Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century

Stranger Than We Can Imagine Book Cover

A breathtakingly lucid and coherent map of the tectonic shifts which drastically reshaped the human psyche, and the human world, within a hundred thrilling, terrifying years [and which] leaves us asking ourselves how we could have missed so much about the wider implications of a time we lived through. An illuminating work of massive insight, I cannot recommend this magnificent work too highly.

-Alan Moore

When Alan Moore describes a book - Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century - in such an effusive manner, you can bet that it's going to be a fantastic read. And when the author is our good friend John Higgs, and the subject is a tour of the backwaters of history and science, you can double down on that bet. John's the writing genius behind, among others, two brilliant non-fiction books on counter-culture icons Timothy Leary (I Have America Surrounded) and The KLF (KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money), as well as a couple of wonderful 'strange fiction' books (The Brandy of the Damned and The First Church on the Moon).

If you've read John's non-fiction, you'll know how adept he is at illustrating history in a different light, by finding and connecting various esoteric moments via synchronicities and hidden history. If you haven't, see as an example his Darklore 7 article "From Operation Mindf**k to The White Room: The Strange Discordian Journey of the KLF" (PDF), or more quickly this article I wrote discussing some of the wonderfully odd material about Doctor Who covered in John's KLF book.

John's a long-time collaborator and friend - he's contributed to multiple Darklore releases - and was closely involved with the Cosmic Trigger revival last year in the UK. But even if I only knew him through his writing, this would likely be the book release of the year for me - so I can't recommend this highly enough. And I'm not the only one - apart from Alan Moore's high praise, Stranger Than We Can Imagine is already getting big ups from many quarters, from New Scientist to Robin Ince.

The book is released today in the UK (later this year in the Americas, but since when do geographical boundaries bother us anymore?), so head to Amazon UK and grab a copy, stat! For those interested, here's the blurb:

The twentieth century should make sense. It's the period of history that we know the most about, an epic geo-political narrative that runs through World War One, the great depression, World War Two, the American century and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But somehow that story doesn't quite lead into the world we find ourselves in now, this bewildering twenty-first century, adrift in a network of constant surveillance, unsustainable competition, tsunamis of trivia and extraordinary opportunity.

Time, then, for a new perspective. With John Higgs as our guide, we step off the main path and wander through some of the more curious backwaters of the twentieth century, exploring familiar and unfamiliar territory alike, finding fresh insight on our journey to the present day. We travel in the company of some of the most radical artists, scientists, geniuses and crazies of their age. They show us that great innovations such as relativity, cubism, quantum mechanics, postmodernism and chaos maths are not the incomprehensible, abstract horrors that we assume them to be, but signposts that bring us to the world we live in now.

John Higgs brings us an alternative history of the strangest of centuries. He shows us how the elegant, clockwork universe of the Victorians became increasingly woozy and uncertain; and how we discovered that our world is not just stranger than we imagine but, in the words of Sir Arthur Eddington, 'stranger than we can imagine'.

For those wanting to learn more about the book, check out John's recent appearance on the Little Atoms radio show. And to put a face to the name - and learn a little bit along the way - see John's talk about Robert Anton Wilson embedded below.

Link: Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century on Amazon

Glenn Campbell Reminisces with Area 51 'Cammo Dudes'

It's like 1995 all over again! Glenn Campbell, the self-proclaimed 'former Area 51 guy' who helped put the infamous secret base on the map thanks to his Groom Lake Desert Rat newsletter, had a recent mano a mano with the private security personnel known fondly as 'the cammo dudes', who are in charge of patrolling the roads and areas surrounding the facility, and are known to threaten those curious onlookers drawn by the Dreamland allure.

The Groom Lake Desert Rat (1994-1997) --to which I was subscribed waaay back when-- documented the legal battle between Lincoln county's residents and the Air Force, when the latter decided to expand the territory of the Nevada test site so curious onlookers would have a harder time snooping around in search of Bob Lazar's 'reverse-engineered' saucers. The newsletter also covered several of the fringe rumors which were sprouting back in those merry days of suspicion, beer nights at the Little A'Le'Inn, and X-Files conspiranoia, including the tale of J-Rod, the alias of an engineer who claimed to have worked in the development of flight simulators intended to train Air Force pilots operate the reverse-engineered flying saucers; the story expanded upon Robert Lazar's previous allegations, but got even more complicated since 'J-Rod' was also the name of one of the Gray aliens collaborating with US government's reverse engineering program --the human J-Rod claimed his alien counterpart was fond of wearing terrestrial shirts; he also said Hungarian was the human language which had the closes resemblance to the Gray's own language, something I'm sure would have flattered Zsa Zsa Gabor a lot...

