Crop Circles. Wait! Don't kick me off Nexus just yet!



Before you even read this post, before I even post it, I can hear the furious tapping of hundreds of angry Atheist fingers on keyboards ready to damn me for uttering such profanity. The mods were all just awoken by a Potential-Theist-Woo-Woo Alarm going off.

I must admit, I do love just saying the phrase "Crop Circles" for the emotional and jump-to-conclusions reactions I get.

"Nonsense! There's no such thing as aliens!" Did I say there was?

"All proven hoaxes! The hoax team Doug and Dave admitted to being behind it all!" All of them? All 400 or so each year? Starting in the 1600's? Without ever being caught? On multiple continents in the same day? Because dude, I soooo want whatever sonic-speed jet they apparently have.

"All New Age hooey!" New Agers are also really into pyramids. Doesn't mean the pyramids of Egypt are complete fakes* or unworthy of non-New Agey study. (*Though I doubt the pyramids are capable of all the magical powers New Agers tend to ascribe to them).

Many a crop circle has been shown to be pranksters with wooden boards. Many have been so elaborate - no tell-tale marks of human involvement, alteration of the plants down to the cellular level - as to make guys-with-wooden-planks-and-too-much-time-on-their-hands a stretch at best. Most are never given any serious investigation.

In fact, google it and it's hard to find any credible scientific journal or website saying much of anything at all. Like I would tell people on my tours of the Sedona "Vortexes," there's little scientific study of them because, well, there are few scientists doing the studying. If there's 'no evidence' because no one has looked for the evidence...

Yet, there they are. Crop Circles. Defying conventional wisdom. So they can only be either hoaxes or wildly supernatural (usually space aliens). Or ... god(s)? My first of two questions here:

1) Why are the Theists not all over Crop Circles as evidence of god(s)?

Here you have a phenomena which in some cases is a hell of a lot harder to explain as hoax, coincidence, or an optical illusion than Jesus-on-grilled-cheese. If the Virgin Mary appearing in your dog's ass is solid evidence of God, surely a quarter-mile or so geometric formation with all kinds of tantalizing supernatural clues (whether exaggerated by witnesses or not), would be sufficient proof of the ... well ... supernatural? Yet the mystical allure of Crop Circles seem to have been co-opted exclusively by the crystal crunchers.

My personal theory is simple: They're Crop Circles, not Crop Crosses. Or Crop Stars of David (though I think one of those has appeared). Or Crop Images Of Muhammad (take that you paranoid Danish freaks). God itself can appear in a church, in a hail of fire and brimstone, with every miracle trick in the book, and if it's not what the pewsitters expect/want to see, they'll explain it away as a cruel trick.

2) Why do Crop Circles scare the normal people?

So the Theists are ambivalent at best because it isn't their god(s) doing the talking. But it seems that Atheists and skeptics seem to feel the same way. The phenomena has been so heavily associated with UFOs and New Age pyramid power, there's an automatic dismissal.

The realist in me is nowhere near so arrogant as to say we have, as of 2010, discovered everything there is to discover.

The science nerd in me looks at something like Crop Circles, knowing that at least some are confirmed hoaxes, looks at the rest with a skeptical is-this-one-a-hoax-as-well? eye, but is also open to the possibility that there's something going on we simply haven't discovered yet.

Yet, the phrase itself is so emotionally charged, I wonder if there will ever be any truly objective research. The New Agers go into it already having pre-concluded it is some mystical woo-woo energy. The Scientists go into it already having pre-concluded that it is horseshit. Is it really such a scary idea that to whatever extent, we are seeing bits of phenomena that we simply haven't put a scientific label on yet?

Discuss. ;-)

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Thanks for the link, Jo, but it's fairly self-incriminating for the folks that posted it. The photos look like...wait for it...bent grass stalks that kept growing after they were bent. That's what happens to grass that gets stepped on. And you don't need microwaves to get grass stalks to blow out like that. You just bend them, maybe with a little twist. As might be applied with a plank going around a curve in a design in a crop circle. The most telling bit of nonsense is that their laboratory experiments were conducted with a microwave. Uh-uh. If you want to see if these effects are possible via mundane mechanisms, go out in a field and try some mundane mechanisms. They admitted in the link you posted that farmers sometimes see the same effects produced more "chaotically", ie, not in a crop circle design, but randomly damaged, like perhaps a hailstorm might do. But what conclusion do they leap to? The same kind of microwave energy must sometimes occur "chaotically", rather than in patterns. These people have a conclusion firmly in mind, and simply can't think of any other possible explanations. That's a profound failure of imagination.

Looking at the evidence without assuming a conclusion one way or the other is exactly what scientists have done with all manner of woo...the first thousand times or so. After they discover that the particular strain of woo is a hoax/mistake/nonsense, they stop looking. Fool me a thousand times, shame on you. Fool me a thousand and one times, shame on me. Seriously, it's very, very difficult to take seriously the same stupid woo claim that has already been thoroughly debunked. OK, maybe this time the phenomenon is real, but that's not the way to bet. Or a productive use of a scientist's time.

