Prepared for the Conference of the International Association for New Science (IANS), September 13-17, 1996, Fort Collins, Colorado
Human contact with non-human intelligence (CNI) is undoubtedly happening on a broad and growing scale throughout the world today and may well be the defining characteristic of the coming century. For purposes of this paper, CNI phenomena are grouped in four broad categories: 1) close encounters with UFOs and "alien" beings; 2) encounters with angels, devas, nature spirits and similiar entities; 3) encounters with intelligent terrestrial non-human species such as cetaceans and great apes; and 4) human interactions with artificial intelligence.
Introduction: What CNI Is, and Why It's Important
Throughout history, human beings have reported contact with other intelligent life. Sometimes the Others were seen as glorious and powerful gods or angels; sometimes as hideous demons or monsters; sometimes as mischievous, mysterious "little people." All the world's religions relate significant encounters with such beings. All the world's shamanic traditions teach techniques for dealing with such beings. Indeed, only since the rise of Modern Science in the last two centuries has human culture become skeptical of such encounters.
Today it is fashionable to assume that CNI experiencers are mistaken, or delusional, or fraudulent. Nonetheless, CNI experiences keep occurring, and experiencers keep reporting, despite the social risks. By some estimates, the number of impressive CNI experiences is on the rise and may be headed for an all time high.
CNI experiences have always been fundamentally important in human culture and are every bit as important today, no matter what actually "causes" such experiences to occur. For example, UFOs might be figments of the imagination, strange atmospheric effects, or alien spacecraft -- among other things -- and the controversy over the reality and nature of UFOs is a long way from being settled. But no matter what, it is a fact that many UFO encounters profoundly alter individual human assumptions about reality; and it is highly probable that our culture is being changed by an insistent barrage of reported UFO encounters.
Despite all the scientific pretensions of our time, nearly twice as many U.S. adults believe that UFOs are alien spacecraft as those who don't, and those with a college degree are more likely to think so than those without. About ten percent of U.S. adults think they've seen a UFO. Meanwhile, over two-thirds of U.S. adults believe angels are real; and about 30% of them say they've had an angelic encounter. Numbers like this show why the study of CNI is important. Something big is going on here, and we don't really know what it is.
With the foregoing in mind, the most important thing we can say about CNI phenomena may well be this: "CNI shapes Mythos." By this I mean that, no matter what a particular encounter might "really" be, it adds to a ferment of ideas and fears, dreams and desires as old as time and as new as Star Trek, a ferment from which will come new mythology for the Millennium. Human culture requires mythology to function; and as renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out, the traditional mythology of modern Western culture is in a state of collapse and disintegration. Something new must arise in its place. Campbell thought the great peril of our time was largely driven by our inability to create a new and relevant mythos. He gave little weight to the influence of CNI; but here, perhaps, he was mistaken. I suspect that CNI in all its variety may well prove to be the most important shaper of human myth and culture in the coming century.
Categories of CNI
Broadly speaking, I group CNI phenomena into four categories, as follows.
1) UFOs and "Alien" Contact
Thousands of UFO sightings are reported each year in the United States alone, and UFO phenomena seem to occur in all parts of the world. While most sightings undoubtedly have a conventional explanation, some do not. When hundreds of people, including numerous law enforcement officers, observe huge, silent, oddly-shaped craft in the sky, and when military jets try but fail to approach the craft, yet observe them on multiple radars -- as happened in Belgium in 1989-90 -- conventional explanations surely fall short. Moreover, when unusual humanoid beings are seen in association with such craft, as reported by farmer Maurice Masse in France in 1965, or by fishing partners Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker in Mississippi in 1973, then we must seriously entertain the prospect of "alien" contact.
This branch of CNI, unlike the others, is complicated by claims of official government disinformation and cover-up. Moreover, since the mid-1960s, the "UFO" field has gradually come to be dominated by claims of alien abduction of humans, and also includes claims of channeled or telepathic extraterrestrial contact.
Skeptics insist all such claims are absurdly far-fetched. Yet, most astronomers and astrophysicists today agree on the virtual certainty of intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy. SETI, or the scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, employs radio telescopes and massive computers to search the noise of deep space for intelligent signals. It seems that little separates the assumptions of SETI researchers and UFO researchers, except the idea that "they" can, and do, visit the earth.
While the "Extraterrestrial Hypothesis" has been the most popular UFO theory among enthusiasts, I share with researchers like Jacques Vallee the view that UFO-related phenomena are too varied, complex and strange to fit a simple "E.T." explanation. "E.T." might well be involved -- but so might extra-dimensional, extra-temporal, or super-psychic phenomena beyond our imagination.
Another notion worth considering is that human technology may have created wonders far stranger than most believe. Did "we" build that UFO? Of course, the human mind is also capable of wondrous flights of fancy, not to mention self-deception. All in all, knowing as little as we do, it seems safe to assume that we have a great deal yet to discover.
