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Our Wild Kosmos! Introduction

An Exo Studies Exploration of the Ontological Status of Non-Human Intelligences by Sean Esbjörn-Hargens of the Exo Studies Institute. Reproduced here with the permission of the author, Sean Esbjörn-Hargens Ph.D.

In the future, an adventurous sociologist might consider writing a paper that examines the “caste” system in anomalies research. The “nuts and bolts” UFO research people regard the “psychosocial” UFO researchers with disdain. UFO researchers in general regard the cryptozoologists with contempt. Crytpozoologists who embrace the possibility of a paranormal connection to Bigfoot sightings are generally viewed with derision because of the prevailing view that Sasquatch is an undiscovered primate species, not an interdimensional playmate of alien beings. Likewise, the paranormal researchers view the UFO researchers with disdain, while the ghost hunters keep their distance from everybody else. And all of this hostility and contempt is a vain and so far unsuccessful attempt to earn a small measure of respect and acceptance (and maybe funding) from mainstream science, a lofty but unlikely goal.

So how does one go about modeling the range of more than one hundred phenomena that occurred on the ranch between 1994 to 2004?

Colm Kelleher & George Knapp, [amazon link=”1416505210″ title=”Hunt For Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah” /] (2005, pp. 207-8)1

The idea that we live in a multidimensional universe populated by beings or life-forms that are less densely embodied than we are, or perhaps not embodied at all, is not new to Eastern religious traditions or to most of the indigenous peoples of the world. But it is not a cosmos that is familiar or accepted as existing by the scientific culture of Western society, which has, perhaps once necessarily, constructed a universe in which the material or psychological, the seen and unseen realms, have been kept largely separate so that the physical world might be understood and mastered in its own right.

John Mack, [amazon link=”1907661816″ title=”Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters” /] (1999/2008, p. 289)

We live in a big weird multiverse—a Wild Kosmos!2 One that is ontologically weird and not just epistemologically weird. There are all kinds of experiences and realities that do not easily fit into the story of science we have collectively held so dear for more than 300 years. Contemporary scientists are all too often like medieval astronomers adding more and more epicycles (circular planetary orbits) to their celestial maps in order to preserve the Ptolemaic model of a geocentric solar system. And they continue to do this in the face of a growing body of contradictory and anomalist data: what William James (1897/1960) called wild facts and Charles Fort (1941/1974) called damned facts. Both James and Fort were using their respective terms to refer to those pesky paranormal data points that threaten to undermine present models of reality and destabilize our current systems of science. Facts that are easy and necessary to ignore to maintain the illusion that we understand reality. We need a whole new “heliocentric” cosmology that can more eloquently and accurately account for the wide range of exo phenomena (i.e., anomalous, Fortean, extradimensional, and paranormal realities) documented in the academic, UFOlogical, and esoteric literature. We need a new post-material/post-positivist scientific vision and method that has room for wild facts and damned facts alike and can help us investigate in a rigorous philosophical, psychologically, and empirical way the many realities that lie beyond the register of our five senses or their technological extensions.

As such, I believe we need to take an integrative metaview to begin to enable sincere progress in making sense of this Wild Kosmos. Integrative because we need to draw on as many disciplines of valid knowledge as we can to get as complete a picture as possible—a metaview. We cannot afford to leave any stone (or exoplanet) unturned or any valid data point no matter how esoteric, inconvenient, or controversial out of consideration. Charles Fort’s damned facts are the royal road to a more complete picture of reality. In short, we need a robust metaview of weirdness that weaves together UFO sightings, encounters with non-human intelligences (NHIs), paranormal and poltergeist phenomena, anomalous experiences, time and space slips, cryptids, and all legitimate forms of high strangeness into a new compelling story of us living in a multidimensional multiverse populated with a wide range of intelligent inhabitants.

