Tuesday, February 19, 2013

MIB-UFO: Virtual Reality and Reality Tunnels

This is my contribution to an upcoming book on the Men in Black by Nick Redfern. 

Imagine that you've built a time machine. Imagine you enter that machine and abduct English-speaking pilgrims from the rocky shores of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Imagine you take the brightest citizens you can find and show them your television and your cellphone and Google Earth, things we all take for granted. How would you explain any of it? How would you explain satellite feeds and wireless internet?

How could you begin to explain these things to people- separated by a mere moment in geological time- who have no concept of electricity, never mind microchips? Can you imagine the terror, the confusion, and the myths they would create to explain such an experience? No matter how hard you tried to explain these wonders, your poor abductees would have no context at all to process any of it. Even the most serene sounds and images would seem to mock their entire conception of reality.

You wouldn't necessarily need a time machine. There are still isolated tribes in the Amazon, the great heartland of Mother Earth, Stone Age peoples who have been sheltered by millions of square acres of impassible jungle. There have been flyovers of film crews, which surely has caused a great deal of confusion among the tribes. What context do they possibly have for a helicopter or airplane in their conception of the world? These surreptitious flybys must be utterly magical and mysterious. Or more likely, demonic.

And then there are the cargo cults of the South Pacific, who came face to face with technological society during the Second World War. Cargo cults have become a bit of a cliche in UFO circles, but they and the isolated tribes serve as a more effective metaphor for those of us who subscribe to heretical ideas on flying saucers.

We breathe the same air these tribes do but we live for all intents and purposes in two entirely separate worlds. But would we- do we- behave any differently when confronted with a bewildering superior technology?

I'm one of those handful of weirdos who believe flying saucers are real physical objects guided by intelligence but do not believe they are filled with spacemen from another planet. I believe these things for the very same reason- too many people have been witnessing these things for too long for a truly reasonable individual to dismiss them all as illusions. But the fact that so many people have seen so many UFOs for such an incredibly long time effectively rules out extraterrestrial vehicles, at least to me.

I love Star Trek more than anyone but the distances between stars are huger than we can imagine. And even if an advanced civilization has mastered the warp drive I don't think they'd come here and behave anything like flying saucers have since prehistory.

Let's go back to those poor abductees from Plymouth. If we were to try to explain our technology to them we would have to use their modes of language, and here we would inevitably lapse into symbol, simile and metaphor; "It's all kind of like this... or it's as if.. or it's like that, you see." It wouldn't be easy. And you can be certain they would initially see it all as the Devil's work.

Human beings fill in blanks with imagination, and when faced with superior force those blanks are invariably painted black. As much as we want to believe in angels, I think most of us are afraid that those higher powers are exclusively demonic. This speaks to the fragility of the human condition. In the end, this world kills us all.

Because the mind-killing virus of Fundamentalism (spiritual or secular) still infests the world of the paranormal and Conspiratainment spheres, too many people who don't  dismiss the UFO phenomenon out of hand paint it all black. This is an inevitability based in ignorance and fear. Fear is an important evolutionary mechanism and fearing what we don't know is based in our survival instinct. But it can also metastisize into religions of fear. Even the starry-eyed crystal-kissers seem increasingly likely to lapse into these kneejerk fear responses these days, thanks in large part to David Icke.

But based on what we know, it's hard to justify these fear projections, even following the liberal rules of evidence in UFOlogy. Only the most extreme- or gullible- UFO researchers can argue that the phenomenon has caused any physical damage to human beings- certainly nothing even remotely approaching the mass murder, oppression and slavery that human beings have always inflicted on each other.

A skeptic would argue this is because the UFO phenomenon only exists in the human imagination. And perhaps they'd be half right.

Just as I can't find any compelling evidence that UFOs are interplanetary vehicles, neither can I find compelling proof of recent physical contact with physical "aliens" as we would commonly understand such a thing. The fact that there's been such of variety of creatures reported in these accounts- particularly before the Grey archetype took hold in the media- argues against the literal, physical reality of these experiences.

