When living systems - including people like us - spontaneously reorganize themselves, we call it hierarchical restructuring. Systems seem to be hardwired to do this when they become overwhelmed or baffled. It's as if life itself provides a Zen koan that confronts our reasoning with a puzzle that reasoning cannot solve. Some begin the process of restructuring but never complete it; some psychotic breaks, in fact, may be incomplete "conversion experiences" in which the fragmented psyche never finds a new center. But when it works, we discover ourselves reborn, aware and intact.
We have smaller, more evolutionary epiphanies too.
Forty years ago, I was standing waist-deep in cold Lake Michigan water at a beach in Chicago on a hot day. I was a summer counselor for a neighborhood club but my full-time work was getting a degree in literature, and I had been reading "Huckleberry Finn."
When I was young, I believed what I read in a primary, immediate way. The landscape of a novel was as real as the landscape of the city. Standing there in the water, I saw suddenly that the story of Huck and Tom was a myth and that myth was a lens through which we understood ourselves. Instead of living immersed in the myth, however, I saw the myth from outside, in relationship to the machinery that generated our constructions of reality. I glimpsed the engines of the technology of consciousness.
Another epiphany happened in a philosophy class when I heard that Immanuel Kant had said: "Concepts without percepts are empty; percepts without concepts are blind." In other words, whatever is "out there" is intelligible only when it connects with our concepts, our beliefs; and, if our senses detect something that - literally - doesn't compute, we don't see it, we don't hear it, we don't believe it.
I think of those insights - how our myths filter experience, how we can see only what we believe - when I investigate reports of Unidentified Flying Objects.
No other domain, in my experience, includes so many of the puzzles that confront 21st century humanity as we try to locate ourselves in the cosmos and understand what's real. Investigating UFO reports begins with listening closely and deeply to the person telling their story, just like counseling. But that's just the beginning. The psychology of perception, the structure of myths and beliefs, the influence of UFO subcultures, knowledge of meteorology and astronomy, chemistry and physics, current aerospace technologies, all come into play. But as one studies the history of the "modern era" of sightings that began in 1947, one also enters a force field that turns all that data, so carefully collected and cross-referenced, into a hall of mirrors.
The United States changed after World War 2. The culture of secrecy, disinformation, and propaganda that had been deemed appropriate to wartime was extended into the Cold War era, and even though that era has supposedly ended, the culture has a life of its own. Senator Daniel Moynihan is eloquent in his critique of the culture of secrecy, showing how truth is much less likely to emerge from a process of data-gathering and deliberation that is isolated, constrained, and hidden. His book on government secrecy is a vote for the open source movement as a model for life.
In our brave new world, the design of myth and belief is highly intentional. It's called propaganda in the public sector, PR in the private, but the tools and techniques are the same, and the digital world only makes it easier. One cannot explore the history of UFO phenomena without exploring deception and disinformation, because it becomes clear that the playing field is not level. It's like playing poker with someone who tells you what cards he holds rather than showing them, then rakes in the pot.
"All warfare is based on deception," Sun Tzu said, but he also said, "The most important factor in war is moral influence, by which I mean that which causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders."
Contemplating the concentration of global media in fewer and fewer hands, the many points of contact between media and corporate and state intelligence, and the naivete with which we believe what we see on a digital screen, we find ourselves in a difficult position: the deception that Sun Tzu said must be directed at an enemy has been directed for two generations at "we the people," the ones who ought to be in harmony with their leaders. By practicing deception on their troops and treating us as the enemy, our leaders undermine our allegiance.
There are no ultimate truths, only interpretations, noted Nietzsche, saying in a way what Kant had said, that whatever is out there is filtered through our senses and our schemas. Percept and concept alike in the digital world are subject to manipulation and design. Both sense data and schemas must be deconstructed if our interpretations are to mean anything.
In the absence of truth, we make it up. We fill the void with outlandish projections, guesses, and fables. The Internet is full of them, especially in the realm of UFOs. But we can also take ten steps back to the basics of how we know what we know, how we gather data, establish patterns, come to conclusions. We may be left with only an interpretation, but it's one that plays by the rules and shows its cards.
I have learned in that hall of mirrors what Moynihan learned in the halls of the Senate, that without disclosure there is no truth, without truth no accountability. That's only an interpretation, of course, but it's all I've got.
The truth isn't "out there," it's hiding in plain sight.
As a civilization, we're poised for a hierarchical restructuring. In full possession of the facts, "we the people" get it right more often than not. We are worthy of being trusted. The enemy is not the truth that sets us free, the enemy is a general who deceives his own troops and holds the truth for ransom in that labyrinthine hall of mirrors.
For Joe K, my email pal, and Terry Hansen, author of "The Missing Times: News Media Complicity in the UFO Cover-up"
Richard Thieme is a professional speaker, consultant, and writer focused on the impact of computer technology on individuals and organizations - the human dimensions of technology and work - and "life on the edge."
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