It was later found J-Rod 2 (the human engineer) was a man by the name of Bill Uhouse, who kept telling his (unverifiable) tales of secret alliances between the government and visitors from Zeta Reticulli to anyone who would listen, until he passed away in 2009.

As for Glenn Campbell, while he had officially withdrawn from the UFO scene and Area 51, the mischievous smirk he gives at the end of his clip tells me he's willing to relive the good ole times!

(If you want to read more stories about the world's most famous secret base, be sure to read Blair MacKenzie Blake's recounting of his own trips to Dreamland, in the 7th volume of Darklore)

News Briefs 26-08-2015

Tuck in

  • Stephen Hawking says he has a way to escape from a black hole.
  • Gorillas are showing signs of learning to talk, say researchers.
  • Can computers help us read the mind of nature?
  • Scientists created a wormhole in a lab that can transport magnetic waves via an extra spatial (or 'extra special' as they say in the article!) dimension.
  • The original 1952 Braxton County Monster drawing, found!
  • Should mars be independent, or just a colony of Earth?
  • Is this what our ancestors' language sounded like 6,000 years ago?
  • Petroglyphs left in Canada by Scandinavians 3,000 years ago?
  • We can’t find any alien neighbors and virtual reality might be to blame.
  • Burning Man: The Musical.
  • The mysterious Marree Man of outback Australia: largest geoglyph in the world.
  • Aztec 'human sacrifice' skull wall found in Mexico.
  • Mapping the Grim.
  • Interview with a weird satanist.

Quote of the Day:

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.

John Muir

Dreaming While Awake


by Mike Jay

(excerpted from Darklore Volume 8, available from Amazon US and Amazon UK)

Find more fascinating articles like this one by liking The Daily Grail on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter.

In February 1758 the 90-year-old Charles Lullin, a retired Swiss civil servant whose sight had been progressively failing since a cataract operation five years before, began to see considerably more than he had become accustomed to. For the next several months he was visited in his apartment by a silent procession of figures, invisible to everyone but him: young men in magnificent cloaks, perfectly coiffured ladies carrying boxes on their heads, girls dancing in silks and ribbons. These visions were recorded and published in 1760 by his grandson, the naturalist Charles Bonnet, after whom the syndrome of hallucinations in the elderly and partially sighted would much later be named.

This celebrated case is one of the founding studies in the science of hallucinations, and frames the subject in distinctive ways. Most significantly, it has no link with mental illness: Lullin’s eyesight may have dimmed but his cognitive faculties were perfectly sharp, and he had no difficulty recognising his hallucinations as unreal. His experience was clearly different in kind from those experienced in psychoses such as schizophrenia: rather, it highlights the remarkable range of organic conditions, from neurological disorders to drug effects, of ‘hallucinations in the sane’.

Much has been learned in the intervening century about the brain states and optical processes that lie behind such experiences, but the old question remains: what, if anything, do such hallucinations have to tell us? They cannot be dismissed as symptoms of insanity, and nor are they purely random sensory data: on the contrary, their content is curiously consistent. Miniature people, for example, are a common sight for those with Charles Bonnet syndrome: Oliver Sacks recalls a patient who was accompanied for a couple of weeks by ‘little people a few inches high, like elves or fairies, with little green caps, climbing up the sides of her wheelchair’ 1. These little folk are also witnessed in many other circumstances: by sufferers from migraine, epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease, those on mind-altering drugs such as DMT (dimethyltryptamine) or magic mushrooms, or in withdrawal from alcohol or sedatives. These are wildly different causes, but the miniature people they generate are strikingly similar. They share many curious but consistent qualities: a tendency to appear in groups, for example, or arrayed in phalanxes (‘numerosity’), to wear headgear or exotic dress, and to go about their business autonomously, paying no attention to the subject’s attempts to interact with them. Who are these little people? Do they have a message for us? And if not, what is the meaning of ... Read More »

Exploring Overlapping Themes Between NDEs and UFO/Alien Encounters

Last week I received a last-minute invitation to join Gene and Chris on The Paracast on Thursday. It was the beginning of a chain of SNAFUs on my part, in which I found myself out of home and unable to return at the appointed hour of our Skype seesion, and couldn't even warn Gene because my phone ran out of battery and megabytes on my data plan --fortunately Gene was kind enough to re-schedule to later in the evening. Chris on his part also suffered problems of his own and couldn't join us (it turned out his good friend, Zuni elder Clifford Mahooty, had a sudden health problem and Chris went to his aid. It seems Clifford is doing much better now and is out of danger, but I'm sure many Grailers will still want to send out his prayers and good wishes to him).

