This is it, my dear Coppertops! The conclusion to my personal account of the Paradigm Symposium. If you haven't checked out the earlier 3 parts yet click here, here and here. Let's jack into it, shall we?
Even though the symposium had surpassed all my expectations, especially in light of the setbacks that had loomed over Paradigm even before it officially started --which I briefly discussed on part 1-- by Sunday morning there was an undeniable tinge of sadness in the air. Sadness over the fact that we all knew our gathering of kindred spirits was coming to an end. At the Woman's club, the vendors were starting the task of gathering up part of their wares and packing them in boxes, while some of the attendees were giving one last look to the books still exhibited on the tables.
When it was time for the 1st presentation of the day, we all convened at our favorite spots on the auditorium, which after 3 days already had a sense of comfortable familiarity --not too mention a few pieces of trash littering some of the seats. Scotty took the microphone and thanked all of us, because without our participation the continuity of Paradigm would simply not be possible. Even though the "big 'S' skeptics" (and a few questionable journalists) were convinced that the conference was only a money-making scheme to take advantage of us, the gullible individuals who attended just to reinforce our belief system, the fact of the matter is that setting up an event like this is in truth a labor of love, demanding a lot of effort and devotion from the organizers; yet it was a worth-while endeavor because of the fruits that Paradigm reaps: A sense of kinship between people seeking answers to the same questions, and new directions that our personal journeys could take once we went back home, thanks to the information shared during the presentations and the informal gatherings at the hotel bar.
Paradigm is more than a symposium. It's a salon of curiosity-driven souls.
After the brief thanks, and the announcement that tickets for next year would be already available at a discount for the attendees, we proceeded with the scheduled program.
It's no secret that The Mouth from the South is one of my closest friends in the wacky world of the Fortean blogosphere, yet the reason this is the case is because Micah is also one of the thinkers I respect the most in this field. He's not only articulate in expressing his ideas --a talent he's employed to become a radio personality-- but like myself has a wide range of interests, and he's not afraid of adopting the 'excluded middle' stance, raising the hackles of both the snarky skeptics AND the true believers.
Our respect for each other is so great, that we don't have to agree with each other 100% in every single stance.
If I'm making you aware of all this is because I want to let you know about my bias --yes, people interested in this field have a right to a bias; it's called being human. The trick is being AWARE of your bias, in order to keep it in check-- when I state that, in this luchador's opinion, Micah gave one of the best presentations in the whole symposium. And yet I'd bet that even people who are not as close to Micah as I am would agree.
The topic he chose was one of the most famous cases in the annals of UFOlogy: The disappearance of Frederick Valentich, the young Australian pilot who on the night of October 21st 1978, flew over the Bass Strait en-route to King Island off the coast of Tasmania in a Cessna 182L, and after a brief transmission with the air traffic controllers in Melbourne in which he described a large, glowing object following him --which the controllers were not able to detect on their radars-- his voice was followed by a long-lasting metallic sound. To this day, both Valentich and his plane were never seen again.
After an official investigation by the Australian government, rivers of ink and countless hours have been spent speculating about the whereabouts of Valentich --whom most presume to be dead-- and what really transpired on that ominous night. For the true believers in UFOlogy, Valentich was abducted by extraterrestrial beings, perhaps to conduct horrible experiments on him, and there's even a chance he may one day be returned. The skeptics on the other hand have tried every single trick under their sleeves to discredit Valentich and the case; "he was an unskilled and reckless pilot" they say, "who should have never flown all by himself at night, and most likely got disoriented and crashed while flying upside-down." The (in)famous UFO debunker Philip Klass went even so far as to accuse Valentich of being a drug smuggler(!) in order to explain why he traveled unaccompanied while carrying an extra life jacket. A rather cowardly thing to do, since Valentich wasn't able to defend himself from these malignant speculations --And make no mistake, my dear Coppertops: Most 'skeptics' indulge in speculation just as much as people in the believer camp; but since they pretend to invoke Occam's razor in their arguments, they believe THEIR negative speculations have more merit than the ones intended to support the phenomena they so adamantly reject.
As Micah reminded the audience, between Belief and Skepticism lies the thin sliver of Truth that we must strive to pursue.
