Saturday, December 30, 2017

Paranormal Research: Answers Are The First Mistake

I want to preface this article by telling readers that while I’m skeptical, I’m not out to debunk anything. I do not ridicule honest, first-hand experiences, but I do think there is a problem with how they are handled. We do not know everything, and while science can explain a lot, not every claim is made with the intent to deceive or defraud. Many times, unexplained events do not have any personal gain, even on an emotional level. However, I do not think everything should be hammered into a rational explanation anymore than I believe it can be chalked up to poltergeists, shadow people, demons, angels, or aliens.

I believe paranormal research spanning everything from ghosts to monsters and UFOs has a long history of misdirected methodology. In part, I believe this is framed by the language used, combined with the synthesis of the experiences by both witnesses and investigators.

We Went About This The Wrong Way – But Right For The Time

From the 1940s and well in to the early 1980s, many were dead set on the idea that anything in the sky that was unidentified absolutely had to be not of this earth. Dr. Hynek and Dr. Stanton Friedman were perfect for this. Dr. Hynek was part of a results-driven group, who later flipped on his opinions and gave us the categorizations we use today for encounters with flying saucers. Dr. Friedman also took an analytical approach, but he started with the open mind that the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) was a possibility. What we need to remember is that in the 20th Century, we were all about science. We had gone beyond our forebears, and we could provide “proof.” We made it out into space. Hell, we made it to the moon. By the 80s and 90s, we’d sent remote explorers to Mars and had one exploring the solar system. We knew stuff. Yet anything that wasn’t relegated to ghosts or demonic possession came under the heading of UFO and alien encounters. The immediate response was to hold onto “outer space” while figuring out a way to draw lines to Earth.

We went about this all wrong.

Yes, some unexplained things have very ordinary explanations. But the things that don’t? What are they? Does an object in the sky, which cannot be traced to weather balloons or experimental aircraft have to come from outer space? I don’t think so. Under the ocean? Nope. A hollow Earth? Most likely not. (Besides, we all know it’s flat, right?)

My point is that we are beyond the Space Age. The confirmation bias and magical thinking need to take a back seat when we discuss these things.

Breaking Or Expanding The Accepted Methodology

We work with boxes. I saw it in the skeptic community. I saw it in the community made up of people all-too-willing to believe in the paranormal. On both sides, people have created support groups of sorts, more than happy to jam things into categories to fit preconceived notions.

“What you saw was a formation of experimental airplanes and nothing can exceed the speed of light.”

“What you saw was a ghost, and you must find something to help them move onto the next realm.”

Spare me.
In most of these cases, the only evidence is that which is provided by the witnesses. We can try to match these events with more ordinary occurrences, but that doesn’t always work. Dismissing the things that do not fit is only overlooking something that may actually broaden our horizons. Likewise, letting people tell their tales without checking changes in their stories only leads to further misconceptions.

Hopkins? Jacobs? They steered a narrative. Friedman had a very narrow focus. Hynek employed very black and white thinking. I have no idea what the hell Dr. Greer wants other than camera time.

I’ve written previously that I cannot stand Coast to Coast, or what it’s become. However, it does give a platform for people who would be ridiculed anywhere else. Do I take everything the guests say at face value? Absolutely not. Does it encourage research? Absolutely.

We need to reevaluate how we approach cases of the unknown. The classical scientific method works up to a point. Beyond that, we have to consider and respect the notion that there are still things that fall outside of what we know.

Anomalous materials? Well, the Periodic Table is literally universal. Alloys, propulsion systems, and other things mentioned in UFO cases? The technology may be beyond us. Or it may be misidentified. We don’t know, and what we don’t know can’t be dismissed.

Billie Meier’s UFOs were not real in an extraterrestrial sense. Adamski and Lou Zinstag? Travis Walton? We have to look beyond the facade to see what these people were doing. I think in these cases the UFOs, such as they were, were vehicles (in the metaphorical sense) for a larger philosophy. Call it performance art. Call it busking for the Space Age. Call it philosophy. Not all of these people were making a living off of their tales. There was something more.