How many times do we have to show that dowsing doesn't work before we stop investigating new claims that dowsing works? How many times do we have to see crop circles that are later admitted to be hoaxes to just write them all off as hoaxes? Do you faithfully forward all the chain letters you get in email? Just in case this one turns out to be real? It sounds very open-minded and egalitarian, but really, really, really, perpetual-motion machines are bunk. UFOs are airplanes, or Venus, or highway flares on balloons. Crop circles are hoaxes. You're welcome to waste your time investigating them, if only to add another coffin nail, but don't scientists have better things to do? Maybe this would be a good exercise for high-school science classes, but I'd rather the professionals were more productively engaged.
Ok, so far we have "Aliens don't exist!" (I still didn't say they do) and "physics students with way too much time on their hands." And I do agree that hoax or not, some are amazingly beautiful and mind-boggling to gaze at.

I still say the fact that Theists everywhere aren't claiming them as evidence of deity is primarily because they don't 'say' what the Theists expect/want to hear.

Which leads to one of my fundamental problems with Theism: If only things-you-want-or-expect-to-hear are god-speak, and things you don't expect or want to hear are not, how can god(s) ever give you bad news you don't want to hear?

Must say, as a kid this was one of the greatest paradoxes as well.

"Creepy Carl says he heard the voice of God!"

"No he didn't. He's just deluded."

"How do you know?"

"Well, (some elaborate dissertation that translates as "I don't like what Carl says God said")."

"So the litmus test for whether something is the voice of God or a delusion is whether or not YOU like it?"

And yes, as a kid the Crop Circle paradox bugged me then too. Someone sees a shadow on a glacier and poof, it is absolutely, irrefutably the remains of Noah's Ark. The Shroud of Turin can't possibly be anyone's burial shroud because it's a two dimensional image, which you can't get by wrapping it around a three dimensional object, plus a horde of other clues that scream 'hoax.' Yet the faithful are undeterred.

Yet a Crop Circle, of enormous complexity, that to the naked eye seems improbable that anyone could achieve it on the first try (notice you never see the practice ones), in the dark, at night, without waking the farmer or anyone else, and causing structural changes to the plants that so far I've only seen replicated at MIT by taking huge, noisy, microwave machinery with obscene amounts of power drain, and the Xians aren't latching onto it as godless Atheist grasping at straws in the face of an obvious miracle?

Because it isn't an ark and doesn't look like Jesus.
I just find it interesting that while every other science rag has something explaining away ghosts or second-sight, so very little attention has been given to crop circles. Even in the context of hoaxes, it's like trying to figure out a magician's trick; some of them are so incredibly elaborate and leave such intriguing clues, I'd think for every bored physics student creating one, there would be nine more descending on each one to reverse-engineer it and figure out how it was done.

Though some give away the geek factor of the designer more than others...

I for one welcome our new alian overlords!
this one KILLED me!
This is my new photoshop challenge - create an image that looks like a field that has been 'crop circled' to look like a piece of toast with the image of jesus in it.
Howard, that would be awesome. But why photoshop it? Why not do it for real?

Oh wait, the Real Christians(tm) would be impressed enough by the photoshop and it would be less work. What was I thinking?
perfect.
I'd love to see a Charles Darwin.

"Hey, look! God has spoken! Darwin was right!"

Ok, here's another one to consider: The lines and glyphs at Nazca, Peru. Thousands of years old, many so big can only be made out from an airplane or ridiculously high, well-placed tower.

Photo Source: NASA

They're real. They're there. Undoubtedly human-made, but how and to what purpose since we assume they didn't have airplanes 2,000 years ago? Towards the bottom of the first link I provide, it links to a YouTube video titled ... wait for it ... "Did Aliens Create the Nazca Lines?"

Arrrrggghhhh....

Once more, why aliens? Why is it we have this fabulous ancient culture phenomena and every google search comes up crystal dreams and aliens? Yeah, let's jump to the most out-there imaginative conclusions possible so as to scare away the real scientists from doing any real study on it. Why can't we just study it for what it is? "Hey, here's something we haven't seen before. What a cool new puzzle."

Like Theism, is it really so hard for people to go into a question without a pre-determined answer in mind? Is it really so hard to study a phenomena or an artifact or a culture without bringing all the preconceived notions of what you hope or expect to find? To some extent, yes. That's how science works. "I have a hypothesis that this legend is really talking about a volcano. So I've come to this location to see if there's any evidence of it." But can we do that without twisting the evidence into oblivion until it fits our hypothesis? Can we just take soil samples and see what they say and then determine if it's volcanic?

Sorry 'bout the rant. It just really bugs me. As I have just today enrolled in college to work on my 2nd degree - Anthropology - maybe I've found a whole new niche for the Discovery Channel. Not pro-supernatural, not everything-is-a-total-hoax, but discovery for the sake of discovery?
Imagine if you will....

These people were like the castaway stranded on a desert island - in that they believed the 'gods' were in the sky (see: weather, lighting, etc.) and wanted to communicate with them (like the castaway wishes to communicate with a passing airplane.)

The castaway may figure out how to write S.O.S. in the sand of the beach in letters too large for him to read - by doing a drafting translation. If they had figured out how to do an enlargement from on small scale to another - they could have just extrapolated the technique. After all, Paris was laid out like a wheel long before anyone could actually see it as such. However, it was visualized as such when it was laid out.

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