Monday, October 07, 2013

The Moment and the Muse

One of the questions that bedevils people who look into the "paranormal" centers on the apparent randomness of it all - from UFO sighting "waves" to the inconsistent nature of "hauntings" and even Bigfoot, which might not be a corporeal creature anymore than is a "ghost", it is impossible to predict when something is going to happen. 

While that might not make sense to an accountant meeting payroll, it makes perfect sense to anyone with an artistic temperament. Inspiration isn't like a television - you can't just turn it on and off at will. The muse and the mood must strike, at just the right moment, for the artist to really be engaged in a truly creative enterprise. Sometimes it comes and stays for a while, and other times it is much more ephemeral. Songwriters, poets, painters... they can all go through prolonged droughts where, for whatever reason, the muse just isn't there. Now, a good musician or filmmaker can still churn out decent work without the muse - a two-and-a-half star album, perhaps, instead of a five star one, or a solid if uninspired documentary (I've made a couple of films like that) - but they do it because they have to, not because they want to, and it's not really art. It's a widget.

For example, among my artistic pursuits is poetry, but it comes and goes with maddening randomness. I never know why the inspiration hits, but when it does it usually sticks around for a bit, and then it's gone. This past few days has seen the muse return for the first time in over a year, but for how long? I have no idea.

If the paranormal is really a form of artistic expression by an advanced non-human intelligence as I posited in my book The Other Side of Truth: The Paranormal, The Art of the Imagination, and the Human Condition (and discussed here a few days ago), then perhaps it operates in the same way, which would explain the apparent randomness of it all. Maybe the muse, and the moment, comes and goes for "them" just as it does for us, and that determines when, where, and what the advanced non-human intelligence chooses to present. 

Meanwhile, here's one of those poems of mine:

The sorceress glissades,
her symphonious beauty underscoring
a dance of ineluctable undulations
through which she weaves
a spell as deep as Mariana.
She exhales a siren’s song,
and with a single Tesla touch
coils around me like lightning -
I plunge into the swells
of a perdurable ocean of bliss.
In her embrace
I am ravished by
an amaranthine ecstasy.

Paul Kimball

Saturday, October 05, 2013

William Lyon MacKenzie King

William Lyon MacKenzie King, Canada's longest serving Prime Minister (1921 - 1926; 1926 - 1930; 1935 - 1948), and the architect of our social welfare system, was a devoted spiritualist and occultist. He regularly attempted to commune with spirits, including those of Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Wilfrid Laurier (his mentor, and a former Prime Minister), his dead mother, and several of his Irish Terrier dogs. He also owned and used a Ouija board, and claimed to commune with the spirit of the late President Franklin Roosevelt, his fellow Allied leader during the Second World War. His occult interests were kept secret during his years in office, and only became publicized later. 

One of the greatest Canadians... and a genuinely weird guy!

Paul Kimball

Some British Ghost Tales

Yours truly and my Ghost Cases co-host Holly Stevens.

When I was a kid, maybe ten or eleven, I read a short story in which a young boy and girl wander into an old cemetery at night. They decide to play a game of hide-and-seek and the boy makes the mistake of walking around the church in a counter-clockwise direction as he searches for a hiding place. Because the church had been cursed this caused him to become invisible, as if he had run into a portal and shifted out of phase with the universe or something like that. The only way he could get back to our plane of existence was by walking around the church in a clockwise direction which would reverse the effect. As I recall, the boy eventually figured it out and escaped from the trap, but not before both he and the girl were frightened out of their minds. Little did I know that three decades later I would find myself at a church in England where the truth would prove stranger than childhood fiction.

In order to broaden the international sales appeal of the television series Ghost Cases that I produced, directed, wrote and hosted in 2008-09, I decided that we would film four episodes outside of Canada. Our first choice was Louisiana, and we had the locations and the trip booked, but we were turned away at the airport by US Customs, apparently because they don’t like any competition for the dire ghost shows produced in the United States. Or perhaps they had read my Facebook postings critical of American foreign policy. They didn’t really give us a reason.

Fortunately, I had met a good bloke named Dave Sadler when we were both speakers at a paranormal conference in Altrincham, England, a couple of years before. At the time Dave had made the mistake of telling me that if I ever needed any help from “across the pond” all I had to do was give him a call. With our American trip now a non-starter I definitely needed help, so I rang him up. He was more than happy to work with us, and two months later, largely thanks to his research and connections, we landed in England to film the four foreign episodes.

Dave picked my Ghost Cases co-host Holly Stevens and me up at the airport, drove us back to our hotel in Congleton (a town about a half an hour south of Manchester), and introduced us to his fellow investigators from a group known as the Unknown Phenomena Investigation Association (UPIA). This  somewhat motley but serious-minded crew included Steve Mera, an experienced investigator who would join Dave, Holly and I for all four episodes.

Thus began a week of all around strange happenings, the likes of which Holly and I had not quite run into before.

The White Hart Hotel in Uttoxeter.

Our first stop was the White Hart Hotel in Uttoxeter, a location where a number of supposedly paranormal happenings had occurred, including the voice of a small child in the basement and a demon-haunted bedroom. Dave was very skeptical – he thought that the hotel manager might be pulling a fast one in order to make a few bucks by billing the location for haunted tours. However, during our evening at the hotel a room that we had locked off and left a camera running in was found to have a substance that was subsequently confirmed to be blood spattered on a shower curtain. No-one had entered the room.

Then the manager took Holly and I down to the basement to conduct a “séance” in an attempt to contact the little girl that people had reported hearing. I thought the exercise was a bit daft so I excused myself shortly after we began, but Holly stuck it out. Nothing happened and after about half an hour she and the manager called it quits. Holly, however, had left her tape recorder running, and unbeknownst to any of us at the time it picked up what appeared to be the sound of a little girl crying out “no” just after Holly can be heard saying to the manager that it was time to head back upstairs.

The Lion & Swan in Congleton.

Our second location was another old inn, the Lion & Swan in Congleton, where we were also staying for the duration of our time in the area. One of the stories about the Tudor-era location was that a painting stored in the basement was supposedly cursed – if anyone touched it, someone close to that person would die. This story sounded impressive – and more than a bit dangerous – until I actually saw the painting, which was a cheap 60s knock-off of a half-clothed woman.

