Friday, May 20, 2011

The "Madness" of Peter Gersten

In a recent blog post titled Flying Saucers and the Descent Into Madness, Anthony Bragalia identified four people loosely associated with "ufology" as being crazy, one of whom is Peter Gersten.

Gersten, perhaps best known as the "UFO Lawyer" for his work with Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) to have various classified government documents released, has in recent years become focused on his belief that we are living in a computer simulation, which is set to either terminate or change in some way in 2012.

Bragalia pegged Gersten as someone who has descended into madness because of Gersten's publicly-stated plan to jump from Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona, at 11:11 UT on Dec, 21, 2012 (4:11 am in Sedona), which Gersten believes is the time that a cosmic portal will open, and his "program" will change. According to Gersten:
I fully expect that it will either lead to the next level of this cosmic program; freedom from an imprisoning time-loop; a magical Martian-like bubble; or something equally as exotic. In March 2012 I will reach 70 years of age and nine months later we arrive at the cosmic coordinate. I think it will then be time for me to move on - in one form or another. I'd like to see what else our Cosmic Computer has to offer.
Unless you believe that this is going to happen, and I don't, then what Gersten is talking about doing is committing suicide.

I interviewed Gersten at his home in September, 2007, and his views had been clearly formed by that time, so this is not news to anyone who has been paying attention. Here are the excerpts I posted from that interview several years ago:

In his blog post, Bragalia lauds Gersten's work in getting government documents released, and his views that something exotic happened at Roswell in 1947, but looks at his newer ideas and their projected outcome as madness. He pleads with people who to "personally know Peter Gersten to counsel him against his decision. If they do not, it will be too late and we will look back wondering how it had ever happened."

Peter Gersten is free to do as he wants, and if he does indeed follow his convictions and jump off Bell Rock on December 21, 2012, I will applaud him for having the courage of his convictions.

What horrifies Bragalia seems perfectly logical to me, within the context of Gersten's stated beliefs. which I'm not going to judge. When I met him, Gersten struck me as reasoned, articulate and thoughtful. Yes, he believes in things that I don't accept as real, but so do over 2 billion Christians. Indeed, those Christians accept as the Son of God a man who had a profound conversation with a talking snake, and then essentially committed suicide through his actions in following what he believed to be prophecy to his crucifixion. In other words, he took a literal "leap of faith", and a significant portion of humanity has based their entire world view on that leap of faith for two thousand years.

Further, Gersten has made it very clear that this is a personal decision for him, and that he is not encouraging (or discouraging) anyone else from doing something similar. His responsibility is for his actions, and his alone, and he has every right to pursue his own path, even if people might not like where that path is going to lead him.

None of which is to say that Bragalia and others shouldn't try to dissuade Gersten from taking his "leap of faith" in 2012. That is their right. But they should do so with respect for Gersten's point of view, and without questioning his sanity. They should also do so with an understanding that Gersten's beliefs are more nuanced than the simple "he's going to jump off Bell Rock and kill himself because he believes a cosmic portal will save him, which is nuts" narrative that Bragalia presents.

Much of what Gersten has to say is really about free will. Further, even assuming that this is a simple question of suicide, it is important to remember that Western philosophy is more nuanced when it comes to the subject of suicide (or the right to determine where, when and how a person is going to die) than its opponents would have you believe.

When suicide is out of fashion we conclude that none but madmen destroy themselves; and all the efforts of courage appear chimerical to dastardly minds ... Nevertheless, how many instances are there, well attested, of men, in every other respect perfectly discreet, who, without remorse, rage, or despair, have quitted life for no other reason than because it was a burden to them, and have died with more composure than they lived.
There is no tenable reason left, on the score of morality, for condemning suicide. The extraordinary energy and zeal with which the clergy of monotheistic religions attack suicide is not supported either by any passages in the Bible or by any considerations of weight; so that it looks as though they must have some secret reason for their contention. May it not be this - that the voluntary surrender of life is a bad compliment for him who said that all things were very good? If this is so, it offers another instance of the crass optimism of these religions - denouncing suicide to escape being denounced by it... When, in some dreadful and ghastly dream, we reach the moment of greatest horror, it awakes us; thereby banishing all the hideous shapes that were born of the night. And life is a dream; when the moment of greatest horror compels us to break it off, the same thing happens.
As Schopenhauer concludes, "They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice... that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person."

