Joe Rogan is into a lot of stuff: Comedy, martial arts, technology, and the expansion of consciousness through psychedelics; he is even into UFOs, lately –like really into it, thanks largely to Jeremy Corbell’s documentary about alleged alien reverse engineering whistle-blower Bob Lazar.
But two things he is most definitely not into, are psychic research and stories of fucking bullet-proof giant wolves. That much was clear after listening to his (pre-recorded) interview with Robert Bigelow: the secretive real estate billionaire, space mogul, and former owner of the infamous Skinwalker ranch, who has been at the center of every modern UFO conspiracy theory for the last 30 years. You can almost count with your fingers the number of times mister Bigelow has agreed to speak with a journalist other than his long-time friend George Knapp, so him taking a trip to Austin to speak with one of the most influential podcasters in the world is kind of a big deal.
It was just Powerful Joe and Mr. Big, mano-a-mano in the recording studio –Corbell had previously tweeted a photo of himself accompanying Knapp and Bigelow on a private jet in route to Texas, but for some reason the two of them weren’t present– and initially the conversation was convivial when Joe began to ask Bigelow about his life-long fascination with UFOs, and he retold the close encounter his grandparents had in ’47 (wink wink) in the middle of the Nevada desert, and also the ‘weird dreams’ he had as a kid in which he would wake up surrounded by Jawa-like cloaked figures, which is something he’s opened up to revealing publicly up until very recently.
Discussing old and recent UFO stories caused no friction whatsoever between the host and his guest, and inexplicably Joe never took the chance to directly ask Bigelow about the AAWSAP program –whose existence was revealed in that pivotal December 2017 article on the New York Times– not even when Bigelow nonchalantly admitted that BAASS (the subsidiary of Bigelow Aerospace contracted by the Pentagon to study future technology trends and potential threats, including UAPs) had hired one of the pilots involved in the USS Nimitz close encounters with unidentified aerial objects (the infamous ‘Tic-Tacs’) in 2008.
But inevitably, the conversation moved into the thorny terrain of consciousness and psychic phenomena when Bigelow proposed that perhaps UFOs are ‘consciousness operated’ –an idea that has been circulating in the lore of alien abductions for quite some time, in which some self-claimed abductees recall being kidnapped and rudely interrogated by military operatives (MILABs or ‘military abductions’ in UFOlogical parlance) who grill them with questions about how the alien craft work, and whether they have been allowed by the aliens to ‘fly the saucer’ using only their minds. Joe interpreted what Bigelow was saying in purely technological terms (the alien WiFi connecting to the saucer’s key fob, as it were) but it was soon evident that was not what his guest meant, when Bigelow expressed his frustration with modern physics due to its failure to explain what he referred as ‘the paranormal basket’, using Russian psychic Nina Kulagina as an example of someone who was amply tested for her apparent manifestations of micro and macro psychokinesis (PK).
This triggered the first argument in the episode, when Joe dismissed the old videos out of hand, saying he didn’t believe in any of these ‘parlor tricks’ because “you can move things around with fuckery.” All the new open-mindedness exhibited by Rogan in the last few years –when he was willing to give UFOs a second chance– went out the window, and he was back to his same old skeptic self from his 2013 show Joe Rogan Questions Everything, in which he completely dismissed the concept of ‘psychic spies’ and remote viewing because his mentalist friend Banachek told him it’s all done with cold reading and deception.
Bigelow, who’s worked with many of the original researchers of the SRI ‘Stargate’ program over the years (e.g. Hal Puthoff, who was until very recently associated with Tom DeLonge’s To the Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences) was not going to let Rogan disqualify remote viewing that easily. He told Joe that years ago he had hired two experienced remote viewers and that their ‘targeting’ was very accurate. Furthermore, he corrected Joe when he said that the reason the government had shut down the program was because they conclude “it was all bullshit.” Although Bigelow didn’t go over this, the reasons for the ‘psychic spy’ government program’s cancellation had more to do with the conservative religious beliefs of high-ranking generals, than the actual efficacy of the information retrieved by the remote viewers through as-yet inexplicable non-local methods.
