Robbie Graham
On this episode of Skeptiko...

Robbie Graham: I would be surprised if there were not an extraterrestrial component to the UFO phenomenon. But again, I would be very surprised if the extraterrestrial hypothesis could be proved to be a catch-all answer for the riddle.

That's Robbie Graham, author of a new book, UFOs: Reframing the Debate. What debate? Well that's a real Skeptiko question like, how does frontier consciousness science, like the recent near-death experience science published by Dr. Sam Parnia as part of his AWARE study, how does that factor into the UFO question?

Robert Brandstetter: And they had one piece only that they could use, even that case couldn't prove anything.

Alex Tsakiris: Respectfully Robert, you're misrepresenting that research. The lead investigator, Dr. Sam Parnia - who's a worldwide, recognized expert in resuscitation - his conclusion is that consciousness survives bodily death. Dr. Pim van Lommel, Dr. Jeff Long, every researcher who's actively involved in study near-death experience has come to the same conclusion; you can't take their work and then just put a spin on it based on your interpretation of it.

And does UFO research lead to the kind of deep spirituality I like to talk about?

Robbie Graham: I don't feel I'm any more spiritual than I was when I first became attracted to the subject, when I was a teenager. I consider myself to be a spiritual person but I've shaken my dogmatic attachment to UFOs.

And since I'm always keen to look at the conspiratorial angle, how does the deep state factor into this, and what about disclosure?

Robbie Graham: I mean, it really ultimately comes down to where you dinned on how trustworthy and decent governmental structures. If you take them to be fundamentally corrupt and when you recognize that official interactions with the UFO subject have been characterized almost exclusively, well totally exclusively for the past 70 years by deception and by psychological warfare, why do you believe anything that the same official bodies have to say on the UFO subject on a hypothetical disclosure day? Well, you would believe it because you desperately want to believe it.

All that and more coming up on this episode of Skeptiko.

Welcome to Skeptiko where we explore controversial science and spirituality with leading researchers, thinkers and their critics. I'm your host, Alex Tsakiris and today a show on UFOs. One of our guests Robbie Graham has been making the rounds with this very, very interesting new book that's getting a lot of attention, UFOs: Reframing the Debate and we're going to hear from him in just a minute.

I putting this together, one of the things that struck me is how surprising it is to me that UFOs are still a taboo subject or that UFOs are not understood as being part of this broader information, anti-establishment, screw-the-mainstream-media kind of movement that we're in. And just as an example, not to pick on James Corbett because I think he's fantastic- he's been on this show and I love the work that he does - he publishes the Corbett Report and produces so much high quality alternative media that's commenting on things that are going on today. But, look at what he has to say about UFOs... nothing... crickets, or "Are UFOs a PsyOp?" I mean, I don't get it, I don't get how anyone who's awake in any way, like trying to be spiritually awake, or consciousness awake, or conspiracy awake, you know, 9-11 awake or anything like that, I don't know how you're not interested in UFOs. I don't know how you're not up to your neck in data that you're sorting through.

So, I say that because, even though you'll hear a little bit of infighting between this outgroup of people who are interested in UFOs, I totally support where these folks are trying to take the discussion and trying to bring people's attention, so I commend them for that.

No more of an introduction really necessary, except to alert you to the fact that interview seems to end and then we have a little after talk that we all agreed we'd include in the conversation. So stick around for that after the interview seems to end.

Here's my interview with Robbie Graham and Robert Brandstetter about their new book, UFOs: Reframing the Debate.

Read Excerpts:

Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Robbie Graham and Robert Brandstetter to Skeptiko to talk about UFOs: Reframing the Debate, a book which is a collection of original essays exploring alternative perspectives on UFOs. Welcome both of you, thank you for joining me on Skeptiko.

I think it's a great book, it's a great contribution to this field, I really encourage anyone who's listening to pick it up because it has this kind of this iconoclastic take on UFOs that just fits right into some many of the topics we're interested in here, in terms of consciousness and deep spirituality and a lot of those things. Let's make sure, in real basic terms, we're talking about 'reframing the debate', what do you understand, what do you understand the debate to be in broad strokes that needs to be reframed?