As Holly, Steve, and Paul Reeves (another member of the UPIA) investigated other areas of the inn, Dave and I set ourselves up in the basement with “Caroline” (the name we gave to the woman in the painting). Not taking things seriously, we mocked the story of the curse, and then I reached over, paused for dramatic effect, and grabbed the painting. After a moment I handed it over to Dave. We had a good laugh and then continued with filming our part of the investigation. Nothing happened in the basement and the entire evening passed uneventfully overall.

When I wandered into the inn’s dining room the next morning for breakfast, however, I was surprised to see that Reeves, who had been quite excited about coming with us to the next location, was not present. Dave and Steve, who both looked more than a bit shaken, explained to me that Paul’s father had died suddenly the night before.

As Steve wandered off to tell Holly, Dave pulled me aside.

“Do you think…” he asked, and then his voice trailed off.

“No,” I answered. “Absolutely not.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Pure coincidence.”

“Right,” I replied.

Despite our dismissal, neither of us seemed completely certain of ourselves as we joined the rest of the team in the dining room.

After we finished breakfast we made our way out into the English countryside to our third location near the small village of Shocklach close to the Welsh border. At the end of a lane which ran off a deserted country road we found St. Edith’s, a small Norman church built in the 12th century, which makes it one of the oldest ecclesiastical buildings in Cheshire. Dave had been to the church dozens of times while Steve was visiting it for the first time.

St. Edith's church in Shocklach.

As we walked around the grounds Dave recounted some of the strange things that he had experienced there over the years. He started with a story that involved a little girl who seemed to move through time by running around the church, which immediately caught my attention.
A friend and I came to the site a few years ago. It was his first time, and he brought his young daughter with him. We wanted to talk about some things away from the prying ears of the child so we walked to the rear of the church. He lit a cigarette, took a drag of it, and asked her to go play. She ran to the opposite side of the church, and then as she went around one corner she automatically appeared around the corner closest to us, straightaway in an instant. I’m probably talking, for an eight year-old child to run that distance, about thirty seconds.
Dave followed up the “time slip” story with one about audio anomalies. He told us about how numerous visitors, including other members of the UPIA on a previous investigation, had heard the sound of horse’s hooves on cobblestone and the neighing of the horses, despite the fact that there are no horses anywhere near the church and certainly no road that would sound like cobblestones. When Holly asked him what he thought might have caused the noises, he offered the following theory:
There’s a report from the 1800s of funeral processions coming to the church. At the time, obviously, it wasn’t hearses but horse-drawn funeral carriages coming down the road.
After our walkthrough of the site I got the crew ready, set up the lights that we would need later in the evening, and then Holly, Dave, Steve and I began our investigation. As the sun began to set we split up and wandered through different areas of the large cemetery surrounding the church. Within a matter of minutes Steve saw Holly standing next to the church, where she looked out of sorts.

“Clear as anything,” she told him when he went over to check on her, “I heard… I heard the horse’s hooves.”

“You heard the horse’s hooves?” he asked.

“I heard the horse’s hooves,” she repeated. “I thought that was laughable because we had heard so much about them, but it was so clear, and so distinct, and so close.”

She was laughing, but it was laughter to cover her nervousness. She looked over at Steve, who was examining the surroundings, and said, “It’s very disconcerting to hear something that’s not there.” All that he could do was nod in agreement.

Holly, yours truly, and Dave Sadler.

The sun tucked itself beyond the horizon shortly afterwards, at which point things proceeded to get even weirder. I had parked myself on a bench tucked up against the front of the church where I sat scanning the night sky. There was no-one else anywhere near me. My co-producer Dale Stevens and the two-man camera crew were at the other end of the grounds filming an interview with Dave, and Holly and Steve were out by the car checking the monitors. And then I saw… well, here’s what I had to say ten minutes later after I had excitedly called the crew over.
So here’s the crazy thing. I wasn’t going to say anything, because I’m the skeptical member of the team, but I’ve been talking with Dale and he and I have seen the exact same thing at different times and in different places. Trained as a lawyer, as an historian, what I want is confirmation and now I have it. What Dale described, and what I’ve seen, I would describe it almost in a science fiction sense as if a door opened and a shape formed. It was totally black and surrounded by the night sky, which was slightly illuminated by the moon and a town off in the distance. As soon as it was there it was gone, maybe two or three seconds afterwards. What makes it really weird is that it appeared exactly over the spot where I was standing two hours ago, filming a segment where I was discussing Holly’s experience. The way my mind works, it was like a trans-dimensional door opening or something, full of blackness, as if the sky was totally blacked out.
Dale and I seeing the black void in the sky at different times and in different places set off a rapid-fire succession of anomalous events. First, the batteries in our sound-man’s equipment completely ran out of juice despite the fact that he had just put brand new ones in the equipment twenty minutes before. Steve also experienced battery drains on his flashlight; he had to change them four times that night.

Then Steve reported seeing some unusual moving lights behind the church. As he explained it to me later:
I was actually situated in the back of the church, along with an infra-red camera, and I saw this light appear across a tomb. So I went around the corner of the church to look for somebody and I couldn’t see anybody there, so when I actually brought it to your attention, trying to rationalize the experience, I thought that maybe somebody further down in the lower graveyard may have been flashing a light around and maybe somehow it had caught a reflection and strayed up to the top end of the church where I was.
We accounted for everyone’s whereabouts at the time, and established that none of us could have been responsible for the lights. Despite Steve’s initial attempts to rationalize his experience in the same way that I had tried to rationalize the black void he remained genuinely puzzled.

“We couldn’t replicate it, so I can only presume that it was something unusual,” he concluded.

It was at this point that I told Holly I had also heard the horse’s hooves earlier in the evening in a different part of the cemetery. As with the black void in the sky I think I was going through my own process of trying to rationalize it, and when I realized that I couldn’t come up with an explanation I decided to tell her.

“Are you serious?” she asked me with a mixture of anger, relief and curiosity. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I started to explain off-camera, in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way, when I suddenly stopped talking and looked directly at her.

“Did you hear that?” we asked each other, at almost the exact same time.

It was the horse’s hooves again, and this time we both heard them for five or six seconds.