So in the end it was me, Gene and Curt Collins of Blue Blurry Lines who filled in as guest co-host. Despite the initial mishaps --and the occasional technical problem on my end-- it was a delightful conversation which took on a rather weird spin: We started up with the usual UFOlogical subjects --including "the topic that shall not be named", which is how Gene refers to the Roswell slides brouhaha of May 5th-- but then for some reason I can't fully explain --and bear in mind I came to the interview *completely* unprepared, worried only about getting back home on time-- I shifted the chat into deeper and fringier waters, when I mentioned the apparent similarities between near-death experiences (NDEs) and what is commonly referred to as 'alien abductions' --I guess sometimes it pays to 'play it by ear'!

We talked about many other things, in that episode --which you can listen to by clicking here-- but then on the next Friday, Gene sent my a second e-mail asking if I would be interested in writing a little editorial for the Paracast Newsletter, 900-1000 words long, expanding on these overlappings between NDEs and alien encounters.

At first I agreed (since I still felt in debt with Gene for behaving so unprofessionally the day before) not knowing whether I would be able to add anything beyond what I had already mentioned on the interview. Then I had the insight of asking Mike Clelland for help; Mike has been looking into the direct contact experience with a very 'out-of-left-field' approach which would be completely unheard of in uptight organizations like MUFON --that's why I enjoy reading his Hidden Experience blog so much, and also look forward to his upcoming book about owls and alien encounters.

Mike quickly replied back and pointed to a Hidden Experience audio conversation he recorded with Dr. Suzanne Gordon in 2013, which dealt with exactly this kind of criss-crossing correlations, between the type of liminal experiences that are often regarded as independent of each other by traditional investigation --if an NDE subject were to fill a questionnaire prepared by a UFO organization, the results might conclude him to be a an alien abductee, and viceversa. Mike also adviced me to look into the work of NDE researcher Dr. Kenneth Ring, who was among the first to observe these correlations with an open mind --others who were unafraid to look into these overlappings were the late Dr. John Mack, and of course Terence McKenna, the 'Bard' of the psychedelic movement.

With all this I began to expand upon my notes more and more, and then after my mind was 'fully pregnant' with potential I set myself to the task, and did not stop until the 'small' 900-1000 word-long editorial grew into a 4650-word behemoth, which I titled "Charon's Silvery Boat: Overlappings Between Near Death Experiences and UFO/Alien Encounters."

Here's a sample of what I wrote, treating both types of experiences as if they were different manifestations of the same phenomenon:

  • The experience transcends national, ethnic, religious or social boundaries. Unlike what Stephen Hawking would have us believe, UFOs are not just seen by crazies and weirdos, and alien abductions are not an exclusively American anomaly --even though the database is currently skewed in favor of that nationality, presumably because that's where it has raised the most attention. Likewise NDEs are reported by people from many different religious backgrounds, including those who had a completely atheistic worldview.
  • Despite certain variability, the experience possess a prototypical 'core'. Even though no NDE or UFO/alien encounter is 100% alike --in fact, these type of experiences seem to be deeply personal, and thus hard to convey to a third party -- there's an emerging narrative easy to identify in both NDEs and alien abductions. This uniformity, researchers say, is what makes them hard to dismiss as mere hallucinations --although skeptics would claim the uniformity is the result of either hoaxes or delusions caused by modern cultural 'contamination'; even though these experiences have been reported across different cultures for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
  • The experience manifests independently of the subject's volition. With the NDEs there's either a grave illness or a life-threatening accident that brings the individual to the brink of physical death, in a set of circumstances outside of its control. The lack of choice is also shared by alien abductees, who are said to be taken by non-human entities without their consent (the old Contactees of the 50's and 60's might be perceived as an exception to this, and maybe we could say the same if someone experiences an NDE after deliberately attempting suicide).
  • The subject experiences a detachment of his physical body (OBE). This sense that the experiencer's consciousness dissociates itself from the regular vantage point of the body, and allows it to observe the surrounding environment from a different POV --i.e. from above the hospital room-- is probably universal in the NDE literature. Although OBEs are rather common in the modern alien abduction/encounter narrative, we cannot claim it's a stereotypical aspect of the experience --in fact, the 'physicality' of abductions is a much contended point in the field; then again, obsessing with 'trace evidence' has not yielded the expected rewards of respectability traditional UFOlogy has sought in the last 60 years…

The rest of it you can get access to by simply subscribing to the Paracast newsletter, free of charge. Once I fulfilled my deadline, Gene invited to continue the discussion we'd started last Thursday, and to discuss my editorial with him and Chris --who could now re-join us once the issue with Clifford had been solved-- on the 'After the Paracast' supplement podcast, which is part of their Paracast+ membership. The monthly or annual subscription fee grants you access to both the 'After the Paracst' catalog, as well as an ad-free version of their regular show --the annual subscription also gets you an e-book version of Chris O'Brien's 'Stalking the Tricksters' [Amazon US & UK]

You will notice the text acquired a 'scholarly' tone that is quite uncharacteristic of my typical writing. Again, this is not something I had originally anticipated, yet evolved 'organically' as I started to work into what I wanted to convey --which, it must be stressed out, is NOT terribly ground-breaking, since I'm only expanding on what other people had already noticed. If anything, I may have been the first guest in The Paracast to talk about NDEs --something in which I DON'T consider myself to be any kind of authority, or particularly versed in-- and discuss how this and other type of mystical experiences hint at our remaining ignorance with regards to hard problem of human consciousness; which I personally believe to be a crucial part of what we inadequately refer to as 'the Paranormal.'

