Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Derrida
A friend sent me a link to a recent French study which links Creationist beliefs to those who believe in conspiracy theories. The research study basically asserts that faith in a higher power which created a universe for humanity is no different than those who believe in the Moon landing being faked or that the government is covering up the existence of aliens and UFOs. It is an interesting study, and while I mostly agree with it, we ought to be cautious buying into it wholeheartedly.
As I read this study, I was reminded of a quote from one of my favourite books, “Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency” by the late Douglas Adams.
“Don't you understand that we need to be childish in order to understand? Only a child sees things with perfect clarity because it hasn't developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don't expect to see.”
I want to focus on this idea of “filters.” I also want to touch on the myth of objectivity in science and link it all back to UFOs and the UFO community which, discursively, often engages in conspiracy theories.
The study hinges upon a common philosophical concept called Teleology. In simple terms, teleology is the idea that all things function towards some goal or end result. While big in Ancient Greece, teleology today is in contention with modern scientific ideology. For example, as the article presents, “the sun rises in order to give us light.” This statement contains a teleological bias or error. The sun does not rise to give light, rather, it “rises” due to the Earth’s rotation, axis, and that it is a star whereupon we are gravitationally stuck. In simple terms, it has nothing to do with “us” nor “giving.”
Aristotle argued that the purpose of an acorn was to grow into an oak tree. We can argue that this is not really true. The acorn simply is, and its state changes due to DNA and biology. The acorn, objectively, has no purpose or goals. The acorn has no destiny. It is simply existing as an acorn. As the study points out, the belief that a divine creator formed the planet out of mud and placed it on the back of a turtle is a teleological bias. Similarly, believing that the American government or some Deep State cabal faked the September 11th attack, murdered JFK, or is hiding dead aliens in a bunker also hinges upon the same bias. They view all things moving towards a specific end result, or a plan devised to lead to a certain result, when that may not really be the case.
The study itself was simple. The researchers,
“…conducted a survey of 157 Swiss college students designed to ascertain conspiratorial thinking, teleological thinking, as well as their abilities to analytically reason. They also analyzed a survey of 1,252 members of the general French population to look for a link between creationist beliefs and conspiratorial thinking. Lastly, the researchers recruited 733 more subjects to complete an online questionnaire to test whether creationism, conspiracism, and teleological thinking are correlated.”
What they concluded was that the teleological bias that “everything happens for a reason” is common amongst creationists and conspiracists. As the study’s author stated,
"By drawing attention to the analogy between creationism and conspiracism, we hope to highlight one of the major flaws of conspiracy theories and therefore help people detect it, namely that they rely on teleological reasoning by ascribing a final cause and overriding purpose to world events…We think the message that conspiracism is a type of creationism that deals with the social world can help clarify some of the most baffling features of our so-called 'post-truth era’…Because teleological and animist thinking are part of children’s earliest intuitions about the world and are resilient in adulthood, they thus could be causally involved in the acquisition of creationist and conspiracist beliefs. However, our results do not rule out the possibility that acceptance of such beliefs could, conversely, favor a teleological bias.”
As I mentioned before, I generally accept the findings of this study. It makes sense. However, I wish to problematize a few key ideas which this study alludes to.
Before I continue, allow me a brief aside. Science, which I love by the way, will contend that it is an objective act or practice which leads to ‘truth’ and knowledge, and to understanding the reality we live in. Science is progress. The obvious and ironic point of contention here is the teleological bias which presents itself in the very function of science; science is end driven, it has a purpose which leads somewhere. The notion that science generates ‘true’ knowledge or leads us towards ‘true’ knowledge, while other things do not, is a teleological claim. It’s cute.
While exploring teleology in science is interesting, the study itself makes the assumption that science is objective, and therefore free of bias. I wish to address two specific sociological experiences which seem to cast doubt on the above idea; the ‘objectivity’ of science dwells purely within two very subjective realms; language and cultural paradigm. I then want to link this back to the UFO community and how it often engages with science.