But there is compelling evidence that something else is going on and has been for a very, very long time. Most people familiar with UFOlogy know that Men in Black showed up before, if not in a different context, particularly in America.  You have a long tradition of encounters,  told in the most sober of fashions, with beings good, bad and indifferent as angels, demons, fairy folk, and on and on and on. Local cults would spring up commemorating these encounters in pre-Christian times.

There is an ancient key that can unlock this puzzle. "Abductees" and "Contactees" have often described their encounters as terrifying, but I've yet to see any compelling evidence of real physical harm. But these contacts do remind me of ancient contacts that were enshrined into the Mystery religions of the ancient Mediterranean, so much so that terrifying initiates in order to prepare their minds for contact with divine beings became common practice in many cults.

Even a cursory read of the ancient Mithraic Liturgy of the Paris Codex-- which tells of an abduction into a metallic flying disk filled with strange beings who take the initiate on a tour of the heavens-- shows that these encounters long predate the science fiction trappings of extraterrestrial contact that dominates the conversation today.

This is no small thing: this liturgy belonged to the most powerful cult of its day, a severe warrior cult that commanded the rulers of the known world and whose liturgy was instrumental in Carl Jung's conception of the Collective Unconscious.

There are of course other explanations for this phenomena-- night terrors, sleep paralysis and so on-- but even without those cases you still have an interesting corpus of contact. You may be familiar with the many parallels between fairy lore (fairy being a catch-all phrase here for any number of supernatural but non-divine beings) and modern abduction accounts- the focus on sexuality and reproduction, the hybrids.

Some might use these parallels to dismiss it all, but I see it as confirmation that contact is taking place in an artificial environment that behaves a lot like our modern conceptions of Virtual Reality. How predictable that the gods of the ancient Mysteries insinuated themselves into our modern conception of Virtual Reality from the start: witness the Loa and Orisha manifesting themselves in Cyberspace in the work of SF novelist and VR theorist William Gibson. 

Or note that the most popular VR narrative of our time- The Matrix- also features MIBs as the heavies (as does its prototype, Dark City). Both films are also drenched in Mystery symbolism as well. One day we might see it all as a return to first principles.

There are greater mysteries though, ones which the Men in Black phenomenon raise. Our concept of physical reality is a reductive, artificial construct, created to facilitate a common consensus that allows the day-to-day responsibilities of life to be seen to. There are conscientious objectors to this construct though, ones you can't lynch or toss in prison.

Throughout history we've seen accounts of beings and objects which appear and disappear at will, often in front of large groups of ordinary citizens, sometimes in front of cameras. They don't care whether or not anyone believes in them or can explain them. They do what they want and don't worry much about the consequences.

The UFO isn't so easy to explain away, though not for lack of trying. But these anomalous beings are a different story. I've encountered a couple of them myself, and the lingering question in my mind is still "what the fuck was that?" But the fact that other people across time and geography have had identical experiences leads me to believe it was not my imagination.

One thing people who have these experiences can speak to is how random, and well, totally irrelevant these encounters can be. They usually explain nothing, they accomplish nothing, and they confirm or deny no deep-seated need; they just are. Dreams can usually be traced to psychological urges, hallucinations less so but still seem to fit into some larger psychic context.  Encounters with what UFO heretics call "Ultraterrestrials" usually make no damn sense at all.

And then there are Men in Black. There are a whole host of explanations that can easily explain the phenomenon as gov't agents, pranksters, or simple hoaxes. But what matters is not the encounter so much as the result. What was the result of this encounter? If it radically changed the course of a person's life, chances are pretty good that something important is at work. If they scare people, they just as often as not scare them into a heightened awareness of deeper realities than the shampoo commercial reality the snitches and debunkers demand we all be forced to live in.