French playwright Antonin Artaud went even further still in On Suicide, and comes closest to Gersten's basic underlying principles:
If I commit suicide, it will not be to destroy myself but to put myself back together again. Suicide will be for me only one means of violently reconquering myself, of brutally invading my being, of anticipating the unpredictable approaches of God. By suicide, I reintroduce my design in nature, I shall for the first time give things the shape of my will.
My own view? A person has complete control over their own being.  We have free will, and I believe that Gersten's proposed "leap of faith" is an ultimate expression of his free will, in a world where our ability to exercise that free will is increasingly constrained by people who think they know what is best for others, or who would for their own purposes wish to deny our free will altogether.

Assuming Gersten really does jump from Bell Rock in December, 2012 (and he now seems less settled on that particular course of action than when I interviewed him in 2007),  then I applaud his convictions, and his courage, regardless of where his "leap of faith" takes him. I certainly don't consider it "madness", any more than I consider it madness to follow a man who willingly created a situation that he knew would lead to his execution two thousand years ago. It's just another example of the anarchy that is free will, and it's what separates us from the animals.

As Greg Bishop, with whom I am staying here in Los Angeles, just said to me after reading this: "A person's free will should trump other people's beliefs as to how they should act, or what they should do."

Paul Kimball


Ryan P. said...

I think Hume and Schopenhauer might be a bit over the heads of most people within ufology Paul!

Dia Sobin (Araqinta) said...
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Dia Sobin (Araqinta) said...
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Kandinsky said...

It's very intriguing isn't it? PAG has the free will to end his life, but who, in conscience, could use their own free will to step back and not try to prevent him? Furthermore, who has the duty to remove the body and clean up all the mess? Jumpers from even 10 stories make an awful mess and a sight to be remembered. Which family member or friend gets to ID the body?

In theory, I believe he has the right to do what he wants with his body and his life. The internet chatter about his plans is unlikely to alter them and he's apparently lucid in the videos and his posts. Realistically, it's improbable that his plans will succeed and I don't mean escaping from this reality; he'll be prevented.

One would hope that in the meantime he'll review his evidence and sources to be certain that his bold gesture isn't a futile symbol of immersion in the abyss of esoterica. I see parallels with Joe Fisher's death and that was a stark tragedy.

Beyond the objective and philosophical considerations about suicide; it seems a subjective case of a man's solipsistic fascination with numbers and inferred messages from the universe. It's mainlining synchronicities, overloading on pattern recognition and, broadly, a terminal case of confirmation bias.

As one stranger to another, whatever the outcome, I sincerely hope that he finds peace.

Kandinsky said...

(apologies for multiple posts)

I'd like to add that survivors of suicide leaps have overwhelmingly stated their immediate regrets during their descent. A study into 515 survivors showed that 94% remained alive and well into the following decades.

I realise PAG's motivations are different, however the notion that many successful leapers spend their final moments in a state of profound regret and horror is pause for thought.

The referred study is the first link below and the second one is a short article that has had a profound impact on me since it was published in 2007.

Bruce Duensing said...

I have written to Peter expressing my concern not over his act, but his reasoning. I told him that while I respect his views, I can also disagree with them. I think that it is the reasoning and the dialog that ensues is what is important. I sense he is depressed, and he alluded to be reunited with lost friends in his correspondence. Mark Vonnegut's book The Eden Express is a first person account of a descent into schizophrenia during the 1960's at a commune. He thought he could subsist on air and those surrounding him thought it was a philosophical commitment. I felt I owed Peter, at minimum, my reasons for seeing this as a selfish act based on a mistaken belief in mathematical perfection , at least engaging him rather than say or infer this is some sort of enlightened state. We all travel in darkness and the torch we carry in language conceals our blindness. Rodney Collin, the great christian spiritual writer, jumped off a cathedral in order that a friend receive money for treatment..later it turned out to be a based on a scam. We all want to imbue suffering with meaning.