Language, in really simple terms, is a series of filters. We use our senses, which naturally filter data from the ‘objective reality’ around us and transmits them into a series of sounds and symbols. That symbolism of language, letters and numbers, but more importantly, what words themselves come to mean through our cultural and social backgrounds also filter data and, in turn, meaning. Trying to think of any object, concept or idea without its specific symbolic representation floating around your mind is impossible. Now imagine trying to communicate those things to someone else without the use of symbols; good luck.
To keep this Ufologically relevant, let’s look at owls as an example. Owls, biologically, are birds. They fly. They are predators. They typically hunt at night. With all that information, consider your ideology here. Owl as predator and hunter versus owl as flying bird. They draw two very different interpretations, two different feelings, two different symbolic states of what an owl is, or perhaps more appropriately, can be. Toss some Ufological mythology into the mix, and owls become symbolic of alien abduction and/or contact, messengers between realms, screen memories, or a link between humanity and The Phenomenon. Owls, like anything else, coexist within multiple symbolic meanings, from simple biological bird to complicated mythological archetype.
Science, whether it likes it or not, functions within a linguistic reality. The study’s author uses the expression ‘post-truth era’ in the summary of the paper. That expression is hugely complex, not just politically, but symbolically. Furthermore, what do we mean by truth? Does this assume that there was an era of ‘actual’ truth where nothing was questioned? The current political situation within the United States also gives significant symbolic impact to the term, whereas fifty years ago, it would have meant something totally different. The very use of that phrase only adds credence to my claim; no discourse or practice is objective.
Another example often thrown around is the expression “anti-science.” Again, what symbols and myths are generated with this expression? Flat-Earthers and climate change deniers could be considered ‘anti-science,’ but what about someone merely being skeptical of scientific dogma and the current paradigm which suggests science is ‘the way, the truth, and the light.’ Is being critical of scientific ideology tantamount to being opposed to it? Last time I checked, criticism does not equate to open rebellion.
What we see here is that the scientific community, particularly established bodies of power within that community, have used the symbolic and mythological power of language to generate meaning in order to retain power. “Post-truth era” and “anti-science” are political and social terms designed to target those who are critical of established scientific ideology. The people and groups who fit into those two categories are considered irrational, yet “rationality” by its very nature depends upon consensus by the majority, and is not always objective. Many things we do on a daily basis are irrational, yet we have all agreed to do those things, therefore they have become rational. No one looks at you funny when you buy bottled water or decide that you need to own an automatic assault rifle, yet both acts, it could be argued, are irrational due to various reasons.
"Anti-science" creationists, conspiracy nuts, and scientists all work within the same framework. Language governs all of them. It creates filters which alters meaning away from objectivity but into the realm of mythology. The problem is that the more words you create and the more ideas you generate, the more filters get put up. As philosopher Jacques Derrida reminds us, language “differs” (I know what something is based upon everything it isn’t) and “defers” (The more words and symbols I add when I communicate, the more those words and symbols adjust meaning). The more information and data you have and provide, the more your ideological framework jumps around. Seeking ‘the truth’ is like walking down a path where every single movement of your body generates an infinite amount of more paths. Where scientists, creationists and conspiracists differ is that they all simply choose different paths. Where they are identical is that they all believe that their path is the correct one.
This leads me to cultural paradigms, and I am reminded of author and scientist Rupert Sheldrake. I am not a scientist, so I cannot comment on the validity of his scientific claims. His peers consider him a parapsychologist and he is often charged with dabbling in pseudo-science. While he very may well be a terrible scientist (I honestly do not know), the criticism hurled at him points to a clear dogmatism, and therefore symbolic mythology, present in the scientific community. An editor of the science journal Nature once charged him with “heresy” because his work openly criticized the scientific community.
As Sheldrake points out in his book, The Science Delusion, science and scientists are not the problem. Rather, it is the economics of science and the bodies which govern it. Disrupting the status quo within the scientific establishment leads scientists on a path towards professional death. Exploring concepts and ideas, even if the evidence points in that direction, that deviates from the standard and accepted ideologies will not be funded or, at times, even allowed to continue.