I'd go even farther- I think we'd sooner trust the reality of a demonic encounter than an angelic one. We tend-- and with good reason-- to dismiss stories of angelic encounters, whether in their Biblical or Space Brother incarnations.  In fact, a lot of people are inclined to interpret angels as devils in disguise; leading their victims to disaster by hypnotizing them with pretty promises. In contrast a Man in Black seems to be a WYSIWYG proposition.

But ask yourself: are these MIBs doing God's or the Devil's work? Warning a witness not to talk about their sighting, not to pursue the matter at all; well, to some people that can be seen as a nasty business. But those of us who've seen how UFOlogy can consume or destroy lives, by becoming a career-killing and wallet-draining obsession, aren't quite so sure. Reporting a UFO or abduction experience can open a person up to constant abuse and ridicule, which paradoxically often deepens the UFO obsession.

Would a devil really try to steer a poor soul away from that road? The more I read the lore, the more I'm reminded not of devils, but of those stern-faced angels in Sodom, darkly warning the populace of the hellfire about to rain from the Heavens.

If you really take the time to see past the skeptic-believer dichotomy, the UFO phenomenon takes on the feeling of theatre- a high theatre in the skies. The high weirdness of the entire UFO drama, the juicy bits that the fading nuts-n-bolts crowd dismiss out of hand, starts to feel less anomalous than typical the more you really look at it. If you dispense with the pulp sci-fi trappings  and set your sights before 1947 on the timeline, what seems bizarre and ridiculous starts to make a lot more sense.

Many of the old UFO legends- the men like Kenneth Arnold and Aime Michel, not to mention John Keel and Jacques Vallee- dispensed with the invader from Zeta Reticuli mythology and came to realize that UFOs and their aftershocks have been our intimate companions since we lived in trees and caves. But this exegesis is a lot less comforting than the idea of space saviors to the believer, and heart-stoppingly terrifying to the Debunker.

We all have a normality bias. In fact, for nearly 25 years I dismissed what I now see as a classic UFO encounter as a "swamp gas" sighting with weird after-effects. And for good reason; I happened to be driving through the Great Swamp of New Jersey (immortalized in Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast). But it wasn't until I actually researched swamp gas (or foxfire or Will o' the Wisp or faerie fyre or take your pick) that I realized there's no way it could have been swamp gas.

I was my own debunker: I latched onto some weak, lameass excuse, one that didn't hold up to serious scrutiny and set it all in stone. I realize today I did so because the experience was pretty unsettling, and not unlike any number of Man in Black encounters.

It happened one night when my wife, myself and our infant son were driving Great Swamp Road to the 24-hour Pathmark supermarket. We kept weird hours at the time. We had a Volkswagen Rabbit convertible, and since it was warm we probably would have had the top down.

At some point I noticed three stars in formation over the tree line; a bit on the bright side, similar to Venus on a good night, but nothing out of the ordinary. They weren't blinking so they probably weren't planes or choppers and it would be years before anyone around heard of Chinese lanterns.

The trees were in full bloom and blocked out the sky on much of the drive, but every time we came to a break in the treeline I noticed the positions of the stars changed. And noticeably so, from a straight line to a triangle to an inverse triangle and so on. I wasn't thinking about UFOs at the time, so I don't remember exactly what I thought it was. Just weird.

It got weirder.

After shopping, we were getting ready to leave and a strange man approached us in the nearly deserted parking lot, very much intruding into our personal space. He was no Man in Black. Actually, he looked more like a typical CSICOP debunker-type; big and bloated, late middle-aged, bespectacled and unkempt.

He spoke in a Eastern European accent, feeding us some bullshit story that he had some baby furniture he was trying to get rid of.  I didn't believe it for a second. I seem to remember he wanted us to follow him to his house to pick it up- it was getting close to midnight. And my wife recently reminded me he also offered his services as a sitter.

Yeah. Brrrr.

