Saucer Wisdomby Rudy Rucker, Bruce Sterling (Introduction)
In Saucer Wisdom, he creates a nonfiction novel, using himself as the central character, in which Rucker is given views of the future of technology and of society, especially
Rudy Rucker is a world-famous mathematician and a descendant of the philosopher Hegel. Rucker is the author of a number of popular science books including the bestselling The Fourth Dimension.
In Saucer Wisdom, he creates a nonfiction novel, using himself as the central character, in which Rucker is given views of the future of technology and of society, especially in California, by a man abducted by the inhabitants of a tiny flying saucer. Rucker, in character, describes, and illustrates with delightful cartoon sketches, the world of the progressively more distant future as it is transformed by computer technology, biotechnology, and human evolution. He also describes a hell of a party in Berkeley. Popular science writing is never going to be the same.
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Read an Excerpt
I've always liked the idea of flying saucers. To me, UFOs mean fun. I think of them as a cheerful icon of instant strangeness and enjoyably cheesy science fiction.
Although there have been some excellent UFO movies and TV shows, the books on the subject tend to be emotional downers with very little intellectual content. One of my goals in publishing Saucer Wisdom is to make available a UFO story that is amusing and filled with new ideas.
The story is about my encounters with a man I call "Frank Shook"and about Frank's alleged encounters with aliens. Do I believe everything that Frank told me? It doesn't matter. What counts is that Frank's visions make up a remarkably detailed and coherent set of speculations about humanity's future. Far more than being a work of ufology, Saucer Wisdom is a futuristic vision of the coming millennia. Not to mention the fact that it's a hoot.
A difficulty in presenting Saucer Wisdom to the public is that many people have very strong fixed ideas about UFOs.
On the one hand, serious scientists and intellectuals have little patience for ufology. The fact that I am not at all interested in debunking Frank Shook's claims could well undermine my academic respectability, such as it is. But I feel Frank's ideas are important enough for me to take this risk.
On the other hand, there are many people for whom UFOs are something much too serious to be used in light-spirited intellectual romp such as Saucer Wisdom. For a believer, UFOs can be dark and personal and all too real. And believers are everywhere. The most diverse kinds of people have found themselves drawn into the ongoing worldwide obsession.
There is a level at which UFOs are indeed more than a cultural joke. If nothing else, they represent something important about the human psyche. So before I begin the adventures of Frank Shook, I'd like to insert a brief section containing my opinions about the meaning of UFOs and about the deplorable state of contemporary ufology in general. But if you're eager to get on with the action, you can skip this section.
In the 1950s there was a widespread feeling that the saucers were here to bring some kind of solution, perhaps to the then-paramount problem of the cold war. As the great thinker Carl Jung wrote in 1958, "The UFOs ... have become a living myth. We have here a golden opportunity of seeing how a legend is formed, and how in a difficult and dark time for humanity a miraculous tale grows up of an attempted intervention by extraterrestrial 'heavenly' powers ... ."1
For Jung, the circular UFO is a mandala symbol, representing an integration of the individual psyche with the forces of the cosmos. The flying saucer is thus a projection of the human desire for wholeness and unity. This insight of Jung's is simple and deep. The fact is that it makes people feel good to look at images of flying saucers. There is a feeling of safety and completion in these round, hovering entities.
These positive feelings are undoubtedly connected to our very earliest life experiences. Look back to the dawn of your life, back when you were part ofor very nearly part ofyour mother. Your mother'sbreast is the very first "round, hovering entity" that you encounter. Your mother is the original whole of which you were a part. The common use of the phrase "mother ship" for large UFOs is no accident.
In a healthy adult, the striving for wholeness is quite different from a return to the womb. Rather than longing to regress to infancy, we try instead to become capable of being parents ourselves. By an outward expansion of knowledge and compassion we become well-rounded, we learn to encompass multitudes, and if we are lucky we become parents or teachers who nurture and foster the young. One might say that in attaining emotional maturity, we become a womb rather than trying to reenter it. But this biological formulation leaves something out.
At the deepest level, our ultimate parent is the universe, or the God that underlies it. In maturing, we strive to become more at one with this pervasive divinity, to grow closer to the great ground of all being. This is a quest that is inherently religious, although "religion" can mean a pure spirituality rather than the adherence to the teachings of any particular human sect. And, as with the womb, the drive is not to annihilate oneself back to zero, but rather to expand one's circle of compassion out towards the infinite. In the words of the philosopher Blaise Pascal, the cosmos is a "sphere whose boundary is nowhere and whose center is everywhere."
In this connection, there was an interesting bit in the very first episode of The X-Files. A poster in Mulder's office shows a picture of a flying saucer. And beneath the picture is the caption: I Want to Believe. If we have a deep need to believe in something whole and integrated, what better symbol than a disk in the sky?