None of our cameras or audio recorders picked up anything anomalous that night. But those of us who were there all know that we saw and heard things that were genuinely out of the ordinary.

As Holly put it, “What happened to us that night at the church? I still don’t know. But we all saw and heard things that we can’t explain – it’s almost as if the whole night, something was playing with us.”

I still haven’t been able to come up with an explanation for the events that occurred that night at St. Edith’s church, or the previous evenings at the White Hart and the Lion & Swan, but I can tell you one thing – once the weirdness started to happen in Shocklach I made sure that every time I walked around the church I went in a clockwise direction.

Just in case.

Musical Interlude - Ornette Coleman, "The Shape of Jazz to Come"

There are a lot of people who just don't "get" jazz, just as there are a lot of people who don't "get" the paranormal. More is the pity for them.

Coleman is a favourite of mine, and on any given day The Shape of Jazz to Come is my favourite jazz album, alternating with other contenders such as Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis.

The day-to-day world we live in is so often the equivalent to the lowest common denominator pandering commercial-grade sausage-grinder pop we are force fed by modern radio. The world of the paranormal, even if it is just in our imagination, is infinitely more complex and sublime. 

It is jazz. 

Paul Kimball

Friday, October 04, 2013

Death of a Dream... by self-inflicted wounds

Kevin Randle offers his take on the recent "Dream Team" imbroglio in a blog post that proves to me at least that he is as slippery as an eel and has the ethical compass of a kumquat. This is the opinion I have formed based on my own interactions with him, and his public statements and actions in contrast to his private ones. Others may well come to a different conclusion (it's a free country, after all), but in my opinion I was mistaken to ever trust him, or to believe that he was genuinely interested in the truth about Roswell. Mea culpa.

And I will remind people reading this who go to read Randle's non-mea culpa, where he bemoans my bringing up Don Schmitt's proven record of lying about a wide range of things in the past, that in the already published e-mail to me Randle wrote:

My dilemma, then, is how to tell Tom that I'm now out. I hung in there with the unilateral decision to invite in Schmitt, even given his history of lying (which, BTW, continues in some arenas, and Schmitt's grab for the spotlight to the exclusion of all others).

And yet here we have Randle in his "Death of a Dream" post chastising me for focusing on poor Don Schmitt when in fact he was doing the same thing in his e-mails to me. Sadly, he is more worried about hurting the feelings of a man he says is still lying to him than he is about calling a spade a spade and advancing the truth. As Lance Moody wrote in a comment at the UFO Iconoclasts blog:
The latest revelations show that Kevin made the following decision about Don Schmitt: 
1. I know you were a liar. 
2. I still think you are a liar because you are lying still. 
3. You'll do fine for our Roswell Dream Team as we search for the truth.

Precisely so.

Of course, the real issue goes far beyond just Schmitt. It involves the credibility of the entire "Dream Team" investigation, and in particular the now notorious slides that are allegedly from 1947 and show alien bodies (if you believe Anothony Bragalia). Randle claims to have been out of the loop on it all, despite appearances to the contrary based on the e-mails he sent me. Indeed, at the start of his non-mea culpa, Randle writes:

I freely admit that it appears from those emails that I was involved but the reality is that I wasn’t even completely in the loop. 
Well, judge for yourself just how much Randle knew, and whether or not he was "out of the loop" (and recall that in his previously published e-mail he stated that he had made his own inquiries, which to any reasonable person must mean he conducted an "investigation"). This is the text of the second e-mail he sent me, on September 6:
I got to looking at the documentation that had been given to me, and I asked how they had determined that the slides had been exposed in 1947. Was it chemical analysis? Was it some sort of measurement? How did they know?
I got back an email that explained some things that would happen to authenticate the slides which confused me so I asked additional questions. The testing HAS NOT been done. The document sent to me was a "proposed way to issue the statement." The date was based on the codes on the film, which I had said to anyone who would listen meant nothing because anyone familiar with the Alien Autopsy would know the codes. So, they hadn't determined with the slides had been exposed other than the film had been manufactured in 1947 or 1927 or 1967.  
Now the kicker. The man who owns the slides today has approached Kodak to make the tests, but we all know how that went with the Alien Autopsy. The experts can supposedly tell when the slides were exposed (though I wouldn't put much faith in that) and based on the chemical analysis should be able to pin down the date of manufacture rather than have a forty year window and should be able to tell something about when the slides were processed, again based on the chemical analysis. I mention this not as an alibi but so you know (as I know) that it might be possible to determine some of these things. 
The problems... well, as you note, as do I, there is NO chain of custody. I'm told that they believe they know who took the pictures originally, but he's dead, as is his wife and just about everyone who ever knew him... and that is a guess as to him having taken them. He could have been given them by something else. There is no way to know this. 
Oh, yes, I almost forgot... there is no indication where the pictures were taken. It was a morgue of some kind but when and where doesn't seem to be in the cards. There are a couple of signs in the pictures, but they are angled and impossible to read... another clue you say? Of course. (Clue to a hoax, if I have to clarify). 
I suspect the reason this has been bouncing around for more than two years is because it is a hoax of some kind. If the slides were authentic, I suspect we'd have a better chain of custody and I suspect the guy who had them would have approached someone with the ability to authenticate them and find him some big dough for them because, if authentic, how much would they be worth? Authentic slides of alien creatures... can you say "Millions."
So, yes, I'm thoroughly disgusted. I believe, at this point, the investigation is dead because it is not going anywhere and is badly tainted by the nun's diary story (thanks to Don Schmitt who has told me for two years that he knew where the diaries were but we haven't advanced on that front and I learned the original source who claimed to be a Special Forces officer was neither Special Forces not an officer). While the Ramey memo might provide some interesting results, I really hold no hope for that either.  
I believe, at this point, it is time to strike the flag and move onto other things... sad to say.
This was what I knew when I read Randle's statement to the Examiner that he had never seen the slides (true) and had not participated in their investigation (untrue). Now he tries to go even further and claim that he was "out of the loop." I didn't sandbag Randle - I only released the information when I realized he was not going to be truthful about either his knowledge of the slides nor his role in their investigation, and he was not going to honour his commitment to me that he would withdraw from the "Dream Team" as I had implored him to do in order to salvage his reputation.

