Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Misusing Myth, II

I WANT TO BELIEVE ~ poster on Fox Mulder's wall in THE X-FILES

“What are the facts? Again and again and again--what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what "the stars foretell," avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable "verdict of history"--what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!" ~ Robert A Heinlein, THE NOTEBOOKS OF LAZARUS LONG

"In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order. " ~ Carl Jung

I used to teach a course on UFOlogy for the Wichita Free University. I presented it in two sessions: the believers stories and the skeptics. I found that the believers, while accusing skeptics of being close minded, never showed up for the debunking session. This is something that UFOlogists have in common, and they share it with other believers, like religious fundamentalists and Bush supporters. They tend to ignore whatever doesn’t fit their mythology.

For example, UFOlogists tout the Barney and Betty Hill alien abduction case while ignoring the fact that the psychiatrist who brought out their repressed memories stated flatly that these were not real memories. The British crop circles and the Gulf Breeze sightings are still a big part of the lore despite the perpetrators being caught red-handed at their hoaxes. The Roswell incident has many witnesses but no one points out that none of them can agree on the date, the site or the number, if any, of alien bodies.

A friend sent me a posting she received from a religious group about the discovery of the Red Square Nebula.

The nebula is perfectly symmetrical, so much that it almost resembles a crystal. They suggest that the nebula is the "approaching City of God," based on Revelation 21:16, "And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal" and 20-10,"And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal." Since it is red, the post says, the red shift indicates it is approaching.

My friend asked my opinion. In this case, there is one fact that fits the City of God: the nebula is symmetrical. The facts that don’t fit are:

1. The Biblical quote clearly states that the City of God is twelve thousand furlongs on a side. That equals about 1300-1400 miles. Nebulae are hundreds of light years across. One light year equals 5,865,696,000,000 miles. So according to the Bible itself the nebula is about a zillion times too big to be the City.

2. A nebula is a cloud of gas from an exploded star. A cloud of gas is not a city.

3. Sorry, red shift means going away, not approaching. There is no evidence that the nebula is approaching the Earth. It has only recently been observed because our instruments weren’t good enough before now.

4. There are several scientific theories presented in the article that explain the nebula’s shape. A crystal is a natural formation, not a miracle.

Point 1 invokes Doctor Zen’s rule: if you take something literally, it has to all be literal: you can’t pick and choose. If the shape is literal, the size must be too. If you tell me part of it is metaphorical, then I can say it’s all metaphorical.

Back to UFOs, if you haven’t read WATCH THE SKIES!, Curtis Peebles brilliant dissection of UFOs as myth, I highly recommend it.

It is also interesting how closely the UFO mythology follows popular fiction. In a 1930 Buck Rogers comic strip, Buck's girlfriend Wilma Deering is taken aboard a spaceship by aliens with large heads and eyes, subjected to a physical examination and released; almost the prototype for the recent alien abduction stories. More of the groundwork was laid in 1950s movies like KILLERS FROM SPACE with abuctees memories being replaced, mysterious scars from alien implants, and memories of big disembodied eyes. Barney Hill's initial description of the aliens (before he changed his story to match his wife's) was an exact description of the "The Galaxy Being" from an OUTER LMITS episode he had just seen. People who claimed to have been taken into alien craft through the 60s reported walking up ramps similar to the ones in 50s flying saucer movies. After STAR TREK, they report being "beamed" aboard.

UFOlogists also use false logic a lot. Some points to remember: The possibility of other intelligent life out there in our galaxy does not prove they're down here or that they kidnapped your Uncle Bob last weekend. Just because a witness could not identify what he saw, that doesn't prove it was alien or a spacecraft. Being unable to prove that something isn't real doesn't make it real. Ask Carl Sagan about the invisible dragon in his garage, or try to disprove Santa Claus.

Some of the writers of books about things like UFOs, the End Times and other subjects like witch cults and Satanists are probably just making a quick buck. But what about the believers? Some, abductees and investigators alike, may live on the attention they get. Alpha-Girl at suggests that "for UFO believers and religious fundamentalists, I wonder how much of that tendency is due to needing to be right vs. needing to know there’s something other than our current state, whether it’s as God’s children on Earth or as the only known intelligence (or what passes for it) in the universe."

John Keel used to write books about things like UFOs, Bigfoot and such phenomena and he had a very interesting theory. He wondered whether such manifestations, leaving no physical evidence, were the universe's way of telling us something. The cool thing about this theory is that it works whether these are physical manifestations, hallucinations or imagination. We know from the common archetypes in stories that human minds can connect with images in the subconscious that have deep meanings for all people. Carl Jung suggested this in FLYING SAUCERS: A MODERN MYTH OF THINGS SEEN IN THE SKY. He wrote that such visions may be common in an era where humankind has its fate in its hands, and faces extinction. UFO aliens seem to warn us about dangers we already know about, like atomic bombs in the 50s and global warming now. The link between such visions and dreams and stories is a deep one, and it goes both ways. The pattern of alien abductions matches age old stories of meetings with elves, faeries and demons. John Ankerberg wrote that "the UFO phenomenon simply does not behave like extraterrestrial visitors. It actually molds itself in order to fit a given culture."

UFOs may not be aliens or even the universe speaking to us, but our own subconscious. As Jung said, "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes."

1 comment:

Dawn Allenbach said...

I know I haven't commented much, but I am reading.