Strieber? I like his recounting of his experiences more than I do his fiction, but one may be more marketable than the other. Yet depending on the angle of entry, either will be off-putting to the reader.

I keep my own experiences to myself, save for a select few in my closest circle, because there is nothing to gain. I’ve analyzed the events from every angle, and there is no explanation. Sleep paralysis? That might account for one. But what about the instances when there were multiple witnesses who were not in view of each other?

Does the brain tune into things which cannot be seen on a regular basis? Does ritual and order stave off the unknown invoked by chaotic situations? Can one purposefully provoke the heretofore unseen?

Who the hell knows!

What I can say for certain is that trying to pigeonhole experiences from the angle of the debunker or believer is not the right way to approach these witnesses, simply because we do not have sufficient data.

Which leads me to my last (lucky for you) point...

Wiping The Slate While Learning From The Past

Right now, we have a bunch of people who know their specialized fields very well, and those who are just playing Calvinball. We need to start over. Ghost hunters want to have encyclopedic knowledge of spirits and carry proton packs, but at best have shitty cameras with night vision and bad interpretations of audio files.

UFO investigators want to desperately link cases to government conspiracies and outer space, but at best have magical thinking and a bunch of people who are already seeking direction supporting them.

Skeptics have classical science and the discoveries of the late-19th and 20th Centuries to bolster the notion that there is nothing new under the Sun.

All three groups (and I know there are more) only serve to attract the lost and further marginalize others.

We need to start over. In a big way.

We’ve learned what happens when hypnotherapy serves to lead people down a certain path. We’ve seen how stories change over time (Betty Hill’s greys originally had Jimmy Durante noses, after all). We’ve seen the frustration in cases like the Phoenix Lights, when things are not addressed seriously. We’ve also seen how ordinary things are chalked up to “aliens” when just scratching the surface reveals rather mundane explanations.

Yet people having disruptions in their lives due to the unexplained will not slow down. We have brains, and what we experience sometimes defies rational though and reality itself.

We need to rethink how we approach these experiences. We do not know everything. Not everything fits into boxes. Every UFO is not a weather balloon. Every unseen voice or object thrown out of nowhere is a ghost. Every late night abduction is not sleep paralysis, nor is it the cause of aliens.

At best, we can record, compare data, and move on. With the digital platform, we can archive experiences anonymously, compare information, and even experiment. Ideally, the people reviewing such things will not have an agenda to prove results in either direction.

There is more out there than we know. Similarly, most people do not understand the intricacies of certain technical fields. However, leading people in any direction is not the right choice. We need to take their information for what it is and move on from there. We can review data and compare at a later date.

I do not have all the answers. I don’t even know where my keys are right now. I don’t know where my cat is either, but I’m not going to jump to the conclusion that they are together, or extrapolate and say they are on a cross-country trip.

What I do know is that we have to stop what we’ve been doing, and rethink how we are going to approach things going forward.




Saturday, July 29, 2017

How Did The Paranormal Community Get Co-Opted?

Despite decades of being a skeptic, venturing into the realm of the paranormal is like junk food for my brain. Having grown up with In Search Of…, the often open-ended and inconclusive exposes on everything from cryptozoology to alien abduction and hauntings do occasionally get my attention. I've even enjoyed the experiences offered by The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, before Dawkins, Shermer, et al proved to be die-hard misogynists.

I watch them for the music, really!

One of the main reasons I dig up these shows and “documentaries” from the 1970s is the music. It’s always an interesting mix of traditional instruments, the obligatory Theremin, and some analog synth. I blame Rinder & Lewis, who composed the theme to In Search Of…, but it doesn’t end there. Horrible movies such as Overlords of the UFO, Journeys from Beyond Earth, UFOs Are Real, UFO Top Secret, The Amazing World of Ghosts, and more have such similar sounds that “crappy paranormal music” or “gullible jazz” should be its own genre. (I’ll link my entire playlist of the Best of the Worst at the end of this post.)