No matter how much Randle tries to shift the issues in a classic public relations spin, the self-proclaimed "Dream Team" has imploded not because of malfeasance or betrayal by me or Rich Reynolds or Nick Redfern or anyone else who merely told the truth, but because of self-inflicted wounds motivated by a combination of greed, ego, and believerism. People will have to judge for themselves what to make of Kevin Randle based on this entire episode, but for me the answer is clear. We already knew that you couldn't trust Donald Schmitt; sadly, in my opinion the same now applies to Kevin Randle as well.

Paul Kimball

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Rubicon of the Imagination

[Excerpted from my book The Other Side of Truth]

Rationality is what we do to organize the world, to make it possible to predict. Art 
is the rehearsal for the inapplicability and failure of that process. – Brian Eno 

Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BCE, an act of defiance that sparked the civil war which eventually led to the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. He uttered his famous phrase “veni, vidi, vici” whilst sitting on a horse, and the legions that he led were armed with swords, spears, and similar weapons. When the Roman Empire in the West fell in 476 CE, after five centuries as the pre-eminent power in the ancient world, it was to Germanic armies that wielded more or less the same equipment Caesar's legions had fought with. When Belisarius re-captured large parts of the Western Empire in the middle of the 6th century for Emperor Justinian, he too led armies that would not have seemed unfamiliar to Caesar. 

Thus, while there were certainly changes in tactics, and formations, and even to some degree materiel, the armies commanded by Belisarius had not changed in any fundamental way since the period when the Empire had been created, six centuries earlier. This was typical of human technological development for most of our history. Change, when it came, was generally slow and fitful. Change began to accelerate more rapidly after the Industrial Revolution began in the mid 18th century, but it was in the 20th century that the “game” truly changed. The British Grand Fleet commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe was the foundation of Imperial might at the beginning of the First World War in 1914.3 A single dreadnought would have been sufficient to defeat the combined fleets of the British, French and Spanish navies at Trafalgar just a century earlier. By the time that the Second World War ended in 1945, however, battleships were obsolete. Blockades and great naval battles between surface fleets were meaningless when compared with air power, as demonstrated by the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse by the Japanese in 1941, much less the development of atomic weapons and rockets by the end of the war, all of which came to the fore within less than two decades. Just half a century later, a single nuclear-armed submarine could have obliterated the combined fleets at Jutland with a single missile, and without any of the thousands of doomed sailors having any understanding of what had caused the sudden blinding flash of light that was about to destroy them.

The British Grand Fleet, 1914.

Technological change since then has increased at an exponential rate not seen before in human history. My home computer provides a good example. When I founded my film and television production company just twelve years ago, I bought desktop computers for the office and for my home that were near the top of the line, and which were specifically assembled for us by a local company. They each had 20 GB of hard drive space. The mass-produced computer I'm using as I type this in 2012 has 500 gigabytes of hard drive space, and is hooked up to a separate drive that contains another 500 gigabytes. On the shelf nearby is another drive with a terrabyte of space. The difference between the processing speeds is even more pronounced than the relative storage capabilities. I can edit an entire film on this computer, and post it immediately to various places on the Internet, or send it via FTP to someone in Asia, or Europe, things I couldn’t have done a decade ago.

This is really just the beginning, however. “Moore’s Law” states that computer power doubles every eighteen months, an unheard of increase in technological power that permeates every level of our society. Futurists such as Ray Kurzweil have stated that this model can also be applied to a wide variety of other technologies, in what Kurzweil called “the law of accelerating returns.” The future as imagined by science fiction writers in the 1960s is already beginning to look not just quaint, but archaic. 

All of this has a direct bearing on the paranormal, and any advanced non-human intelligence with whom we might be dealing. When I was in London in May, 2009, I attended a lecture given by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku at the RSA. He talked for approximately half an hour about his book, The Physics of the Impossible, and then there was a period of time for questions and answers. I raised my hand, because I wanted Kaku to elaborate a bit on what he had written about the prospect of communication with an extraterrestrial civilization.

"You’ve written about the possibility that there’s a galactic conversation going on that we’re not part of, and that’s far beyond us,” I asked. “Two questions: first, what do you think might be the best way of tapping into that conversation, if it’s taking place, and second, how soon do you think we might have the ability or knowledge to do so?” 

There were a few snickers in the audience as I finished, but Kaku skipped a couple of other questions and went directly to mine. I think he appreciated that I was interested in a subject that he clearly takes seriously, and also that someone had actually read his book before coming to the lecture. 

“Let me try to answer that,” he said. “First, why don’t the aliens visit us, and how do we contact the aliens who are out there? Well, if you’re walking down a country road and you see an ant hill, do you go down to the ants and say, ‘I give you trinkets, I bring you beads, I give you nuclear energy, I give you biotechnology - take me to your ant leader’? Or maybe you step on a few of them.” I remember thinking at the time that if there was anything that might make people more uncomfortable than the prospect of not being at the top of the food chain, it would be the idea that those further up the chain than us might be as inclined to step on the “ants” as we are, whether by accident or on purpose. I’m sure that explained the few nervous chuckles I heard from the audience. 

Kaku smiled, and continued. “A galactic civilization that could soar through the galactic space lanes would consider us not too different from an ant hill. Now, let’s say that there’s a ten lane super highway being built right next to the ant hill. Would the ants know how to communicate with the workers? Would they know the frequencies that the workers use? Would the ants even know what a ten lane super highway was, or the purpose of a ten lane super highway?” 

“Then you begin to realize,” he explained, “that a galactic civilization is about a million years more advanced than us, and on that scale, their frequencies, their culture, their goals, are going to be very, very different from our little ant hill. So how will we make contact with these people?” 

He continued for a bit by describing how we’re going to detect many Earth-like planets in the years to come. This, he said, would be an existential shock for many people, particularly once they realized that those planets might contain life more advanced than our own. Then he delivered his punch-line. 

“We don’t know their frequencies, we don’t know how they communicate. For example, when you send an e-mail, it’s chopped up into many pieces and then re-assembled at the other end, because it was a military weapon. The message was chopped up because in the future Los Angeles may be destroyed, New York may be destroyed, and your e-mail will still get through because it’s been chopped up into pieces. Let’s say that an alien civilization does the same thing. They take a message, chop it up, and send it through many, many avenues to have it re-assembled at the other end. That’s the most efficient and error-free way to send a message. If we were to listen in on alien signals, we’d hear nothing. We’d hear gibberish. So we could be teeming with intergalactic civilizations, and we’re simply too own personal experience."

