Disclose.TV Attacks Me Over Giants; Plus: Peter Levenda Tries to Explain Why Fiction Is the Key to Understanding UFOs
On the Disclose.tv website, writer Lukas Magnuson complains that skeptics like me devote too much time to investigating the origin of claims for gigantic human skeletons. After praising Jim Vieira for devoting literally every single day for several years to posting articles about giants, Magnuson suggests that it is somehow inexplicable that a couple of times per month I would return to the subject to understand how and why people came to believe there were giants in ancient times:
One of the skeptics who has been most ferocious in his attacks on the credibility of these reports is Jason Colavito. For whatever reason, Colavito has devoted a considerable amount of his time to putting forward fairly weak explanations for these excavations. He has suggested that the bones could have belonged to mammoths, although no human skeleton has ever been confused with a mammoth skeleton, even in the earliest days of archaeology. He has also suggested that the freezing and thawing of bones could be "enough to turn a slightly average body into a gigantic one”, a claim which is not supported by any scientific evidence.
Out of all the things I have ever written about giants—running into the dozens of blog posts—Magnuson chooses one specific blog post from 2013 to ridicule, and proceeds to misunderstand it and purposely misrepresent it. This is because he is lightly rewriting an attack on that same blog post that Greg Little made in 2014 and that I addressed at the time.
The idea that bones could expand when frozen and thawed is not mine. I was explaining what I read in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Paleopathology—you know, a science book. As I said at the time, the book said that repeated freezing and thawing of bones can cause them to expand gradually as ice crystals pull apart the bone matrix, until they become so brittle that they shatter. The line Magnuson quotes has been altered to remove key punctuation and caveats, thus creating a deceptive impression. Here is what I actually said: “Obviously, of course, this kind of expansion won’t add feet to the size of the bones, but enough to turn a slightly above average body into a ‘gigantic’ one.” This claim, incidentally, was never meant to apply to every giant skeleton report, and I made it about a very specific set of circumstances involving abnormal measurements for waterlogged skeletons uncovered in a wet mound, which shattered or crumbled upon excavation. I certainly do not insist that this is a fact, and I put it out there as an example of the kind of scientific material that Micah Hanks did not consider in trying to claim some specific bones as those of a likely giant.
The claim that no mammoth skeleton has ever been mistaken for human is patently absurd. Cotton Mather wrote of a “giant’s” tooth that still exists and was clearly that of a mammoth. European bones classified as those of “giants” were reexamined in the 1700s and found to be those of fossil elephants. And I was particularly pleased to have discovered a nineteenth century account of a mammoth or mastodon skeleton being excavated and excitedly mistaken for a Nephilim-giant until the tusks emerged from the ground. Even a cursory examination of facts would show Magnuson the error of his secondhand falsehoods.
But today I’d like to talk about Peter Levenda’s lengthy missive posted to his Facebook page early yesterday morning (and the responses he posted thereafter) in which he attempted to justify Tom DeLonge’s choice to make Sekret Machines into a mixture of fictional and non-fictional media products. As you will recall, DeLonge, a former member of Blink-182, claimed that he would revolutionize the field of UFO studies with his project, but instead he and Levenda delivered warmed-over 1970s ancient astronaut theories with a side order of New Age claptrap about how aliens are really supernatural creatures acting through gateways in our consciousness. Levenda’s explanation of the need to use fiction to support these claims makes superficial sense, but it reinforces my complaint that the use of fiction is intended to paper over the weaknesses in the nonfiction arguments.
Get a load of this argument:
The books are meant to work together, to “run in parallel” you might say, and not consecutively as sequels. I know that is a difficult concept to grasp, especially for those of us who grew up within an educational system that treats different fields and means of knowledge as separate, unconnected boxes. That’s the whole point, though: to train our minds to transcend the normal ways of looking at the world and to bridge the gap between the two – fiction and non-fiction – modalities. That is not to say that we can accept a fictional account as “true” in any kind of scientific sense; that also is not to say that science is itself a fiction. […] What we are saying is that a narrative approach to understanding the world can reveal hidden verities, can ignite flashes of insight, can inspire cognitive leaps.
