridization (a most extreme version being perhaps the more recent work of David Jacobs) then it becomes imaginable that the earth and human beings have been undergoing a process of colonization from the inside-out. The genetic and cultural interventions or intrusions simultaneously culture a technological intelligence and behaviour that exoforms the earth while the human species is transformed into an alien species fit for the planet the earth is becoming. I am unsure if any Gnostic in their most pessimistic speculation has outlined such a destiny and fate for humankind. In this view, the technoscientic knowledge outlined above and science-fictionally projected here is an alien technology whose end is at the same time the repression of the recognition of all non-human intelligence on the earth (the matter for another note, surely) and the extinction of homo sapiens and the earth as we knew it.

N.b. Let me be clear:  I hardly believe the contents of the myth I sketch here. I merely set out to constellate and cast the horoscope as it were of patterns I find in the UFO mythos and its implications and suggestions. It is therefore not a question of the truth of the Ancient Astronaut Hypothesis or the views of David Jacobs but of what meaning can be gleaned from them, reading them as if they were just what I suppose they are here, aspects of a myth for our time.


UFOs, Borges, and the Limits of Reason

At the only “ufological” blog I visit, a complaint has been made that “the conflation of the paranormal with UFOlogy….alien abductions, crop circles, cryptozoology, and hordes of New Age fluff” makes it so ufology, as a serious concern if not nascent discipline, can’t, as it were, get off the ground. My, expanded and developed, response follows.

Methodical inquiry (“science”) only gets under way once its basic concepts are articulated, a workable object is obtained to study and methods of investigation proper to that object grasped and developed. Of course, existing science demonstrates that the same object can be studied by different disciplines, e.g., emotion by psychology, neuropsychology, and anthropology, among others, and that sometimes there is no object to study, as was the case with phlogiston.

In the case of the pseudoscience of ufology, at least three problems arise:

On the one hand, the community of ufophiles is hardly a homogeneous group of like-minded and like-educated persons; it is wildly heterogenous, so discussion goes off in all directions. From such disciples no discipline is likely to arise.

On the other hand, other phenomena get yoked in, because they appear at the same time: glowing balls of light are associated with the appearance of some crop circles; Big Foot sightings do accompany UFO sightings; nor does it take a scholar of New Religious Movements to hear the “New Age fluff” in the preachings of Orthon, Semjase, and their ilk (ignoring for the present that Flying Saucers have always been imagined in the context of occult thought: Guy Ballard met the prototypes of Adamski’s Orthon in the 1930s, for example).

On the third hand, at least three researchers in three different fields (Jacques Vallee (Dimensions), Hilary Evans (Gods, Spirits, Cosmic Guardians:  Encounters with Non-Human Beings), and Terry Matheson (Alien Abductions: Creating a Modern Phenomenon)) have noted parallels between UFO sightings, visions of angels and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, hauntings, shamanic initiation experiences, Near Death Experiences, alien abductions, Fairy abductions, and so on, which would seem to suggest a general theory of apparitions, not without its natural scientific, psychological, and sociological anchors.

As usual, the UFO phenomenon (or not) illuminates, if not creates a vortex that whips together, all manner of material together, precisely in a way to frustrate our existing rational schemata and to suggest there is indeed more in Heaven and Hell than is dreamt of in our philosophies, natural and otherwise. It brings to mind the passage from Borges that so fascinated Foucault, who cites it at the beginning of his Preface to The Order of Things. (The original in English translation is found in “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins” in Borges’ Other Inquisitions).

These ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s-hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.

(trans. Ruth L C Simms)

The Electromagnetic Hypothesis (EMH)

My contribution to UFOs and Popular Culture: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Myth, ed. James R. Lewis, Santa Barbara:  ABC-CLIO, 2000.

A line of thought parallel to the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH:  the theory that some UFOs are spaceships from other planets) might be called the electromagnetic hypothesis (EMH): the theory that UFOs and close-encounter experiences are caused by electromagetic phenomena and their interaction with the human nervous system. The EMH, as developed since the 1970s by its more noted proponents—Michael Persinger, Paul Devereux, Albert Budden, and their co-researchers and colleagues—draws on diverse disciplines (e.g., Budden lists medicine and clinical ecology, electromagnetics, bioelectromagnetics, neurology, psychology, physical geology, meteorology, atmospheric physics, and electrical engineering, among others) in order to explain not only UFO phenomena but apparitions in general, including hauntings, poltergeist activity, and even visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In general, the EMH proposes that fields of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) generated by natural or artificial sources can cause light-phenomena and a wide range of physiological and psychological effects, which, when combined with the background beliefs of the witness, create encounter experiences of the kind mentioned above.

As developed primarily by Persinger and Devereux, the EMH relates fault lines and tectonic activity with UFO reports and close encounters. Their studies purport to discover a close correlation between not only fault lines, seismic activity, and UFO reports, but also between these geological features and light phenomena, such as earthquake lights, mountain peak discharge, and ball lightning. Though many geologists and physicists question the nature and even existence of such phenomena, EMH proponents refer to measurements of a range of EMR generated by tectonic stresses and to eye-witness descriptions (and even photographic evidence) of unclassified aerial phenomena (UAPs). The appearance, behaviour, and visible effects of UAPs are those generally attributed to UFOs. UAPs appear as opaque, metallic, or variously colored, glowing spheres, ovoids, squiggles, or even inverted Christmas trees. Being almost without mass, they accelerate and stop instantaneously, hover, or fly in straight or irregular lines, achieving speeds clocked, in one instance, at 600 m.p.h. Being a kind of electrical plasma phenomena, they appear on radar and emit a broad band of EMR, giving rise to electromagnetic effects associated with flying saucers, namely burns, scorching, melting, and electrical interference, as well as those more subliminal effects on the nervous system that result in the imagery and narrative of a close encounter experience. Being a mysterious (if natural) phenoma, UAPs and their haunts (as it were) have been associated with many ancient or traditional holy sites, such as stone circles in England and Wales, monasteries and temples in Greece and China, and holy mountains, like Mount Shasta in present-day California. Tectonic stresses and the earth tremors that result from them have likewise been long associated with marked behaviour in animals, giving rise to research into the possible causal grounds for this connection between geological activity and the nervous systems of higher organisms, including human beings.