Speaking of religious beliefs, it was curious to witness how both Rogan and Bigelow coincide in their overall acceptance of Bob Lazar’s story, even though Bigelow has never fully explained why he chose to terminate his business association with Bob in the 90’s and why he never bothered to invite an alleged expert in alien propulsion and exotic fuel materials to collaborate with NIDS or BAASS, the scientific groups he’s founded over the years to study the frontiers of Science –including UFOs. The only response we’ve got so far, is that apparently Bob is something of a lazy accumulator of furniture, and that is why Bigelow fired his ass without any further explanation –doesn’t Mr. Big know messiness is a sign of genius?
But when the discussion moved once again to more esoteric subjects, like Bigelow’s renewed interest in the afterlife, which in a way preceded his active interest in UFOs –his father died in an airplane accident in 1962, and he’s also suffered the loss of his son, grandson and more recently his wife– the differences between the core ideologies of host and guest became palpable once again: Joe Rogan is a hardcore technocrat whose fortune wouldn’t have been possible without the rise of the Internet, and the podcasting ecosphere which permits free-thinkers like him to bypass the gatekeepers of mainstream media; he believes Technology is the pinnacle of our species, and that sooner or later our descendants will inevitably merge with our mechanical innovations to reach the post-human Singularity that nu-vangelists like Ray Kurzweil have been prophesizing about from their Silicon Valley pulpits.
Bigelow is vastly wealthier than Joe, and his latest commercial interests are directly linked to scientific innovation; yet he doesn’t seem to toe the same techno-utopian party line like the rest of the space industry moguls (has he ever talked to Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos about UFOs?). He proposes a graph charting the last 150 years of human history, in which the line representing technological achievement is not only vertical, but even segmented due to the ‘jumps’ caused by the introduction of disruptive technologies –just imagine the leap that easily available genetic manipulation and synthetic biology will cause in the near future– but if we also included in this graph a representation of humanity’s spiritual maturity, we would find this second line to be almost horizontal.
Not only that, but the possibility of having these two lines intersecting each other in the future seems rather unlikely. Where does that leave us, if not to even more economic inequality and social instability, further increased by ecological decline on a planetary scale?
Bigelow’s solution for the merging of the lines? BICS (Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies) which launched a contest for written essays intended to provide the best available evidence for an afterlife, and the survival of some aspects of human consciousness after physical death. February 24th was the last day of the entry, and the six judges conforming the review panel (one of them is a physicist, and the other one is journalist Leslie Kean, author of the best-selling book Surviving Death which was adapted into a Netflix limited series) will announce the three winners on November 1st (All Saint’s Day, a.k.a. Día de Muertos) dividing the jackpot between $500,000 for the winner, $300,000 for the 2nd place, and $150,000 for the 3rd place –“so if you have a semi-shitty NDE story, you get $150k,” joked Joe.
I have listened to almost all the Joe Rogan Experience episodes whenever there is a UFO-related personality invited, and I had never seen Joe acting more contentious with his guest than with Robert Bigelow (and I’m sure the only time the old billionaire has experienced such antagonism was not with a journalist, but with an IRS auditor!). Not even with Tom DeLonge when Joe tried not to laugh in his face after Tom claimed a CGI video of a triangular UFO Jamie (Joe’s assistant) pulled out from Youtube was real, or that the Greek gods were ancient aliens(!). Nothing poor Mr. Big would say could deter Joe from parroting the skeptic mantra about James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge–“oh, he was a fraud!” blurted Bigelow in frustration (click here to learn why the Million Dollar Challenge was merely a PR stunt); not even when Joe demanded specific examples of paranormal/psychic phenomena, and Bigelow opened up about his own personal accounts of poltergeist activity in his own home, or his experiences with psychic mediums which provided very intimate details about the death of his father –“you are a very famous person,” responded Joe, “and people could learn all of this (through the Internet).”“I think that’s stretching it,” refuted Bigelow.