Fiction has its own independent value as art, and there is some truth to the idea that fictional stories can spur interest in the underlying facts on which it is based. To give a familiar example: H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction inspired in me a desire to learn more about ancient mythologies, Theosophy, and the pseudo-history on which it was based, but none of it is true. Fiction can’t report the facts with anything like trust since we the readers know that fiction is made up. In a moment I will give an example of the failure of Levenda’s argument, but here I want to comment on the silly idea that having a novel about UFOs is necessary to “transcend” the barrier between fact and fiction. Imagine arguing that Indiana Jones caused a revolution in Judaism by depicting the “hidden verities” of the Ark of the Covenant.
Now, you might note that when I mentioned Lovecraft’s fiction, his Cthulhu Mythos rebuilt and rearranged scraps of earlier fake claims about Atlantis and Lemuria and space aliens and created a way of looking at the world that was so convincing that to this day there are people who think it must be real. Levenda, who knows this, actually counts on the power of fiction to use lies to tie together unrelated ideas in order to paper over the weaknesses of the ancient astronaut theory. He puts it in fancier language, but the bottom line is the same:
There will be moments when what you read in one book, the novel, will seem like an echo of something you read in the other book, the non-fiction work, and the echo will go bouncing back and forth between the two, priming your mind “to explore more invisible realms.” The difference is you won’t be peering through a microscope but through a powerful kind of telescope; the fictional narrative will become your own as it makes connections with your neurons, the “hundred trillion stories in your head.” And you will look at the world with new eyes, a new nervous system, as the flesh and the blood of the novels arrange themselves on the bones and joints of the non-fiction works.
To show you why this is not simply a way of enhancing facts by tying them to a story, consider what happens when incomplete facts, misinterpretations, and lies are given the imprimatur of a popular novel: The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown’s scandalous bestseller is, essentially, a novelization of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, and the two books can be read together with an “echo” that bounces back and forth between them, each reinforcing the other. But the novel papers over the faults and failures of the nonfiction book, and its confident presentation of selected details serves to make the non-fiction version seem more compelling by ignoring the qualifiers and working around the mistakes, errors, and lies.
In a novel, the information is controlled. The universe is closed and complicating factors can be ignored. Within the novel’s universe, inconvenient facts do not exist, and confounding details can be waved away with a keystroke. This is not how the external world of facts work, and to claim that the closed universe of a novel should be intentionally conflated with the open world arounds us is to trade the verities and certainties of limited information and ideology for the boundless complexity of reality.
Levenda all but concedes this point near the end of this post when he rhapsodizes about the power of emotion to manipulate audiences in ways that facts cannot. The truth about UFOs, he said, cannot be expressed by factual statements. “This cannot be done with a series of simple declarative statements, as much as that would make everyone’s job a lot easier,” he wrote. “We label our fiction as fiction, our non-fiction as non-fiction, but with the unique caveat that both are necessary for an understanding of the Phenomenon.”
I categorically reject this postmodern bullshit. Made-up stories are simply not necessary to understand UFOs or ancient astronauts, and to claim otherwise is to concede that the writer hasn’t the facts.
Even the very categories of “fiction” and “non-fiction” make the point: “Non-fiction” is not the same as “truth.” A book like Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, or The Secret Doctrine is non-fiction, but it is far from true. Worse, outright hoaxes like the New York Sun’s “Moon-Hoax” purposely use the form of non-fiction to present fiction for the purpose of fooling readers, while novels of the 1700s and 1800s would often make the pretense of being non-fiction even though everyone knew what they were. In a response post added beneath the original, Levenda addresses this problem obliquely, first by dismissing criticism as the result of “animus” from those who disapprove of a “celebrity” contributing “new” (i.e. 1970s) perspectives, and then by restating that his project differs from all others in unspecified ways: “It’s easy to be an armchair expert in these things and airily dismiss whatever pleases one so as to make oneself appear intelligent, or learned, or brighter than the other bulbs in the box; but it’s not so easy to do what we are doing.” But what are they doing? Tom DeLonge, for example, has previously passed off a still from Steven Spielberg’s 2002 TV series Taken as secret government UFO photography.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.