Michael Persinger and others have experimented extensively with the effects of EMR on the brain. Persinger, for example, has developed a chamber wherein a subject is seated and fitted with a specially-designed helmet that induces small changes in the electromagnetic fields of targetted regions of the brain thereby modifying the electrochemical reactions of the neurons, resulting in modifications of consciousness. Depending on the strength of the field, the region of the brain stimulated, the subject’s background, and even the imagery decorating the chamber, subjects report a wide range of perceptual effects, including intense emotions of fear or anger, flashing lights, feelings of being observed by an unseen presence, sensations of sudden intense cold or of being touched or moved, etc. More extreme reactions include auditory or visual hallucinations, such as hearing authorative God-like voices or the appearance of skinny, wax-like humanoids. That these effects are those associated with ghost sightings, poltergeist hauntings, and UFO abduction experiences have led researchers to propose that the energies released by geological activity or perhaps by the light phenomena supposedly caused by this activity lead to experiences interpreted by the experiencer as an encounter with a ghost, UFO and its pilots, or with some other form of apparition whose character and behaviour is culturally-determined by the experiencer’s background.

Proceeding from the research of Persinger and others, Albert Budden has expanded the refined the EMH to include artificial sources of EMR and the electromagetic pollution they are seen as causing. The historically-recent increase of  EMR in the environment has resulted in an “electromagnetic smog” from sources such as wireless communications technologies and radar, power lines, high-tension cables, transformers, substations, and junction boxes. Anxiety over electromagnetic pollution is hardly a fringe phenomenon, as the health effects of EMR have been the subject of studies and concern both within single nations (e.g., a Swedish study of 50,000 subjects to determine a link between proximity to high-tension power pylons and forms of cancer) and internationally (e.g., studies conducted by the World Health Organization) [An example of more up-to-date data can be read here]. By natural and artificial sources of EMR, singly or together, along with other factors, Budden attempts to explain in detail how “hallucinatory / visionary perceptions are caused ultimately by the actions of [electromagnetic] fields in the environment on the human system, although physiological factors that are involved point to synergistic mechanisms.” In Budden’s view, artificial and natural electromagnetic fields  interact to produce those UAPs his coworkers identify as the source of UFO reports and close encounter experiences.


Books for further reading:

For research and results in the EMH specifically, see:

Budden, Albert. UFOs:  Psychic Close Encounters (London:  Blandford, 1995).

Electric UFOs (London:  Blandford, 1998).

Devereux P., Roberts, A. and Clarke, D. Earth Lights Revelation (London:  Blandford, 1989).

Persinger, M. A. and Lafreneire, G. F. Space Time Transients and Unusual Events (Chicago:  Nelson Hall, 1977).


For the thesis that UFOs and aliens are an aspect of the general theory of apparitions see:

Evans, Hilary. Gods–Spirits–Cosmic Guardians (Wellingborough:  The Aquarian Press, 1987).

Vallée, Jacques. Passport to Magonia (Chicago:  H. Regnery Co., 1969).

Dimensions (New York:  Ballantine, 1989).

Back to the Skunkworks

Just last week, a friend recently publicized a chapbook of mine composed and published airship2over twenty years ago, and the response, livelier than any to any of my work in recent memory, encourages me to return to the work that chapbook began.

I shouldn’t be surprised, in a way. This poem was the center-piece of the performances I gave during a tour of Germany in 1996, and then, too, the response was gratifying:  one audience member excitedly came up to me to say he would buy everything I would publish, and a friend I made during that tour, the German novelist Georg Oswald, approved with pleasure the approach I took to the material. And a few years later this sequence was well-received by Terry Matheson, a professor of English who has applied narratology to alien abduction reports and who was kind enough to even teach the poem below in one of his classes.

arnold_ufoSo, for interested parties, I append one of the first poems from this project, the last poem of my first trade edition, Grand Gnostic Central and other poems. and return to  back-engineering this “modern myth of things seen in the sky”.


Flying Saucers


Tuesday three in the afternoon 24 June 1947

Kenneth Arnold of Boise, rescue pilot, businessman, deputy sheriff and federal marshal, U.S. Forest Serviceman

At 9,000 feet crystal-clear conditions

Alone in his Callair between Chehalis and Yakima

An hour’s detour searching for a lost transport

Out of the blue a flash like just before a midair crash

Made him look left north of Mount Rainier

To see at ninety degrees

Nine seeming jet planes in a V pointed south


The echelon vaguely bobbing and weaving

Flashing reflections

Twenty-four miles off

Against Rainier’s snows, tailless—

Flying nearly forty miles

Between Mounts Rainier and Adams

Three times the speed of sound

The first crossed the ridge bridging the mountains

As the last came over its north crest five miles back


Nine crescents needing to be

Half a mile long to be seen

Flying that fast that far away

So smooth mirroring sunlight

Like speedboats on rough water

Wavering in formation

Like the tail of a Chinese kite

Wings tipping flashing blue white

Each like a saucer skipped over water