As I loaded the groceries I spotted a slovenly older woman watching all of this, obviously his wife. She was leaning on a beat-up old Ford LTD wagon, her arms stiffly folded at her chest looking like a woman watching a nightmare she didn't have the will to stop. 

I wasn't having any of it. I physically placed myself between the man and my own wife and dismissed him with clenched-teeth pleasantries. I'm six foot five and was pretty fit at the time, so the guy backed off and returned to the car. As we were getting ready to leave I noticed him sitting in his darkened car, smoking and staring at us very intently. His wife's face still looked etched with a mix of anger, fear and humiliation, even in the dark.

To some abduction researchers this might sound like a typical screen memory of an encounter- a young family driving down a dark, deserted country road, strange lights in the sky, an anomalous encounter with a creepy stranger speaking in a foreign accent.

To Debunkers, always eager to rationalize any kind of predatory behavior directed at young children, I'm making something of nothing. A Debunker would also double down on the setting of the sighting and kick and screech and foam that it just had to have been swamp gas, Mommy!

It's immaterial because what really interests me here is the synchronicity and symbol that accompanies so many encounters with UFOs. We were driving through a landmark featured in one of the pivotal events of 20th Century UFOlogy and my wife's name --Elizabeth Knowles-- is etymologically identical to Elizabeth "Betty" Hill, who had her own world-changing encounter with the hidden world one balmy evening. Facts I was unaware of at the time, I might add.

To others this might confirm the demonic nature of UFOs; a sighting followed by a confrontation that sounds like something out one of those horrible "true crime" magazines. But I don't see it that way myself. At the time I was under the illusion that the world was conspiring on my behalf and nothing bad would ever happen to me again; you know, the stupid shit that kids in their early 20s like to believe. But maybe if the utter weirdness of the light show in the sky hadn't  interrupted my reverie, I might have bought this character's bullshit story and paid a terrible price for my naivete.

Even if we rightfully mistrust Space Brothers and Fairy Godmothers, we still operate under the assumption that pleasant events help us and unpleasant events hurt us. For my money that's a dangerously naive view.

Encounters with Men in Black or the like might be scary, but if they lead to a more holistic view of reality-- maybe even a more cautious or skeptical one, if you will-- then perhaps we should think about these things a bit differently.

Meister Eckhart taught that the devils in Purgatory were actually angels, who were tearing away our attachments to the physical plane to allow us to move on to the next. Whatever tears away our attachment to the politically-motivated fiction we call consensus reality-- no matter how unpleasant it might be at the time-- can't but help but be a blessing in disguise.

I tend to agree with the view in High Weirdness circles that nothing entities like Men in Black say or do should be trusted or taken at face value. But I also believe that these entities could be directed by something else entirely for reasons it's up to us to figure out.

If these encounters are frightening or intimidating that only means we should treat these experiences all the more seriously. It could well mean that somebody- or something- is trying to get your attention. The least you can do is pay it.


Raj said...

Hey Chris,

This post is brave, insightful and truly thought-provoking. You know, admittedly I've got a very dark view of reality, and for a long time I tended to 'paint it all black' as you say. This was mostly due to some disturbing childhood experiences that I'm still attempting to unravel in my adulthood.

But in connection to this fascination with things of a darker nature was also this awareness that in Jungian terms the Shadow is a kind of spiritual-hygiene litmus test, something that disrupts only to eventually make more holistic. So while there are indeed all manner of unseen horrors in this world we would do well to not categorize the entire UFO/Companion phenomenon in this black-painted way.

I think at the heart of this is supposed to be a certain tension - a certain acuity of perception. I mean, how else do you sort demons from angels without an appreciation of subtlety, nuance and context? And furthermore when do you admit that these imaginative short-hands (angels, demons, aliens, faery, etc) are just that, and not necessarily representative of the things themselves? When we approach the crux of these things we enter the murky and mercurial world of story-telling and the 'high theatre of the skies', as you rightly point out.

