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Our Wild Kosmos! Part 2: The Ontological Status of NHIs

In Part 1, I presented a new three-layered taxonomy of NHIs and the current popular hypotheses about NHIs. This helped raise some key issues about how we can create a more useful dialogue around the variety of NHIs encountered in UFO and other paranormal contexts. Now, in Part 2, with this taxonomy and its associated distinctions in place, I want to go deeper into the ontological issues at the core of this topic: are these NHIs “real” and if so in what sense? As has been noted, this is arguably the most complex and challenging issue around UFOs and NHIs.

Fuzzy Boundaries and Doubleness

As I have pointed out, each of the four kinds of beings discussed above (i.e., thought forms, archetypes, earth lights, and NHIs) can move along the ontological stations spectrum to different ontological domains (i.e., subjective, intersubjective, interobjective, and objective). This ontological fluidity generally is not associated with humans and is a big reason we find all of these types of beings so ontologically confusing and lean toward denying ontological status to most if not all of them. We prefer stable and predictable physical objects, processes, and beings. Fluidity for us generally means not real or less real.

For Exo Studies, ontological status is not confined, limited, or reduced to objectivity. Objectivity is a particular expression of “realness” but not the only one. Beings associated with any of the four positions or realms along the ontological stations spectrum have the potential to be as real—independently existent—as beings at any other station. A being’s station is just one of at least three ontological spectrums that must be taken into account when assessing the ontology of a being. This concept will be presented in more detail below, when I discuss ontological indeterminacy. For now, I will just mention that in addition to a being’s ontological stations (i.e., what domain it is associated with), there is also its ontological sovereignty (i.e., how much free will it has), and its ontological substance (i.e., the nature of its physical-energetic embodiment). Together these three dimensions of ontology give us a much more multidimensional matrix/integral framework from which to consider the ontology of both non-human beings (e.g., the four kinds presented in Table 4) and non-human intelligences (e.g., the 33 types presented in Table 3). As I will discuss, many beings and aspects of exo phenomena move in and out of an objective mode of being.

In other words, these beings have an ontological origin (an initial position on the ontological stations spectrum as represented by the top row in Table 4), but some of them can move along this spectrum, in either direction, and end up occupying a different ontological station. They can start out as strictly interior psychic realities and become exterior physical or energetic realities with causal efficacy. They can move from our individual or collective minds to “walking around in the streets” alongside us. This quickly muddies the ontological waters as to what is real and is not real as it would seem that which is unreal (completely subjective in nature) can become real (objective in some meaningful sense).

All of this highlights that the boundaries between these kinds of beings and what is inside or outside, real or unreal is more fluid than what we tend to realize. In fact, this is one of the hallmarks of exo phenomena: it is inherently paradoxical, mysterious, participatory, responsive, recursive, enactive, transgressive, möbius, mercurial, mutable, multivalent, frustrating, chimerical, ambiguous, obscure, synchronistic, comical, intelligent, elusive, contradictory, theatrical, absurd, weird, trickster-driven, and boundary crossing. In short, exo phenomena in general and these beings in particular transcend established categories of consensus reality: past/future, self/other, mind/matter, real/unreal, gross/subtle, inside/outside, subjective/objective, etc. Patrick Harpur, in his classic Daimonic Reality (1994/2003), echoes this when he observes:

Never quite divine nor quite human, the daimons [i.e., NHIs] erupted out of the Soul of the World. They were neither spiritual nor physical but both. Neither were they, as Jung discovered, wholly inner nor wholly outer, but both. They were paradoxical beings, both good and bad, benign and frightening, guiding and warning, protecting and maddening. (p. 35)

Patrick Harpur, Daimonic Reality (1994/2003),

Suffice it to say that when dealing with exo phenomena, especially NHIs, “the truth is stranger than science fiction.”

Within Exo Studies I refer to this dynamic as doubleness to highlight that the phenomena and various beings associated with them are all too often both simultaneously and/or sequentially physical and psychical, subjective and objective, real and unreal, and so on. Note doubleness is not confined to only two positions (i.e., a binary) being enfolded together. It can refer to multiple qualities or aspects of a phenomenon woven together seamlessly. This doubleness is what confounds so many researchers and is what has made it easy for so many to ignore these realities for so long. It is only quite recently that UFO/NHI researchers have begun to embrace the high strangeness and ultra-weird aspects of exo phenomena. However, it should be noted that several well-known UFO/NHI researchers since the 1970s such as Jacque Vallée (1969) and John Keel (1970/2013), and more recently John Mack (1999/2008), have pointed out the double nature of exo phenomena.

One can even trace this concept of doubleness all the way back to Charles Fort’s (1941/1974) notion, from the 1920s, of ontological indeterminacy, which takes the position “that nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal: that all phenomena are approximations one way or the other between realness and unrealness” (p. 14). For Fort, this intermediateness “is quasi-existence, neither real nor unreal, but expression of attempt to become real, or to generate for or recruit a real existence” (p. 15).

