The Reality of High Strangeness

Just How Unexplainable Can This World Be?

The late British biologist, mathematician, and all around polymath, J.B.S. Haldane (1892–1964) once famously remarked: “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” As it turns out, this may be an understatement. The very basic nature of reality is almost certainly very different from what most people are programmed (yes, programmed) to believe. In fact, reality is so strange, so confusing, that human beings, in what passes for our normal state of consciousness, may never be capable of understanding it. Furthermore, reality may not even be completely rational. The evidence for this lies in events possessing the quality of “high strangeness,” events that seem to contradict the standard atheist/materialist/logical positivist model foisted upon us by the movers and shakers of the world but, in addition, simply make no sense no matter how we look at them.

Before looking at some of these events, it will be helpful to understand what materialism is, and its opposite (idealism), and the reasons for believing that philosophical idealism is the correct model. Materialists believe that the prime reality is matter, or, in the parlance of modern physics, mass/energy/space/time… the observable, measurable physical universe. Consciousness is a mere secondary manifestation of matter, with the brain being a kind of electrochemical computer. Materialists cannot really define matter. Idealists believe that the prime reality is thought/mind/spirit/ soul/consciousness—I use these terms interchangeably and have no patience with hair-splitting distinctions—and that the mind thinks or imagines the physical universe (and probably a great deal more). And we cannot define mind. As evidence for this view, consider how you perceive physical reality. If, for example, you see a table, you cannot be truly, absolutely certain that the table (or the light reflecting from it, or your eyes, or your brain) exists separately from your thoughts. All you know, all anyone knows, is that you think you see the table. In other words, the only thing any of us can be absolutely certain of is that mind, or thought, is real.

Now to the events generally considered examples of high strangeness, events beyond even most UFO sightings or paranormal events. Many accounts of so-called UFO abductions fall into this category, including the famous Betty and Barney Hill case. Let us assume, for the sake of argument that their experience was “real,” that is, they were not lying, and the events did not exist only in their own minds. There seems to have been some kind of “signal” from some consciousness beyond them. After all, for two or more people to hallucinate the same event, there would have to be some telepathic connection between them, an idea as objectionable to materialists as a real paranormal event.

Bear in mind that UFO sightings, and abductions in particular, may involve a good deal of deception by the “abducting” entity, and the individuals involved will color it with their own preconceived notions. For example, someone might encounter a paranormal entity pretending to be an alien, and/or the experiencer may, infected as most of us are with a materialist bias, choose unconsciously to perceive it as a physical being from another planet. One thing I would like to point out about Betty and Barney Hill, and it is a point that no one else seems to have raised—they saw the “spacecraft” at night and could see “aliens” in the brightly lighted interior through a window. Who drives around at night with no headlights but with the interior dome light of their car on? Physical aliens would be unable to see out; clearly, this was a display of some kind which the Hills were meant to see. It is little known, but after the events of that night, the Hills, like many abductees, continued to suffer from strange, nonsensical events, seemingly paranormal in nature. Coats left in the closet would be found on the floor; clocks would start and stop; and electrical appliances would cease to function and later “repair” themselves. The Hills claimed that their phone was tapped, their apartment broken into, and that Betty was followed by unknown individuals. The subject of government involvement (if that is what this was) is beyond the scope of this article.

The late ufologist Albert K. Bender claimed that he was threatened by three ‘men in black,’ or MIB. He also said that there was what appeared to be poltergeist activity in his house and the smell of sulfur (or could it have been ozone?)—a smell which religious people associate with demonic entities. He claimed that MIB with glowing eyes would materialize in his house, and that they once teleported him to an underground base in Antarctica. Many Atlantis Rising readers are no doubt familiar with the rumors (never proven) of Nazi bases there. Being the word of only one man, there is no way to know if he was telling the truth, hallucinating, or outright lying; but why would anyone invent a hoax so seemingly absurd that scarcely anyone would be likely to believe it?

