This article is excerpted from Darklore Volume 8, which is now available for sale from Amazon US and Amazon UK. The Darklore anthology series features the best writing and research on Fortean and hidden history topics, by the most respected names in the field: Robert Schoch, Nick Redfern, Loren Coleman, Robert Bauval and Daniel Pinchbeck, to name just a few. Darklore's aim is to support quality researchers, so it makes sense to support Darklore. For more information on the series (including more free sample articles), visit the Darklore website.
A Social History of Ball Lightning
The chimera that came in from the cold
by Martin Shough
Back in 1967 the astronomer Gerard Kuiper dismissed a 10% residue of unexplained UFO reports with a wave of the hand, thinking it “reasonable to assume” that this testimony must be “so distorted or incomplete as to defy all analysis.” However, he advocated a major Defence Department/FAA programme to research “very rare natural phenomena” such as ball lightning. Why? Because “no adequate data yet exist of ball lightning”, even though its existence had been “known for at least a century”.1
This raises a very interesting question: How was it possible for science to “know” anything with “no adequate data”? The answer is that science did not know. Rather, ball lightning had been kept in the natural philospher’s cabinet of curiosities along with a jumble of Forteana such as sea serpents, will-o’-the-wisps, fabulous mirages and spirits of the dead for a couple of hundred years. Disbelief and credulity swirled around together in a miasma of hopeless speculation until, during the early 20th century, the authoritative consensus settled into scepticism - a position which had only quite recently begun to change at the time Kuiper was writing.
Unpicking some of the reason and unreason behind this curious condition of scientific double-think is instructive. Logically and evidentially speaking, there is precious little difference between a “very rare natural phenomenon” which is unexplained and an unexplained phenomenon characterised as a “UFO”. Even more subtle is the distinction sometimes drawn between “a unique natural phenomenon never before observed” and a UFO. There will always be unique combinations of natural phenomena never before observed (in practice), so how is a distinction to be supported between such effects and UFOs? Is there a real epistemological distinction? Or is it mere semantics?
The difference appears in practice to arise because there are two levels of “explanation” whose meanings are weighted differently in the two cases: There is a level of detailed physical understanding, i.e. a link-by-link chain of observed processes accurately modelled in theory; and there is a level of conceptual classification. When either of these levels is satisfied we experience a sense of accounting, and when both are satisfied there is a closure which we experience as “explanation”.
Neither in the case of “unknown natural phenomenon” nor in the case of “unidentified flying object” is the level of detailed physical understanding satisfied, by definition; the difference enters in the conceptual classification and has to do almost exclusively with the way these ideas are emotionally connoted. Specifically, it is the mechanistic aura of the former and the animistic aura of the latter that sets them apart. The history of science associates mechanistic models with productive explanations, animistic models with backward-looking resistance to explanations. The extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) and its analogues are for practical purposes regarded as examples of relict primitive animism.
Ball lightning emerges with some sense of explanation out of the primary category of “rare and unexplained phenomena” to the extent that it replaces (these days) animistic with mechanistic connotations. The collective term is emotionally neutral, the terms “ball lightning” and “UFO” are not individually so, and parity is broken; a coupled particle-pair of overall neutral charge is, so to speak, dissociated into two particles of opposite charge which fly in different directions in the social field potential. The positive “ball lightning” particle is eventually scavenged by surrounding atoms of incomplete theory; the “UFO” particle is left to wander, a free negative ion in a lonely search for an appropriate theory with which to recombine. It is a pragmatic fact, quite separate from the question of evidence, that ... Read More »
You are being watched. The government has a secret system —a machine— that spies on you every hour of every day. I know, because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything.
So begins the opening monologue on the CBS television show Person of Interest, spoken by the designer of 'The Machine', technology genius and billionaire, Harold Finch. The Machine is a mass surveillance computer system, monitoring data input from just about every electronic source in the world (phones, cameras, computers etc), which it analyzes in order to predict violent acts. But given its omnipotence, there are far too many predictions to act on, and so instead it is programmed to only pass on 'relevant' threats - ie. major terrorist events - to the government.
The procedural element of the show is that Finch has a software backdoor that sends him the 'irrelevant' predictions so that he can try to stop that violent act occurring as well: each episode, he and his small team of law enforcement officers and former government agents are given the social security number of an individual connected to the threat, though the team do not know if the individual is the victim or the perpetrator.
The larger story arc, however, is all about the Machine – how Harold came to build it and the effect of doing so on both him and those around him; the power that such surveillance hands to whomever controls it, and the lengths some would go to in order to have that control; and what might happen if such a powerful 'intelligence' became sentient. And of course, the question that hangs over the entire storyline, is the debate between how surveillance can be used to keep people safe, versus how it can be used in corrupt ways.
The show is science fiction, but given the news stories listed below, we might say only barely – the Person of Interest future doesn't seem that far off at all.
Surveillance via your own smartphone
We already know that smartphones can track everywhere you go via the built-in GPS, and the Person of Interest team certainly utilise that function to their advantage. But in the show, Finch's team also often take advantage of ... Read More »
This article is excerpted from Darklore Volume 8, which is now available for sale from Amazon US and Amazon UK. The Darklore anthology series features the best writing and research on paranormal, Fortean and hidden history topics, by the most respected names in the field: Robert Schoch, Nick Redfern, Loren Coleman, Robert Bauval and Daniel Pinchbeck, to name just a few. Darklore's aim is to support quality researchers, so it makes sense to support Darklore. For more information on the series (including more free sample articles), visit the Darklore website.
Believing in Fiction
The Rise of Hyper-Real Religion by Ian ‘Cat’ Vincent
"What is real? How do you define real?" – Morpheus, in The Matrix
"Television is reality, and reality is less than television." - Dr. Brian O’Blivion, in Videodrome
Ever since the advent of modern mass communication and the resulting wide dissemination of popular culture, the nature and practice of religious belief has undergone a considerable shift. Especially over the last fifty years, there has been an increasing tendency for pop culture to directly figure into the manifestation of belief: the older religious faiths have either had to partly embrace, or strenuously oppose, the deepening influence of books, comics, cinema, television and pop music. And, beyond this, new religious beliefs have arisen that happily partake of these media – even to the point of entire belief systems arising that make no claim to any historical origin.
There are new gods in the world – and and they are being born from pure fiction.
This is something that – as a lifelong fanboy of the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres and an exponent of a often pop-culturederived occultism for nearly as long – is no shock to me. What did surprise me, however, was discovering that there is a growing area of sociological study of these beliefs... an academic realm which not only seeks to understand these developments, but also provides a useful perspective on modern belief for both the Fortean and the occult practitioner.
I first learned about this area of study from a 2007 interview on the excellent religion and pop culture focussed website Theofantastique with the Australian sociologist Dr. Adam Possamai,1 in which he talks about his research into what he has termed ‘hyper-real religion’.2 Fascinated, I acquired his introductory text to the concept, Religion And Popular Culture: A Hyper-Real Testament3 and, later, the mammoth 2012 collection of research and essays on the subject which he edited, Handbook of Hyper-Real Religions.4 The term ‘hyper-real’ itself draws on the work of ... Read More »