Fort’s ontological agnosticism is also reflected in Jacques Derrida’s notions of undecidability and ghosts. M.J. Banias (2019) dedicates a whole chapter to “Derrida and the UFO,” where he links these two key concepts of Derrida to UFO phenomena and its associated subculture. Before introducing Derrida’s two philosophical constructs, Banias points out that:

The UFO phenomenon has been identified as something which crosses, if not breaks down, boundaries…It is something that is both amazingly and terrifyingly real, yet so unbelievable that it defies common sense…They are objective and subjective. UFOs both exist and do not exist. (p. 99)

M.J. Banias

He goes on to further explain that:

UFOs, simply put, are both fact and fiction simultaneously. Their objectivity and authenticity are in a constant state of duality, shifting in and out of cultural and social frames of reference. They do not attach themselves completely to a reality, which we currently understand; therefore, to make claims of ‘Truth’ about them is impossible. (p. 101)

M.J. Banias

This undecidable doubleness of UFOs (and I would add NHIs), for Banias, makes them a perfect illustration of what Derrida has in mind: “An undecidable is that which cannot conform to a side of a dualism—something that can be both fact and fiction, or subjective and objective, or present and absent simultaneously” (p. 101). The power of the undecidable is that it challenges tired binaries and can carry us—if we can learn to tolerate their ambiguity—into new understandings of the world around us. Banias points out that one of the common undecidables that Derrida pointed to was the ghost because “…it is impossible ontologically to know the ghost; it is both real and not real, present and absent” (p. 102). Banias concludes the chapter pointing out how UFOs are ghosts haunting both their witnesses and the culture at large and the UFO community is a ghost haunting “the social world we take for granted” (p. 105).

Jeff Kripal (2016a), in his introduction to No products found., a book co-authored with Whitley Strieber, comments that the “alien spectral figures” in Strieber’s NHI encounters seem “at once physical and not physical, at once a thing and a thought, at once sexual and spiritual, at once traumatic and ecstatic” (p. 2). Later in the book, Kripal (2016c) observes “these spectral encounters participate in both the material and the mental. They are objective and subjective at the same time” (p. 304). In fact, it has been this doubleness that has led so many to move away from the ETH toward the EDH. However, I believe we are only beginning to realize how extensive this doubleness is throughout UFO and NHI encounters.25 It might even be the most prominent and foundational feature of all exo phenomena. So how do we talk and think about “What is real?” and “What is an object?” and “What counts as evidence?” within the context of such paradoxical doubleness?

What Is Real?

A useful framework for exploring what is real within an Exo Studies context is Bryan Sentes’ (2019a, 2019b) fourfold distinction of:

  • The real: our everyday taken-for-granted consensus reality
  • The Real: that which intrudes on the real and “recasts, redefines, and reconfigures what we had taken for normal or possible…” such as a UFO or NHI encounter that radically alters the worldview of the experiencer.
  • The hyperreal: when the relationship between an original and its copy (e.g., in the context of photos and videos of UFOs) becomes reversed such that the “copy ensures the truth of the original” and the line becomes so blurred that it becomes meaningless to talk about originals and copies such as when a UFO or NHI encounter matches media and cultural representation of such phenomena.27
  • The hyporeal: when an original object or phenomenon (e.g., an experience of a UFO or NHI) is not amenable to current representations and does not conform to individual reference points or cultural frames (e.g., when a UFO or NHI encounter is of such high strangeness that it “reinscribes the alien otherness to the phenomenon”).

Sentes’ set of distinctions is valuable as a guide for how we might creatively recast the notion of what is real by developing a set of overlapping distinctions and definitions that make room for “real” objects and “objective” beings that are multiple, paradoxical, multifaceted and transcend simple location and elude and tease empirical instrumentation. It no longer suffices to think in terms of our categories of real/unreal, true/false—something more is being asked by us through the phenomena.

What Is an Object?

Given the above distinctions of the real it becomes evident that even the notion of an object is in need of strategic complexification. Elsewhere, I (Esbjörn-Hargens 2010) developed the notion of a multiple object using
climate change as an illustration. Climate change is objectively real but has an ontological span and depth that surpasses any methodological enactment of it such that different natural and social scientists enact, via their distinct methodologies, different aspects of the object with various degrees of ontological overlap. The end result is that natural and social climate scientists are often not talking about the same object of “climate change” in spite of the fact they are using the same signifier “climate change” and are genuinely focused on the same set of natural process related to climate. I believe this notion of multiple objects can successfully be used in an Exo Studies context as well. For example, Mike Clelland (2015) makes a convincing case that owls in an abductee/encounter context are often more than just “plain ol’” owls. They can be two or more of the following kinds of objects at the same time: UFOs, ETs/EDs, drones, screen memories, messengers, totems, biological owls, or biological owls used as an alien surveillance camera. For me, this is a perfect illustration of a multiple object—owls as exo phenomena embody multiplicity. More recently, I have also been exploring the notion of a metaobject to describe UFOs and NHIs. A metaobject is an object that can show up in all four of Integral Theory’s quadrants (subjective, objective, intersubjective, interobjective) either concurrently or sequentially. As such, it is an object that is not bound exclusively or primarily to a single quadrant (e.g., a brain being an object in the objective quadrant and the mind being an object in the subjective quadrant).

Three other noteworthy types of objects include Timothy Morton’s (2010, 2013) hyperobjects and Jeff Kripal’s magical objects (2016b) and mythical objects (2016c). For Morton, a hyperobject is an object that is so large it is distributed across time and space in such a way that only parts of it can be cognized by individuals or groups at any given point. Morton has identified five characteristics of hyperobjects (i.e., vicious, molten, nonlocal, phased, and interobjective). While a full explication of these characteristics falls outside the focus of this article it is worth mentioning in passing that UFOs do display all five. Viewing UFOs as hyperobjects is an example of moving out of simplistic notions of objectivity, which are inadequate for making meaning of UFOs. Whether conceiving of UFOs as hyperobjects is fruitful remains to be seen but the mere exercise of doing so can be a step in the right direction of discovering new ways of understanding their mystery.

