Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Dadaist Paranormal School

by Greg Bishop
[from the foreword of The Other Side of Truth]
It is clear, then, that the idea of a fixed method, or of a fixed theory of rationality, rests on too naive a view of man and his social surroundings. To those who look at the rich material provided by history, and who are not intent on impoverishing it in order to please their lower instincts, their craving for intellectual security in the form of clarity, precision, objectivity, truth, it will become clear that there is only one principle that can be defended under all circumstances and in all stages of human development. It is the principle: anything goes. – Paul Feyerabend
The UFO subject is far more interesting than lights in the sky, people from other planets, or simple hoaxes and mis-identifications. Many are surprised about the verifiable connections between UFOs and other tabloid fodder such as psychic phenomena, ghosts, and liminal creatures like Bigfoot. Most people who claim to be researchers in these subjects are often insular about their particular areas of interest, sometimes to the point of open hostility when the similarities are noted. “Ufologists” (a misleading term for an unregulated discipline) routinely bristle at the mention of any strangeness outside of supposed aliens. They have been fighting a 50-year battle for respectability, and that other “junk” might make them look silly.

What they don’t seem to realize is that the vast majority of the public, particularly the arbiters of reality (primarily the media and academia), think it’s all silly. The public face of paranormal research has done itself few favors in this regard. The loudest and craziest person in the room nearly always controls the conversation, gets on the popular radio shows, or gets the big book or movie deal.

For many years, however, there have been a few voices amongst those who think deeply about the paranormal whose study of the subject has not been reducible to sound-bites or hackneyed expeditions conducted on television shows using night-vision cameras strapped to high-strung actors and so-called “experts” (whose mantra always seems to be, “Did you hear that?”).

This iconoclastic group of paranormal enthusiasts and researchers, such as Nick Redfern and the late Mac Tonnies, has been quietly cheerleading the unheralded insights of UFO and paranormal researchers like Jacques Vallee, Jim Brandon, John Keel, Jenny Randles, Greg Little and Graham Hancock, as well as the pioneering work of scientists such as Dean Radin, Robert Jahn, Richard Strassman, and Hal Puthoff.

Most UFO buffs and paranormal fans have never heard of these people, who have recorded their insights in books that largely remain unread, mainly because they downplay or outright reject the aliens-from-other-planets idea. The scientific viewpoint of credentialed academics such as those mentioned above is also routinely ignored because it doesn’t flatter the “new age” bias of most readers. It also seems that fewer people have the patience to wade through the entire text of a book anymore, which puts readers of the present volume in rare company.

Most people have self-imposed blinders on which keep them from seeing outside the narrow viewpoint of their own personal interests, experiences and opinions. Many are also unaware of the underlying sagas that have brought them, their societies, and humanity in toto to this point in history. Our past has taught us that almost nothing happens in a vacuum, and the present is the result of a tangled fabric of interconnected and often disparate stories. The paranormal is no different. 

We have always lived with an awareness of forces and influences that are not apparent to our five senses, observation over time, or simple deduction. Some of these forces were eventually found to have verifiable explanations, such as magnetism, electricity, the weather, the motions of planets, the flight of birds, and so on. Others, with a long history of anecdotal evidence, like meteorites or ball lightning, took longer to solve. Other more complex and esoteric elements of our world, such as those discussed herein, are still awaiting better methods and theories to explain them.

Those who are invested in a fixed way of looking at the world declare that since we have perfected all methods of verifying reality, then anything that does not conform to the current understanding of physical laws does not exist. The truly skeptical attitude would be to reserve judgment and declare certain issues “unproven.” Anything else veers perilously close to belief, not science.

A few pioneering individuals, such as the membership of the Society for Scientific Exploration, actively use the scientific tools currently available to test issues such as ESP, reincarnation, psychokinesis, UFO sightings, and other “fringe” subjects. They are aware of the pitfalls of belief and experimenter bias, as well as the issue of scientific peer pressure, the question of who pays the bills and what they want to hear, and the specter of fundamentalist skepticism. 

Then there are the rest of us, who look on and try to make sense of something that we are often told is not worth the time or effort to worry about. After many years of study, listening to paranormal radio shows and attending lectures, most either become disillusioned, or settle into some sort of belief system based on their hopes and wishes. There are a thoughtful few, however, who decide to treat the whole thing as a sort of journey of learning. Those are the voices worth listening to.

Paul Kimball is one of those people who have embarked upon this journey. He often examines the paranormal in terms of a creative viewpoint, or even as an artistic act. In light of this, much reported witness testimony of UFOs and other “paranormal” strangeness could actually be considered surrealist stories.

Paul Feyerabend was a philosopher of science, and author of the landmark book Against Method, wherein he put forward the argument that no progress can be made under inflexible rules, especially those of the scientific method. In a 1972 letter to a friend, Hungarian philosopher Imre Lakatos, Feyerabend declared his allegiance to the ideals of the Dadaist artistic movement of the early 20th century. His words could be instructive to the paranormal researcher and fan alike:
A Dadaist is utterly unimpressed by any serious enterprise and he smells a rat whenever people stop smiling and assume that attitude and those facial expressions which indicate that something important is about to be said. A Dadaist is convinced that a worthwhile life will arise only when we start taking things lightly and when we remove from our speech the profound but already putrid meanings it has accumulated over the centuries (“search for truth”; “defense of justice”; “passionate concern”; etc. etc.). A Dadaist is prepared to initiate joyful experiments even in those domains where change and experimentation seem to be out of the question.”
Perhaps after reading The Other Side Of Truth, I will now finally declare myself a student of the “Dadaist Paranormal School.” Maybe you will too.

New thinking such as that displayed by Paul is sorely needed in the paranormal field. I have seen his opinions greeted with open hostility on my radio show and elsewhere. Incredibly insane stories such as the U.S. President using a time machine to get to Mars, or culinary recipes channeled from historical figures, don’t garner half the vitriol that my good friend does. To me, that means he has something important to say that threatens the thoughtless.


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