In an earlier post I reviewed some possible explanations for the crop circle phenomenon, and I noted the various theories left several issues unanswered: Who are the hoaxers and what is their exact role in the charade? If a technology is involved, how does it work to actually make the designs? Could it be directed from space or simply from an aerial platform? And why would anyone develop such a beam in the first place? What seemed to me like simple questions raised a surprisingly emotional and occasionally venomous storm of comments on this blog and on other, more specialized, lists. Since we have obviously hit a nerve it may be interesting to drill a bit further.
While New Age believers and skeptics feel passionate about the issue, the educated public and the scientific and technical community have firmly pushed it out of their mind, convinced that all the circles were hoaxes. Even the people who have studied the circles or commented on them may argue for or against their paranormal nature, the possible role of Aliens or the idea that the designs hide an experiment in military electronics, but there is no disagreement about the fact that most of the designs have been made by hoaxers.
As researcher Patrick Gross writes, "These early crop circles were round, because flying saucers were circular, as "everybody knows", in people's imagination if not in reality." His analysis of the phenomenon can be found on this page, where he articulates the proposition that ALL circles are the result of hoaxers, some of whom are actually artists. Mr. Gross provides links to many other useful references.
I once met several of these artists at a conference in Switzerland, where they were presenting their techniques and the resulting data. When I asked them, "How dare you fool people this way?" they answered that art in general was about fooling people to create a sense of awe, beauty or simply a brief, healthy disconnect with ordinary reality. One of them pointed out that "When you look at the Mona Lisa you think you look at a woman, but you have been fooled: there is no woman there; someone just applied some paint to a rectangular piece of canvas. Well, we do the same thing, except that our canvas happens to be a cornfield."
When you put it that way it is perfectly all right for teams of artists to run through the fields at night and produce things like the spider, the bicycle or more elaborate geometric designs. People like Jim Schnabel have participated in the game and there are even international competitions in circle making, with recognition for the most complex productions. No wonder people are convinced that all the circles are made for fun by a team of humans crushing the corn for kicks when the subject comes up in discussions among scientists or businessmen today. The difficult question is, "does this explain ALL the circles, or only the relatively simple ones?" The artists I spoke to in Switzerland confessed that some of the extraordinary designs were beyond their ability to produce them. While the initial "weather phenomenon" theory of Terence Meaden and others has not survived, there are still people who firmly believe the complex designs are made by Aliens and some who state they are a warning from Gaia. Among the technical community there are also those who pursue the idea first expressed by Dr. Jean-Pierre Petit, Jean-Jacques Velasco and others, looking to military electronics as the key to the mystery.
My own feeling about the New Age interpretations is frankly negative. Why assume that Aliens are at work here, when the designs show universally human symbols? Even the Mandelbrot set, one of the most perfect displays, is a representation of a human concept. There is nothing new or scientifically profound in any of this. We are not being taught anything. Similarly, the Gaia hypothesis doesn't work for me. When the Earth teaches us something it is usually brutal and very explicit, like the volcano in Iceland, which leaves little to the imagination.
Which brings us back to the beam weapon hypothesis. Until recently it seemed rather far-fetched, which is why neither Velasco's presentations nor my early articles made any impact. Now that disclosures about actual beam weapons are available, including devices acting from the sky and beams capable of harming humans and stopping engines, we have to revisit the issue and look a bit more seriously at the hard facts left unexplained by the hoax explanation.
The first piece of interesting data has to do with systematic differences between those circles where plants are broken by mechanical action and those where some form of energy has exploded the nodes in the stalks. A detailed study of so-called "expulsion cavities" in corn with exploded nodes is found in the report where the authors note: "During the 1990s multiple specific and distinctive plant abnormalities were repeatedly documented in several hundred different crop formations which had occurred in various European countries as well as in the States and Canada. Extensive laboratory examination of thousands of these crop circle plants and their controls by American biophysicist W. C. Levengood established the presence of consistent changes in the circle plants which were not present in the control plants (plants taken at varying distances outside the crop formations, but in the same fields) -- changes which control studies revealed were not caused by simple mechanical flattening of the plants (with planks, boards, cement rollers or human feet)."
For detailed discussion of earlier plant (and subsequently soil) anomalies documented between 1990-2002, see here and here: That particular line of analysis gets increasingly complex and the controversy is likely to continue for a long time, but other data tends to support the idea that military research is involved.
I have mentioned before that I interviewed a reliable witness who described to me a rather extraordinary device hovering above the fields in an area where circles were commonly found. This man is a professor of physics who is also an avid glider pilot. On that particular occasion he was happily taking advantage of some thermals above the English countryside, admiring the landscape, when he was surprised to see his aircraft reflected in something like a perfect mirror hanging vertically in mid-air. Being of a logical turn of mind he decided to verify the image was not a hallucination, and then he tried to determine the shape of the object by making several turns around it. The thing was cylindrical and covered with a perfectly reflective surface.
While some of my theoretical physics friends continue to argue that a beam capable of causing crop circles could be activated from space, it seems much more likely to me that a low-observable, optically stealthy, hovering platform would be more practical in situations like a battlefield or an urban guerilla flashpoint. Admittedly we are dealing with hypotheticals here, but this would explain the proximity of the circles to classified facilities: the controllers of the device would want to minimize chances that it would wander off and perhaps crash, resulting in premature exposure.
A third argument needs to be mentioned, in answer to the obvious question, "Why would anyone want to develop a beam weapon, and why would it have to come from above?" Part of the answer has already been given in the two disclosures I have quoted before from New Scientist. However the requirements for extremely sophisticated beams go well beyond the applications mentioned in the magazine. In the complex, dangerous range of threats we face today one may need to destroy targets with devices that can create very concentrated areas of extremely high temperature without blowing up whatever building or facility is targeted. Bombing a biological warfare lab, for example, is not a good idea if the result is to disperse a dangerous microbial agent. One could also think of beams that would be used to control the trajectory of a ball of plasma (possibly created by a small atomic explosion) targeted at objects in the atmosphere, in space or on the ground. All such applications would require a long period of development and testing, and would probably be designed as multi-country experiments.
Indeed, during the eighties and nineties there were discreet exchanges of expertise among government agencies concerned with the UFO phenomenon in the U.S., France and Great Britain (and perhaps others). One of the French experts detached to work on this topic with American Intelligence is said to be visible on one of the crop circle videos, mingling among New Age enthusiasts and civilian researchers. Interestingly, much of the classified research conducted in these three countries (while any official interest in UFOs was denied in public statements) was done by microwave experts, including medical researchers specializing in the effect of radiation on living tissue.
From the point of view of rational analysis the weight of evidence is still on the side of the skeptics who assure us that all crop circles are made by artists and lovable, jolly old men like Doug and Dave. But there are facts that don't quite fit, and the alternatives are worth considering. They lead into very disturbing areas, not all of which have to do with physics. In a concluding (fourth) post, I plan to come back to the initial issue raised by the crop circle problem, which is that of the construction and manipulation of belief systems.