After I submitted my text document to Gene, who proceeded to prepare it for inclusion in the newsletter, I wanted to add another point to my list of implications to our culture these experiences represent: They force us NOT to jump into Conclusions. To me the folly of the first UFO organizations who started to look into the mystery of 'flying saucers', is that they did so with the preconceived premise that these unknown objects are extraterrestrial vessels of some kind, and have therefore tried to FORCE the square UFOlogical data to fit into the round hole of the ETH. Likewise, I think it would equally unwise to look into the ample NDE literature and unilaterally conclude these experiences prove the existence of 'God' and 'Heaven', according to the expectations of religious doctrine --what seems to be going on is far, FAR more complex than that.

What these experiences DO seem to hint at --I refrain to use the word 'prove' at this point-- is that our current materialistic paradigm which equates Mind solely with the biological machinery of the human brain is sorely need of an update; so too is the methodology of UFO organizations, which should let the data lead them into a conclusion, instead of the other way around.

What conclusion that could be, I cannot truly say; yet I suspect NDEs, 'abductions', psychedelic trips and other types of visionary experiences hint to a much disregarded aspect of the human condition. Perhaps looking deeper into these intersections might help us seem them --and ourselves-- on a clearer light.


News Briefs 25-08-2015

Man, video game graphics are getting realistic!

Quote of the Day:

Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing.

W.B Yeats

Astronauts Photograph 35 Mile High 'Sky Jellyfish' That Live Above the Clouds

Sprites look like sky jellyfish

Over the past century a number of writers on Fortean topics have speculated that there are strange, unknown beings that live above us in the sky - atmospheric beasts that range from dragons to massive 'sky jellyfish'. Could it be possible that some sightings - in particular of the latter type of 'beast' - are caused by atmospheric phenomena that are only just now beginning to be understood?

A case in point would be so-called 'sprites' - "large-scale electrical discharges that occur high above thunderstorm clouds, or cumulonimbus, giving rise to a quite varied range of visual shapes flickering in the night sky." The first report of a sprite sighting was in the late 19th century, but they weren't photographed until a century later.

Now, sprites are captured in photographs and on video quite often - and recently, some were even seen from above, by astronauts on the International Space Station (see image at the top of this post). On August 10th, the astronauts spotted red sprites above a cluster of storms over Mexico and El Salvador, and managed to snap some wonderful images.

Click through the link below for more imagery and information.

Link: Red Sprites Above the U.S. and Central America

News Briefs 24-08-2015

In your face Verve! Apparently the drugs *do* work.

Thanks @tobadzistsini.

Quote of the Day:

Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in.

The Doctor(s)

Meet the First Human to Be Officially Recognised as a Cyborg

Neil Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, a rare condition that leaves around 1 in 30,000 people completely colorblind. But Harbisson embraced the opportunities afforded by modern technology - and the human brain's ability to adapt its methods of perception - and convinced doctors to implant an antenna into the back of his head through which he can now 'hear colours' through bone conduction.

In what may be a landmark moment marking the change from biological and technological evolution in humans, Harbisson is the person to be officially recognized as a cyborg by a government. Furthermore, the antenna doesn't just compensate for a deficiency - it also augments his senses allowing him to perceive things most of us cannot: parts of the spectrum that are invisible to humans, such as infrareds and ultraviolets, as well as signals from phones and satellites.

I am a cyborg. And cyborg comes from the union between 'cybernetics' and 'organism'. And that's how I feel... My antenna is a body part.

...Before, I realised that people made connections between things or objects, and I could not see the link between these two objects. For example, the colour of the sky and the colour of someone's eyes - in the greyscale world there's no connection.

Now that I can hear colour, I have such connections - and connections go beyond that as well. Because when I hear sounds I can relate the sound to an object or a colour. So if I hear the G# of a taxi, the horn of a taxi, that to me is related to lime, because it sounds just like a lime.

(Synchronicity note: I came across this documentary last week at Colossal and decided I would post it when I got the chance. On an unrelated note, I took two of my children yesterday to 'Robotronica' at the Queensland University of Technology. Upon arriving, I was looking down talking to my kids about what we would do, and I literally almost ran smack into Neil Harbisson, who was walking quickly in the other direction on his way to giving a presentation.)

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