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I found this rare gem recently — and academic journal article (2006) on ancient astronaut beliefs (“paleo-SETI”). It’s unusual that this would get any attention within academia, so I share it with all of you.

From the conclusion (emphasis mine):

We in academia, are indeed challenged to present our findings in better ways and in a more understandable manner, since we cannot leave the terrain to these overtly ‘fantastic’ reconstructions. But one thing is clear: the struggle about the right interpretation of so-called “damned data” cannot be settled merely by rational arguments. People are always in search of the mysterious, the hidden and the conspiracy behind the overt scene. Surely, to play with the fantasy genre61 is often more entertaining and inspiring than a straight report of sober academic facts and theories. . . . To many of our contemporaries, at least, the mysterious conspiracy story about the “Ancient Astronaut Gods” seems to appear more plausible and understandable than traditional religious interpretations of the texts – and much more plausible and understandable than straightforward academic scientific interpretations. The Ancient Astronaut narrations knit together our specific latemodern mode of being-in-the-world with a lay-people’s attempt at a new search for the fundamental truth of the myth: They still “want to believe”, and they find it plausible that a pre-astronautic “truth is somewhere out there”, yet to be discovered by mainstream society. The self-evident technological possibilities of our age (and much more beyond that) are projected back into a remote past, and the result is a shining mirror of us, and of our time. – Paleo-SETI adherents can thus be seen as the latter-days-prophets of a space age past, providing us with a mythic foundation for modern ‘technological man’ in the space age and genetic engineering era. But this new interpretative ‘unity of reality’ is gained with a great loss: The original contexts of the data are fully neglected and neutralized, and all the puzzling great achievements of our human ancestors all over the world are diminished and ‘explained away’ in a new ‘exclusionist’ manner when ubiquitous Ancient Astronaut Gods seem to lurk behind every mysterious or unexplainable corner of history.

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13 Responses to “Ancient Astronauts as a Belief System: An Academic Overview”

  • terry the censor says:

    > all the puzzling great achievements of our human ancestors all over the world are diminished

    This is the same criticism of claims of reverse-engineered alien technology: all those human scientists and engineers really didn’t do anything the last 100 years.

  • MSH says:

    Except that since we don’t know (a) that there are actually aliens who (b) have been here to visit, it cannot be said that this criticism can be levied at scientists for the last 100 years. If we knew both those things, then we could credit them properly. On the other hand, we do know that (a) there were humans who (b) lived in places where there are remarkable technological achievements. And so, to remove those achievements from those people (who surely existed) and hand them to aliens (for whom we have no proof of existence) is to perpetrate colossal disrespect to those ancient humans.

  • Bryan Sentes says:

    Dr Heiser, seems to me the more interesting words from the conclusion are the following: “The self-evident technological possibilities of our age (and much more beyond that) are projected back into a remote past, and the result is a shining mirror of us, and of our time. – Paleo-SETI adherents can thus be seen as the latter-days-prophets of a space age past, providing us with a mythic foundation for modern ‘technological man’ in the space age and genetic engineering era.” The question is not so much the truth of the Ancient Astronaut Theories as much as their meaning, what they reveal about the present, and not just the hermeneutical naivete of a certain segment of society. After all, such projections are shared even by more sobre and educated folk, like those at SETI, for whom intelligence or sapience is always (perversely) anthropomorphic. But maybe that’s just my (phenomenological) hobby horse…

  • MSH says:

    I hear you. The meaning is important. Personally, I don’t think the modern mythology is new. Ancient astronaut belief systems feel like Gnostic systems in 21st century garb.

  • Bryan Sentes says:

    Surely, one indeed can draw parallels between the UFO myth and the Gnostic, but what is special is how the myth is arguably inextricably technological, appearing as such with the advent of mechanical flight, e.g., the Phantom Air Ships of the 1896/7. As such, the myth Jung identified in his famous study is the manifest content of the anxieties and aspirations of an industrial, technological society.

  • MSH says:

    are you suggesting that the airships of the late 1800s were not entirely human? The research says otherwise (pretty loudly).

  • Bryan Sentes says:

    I am not suggesting the Phantom Airship(s) were extraterrestrial: I am suggesting that the appearance of the phenomenon as such was possible only within a context wherein such air ships were imaginable and, by extension, the content of the UFO myth is a reflection of the anxieties and aspirations of a technological society (our own) and that attempts to extend the myth to pre-technological eras calls for some circumspection concerning the character of human nature and perception. Simply, the extension I name above plays into the same “fundamentalism” in its interpretation of historical texts that the Ancient Astronaut hermeneuts employ, e.g., reading the vision of Ezekiel as a sighting report or according to modern canons of autobiography instead of according to the rhetoric of Old Testament prophecy.

  • Bryan Sentes says:

    Does your blog not enable an email to be sent to a poster on a comment thread so that he can react in a more timely fashion, e.g., http://bryansentes.wordpress.com/ ?

  • Bryan Sentes says:

    …of course, there’s always the RSS feed, sorry…

  • MSH says:

    agreed

  • MSH says:

    I’m not sure – do you use a particular plug-in for that?

  • Bryan Sentes says:

    RE: emails for comment follow-ups: that feature comes with the basic WordPress set-up, far as I can tell…In the future, I’ll try to set up the RSS feed (though this time there was a problem “contacting the server” (?!).–Best! Bryan

  • Albert Ramos says:

    Hi everyone: I find the article above about ancient aliens to be interesting indeed. I am an author of “How Modern Society Invented UFOs,” purchaseable through amazon.com. I majored in sociology in college. I also became a UFO skeptic over the years. My approach is not to simply debunk UFOs as much as to attempt to understand the phenomenon.

    I devote a chapter to the ‘Ancient Astronaut Theory’ and have found that many were looking for the origins of mankind. This new belief wasn’t created to so much replace God, but rather to incorporate ideas of aliens with Christianity.

    Someone above pointed to the present anxieties brought upon by a technological world. The heavier-than-air flying machines were about to be invented by engineers in the U.S. and and western Europe during the late nineteenth century. Even though these machines weren’t invented yet, there were air ships that were spotted across the continental U.S. People were excited about how science made headway. The invention heavier-than-air flying machines were no different. History went on to record in 1903 the first actual flight made possible by the Wright Brothers.

    Beliefs in exterrestrials became prominent during the late 1940′s. UFOs didn’t become a fad until 1947. Even before that, during the 1920′s science-fiction writer, H.P.Lovecraft, wrote about how some ancient ruins were built by exterrestrials. A couple of decades later, science-fiction bacame theory. In the late 1960′s, the ‘Ancient Astronaut Theory’ reached its full prominence when Dutch writer “Chariots of the Gods” was written. Copycats and other crack-pot theorists followed. Whether it was Lovecraft or Von Daniken, they both had a reverance to the ancient past, except Lovecraft’s work was totally fictious while Von Daniken passed off his theory as fact.

    Lovecraft came a little after H.G. Wells. This English writer wrote the famous “War of the Worlds” in 1898, at the time of the well-known Mars canals. Wells’ Martians wreaked havoc in jolly-old England only to succumb to the intolerable bacteria of the Earth.

    For some, the belief in Earth-visiting aliens is so appealing. Exterrestrials are speculated to have around for eons.

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