Another aspect of the roundness of the flying saucer is that it corresponds, as Jung remarks, to the shape of a mandala. Mandalas are diagrams that people in every culture spontaneously use to represent the geography of the psyche. It is customary to organize a mandala by placing opposing forces at opposite sides of the circle. The very simplest mandala of all, the yin-yang, pairs up paisley-shaped teardrops that are variously colored black-white or red-blue. The points of the compass form a familiar four-sided or eight-sided mandala. The zodiac, or wheel of the months, makes up a twelve-sided mandala. Contained within the geometry of the mandala are three key principles: The first principle isthat any force has an opposing force. The second principle of the mandala is that any one axis between a force and its opposition can be transcended by looking at some other axis. For example you can move beyond an east-west conflict by thinking about a north-south synthesis. The third teaching of the mandala is that a state of complete balance involves an awareness of all the forces along all the axes. If the celestial saucers are harbingers of wholeness, it makes perfect sense for them to be shaped like mandalas.
Jung noted that the sexual instinct and the drive for power readily tend to obscure the reality of the quest for wholeness. As he puts it:
The most important of the fundamental instincts, the religious instinct for wholeness, plays the least conspicuous part in contemporary consciousness because ... it can free itself only with the greatest effort ... from contamination with the other two instincts. These can constantly appeal to common, everyday facts known to everyone, but the instinct for wholeness requires for its evidence a more highly differentiated consciousness, thoughtfulness, reflection, [and] responsibility ... . The most convenient explanations are invariably sex and the power instinct, and reduction to these two dominants gives rationalists and materialists an ill-concealed satisfaction: they have neatly disposed of an intellectually and morally uncomfortable difficulty ...2
During the 1980s and 1990s, this is exactly what happened to ufology. The notion of wholeness was supplanted by notions of sex and power, and the UFO stories became accordingly unwholesome and paranoid. On the one hand, the mythos was tainted by concepts relating to society's pervasive, icky concern with sexual molestation and the politics of reproduction. And on the other hand, much of the energy of ufologists has been diverted into infantile fears that an all-powerful governmenthas been hiding saucer contacts from us. Just as Jung warned, concepts of sexuality and power have utterly eclipsed the concepts of higher consciousness.
Let me give some quick examples of the role of sex in modern ufology. Although Whitley Strieber's Communion: A True Story is in some ways an interesting book, it prominently features an alien proctoscope. "The next thing I knew I was being shown an enormous and extremely ugly object ... at least a foot long, narrow, and triangular in structure. They inserted this thing into my rectum."3 Sadly enough, this repellent scene seems to have struck a deep cultural resonance. Many more examples of this nature are to be found in the hypnotically evoked case studies described in John Mack's Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994).
What are Mack's abduction scenarios like? Much of a dreary muchness. You're in bed or in a car, usually asleep. You see a light. You float up into the air and into a flying saucer. Inside the saucer a tall alien who reminds you of a doctor probes at your genitals and sticks things up your butt. If you are a man, the "doctor" masturbates you to joyless orgasm, and if you are a woman, the "doctor" extracts eggs from your ovaries. Then you wake up back in your car or in your bed. Is this pathetically infantile scenario really what one might expect superhuman aliens to do? Would godlike beings fly halfway across the galaxy simply to perform what Mack calls "urological-gynecological procedures"?
Modern ufology's obsession with political power is equally inane. Book after book appears about alleged government cover-ups. One of the reasons for the success of the 1996 film Independence Day is that it gave such a satisfyingly vivid depiction of what has become more and more of a core belief: the U.S. government has several intact flying saucers in its possession, as well as some alien corpses and even a few live-alien saucer crew members. Mesmerized at the thought of so vast a political conspiracy, today's ufologists engage in a never-ending discussionof amateurishly forged "top-secret government documents" that supposedly describe high-level contacts with aliens. How sad that in the 1990s a close encounter is likely to be with Xeroxed pseudo-bureaucratic gobbledygookinstead of with a flaming wheel from the sky.
What has happened in contemporary ufology is that sexual fantasies and conspiracy theories have clouded over any possible higher truth in the UFO experience. Where we might have hoped to find creative ideas and enlightenment, we find only clichés and hysterical fear.
One of my aims in setting Saucer Wisdom before the public is to try and alter this trend. Thanks to my contacts with Frank Shook, I'm in the fortunate position of being able to present a radically new style of ufology, which includes a great deal of completely new information about aliens and future worlds. I hope you enjoy Frank's tales as much as I have.
I first met the remarkable Frank Shook after a public lecture I gave at the Angelico Auditorium of Dominican College in San Rafael, California. It was a damp, springlike February day in 1992. I spoke on my popular science book The Fourth Dimension to an audience of perhaps two hundred. Three or four people approached me after my talk for autographs, or simply to say that they liked my books. After my fans had finished with me, one person remained, a smiling man about my age and height, but much thinner. For whatever reason, I immediately pegged him as an eccentric. He had medium-length brown hair and was clean-shaven. His eyes were alert behind his black-rimmed spectacles. His tone was enthusiastic and confiding, as if we were old friends.