Bruce Duensing said...

It occurred to me after posting my comment that, in my opinion, you would be the most capable director of a documentary of "Eden Express" which, is if you have not, read the book, I offer it simply as a suggestion as a means to expand beyond the UFO topic, although I have never forgotten you observation that Ufology is sociology.

Anonymous said...


I simply cannot believe what I am reading. You know this man. You interviewed him. And now you are going to stand by and simply comment that you will not judge him and that it is his "right" to kill himself.

As someone who lost his best friend in Junior High to suicide, I am repulsed by this attitude.

There is nothing "nuanced" about Peter's thoughts on this- if he jumps he will die.

You would do well Paul to read up on the causes of suicide and its prevention. There is nothing "philosophical" about suicide. Someone of "wrong" mind does not have the "right" to end their lives- and ruin the lives of their friends and loved ones.

Anthony Bragalia

Paul Kimball said...

Your comments and attitude are coloured by your own personal experience, and I understand that, so I will refrain from responding other than to say that I stand by my original post, for the reasons stated therein.

Michael Garrett said...

Clearly Gersten is at best deluded and confused. Instead of helping to push him off the cliff from a safe distance, if you know the man, you should engage him in some manner and encourage him to reconsider. I am surprised and troubled by the direction of the thoughts presented in this post. Our actions have consequences for those who care for us far beyond our own selfish or stupid decisions that may be acted upon during difficult or troubled personal times.

Ryan P. said...

Like I said above about ufology and philosophy...

I think it's clear that Paul is not advocating Gersten commit suicide, but rather setting out the case for why a decision to commit suicide is not necessarily "mad", and why it is ultimately a question of one's ability to make the ultimate decision for oneself. It's a complex and yes nuanced issue, and I for one thank Paul for giving readers a broader perspective on a difficult topic. The "other side" as it were.


Dia Sobin (Araqinta) said...

On second thought - the first ones being removed - screw the suicide angle. I'm hoping PG either finds the "portal" without throwing himself off a cliff, or decides the whole idea is a pile of crap!

Paul Kimball said...

Thanks Ryan. Good to see someone actually read the post.

Jack Sarfatti said...

Gersten should be in a psychiatric ward. He is threatening suicide. This could be another Heaven's Gate situation if other weak minds follow him. On the other hand, it's a free country. If a bunch of fools want to jump should the police stop them? I saw him on TV just now. Poor chap is insane in my opinion.;-)

Unknown said...

Sorry, but It really does seems that someone of your intellect and understanding should have more of a compassionate view of Peter Gertsen. This is not suicide. Clearly it is simply delusion. Do you therefore think that all delusions should be embraced because they are our "free will"? Even to the death? Now that is a ridiculous argument.

Gertsen believes he is going to jump through a portal/black hole. Hume says men have "quitted life" because "it was a BURDEN on them". Peter Gertsen is not suffering from a painful incurable disease. where is his burden? He might well live on and be very happy, and hopefully be given some medication, since let's be honest, what he's probably suffering from is just a chemical imbalance.

Your argument is dangerous for 3 reasons.
1. You equate free will with embracing delusion, when it is,in fact, quite the opposite.
2. You argue that because madness is institutionalized, uninstitutionalized madness should still have a right to exist (Your comparison of christ and Peter' man's decision)...TWO WRONGS DO NOT MAKE A RIGHT!
3. You rely on Hume, Shopenhauer and Artaud, but they are taken out of context, because this man is NOT comiting suicide, he is simply embracing his delusion that he is essentially 'invincible' in space and time.

If you would like to refute any of my arguments I would like to hear it.

william hughes said...

Ehh... Screw him. Leave the carcass for the buzzards. One less mental midget taking up space and stealing air. How many kids has this mope convinced to "take the leap" with him? Eff him and his 'program'.

Anonymous said...

I take it you don't think a 70 year old has earned the right to call his shot, so to speak?