This has led me to begin to develop what I am calling Exo Studies. Exo is Greek for “outside” and “external.” Thus, in its broadest conception, Exo Studies is the metadisciplinary study of all anomalous phenomena that lie outside our current models of explanation and views of reality. The existence of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) (also known as unidentified aerial phenomena [UAPs]) and their extraterrestrial (ET) or extradimensional (ED) occupants is arguably one of, if not the most, heavily researched and well documented of all anomalous phenomena. Thus, UFOs serve as a focal point within Exo Studies to develop an integrative metascience that can be used to investigate and make sense of a wide range of other anomalous and paranormal (i.e., “exo”) realities. The study of UFOs has a particular relevance to the effort to usher in a new story because they so directly challenge the national security state, our sense of anthropocentric sovereignty, and demand that our scientific and spiritual beliefs evolve and become more integrated and sophisticated. Also, UFOs are associated with every form of anomalous phenomenon imaginable. Jeffery Kripal (2016a) calls this the “waste bucket problem.” As a result, UFOs provide a necessary albeit unwieldy meta-context. UFOs also have a wide range of qualitative and quantitative data associated with them. And they occupy and enjoy a unique position within public awareness and cultural discourse in spite of (and likely because of) the social taboo surrounding them. For these reasons, I believe the study of UFOs more than other fields of anomalous research stands the best chance of piercing the modernist stronghold and postmodernist paralysis, thus opening the floodgates for other types of anomalous realities that deserve a place at the table of ontological consideration.


Exo Studies is a metaphilosophy that draws on multiple integrative metatheories (e.g., Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism, and Edgar Morin’s Complex Thought) to develop a Complex Integral Realism. This integral approach to “What is real?” weaves together—using integrative metatheories—the primary insights from over 50 distinct academic fields of discourse from the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences (see Appendix 1 for a complete list of 150 fields, domains, and topics included in Exo Studies). This is what makes Exo Studies metadisciplinary as opposed to merely inter-, cross-, multi-, or transdisciplinary: it draws on the valid knowledge from dozens of domains of research and analysis, connecting the dots using an effective set of integrative principles. As a result, Exo Studies sheds new light on UFOs and the paranormal by drawing on multiple academic, scientific, and esoteric disciplines that are typically not included in UFOlogy today.

In particular, there are three main camps of disciplines I draw on for Exo Studies (see Appendix 1 for a more detailed overview of specific fields associated with each “camp”):

  1. Mainstream academic and philosophical literature (e.g., genetics, sociology, religious studies, media studies, anthropology, and psychology)
  2. UFO and space studies literature (e.g., abduction studies, astrotheology, exopolitics, astrobiology, the experiencer literature, exosociology, and whistleblower testimony)
  3. Esoteric and paranormal literature (e.g., subtle energy sciences, Fortean studies, cryptozoology, parapsychology, occult cosmologies, and out-of-body [OBE] and near-death experience [NDE] studies).

Thus, at the heart of Exo Studies is a metadisciplinary approach to making sense of the Wild Kosmos and our place in it. We need to draw on many disciplines—mainstream academics, UFOlogy, emerging exo sciences, esoteric traditions, and fringe studies. We cannot in good scientific conscious ignore or leave out any domain of knowledge that might help shine a light on the mysteries of our multiverse reality and its various denizens.

So, while Exo Studies includes what has historically fallen within an UFO/NHI context, it goes beyond this by taking a metaview of the dynamic interplay between mind–meaning–matter, often drawing on source materials that traditionally have not been connected to the study of UFOs/NHIs. As a result, Exo Studies is able to make unique contributions to UFOlogy and the emerging mainstream scientific and academic efforts aimed at understanding UFOs and NHIs.

Below I provide a high-level overview of more than a dozen unique ways this metadisciplinary approach can pioneer new understandings of UFOs/NHIs. Some of these examples are expanded on in more detail throughout the article. Within each example, I use parentheses to list various schools of thought and key disciplines involved in each exploration.