For Kripal (2016b), a magical object is an out-of-place object (e.g., alien implants, apports) that calls into question materialism exposing that it is only “half right.” These magical objects are connected to the practice of saying away. This practice involves living with the paradox that exo phenomena often “fuse or transcend the subjective and objective dimensions of the human experience.” It also involves recognizing that the splitting of the phenomena “into a subject ‘in here’ perceiving objects ‘out there’ is a function of the human organism and its cognitive and sensory hardware and probably not of the psychophysical world itself” (p. 341). This practice allows us to experience magical objects that challenge our notions of there being a distinct and stable “mental world” and “material world.” Kripal is adamant that:

…there is almost certainly only one world, of which our mental and material experiences are two dimensions or modes. This deeper ‘one world’ is why material events can behave like mental events and why mental events look like material events. Because they are. Both have ‘split off’ from a deeper super-reality that is both mental and material, or neither mental nor material, at the same time. (p. 204)

Jeff Kripal

In short, these magical objects say away our habitual modes of perception that would have us divorce “mind” and “matter” from a deeper “super natural world where no such distinctions exist” (p. 205). Note the occurrence of another UFO/NHI researcher discussing the doubleness of exo phenomena.

Kripal (2016c) also introduces the intentionally paradoxical idea of a mythical object, which is “something seen or physically encountered that is actually a materialized story or meaning. I mean a thing that is also a thought. I mean a friggin’ story that shows up on radar” (p. 304).28 Thus, UFOs are mythical objects: mythic stories that can show up on radar as physical craft. The notion of a mythical object (something that is simultaneously a constructed story and a real physical object) is another great example of doubleness. Kripal points out that if you really want to understand UFOs as mythical objects you cannot just rely on engineers and scientists, you also need to consult anthropologists and scholars of comparative religion. This sets the stage for the practice of say again, which is a complement to the practice of say away discussed above. This additional practice is one of telling new stories. Kripal observes “that it is time to tell a better story about the whole pantheon of the unknown, from gods, miracles, angels, and demons to fairy folk, aliens, and the mysterious objects in the sky” (p. 307). He suggests that this wide range of weird manifestations is erupting now “…precisely so that a new story will be told. We are suggesting that all the bizzarerie is ‘aimed’ at one real object —a mythical object. Which is to say: a new and better story” (pp. 307-8).

As you can see what counts as an object is up for renewal and revision. Numerous scholars and philosophers are advancing new ways to define what an object is.29 Above I presented five different types of objects: multiple, meta-, hyper-, magical, and mythical. These examples serve as inspiration to Exo Studies on how we might conceive anew the notion of an object to better serve and represent the doubleness of so many different types of exo phenomena. UFOs and NHIs are anything but simple objects—they break the current rules of what is real and as a result they deserve a new “playing field” where their ontological status can be taken seriously.

Over the last two sections I have presented in brief expanded frameworks of what is real and what is as an object. Now, I want to draw your attention to the outlines of an expanded framework for what counts as evidence. After all, for something to be real there needs to be evidence for it.

What Counts as Evidence?

If you ask someone who has researched UFOs/NHIs for many years, they are likely to say there is a lot of evidence for the existence of both. If you ask someone who is well-educated but has not ever given the topic of UFOs/NHIs much thought, they are likely to say there is no evidence for either. What gives? How can this be? While it is true there are no crashed UFOs or alien bodies/skeletons on public display at the Smithsonian for all to come and see, there are tens of thousands of credible UFO/NHI witnesses/experiencers and a wide range of related physical evidence collected over the last 80+ years.

This is another example of doubleness: there is no smoking (ray) gun, but there is a lot of smoke. On the one hand there is a lot of certain kinds of evidence and on the other hand none of this evidence seems to move the evidential needle and thus there is a public perception that there is in fact no evidence. After all, if there was, would we not know about it? Yes and no! There are a number of factors involved here.

First, there are many different types of legal and scientific evidence (see Table 5).32 Also, within a legal context there are three common standards of burden of proof: the preponderance of the evidence (the claims are more probable than not), clear and convincing evidence (the claims are highly probable), and beyond a reasonable doubt (the claims are the only logical choice). If evidence fails to meet even the first standard of burden of proof it is considered insufficient evidence. However, evidence can meet this first standard but still be inadmissible to the court for some reason. Table 5 presents 19 types of admissible evidence in a U.S. court of law. Similarly, within a scientific context there is a hierarchy of proof (this is presented from weakest [top: 1] to strongest [bottom: #7] in Table 5).

Second, even when technically there is solid evidence there are various cultural values, developmental worldviews, and professional dynamics at play that can affirm or discount that evidence regardless of its strength or value. Thomas Kuhn’s (1962) notion of paradigm shifts is relevant here. Kuhn pointed out that often good evidence is excluded from scientific thinking when it challenges normal science (i.e., the established model of reality). Eventually, enough of this good evidence accumulates and as the gatekeepers “pass away” or retire (i.e., Plank’s [1950] principle of scientific progress), a scientific revolution occurs that fundamentally changes the view of the world. Wilber (2000) has also extensively mapped how individuals and collectives with different developmental worldviews perceive reality and by extension evidence (or the lack thereof) differently. For example, quantitative data is valorized within modern empirical scientific worldviews and qualitative data is held in high esteem within postmodern social scientific worldviews. Each of these worldviews tends to minimize or ignore the preferred evidence of the other worldview. Exo Studies’ approach to integrative metascience values both quantitative and qualitative data and uses a synthetic mixed-methods orientation known as integral methodological pluralism (more on this below).

The Ontological Status of NHIs Table 5

Third, there are different types of validity for different kinds of truth claims: subjective truthfulness, objective truth, intersubjective justness, and interobjective functional-fit.33 Each of these truth claims is connected to the evaluation of phenomena associated with each of Integral Theory’s four quadrants. Thus, it is considered inappropriate to evaluate a claim from one domain (quadrant) using the validity claims associated with another.