Sheldrake points out in the book that unconventional ideas are typically pushed aside because journals are only willing to fund research that gets a “high citation index” which really only benefits established scientific fields. What this all leads to, according to Sheldrake, is an “innovation deficit.” Scientists are not allowed to follow their data or evidence if it contains deviation or abnormalities, nor if they wish to study something off the beaten path. To the mainstream, any anomalous data is flawed, or the scientist has clearly lost their mind. What this leads to a slowdown in scientific development and innovation.
I am not suggesting here that science is wrong or bad. Such a statement is silly. Nor am I saying that Flat Earthers are ‘as correct’ as, well, everyone else. The Earth is not flat. Climate change is happening. I can go on. I love science.
What I am trying to get at here is that the idea and act of science, and more importantly, the power structure of science, is entrenched within the same cultural frameworks as everything else. It has its own series of filters, ideologies, social and cultural pressures, paradigms, financial concerns, and desire to remain as the arbiter of human knowledge and understanding. Science and those who do it hold all the power. Those who disagree and challenge that power are considered irrational, stupid or ‘woo woo’ (which are all mythological and symbolic ideologies, and not based in any objective evidentiary truths). This includes those of us out here in the fringes, as well as those scientists who are also pushed to the edges due to their interests.
Within UFO discourse, we see science holding this curious dual position. On one hand, Ufologists often want science and scientists to be more involved in the process. MUFON allegedly investigates UFOs using scientific means, and one often sees great excitement when academic scientists get involved in the UFO debate, especially if they support ‘the cause.’ On the flip side, UFO discourse is quick to point out that science is elitist, embargoed by secret cabals, and, at times, the tool of skeptics and debunkers. Nowhere are the symbolic and mythological paradigms of the illusion of scientific authority more debated than within UFO circles.
We are at a curious place. The UFO community has plenty of scientists working in it, some of them engaged in Tom DeLonge’s To The Stars Academy, while others seem to be working alongside other investors or on their own. Have they found a little niche for themselves, pursuing the un-pursuable? Have they broken out of the established paradigm, appreciative of the fact that science is not so clear cut as their high school teachers may have taught them? Or, perhaps as that one editor of Nature put it, are they heretics?
Bearing the study in mind, the UFO community regularly engages in conspiratorial thinking. On the various online UFO forums and social media outlets, To The Stars Academy has often been labeled as a government program, or involved in purposeful perception management to disinform the public. Robert Bigelow’s NIDS and BAASS programs were also the target of such talk as well. While not directly, the study points to the fact that the UFO community does often suffer from teleological bias. Yet, at the same time, the very debate which circles around UFOs bluntly asserts my earlier points that while science may hold a lot of cards, it doesn’t hold all of them. While it claims higher truths and objectivity, it unfortunately dwells in the same muck as the rest of us. We ALL are governed by our symbols and ideologies.
To The Stars and Bigelow’s former programs, while connected to the government in certain ways, are not necessarily conspiratorial disinformation or intelligence programs. There is no actual evidence which proves some grand conspiracy, but only little circumstantial foot prints which one can follow in any direction. What actually occurs is the conspiracist “feels” something is going on, when really, it could be nothing more than simple coincidence.
The UFO community is a mixed bag. It is a curious collection of science and conspiracy, attempts at truth surrounded by myth. What becomes ever more difficult is deconstructing that jumble of symbolism and meaning into simpler parts. To be honest, it is impossible. The more we attempt to deconstruct, the more constructs we tend to form. UFOs, real and not, force us to question not only our own teleology, but also the teleology of science and other established power systems. Whether this is by citing conspiracies or scientifically driven ‘objective truths,’ we tend to end up in the same place. As Dirk Gently points out, we end up with filters on top of filters. This begs a big question; do all of our Ufological disputes, rivalries, and back biting simply all lead us down the path towards symbolic illusions? If so, the zealot believers and conspiracy theorists, and the skeptics and debunkers all seem to be pulling meaning from a place of teleology.