And here is where I hate to admit that, despite being philosophically aligned with Bigelow’s goals and vision, Rogan does have a point in showing skepticism in the methodology adopted by BICS with this first contest. Using the legal system of the Western world as the model to gauge evidence for an afterlife seems inadequate –this is the same system, after all, that concluded O.J. Simpson was not guilty. The best BICS can hope for with their little contest is stir the pot and begin a conversation outside the usual trenches of skepticism versus religious dogma; but I don’t see any impeccable prose convincing someone like Rogan anytime soon, because when it comes to these subjects, nothing beats personal experience.
Or doesn’t it? Even when Bigelow suggested Joe to go have a session with one of these mediums, Joe doubted that would be enough to convince him. Which then begs the question, what would be enough to convince someone like Joe that not all mediums are con artists, and that there is evidence to suggest the existence of an afterlife and communication with nonphysical intelligences? Would he need authority figures he respects –like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Michael Shermer– to come on the show and admit that they have been wrong all these years? Because that is never going to happen.
Powerful Joe Rogan –so certain of Bob Lazar, yet so skeptical of parapsychology and scientific psychic research…
Perhaps if Mr. Bigelow had asked Jamie to dig up the speech given by Professor Jessica Utts (chair of the statistics department at the University of California at Irvine) who in her 2016 presidential address to the American Statistical Association, shocked her esteemed colleagues by saying this about remote viewing and precognition:
For many years I have worked with researchers doing very careful work in this area, including a year I spent working on a classified project for the United States government, to see if we could use these abilities for intelligence gathering during the Cold War. This 20-year project is described in the recent book ESP Wars East and West by physicist Edwin May, the lead scientist on the project, with input from his Soviet counterparts.
At the end of that project I wrote a report for Congress, stating what I still think is true. The data in support of precognition and possibly other related phenomena are quite strong statistically, and would be widely accepted if they pertained to something more mundane. Yet, most scientists reject the possible reality of these abilities without ever looking at data! And on the other extreme, there are true believers who base their belief solely on anecdotes and personal experience. I have asked the debunkers if there is any amount of data that could convince them, and they generally have responded by saying, “probably not.” I ask them what original research they have read, and they mostly admit that they haven’t read any! Now there is a definition of pseudo-science—basing conclusions on belief, rather than data!
I learned about Utts’s quote after reading the book Real Magic, by Dean Radin. Dr. Radin is chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (the institution founded by the late Apollo astronaut, Edgar Mitchell) who has collaborated with several academic, government-funded and private institutions in the scientific study of consciousness and PSI phenomena –he even worked for Bigelow in the 90’s. After I tweeted a comment expressing my frustration with regards to Rogan’s ignorance about psychic research, Dr. Radin added this valuable opinion to my timeline:
Joe has asked some of his guests about psi. They are either dismissive or only talk about it in anecdotal terms. But as far as I know he’s never interviewed anyone who actually knows what they’re talking about. That’s a pity because much can be said.
Indeed, much can and should be said. There’s a lot of compelling scientific data serious researchers like Radin could show to someone like Joe (here is an old article Greg wrote, which gives a good summary of the best available evidence in support of PSI so far). Especially because without daring to explore the realms of consciousness and psychic phenomena, the field of UFOlogy is condemned to a state of stagnation for which there can be no viable solution, no matter the amount of compelling material evidence you manage to gather.
Robert Bigelow thinks there are two holy grails in the quest for understanding Reality: the question of whether we are alone in the Universe, and whether a part of us survives after our brains cease to function. I posit the reason these two enigmas continue to elude us is not accidental, and documentaries like Witness of Another World and the case of Juan Pérez, suggest these two seemingly separate holy grails are actually one and the same.