Monday, June 30, 2008

Jerome Clark on Anomalous phenomena

I've given Jerry Clark a rough ride at times, here and elsewhere, for what I think was a far too casual dismissal of Mac Tonnies' crypto-terrestrial hypothesis. It's not that I agree with Mac, but rather that I think people should wait until he's done with his book, and has published, before they offer a critique of any sort.

Having said that, however, I have the greatest respect for Clark, despite any disagreements we may have. Whereas some ufologists have spent years on the lecture circuit, and late-night talk radio, to no great effect and with no lasting legacy, Clark has left behind a body of work - his UFO Encyclopedia, his other books (Strange Skies: Pilot Encounters with UFOs is one of the best), his work as editor of the International UFO Reporter, and so forth - that will serve future generations well, and in much more useful ways than the work of many of his ufological contemporaries.

In the most recent issue of Jim Moseley's 'zine Saucer Smear is a summary by Clark of where he stands on the subject of anomalous claims and phenomena that deserves a broader audience:

There are, as I see it, three classes of anomalous claims and phenomena:

(1) Pseudo-anomalies, which is to say the noise generated by misperceptions, wishful thinking, hoaxes, delusions, and exaggeration.

(2) Core anomalies that manifest as unusual and puzzling events in the world - in other words, they give us some reason to suspect their objective and physical, if unexplained, presence in the world - and that will be eventually explained within the boundaries of expanded existing knowledge.

(3) Experience anomalies, shadow phenomena that 'exist' in vivid (frequently collective) perception, that sometimes have a parasitic relationship to (2), while being epistemologically unrelated, and whose existence cannot be proved at the event level even as the extraordinary appearances at their center can be, in some subjective sense, experienced in deeply anomalous states of consciousness. We lack so much as a vocabulary for these, and they are so far beyond current knowledge (if - emphatically - not universal human experience) that explanations and theoretical frameworks cannot be usefully discussed. Literal interpretations are certainly wrong.
It is (3) that interests me most these days, and to which I intend to devote my energy and attention as an anomalist from here on.
There are people out there that think UFO research - and presumably research into anomalous phenomena in general - needs some sort of revolution. What they don't understand is that meaningful progress is always best served by building on the work of good people like Clark (which doesn't mean that one has to agree with everything he, or anyone else, has said), and not by some sort of "revolution" which will merely end up setting real research back, with the eventual result that everyone will just be re-inventing the wheel.

Clark politely turned me down when I asked him to appear in Best Evidence: Top 10 UFO Sightings, which I viewed as a shame, both for him and for me - for him, because it would have given him a chance to make some of his views known, even in short spurts, and for me because it would have made for an even better film. Most of all, however, it was a shame for viewers, who should be more familiar with Clark, and the very good work he has done over the years.

Paul Kimball

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jerome Clark’s description of “experience anomalies” is interesting. I am not convinced that they are necessarily unrelated to the “core anomalies” he describes. There are some “experience” events that do appear to be perceived or experienced through an altered state of consciousness but which also have physical or measurable aspects that would fit the category of core anomalies.

Many “experience anomalies” certainly appear to be very far beyond our current knowledge, and possibly universal human experience. Nevertheless, while that may make it difficult, at the present time, to study them in ways that lead to immediate answers, it does not necessarily mean that they cannot be eventually explained and examined at a literal level, or that we should not try to do so at this stage. Of course, the more ways we examine the experiences, the more likely we are to develop a deeper understanding of them. However, as there are at least some aspects of anomalous experiences that are amenable to literal examination, it is a good one to go for at this stage, among others.