Fourth, each of these four kinds of truth claims can be evaluated by three strands of valid knowledge: injunction, data, confirmation. 34 In other words, a practice or method is used to generate data, which is then reviewed by “a community of the adequate” (i.e., experts or professionals who have the credentials and/or experience to evaluate the data). The three strands of valid knowledge represent the basic elements of the scientific method (experiment, get data, verify the data). The four kinds of truth and the three strands of valid knowledge, just presented form the basis of what Wilber (1997, 2006) calls broad empiricism and are applied to all eight methods involved in his integral methodological pluralism. It is important to note that Exo Studies is built upon a Complex Integral Realism, which embraces the broad empiricism of Integral Theory while situating this within a critical realist depth ontology.

One striking realization that emerges from reviewing the types of evidence in both columns in Table 5 is that the case for UFOs/NHIs, I believe, is currently quite strong legally and comparatively weaker scientifically. This point deserves more engagement than what I can offer here. Nevertheless, I feel it is reasonable to claim that the range of UFO/NHI evidence collected over the years falls into most of these categories of legal evidence, much of which is quite convincing and persuasive. In contrast, it appears that only a few of the categories of scientific evidence can claim the same. This may be one reason why UFOlogists are inclined to say there is a lot of (legal) evidence, but the average person is prone to point out there is little or no (scientific) evidence. Now of course, the legal evidence for UFOs/NHIs would have to be of substantial quality to be admissible. And even when admitted it may be viewed as “clear and convincing evidence” but still fall short of being “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But even then it depends on who is on the jury and what is their worldview.

Anomalous Realities and Traditional Science: The Skinwalker Ranch

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This potential lack of scientific evidence raises another issue. Exo phenomena might not be amendable to current models of scientific scrutiny. Take the longstanding research that was conducted at Skinwalker Ranch in Utah by Robert Bigelow and associates over a decade (between 1994–2004).36 This paranormal hotspot was also part of the Pentagon’s “secret UFO” program: AATIP.37 One of the ongoing challenges of trying to document the various forms of high strangeness on the ranch is that the phenomena never repeated its various expressions. This in many ways is a nonstarter for scientific investigation. Colm Kelleher and George Knapp (2005) acknowledged that, “The events were random and unpredictable, and never happened more than once in the same place or in the same way” (p. 270). The exo phenomena on the ranch continually morphed or presented a different side of itself. It seemed to always be one step ahead of the researchers giving them the impression that the ranch was permeated with some kind of “precognitive sentient intelligence” (p. 238).

There are at least four things that makes the research efforts at Skinwalker Ranch so noteworthy. First, it is arguably the longest sustained research into a paranormal hotspot. Second, it had in effect unlimited financial resources to use the best equipment and methodologies available. Third, it had highly credentialed scientists involved. Fourth, at the end of the day/decade they did not have much data to show for it. In spite

of the many bizarre phenomena experienced and documented on the ranch during these years, the research teams were not able to capture usable scientific data (at least none that has been made publicly available). The phenomena expressed itself in defiance of the many instruments, cameras, and protocols used during the investigation. This is very telling: if they could not capture data under arguably the best of circumstances, how can we expect researchers with smaller budgets, less sophisticated equipment, and fewer assistants to do better?

Maybe this traditional scientific approach to anomalous “sentient” phenomena is misguided. After all, as Kelleher and Knapp (2005) observe:

The scientific method is built on precedence, repeatability of experiments, and having enough data to make testable predictions. When a phenomenon under study refuses to obey these rather narrow strictures, what happens? What happens when a possibly intelligent phenomenon refuses to be predictable? Does a scientist walk away? (p. 261)

Kelleher and Knapp

No! But that scientist does need a different approach. One that adheres to established principles of knowledge acquisition and verification. But is capable of transcending-and-including a materialist orientation. What is needed in my opinion is an integrative metascience designed to investigate anomalous realities. The discussion of such an approach exceeds the focus of this article, but it is a domain that I am currently working on and one that I feel is foundational to Exo Studies.

OK, we have just covered a lot of ground. Let me recap a bit before continuing. After introducing the Mutual Enactment Hypothesis I discussed how the various kinds of beings (humans, thought forms, archetypes, earth lights, and NHIs) all can participate in mutually enacting each other in the context of exo phenomena. Each of the four non-human kinds of beings can under certain conditions move from one position on the ontological stations spectrum to inhabit a different one. This highlights that their ontology in this context is not fixed and static but dynamic and mutable. They can move along a spectrum between interior and exterior ontological expressions. Thus, some beings we do not consider real can become real and take on an ontological status that we are often hesitant to afford them. And as I will discuss in the section below, beings associated with any of the four ontological stations (subjective, intersubjective, objective, and interobjective) can be fully independent of an observer, they can phase in and out of “reality,” and they can have autonomy and be self-directed. This dynamic ontological landscape challenges typical notions of what is real, as it suggests the boundaries between real/unreal are fuzzier and more fluid than we are used to or scientifically comfortable with. Charles Fort (1941/1974) makes an important observation in this context:

The real, as it is called, or the objective, the external, the material, cannot be absolutely set apart from the subjective, or the imaginary; but there are quasi-attributes of the imaginary. There have been occurrences that I think were transmediumizations, because I think that they were marked by indications of having carried over, from an imaginative origin into physical being, or into what is called “real life,” the quasi-attributes of their origin. (p. 1049)

Charles Fort

This ontological indeterminacy (what Fort refers to as transmediumizations: the ability for a psychical or interior reality to become an exterior one), where the imaginal can become the physical creates “fuzzy boundaries” between what is real/unreal.