As I left what was a thoroughly entertaining lecture, I thought to myself that it’s quite possible Kaku is right. His views seem to reflect the overwhelming majority opinion amongst the scientific community. But given the way that our own development has gone over the past century, it can’t be said that he is certainly correct. The technological developments necessary to get us to the stars may not be thousands of years away – they may only be hundreds of years away, or perhaps even less. We just don’t know anymore. Indeed, Kaku himself has speculated that a Type-I civilization, which would be a truly planetary society, capable of travel within the solar system, and eventually perhaps even limited interstellar missions, could be achieved in as little as a century. A Type-II civilization, which would be capable of interstellar flight within our local region of the Milky Way, might only be eight hundred years or so beyond where we are now, according to Kaku. To put that in perspective, that’s roughly the same period of time that passed between Caesar and Belisarius. To add even more perspective, imagine this: if you had told someone living at the end of the Spanish – American War in 1898 that in less than a century, the United States would possess bombs that could obliterate entire cities, launched not by artillery but by flying machines that could travel several times the speed of sound, all while men walked on the moon, they probably would have locked you up in a rubber room. In short, predicting the future has always been a tricky thing, and that’s never been more true than it is today.

Accordingly, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to speculate that a civilization in our nearby "galactic neighborhood" could have developed space-faring abilities before us, and made their way here at some point, without having to imagine the aliens as god-like beings so far in advance of us that we wouldn’t be able to recognize them, or communicate with them at some level. I also think that it’s not unreasonable to imagine that they would have some degree of interest in us. Not in our technology, of course; indeed, probably not for anything in the physical realm in which we place so much stock. It’s therefore quite possible that Kaku has gotten his timeline wrong, and that the more applicable analogy might not be humans in relation to ants, but rather adult humans in relation to the youngest members of our species. After all, while an adult is obviously recognizable to a five-year old child, they have vastly different outlooks on the world, on life, and on each other. Nevertheless, the adult still takes a profound interest in the development of the child, particularly a wayward child prone to self-destruction. 

Regardless of the comparative levels that we might be at in terms of development, Kaku has made the more fundamental mistake of viewing contact from the perspective of humans trying to participate in a conversation with an advanced non-human intelligence. The more logical way to look at it is from the perspective of the advanced non-human intelligence, whomever or whatever they may be, trying to make themselves understood at some level by us. Any contact is going to take place on their terms, and not ours. When a parent wants to interact with a baby, for instance, they don’t read War and Peace, or King Lear, in the hopes that the child will understand; rather, they tickle them, and say things like “goochy-goochy coo,” and sing them lullabies. Eventually, when the child gets a bit older, the parents will progress to simple illustrated stories like those written by Dr. Seuss. I think we’re a long way away from being able to read their version of Tolstoy or Shakespeare, but we might just be developed enough to see them spin the shiny silver ball they’ve placed above our crib, and listen as they softly sing their version of “Frère Jacques” to us. 

Maybe a few of us are capable of an even greater understanding. As we’ve seen in our own species, there are always some precocious children, such as Mozart, who outgrow the cradle more quickly than most. The great 20th century drama critic George Jean Nathan once wrote that great art is as irrational as great music. “It is mad,” he asserted, “with its own loveliness." The same could be said, in many ways, of the paranormal, which almost always seems to possess an element of irrationality to it. 

This raises a fascinating possibility: what if the paranormal is a form of artistic expression by an advanced non-human intelligence? 

For example, one can find similar displays of the lights often ascribed to UFOs in our own culture. Black light theatre is a wonderful example, which I have been fortunate enough to see in person whilst traveling in the Czech Republic. If one were to travel to Nevada for the annual Burning Man festival, one would also see various light displays; so too at almost any Fourth of July celebration, or more than a few minor league baseball games I’ve attended. It stands to reason that an advanced non-human intelligence, whether they’re from another solar system, another dimension, another time, or even from right here on Earth, may be doing something similar for us, which we perceive as paranormal phenomena. If our art is capable of as many manifestations as there are human beings with imagination and creativity, think of how much more an advanced non-human intelligence might be capable of achieving, particularly if they have the same desire to create as we do, but combined with a greater capacity and much broader experience. 

This leads us to another intriguing possibility – that whatever is responsible for the paranormal (and there may be more than one actor involved) has the ability to create art within the subconscious of another species, as a form of communication and enlightenment and perhaps even entertainment. 

I think that if we had a chance to interview the advanced non-human intelligence, it might say something like this, by way of introduction: 
Hello. While my species does not really have "names" as you comprehend them, you may call me Vincent, although we have had many such appellations in our long interaction with you. We find your species to be most interesting, at least from an anthropological point of view, so we decided to make contact, many thousand of your "years" ago (memo to humans – your linear concept of time is extremely quaint, but then you are an extremely quaint species, which is why we like you so much). We have found it best to present ourselves in ways that fit in with the cultural norms of your time. Accordingly, we have actually appeared in many forms (the burning bush was my favorite, with the UFO meme a close second). We do this using a technology that is far, far beyond your comprehension. You would probably call it magic, or the supernatural. Your species is still confined to your physical reality, or at least what you perceive as "reality," but we operate on different "levels." I guess the best way to explain it to you is that when we make contact, we do not do it in what you would consider the literal sense, but rather in a more figurative way, using what you call dreams, and the subconscious, and... well, it all gets rather complicated, I'm afraid. Suffice it to say, we are far more interested in the mind and spirit than the body (that is what happens when you get to our level of development as a species), and so that is where we make contact. In a sense, we "speak" to you, across the vastness of space. Indeed, once you really understand how things work, you realize that space is not actually that vast after all. The wonderful thing about this form of communication is that it allows us to participate in your development, and slowly help guide you to a greater level of understanding, not about technology but about yourselves on an individual basis which will hopefully one day add up in the aggregate for you as a species. When you have been around as long as we have, that is what really matters. I have to admit that it has been a rough haul at times, but some of you seem to "get it,” and so we keep trying. Two of my favorites have been Henry Alline and Hildegard of Bingen, but Bach and that McCartney fellow were also very open to the bigger picture, albeit in a different way. Mozart was “out there,” even for us, but he was something truly special. And I admit that I have a soft spot for The Smiths, because there is indeed a “light that never goes out.” As a result, we have not abandoned the effort. One final thing. I know many of you spend an inordinate amount of time debating where we are from, to which I can only ask the following: does it really matter whether we are from Zeta Reticuli, or another dimension, or another time, or from your own planet? Does it even matter if we are you
This scenario is one that I find plausible for a number of reasons. It takes into account the wide range of described encounters with a possible advanced non-human intelligence throughout human history. It makes us part of the story, but not necessarily the center of the story. Most important, it places the paranormal in its historical context. It provides us with a tremendous opportunity to speculate not just about the nature of the phenomenon, but also about ourselves and our relationship to it. Vincent may not have to actually travel from “there” to “here” in a physical sense – he and his kind may be able to make their presence known in other, far more subtle ways within the human mind. 