For a long time now I've felt that there is something distinctly Kubrickian about the whole phenomenon. I mean to say, Stanley Kubrick often employed subterfuge, trickery and sometimes apparent cruelty to achieve his goals, much like the central characters he critiques in his films. But was Kubrick just a egotistical control-freak, or perhaps someone with a certain moral ambiguity who still deeply cared about the human race and its potential fate?

Now, this is just my own intuitive interpretation but I believe Kubrick was intimately fascinated with this phenomenon and all its complexities. And that he saw it as fundamentally connected to the larger human question; our purpose, proclivities and appetites. I also believe that his later corpus of work constitutes a very multidimensional and sophisticated meditation on this very phenomenon, starting seriously with Lolita right up to Eyes Wide Shut.

To be sure, Kubrick had pretty dark view of this world, but I think he also had a very intellectually and spiritually sober view as well. And along with our mysterious ultraterrestrials , that doesn't mean he wasn't capable of being a total asshole sometimes, and often intentionally courted such opinions for what he believed was a higher purpose.

There's more I want to say about this connected explicitly to the VR themes in your post, Chris,once I've chewed them over a little more.


Raj said...

Hey again, Chris

To continue with the Kubrickian resonance of high weirdness that I discussed in my earlier comment, I think that Kubrick's work in general betrays a fascination with how fiction negotiates with fact, simulacrum, human consciousness, hidden history - and perhaps most importantly, the limits of figuring human experience.

Your 'Stanley Kubrick and the Reality Stargate' posts seem to resonate quite well with the work of Rob Ager, a videographer and amatuer filmmaker. In his YouTube videos Ager makes a pretty insightful case that the monolith can be figured as the cinema screen itself; that the weird alien artifact is basically a meta-textual portal, a kind of roman a clef within the surface narrative that generates VR experiences - for Bowman as a traveller within the story and for the audiences as observers and co-architects of the story. This doesn't seem at odds to me with your more political reading of the film.

I suspect that Kubrick understood that without the observer's psyche to animate the narrative, to paint it black and white and various shades of grey, there is no film. The ultraterrestrial phenomenon feels to me kind of like a holy secret wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a nonsense, if that makes sense, and this seems to be a similar kind of strategy employed by Stanley Kubrick too. Both feel dangerous and shamanic if not exactly threatening in the conventional sense. Real energies are being manipulated in both cases.

Rob Ager cites various bits of evidence for this Monolith VR Projector idea in 2001, including the stargate journey and Bowman's dreamlike third-person experiences in the White Room. Watching the film on my black flat-screen TV only enhances this monolith as projector interpretation. But the point I wanted to make is that Kubrick seems to suggest in many places during the movie that the monolith invokes self-awareness in humanity, but that along with this sentience comes the constant threat of violence. To come 'on-line' as it were also risks becoming a parody or perversion of one's self.

In the opening apes-scene the monolith seems to auger sentience and violence simultaneously. Did it inspire this violence or merely allow humanity to articulate or express what was already within?
These are the kinds of tensions I think Kubrick wanted us to consider in his work because I honestly believe he was interested in the same things you and I are, and considered them through similar perspectives. Hopefully I plan to write a blog post in the near future outlining the Gnostic meditations in Kubrick's work; that meeting place between the extremely political/social and the extremely esoteric. Thanks for all the great insights, Chris.


Christopher Loring Knowles said...

Very interesting insights, Raj- I wasn't processing Kubrick per se when writing this but he's never far from my mind. As to perception, I think the varying responses different people have to hallucinogens tell us something how people react when faced with the Weird.


Barbara said...

You know, Chris, I read this experience on the original Secret Sun, and it was before I'd gotten up the nerve to comment. But it struck me then and it struck me again, that yes, those two experiences were not coincidental, but they may not be directly linked as in an easily understood cause/effect sort of thing. If there is cause/effect, I think it's much more subtle.