For you see, friends. The one thing that armchair researchers fighting over Valentich on both camps failed to do, was the most basic one in any type of investigation: Trying to contact the people who knew him personally, and were closest to him. Which is what Micah ended up doing, due to a set of serendipitous circumstances... of which I played a small part, I might add.
It all started in late June of 2012, when Australian UFOlogist Keith Basterfield announced on his blog that the official report produced by the Australian government for Valentich's disappearance was now available online. I decided to play the part of "UFO investigator," and spent a whole Saturday afternoon downloading and perusing over the loooong (292 pages) and boooring (some pages were illegible handwritten notes) file. Most of it went over my head --details over the mechanics of the Cessna, weather reports, radar reports, etc. But the most interesting things in it were the interviews conducted on the people who knew Valentich the most; his closest friends, his parents and his girlfriend.
The file painted a picture of Valentich that was not what I'd expected: Not very bright intellectually, and not a "Friday-night type" individual with something of a chip on his shoulder, over the fact that he was always trying to prove himself to others. He had failed his piloting tests and hadn't told anyone, and --most interesting of all-- Frederick had an ongoing interest on UFOs; he even had a UFO encounter with his mom once, and read Chariots of the Gods --and let's not forget that 1978 was the year when Spielberg's Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind was released.
All in all, the official report was redacted in a way that suggested the possibility that Valentich was depressed over the fact that he wasn't going to be able to fulfill his dreams to become an airline pilot, and that might have caused him to become suicidal; so perhaps he planned his demise by fabricating a UFO sighting --remember how the radar never picked on any unidentified target near his plane-- so he would always be remembered.
I remember e-mailing Micah about the things I'd found on the file, since I knew how interested he was on this particular case, and how the thing that captivated me the most was his girlfriend Rhonda, telling the investigators how once the subject of UFOs came up during one of their conversations, and Frederick told her:
"If a UFO landed in front of me now, I would go in it, but never without you."
I never understood how much this simple phrase affected Micah emotionally, until I listened to the song he wrote a year later.
Cool song, right? Well, what's even cooler is that thanks to Micah's musical homage to Valentich, his "long lost" former girlfriend and fianceé got in contact with my buddy. As he showed the audience a photo of Rhonda today with her husband, Micah told us how he had a very long and deep conversation with this incredible woman, and how she helped him get the REAL picture of who Frederick Valentich was, which was rather different from the profile painted by the official report.
"He liked dancing, he was always joking and always well-dressed," Rhonda said about her lost love. She also confirmed what I'd read in the report; namely, that on the night of his disappearance she was to go with him on the plane --putting into doubt the theory that he was planning to take his own life... unless you want to see Valentich as either an impulsive suicidal or a calculating psychopath-- and in fact she had flown with him many, many times; Frederick was fond of performing acrobatics, and despite his possible academic limitations, he was in fact a very skilled pilot.
Oh, and that 'theory' that perhaps he was flying upside down and the green UFO was a reflection in the ocean? Not only is the Cessna gravity-fueled --meaning the engine would simply STOP if you flew upside down-- but Rhonda confirmed the obvious: you know you're flying upside down because you feel it in your gut and your head.
There were some holes in the story she couldn't fill in though; for instance, she didn't know why he said he was supposed to take crayfish on the plane, since Frederick didn't have any friends on King Island. And Rhonda also told Micah that the Air Traffic Control operator never told her what he thought it happened that night. But what she could tell Micah, is that years after the incident, she met again with one of her interviewers for the official report; he was very polite and friendly, and conveyed to her the idea that in the tape recording of the dialogue between Valentich and Melbourne's Air Traffic control --which was destroyed despite the attempts of many people to acquire a copy of it-- there was more dialog AFTER the 17 seconds of metal-scraping sounds.
Rhonda also told Micah that Valentich's parents were writing a book about their son, but the manuscript was stolen from their home.
