Tuesday, June 13, 2023

The Study Of Belief In UFO's And Non-Human Intelligence

post-gazette  |   But, as D.W. Pasulka’s new book, “American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology,” demonstrates, the fascination with alien life has found a home among the successful, educated and powerful here in the United States, and their interest is not without cause.

For the book, Pasulka, professor of religious studies and chair of the department of philosophy and religion at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, interviewed a number of well-to-do, erudite people who are convinced that UFO sightings and encounters with extraterrestrial beings are the real deal, even if they happen in ways most of us find difficult to envision.

The book opens with Pasulka driving through California with Jacques Vallée, an influential computer scientist and noted ufologist. Vallée, who helped develop the first computerized map of Mars for NASA in 1963, expresses his claims carefully, speaking of “the phenomenon” to avoid associating himself with the types of characters one might see on “Ancient Aliens.” But Vallée does indeed believe that people have had interactions with unknown beings who are able to manipulate time and space.

Pasulka identifies several”psychic cosmonauts” from her own field of study, including 18th-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, widely regarded as one of the most intelligent people to have ever lived. Swedenborg claimed that an angel visited him and allowed him to visit with beings on Mercury, Mars, Venus and beyond. He detailed the encounters in the 1756 book “Life on Other Planets.”

So begins Pasulka’s effort to re-calibrate the conversation around alien life. For many, talk of extraterrestrial encounters conjures images of little green men or the Greys. But, as Pasulka is told by a succession of interviewees, narrow-minded views of alien intelligence limits the ability of researchers and philosophers to consider what might be behind the repeated claims of visitations from ships and mysterious beings, as well as alien-ordained predestination.

One of the book’s most prominent characters, a biomedical technologist and jet-setter named “Tyler” (real names are rarely used in this book), has high-level security clearances and dozens of patents in his field. He also believes his success is being driven by other-worldly intelligence, which has informed his work and pushed him toward certain events and places to advance their cause.

If Pasulka were not staking her academic reputation on this book’s validity, it might be hard to believe that a character like Tyler is a real person. Actually, it is still hard to believe he is real. He is flown around the world, receiving special treatment wherever he goes. When Pasulka runs into heavy security at the Vatican late in the book, Tyler tells the guards who he is, and suddenly they are through. It is almost too good to be true.

But it all lends itself to a readable and thought-provoking narrative. Pasulka and her cast of curious characters offer a compelling case for the study of extraterrestrial life. Contemplating the book’s enormous, mind-bending questions, the sort of questions that get at the fabric of who we are and why we are here, is not only a great deal of fun, but also it may be the only way we get answers to many of these questions.

There are some wild, sci-fi novel-style happenings in “American Cosmic,” including a mysterious artifact that shuts down an airport scanner. But on the whole, the book is more interested in getting readers to consider that there may be elements in our universe with abilities or influence beyond our comprehension.

Like the religions Pasulka has been studying for most of her career, the study of extraterrestrial intelligence will require an open mind and a little bit of faith. This comparison is sure to annoy some people who may see their religion as worthy of more serious consideration than studying aliens. I suppose it isn’t hard to blame them.

But when one considers how burgeoning religions have often been viewed throughout history — skepticism, dismissal and anger — the link Pasulka is drawing between ufology and religion no longer seems so ridiculous.

Still, it may be some time before the study of extraterrestrial life becomes a part of mainstream academic discourse. In the meantime, however, those who find their curiosity piqued by “American Cosmic” can seek refuge in that cozy corner of Rickert & Beagle, where the supposedly fringe is given fair treatment.

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