Here's my take on the Symposium:
About 50 people showed up at McNally Auditorium at St. Mary’s University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the 2006 New Frontiers Symposium. They were treated to a tour de force by some of the best "new frontier" researchers around today, as well as a presentation by yours truly.
First up in the morning session was Virginian Will Wise, a software engineer who is the driving force behind the Project Blue Book Archive, which is, for my money, the best on-line research resource for anyone even remotely interested in the serious study of the UFO phenomenon. Will gave a brief history of Project Blue Book, and its predecessors, and then talked about the Archive. I spoke with the other speakers, and all agreed that Will is to be commended for his work on this important project, which slowly but surely is making all of the Blue Book files available to anyone, free of charge. Will also snags the award for best-dressed speaker, with a very stylish ensemble that eclipsed even Stan Friedman.
Next up was the always entertaining Nick Redfern, the Joey Ramone of the paranormal. Moving away from his usual topics of body snatchers in the desert and saucer spies, Nick spoke about cryptozoology, i.e. those strange creatures like bigfoot and the chupacabras that allegedly wander about the countryside, usually just out of reach of investigators (i.e. they’ve never seen one, much less caught one). His talk was given in the spirit of what, in my opinion, is Nick’s best book, Three Men Seeking Monsters, which is to say a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous. Along the way, he also made the very good point that science occasionally discovers animals that were previously unknown to us, so it’s unwise to dimiss cryptozoology, although the Loch Ness Monster might be a bit of a stretch.
The final speaker of the morning was author and essayist Mac Tonnies. A native of Independence, Missouri, Mac tells it like it is, much like another (more) famous Independence native, Harry S. Truman (of MJ-12 fame, and apparently also a former President - who knew??). Mac spoke on the subject of Transhumanism, i.e. what the near future holds for the development of humanity. His lecture, however, was more than a simple recitation of Kurzweil-ian predictions - if there is a philosopher amongst those who research and write about the paranormal, it is Tonnies. He makes people think, and challenges their perceptions and beliefs. His presentation was as much a fireside chat as a lecture, a thoughtful and at times cryptic appeal to those in the audience to take the future seriously, and to make a difference before it's too late.
Lunch was had by the speakers and a few others who tagged along at one of Halifax’s better eating establishments, Freeman’s of New York. Bill Cosby once said it was the best pizza in town, although Bob Zimmerman was adamant that any restaurant where you couldn’t get a slice of cheese pizza was not an actual pizza restaurant. It’s a New York thing, apparently.
The Symposium reconvened at 1:30 with Greg Bishop, who took his usual two hour long lecture on the contactee movement and whizzed through it in just under an hour. However, because Greg knows his material inside-out, nothing was lost in the abridged version. Perhaps no one other than Jerry Clark is as knowledgeable about the contactees as Greg. His presentation had strong echoes of the classic documentary, "Farewell Good Brothers", which is to say that while Greg acknowledges that most of the contactees were bogus, he leaves the door open for the possibility that some of them may have had experiences with an intelligence from beyond, and he has a great deal of affection for them. Greg is definitely one of the more intellectually adventurous guys in paranormal research these days, and he’s not afraid to challenge widely-held beliefs about any aspect of the parnormal.
Greg was followed by yours truly, talking about some of the "best evidence" cases that prove the UFO phenomenon is an objective reality. McMinnville, the Valentich case, Tehran 1976, the 1953 sighting by Kelly Johnson and some of his top test pilots, and the 1957 Vins-sur-Caramy case from France were all referenced, as was a hitherto unknown case from Prince Edward Island in the 1960s to which I’ve been made privy. I think I also mentioned RB-47s somewhere along the way, and I may have been the first person to ever use the "F" word in a UFO lecture. As to the quality of my presentation, I’ll let someone else speak to that. Let’s just say that it was probably the most "theatrical".
Closing out the afternoon session was Stan Friedman, who went back to his roots as a nuclear physicist with a compelling presentation about flying saucers and physics. Yes, there was the obligatory mention of the dreaded "Cosmic Watergate", etc., but for the most part Stan stayed away from the conspiracy end of things and focused on how "they" could get from there to here,
and where "they" might be coming from. As always, Stan was entertaining, tossing off one-liners and bon mots with aplomb. However, he was also very convincing, if not of the" fact" that aliens are here, then at least of the possibility that, should they exist nearby, and be just slightly more advanced than us, then they could get here. I’ve seen Stan over a dozen times over the years, and I thought that this was the best presentation he’s given. He’s still got it.
Dinner followed for the speakers, who all braved the torrential downpour that the Gods had unleashed to make their way to Henry House for an excellent, if slightly rushed, meal.
The evening session kicked off with the keynote speaker of the Symposium, award-winning historian of space exploration Robert Zimmerman. Bob told several great stories of the courage and ingenuity of astronauts and cosmonauts during what can only be referred to as the golden age of space exploration (the current version being, more or less, the "leaden" age), including one amazing story of how desperate Soviet cosmonauts, who had to perform a space walk (for which they were untrained), patched together a space suit that had a hole in it with duct tape, and managed to get the job done! Bob’s lecture was inspiring stuff to all of those who, like myself, believe that "space is the place" - he ended with a ringing call for leadership in the space program, and for us to get back "out there".
After Bob finished, all of the speakers took their seats on the firing line, i.e. the speakers panel, as emcee Veronica Reynolds (who did a super job all day long) managed a Q & A session with the audience (and sometimes with speakers asking other speakers questions) that lasted over an hour, and covered topics as diverse as remote viewing, abductions, and space exploration. Some highlights included Stan getting a dig in at Nick’s book "Body Snatchers in the Desert" (which Nick took in stride, unless he had dozed off, in which case this is the first he’s heard of it), Mac trying to explain his cryptoterrestrial hypothesis in a hundred words or less (he didn’t quite make it), Greg and I politely disagreeing about the effectiveness of remote viewing, and Stan and Bob talking about propulsion systems for space exploration. When the topic of abductions came up, a couple of us were quite critical of modern abductionologists like Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs, while Stan defended them, in principle if not necessarily in practice.
After the Symposium ended, the speakers and some friends (except for Stan, who turned in) went back to the Westin, where everyone was staying, and finished the day with drinks and conversation, most of which had nothing to do with UFOs, the paranormal, or space exploration, although Mac Tonnies did continue to opine about a posthuman future, especially when I pressed him about which actress he would include in his virtual reality if he could download his consciousness (his answer? Natalie Portman).
In the end, a great time was had by all!