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The Jung Center searches for the cause and meaning of crop circles

There is magic in the data itself. Like the phenomena they represent, the charts and maps fall into patterns that appear to defy human machination. Why are crop circles - large geometric symbols that reportedly appear overnight in open fields - so much more common in Iowa than in Louisiana? No, smarty pants; they don't occur only in "crops." Wild grass is the second-most-popular medium, followed closely by "other." Mysterious circle patterns have even been reported in ice, according to the Independent Crop Circles Researchers' Association, but wheat remains vastly more popular than hay.

The San Antonio Jung Center will explore the mountain of assembled data, which spans at least four centuries and most continents but has yet to generate any viable theories, in its conference, Civilization in Transition: The History and Mystery of the Contemporary Crop Circle Phenomena, May 13-14 at the Menger Hotel.

The event's title reflects the fact that crop circles are mostly a modern development, with sightings peaking in the '90s. Crop-circle debunkers have assembled their own charts to argue that increases in crop-circle incidences correlate with increased media coverage, and a handful of hoaxers have come forward over the years. Skeptics cite the growing intricacy of crop circles as further evidence that the adaptive, trainable, and cunning human is the real culprit.

Civilization in Transition:
The History and Mystery of Contemporary Crop Circle Phenomena

Public Lecture
7-9pm Fri, May 13
$15; $10 Jung Center members

Seminar and Workshop
10am-4pm Sat, May 14
$35; $25 Jung Center members

Menger Hotel
204 Alamo Plaza
"Cereologists" and "croppies" (as scientists who investigate crop circles are known), and lay believers say the circles can't all be made by people; there are too many of them, and some 50 eyewitnesses claim to have seen circles form before their eyes, often with a ball of white light (Hello, Marfa?). The balls of light (or BOL as they're known in the field; pun unavoidable) and claims of increased radiation levels, electromagnetic fields, and iron-oxide glazes, have led to a new, less catchy, name among some researchers: Multidimensionally structured energy impact manifestations. Still, extraterrestrials remain a popular explanation, and, among Jungians, multi-dimensional beings who may or may not be from outer space. "If anything `crop circles are` stronger evidence than UFO sightings because it's evidence left behind," says psychologist and conference organizer J. Paul De Vierville. "There seems to be a progression from simplicity to complexity, but what is the message, or, if there is a message, is the message for us?"

"`Aliens are` as good a speculation as any other," says ICCRA representative Jeff Wilson, one of two headliners at the Jung Center's conference. "No one at this point has gathered enough evidence to favor any one hypothesis over another." Armed with a peer-reviewed methodology known as the L-NEAT test, which they say measures an anomaly in the growth node of flattened plants in "authentic" crop circles, seekers such as Wilson are undeterred by their critics. Wilson says that ICCRA's main job at this point is to continue winnowing out the hoaxes. One "test" that may come up for debate is the "bent, not broken" theory: Some observers report that authentic crop-circle plants mysteriously remain healthy and growing despite being bent, and stretched, at a consistent angle. "That's perpetuated often," disagrees Wilson, "and it's not the case."

Wilson says this weekend's workshops will focus on American and Canadian crop circles. They have been sighted in almost all 50 states. Since the '70s, 10 have been reported in Texas, two of which were found to have a single mutilated cow at the center, another way in which Texas is just special. "There have been very few where that's happened," says Wilson. "No one has gotten to the bottom of the mutilated livestock `phenomenon`, either."

Multi-dimensional beings from outer space or chinch bugs? This circle appeared recently in the yard of a San Antonio resident. Her landlord recommended herbicides, but she is trying to communicate with the circle's authors. (Photo by Lisa Sorg)

The study of crop circles fits Thomas Kuhn's definition of a "pre-paradigm science" Wilson says. "The rules to saying what you can and can't study - there are no rules." For the ICCRA that means that sound artist Beata Van Berkom, Wilson's co-presenter at the Jung Center event, is on equal footing with physicists. Researchers have been able to extrapolate musical chords from two recent Ohio circles, De Vierville excitedly reports. "As crazy as it sounds, it's much like that film (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Da-da-da-da," he sings.

Science historian Michael Shermer is unimpressed with De Vierville's tune. "I consider `crop circles` performance art," says the Scientific American columnist and publisher of Skeptic magazine, "the kind of thing that Christo does." Shermer, who says he believes there is other life in outer space, nonetheless thinks that all crop circles are hoaxes. Humans are pattern-seekers, he observes; we try to create meaningful narratives out of the universe's vast array of material. But how could humans be responsible for those increasingly complicated crop-circle patterns? "The answer is, they got better at it!"

With its desire to embrace the possibilities of the mystery over the knowable facts, the study of "multidimensionally structured energy impact manifestations" resembles another recently re-christened "pre-paradigm science" called Intelligent Design. That comparison doesn't bother De Vierville who, like a mystic, is looking to commune with something beyond mere humanity. "There are others, who are actually feeling they have been inspired; they feel like they are attempting to communicate with whoever is doing this," he says. "Quite frankly, as this develops slowly, and it seems to be evolving, this is bigger than the Pope's funeral. This is bigger than Columbus contact."

By Elaine Wolff

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