Robbie Graham: Well the problem with popular ufology is that there is no real debate in my opinion, in fact one Amazon review for our book, a very angry reviewer, a hardline extraterrestrial hypothesis disclosure advocate was so offended at the basic premise of that book that he wrote, "Yeah but we can't reframe a debate that doesn't exist." So in his opinion there wasn't even a debate to reframe, he was of the opinion that ETH is the answer to the phenomenon is a matter of fact and despite a wide range of, as I say, contrasting and conflicting viewpoints presented across 14 essays, he found literally nothing of value in the 300 pages, so he decided to give the book one star and essentially cautioned against anyone else reading it, lest it pollute their minds. He saw this as a total affront to his deeply cherished believes.

Another one star reviewer didn't even read the book but based his review on the other one star reviewer and wrote, "Shame on the author," apparently unaware that there are 14 authors and that it's an edited volume. It's these kinds of extreme reactions that we expected, we expected these kinds of reactions but that's also why a book like this is actually necessary I think, because today, as ever, the ETH is the most popular ufological theory and it has become so popular I think because the architecture of the field over the years, and particularly in the new millennium, has morphed into this exopolitics movement, a movement born of the internet and based on this blanket acceptance that UFOs are ET vehicles, the government knows this and that in time, truth will break free, enlightenment will sweep the world.

Alex Tsakiris: Materialism, this idea that you are a biological robot in a meaningless universe, is the fundamental foundation of science as we know it, it's the dominant paradigm and its stumbling block really behind all that is the issue you just talked about, it's consciousness and what is consciousness and how can science, if science doesn't understand consciousness, how can science say it really understands anything? So, are we mixing together two things that until we pull them apart, are you confronting people with the ET hypothesis who, that is the outward manifestation of what their issue is, but the real issue is, "Don't take away my materialism. Don't take away this idea that the world is out there and we can measure it and understand it," when the frontier science is telling you, "Well, it's not exactly out there, and we sure as shit can't measure it."

Robbie Graham: Yeah, I think the appeal... Start again, I must reiterate that I do not reject the ETH; I am actually very sympathetic to that hypothesis. But I think the problem with a lot of people in the community, at least in my experience, is that people want it to be either/or, it's either this or it's that. It can't be many things, because if it's many things then a conclusive answer, solution to the riddle is probably very far off, whereas if it's one thing then it's easier to grasp and more provable and the ETH is appealing in that sense because ultimately it has some kind of a graspable, tangible, technological answer and proof can literally be in our hands at some point in some physical form.

Again, that reduces the phenomenon into very simplistic terms and as you've noted the consciousness aspect seems to underpin almost every single close encounter case ever reported really, over the last 70 years or more, and there are some really extreme high strangeness cases that characterize the UFO phenomenon I would say and a lot of these don't really get a lot of attention from hardcore nuts and bolts people. Because again, they seem to fly in the face of a simplistic ETH answer, where some of these experiences seem to be absolutely so outlandish and almost cartoonish and yet being reported by people who are absolutely convinced of what they've experienced. But what they've experienced seems to just have no place within the ETH paradigm.

We site numerous examples of these kinds of encounters throughout the book, in fact we have a whole essay in the book devoted to this question of materialism versus anti-materialism and where can we place the phenomenon within that spectrum, and that's by Joshua Cutchin. He has a good quote in his essay where he says, "From materialism's ashes a new model of reality will arise, wherein the scientific establishment accepts the completely intangible, wholly interiorized phenomenon of human consciousness can manifest measurable effects in our physical world." This is something again that Rob explores in some extent in his essay and Greg Bishop explores in his essay. What do we bring to these experiences, are we simply a spectator, having no control over what is experienced and witnessed or do we have some participatory role? Josh also says, "Moving beyond materialism is about honestly confronting the fact that we know nothing for certain about UFOs and yet choosing to be inspired rather than frustrated by this realization, leading to a type of non-dogmatic gnosticism.

So, the essays clash back and forth between materialist approaches, people advocating traditional scientific nuts-and-bolts approaches to the phenomenon, and then there's some who say screw materialism. We need to get to grips with the really mystical aspects of this, really, and things that are tied in much more directly to who we are as a species. We need to stop externalizing the phenomenon as being something out there that is happening to us and potentially recognize it as being something that is closer to home in some respect. Or it could be both.