"I've underlined a lot of things in your book The Fourth Dimension," he began, not bothering to introduce himself. "It's material I've had occasion to think about pretty deeply. The thing is" He essayed a brief, direct glance into my eyes. "I have, um, a lot of technical information. I'm having trouble putting it into words."
"Do you mean you want to write a book?" I asked him. Over the years I've been approached by any number of fringe-science devotees,and they can be very persistent. It's not unusual for them to expect me to help them in getting published. Some have even asked me to help them write. My interlocutor's next sentence confirmed my expectations.
"I need to get rid of the information, get it out of me, and I thought maybe you could help me process it."
"I'm not clear on what kind of information you mean."
"Well ... it's about some unusual experiences I've had relating to space and time. I've been encountering another order of reality."
For all I knew, this man's notion of "another order of reality" consisted of studying astrology. Or taking drugs.
"Tell me something specific," I challenged him. His smile faded and he looked uneasily around the big, empty hall, as if afraid of being overheard. But everyone else had left, except for my hosts at the other end of the auditorium, now busy turning things off. Still the man hesitated, and I began to wonder if he actually had anything to say. "While we're talking, let's head towards the exit over there," I suggested. "They have to close this place up."
We stepped down off the dais and headed down the aisle together. "I'm not sure they want me to be talking with you at all, Rudy," the man finally said. "But okay, here's a hint. What I want to tell you involves three-dimensional time."
"All right!" I exclaimed. I'm predisposed to like any theory about how time might be different. Linear one-dimensional time is a drearily familiar past/present/future death trap I've always longed to escape.
Seeing my interest, the man's smile returned. "I thought that would get you going!"
"So what's your name?" I asked him.
Just then somebody did something that made the auditorium public-address system begin giving off a shrill drone of feedback. The grainysquealing disturbed Frank Shook inordinately. He waved his hands back and forth in a frightened "all-bets-are-off" kind of gesturethen whirled and ran out through a nearby side exit. I followed him outside, only to see his lean form striding off through the dusk and the gentle rain. Apparently he'd decided that "they" didn't want him to talk with mewhoever "they" were.
None of my hosts had ever heard of any Frank Shook. For a few months I'd think of him and wonder about three-dimensional time, but then I forgot him.
I occasionally review science-related books for the Washington Post, and in April of 1994 I wrote a negative review of John Mack's book Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens, making the same point I already mentioned above: that the UFO experience, if it has any validity at all, surely must consist of more than spooky dreams and juvenile sex fantasies. I was a little worried about publishing the review. On a rational level, I was concerned that some saucer believers might harass me. And on a deeper level, I was worried that maybe, just maybe, the aliens themselves would decide to teach me a lesson.
In the weeks after the review came out, I got a few mildly worded letters of protest from Mack adherentsbut nothing else happened.
Then on Tuesday, May 31, 1994, my wife Audrey and I returned home from a four-day trip to Eugene, Oregon. Mixed in with the humdrum voice mail on our answering machine were three very curious messages, delivered by a man whose voice I didn't immediately recognize. The messages were singular enough that I took the trouble to write them down.
"You're just making fun of Mack's abductees because you're scared of aliens. You think you've got the whole world in a little science box. But the aliens are everywhere, Rudy, they're all around us. Okay, now I've done it, I've told you. I'm gonna hang up and see what happens." Click. The voice sounded both frightened and exultant.
I let the messages keep playing. A greeting from our niece. A call from the bicycle repair shop. A reminder from the dentist. And then the voice was back.
"Hi, Rudy, this is Frank Shook. I was scared to leave my name yesterday. But I talked with the aliens again last night and it is okay for me to tell you." A big, shaky sigh. "Rudy, why don't you come out toour cabin, say at one on Thursday, June second? I can explain everything then. Remember how I said something about three-dimensional time? This has a lot to do with it. The cabin's a little hard to findwe're up in the Santa Cruz Mountainsso you should meet me at Carlita's Mexican restaurant. Here's how you get there" And he proceeded to leave detailed instructions, sounding more and more calm and businesslike.
The very last message of all on our machine was from Frank Shook as well, bright and chipper.
"Rudy, this is Frank. Are you out of town? Or not answering?" Long pause. "I was rereading your review in the library today. I thought you'd like to know that the aliens have never fiddled with my privates. For me, this isn't about sex at all. I'm still hoping to see you Thursday. Carlita's, one o'clock!"
Audrey was quite upset over these messages. "How did this nut get hold of our phone number?" she cried. "What if he comes after you!"