I take it back, I also watch for the bad science

One cannot see Anna Mitchell-Hedges lying through an interview about her crystal skull, Erich von Daniken’s not-so-subtle colonialism (because if non-western civilizations made great things, then it had to have been aliens, right?), or literally any photograph from the Billy Meier collection without wondering how people bought into any of this. There was a wonderful episode of Nova, also from the 1970s, in which Carl Sagan took on the ancient astronaut theory as “new dress for old-time religion.” As for the others, it is easy to see how little we really knew in the 1970s. Everything from the hollow earth theory, to the burgeoning concept of black holes, and even nascent (at the time) musings on quantum physics.

So here we are, 40 years later

I’ve been delving into Art Bell’s Coat to Coast and Clyde Lewis’ I Have No Critical Thinking Traits, or whatever the hell he calls his show, and something occurred to me. Since when did the paranormal community get co-opted by the petty, scared, and insular demographic of the far right? I understood when Dr. Stanton Friedman considered the crash at Corona, NM and the documents surrounding it to be “a cosmic Watergate.” Dr. Friedman hasn’t deviated much from his intentions since then. But for every Stanton Friedman, there’s a Travis Walton, Charlie Hickson, and, in present times, a Clyde Lewis, clamoring to keep relevant, even though they are nothing more than low-rent Alex Jones knock-offs.

But how did we get here?

Back in the 1970s, nuclear physicist Dr. Stanton Friedman coined the term “Cosmic Watergate.” This was about the stonewalling and perceived cover-up of whatever happened in Roswell, New Mexico. The paranormal enthusiasts were ready for this. Richard Nixon left the citizens of the United States with a feeling that they could no longer trust the intentions of the government. Extrapolating on the sentiment, many conspiracy theorists drew connections to President Eisenhower’s warning against the “military industrial complex,” which has become a mantra of sorts among the paranormal community, to this very day. This is the closest point I can identify as to where this whole thing ran off the rails. On one end, you had Dr. Friedman pushing for hard evidence (even he distanced himself from cases where Wendelle Stevens and others gave in with full credulity). We compounded this with statements by President Reagan, wondering what we would do as a world society, if faced with a threat from beyond Earth. If the President was willing to hint as an outside force, how could it not be real? (That’s sarcasm, for those trying to read too much into my words.) Sometime in the late 1980s/early 1990s, there was an expose hosted by Stacy Keach, which explored the possibility that the transistor was given to us by extraterrestrials. There is no doubt that the advent of the transistor has prevented us all from living in the world portrayed by the Fallout game franchise, and made huge leaps in technology possible. But aliens? Really? This then, of course, veered off into tangents about the mysterious Area 51, and what may be stored there. Again, when we do not want to recognize the ingenuity of humans, we believe there is some divine intervention. In a post-religious Cold War, we put gods in different costumes and were willing to believe in George Adamski’s aliens. The paranoia of the Cold War yielded some very strange outlooks on the world. We could not trust the government. We could not trust the media. Did we make an exchange where we received technology in exchange for the occasional abduction of seemingly very broken people? Did we break that covenant when we shot down an extraterrestrial craft over a ranch in New Mexico and held the extraterrestrial biological entities (EBEs) in confinement, while we milked them for information? Is that the simplest way to handwave away the fact that we’re pretty damned smart on the technological front, and that some people want to feel special? Sleep paralysis is a thing. Most people do not understand technology, astronomy, or what is in the sky at any given moment. Is it all aliens and ghosts in our demon haunted world? In a word, no. Has that prevented people from buying into conspiracies, or carving out a niche for themselves by promoting conspiracies where there are none? See the previous answer.

Conservative appeal? Conspiracy insiders? Enablers of ignorance?