Micah ended his presentation by asking the audience to always be open-minded and critical, and never take ANYTHING as gospel. As can be seen from all the new information he managed to learn with his conversations with Rhonda, the final word on Valentich's disappearance hasn't been written; perhaps it'll never be. As for myself, what I liked the most about Micah's presentation is that it wasn't about Valentich, the famous UFO case, but about Frederick, the person. A young man who had a whole life ahead of him, who loved and was loved, and who left a huge hole in the lives of all the people who were close to him; a hole in which both the true believers and the noisy negativists have poured a lot of nonsense and vitriol, without taking a moment to think how that might affect those for which Valentich was more than a footnote in the annals of UFOlogy.
Next up in the program was Nick Redfern, the prolific punk-rocker of the Fortean field. Like Micah, Nick has been a regular staple of Paradigm since year 1, but given how he writes about 2 or 3 books each month or so, he's always guaranteed to bring fresh material.
Thus, the theme of his presentation was "Close Encounter of the Fatal Kind," referring to his latest work published by New Page Books, which deals with all the strange deaths and misfortunes that seem to surround the UFO field. From the two Army officers who died when their plane crashed after they went on to investigate the infamous Maury Island UFO incident, the bizarre 'suicide' of James Forrestal, to the controversial story of the 'nurse' who was a friend of Glenn Dennis --the Roswell mortician who came into the limelight in the 1990's, when he told his story of receiving a call from the Army base requesting 'child-sized caskets' and was asked about methods to embalm corpses that had been exposed in the desert-- Nick's presentation was an all-encompassing overview of the US modern history of UFOs, and a creepy reminder that sometimes this 'hobby' of ours can have dire consequences.
For me, it was simply amazing to watch Nick leaning on the stage podium, nonchalantly delivering to the audience all these names and dates, without EVER checking his notes (if he had any). This guy's the real deal folks, whether you like what he's written about Roswell or not.
Of course, with the dozens of suspicious deaths and 'accidents' that have plagued all the people who may or may not have come in contact with the 'UFO truth', the obvious question is whether Nick himself is worried about his own safety. Interestingly enough, he claims not to be worried in the slightest, firstly because his public visibility gives him a certain protection --although one does wonder how much visibility a UFO 'celebrity' actually is, when compared to say, Grumpy Cat-- and also the fact that Nick only deals with official documents that have been declassified and are now publicly available. So Nick's personal safety seems to be guaranteed --his computer however, well... that's for another discussion.
"Should we be concerned to what we might find?" Nick asked the audience. The answer, he says, is that the risks should push us forward to seek out the answers; not doing so would be a disservice for all the people who gave up their lives in trying to find the truth about the UFO phenomenon.
An awesome presentation by Nick, whom I suspect finished another chapter of his new book while the audience was clapping.
During the whole of Paradigm symposium the name 'Göbekli Tepe' was mentioned some 10 or 20 times, and rightly so since it's turned out to be one of the most ground-breaking archeological discoveries of the last 50 years, promising to re-write everything we think we know about the beginnings of human civilization. The site in modern-day Turkey was the main the main theme of Andrew Collins' presentation since he's just published a rather lengthy book in the subject, published by Inner Traditions.
Andrew was definitely one of my favorite speakers this year, possibly because of the 'novelty' of the things he had to say about GT. Last year Robert Schoch spent some minutes discussing the site on his presentation, but never at the depth reached by Andrew. And also what surprised me the most, is that Andrew's ideas were not really that radical; in fact, much of what he had to say about the Younger Dryas --the possible cometary impact that caused a sudden cooling in the world climate followed by huge floods after the ice caps melted, and how these global cataclysms might have triggered a sense of 'Catastrophobia' in the human survivors, which might have compelled them to build a site like GT as a center in which rituals would be celebrated that would keep the world safe and the heavens in balance-- all of this sounds not only plausible... but logical.
And it also seems quite plausible that many of the symbols and archetypes that were used by the builders of GT are still prevalent to this day. The comet's tail, linked to the Trickster Fox. Snakes as active symbols of poisons, but also embodying the spirit of Medicine. The Trident as harbinger of Doom, possibly a hint to the 3-tailed comet that was seen in the sky as an omen of bad luck. It almost seems as if the trauma of that long-forgotten calamity was still reverberating in the genetic memory of the whole human race.