Ontological Indeterminacy

The notion of ontological indeterminacy is an important concept in Exo Studies. It highlights that exo phenomena and the four kinds of non-human beings discussed above can exist on and move along multiple ontological spectrums of “real/unreal.” There are three distinct ontological spectrums that together comprise the ontological matrix and thus determine the ontological status of a being. The three spectrums are:

  1. An ontological stations spectrum (realms): subjective to intersubjective to interobjective station to objective
  2. An ontological sovereignty spectrum (free will): non-autonomous to semi-autonomous to autonomous
  3. An ontological substance spectrum (density): gross-physical to subtle-energetic to causal-light

In each of the three spectrums above I have underlined the end of each spectrum generally taken to be the most real (i.e., a being is considered to be real if it inhabits an objective environment, they are autonomous and self-determining, and has a gross-physical body). Beings who possess all of these qualities would generally be considered to be real, exist independently, and thus have ontological status. In contrast, the qualities associated with the opposite end of each spectrum are typically thought to be unreal (e.g., a being found in a subjective domain, who is non-autonomous, and whose body is made of causal-light). Vivid dream figures or beings encountered in a powerful visualization exercise are good examples of beings possessing these qualities. We tend to think of them as unreal. And this makes sense to a point. Especially, given our fellow Earth humans and the many plants and animals on the planet seem to hold stable ontological positions on the “real end” of all three spectrums. Consequently, their ontological status seems self-evident. The combination of these three positions has become the default criterion from which to determine the realness of someone or something.

But here is the thing. While it is understandable, we would have come to associate the real with one end of each spectrum and the unreal with the opposite end of those spectrums; the exo phenomena and associated beings/NHIs I have been discussing are not so easily characterized. Their doubleness makes it hard for us to confine them to just one spot along each spectrum. If anything, they exemplify ontological indeterminacy. They appear to occupy multiple positions on each spectrum either concurrently or sequentially. Ontologically speaking, they are moving targets. Does this ontological fluidity make them less real or just a different kind of real or even more real than beings who have a more stable/fixed ontological status?

What I am arguing for here is that the ontological status of non-human beings and NHIs is not dependent on them possessing only the qualities at the far “real” end of each spectrum (i.e., objective/physical/autonomous). In fact, it is a misnomer to characterize any of the three ontological spectrums presented above as being a spectrum of unreal–real. Rather, each of the three spectrums is a “real–real” spectrum (i.e., different ontological spectrums—spectrums of ontology) with one kind of real at one end and another kind of real at the other end. This shift immediately gets us out of the unreal/real binary, which is a limiting frame when dealing with exo phenomena in general and non-human beings/intelligences in particular. Thus, to determine the ontological status of a being or NHI we must identify where they fall on each of the three ontological spectrums. So, they are real regardless of which combination of ontological qualities they have, but different combinations indicate different ontological statuses. But they are all are real. So, the question is not “Are they real or unreal?” Rather, it is “What kind of real are they?” or “What is their ontological status?” meaning where do they fall on each of the spectrums that make up the ontological matrix.

For example, a vivid dream figure (subjective/non-autonomous/causal-light) and a biological Tall Grey extraterrestrial from Zeta Reticuli (objective/semi-autonomous/gross-physical) can both be real (e.g., having causal efficacy and existing independent of an observer), but they have different types of ontological status. They both are ontologically real, but their ontological status is different. Furthermore, the ontological status for either the dream figure or the Grey potentially can shift and change under certain conditions and is mutually enacted through entangled encounters with other beings. Thus, we need an approach to the ontological status of beings (such as a thought form and an NHI in the recent examples above) that can account for their movement along all three spectrums.

In Figure 2, the top half presents the ontological matrix and its three spectrums while the bottom half presents five examples of ontological indeterminacy among the four kinds of non-human beings. I have chosen in this figure to represent the ontological matrix by having the ontological stations spectrum serve as the x-axis with its four stations indicated by a box (i.e., subjective, intersubjective, interobjective, and objective). Out of each of these stations emerges the ontological sovereignty spectrum serving as the y-axis (x4) with its three positions of free will (i.e., non-autonomous [NA], semi-autonomous [SA], and autonomous [A]). At each of these three positions along the sovereignty spectrum is the ontological substance spectrum serving as the z-axis, with its three types of body densities (i.e., gross, subtle, and causal). Thus, the ontological status of a being/NHI is always identified by their ontological “location” on all three spectrums.

For shorthand, I will often refer to these three dimensions of ontology (as represented by each spectrum) as: stations, sovereignty, and substance, respectively. All of them in one way or another highlight the ontological indeterminacy of non-human beings and non-human intelligences alike. These beings and intelligences exist along multiple spectrums with various degrees and kinds of ontological expression. Their ontological status can change. Their ontological sovereignty can change. Their ontological substance can change. They are often in flux moving from one position on a spectrum to another.

To further illustrate these points, I will now present the five examples depicted in lower half of Figure

Being A (e.g., a tulpa) starts out as an intrapsychic occult thought form (subjective station/NA/subtle) and through group rituals takes on more autonomy to the point that others can sense and see it (intersubjective station/SA/subtle); over time it obtains even more agency, becoming entirely autonomous—a renegade tulpa (objective station/A/gross). Being B (e.g., a collectively manifested UFO) begins as a powerful collective psychical energy (intersubjective station/SA/subtle) but then takes on enough physicality to generate a radar return (interobjective station/SA/gross). In reverse we can have Being C (e.g., a ghost light) begin as a naturally occurring electromagnetic orb (interobjective station/NA/subtle), but as it is traveling along a ridge line it comes into contact with a strong field of collective consciousness and morphs into an archetypal image of a wild man (intersubjective station/SA/subtle). Similarly, we could have Being D (e.g., an extraterrestrial) begin in a physical embodied state (objective station/A/gross) and uses local EMEs to transform herself into an orb (interobjective station/A/gross). Lastly, there is Being E. A young girl has an imaginary friend (subjective station/NA/subtle). This girl infuses this friend with enough telekinetic energy that it becomes a full-blown poltergeist event (interobjective station/SA/gross). These five examples of different beings moving along the ontological spectrums to various positions serve to illustrate the ontological fluidity we find with various types of beings, and which must be taken into account in any comprehensive understanding of the ontological status of non-human beings.

