A strange object found in the desert has prompted worldwide speculation.
- A monolithic object found in a remote part of Utah caused worldwide speculation about its origins.
- The object is very similar to the famous monolith from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: Space Odyssey".
- The object could be work of an artist or even have extraterrestrial origins.
An enigmatic "monolith" found in the desert in Utah on November 18 has become the source of worldwide attention and speculation, with internet denizens looking for something more light-hearted to talk about as the tumultuous 2020 draws to a close.
The unusual object was discovered by a helicopter of the Utah Department of Public Safety department which was helping the Department of Wildlife Resources to count bighorn sheep in a remote southern part of the state. As the crew passed by the object, a biologist noticed what they described as something "out of this world." Upon landing amidst red rock cliffs and getting a closer look, they found a shiny object, between 10 and 12 feet high, that was eerily similar to the monolith in director Stanley Kubrick's seminal sci-fi masterpiece, "2001: Space Odyssey."
Given the cinematic history and the location of the object, here are top 5 theories on what it could be:
1. Art object
Chances are, this is an art object. The shiny "monolith" appears to be bolted to the ground and made of metal. It also seems to be fastened with rivets, rather being a uniform block of more unexplainable production origin. Deserts are great places for unusual installations as has been evidenced by past art projects that you can discover wandering through the ghost towns and faraway canyons of Nevada, California, Utah, and New Mexico. Certainly, an artist with a sense of humor and an appreciation of Kubrick's genius could have installed such "sculpture" in hopes of exactly what is happening right now–viral fame.
On the other hand, there is evidence, courtesy of eagle-eyed Google Earth sleuths, that the object appeared in that location (somewhere near Canyonlands National Park) in 2015-2016. So it's possibly been there for a few years. Would an artist have placed it there so long ago with the aim of having this type of success eventually?
A gallery owner claimed the work may be a tribute to the late artist John McCracken, who created similar-looking objects before he died in 2011. McCracken was part of the Light and Space movement with such artists as James Turrell, and was known to make his sculptures from plywood forms that were coated with fiberglass and polyester resin.
While the theory that the monolith was the work of a McCracken aficionado (or the artist himself) may hold some water due to the object's similarity, the fact that the artist died so long ago and the lack of clear incentive for anyone to have planted this years ago only to reveal it now work against this theory.
John McCracken sculptures.
Another Utah desert art object.
2. Alien evolutionary device
Certainly, explaining the monolith as an art installation may make the most sense at this point, but its resemblance to the famous object from Kubrick's epic "2001: A Space Odyssey" can't help but bring some science-fiction scenarios to our minds.
In the film, the perfect black slab was discovered by a group of prehistoric apes. After finding the slab, the apes seemed to have developed the ability to utilize found objects like bones as tools and weapons. The film suggests that finding the monolith had an evolutionary impact on the apes, perhaps serving as "the missing link" that propelled humans from being lower-end primates to the intellectual powerhouses they are today.
Later in the film, after fast-forwarding thousands of years into the future, such an object is discovered on the moon by human astronauts. Using the writer Arthur C. Clarke's short story "The Sentinel" as its inspiration, the film's narrative suggests that alien civilizations are responsible for these objects which potentially serve as beacons that may still be transmitting signals back to whoever created them while also possibly being responsible for fostering evolution throughout the Universe.
Could the Utah object be serving just such a function? While 2020 has offered very inconsistent evidence of human intelligence, a device from a benevolent alien race that can make us all smarter might be just what we need.
Or it could portend the exact opposite and be the one thing that will hasten our demise.
3. Alien probe
Besides having some specific impact on the inhabitants of planet Earth, the monolith could "just" be an extraterrestrial probe, sent here to learn about our ways. Would placing it in the middle of Utah desert be the best place to probe humanity? If the object was part of many such probes being sent all over the cosmos, it's possible the advanced alien overlord wannabes may not know specifically we are here and are just sending these everywhere they can. It's similar to when humans send probes to places like Mars and assume there's no life there just because the rover landed in the middle of a desert.
A closer look: the Utah monolith
4. Kubrick fan installation
Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) was one of the greatest film directors of all time, leaving behind a slate of films that are each considered a masterpiece – "Dr. Strangelove," "The Shining," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "A Clockwork Orange," "Spartacus," "Full Metal Jacket," and more.
The visionary American director left a profound legacy, garnering millions of fans around the world. As the monolith he devised for "2001: A Space Odyssey" is one of the most famous objects in movie history, it's not out of the question that one of the director's followers decided to recreate it.
5. Government control device
The American Southwest is rife with government military installations and mysterious bases like Area 51. Having the monolith be a part of some government (vast psychological?) experiment is a connection that's easy to make for any conspiracy-minded internet dweller.