Except this--what could have happened is somehow those lights put you just enough on edge--not consciously, but subconsciously--just enough that your conscious mind was ready to "listen" to the wiser parts of yourself. The gut instinct that we sadly, tend to be taught to ignore in this culture.

Ever read "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker? That book is really good at putting a name to that gut instinct and basically tells people to open up to it and listen, because it will help save our lives. Maybe those lights flipped a switch for you in a way? Or even more likely, led you to flipping your own switch.

At any rate, that story always sends chills up my spine.

dboy said...

the activation of conscious self awareness property of the monolith resonates strongly with the psychedelic experiences triggering of the same as hypothesised by graham hancock in 'Supernatural'.

Anonymous said...

Chris...Possible typo...

>In fact, for nearly 25 years I dismissed what I know see as a classic UFO encounter as a "swamp gas" sighting with weird after-effects.

I think you mean ``now``, not ``know``.

Justuss said...

i sometimes feel terrified reading your posts like you are using the Ufology to talk about something else. Thank You.

also viewing this on my phone, the matrix is behind the text, w/out the white background on the desktop site.

luther renfroe jr said...

ben rich,founding father of lockheed skunkworks said to a group of people before he past away,we now have the technology to take e.t. home,and said there are two kinds of ufos,the ones they make,the ones we make,and on his death bed admitted,at first i thought the public should never,ever know about all the aliens visiting earth,but now the corp.,and the people who now control this technology and the dark,dark,black ops projects are more a concern for the freedom of the public then any knowledge of aliens,funny how people think if humans do not know or invented it it is not possible..

Anonymous said...

A Raj---a guy named Jay Weidner has written quite a bit about Stanley Kubrick, and I believe has made a movie about him. His ideas seem to concur with yours.



Raj said...

Thanks, Anon. I knew of Jay Weidner's work and the general outline of his Kubrick Odyssey, but hadn't actually seen it for myself. It's interesting that we have similar though varying interpretations of Kubrick's work, arrived at independently. Cheers.

Brizdaz (Darren) said...

I really wanted to put this comment under your post on David Bowie's new song


But there was no post a comment section.I just wanted to say I did a piece on Tim Burton's
"James and the Giant Peach" and the alien abduction theme in that movie,and I also refer to David Bowie's alien links in movies,especially since he and Sarandon were in Strieber's film version of "The Hunger",which Strieber later admitted to being influenced subconsciously by Whitley's own alien contact.


Tim Burton seems to have a thing for the Orion star system running through his movies.
If you get a chance watch this movie,tell me that I'm just imaging the alien abduction/disclosure theme in
"James and the Giant Peach".

Anonymous said...

As always Christopher, very interesting and enjoyable to read. Good show sir.

Joe Giva said...

I know this is an old post, and maybe you won't ever see this comment, but a really weird thought struck me while reading this story that I have to share.

The encounter with the seedy-looking man and his wife sounds almost like a modern "gritty reboot" of old-school encounters with fairy tricksters. A strange, odd-looking person is met in a deserted location and offers gifts to the traveler who will follow him home...I've been reading back through Grant Morrison's The Invisibles lately and I'm struck by his constant hints that young children routinely encounter Ultraterrestrials--and in some cases are given UT tech as "toys"--only to forget these encounters as they grow older and accept consensus reality. There's a theme running through the series that humankind is still in its infancy as a species and that the Ultraterrestrials are what we mature into. If indeed we were created or modified by ancient visitors, and UFOs are technology they use to monitor our development, it's not hard to imagine them viewing themselves as babysitters of a sort.

Viewed through this lens, and taking into account the "language-twisting-twisting" that is so often employed by fairies and spirits in the lore of High Weirdness, I find myself wondering whether this person might have meant something else entirely by "baby furniture". And where you might have wound up had you followed him "home"...

Anonymous said...

"The Gods of Eden" by William Bramley, available for the searching of the title as PDF. If this kick-ass article was representative of your research, I could see no trace of the ideas put forth in this book, which will add another level of richness to the overall perspective.