Different beings are often associated with different ontological stations of origin (e.g., a thought form usually begins at the subjective station). Also, the movement between positions is not necessarily linear. This is illustrated, for example, in Figure 2 by some of the paths having dotted lines instead of only solid lines (e.g., Being A and Being E). This diagram and its five examples are far from being exhaustive in presenting all the ontological permutations of various beings/intelligences within the matrix. Thus, Figure 2 is primarily meant to be illustrative and thought-provoking of different ways to understand and represent the fluid nature of the ontological status of NHIs. My hope is that the set of distinctions outlined above (and throughout this article) can begin to enable us to have more sophisticated conversations about NHIs and their ontological status.

The need for an ontology to better account for these possibilities has led me in part to introduce the notion of doubleness, which appears to lie at the heart of so many exo phenomena and could be considered its defining ontological feature. This doubleness requires that we complexify what is real, what is an object, and what is evidence. This in turn requires the ontological matrix with its three interrelated ontological spectrums. The path of traditional mainstream positivist empirical science no longer provides purchase on reality in an anomalous context. We need to forge a new path—a revolutionary science (à la Thomas Kuhn), a forbidden science (à la Jacques Vallée) that can actually shed light on this multidimensional multiverse we find ourselves in. We need an integrative metascience of NHIs and the paranormal. To better understand some of the features of this integrative metascience I want to now turn your attention to Integral Pluralism and the role it plays in Exo Studies and how it can help us better understand the mutual enactment of NHIs.

The Role of Integral Pluralism in Exo Studies

As we have been exploring throughout this article, one of the first things one is confronted with when discussing, researching, or exploring anomalous phenomena such as UFOs, poltergeists, cryptids, or psi capacities is the issue of “Is it real?” In other words, do any of these paranormal or super natural phenomena have an ontological basis in reality independent of the hearts and minds of those people who report or document encounters with them?39 Throughout the pages above I have been arguing that they do in fact have more ontological status than is often acknowledged. But as you know, this is not a popular or widely embraced position.

For centuries, the modern scientific rational worldview has held sway on matters of what is real. Generally speaking, only those realities that can be repeatably observed with our five senses (especially our eyes) and their technological extensions and measured in some quantifiable way are granted status as being “real.” While this is a very respectable position on many counts, it has the disadvantage of not being able to accommodate the full range of interesting phenomena that occur in our world and the larger multiverse we inhabit —our Wild Kosmos. Not everything that is worth serious scientific study, philosophical exploration, or cultural analysis is amendable to the traditional logical-positivist approach.

Over the past 50 years, postmodernism and more recently fields such as Science and Technology Studies have been quite successful in exposing the cracks and contradictions in the Enlightenment’s materialist foundation. And the last decade has seen a growing dissatisfaction in many disciplines with our Kantian heritage resulting in what is often dubbed an ontological turn. At its core, this ontological turn is a return to questions of ontology and what we can and what we cannot say about reality.41 This is one signal that we are entering into a post-postmodernism or a metamodernism.42 In short, what this trend indicates is that professional researchers are increasingly challenging the postmodern view that we cannot say anything meaningful about the ontological status of things, processes, and phenomena that have traditionally fallen outside of what is viewed as real in contemporary Western secular society. This is an exciting time for studies of the anomalous variety because there are new methods, conceptual distinctions, and models of reality from which to reconsider and investigate anew the ontological status of a wide range of paranormal and transpersonal phenomena.

Based on my own multidimensional and exo experiences, a deep and long-term engagement with the literature of contact modalities (CMs) and non-human intelligences (NHIs), as well as conversations with experiencers (i.e., people who have regular contact with anomalous phenomena and NHIs) I have been developing a conceptual framework I refer to as Integral Pluralism. I believe this framework gives us new and much needed ways to discuss and consider the ontological status of NHIs such as extraterrestrials (ETs) and extradimensionals (EDs). It also goes a long way towards making sense of the larger multiverse (i.e., the many overlapping physical, quasi-physical, and subtle realms/worlds that make up our Wild Kosmos). At the heart of this Integral Pluralism is the recognition of three important irreducible types of pluralism:

  1. Integral Epistemological Pluralism (the Who): there are multiple ways of knowing and dozens of subtle senses and potential psi capacities by which to perceive physical and non-physical realities (Charles Fort’s wild talents)
  2. Integral Methodological Pluralism (the How): there are multiple practices, injunctions, and contact modalities by which to engage or “make contact” with physical, quasi-physical/paraphysical, and nonphysical beings and realities
  3. Integral Ontological Pluralism (the What): there are multiple dimensions and layers to objects, processes, and beings encountered in physical and non-physical realities. The ontology of an object or being always exceeds any given enactment of it. This in turn can generate contradictory, overlapping, and paradoxical ontological expressions of the same phenomena.

These three pluralisms work together (the Who x the How x the What) to enact phenomena—both within our day-to-day consensual reality and the wide range of paranormal anomalous realities reported by credible individuals and well documented by researchers. You cannot have one pluralism without the other two—all three as it were co-arise together and are equally primordial. These enactments are and must be anchored in what I call an integral depth ontology. Space prevents me from expounding on this, so I will simply issue an IOU and direct you to Esbjörn-Hargens (in press-b). This approach also has much resonance with Karen Barad’s (2007) notion of ethico-onto-epistem-ology or what I would reorder as epistemo-ethico-ontology to mirror the entangled enactment of Who x How x What of Integral Pluralism.