So the short answer is, I don't... You'll hear me answer a lot of questions with, "I don't know," and I think a lot of UFO researchers and authors and people in this field should feel more comfortable in saying, "I do not know," when people ask them questions, because ultimately none of us have a clue.

Alex Tsakiris: Robert, where do you stand, screw materialism or no?

Robert Brandstetter: Like Robbie, I walk a bunch of different lines when it comes to this as somebody who defines himself as an experiencer and as somebody who as witnessed craft, although I have arrived at a point in my life now where I couldn't actually tell you for certain that the things that I saw were nuts and bolts flying saucers, even though that's exactly what they looked like to me and the other people that witnessed it.

But, you know, the direction that I've gone in over the years, and I think it's a good parallel to this idea of the materialist versus idealist consideration, is to look at Jerome Clark's model for how we understand UFO cases. His notion is [that] there [are] two camps; there's experience anomalies and there's events anomalies. Events anomalies are these hardcore materialist factually-based events where you've got radar traces, confirmed witnesses, real critical evidence that we can actually talk about and see and witness, and it's not discontinuous, it happens all in a consistent stretch and there's only a handful of those, I think in existence really. Whereas what dominates the history of ufology in case history is experience anomalies and experience anomalies are things that are witnesses, that happened to witnesses and Clark says this is alive only in the memory and in witness testimony and that's the only place it exists and in this way the majority of what we talk about in the history of UFOs is really about a personal experience and it's a story, at its core piece it's a story that is told from one person to others. If you want to extrapolate a materialist reality or project the material as reality onto these stories, I think that's a very dangerous thing to do. I think the better thing to do is to look at what's the one materialist component that we've got in these stories and ask the witness[es] themselves.

One of the things that gets advocated most inside of this book is to pay more attention to that physical, living, breathing witness who's had the experience and let's look at what's happened to them because I think we can get more purchase on perhaps this very slippery and oblique phenomenon by looking at impact on witnesses than we can on trying to make assumptions about the stories that they tell and then trying to find facts to fit those spaces and try to build a materialist paradigm out of the UFO event when truly, I think that's a big challenge; there's a lot of assumptions that get made when we start going down that road.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, let's let Robert in here. Robert though, don't we want to at least know what they know and we can draw our own conclusions from it, which we will, but don't we want to know what they know?

Robbie Graham: Before Robert just answers that can I just say, the question you asked there, Alex, "Don't we at least want to know what they know?" I would reply to that with, "How can we trust what they claim to know?" And the answer is, and there's no way of getting around this, the answer is, we do not know that we can trust. Well we simply cannot trust what they claim to know, and if you trust it, you're nuts. That's it. So there is simply no way we can trust what they know.

Robert Brandstetter: And I think the notion of disclosure is [that] it's an ideological position and I don't think we can trust them at all. Of course we want to know, we want to know everything.

So, what I'm going to do is put my money instead on one of the leading thinkers in the field, and that's Vallée; Vallée once upon a time was the leading ETH proponent and then has since come around and, much like Jerome Clark, who also says the ETH is insufficient, is suggesting to us that we need to leave ideology behind. That's his most recent statement at the MUFON Conference, is we've got to stop bring ideology to the table. We need to be much more open-minded in considering what is taking place and he also identifies this notion that the witness experience is a process and we should spend more time with witnesses.

So, I think this idea of looking for a patriarch or for somebody above us with more power to tell us what's really going on is always a frustrating space to be in, it disempowers us entirely and if we want to go somewhere we're going to have to be responsible ourselves and build a true field based on whatever strong leading thinkers that we've got in the field and try to follow in those footsteps, because that is a model that we know is going to gain some purchase and we're always looking for a better model, whether it's philosophy or science.

So let's get a better model. I'm not going to rely on the government to tell me anything at all but I know amongst thinkers that want to do well inside the field and are honest and are humble and don't have ego and are not looking for the truths they believe to be there, I think there's something very interesting to be gained from that and anybody who serious studies ufology will lead into the leading thinkers and the leading thinkers are telling you know, "You know what? The ETH is insufficient and we need a better paradigm and we need to work with the witnesses in a more sincere and compassionate manner."