Who would be the most receptive people for this kind of communication? In my opinion, it would be those amongst us who have the greatest imagination, many of whom become artists of one sort or another. Astrologer John Varley reported that his friend, artist and philosopher William Blake, had experienced visions since his childhood, including a vision of a ghost of a flea at a séance the two held in 1819. According to Varley, Blake recounted the following:
As I was anxious to make the most correct investigation in my power, of the truth of these visions, on hearing of this spiritual apparition of a Flea, I asked him if he could draw for me the resemblance of what he saw: he instantly said, 'I see him now before me.' I therefore gave him paper and a pencil with which he drew the portrait... I felt convinced by his mode of proceeding, that he had a real image before him, for he left off, and began on another part of the paper, to make a separate drawing of the mouth of the Flea, which the spirit having opened, he was prevented from proceeding with the first sketch, till he had closed it.
If there really is an advanced non-human intelligence behind the paranormal then I suspect it communicates with us through the kind of visions that William Blake had, particularly if it has developed a much greater understanding of how the mind works than we have. If this is the case, then I believe we would all have the basic ability to receive that communication in some form or another. However, I don’t think that the vast majority of us have the willingness to access it, largely because we’re afraid of what it might represent, namely a loss of control. We want to "fit in" to society as it’s structured around us. Unfortunately, by fitting in we may be missing out on something far more important and meaningful – the ability to be truly free.

William Blake, The Ghost of a Flea (1819-1820)

In other words, the “art” may be there, but we choose not to see it. 

This state of affairs can perhaps be seen most readily within religion. The more experiential and mystical aspects of Christianity, for example, have always been suppressed by the mainstream churches, which really serve as little more than adjuncts to political authority. This was a theme that Søren Kierkegaard spent his life exploring, and it led to his devastating critiques of organized religion. For Kierkegaard, faith was the most important task to be achieved by a human being, because only on the basis of faith could an individual have a chance to become a true self. It was a matter of individual subjective passion, and it couldn’t be mediated by the clergy, nor could it found in a church. 

All of this reminds me of a conversation I had with my good friend Greg Bishop in January, 2011, wherein we discussed language, communication, and art. I mentioned the idea that “aliens” who are far more advanced than us might not actually be here on Earth in a physical way, but have the ability to send messages through space and time directly to our subconscious. Maybe, I said, we can’t quite understand them yet, but they appear to us as dreams, visions, or some sort of phenomena around us. “Might we be making contact,” I asked, “with some sort of higher intelligence in that manner?" 

Greg thought about the question for a moment, and then replied as follows: 
"I think you’ve hit on the crux of the thing here. We don’t give ourselves nearly enough credit for what we think our perceptions of UFOs are. Our co-creation of what we think UFOs are, I think we’re a huge part of that equation, like more than fifty per cent. I’m not saying that there’s nothing there. I’m saying there’s definitely something there, but we’ve got so much psychological and cultural baggage that we can’t hope to meet it on its own terms for quite a while yet. I think we will eventually, but we’re always going to be co-creating with it our perception of what it is, if that makes any sense. We talk about these things, and we don’t realize that the whole time we’re involved in this huge trap of our own language. Our language traps how we think because it makes us think in certain ways. And then there’s the state beyond language, where people will try to describe a mystical experience, or anything having to do with spirituality, or psychology, or a mixture of the two, and once again you’re trapped by language. It brings to mind something that Dean Radin told me when I interviewed him years ago, and he was applying it to psychic research. He said that trying to do psychic research with the instruments that we have is like trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer. That’s how I feel about language sometimes when we’re talking about this stuff – we’re using sledgehammer-like language to try and talk about something that’s very subtle, and maybe fleeting, and just not amenable to the tools we have to describe it, which is our language." 
“It’s interesting,” I responded, “because I think the most thoughtful conversations you can have are the ones that you have with yourself, because you’re not bound by language in the same way that you are when you’re trying to express yourself to someone else. There are so many things that can go on in your own mind when you’re not constrained by language, and the filters that it creates.” 

Greg replied:
“The only thing that I would disagree with you on, sort of, is that you said that when you’re just talking to yourself, or dealing with your thoughts, then you don’t have to worry about the language, but the language that you used to pull in all of those thoughts is still affecting how you deal with them. You’re still thinking in probably a fairly linear fashion, because you’re dealing with ideas that have been communicated to you by language. However, if there’s any way to possibly get out of that it’s by that personal thought process, or by speaking with people who are willing to use the shorthand of the things that you’re talking about, and the ideas that you’re kicking around, to express things that probably can’t be expressed exactly, which is why you get excited when you meet somebody who is basically finishing your sentences, because you know that you have the same shorthand, and you can start dealing on a different level.” 
At this point we took a brief break from our conversation, and listened to a song by the Talking Heads. When the song ended, Greg went directly to the subject of communication and art. 
“The other thing that came to mind when you mentioned non-verbal communication is art,” he said. “It’s the only way that we really get that anymore, because that’s one of the few ways that we can communicate something to someone else without having to explain it. Just showing them this visual language will cue these feelings and patterns in their mind, and by communicating that to them it becomes personal to them as well, because you meet somewhere emotionally and intellectually at the same time. You’re both contributing to it – the artist, and you as the person looking at the art, which gets us back to the UFO phenomenon. I think that’s where a lot of the true non-verbal communication is happening.” 
Artistic expression provides us with the unparalleled potential to transcend the barriers to true communication that language and culture impose on us. It liberates us from the confines of the "here and now," and allows us to imagine and to feel. It’s a shared experience that provides a vehicle for travel beyond the temporal boundaries of our linear existence.