Case in point: Undoubtedly, many readers of this paper saw the FOX television special titled "Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction," broadcast nationwide on August 28, 1995. This program featured mysterious film footage that came to light in England in the spring of 1995. The film shows graphic images of an autopsy in progress. The body is humanoid, but perhaps not human. According to a wide range of experts, including special effects artists, pathologists and film analysts, the film itself does not show overt signs of fakery, nor can the body be easily dismissed as simply a misshapen human or perhaps a fabricated dummy.
In a statement purportedly issued by the as-yet unidentified cameraman, it is claimed that he shot the film under top-secret military orders following the fabled crash and recovery of a flying saucer near Roswell, New Mexico in the summer of 1947. UFO researchers have been quick to point out that the body shown on film does not resemble prior descriptions of the alien bodies allegedly recovered at Roswell; nor is there any other evidence in the film (at least that part broadcast on U.S. television) suggesting a clear link to Roswell.
Yet, the film is impressive. The bewilderment of the experts is impressive. The mystery is genuine and, for the moment at least, nowhere near being resolved. Shall we therefore believe this film shows what it purports to show: the autopsy of a real alien, perhaps recovered at Roswell? To believe that now, in my view, would be at best premature. But our other options are few and equally strange. This film, if not precisely what it claims to be, must then be the work of very skilled, highly motivated and well-financed people intent on creating a major controversy (in that, they have already succeeded). Who would these people be? What is their agenda? How will this further, or perhaps undermine, public interest in human-alien encounter? And what will be the result if we learn, at length, that the film shows a real alien autopsy after all? Can we, in fact, already be that close to a ufological Holy Grail? Caught as we all are in the midst of the mystery, we cannot readily predict the answers to such questions.
2) Angels and Associated Phenomena
According to a CNN/Time poll in December of 1993, some 69% of U.S. adults believe that angels are literally real; 46% believe they have their own guardian angel; and 32% say they have personally felt an angelic presence at least once in their life. For reasons no one can yet explain, belief in angels seems to be on the rise, fueled by growing numbers of stories of angelic encounters that cut across all levels of society and show no religious preference -- indeed, nearly as many professed non-believers as believers claim to be meeting angels these days.
Angels are often pictured as fluffy, winged and feminine; but experience tells a different story. As often as not, angels seem to show up as ordinary looking people, both women and men -- ordinary, that is, until they do something miraculously unexpected and then disappear without trace or explanation. In their coming and going, the most important fact from the human experiencer's perspective seems to be that life takes a sudden turn for the better, whether because a danger has been diverted, or glad tidings have been given, or despair has been lifted, or life itself has been restored. Rescue from certain disaster is a common theme; healing of terminal illness another; the gift of comfort and courage in terrible times yet another. Whether anything truly "angelic" is going on here remains a question beyond proving; but there can be no doubt that millions of people are touched and moved by what they perceive as angels, and that is a noteworthy phenomenon in itself.
Of course, not all angels are seen as good. A prevailing theory among religious philosophers and theologians is that angels, like humans, represent a created order of beings possessing free will and capable of error and imperfection. Satan, the prince of hell, was said to have originated among the radiant seraphim, but chose a path of willful self-aggrandisement and was cast down, taking with him a third of the heavenly host. Today, demons and devils reveal themselves most clearly in the grotesquerie accompanying exorcism; indeed, the casting out of evil spirits is hardly less common now than in the Middle Ages.
This part of the CNI spectrum is not confined to angels alone, however. Closely related, conceptually at least, are legions of nature spirits and "little people" -- sylphs, faeries, trolls, devas, elementals -- reported in many forms, by many names, in the traditions of nearly all cultures. Shamanic practitioners and spiritual adepts learn how to deal with such beings, and how, when necessary, to drive them away. Though most such creatures seem diminutive, among the devas are said to be great beings of light and power, charged with the maintenance of other lifeforms, even whole kingdoms of life, as well as large pieces of geography, from mountains and oceans up to and including the earth itself. Again, western science finds no proof that such beings exist; yet for millions of people, the angelic realm is no less real than death and taxes.
3) Non-human Intelligent Earth Species
The largest brain on earth resides in the skull of a sperm whale. In some ways, the brain and nervous system complexity of cetaceans surpasses that of humans. Many species of cetaceans, notably dolphins, orcas and humpback whales, engage in extremely sophisticated audible communication over a bandwidth ten times broader than the human. They seem capable not only of logical reasoning but even of moral judgment. With much evidence supporting the proposition that dolphins, at least, might rival humans in overall intelligence, researchers hypothesized more than 30 years ago that human-dolphin communication would be achieved before long. Though much has been discovered in the meantime, real communication still remains an illusive dream. Living as they do in the truly alien world of the sea, cetaceans have proven themselves to be as alien an intelligence as anything that might arise in distant space. Yet, human admiration for cetacean intelligence is undiminished, and the quest for communication continues.
Meanwhile, actual breakthroughs have been made with several species of great apes, including chimps and gorillas. The mouth cavity in apes lacks certain features required for vocal speech, so researchers don't expect any ape to talk (how odd, in this light, that many parrots, though "bird-brains," can articulate words perfectly). However, a number of chimps have learned several hundred words of vocabulary expressed with American Sign Language, and have shown the ability to initiate communication involving hundreds of phrases of three or more words, with a wide range of intelligible meanings. In other words, these chimps can communicate at nearly the level of an average three year old human child. Similarly, a number of gorillas have learned both American Sign Language and a computer-aided communication system that synthesizes vocalization when word icons are chosen on an interactive screen. One gorilla named Koko is reported to be able to comprehend 2,000 different words.
