Society

Mysterious Crop Circles: Alien Messages Or Hoax?

The hand of man i i

The hand of man oddsock/Flickr hide caption

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The hand of man

The hand of man

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In the wake of last week's post on the alien autopsy video, it seems pertinent to take on another "sign" of alien visitation or, perhaps, of paranormal phenomena, the mysterious crop circles that have spread across the world in the thousands since the late 1970s.

I'm sure many of you remember the 2002 blockbuster Signs, directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. "It can't be by hand, it's too perfect," said Rev. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), after inspecting a football-field sized pattern cut on his wheat crop. The movie grossed $408 million dollars worldwide. I watched it with my son and had a great time.

If you search "crop circles" on Google, you'll find some amazingly beautiful images, huge patterns of all kinds cut on crops, from symmetric mandala-looking circles to abstract symbols and even an alien face with a disk next to him, carrying some kind of image.

A documentary, Crop Circles: Quest for Truth, directed by William Gazecki, interviews several experts who are clearly puzzled by the whole thing, attributing it to aliens or supernatural phenomena. The preview opens with scary words: "How do you understand what can't be explained" ... "These things are footprints of intelligence," a voiceover later states. They are indeed.

This documentary should be contrasted with the enlightening one from National Geographic Channel, Crop Circles: Is it Real? or with the confessions of a crop circle designer, the author Matt Ridley, published in Scientific American in 2002 (Crop Circle Confession.) In his words:

The whole episode taught me two important lessons. First, treat all experts with skepticism and look out for their vested interests — many cerealogists made a pot of money from writing books and leading weeklong tours of crop circles, some costing more than $2,000 a person. Second, never underestimate the gullibility of the media. Even the Wall Street Journal published articles that failed to take the man-made explanation seriously.

As for the identity of those who created the complicated mathematical and fractal patterns that appeared in the mid-1990s, I have no idea. But Occam's razor suggests they were more likely to be undergraduates than aliens.

I'd add that fractals became popular at that time. The documentary by National Geographic explains how it's done.

The amazing thing is that even after the two pranksters that started it all in 1978, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, confessed their hoax demonstrating how easy it was to make the circles, the sheer number of them still gets to people: how could there be thousands of these things spread around the world? Surely, some may not have been man-made?

Believers remain unabated. Of course, no one has ever seen a non-human-made crop circle appear in front of a witness. It all happens in secrecy, at night, out of view. If the purpose of the circles is to convey some kind of message, wouldn't it make sense to have it happen in front of witnesses? ("Maybe we are not ready," some would say.)

And what's this message that's taking thousands of crop circles to write over 30 years? Either it's very complex or we are just plain stupid and can't get it. Thankfully, the aliens are patient teachers. Or, perhaps, some of our own brothers and sisters are having a good laugh and making good money at the expense of people's yearning to believe in what's not there.

Isn't there enough wonder in what exists?

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