The artist creates a work and then we then create our own interpretation. In the process we become a part of the work, and we also become artists ourselves. That the original artist may be long dead is irrelevant, because he or she is still communicating with us through their work.

Marcel Duchamp expounded upon the nature of this relationship when he stated, “Let us consider two important factors, the two poles of the creation of art: the artist on one hand, and on the other the spectator who later becomes the posterity. To all appearances the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing.”

Marcel Duchamp, Transition of Virgin into a Bride (1912)

In order to receive the message we have to open ourselves up to all of the possibilities that a painting, photograph, poem, or song present to us. As always with art, what it says to me might not be the same thing as what it says to you. The true importance lies in the inner conversation that it inspires us to have with ourselves. This is why I consider art, in all its myriad forms, to be one of the highest of callings in a world desperately in need of real communication and a new Enlightenment. Albert Camus had it right when he wrote, “A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”

Filmmakers, painters and photographers know perhaps better than anyone the ability that images have when it comes to communicating an idea and spreading a meme. Indeed, some of the most powerful moments in my own films have come when I have used images to evoke a particular mood or feeling, sometimes in concert with dialogue, and sometimes without dialogue altogether. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Sound, particularly in the form of music, works the same way. For example, Rusalka, the classic opera by Antonín Dvořák, can move people simply by the power of the music and the performances on stage, even if the people watching can’t understand Czech, the language in which it was written and is most often performed. When I saw a performance at the National Theatre in Prague in 2009, there were many times I simply stopped looking at the translation that was displayed on a screen above the stage because the music and the performances of the cast were enough to convey the meaning of what was happening to me, while at the same time allowing me to place my own interpretation on it. This is a perfect example of what William James was getting at in The Varieties of Religious Experience when he wrote, “Music gives us ontological messages which non-musical criticism is unable to contradict… there is a verge of the mind which these things haunt; and whispers therefrom mingle with the operations of our understanding, even as the waters of the infinite ocean send their waves to break among the pebbles that lie upon our shores.”

One of my favorite examples of this combination of imagery and music can be found in John Boorman’s wonderful film Excalibur, which presented a highly stylized and mystical take on the ancient legend of King Arthur and the quest for the Holy Grail by the Knights of the Round Table. In Boorman’s version, a curse descends upon Arthur and his Kingdom is plagued with famine and disease. He sends his knights on a quest for the Grail in hopes of restoring the land and Sir Perceval encounters Lancelot, now a sort of holy man who preaches to followers that the kingdom has fallen because of "the sin of pride." Perceval attempts to convince him to come to Arthur's aid, but Lancelot and his followers throw Perceval into a river. Perceval then has a vision of the Grail during which he finally comes to understand that Arthur and the land are one. This realization allows him to obtain the Grail, which he takes to Arthur, who is near death. Perceval gives the Grail to Arthur, who drinks from it and is revitalized.

“Ready my knights for battle,” Arthur tells his brother Kay. “They will ride with their King once more. I have lived through others far too long. Lancelot carried my honor, and Guinevere my guilt. Mordred bore my sins, and my knights have fought my causes. Now, my brother, I shall be King!”

As Arthur and his knights leave Camelot and ride out into the desolate landscape of the surrounding countryside, Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana begins to play. An extended sequence follows during which the land returns to life as Arthur and his knights travel through it – flowers bloom, the grass turns from brown to green, the clouds part and the sun shines through in a scene that is all imagery and music, tied together in what is in my opinion one of the most powerful and moving sequences in film history. It fires the imagination and the passions of the viewer, and it drives home the point that we may all be linked together, and not just with each other, but with the universe as a whole.

This idea of the paranormal as art also goes a long way to explaining why there have been so many variations over the years in terms of encounters. As Greg Bishop wrote in 2007:
Whatever it is that is behind the UFOs (and other assorted subjects we assign to the category of the “paranormal”) do not want to be pigeonholed. To those that pay attention, the “art exhibit” is ever-changing, and hits close to home: fear, joy, wonder, inquisitiveness, and of course sex are all part of the mix.
We can see something comparable by examining how themes and variations work within music. In 2003 and 2004 I produced and directed a television series called The Classical Now for Bravo here in Canada. The series featured some of Canada’s best young classical musicians and composers performing and talking about their lives and their work. In one of the episodes we set up a segment where the host, Will Fraser, stood next to the piano as pianist Ian Parker explained how a single basic melody could be subtly modified by different composers to achieve an entirely new result (the episode can be viewed in its entirety here).

“The one theme that I really love to talk about all the time,” Ian stated at the beginning, “is the one that’s the most borrowed, and that’s the twenty-fourth caprice written by the violinist Paganini.”

Ian then proceeded to play the short basic theme from the caprice.

“What most often happens with this melody,” he explained, “is a set of variations will follow once it’s stated. Composers such as Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, have all borrowed this melody, and written many variations on it.”

Ian focused on the 18th variation in D major by Rachmaninoff, which was written for piano and orchestra.

“We always hear this piece when you’re on hold trying to book an airplane ticket, or whatever it is, and many people ask, ‘so, where did Rachmaninoff get this melody? It’s clear that he borrowed Paganini’s for most of the piece, but where did this one come from?’ For the longest time, I didn’t know what to tell them until someone finally told me to turn Paganini’s original melody upside down, speed it up a bit, and change the key. This is how Rachmaninoff made the melody – he reversed Paganini’s original, majored it, and then moved it up a couple of intervals.”

“What about one of the pieces that you’re playing in the show today,” asked Will. “Does the B Minor sonata by Liszt have themes which work in this way?”

“Great example,” replied Ian. “Very near the beginning, there’s this diabolical suggestion in the melody, a really, really nasty, devilish little melody in the bass. And then quite soon in the piece, this beautiful, heavenly melody comes in. These are two completely different melodies, but I had a professor who asked me once, ‘how are these melodies related?’ I didn’t see the relationship, and she said, ‘Well, why don’t you play the pretty one a little faster?’ So I did, and then I realized it was the same melody. For the longest time I had been telling my audience that they were melodies 1 and 2, when in fact they were actually melodies 1A and 1B.”