Of course, given the government's penchant for both secrecy and ineptitude, this last one may be the hardest to ever prove definitively. In any case, the Department of Public Safety is not releasing the exact location of the object and warns people against trying to find it:
"It is in a very remote area and if individuals were to attempt to visit the area, there is a significant possibility they may become stranded and require rescue," DPS said.
An information war is being waged.
- Fans of the conspiracy video, "Plandemic," are exhibiting patterns similar to cult worshippers.
- Conspiracy theories increase during times of social uncertainty and trauma.
- One researcher says conspiracists are more likely to assess nonsensical statements as "profound."
Birtherism almost seems quaint now. The idea that an American citizen was born in Kenya was never about substance, however. There was no actual debate. As journalist Adam Serwer points out, "Birtherism was, from the beginning, an answer looking for a question to justify itself."
Logic is detrimental to a conspiracist. Facts impede the narrative. If following the thin threads holding birtherism together is too challenging, don't be concerned; That's part of the design. Replace "birtherism" with "Obamagate." Truth is always a sacrificial lamb to power. Whether circulating from the top or bubbling up from down below, conspiracies are about power.
Yet conspiracy theories are a biological inheritance. We will never live without them. Our brain fills in gaps when no evidence is present. As Australian psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky points out, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories were rampant during the bubonic plague.
Trauma accelerate this process. Within two weeks 100,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19. Social media seems uniquely designed to spread misinformation. This collective trauma has fueled a strange marriage of vaccination fears, 5G, Bill Gates, Anthony Fauci, Big Brother, anti-Chinese propaganda, and more. Weaving a coherent narrative is exhausting (and impossible). A common refrain appears: It's a power grab.
Discussing the conspiracy du jour that is "Plandemic," Lewandowsky says contradiction is no barrier to entry:
"Conspiracy theorists may also simultaneously believe things that are contradictory. In the 'Plandemic' video, for example, they say COVID-19 both came from a Wuhan lab and that we're all infected with the disease from vaccinations. They're making both claims, and they don't hang together."
Conditions fomenting the conspiracist mindset are debatable. One 2017 study from Union College speculates that the "constellation of personality characteristics collectively referred to as 'schizotypy'" provide the building blocks for conspiracist thinking. While not a clinical diagnosis, lead researcher Josh Hart notes conspiracists are more likely to assess nonsensical statements as "profound." Convincing the converted otherwise is daunting.
How skepticism can fight radicalism, conspiracy theorists, and Holocaust deniers | Michael Shermer
To better understand this mindset we should consider cult worship. My first regular writing beat was as the religion columnist for The Daily Targum. While studying for a degree in religion in the nineties, I interviewed clergy, professors, and students from various faith organizations on the Rutgers campuses. I was struck by how adamantly many believed their position to be right. On rare occasions some expressed humility. Certainty is more likely to gain followers.
These interviews led to my fascination with cults. As with conspiracists, cult worshippers suspend disbelief even when not in their best interest. Their buy-in depends upon a counter-narrative promulgated by a leader: Out there the powers that be are trying to hurt you. You're safe here. Only I can fix this.
Cult leaders exploit anxiety around a shadowy "other" out to get you. While not required, sometimes this other has a form. Ambiguity is a key feature of indoctrination. Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer break this down in their 1993 book, The Guru Papers: Makes of Authoritarian Power.
"What really matters is not so much the specific content of a religion, but how sure one is of its worldview. That is, it's not nearly as important how true or false a belief is as how certain one is of it. All religious certainty is similar in that the beliefs one is certain of coat and comfort fear."
Replace "religion" with "anti-vaccination agenda."
While "Plandemic" seemed to explode out of nowhere, a sophisticated social media campaign created by a QAnon promoter elevated the video. Ambiguity also played a key role, as an LA Times interview with filmmaker Mikki Willis suggests.
Faithful prays for their religious leader Naason Joaquin Garcia, arrested in California, US, facing charges for 26 suspected felonies including human trafficking, rape of minor and child pornography, at the international headquarters of the Church 'La Luz Del Mundo' (Light of the World) in Guadalajara, Jalisco State, Mexico on June 9, 2019.
Photo by Ulises Ruiz / AFP via Getty Images
After Willis admits "Plandemic" is intentionally "conspirational and shocking," the reporter presses him to validate Judy Mikovits's claims. Willis admits leaving in unsubstantiated claims "that could be true, but science hasn't proven it yet"—an effectively meaningless statement. Anything could be true. Science is the process of discovering whether or not a claim holds up.