Art Bell did a lot of political talk on radio, before realizing that embracing the fringe listeners in the wee hours of the night would be more lucrative. Bell’s views hover somewhere between the alt right and libertarianism, but he managed, for the most part, to keep his views in check. The successor to the Coast to Coast throne, George Noory, is one of the more vapid right wing paranormal hosts, with a line-up of guests promoting the conspiracy du jour, along with snakeoil, and buying into the latest schemes by repeat hoaxers in the paranormal community. Clyde Lewis, a self-proclaimed conservative, will happily tell you politics don’t matter because of the movements of figures behind the veil of our perceived reality – the real puppetmasters. Clyde is an idiot who regularly synthesizes poorly researched topics through a casual perception of the works of Lovecraft (which he may or may not have read), references to Charles Forte (which I'm certain he's picked up in passing, rather than, you know, actually reading) as well as conflating the notion of aliens with an eternal war between angels and demons, as he calls back to his less-than-literate grasp of both the New and Old Testaments. Rather than posit more critical thinking, the hosts mentioned above have a wonderful track record of adding fuel to whatever misguided conspiracy callers profess, be it professing certain politicians (who are not leaning to the right) are secretly reptilians, a-la David Icke’s racist and anti-Semitic views, to (and yes, we’re circling back again) getting into discussions about how aliens helped the “non-melanated” (callers words, not mine) people of Earth. (As opposed the tall, beautiful, and peaceful Nordic aliens – it’s a thing, apparently – who want to save everyone involved in the mostly white, under-educated, target audience for extraterrestrial experiences.)

If you think you have the solution, then you’re part of the problem

I’m never going to tell anyone to completely avoid the more vociferous members of the paranormal community. Hell, between these shows and a steady diet of lead paint chips, I turned out fine, right? The odds are pretty good that anyone who is a believer/experiencer/conspiracy theorist is never going to read this post. If they take umbrage with my statements, I’m certain their objections will appear in the comments.

What I’m trying to say is to use your minds. If Noory, Lewis, and the other radio/podcast hosts are claiming to have the inside line on how things really work, ask yourself why more people aren’t flocking to their shows. The usual response is that the mainstream media doesn’t want this kind of information to be readily accessible to the masses, so they are relegated to the hours between midnight and 4am, when all of our brightest thinkers are surely awake and sober (so types a terminal insomniac).

There is, of course, a much simpler answer. The hosts are not skilled enough to be real pundits or journalists, so they took to the airwaves as carnival barkers for the last media outlets available in a world where science, facts, and rational thinking are becoming more prevalent. I love science fiction. I love fantasy. I love suspending my disbelief and losing myself in an adventure or abstract train of thought. I also know when to close the book, turn off the video clips, and realize that I’m not living in some large simulated universe.

Because I mentioned this above, here are the playlists. A word of warning: You will come away feeling stupider after watching these “documentaries,” but the music is great.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Too Stupid For Flirting, Too Nice To Get Arrested

Way back in the winter of 2004, I had my apartment to myself. I was taking a long break from relationships, and my roommates were gone for the week because they were prone to having lives, whereas I wrote and, after another fast wreck of a relationship, wasn't really big on human interaction.

But being a hermit only goes so far.

It should also be noted that, back then, I smoked cigarettes. I had a second story apartment in an old brownstone from the 1800s. When I smoked, I would walk downstairs, stand outside, and just observe people. I could figure out who the regulars were in the neighborhood, patterns, and schedules. When people left and came home from work; who had "Casual Fridays" in the office, by what they wore throughout the week; who walked to the gym; who stumbled back from the bar at 4 am - the list goes on.

During this particular weekend, it was snowing. the gently, thick snowfall was piling up, and I would go downstairs to shovel off the porch and our stretch of sidewalk, to avoid fines from the city. My weekend consisted of writing, reading, and watching the occasional movie. As stated, my roommates were gone for the weekend, so going over routines and bouncing around ideas was not in the picture.

By Sunday, I was going a bit stir crazy. A live conversation was beginning to look like a pretty good idea. Maybe someone other than the cashier at my grocery store. I was winter. There are no places nearby in my location. Even meeting up with friends at "the restaurant next door" involved a long walk in inclement weather.