"It sounds pretty bizarre," I agreed. "I have met him, though, and he didn't seem physically threatening. It was after that talk I gave in San Rafael a couple of years ago. Frank Shook. He must have seen the Post review, remembered that I live around here, and looked us up in the phone book."
"Oh, why did you have to write that stupid review? What do you care about flying saucers!"
I rewound the tape and played the messages again. I still wanted to know about three-dimensional time. And I was intrigued that this man flat-out said he'd talked with aliens. "You know, I think I should go over to Frank Shook's house on Thursday. That would be day after tomorrow. It might be really interesting. If I go, I can call you as soon as I get there and give you his number and have you call me back. That way he'll know that someone knows I'm there, and if I want to leave, I'll pretend you said I had to hurry home."
"Don't do it," said Audrey. "What if he wants to kill you?"
"I don't think he's that kind of guy. A little weird, sure, but he smiles a lot andand he's full of interesting ideas."
"The smiling ones are the worst kind!"
I listened to the messages for a third time. "Did you notice he says 'our cabin,' Audrey? That probably means he has a wife. It's a good sign if he has a wife."
"How do you know that when he says 'our cabin' he isn't talking about himself and the termites that live in his gunjy saucer-nut brain?"
Tuesday night, for the first time in years, I dreamed I saw a flying saucer. It was transparent, sketched in lines of pale light against a blue sky. Its form was the traditional saucer shape of a gently curved disk with a domed central cabin.
Wednesday I went out walking in the hills with my orange-and-white collie-beagle dog Arf. It was a calm, warm spring day. Arf and I found a little meadow by some oak trees, and we lay down there in the coarse green grass. Staring up into the blue sky, I remembered my dream of seeing the saucer. But maybe the aliens didn't use saucers. "The aliens are everywhere," Frank Shook had said. "They're all around us."
Over the years I've occasionally had the feeling of seeing things out of the corner of my eyefleeting things that rush past too fast to observe. Might there be creatures who move across time as readily as we move through space?
The shadows beneath the oaks were pierced by bright shafts of sunlight, alive with drifting motes of dust and pollen. I remembered a passage in Diogenes Laertius's third-century Life of Pythagoras: "The Pythagoreans also assert that the whole air is full of souls."5
The sky looked so big and blankboth full and empty. There was nothing between outer space and me, nothing between me and the Sun and the worlds beyond. The faint noises of the woods and meadow began to seem alien, began to stick together in new shapes. I had to fight back a spasm of fear.
Now I grew angry at myself for being afraid.
It would be madness to start being scared of being outdoors alone. Solitude and nature are precious to me. I would never want to be sometimid person whose idea of hiking is walking around a mall, whose notion of the seaside is a Fisherman's Wharf shopping mall, whose concept of adventure is Disneyland, whose fling with sin is Las Vegas. Yes, I did want to pursue Frank Shook's notion of aliens all around usbut not if his strange ideas ended up frightening me into being one of mass culture's obedient sheep.
You don't have to be afraid, an inner voice seemed to say. Trust in God!
God? These days it was highly unusual for me to think of that topic. As the son of a minister, I'd been hustled off to church Sunday after Sunday, year after year. But from my teen years on, the rituals had struck me as empty. I felt that people went to church simply because it made them feel good to be in a crowd of like-minded individuals. And with the coming of the religious right and televangelism, my indifference to Christianity had soured into fear and contempt.
In my twenties and early thirties, I'd become interested in mysticism. I adopted the notion of a supernal yet immediate One Mind, a cosmic white light that shines through ordinary objects like sunlight through stained-glass windows. In my usual scholarly fashion, I read up on mysticism, enjoying such classics as Aldous Huxley's Perennial Philosophy and D. T. Suzuki's Introduction to Zen Buddhism. I even reached the point of mentally codifying mysticism into three concise statements: All is One, the One is Unknowable, and the One is Right Here.
But as my thirties stretched on and gave way to my forties, my theories about mysticism had come to seem like a dry, academic game. What good, after all, was some metaphysical notion of a One Mind? My mother grew ill and died; my father had a debilitating stroke; my own health became less reliable. I was haunted by one of the last things my father had said to me before his stroke crippled him: "Rudy, all I know about life is this: you get old and you die."
Lying there on the hilltop with Arf, I felt the sun beating down on my closed eyelids, filling my eyes with bright light. God is everywhere, I thought, trying the notion on. God can hear me. And finally, for the first time in years, I let myself pray. Dear God, please be with me. Protect me and let me do your will.
Copyright © 1999 by Rudy Rucker
Meet the Author
Rudy Rucker is a mathematician, computer scientist, professor and writer who has twice won the Philip K. Dick Award for best SF paperback original, and has published a number of successful popular books on mathematical subjects, including The Fourth Dimension and Infinity and the Mind. He lives in Los Gatos, California.
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