Truth was never the point. The reporter goes on, "as [Willis] sees it, he is simply offering a necessary alternative to what he calls 'the mainstream narrative.'" Willis himself admitted to another reporter that "Plandemic" is propaganda.
Which narrative? Irrelevant. Suspicion has been expressed. Ambiguity is power.
Matthew Remski specializes in cult dynamics and trauma, predominantly in yoga and Buddhist communities. In his excellent summation of Willis's response, which the filmmaker recorded after "Plandemic" went viral, Remski points out that Willis failed to address his video's content. Instead, he used time-tested cult techniques to sway the observer to his "side."
"In my research on charismatic leadership, many interview subjects report the paradoxical phenomena of the speaker speaking to countless people, while seeming to forge a private connection. Some of this is amplified by the webcam medium, but it's also played up with direct 2nd-person address. As the sermon finds its ultimate/totalistic theme, the diction shifts to first-person plural. The viewer is invited to merge with the speaker. The sermon is about something ultimately important, communicated in close intimacy."
This is Willis's first public message after his video (marketed during the interview as scientific fact) was viewed over eight million times. Mikovits's claims are not presented as speculation. She repeatedly contradicts herself. She probably makes false statements. Doesn't matter. This technique has precedent, having been perfected by our current president over the course of decades: State an absurd or inflammatory idea as possible, let it escalate in the public imagination, then step back and claim no responsibility. Birtherism was a litmus test.
While Mikovits has been doubling and tripling down on her false claims, Willis calls himself an investigative journalist. Releasing an interview with an unvetted subject without researching her claims is the opposite of journalism. "Plandemic" is propaganda masquerading as investigation. The film is perfect fodder for the conspiracist ethos.
Why conspiratorial thinking is peaking in America | Sarah Rose Cavanagh | Big Think
Conspiracy theories are low-beta transmissions—simplistic messages designed to satisfy an answer in search of a question. Tragically, they distract us from real conspiracies, which Lewandowsky says are "usually uncovered by journalists, whistleblowers, document dumps from a corporation or government, or it's discovered by a government agency." Hard work when the public's default response is to yell out "fake news" when their beliefs are challenged. A transmission right from the cult leader's mouth.
"Plandemic" exploits a particular style of paranoid thinking rampant in divergent cultures: Far-right conspiracy theorists like QAnon, anti-vaxxers, and leftist "wellness" advocates. A new cult is forming right before our eyes. While an agenda is not yet clear, identifying leaders is the first step in creating one.
Tara Haelle, senior contributor to Forbes, does an exceptional job explaining how to push back against conspiracy theories like "Plandemic." A comprehensive list of articles debunking the many "facts" presented during the interview is included at the end of the linked post.
Every article I've read about combating conspiracy theories advises to focus your attention on the uninitiated, which is most likely true. Explaining basic vaccine science to a QAnon member likely won't get you far. It's not impossible, however. For a deep dive into saving cult members, check out Steve Hassan's 1988 book, "Combating Cult Mind Control" (it was updated in 2015).
Having been indoctrinated himself, Hassan says that presentation of contradictory evidence often "made me feel more committed to the group." That doesn't make the attempt hopeless, however. Understanding the indoctrination process helps you combat it. Hassan continues,
"Deception is the biggest tool of information control, because it robs people of the ability to make informed decisions. Outright lying, withholding information and distorting information all become essential strategies, especially when recruiting new members."
For the first time in a century, Americans are grappling with a public health crisis involving every citizen. An information war is being waged. This is not the time to be a "keyboard warrior." We have to take a critical but honest look at experts who have devoted their lives to public health. And we need to listen.
A U.S. government intelligence agency develops cutting-edge tech to predict future events.
- The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a research arm of the U.S. government intelligence community, is focused on predicting the future.
- The organization uses teams of human non-experts and AI machine learning to forecast future events.
- IARPA also conducts advanced research in numerous other fields, funding rotating programs.
As far as secretive government projects go, the objectives of IARPA may be the riskiest and most far-reaching. With its mission to foster "high-risk, high-payoff" programs, this research arm of the U.S. intelligence community literally tries to predict the future. Staffed by spies and Ph.D.s, this organization aims to provide decision makers with real, accurate predictions of geopolitical events, using artificial intelligence and human "forecasters."
IARPA, which stands for Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, was founded in 2006 as part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Some of the projects that it has funded focused on advancements in quantum computing, cryogenic computing, face recognition, universal language translators, and other initiatives that would fit well in a Hollywood action movie plot. But perhaps its main goal is to produce "anticipatory intelligence." It's a spy agency, after all.
