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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I say, hoax or not, a lot of them are really cool geometric patterns.
Since the 1600s? I wasn't aware. Would you have a historic reference?

Wikipedia - the fast-food reference for everyone. ;-)

But the photo/article is well known and often cited as the earliest hard evidence of crop circles. In a fabulous mix of hoax and mysticism, they thought it was the Devil ... using a wooden plank.

It's art.
This is what physics students do when they are drunk and bored.
Then I'm pretty sure physics students can pass any field sobriety test ever concocted.
Nice Photoshop picture there to.

"Too." And actually the photo in the OP is an actual crop circle. Perhaps made by bored physics students, but nonetheless appeared in Milk Hill England in August 2001 and has become one of the most well-known and picked-apart circles.

Really talented, really bored physics students.

As with most, a Google search will come up with lots of pages out of the Woo corner of the Internet, and given its date of appearance, the extra added tin foil hats connections to 9/11.

But it's real. Or was before I imagine the farmer made what he could off the sight seers and repaired his crops.

Although photoshop enthusiasts ... forgot to add those to the list of potential suspects. As with so many things, I often wonder in this age of digital photo manipulation if we have lost the ability to authenticate any photos or video anymore? That might be a whole other thread...

BTW; The alien connection is supposedly the design their ships just happen to make when they land/take off/hover. So the question isn't why would they come here just to make pretty circles in some farmer's field, the question, as has always been the case with aliens, is why do they only land/take off/appear when there's no one around to see it or film it?

That and are they hot aliens like in Star Trek or gooey monster ones like the bar scene in Star Wars? But that too is another thread...
And why only in crop fields? Why not other places? Are there other places other than crop fields with amazing geometrical designs?

I imagine it's mostly in crops because it's the easiest medium to work in?

They also occasionally show up in snow.

Even more rarely, ice. But weirdly, those appear to have a solid scientific explanation.
I'm curious too about the 1600 incident, with the Mowing Devil; and what happened afterwards. did the circles all just stop and then suddenly reappear again centuries later, and if so, why?

Supposedly there have been scattered reports of it happening many times between 1600 and now. But very scattered and often just that "I woke up and some of my crops were flat." Without airplanes, that's all you would see.

"Supposedly." Very scattered reports that I've seen.
Since we know that it's possible for ordinary humans using simple implements to create crop circles that have stymied myriad researchers and prompted claims of inexplicable phenomena, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all hoaxes (rogue art, if we are ina charitable mood). Once you tip over the first few inductive dominoes, you don't really need to examine them all. It's sort of like saying, "Well, sure, some, maybe most, computer viruses are human artifacts, but how do we know for sure that some of them don't have supernatural or extraterrestrial origins?" The answer is that the question is rendered moot by the evidence to date. Why ask the question in the absence of a compelling new reason?
True Jason, though it is claimed** that some crop circles have very clear evidence of hoaxing while some have distinct characteristics that have yet to be reproduced or explained.

**"Claimed." Again, it's like science is afraid to delve into it even just to prove them all hoaxes.

The best I've seen was a documentary years ago where a group of MIT students attempted to not only make a circle, but recreate the 'real circle' conditions of wheat within the circle having cellular and node distortion while the plants inches outside the circle were unchanged.

The design itself they recreated easily enough with of course wooden planks and a lot of design planning.

The changes to the plant structure however they were only able to recreate in the lab with microwaves. When they tried to reproduce the effects in the field however it proved too daunting. The time it would take to do the entire design, with the kind of precision needed (this plant must be altered but the one 3 inches away from it must not) and the amount of power needed in a remote field with no electricity (and of course at night, without light, without waking Farmer Brown) was more work than they had time and grant money to do.

Which might only mean that some of the hoaxers are very rich physics students with too much time on their hands. ;-)
Hmm. "Changes to the plant structure" sounds wooish to me. Do we mean "bent over stalks"? Distruption of DNA? What? I'm mostly going on the debunking articles I've seen over the years in Skeptical Inquirer. Many of the specific crop circles that contained phenomena which supposedly stumped researchers turned out to be hoaxes made with planks and rope. My impression is that crop circle believers are easily, if not willingly, stumped.

It's a lot like ghost hunting. "Well, the four million ghost sightings we've looked into have all been nonsense, but maybe the next one will be genuine." I hate to be a wet blanket, but...
Changes to plant structure* such as elongation or bending specifically at the node of the plant or expulsion cavities in the node (literally, the plant explodes from the inside out). Seedlings from within the circle grow differently than those outside the circle when re-planted.

*Yes, the link I provide is a group that is overall spilling over into the woo-woo side. But lots of googling and I've yet to find the debunking that doesn't just say "Sounds like horse-poo" but rather, "I went and took samples from the same place and here are my findings..."

Once again, I'm not saying "OMG! It has to be aliens/supernatural crop sprites!" From an armchair scientific standpoint, I've seen groups that are into the woo, but also engage in some solid science. Like the whole notion of UFO = space aliens. By definition, UFO means "Unidentified." One doesn't have to buy into the alien-woo to still be curious about something unidentified. Was it a really well staged hoax? Or is there something natural happening that we just haven't seen yet? Or a little of both?

Instead, we end up with an unfortunate competition between New Agers bound and determined to prove it a woo-woo thing, and scientists just as biased in their pre-determination in proving it a complete hoax. With no one saying, "Hey, let's just look at the evidence without assuming a conclusion one way or another."

Consider the Shroud of Turin. Best doc I saw on it, they made a HUGE point of telling the science team not to come to any conclusions and put aside pre-conceptions. They weren't there to prove or disprove anything. Simply analyze and report. As a result, though still proven a hoax, they did a more thorough study and learned a lot more about it then if they'd simply gone in with the goal of proving it a hoax ... which is no less objective than the New Agers.

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