If there is an advanced non-human intelligence behind the paranormal, it may utilize these same tools of imagery and sound to tell a story, or to convey a message, in a way that we are capable of processing at the time, if not always completely understanding. And as with Ian Parker’s example of Paganini, Rachmaninoff and Liszt, their “art” may change with the times, but the themes remain the same. Perhaps ancient reports of winged flying creatures such as dragons, or something like Ezekiel’s Wheel in the Old Testament, are earlier versions of the same melody as the modern UFO meme, played to a different audience.

As a former musician myself, I’m well aware that there is another aspect of this concept of variation in performance. I wrote a song called “Mysterio” that was very popular with local audiences in my hometown of Halifax, and which became a sort of signature tune for both of my bands. After playing it the same way for a couple of years, however, I decided that a new arrangement was needed in order to keep it fresh, both for us and for the audience. We eventually wound up playing it many different ways – slower, faster, longer, shorter, and then in different styles, from country to rock, folk, and even a sort of jazz version at one point. In part it depended on the audience, and in part it depended on our mood, but in many ways every time we played that song there was a co-creation of a new version.

I attended a performance of the hit musical Wicked at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles in late 2008. At one point in the second act the character of Fiyero is supposed to run on stage and save Elphaba (the green witch). At the performance I saw, Derrick Williams, the actor playing Fiyero, stumbled and fell as he ran out on stage for the scene. You could see him smile, but then he pulled himself up and worked the fall into his performance without breaking character. The other actors went with him as he ad-libbed, and the result was a brilliant and unique moment of forced improvisation that those of us there that evening shared with the cast.

Performance art in many ways goes even further than the power of images or sound. It creates a shared experience between the performer and the observer that is both immediate and unique, because no two performances are ever the same. It also transcends the moment  because the participatory aspect on the part of the observer indelibly etches the experience in the memory. Actors and musicians who perform on stage know this better than anyone. Frank Zappa got it right when he stated, “Music, in performance, is a type of sculpture. The air in the performance is sculpted into something.”

I played so many gigs in the 1990s with my bands Tall Poppies and Julia’s Rain that I lost count. While I can still listen to the albums we recorded, because there is a permanence to them, the thrill of playing live is something that only exists in my memory. A couple of those performances were videotaped, but watching them now isn’t the same as having been there at the time. The crowd provided an energy that we fed off as musicians and that was then returned to them by a performance that increased in intensity as a result. It was a true symbiosis. Bruce Springsteen, legendary for his marathon live performances, described those kinds of moments in a 1975 interview. “This music is forever for me,” he stated. “It's the stage thing, that rush moment that you live for. It never lasts, but that's what you live for.”

I did the same thing in 2007 when I adapted and directed for stage a version of Peter Weiss’ play Marat / Sade. Coincidentally, a local university dramatic society staged a version of the play just two weeks before ours, so I went to see it with Kris McBride, one of the actors in my version. The students did a standard take on the play where the fourth wall remained intact and the text was treated as sacrosanct.

With my version I threw the original text into a blender and turned the play on its head. I added elements from pop music, Shakespeare, the war poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and myriad other sources, all designed to enhance the revolutionary themes. Then I surrounded the audience itself with the characters so that they were the “street” as the revolution formed around them and amongst them. In one corner, under a red light, I had Kris clad as a prostitute who would wander out into the audience and proposition people, even when she wasn’t involved in a scene. The characters of Marat and Sade spent most of their time on stage, but when Marat delivered his speech to the National Assembly the actor left the bath-tub in which he spent the majority of the play, walked through the audience to a podium, and then addressed them as if they were the Assembly.

There was a scene I added where a General directly quoted the speeches of Patton and Montgomery from the Second World War about honor, loyalty and service. He then encountered a shell-shocked homeless Veteran, whom he brutally beat whilst they stood in the midst of the audience. I wanted the people who paid to see the show to not only hear about the revolution, but to feel like they were part of it in a way that would be relevant to our circumstances today. Not everyone “got” it, but that wasn’t the point. I set out to challenge the audience as much as possible, to engage my own artistic impulses (and those of the cast), and to push the boundaries of our collective expectations.

It’s possible that an advanced non-human intelligence “feeds” off this interaction with “the crowd” in the same way that musicians and stage actors do – they perform, we respond, they ramp up the intensity, and the cycle continues. As is the case with all good artists, they change the work over time, and add different interpretations. They also create new works, and perhaps even entirely different genres. Just as I did years ago when I slung a Fender telecaster over my shoulder and hit the first chord on a song, or when I staged a brutal arrest scene in the midst of the audience in Marat, an advanced non-human intelligence could be seeking to elicit a reaction from us, and to even involve us as co-creators in their works of art.

This could be the true nature of “contact.” Maybe they are finishing our sentences for us and starting new ones at the same time, subtly leading us into new and different ways of thinking, all through a form of artistic communication that exists in two places – at a level somewhere between our conscious and our subconscious minds, in dreams and visions, but also right in front of us.

Paul Kimball

Res Judicata

All that I can say is: "Res judicata". 

If I knew what the Latin phrase is for "The Mind Boggles" then I would use that as well.

Paul Kimball

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Dean Radin on The Other Side of Truth

On August 1st, author and scientist Dean Radin joined me for a discussion about Radin’s previous books, The Conscious Universe and Entangled Minds, as well as his new book Supernormal: Science, Yoga and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities. The conversation began with a bit of background about Dr. Radin, as he described how he became interested in studying psi phenomena and outlined the basic conclusions he has been able to draw after twenty years of research. This served as a starting point for an examination of the philosophical, moral and spiritual implications of quantum entanglement in terms of consciousness, as well as our focus on the individual over the collective. The discussion then turned to the nature of modern institutionalized science, and how it could be oriented to serve a broader range of human interests than simple profit, as well as the need for scientists to have a better grounding in, and appreciation of, the humanities. We concluded our conversation by looking at the relationship between super-normal mental abilities, from telepathy to precognition, and Eastern mystical and spiritual traditions, as outlined in Supernormal.