To begin to fully understand anomalous encounters such as an interaction with a mantis being in your bedroom at night we are well served to study the enactive process of: the experiencer (the Who) and what modes of consciousness, types of subtle senses, cognitive and cultural biases and distortions were involved in the encounter; the contact modalities (the How) used by the experiencer and the enactive range and potential of that modality (i.e., what can that modality reveal and what does it tend to conceal) to have the encounter; and the NHI and their physical and/or energetic body as well as the environs (i.e., the realms and dimensions) they inhabit (the What).

Building on this last point, let us take a closer look at the bodies of NHIs since this is a crucial consideration in determining their ontological status. There are at least three body types—along the ontological substance spectrum—that must be included:

  1. NHIs with physical bodies: these beings have a physical body. However, they might not appear fully physical to us as many reports suggest that physical bodies in another dimension can appear transparent or “ghost-like” to us in our dimension. This translucent appearance could erroneously lead us to conclude their bodies are unsubstantial and therefore lack ontological status (because they appear more like what we imagine a hallucination to be opposed to a concrete other with a solid body).
  2. NHIs with physical-energetic bodies: these are beings who have the ability to manifest into a physical form (materialization) for a period of time in our dimension and whom can likewise move from a physical expression to an energetic or invisible state (dematerialization). This capacity suggests the ability to manipulate or adjust one’s density or energetic vibration. It can also result from them moving in and out of our visible light spectrum or impacting our own visual perception to perceive into the infrared aspects of that spectrum.
  3. NHIs with subtle bodies: these beings do not have a physical body as we think of it but are comprised exclusively of more subtle-energetic bodies (e.g., etheric, astral, causal). Though they might experience their subtle body in similar ways as we experience our physical body. Often the density of the subtle bodies is consistent with the “matter” of which their (inhabited) realm is made. Some NHIs (like humans) have multiple subtle bodies, which allow them to “astral travel” and some just have the higher/less dense bodies. As a result, when humans encounter NHIs in subtle realms via their subtle bodies the NHIs they encounter might have other denser (even physical) bodies in other realities too. Thus, the ontological status of the NHI should not be restricted to the conditions through which you and they are mutually enacted.

One of the key takeaways of the above analysis of NHI bodies is that their ontological status is not dependent on them having a physical body like us. Now I want to draw your attention to eight examples that both problematize and illustrate the ontological status of NHIs. This will serve to highlight key questions pertaining to their (and our) ontological status: questions that Exo Studies is committed to keep exploring. These eight illustrative inquiries build on the examples provided above and serve to elucidate the important role the Mutual Enactment Hypothesis can play in helping us to better understand NHIs and our connections to them.