  • Posthuman models of subjectivity: The new field of posthumanism and the study of sentience across the evolutionary spectrum—plants, cephalopods, birds, cetaceans, and primates (plant intelligence, cognitive and affective ethnology, panpsychism, animal studies) can help us understand exobiology from a nonanthropocentric perspective and help us better imagine alien and extraterrestrial subjectivities.
  • New ontological approaches: The recent ontological turn in philosophy (speculative realism, objectoriented ontology, and new realisms), anthropology (Amerindian perspectivism, new animism, paranthropology) and science and technology studies (actor-network theory, material semiotics, ontological pluralism, assemblage theory) can help us reintegrate ontology into the discussion in a sophisticated way that overcomes the epistemological bias that has dominated Western discourse since Kant.
  • Feminist materialisms: The various feminist process ontologies, metaphysics and new materialisms (agential realism, feminist science studies, gender and queer studies) that can enable new cosmological visions of enactment and entanglement that are more capable of including aspects of reality that masculine and modernist dominated forms of discourse have systematically prevented.
  • Faery seers: The study of individuals who are faery seers or have second sight and who can see clairvoyantly and with other psychic senses the nature spirits, elementals, and other various faery beings (magical arts, occult practices, esoteric development, theosophy, shamanism, folklore studies) can help us to better evaluate the ways folklore (second-person cultural data) does and does not account for first-person UFO and abduction experiences.8
  • Cognitive distortion: The inclusion of cognitive biases, false memory dynamics, and manipulation dynamics (anomalist psychology, philosophy of mind, conspiratorial psychology, dark psychology, heuristics) that contribute to skeptical and true believer mind sets so we can better account for the various ways individuals distort, confuse, or misinterpret anomalous experiences.
  • Quantum models that include consciousness: The engagement with cutting edge theories of physics that include consciousness and subtle energies in a multiverse context (e.g., Claude Swanson’s [2003, 2009, 2018] Synchronized Universe Model, Alex Wendt’s [2015] quantum mind and social ontology, Lex Neale’s [2018, 2019] Integral Relativity, Jack Sarfatti’s [2017, 2018, 2019] post-quantum physics, Paul LaViolettes [2010] Subquantum Kinetics, Vernon Neppe & Edward Close’s [2014] Triadic Dimensional-Distinction Vortical Paradigm) so that we can really have a theory of everything (TOE) that includes mind and matter (and meaning).
  • Paranormal hotspots: The systematic study of paranormal hotspots and UFO flap areas (e.g., Yakima, WA; Sedona, AZ; Hudson River Valley, NY; Uintah Basin, UT; San Luis Valley, CO; Rendlesham Forest in the UK) to develop a metaview of the shared ontology of these anomalist phenomena and the role certain geographic features play in their manifestation.
  • New types of investigative methods: The engagement and development of new paradoxical and integrative methods (e.g., Jack Hunter’s [2015, 2016] ontological flooding, Jeff Kripal’s [2016d] comparative practices, Jacque Vallée’s [1975/2014] recursive unsolvability, Karen Barad’s [2007] agential cuts: cutting together/apart, Jenny Rice’s [2020] gorgoylian methods: making something new via strange juxtapositions) to invite ambiguity, synchronicity and the trickster as core components of the research and data.
  • Contact modalities: The study of DMT and psychedelic entities to see how they compare to the NHIs in the UFO experiencer literature and shine a light on the role that different contact modalities (out-ofbody experiences [OBEs], near death exepriences [NDEs], meditation, psychedelics, remote viewing, channeling) have in the variety of documented entity encounters throughout history.
  • Postmaterial science: The development of a nonreductive science of mixed methods (first-, second-, and third-person data and methods) to inform new types of metadisciplinary research: an integrative metascience. In conjunction with this is the development of new metamaps of what counts as evidence (philosophy of science, legal studies, systematic reviews) in what circumstances so that we can do a better job of thinking through and debating what is “real” and how do we know what is real and what kinds and amounts of evidence are needed to take a claim seriously.
  • Cultural shadow: The study of cultural taboos and social secrecy around UFOs and the paranormal and how this plays out in terms of alterity and xenophobia (psychoanalytic, cultural studies, anthropology, intersubjective theory, media and film studies) to better deal with our experience of the “alien” other.9
  • Living on Mars: The exploration of what it will mean for us to be a multiplanet species living on Mars and beyond (transhumanism, space psychology, exosociology, genetics, physics) in preparation of becoming a galactic (post-Earth) species.
  • Exophilosophy: Develop an exophilosophy by mining the history of philosophy for commentary by philosophers (e.g., G.W. F. Hegel, Immanuel Kant, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and Henri Bergson) on extraterrestrial and paranormal topics as well as applying philosophical thinking and principles to paranormal and extraterrestrial issues (e.g., Jeff Kripal [2010], Jason Reza Jorjani [2016]).
  • Post-formal adult psychology: The application of the fields of adult developmental and post-formal psychology (e.g., Robert Kegan’s [1994] Subject-Object Theory, Michael Commons [2008] Model of Hierarchical Complexity, Susanne Cook-Greuter’s [1999/2010] Ego Development Theory, and Terri O’Fallon and colleagues’ [2020] STAGES Model) to understand how worldviews and levels of consciousness shape our perceptions and values. This exploration would include the study of how different worldviews enact and interpret exophenomena and the emergence of a new galactic worldview that follows worldcentric and planetcentric orientations.
  • Indigenous and esoteric cosmologies: Draw on the many American Indian, First Nations, and aboriginal cultures (anthropology, post-colonial studies) the world over for inspiration and guidance on how to reenchant the cosmos and articulate a post-mythic cosmology that makes room for a wide range of non-human and ancestral intelligences. The esoteric traditions (magic, occult, hermetic) also can provide insight into this process. Together these alternative cosmologies can help us reintegrate NHIs into our cosmic narrative and scientific view, allowing us to embrace all of our multidimensional neighbors in this Wild Kosmos.