Perhaps the all-time strangest UFO account is the one by two men, David Stephens and Glen Gray, who roomed together in Norway, Maine. They claimed that in October of 1975, they went for a drive at three in the morning. Who would want to do that? If their story is true (and, again, there is no proof), we might well wonder if they were compelled by something outside themselves to go on the drive. I would also point out, that some paranormal researchers believe that the true “witching hour” does not begin just after midnight but two or three hours later. They claimed that something took control of their car and drove them down a dirt road at, it seemed, well over 100 miles per hour. Then the car stopped in a field, and they saw a hovering cylindrical object with bright lights. They drove off, lost and regained consciousness, and the object followed them, accompanied by other glowing objects, and their car stalled. (Sometimes this is reported in UFO close encounters.) Then a nearby pond suddenly expanded to (it seemed) the size of a great lake or ocean. (If it was still dark, how could they tell?) A fog engulfed them, but they were able to restart their car and drive home. Later, in the trailer they shared, they heard something walk across the roof, and they saw spheres, black cubes, and “snowflakes” flying through the sky, and even through the walls of their trailer. They saw “golden wires” above their television.

Again, mass or shared hallucinations are nearly impossible to explain with conventional thinking. A hoax is quite possible, but, as with Bender and the Hills, why tell a story so seemingly absurd that it will not be believed? Once we accept the concept of physical idealism, it becomes apparent that reality may not be binary, off and on, real or unreal, but analog. There may be different degrees and even kinds of reality. A vague mental image may be less real than a vivid dream, and that may be less real than our waking perceptions of the world around us, and there may well be even higher levels of reality. Perhaps these two young men, maybe influenced by some other mind, some paranormal entity, slipped into a kind of alternate reality. British ufologist Jenny Randles calls the altered state of reality experienced by some UFO and paranormal witnesses the “Oz factor.” Some of these experiencers feel calm, but detached from the “real” world. Many feel uneasy or even depressed, and some report that daylight seems dimmed and sounds are muffled.

Then there are the cases of people who seem to become displaced in time, or to travel to a parallel universe or some alternate reality, and then return to our time and our world (some may never return). Perhaps the most famous case of “time travel” was that reported by two English women, an event that took place on August 10, 1901. Anne Moberley and Eleanor Jourdain were visiting Versailles, just outside Paris, and suddenly realized that they were lost: none of the landmarks looked familiar. They had a strange, oppressive feeling, and sounds seemed muffled. It may or may not be significant that the day had been hot and overcast, with lightning and thunder. They saw a deserted farmhouse and an old plow and met two men in eighteenth century attire who gave them directions to the Petite Trianon. They encountered two more people, then Anne (but not Eleanor) saw a woman sketching a picture; she resembled paintings of Marie Antoinette. They crossed a bridge that was no longer there in 1901, but had been there in 1789, and they saw a footman emerge from a door that had been sealed shut for many years. They also saw a rather sinister-appearing man with a pockmarked face, who resembled the Comte De Vaudreuil, an enemy of Marie Antoinette. At some point they transitioned back to 1901 and “ordinary” reality. A hoax or hallucination, again, is possible but unlikely. Time travel into our own past would allow paradoxes (the killing of one’s own grandfather is a commonly mentioned example) if free will exists. If there is no free will and everything is fated, it may be possible; or if time travelers go, not into our own past, but the past of some parallel reality closely resembling our own. Even some physicists suspect that reality may branch, every instant, into multiple possibilities, multiple timelines.

A similar story, impossible to prove beyond any doubt, was reported by Tim Schwartz in his article “On the Edge of Time: The Mystery of Time Slips” on A Mr. Squirrel, in 1973, bought some envelopes in a stationery store in Yarmouth, U.K., and noticed that the shop lady wore Edwardian clothing. Three weeks later, he returned to the same shop, which appeared to have been remodeled, and a different clerk assured him that no one resembling the Edwardian woman worked there. His envelopes gradually disintegrated, as if they were very old, and he learned from the manufacturer that the brand had been discontinued for some 15 years.