Alex Tsakiris: Robert, Robert, you've got to do your NDE research man, you've got to do it buddy.

Robert Brandstetter: I did.

Alex Tsakiris: No.

Robert Brandstetter: And I read materials for years and years.

Alex Tsakiris: No, no, you just don't my man, you just don't know. When you say 'aware' and then you say 'aware proves this' and the scientists who were involved say something completely different.

Robert Brandstetter: Yeah, I know.

Alex Tsakiris: The burden is on you man, you can't take a materialist position to leapfrog your way into an immaterial understanding of consciousness, it just doesn't logically make any sense.

Robert Brandstetter: Yeah, I guess I come at it from a completely different perspective, like I know that leading philosophical neuroscience theory tells us that there is possibility and room for life after death and I'm good with that, I'm not good with taking anomalist experiences and calling them facts.

Alex Tsakiris: Wow.

Robert Bradstetter: And I think that we don't have an equivalent, I think, you know, RB-47 case in the near-death world. I've heard the most brilliant, incredible stories and I've heard the doctors talk about and I find them utterly fascinating and convincing but I also know in my heart of heart at the end of the day, they're telling me a story, they're not telling me a factorial event anomaly that's taken place.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I don't think you're ever going to get there, but by the vast means we have of science, of EEGs, of measuring people medically, I'm telling you with aware, you have one of the leading experts in the world in resuscitation, he knows all about that stuff, and his conclusion and your response to it as well, "Philosophically I'm not there," or you want to say, what's his name at Arizona, a great guy and I've talked to him but, you know, talk to him about near-death experience, he doesn't say that about near-death experience, he totally backpedals because it undermines his idea of, you know, which is a good idea, it's an advancement, but it just doesn't get there. Consciousness survives death, we've just got to deal with it.

Robbie Graham: Well, for what it's worth Alex I agree with you but I'm not expert on it, but I've done some research, I continue to do research, but I don't know, it's interesting that we spent so long on that in a conversation.

Alex Tsakiris: I don't think we did, I don't think it's going to come out that way.

Robbie Graham: No, I mean I think that was good because I think it's related, it ties into the topic, I think that's probably a point I should have made.

Alex Tsakiris: I think it's interesting that I started out interested in consciousness and then became interested in UFOs and you guys started out with UFOs and now you're interested in consciousness.

Robert Bradstetter: Yeah absolutely.

Robbie Graham: Yeah.

Alex Tsakiris: That should be a good food for thought for people.

Robbie Graham: Yeah, Miguel Romero, Red Pill Junkie, who wrote one of the essays, back in I think probably 2012, because he used to read my blog a lot and we used to sort of communicate online and I think around about 2011-2012, when I was still very much in the nuts and bolts kind of materialist camp on this... I should say, although I used to be very much in that camp, I've never questioned the reality of psi phenomena but at the same time I wasn't ready at that point to look closer to home for potential answers to the UFO phenomenon but Miguel said to me, "Anyone with an open enough mind and who has the potential for serious critical thought, who stays with this subject for long enough, will go through the same process."

Alex Tsakiris: Right.

Robbie Graham: And he said, "You start off with the ETH etc., and you stick to it hard and fast and then you start to become disillusioned with certain aspects, not necessarily the phenomenon but potentially the phenomenon but also the field that studies it and then you start to meet other people and you start to listen to other ideas and you start to expand your mind and explore more curious theories," and I said, "Yeah I know," and I was like, "No, no," and he said, "You'll get there."

Alex Tsakiris: Right, okay.

Robbie Graham: Little did we know then that he'd be writing an essay in this book that I edited several years later, and he's absolutely right, he's absolutely right and I was totally resistant to what he was telling me at the time, and he was absolutely right. I think that's true, I think a lot of people go through this process. I think the difference is, as I say, I've never and probably will never completely reject ETH because it just makes too much sense on the logical, scientific level. You know, extraterrestrial life surely exists, surely is more advanced than we are, theoretical physics allows for interstellar travel and people are reporting technological machines with apparently alien beings. So the ETH should be considered obviously.

Robert Brandstetter: It should be considered but don't you think that advanced species would take their wonderful, amazing technology and just send self-replicating nanobots out to collect all there is to know and send that on back.