"Minority report" pre-cog
Dreamworks/20th Century Fox
In the interest of national security, IARPA wants to identify major world events before they happen, looking for terrorists, hackers or any perceived enemies of the United States. Wouldn't you rather stop a crime before it happens?
Of course, that's when we get into tricky political and sci-fi territory. Much of the research done by IARPA is actually out in the open, utilizing the public and experts in advancing technologies. It is available for "open solicitations," forecasting tournaments, and has prize challenges for the public. You can pretty much send your idea in right now. But what happens to the R&D once it leaves the lab is, of course, often for only the NSA and the CIA to know.
The National Security Agency expert James Bamford wrote that the agency is ultimately looking to create a system where huge amounts of data about people's lives would be mined in real-time, for the purpose of preventing actions detrimental to the nation. In his article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bamford wrote that IARPA's goal is to create very powerful automated computer systems, managed through artificial intelligence, which would be "capable of cataloging the lives of everyone everywhere, 24/ 7." Such programs would be able to instantaneously access data streams belonging to citizens, whether from social media or anywhere else. As Bamford writes, being able to analyze "every Facebook post, tweet and YouTube video; every tollbooth tag number; every GPS download, web search and news feed; every street camera video; every restaurant reservation on Open Table — largely eliminates surprise from the intelligence equation."
Of course, one would suspect much of this is going on already. IARPA's Mercury program, for example, concentrates on data mining millions of private overseas communications that are gathered by the National Security Agency. While it can certainly be argued that such a program is a national security necessity, working to spot terrorists and elements that can lead to social unrest, the potential for misuse and infringement on privacy rights has alerted observers.
A fascinating recent project funded by IARPA is called SAGE, which stands for Synergistic Anticipation of Geopolitical Events. As you may expect from such a lofty title, the researchers involved in this endeavor are looking to predict the future. This project is aimed at utilizing non-experts – humans who would use AI machine learning to make qualified statements about what would happen.
Led by Aram Galstyan, director of the Artificial Intelligence Division at the USC Viterbi Information Sciences Institute (ISI), the project has been successful in making concrete predictions, like knowing when North Korea would launch its missile tests. SAGE works by utilizing large sets of human non-expert predictors, pooling their powers by working together, making them "more accurate and faster than a single human subject expert," as explains a USC press release. However, the information these humans or "forecasters" use to make predictions is gathered through a variety of machine learning technologies.
The topics looked at by the predictors include such questions as "Will any G7 nation engage in an acknowledged national military attack against Syria [by a given date]?" They may also want to figure out exactly how much oil Venezuela might produce in a specific month.
Leaders among the forecasters, or those who make the most accurate predictions, are ranked and highlighted with badges.
This AI-assisted crowd-sourced Nostradamus has worked out quite well, according to Fred Morstatter, a USC computer scientist. "We believe that's the case because the numbers we're seeing indicate we are outpacing a system that uses only humans," he remarked.
SAGE's hybrid model functions by offering humans information derived by the machines in charts that show trends, along with specific predictions by the AI. "SAGE works because humans have one side of the coin, and machines have the other side," said Morstatter. And on yet another side you would have the National Intelligence apparatus.
Do you have a good idea for future-oriented national security research? You can actually apply to be a IARPA program manager. Current managers, who rotate every 3 to 5 years, are working on a vast variety of fields, including forecasting, linguistics, underwater technology, aerospace propulsion, atomic physics, artificial intelligence, biometrics, neuroscience, and optics. Check out the list of existing programs.
Being evenhanded with evil ideas is "ridiculous," argues Martin Amis.
- Every piece of writing has a political bent, says Amis. Thus, in his view, neutrality is a chimera — a "mythical creature."
- Some things are so "unshirkably ill-advised" — such as white supremacy — that Amis believes treating such views "evenhandedly," as an alternative perspective of equal moral standing to others, is ridiculous.
- Amis says that he doesn't have it in him to be respectful toward people who harass the bereaved parents of Sandy Hook or Parkland, Florida.
We're finally here! We've been counting down the 10 most popular videos of 2018. This is #1...
- Hey flat Earthers, it's time to put your theory to bed once and for all! "There are so many proofs that the Earth is round, it's difficult to know where to start. And it's not okay to think that the Earth is flat; this is not a viable argument," says NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller.
- Thaller explains three observable proofs that instantly debunk flat-Earth theory with irrefutable evidence of the Earth's round, curvaceous, gloriously spherical shape.
- The ancient Greeks figured out we were living on a sphere over 2,000 years ago, and there are things you can do to prove that the Earth is indeed round—just go to a body of water and look at ships or boats on the horizon with binoculars. Watch the video for the details!
- You can follow Michelle Thaller on Twitter at @mlthaller.