Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
-Theseus, A Midsummer Nights Dream
An Augmented Existence
The recent explosion of Pokémon Go into popular culture brings with it a wave of interesting cultural and social ideas (I’m sure you’ve seen the countless memes). The object of the game, for the uninitiated, is to catch little creatures using a device called a Poké Ball, which is a sort of technological “non-cage” cage. Anyway, the entire game operates using your smartphone and its camera. As you look at your screen, you see the world around you, except it is filled with various Pokémon creatures and objects. It is known as augmented reality; the game places virtual “things” into your everyday, regular, boring, non-Pokémon world.
If we draw a comparison between the augmented reality of the game to our own ideological and social reality, we are greeted by a strange dualism in that the Pokémon both exist and do not exist simultaneously. In a general sense, one who is actively playing the game can “see” the Pokémon all around the augmented reality. When a player is not actively playing, the Pokémon are “non-things” with no presence, but they still exist within the augmented reality all around them. With the game switched off, the augmented reality created by Nintendo is still present within the infrastructure of the internet and the connections between millions of players who are roaming around actively playing the game.
To put it simply, the Pokémon in Pokémon Go dwell in two simultaneous states; they exist and they do not exist.
So how is this related to UFOs and Ufology? Surprisingly, the similarities are significant, and those similarities shape how UFOs are perceived by “official” popular culture and the UFO subculture.
Jacques Derrida, a famous philosopher of the Twentieth Century, posited that many things exist in an “undecidable” state.
An “undecidable” cannot conform to a side of a dualism; they are that which can be both alive and dead, or subjective and objective, or present and absent simultaneously. The Pokémon in Pokémon Go exist and they do not exist; they are undecidable. However, just because something is undecidable does not mean that one cannot come to a decision regarding its state. The decision one makes as to its state, however, is not grounded in knowledge, but in faith. It is a gut decision that “feels” right - “it is either this, or that, because that is what I think.” This type of decision making in regards to “undecidability” occurs all the time; in fact we are compelled to make a decision to resolve the “back and forth” between the two sides.
UFOs are similar to the Pokémon in Pokémon Go because they too dwell in this simultaneous dualism. They exist and do not exist. UFOs are subjective and objective, present and absent, at the same time. This undecidable state exists in two different ways; quantifiable and cultural.
The Quantifiable UFO
In an article by Wendt and Duvall (2008), the authors establish that UFOs are undecidable because they are both object and subject. UFOs pose a problem to human anthropocentrism, that is, the intrinsic belief that humans are the only sovereign species with agency on the planet.
The authors point out that the subjective side of the undecided dualism creates a serious problem for people and governments. If, due to their behaviour (and for the sake of argument), UFOs are piloted by an intelligent other, that other is also sovereign as it posses agency; more interestingly, the other’s intelligence and agency may be more evolved than that of humanity.
This subjectivity calls human sovereignty into question. Objectively, UFOs occasionally leave trace evidence of their physical existence; whether it be radar hits, depression marks signifying a landing, etc. If that physical trace evidence is accurate and true, UFOs do have some objective presence, they are physical. Wendt and Duvall suggest that if UFOs were merely objective, then the matter would be simple; we can simply figure out what they are, like any other natural phenomenon, and move on with it. This object/subject dichotomy removes the UFO from a singular state, and into a Derridian undecidable. More importantly, it forces the hand of the general public, science, and the governments who maintain power to ensure the UFO question remains unanswered. Modern constructs of authority, and the scientists that answer to them (which are nearly all, since very few scientists are free to study whatever they wish carte blanche) are essentially threatened by the dual nature of UFOs.
To actively study UFOs in any way, shape or form would call into question human sovereignty. It would also call into question the concepts of modern rule and governmentality. Wendt and Duvall posit that this undecidability cannot compel an answer, as either side of the dualism would threaten human anthropocentrism. Instead, the authors suggest that the UFO object/subject is a “meta-undecidability”, the UFO cannot in effect be decided upon, so it must enter another state, that of the taboo. UFOs and those who study them are ridiculed because they must be; any seriousness given to the subject would compel a decision into their dualism, and in turn, call into question human agency and a government that rules over that agency.
While Wendt and Duvall provide an excellent exploration into the quantifiable undecidable dualism of the UFO, they do not go in depth to explore the cultural aspects of its undecidability. The nature of our cultural ideologies call into question their assertion of human sovereignty, as well as the idea of anthropocentrism as an objective truth. The real answer to the UFO dualism lies within cultural reality, and demands an exploration of Truth itself. We move onto the dualism of the Cultural UFO...
Part 2 of this series will be released on Saturday, July 30th.
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