Robbie Graham: Maybe some would and maybe some have but some aren't quite at that level and decide that they... the point is that we need to look at the term 'alien', literally 'alien' and we can't presume to understand how an alien intelligence would operate because it is, by its very nature, completely alien to us and so we project onto it what we think is logical. So I do think, as I say, I do think that there is a very strong possibility and likelihood in fact that there is an extraterrestrial component to UFOs but I think that it's far, far weirder, far weirder than that.

Robert Brandstetter: I think it's weirder too and I think an interesting parallel to the NDE piece is how it mimics in many ways the exact high strangeness of close encounter cases and I think that's something worth thinking about in terms of the notion of dream logic and the kind of really interesting trippy stories that people do tell. Whether it's an NDE or close encounter case, they seem to parallel each other in very interesting ways and many this suggests to us that it's consciousness that needs to be investigated, not whether we know for certain if it continues, but just looking at...

Alex Tsakiris: Of course, but like I said, you've got to bust one paradigm at a time, you have to start with the data that you have. The data that we have is consciousness somehow survives. So then from there you can start exploring what is psychedelic consciousness, what is the DMT experience consciousness, what is fairy consciousness, what is demonology consciousness, but if you're stuck in this idea that, no, I can't accept the data that at least we're able to collect, I don't know where you go with that, you've got to be kind of fair minded with the data I think.

Robert Brandstetter: I think though that you know, like any scientist is going to have different thresholds for what they believe is good data, right? So you've got your threshold for data, other people have their thresholds for data and that's why they disagree with other people's models. So there's a huge disagreement with the model of the NDE confirmation that consciousness goes on because they're not meeting the threshold of [unclear 00:26:29].

Alex Tsakiris: But you don't seem to even agree with the psi model, you picked on Stanton Friedman for psi and psi's been proven in the lab over and over again and then you got someone like Dean Radin who's just a parapsychology researcher and took the double-slit experiment and proved that consciousness effects the double-slit experiment.

So I don't know how you're flip-flopping between this kind of hardcore materialist position and then this kind of imaginal dream thing, that just kind of gets me, I don't get... So you can make those two things mash together, but I don't see the mesh.

Robert Brandstetter: Well, because I see that science... and this is what I like about Hoffman's notion, is that science gives us a way out to say that, "Yeah, the potential for parapsychology to be a reality and for people to have experiences of modalities that are completely alien to human perception and human consciousness, perhaps are there and I think that's a really interesting tunnel to travel down, to see what can it tell us that way. But I see that every time, in every UFO case that somebody starts talking about having telepathic experience, I turn off right at that moment, because there's no way that you can tell me what's happening inside your head isn't just a voice inside your head versus the aliens talking to you.

So, I'm much more interested in alien abduction stories where the aliens are actually vocalizing and speaking in languages beyond the actual experiencer...

Alex Tsakiris: That seems completely arbitrary from my point.

Robert Brandstetter: No, not at all.

Alex Tsakiris: Well that's...

Robert Brandstetter: Well, if you believe that language is something that is generated on a planet specific nature, then the concept of one language communicating to another language from two different planets is beyond irrational, it'll just never happen. It'll just never happen.

Alex Tsakiris: Telepathy is something else that's been proven in the labs, I mean I don't know where you want to go with it.

Enough, I've got to go. It's awesome guys, it really is awesome both, I'll do my best.

Robbie Graham: I was going to say Alex, I don't know if you were recording that last bit but we had some good stuff there, shame it wasn't in the interview.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I'm happy to include it in the interview if you guys want. If you're okay with it, I'm okay with it.

Robert Brandstetter: I'm totally okay with it.

Robbie Graham: Yeah, I'm okay with it, yeah.

Robert Brandstetter: I would have loved to have had another hour with you to actually flash things out in a more specific way because I don't think we really got to the full details of where it can all go, because I do support, I totally support, not just irrational thinking, but I completely support where consciousness has potential to be, in terms of going beyond the human biology, but at the same time, I don't think we can leapfrog right away, I think we give more credit to a witness by talking about the nature of the biology first before convincing them that they're a star child. I think we need to give something more human to that witness that's taking place, instead of trying to put them into our box.

Alex Tsakiris: Not sure I totally understand that, but it sounds cool. I'll take it and go.