So I put on a nice suit, gathered all of the social skills I could muster, and...ordered a pizza.

Everything else went as planned. I picked out a DVD (this was 2004, after all), the pizza arrived, and the snow had finally stopped. The pizza was still incredibly hot, so I let it cool while I went back downstairs for a cigarette.

While I was smoking, a young woman walked by. I'd seen here walking around before, and we would smile and exchange polite-yet-meaningless pleasantries. Today, she walked by, smiled, and then slowed down to ask a question I had never expected.

"Hey, what are you up to?"

I responded with the truth. I had a pizza upstairs, and I was going to watch a movie. The second question was more forward than the first.

"Would you like some company?"

Possibly? I mean, I wanted human contact, and making a new friend was not a bad idea. I invited her upstairs.

I fetched some plates from the kitchen, and brought them to the living room. I apologized for being rather boring with my pizza topping selection, and asked her if she had ever seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Idle, but friendly conversation.

Then the conversation started to get awkward.

"So what do you like do do?"

I was eating pizza and watching a movie. I have the entire apartment to myself. I guess I like making new friends, writing, and playing games. She hadn't taken a flirtatious tone, so I was trying to keep the conversation friendly and harmless. It just seemed like an odd question, at the time.

I started the movie and told her to help herself to the pizza. I also let her have seating on the futon, while I took the chair. Her plate remained empty. She wasn't even really watching the movie. Then, after another few minutes, she asked me to hit the pause button.

"Look, you seem like a nice guy, but nether of us is going to get what they want," she said, as she pulled out her police badge. She continued.

"Someone in this neighborhood is paying for sex, and we've been trying to find out who it is."

I had to respond.

" pizza and a movie? No making new friends?"

She smiled and shook her head, "Not tonight, but thanks for not being any trouble."

I let her out, watched her leave, and tried to wrap my head around what just happened.

I'm too nice to be a threat. Too boring to make friends. But hey, I had (at that point) cold pizza and the futon all to myself.

I never did see the police officer again, so I'm assuming she caught the right person, or they put someone else in her place, because she was recognizable. Either way, it felt like the world had given me a backhanded compliment.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Order Now! Time Is Running Out!

As is human nature, when we lose someone close to us, we begin to take stock of our lives - where we are, what we're doing, and what really matters. In my teens, this meant clinging to minutiae and diving headlong into distraction. Now that I'm older, a still no wiser for the wear, it's about passion. I have quite a few, some of which are even allowed in most stated of the Union. It's accounting for the other things - those little things that use up my time, and what can be dropped from the list.

There is writing. Writing has always been my passion, and only recently has it become a means to keep the lights on and a roof over our heads. For the majority of my life, writing was why I needed other jobs. It was the reason I worked. When asked what I did, my response would usually be, "What do I do, or what do I do to pay the bills?"

It's become a bit of both, lately, but getting soured on writing isn't going to happen in the foreseeable future. Writing, even for those projects I dislike, is how I synthesize the concepts and world around me. If you asked me three years ago how loans work, my response would be that you receive finite money, accompanied with greater debt. Now, because of my job, I can comfortably navigate various loan structures. A similar thing happened just prior to this job, when I was writing technical articles on digital cameras. Before that, it was networking systems. The list goes on, and I would never have chosen to research any of these topics on my own, but because I "make words go," I've ended up learning quite a bit, and maybe someday it will be applicable. Writing for myself is something I would like to do again, beyond this blog which gets updated tri-whimsically.

There is music. Music has always been an integral part of my life. Whether playing or listening to music, I cannot remember a time when it was not present in my world. Unfortunately, the former has taken a back seat for many years. Now It is time to revisit that side, even if no one ever hears a single note.

There are fast cars. This is not a passion of mine, so I'll leave that to the folks who can afford to have a midlife crisis. I still have to grow up before I can have one of those.