A famous report of a trip to a parallel universe was reported by Mike Dash in Borderlands (Dell Books, 2000). A British civil engineer working in Iran in the mid-1950s was returning to Tehran from a job in Manjil, near the Caspian Sea. He and his Iranian colleague came to a village (one that really exists in our reality) and entered the Iranian equivalent of a truck stop, run by an Armenian named Havanessian, where they had soup, kebabs, and coffee. The bill was unusually low, and there was something strange about the atmosphere of the place. Three months later he and a fellow Englishman returned to the village, but the “truck stop” was nowhere to be found, and the villagers insisted that it had never existed.

In October 1979, the ITV program Strange but True told of two British couples, the Simpsons and the Gisbys, motoring together across France to Spain. They stayed and ate a meal at an old hotel, but on their return journey could not find it, even though they took the same route. Stranger still, the photographs they had taken there vanished. If they ate and slept there, the place had some kind of reality, but how to explain the disappearing pictures? Parallel universes are strange enough, but did something play tricks on their minds and cause them merely to imagine taking pictures; or, stranger still, did some intelligent entity destroy the evidence of their experience? If we can slip into alternate realities or travel in time, could we somehow train our minds to do so at will? But, if someone traveled to an alternate reality very similar to this one, would he meet a duplicate of himself?

Borderlands, in 1970, reported that a silvery thread appeared over the home of a Mr. and Mrs. A.P. Smith in Caldwell, New Jersey, and that it hung from the sky for days. On August 31, there was a loud crashing sound and the thread fell from the sky. It appeared to be ordinary nylon fishing line, although, so far as is known, it was never analyzed. Neighbors and police reportedly witnessed this. In September 1978, per the St. Louis Post Dispatch, one John Wright in Greensburg, Ohio, saw a similar thread extending from a bush behind his house into the sky. He hauled in perhaps 1,000 feet; then the line (also, apparently, nylon fishing line) broke, and the rest of it floated off into the sky. The simplest explanation would seem to be that someone, for some reason, had attached helium balloons to fishing line, but the balloons would have been visible to someone—and why were the balloons and lines not simply carried away by the wind? Bear in mind that for the balloon to be far away and hard to see, it would have to be larger to hold the greater length of line, so it would still be visible to someone. The sheer, irrational absurdity of all this is its strangest aspect. Are there trickster spirits, like the ones of legend and folklore?

The late Charles Fort and others have extensively documented falls of stones, ice, fish, frogs, blood, meat, plant matter, etc., from the sky. In Chico, California, in August, 1878, stones fell for weeks in one area; meteors cannot do this due to the fact that the earth is orbiting the sun and spinning on its axis. Warm stones resembling flint fell on Charleston, South Carolina, on September 4, 1886, at 2:30 AM, 7:30 AM, and 1:30 PM. Toads fell from a thick cloud in Toulouse, France, in August 1804. And, of course, there is the manna reported in the book of Exodus. At least some of the “blood” may be rain mixed with dust, and perhaps ice meteorites may fall and slow down in the lower atmosphere before they are completely melted, although this seems improbable. And remember that many of the reports of falling ice took place before the advent of air travel. Tornadoes or waterspouts may account for some of the plant matter, fish, and frogs, but why are these “tornadoes” usually never seen, and why are they often so selective, picking up only one kind of fish or frog? Again, the absurdity of it all is its most disturbing aspect.

If idealism is the correct model for reality, it means that, for most of us to perceive (usually) more or less the same reality, our individual minds must be connected (I won’t address the theological aspects of this). So what we perceive is a kind of consensus reality. Could this consensus sometimes, somehow, break down, or sometimes be altered by trickster spirits or by the irrational dreams of people or spirits? At this point, there are no answers, but perhaps it is time for us at least to begin asking the questions.

By William B. Stoecker