Terra Obscura is proud to welcome its first guest contributor. While this blog has traditionally been more focused on the philosophical aspects of UFO discourse, this article takes on a political and cultural tone which fits into the general mandate of Terra Obscura. The views of this post are not necessarily the views of the Terra Obscura blog nor its owner.
-MJ Banias, Curator
Human behavior sometimes takes us on unexpected journeys. While we like to consider ourselves rational beings, our actions often indicate otherwise. A perfect example of this has been the populist wave that has swept across America over the past decade, culminating (or at least burgeoning) with the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States.
However, no matter which end of the political spectrum you are on, it is clear something is amiss. If you come from the Left, you are likely wondering why so many people would vote for someone whose policies are very much out of touch with what we know to be true about modern day governments, science and economics, and who also supports bigotry and prejudice as part and parcel of American rhetoric. Supporters of the administration from the Right, though, are equally flummoxed, for Trump seems virtually incapable of putting through his agenda despite a majority in the House and the Senate, and any attempt at forming policy is being blocked by investigations into collusion with Russia, or, as these individuals would put it, by unfair media treatment and “fake news.”
It doesn’t really matter who’s correct in this situation, though. Both sides can agree something isn’t right. While many would like to simply chalk this phenomenon up to tense times brought on by decades of income inequality, labor commodification and pro-corporate/pro-wealthy policies further entrenching these unfavorable conditions, this might be denying a more profound truth. The government has been engaged in covert actions almost directly against the will of the people for decades (supporting coups throughout Latin America, fighting needless wars, negotiating free trade agreements that offer little benefit to the average American businessman, etc.), so it is not a total leap to think someone else is calling the shots. If we entertain for a moment the idea of a co-creation hypothesis, it is well within the realm of possibility that some extraterrestrial body is working behind the scenes to manipulate reality without us even knowing it. Let’s travel down the path this curious thought presents and see if we can’t detect evidence of alien manipulation of the U.S. government.
If extraterrestrials were in fact working within the United States government, this would mean they have made their way to Earth with the intention of colonization and conquest. Since the formation of the U.S. in 1776, expansion has been at the center of government policy. Manifest Destiny dominated much of the 19th century, and this exacerbated slavery-driven sectionalism, resulting in the Civil War, which consolidated power in the hands of the federal government. From here, the reinstatement of the Central Bank and the establishment of the federal income tax in 1913 gave the government, and the aliens, the means to manipulate large groups of people, accumulate resources and entrench themselves as the world super power. This is a position that after WWII would only intensify. What has happened since has been a systematic takeover by U.S.-based ideologies, largely free-market capitalism and liberal democracy, which are both incredibly effective ways to
implement large-scale control. This is because they provide acceptable levels of micro-level freedoms while providing governing bodies with tools to carry out macro-level manipulation.
This strategy would make sense. Any outright declaration of war from an alien entity would have instigated a more unified response from humanity. Instead, by assuming control of a young country, securing its hold of vast resources and using these resources to establish a world order relatively easy to manipulate through the control of capital flows and communication is a much more subtle and effective way of gaining control over the entire planet. Additionally, this type of “slow-play” conquest seems more likely since a species with the foresight to seek out new planets to inhabit would be willing to play this century-long waiting game for total control.
We live in a world where wars no longer make much sense, yet they wage on, and this somewhat inexplicable continuation of fighting could be the result of a foreign entity using the world’s most powerful country as a tool for global domination.
This historical-trajectory approach to uncovering alien control of the U.S. government helps set the framework, but looking at some of the more day-to-day activities of those in Washington could help provide further proof. For example, the Snowden leaks proved to both U.S. and global citizens that government surveillance is very real. While government agencies justify this as part of the fight against terrorism, no one really buys this argument. What could possibly be the purpose of spying on individuals and tracking their activity when the vast majority of people do absolutely nothing to threaten state power? There are only two genuine explanations (which complement each other): to learn about human behavior patterns, and to generate fear.
