First, there is a bit of news from Nolan. Banias asked him about the infamous alien “metamaterials” that have quietly disappeared from the forefront of To the Stars’ research despite dominating the company’s first year. These pieces of scrap metal had been claimed to possess properties that made them impossible to fabricate on Earth, but I discovered that previous research had concluded that at least some were pieces of industrial waste. Now Nolan concedes that the some of the unusual properties they thought indicated that the metal had fallen from flying saucers in fact have “very conventional explanations.” Nolan also cautioned the remaining UFO metamaterials researchers to tread carefully or risk being made a fool. Nolan said that he and Jacques Vallée intend to release a “simple” scientific paper that will describe the chemical properties of the metal without making claims for space aliens. “It has nothing to do with alien nothing and otherworldly anything,” he said of the paper. “Chemistry and physics have not caught up” with the isotope ratios in the samples being studied.
Nolan, however, believes that the metal samples were created intentionally, and he doesn’t know why anyone would engage in the huge cost of altering metal isotopes only to dispose of the metals in the desert. He declines to speculate about how the metals were created but instead believes the correct question is to ask how the particular metal could be used in technology. This fails the smell test because you can’t assume intentionality. An early analysis from the 2000s suggested that the properties were accidental, the resulting byproduct of industrial processes. You can’t claim that these metals are purpose-built “ultra-materials” (in Nolan’s terms) or used for spacecraft until you eliminate the distinct possibility that the lumps of metal are accidental. The right question isn’t “what could this possibly be used for?” as Nolan says, but “was this artificially and intentionally developed?”
I don’t like the fact that Nolan makes a lot of assumptions without realizing that his assumptions aren’t self-evident truths but representations of his own biases.
“Maybe these things are just being left as gifts,” he said that he and Vallée speculated. He compares this to laying out a puzzle to test the intelligence of monkeys. This, again, assumes a creator and that assumption connects back to the biases that are coloring their approach to the metal fragments.
In the interview, Nolan gave a rather interesting answer to the question of UFO “disclosure” that I think is worth sharing in full:
I try to tell people who are frustrated about this: Look, you need to stop waiting for somebody else to give you permission to know what you know. Right? I mean –I hate the term—it’s very patriarchal that we’re waiting for the government to give us permission to know something we already believe. […] I know what I know. I don’t need anybody else to give me permission.
It’s interesting that he frames the issue in postmodern terms that emphasize a distrust of authority and presuppose that everyone possesses his or her own truth, which is not a representation of objective reality as much as it is a subject belief. I’m not sure how I feel about a scientist arguing that reality is something of a personal construct or that we should use our own ignorance (confusion over “strange” experience we personally don’t understand) or our own gullibility (“trust” in other people who may be confused, mistaken, deluded, or lying) as a measure of what is true.
Nolan also said that he believes in an “immaterial” element of reality and therefore believes that there are what laymen might call a spirit world that manifests in and influences that physical world. Underneath his scientific veneer, Nolan advocates something of a Gnostic vision of reality, and he even admits that the discussion becomes “spiritual” very quickly.
I found this particular passage to be particularly illuminating because it reveals quite a bit about the underlying motives of researchers on the edges of the weird. When Nolan says that he no longer feels compelled to convince other people to accept his beliefs (note—not “truth” and not “conclusions”), it speaks eloquently to the fact that UFO culture has become a kind of faith operating under the rules of religious belief rather than scientific investigation.
Nolan speculates about what he sees as problems in the standard model of physics that he thinks indicate that reality isn’t real, and he said that he thinks that it’s “freakin’ amazing” that God or something similar may have designed our reality.
And there you have it: The hunt for the Fortean is really a search for God, through the medium of demons that fly through the sky and pelt us with chunks of heavenly metal.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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