  • DMT beings vs. Ayahuasca beings: Different NHIs are associated with different psychedelics or sacred medicines. For example, on DMT it is not uncommon for experiencers to encounter “machine elves” or sentient geometric forms while users of Ayahuasca tend to encounter “Mother Ayahuasca,” serpents, and jaguars. Why do certain “sacred medicines” disclose specific kinds of NHIs while other NHIs tend to show up regardless of the contact modality? For example, Jon Hanna (2012) conducted three surveys on Erowid.org (an online database dedicated to documenting psychedelic experiences). His findings showed that UFOs and aliens (i.e., Greys, Reptilians, and Insectoids) show up across more types of psychedelic experiences than any other type of NHIs. Might the fact that these alien NHIs are showing up so often in psychonaut journeys be an indication of their independent existence and ability to pop into various physical and psychical realities and interact with us. Why are some NHIs linked exclusively to some contact modalities and others tend to show up across multiple CMs? Is it simply a matter of the morphic field associated with different CMs? Does this make the CM-exclusive NHIs less real—I do not think so—but it does raise very interesting ontological questions. This is why I am proposing an enactive ontology that includes the Who and How alongside the What.
  • One class of beings vs. many: some experiencers tend to encounter one type of NHIs such as clairvoyants who just see members of the Fae such as nature spirits, elementals, genii loci, and devas, or abductees who just encounter Short and Tall Grey aliens with an occasional Insectoid. Then you have individuals who have a history of encounters that includes multiple NHIs—faeries, aliens, angels, Bigfoot, and so on. Why is this the case? Why can some people perceive some types of NHIs and not others? Again, this seems to point to the enactive nature of the Who, the How, and the What.
  • A spectrum of autonomy: Some beings such as tulpas are created by human intention and magical rituals. They can under certain circumstances become more and more autonomous taking on a life of their own. So, while these thought forms were initially human created they can become NHIs in their own right with an objective existence. Are these beings to be considered “unreal” simply because their origin is anchored in the power of human concentration? Is this not an example of a mind becoming matter (at least subtle matter)? Now contrast a tulpa (a semi-autonomous energetic being) with a physical extraterrestrial from another planet who has traveled to Earth via some form of anti-gravity technology that enables space-time travel. This latter scenario is the one that most easily satisfies our idea of being “real.” However, we need an approach to the ontology of NHIs that is not exclusively fixated on physical beings from other planets, as those seem to be a minority of the NHIs humans interact with. Afterall, even the semi-autonomous tulpa seems to demand some degree of ontological acknowledgement.
  • Wearing your thoughts: Many NHIs such as faeries and extradimensionals are alleged to shape shift into a form that in their opinion better serves the encounter with experiencers. It is as if they can telepathically tap into our memories and thinking patterns and use them to inform how they appear to us. On the one hand we can honestly say what we are seeing is a projection of our own mind. At the same time there is a real NHI on the other side of that projection. We might be projecting, but the NHI is the screen upon which the projection takes place. So how do we account for this dynamic ontologically? It makes it harder for sure as many NHIs occupy more subtle (less dense) dimensions and who as a result can adjust how they appear to us. We have to be able to account equally for their ontological existence, our projection, and their façade.
  • A mixture of us and them: Many poltergeists begin with a single individual creating telekinetic phenomena. Traditionally, this has been associated with a young person (often female) who is frustrated and the build-up of emotional-psychic energy results in paranormal activity. However, this type of activity appears to often attract negative and parasitic NHIs who show up on the scene and begin to add to the paranormal display and in so doing create intense negative emotions in the residents, which in turn provides these entities with an energetic food source: fear. So, while the beginning of the poltergeist might fairly be attributed to the power of the human mind—it appears that in some cases this simply opens a portal for NHIs to become part of the situation. Can we say it was all just human generated? No. Many poltergeists appear to be a combination of innate/latent human psychic capacities, which serve to create a bridge between parallel realities that allows various “not so nice” NHIs to enter into our dimension (or us into theirs!).
  • Channeling our alien selves: Many channelers, especially those who have been doing it for a long time, often come to the realization that the main (or one of the main) NHIs that they are channeling is in fact their future self or their higher self or some other aspect of themselves. But these NHIs while being a part of the channeler also appears in many respects to be an ontologically separate NHI even while also being an aspect of themselves. How are we to make sense of this? Is it just that they are channeling an unconscious part of themselves? Maybe. Or might they be connecting with a semiautonomous (or even fully autonomous) NHI that is in some sense also them? And given the karmic or soul connection between these two “separate” beings it makes it easier for the human here on Earth to channel the NHI from elsewhere. How do we ontologically make sense of these two beings being both the same and at the same time different? Just as you and I are separate existent beings (we have separate jobs, families, life histories) we are also, as many of the wisdom traditions point out one and the same. Are we not the divine differentiated in order to know itself? So, at some point all of our separate ontological selves converge into a single One. But that transcendental Unity does not diminish the very real ways we can talk about the ontological distinctness between a channeler and her channeled self (who exists in a different dimension and/or on a different timeline). Just as you and I are separate beings we are also one and the same. We need an enactive ontology that can account for that fact.
  • We are ghosts haunting humans: Paul Eno (2006, 2019) gives numerous examples of “ghosts” he is called to investigate who communicate to him that they are afraid of the humans in this dimension as they experience these humans as ghosts haunting them in their dimension. He also provides examples of people encountering ghosts of themselves (e.g., a woman coming home to find herself sitting at the counter eating a meal). These are fascinating and provocative multiverse encounters, which raise many issues of parallel worlds and how the ontology of beings in one world assess and experience the ontology of beings in another. Eno even explains that the ghosts describe us as the ones being transparent, suggesting that, as noted above, our physical status can come across ghostlike when viewed from a parallel world. If we are the “ghosts” and they are the “humans,” then what is the ontological status of us and them? Are they more real than we are? Is it fair to say we are more real than they are? We are haunting ghosts and humans are haunting us. And in some cases we are haunting ourselves.
  • Good or Bad ETs/EDs?: Steven Greer (2006) is known for his position that there are only benevolent ETs/EDs and that any negative encounters experiencers have are due to staged abductions performed by covert private or paramilitary groups. In contrast, David Jacobs (2015) is known for his position that on the whole the ETs have been clandestinely involved in a hybridization program and consequently we are facing an impending hostile takeover scenario. How can two prominent UFO/NHI researchers have such diametrically opposed views on the nature and agendas of NHIs? While there are likely a number of factors to consider, two are especially important: the consciousness (the Who) and methodology (the How) of both researchers. My sense, is that they are enacting different NHIs (the What) as a result of the unique combinations of their awareness and their preferred method of contact. Greer is an accomplished meditator who also is a direct experiencer (his Who) and has pioneered the CE-5 protocols (his How). Jacobs in contrast is not a direct experiencer (his Who) and has been a pioneer of hypnotic regression and works with abductees (his How). This combination of Who How for Greer has led to direct experiences of benevolent NHIs while for Jacobs this combination has led to direct experiences of the impact of negative NHIs on experiencers. So, is one of them right and the other wrong? Are there really just good or bad ETs? Might there be both and might each of these important pioneers have just part of the full picture? Each feels fully justified in their positions because the enacted encounters they have had with NHIs or experiencers carries its own persuasive weight. Another way to think about what is happening here is that there are both “good and bad” ETs/ EDs. The former are more likely to show up under the conditions provided by Greer’s Who and How and the latter are more likely to show up under those conditions created by Jacob’s Who and How.

These eight examples and the questions they raise are just a few of what could be presented to drive the point home that we need to develop a more robust way of exploring and discussing the ontological status of NHIs. In summary, an Exo Studies approach to the ontological status of NHIs at the very least needs to:

  • Account for the enactive dynamics of the experiencers (the Who) x various contact modalities (the How) x the rich diversity of NHIs (the What)
  • Account for the ways we are simultaneously enacting NHIs and they are enacting us
  • Account for ontological indeterminacy along three distinct axes:
    • Stations: four ontological spheres of manifestation between interiority and exteriority: subjective—intesubjective—interobjective—objective
    • Sovereignty: degrees of free-will between non-autonomous—semi-autonomous—autonomous
    • Substance: a range of embodied density between gross-physical bodies—subtle-energetic bodies—causal-light bodies
  • Account for the many provocative examples of NHIs of which eight are presented here

NHIs are existent beings regardless of whether we can “see” them. At the same time, we need to expand what we mean by real since a simple notion of being physical or autonomous will not suffice. There are many varieties of NHIs, which are encountered under a wide range of circumstances. The multiverse is a big weird place filled with numerous kinds of beings—a Wild Kosmos. We need an integral approach to ontology and enactment to help us make more sense of it.

Back: Our Wild Kosmos! Introduction
Back: Part 1: Non-Human Intelligences
Forward: Conclusion & Appendices

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