By keeping tabs on people, the government, and those really running it, can gain detailed insight into human desires, fears, interests and habits. This proves to be very valuable at the hour of manipulation, as the government can use this information to direct people’s actions or to advance certain ideologies which serve to help advance their agenda (think Capitalism). While tools exist to help protect against this type of spying, very few people actually use them and mainstream culture considers these individuals, much like those in the UFO/extraterrestrial community, crackpots or paranoid, only furthering the extent and effectiveness of surveillance.
Additionally, the fact the government continues to monitor its citizens after the Snowden leaks made it widely known what is going on shows how it values this tool for creating and inciting fear. By both supporting the terrorist storyline and also by giving people the feeling they are being watched (which has been shown to change how people behave), the government is able to subdue the population and prevent unmanageable dissent. Again, these tools for domination are subtle and play out over time, which is the strategy most likely to be employed by extraterrestrials (as mentioned earlier).
The obvious counterargument to all this is that this slow conquest driven by inexplicable wars, information manipulation and surveillance is simply the result of human vice and folly. Greed, power and xenophobia drive us to do terrible things to each other, but this explanation seems too simple. Plus, the countless sightings of UFOs and other evidence of extraterrestrial life provides too much proof there is some other entity among us, interacting with us or watching us.
However, the co-creation hypothesis, as well as other theories as to why humans choose to reject the reality in which they live, means that even if this was the case, we may never really know for sure. The only thing we can do is speculate and do our best to improve communication and cooperation amongst people so that in the event these foreign entities do indeed reveal themselves, we can be prepared to protect the only home we’ve ever known.
Do you think extraterrestrials are behind the actions of the U.S. government? Why or why not? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.
About the Author: Sandra O'Hare is a blogger who focuses largely on government surveillance. She used to consider the idea of extraterrestrial interference in human affairs nothing more than a thing of science fiction, but her investigations into the inner workings of the government have led her to believe something else is at play. She now spends most of her time raising awareness and trying to stimulate discussion about this oft-neglected topic.
The Disclosure Movement is large, and like a yard sale, it is a big mess of various leaders, organizations and groups, all believing in different things but touting one end goal: that the governments, or “shadow governments”, of the world disclose to the public all of their information and knowledge concerning extraterrestrials. The general consensus for the followers of Disclosure, is that all information and knowledge is tantamount to solid evidence of ETI, whether it be downed flying saucers, alien bodies, technology, and/or open and direct communication with alien beings. Disclosure is not about seeking the truth or the facts, rather, it is about belief, fervent dogmatic belief, that authorities are hiding something big and anything less is disinformation, a cover up, or a conspiracy to hide the truth from the public.
As many fathers do around this planet, I read bed time books to my baby daughter. Being that she is a new addition to our family, she enjoys tactile reads over solid plot development and rich characters...infants, what can you do?
One of her favorites is the book pictured above. It's a new addition to her library and little did I know that the secret government project to slowly and quietly disclose the truth about aliens has violated her peaceful and blissfully ignorant existence.
'The Illusion of Conspiracy and Disclosure"
I conclude my review, no, my exploration, of Hynek’s book by discussing the largest movement in modern ufology. I will undoubtedly do many posts on this topic, as it seems to be a juggernaut that requires further discussion. I will begin here- as this entire four part project has been about a return to the roots of UFO culture.
Hynek is, without a doubt, one of the earliest ufologists to touch on the idea of a government cover up. If you’ve been reading my earlier posts like a good little boy or girl, I wrote about “era” and “authority”. During Hynek’s heyday in the late forties and early fifties, when he was actively working for the Air Force, the suggestion that the military was working against the citizenry would have been undoubtedly taboo. The nation had just come out of a war, and not only that, a very successful war, which launched the United States, and many other western nations, out of a depression and into economic growth and prosperity. The idea of a cover up of any sort would have been absurd, as the military was regarded with deep respect, pride and gratitude. Looking back on his time with Projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book, Hynek questions, in 1977 (the date he published this book we are reviewing), why many reports were never filed, were missing or never saw his office.