In summary, Exo Studies is an emerging integrative metafield committed to exploring the psychological, sociological, and scientific implications of living in a highly populated, multidimensional multiverse. This includes three major areas of focus with various subdomains of exploration:

  1. The cultivation of multidimensional awareness to facilitate the conscious perception of the larger “invisible” multiverse realities we are embedded in.10
  2. The development of a galactic-centric humanity through the exploration of the cultural dynamics that make this topic so taboo and by cultivating compassion and connection to a wide range of nonhuman intelligences.
  3. The establishment of an integrative metascience capable of making non-reductive sense of the wide range of exo phenomena that we have solid evidence for.

At the heart of Exo Studies is the question of non-human intelligences (NHIs) and our interactions with them. Exo Studies also makes room for what can be called multiverse intelligences, multiverse humans, or galactic human intelligences all of which refer to the various human, human-like, and human-looking intelligences that can be encountered in galactic contexts, alternative timelines, parallel realities, and other dimensions. Thus, in this article NHIs will be used in its broadest sense to include human-looking NHIs and multiverse humans that are other than those humans living on Earth in our current “3D” consensus reality.

This article will focus on NHIs since this area serves as a powerful entry point into Exo Studies. In Part 1, I will present a new taxonomy of NHIs based on an in-depth review of the literature, including 12 key sources. This new taxonomy is built around answering four foundational questions. After presenting this taxonomy, I will provide an overview of the 10 most common hypotheses used to explain NHIs and then I will present a new eleventh hypothesis—the Mutual Enactment Hypothesis (MEH)—that draws on core features of all the others. Then in Part 2, having presented a new taxonomy, I will discuss the ontological status of NHIs in the context of the MEH. To do this I will introduce the Exo Studies notion of doubleness (e.g., how UFOs are simultaneously physical and psychical). This will then set the context for us to explore the question, “What is real?” Then I introduce the Who x How x What of Integral Pluralism through exploring eight provocative examples of NHIs and their mutual enactment.

Forward: Part 1: Non-Human Intelligences
Forward: Part 2: The Ontological Status of NHIs
Forward: Conclusion & Appendices

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