Experiments with apes show that language capability is not strictly limited to humans; however, the structure of the ape brain suggests that ape-human communication will never be more than rudimentary. Prospects are even less with other terrestrial life-forms: the next most intelligent group, dogs, can clearly learn to recognize a variety of vocal messages, but are not considered candidates for real two-way communication. But the story may be different with cetaceans, if the interspecies chasm can somehow be bridged. In all likelihood, great brilliance, humor, even music and poetry reside within these gentle alien seafarers. The struggle to communicate with them might well teach us hugely important lessons for communicating with other aliens yet to be discovered.
4) Artificial Intelligence
Science fiction has produced an endless variety of scenarios centered on the premise of artificial intelligence. In Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot," an artificial human runs for president. Only a few people even suspect his true nature. But his internal coding against ever harming a true human almost trips him up when robophobic enemies conspire to provoke him to violence. In the end, he proves himself "human" by decking a heckler at a political rally -- again, almost no one knows that the heckler, too, is a robot.
Asimov's sanguine view of a future in which humans and artifically intelligent entities peacefully and productively co-exist contrasts sharply with the horrific visions of the Terminator, where super-intelligent machines almost succeed in exterminating humanity. Hardly less disturbing are the intelligent machines of benign design that somehow run amok, epitomized by HAL in Kubrick's classic film "2001."
But will machines ever really cross the line from the brilliant stupidity of today's best computers to true, and potentially overwhelming, intelligence? The question is hotly debated, but more and more experts seem agreed: true machine intelligence could be upon us very soon.
The challenges are formidible. Machines today can fluently mimic reason within artifically narrow problem environments (they can, for instance, play chess at the grand master level), but not in wide open space where anything goes. For the equivalent of sustained, general purpose reason -- say, the level of reason normal to a three year old child -- a machine would need massively parallel data processing on a scale hardly conceived -- until now. As recently as late 1994, breakthroughs in so-called "DNA computing" raise the possibility of super computers based not on microelectronics, but on molecular biology. Among their several advantages, DNA computers could be a billion times more energy efficient than conventional computers, use just a trillionth of the space to store information, and most importantly, be so massively parallel that just one of them, no bigger than a refrigerator, could perform more operations at once than all the computers in the world today, working together. Is this the needed breakthrough? Quite possibly; and if not, some other will likely be found before long.
The consequences are easily as formidible as the achievement itself. For, by the time a machine can reason on its own even as well as three year old child, it will already have at its disposal (if human designers are so inclined) the options of superhuman senses, superhuman reflexes, superhuman strength, superhuman indifference to hostile environments, super armaments and locomotion of any conceivable description -- the list goes on. All the body functions are already accounted for in heroic proportion, awaiting only a worthy mind.
Today, there seems no reasonable doubt that such creations will arrive soon. But there is also no reason to believe they will be any more benevolent than the humans who call them forth. Of all the aliens we can conceive, these may well be the most worrisome.
Conclusion: The Time For Preparation Has Come
It is my conviction that human contact with non-human intelligence in all its varied forms may well be the most significant force shaping human society in the coming century -- made more significant because it remains today largely unexpected and unacknowledged. For better or worse, human beings must begin to take account of other forms of intelligence impacting us now, and prepare for greater impacts soon to come.
Each person must make his or her own response to this challenge. My response has been to co-found ISCNI, Inc., the Institute for the Study of Contact with Non-human Intelligence. ISCNI is the world's first online institute devoted exclusively to the study of human contact with other intelligent life. ISCNI's first online facility was founded on America Online in December of 1994. The AOL "campus" features a broad range of information resources, including libraries, a bookstore, a news center, public and private message boards, and numerous classes and special presentations by well-known CNI researchers. Recently, ISCNI has also established an extensive site on the World Wide Web.
ISCNI issues a free twice-monthly electronic newsletter, the ISCNI*Flash, which can be sent to any email address on the Internet. To receive this newsletter, send an email request to ISCNIFlash@aol.com.
ISCNI is committed to the following goals:
1) To promote wide-ranging, high-quality public discussion aimed at enhancing public understanding of CNI phenomena as well as public respect for CNI research, while reducing the stigma often associated with CNI experiences;
2) To collect and present the most current and accurate information available on all aspects of CNI phenomena;
3) To establish online public access to top CNI researchers through live classes and special events; and
4) To generate financial support for responsible CNI research and public education.
Anyone interested in communicating with ISCNI online can send email to ISCNI@aol.com, or visit the ISCNI Web site at http://www.iscni.com/ ISCNI can also be reached by phone at 805-563-8500, or by mail at 3463 State Street #440, Santa Barbara, CA 93105.
Original file name: .CNI - IANS Paper on CNI
This file was converted with TextToHTML - (c) Logic n.v.