There is reading. I'm doing this less frequently, these days. Juggling between three and five books at a time has become one or two. Even still, the time for reading is a rather elusive beast. I should clarify: The time to read for pleasure is elusive. Technically, I spend most of my days reading and researching for work, but my employer wouldn't take kindly to my scheduling tasks such as "Researching primal gods and forces" or "FTL drives and alien starfaring cultures."

Games. Oh do I enjoy games I'm a nerd. But lately, the thought has crossed my mind that perhaps I need to be more discerning about which games I play. The thought struck me while I was playing a game (Elite: Dangerous) that claims to have a 1:1 representation of the Milky Way. That's a lot of space. To date, I have put 390 hours into this game (you know, because I don't have time to read or play music). Somewhere around hour 388, I started to question what I was doing. There is no end-point. The game is absolutely beautiful, and I used to play it as a way to unwind from stressful days, or when the thoughts in my head simply would not stop. I'm not going to see every star or nebula, and software does have a finite life span. I'm doing a thing to do a thing, and not in a "climbing Everest" sort of way.

Making friends. This is a newfound passion, and one I'd like to continue. I was very content with a core group of people, and that core has expanded lately (well, minus one, but that's kind of why I'm assessing things) to include some amazing individuals - and there are many more I've yet to meet. People are more fascinating (to me) than flying some virtual space chariot from the same desk I use for work.

Exploring. I need to explore more. Reading through previous entries, I know I "rubber band" between states of utter solitude and never wanting to return to my home, but there's so much out there (to write like a 12-year old idealist) to see and be a part of. There are places which could use help (possibly even my brand of help), and there's a lot of fighting to be done to not let our country or species fall back from the progress it's already made.

Life. Living is a big passion of mine. I've had a very aggressively passive relationship with it in the past, but there is a bigger picture at play, now. I have a wife. We have a cat. We also have goals for owning a house, helping those we love, fighting for progress, and supporting our immediate and extended family. My appetite for self-destruction has gone by the wayside, over the years, despite keeping the profession of "writer." However (and this is the important part), living does not mean denying myself the things that I enjoy in the name of longevity. I see no point in living to a "ripe old age" if I'm existing solely on yoga, cardio exercise, and celery. Stoicism (as my late friend embraced) is not the answer. Denying pleasures does not make them more pleasurable. I live in a city full of Earthly Delights, and there is no reason to abstain from sampling what is available. This does not mean one should live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse. I'm not smoking ten cigars at a time, eating deep-fried steaks, and downing shots of tequila at a strip club while saying, "THIS is living! Gotta go sometime!" Which leads me to the next point, and it goes along with living.

Appreciation. It's not always about going for the gusto. It's appreciating the pleasures that present themselves, and the people who can share in those pleasures and adventures. I appreciate when my cat decides to take a nap with me. I appreciate going to the convenience store with Gwyn, because there's always something interesting at the store, or along the way. I love having conversations over dinner with my close friends and extended family, and I appreciate their passions. I always look forward to the spontaneous conversations with my brother, and my core group from back east. And while I have not necessarily lived a life devoid of regrets, I deeply appreciate the wonderful experiences that happened along the way, those which led me to this point, and the ones which are yet to come. Hell, I appreciate the feral cats who live a few blocks from me because I get the occasional slow blink. Appreciation could easily be a list that would go on forever with each passing year, but I'd never get anything done.

Learning to be better. I grew up in a very isolated area. Very few people in my age group "got out" of the loop which relegated people to working in family businesses, or resigning themselves to an ever-decreasing job market in a post-agrarian region, with nothing to fill the once-prominent industries. After traveling (not that traveling is ever over), and being exposed to different philosophies, that old punk mentality of challenging the status quo remains at the forefront. Not so much raging for the sake of raging, but looking more to how we can progress as a whole, and how I can become more open and understanding. It's an interesting dichotomy. Allowing myself to get angry while feeling overjoyed with victories - not necessarily at the expense of others, but in the hopes that the larger tapestry is more vibrant and complete.

In short, America is a land of many contrasts.

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