Andrew continued on with his exposition of the Cosmo-vision of what he thinks the builders of GT had. The importance of the constellation Cygnus for the people living in that era, their reverie of vultures as 'guardians' or 'portals' to "the other side." And then he came into the kind of things that orthodox historians might REALLY frown their nose on: The suggestion that the myth of the Anunnaki was not based on ancient aliens, but in a race of Human/Neanderthal hybrids who became the priest elite of GT and other pre-Neolithic sites in eastern Anatolia. Thus, the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden was not the apple but wheat, the golden plant that kickstarted the Neolithic revolution and transformed human nomads into farmers.
To me it's a tantalizing idea, and not that impossible considering how I myself pondered on the same things some years ago on my own blog. We have this engrained idea that the Neanderthals and all the other hominids that at one point in the past shared the planet with us, were somehow 'more primitive' simply because they didn't manage to survive and we did. But IMO that's not only simplistic but unfair.
Indeed, it was one hell of a presentation and I encourage you to pick up Andrew's book --I myself am still in the middle of it, and hopefully next year I'll be able to write a full review.
Once again, Jim Harold functioned as moderator for what would be the last open panel of the symposium. Personally, it felt a bit as a rehash of the first one in Thursday, with the exception that now the panel had included Thomas Fusco, who never shies away from locking horns with other speakers --not that Tom deliberately wants to be contentious; he's just strongly opinionated. Once again the speakers lamented the narrow path of Materialism that we moderns have chosen to walk, which might have prevented us from discovering human faculties that our early ancestors might have fully developed, granting them abilities we might not be able to imagine.
When Jim asked the panel why people are interested into all of this --or at least, people like us, the ones attending events like Paradigm-- there was a general consensus that we live on something of a crossroads moment: The arrival of the Internet coupled with the collapse of traditional institutions and the increasing irrelevance of mainstream media is causing people to wake up. "We've learned how much we're lied to" said Graham Hancock, yet at the same time one has to embrace a 'caveat emptor' attitude with the information available online --something I fully agree with...
One of the last question posed to the panel is a classic in the alt-history movement: How old is the Great Pyramid? John Anthony West took the microphone and said that his colleague Robert Schoch's current position is that it's some 11,000 years old, although it could be even older. He said that the first time he took Robert inside the pyramid's Great Gallery, what the young geologist said in amazement was "these rocks look hundreds of thousands of years old."
Hundreds of thousands of years. Talk about a total Paradigm shift, eh? Hopefully, it's events like this which would allow us to bridge that seemingly insurmountable gap.
The last presentation of PS2014 was delivered by Wild Flower, who's also been involved with the symposium since its inception. She's a local artist and psychic, and before you start thinking that what she talked about fits right into the '5D energy' babble Ben and Aaron love to mock here at MU, I honestly need to point out this wasn't the case at all. The topic, which was very appropriately titled 'Reality Breakdown', was comprised of a series of very sensible observations on how we humans end up locked into a certain behavior model from which it's very difficult to escape from. Whether Wild Flower's sensitivity is the result of a 6th sense or just a more acute level of observation --and I tend to think the answer is BOTH-- the guidelines she laid out to the audience in order to facilitate a personal 'paradigm upgrade' made a whole lot of sense. For example:
Wild Flower's final advice to the audience: "Create the kind of future that you want." So simple... and yet so hard to accomplish; perhaps because we've been told for so long that the world it's just the way it is, and there's just nothing we can do about it. And yet the irony lies in the fact that the people's feeling of disempowerment is precisely what lets the powers that be choose our future for us.
But what if we changed our attitude? What if we start taking the reins of our own lives, trying to shape it that it may look a bit more as the ideal version of it many of us keep fantasizing about? I know started to do just that, the minute I walked down that hotel hallway, wearing a bright red luchador mask and feeling like a complete doofus. It was October of 2012 and I had just arrived to Minnesota for the first Paradigm symposium, and that trip changed my life.
Maybe the same could happen to you.
Thus concludes my personal review of Paradigm symposium. I hope you enjoyed them, and maybe help you make up your mind of attending next year, and experience for yourself the 'Paradigm effect' --you can always buy me a beer while you're at it, k?