113 - Sean Esbjörn-Hargens on Exostudies: Philosophical Explorations of the UFO Phenomenon

Ep. 113

My graduate advisor Sean Esbjörn-Hargens is one of the most consistently inspiring and refreshingly different thinkers I’ve ever met. In our first Future Fossils conversation, we discussed his work to apply a profoundly “meta” and pluralistic philosophy to the everyday work of organizational development and social impact. In this discussion, we turn over the rock and examine his decades of inquiry into some of the world’s most puzzling and confounding phenomena – namely, those surrounding the UFO and its aura of science-challenging incursions into mundane reality. 

Might “Exostudies” be the locus of a transformation in how we understand reality? This is not your normal New Age conversation about aliens, but a rigorous look into the persistent weirdness and problematic implications of one of humankind’s greatest mysteries. As Phil Dick famously said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” If UFOs are here to stay – with all of their attendant provocations to our oversimple categories (self and other, artificial and natural, hallucination and perception, physical and immaterial) – then we are overdue for a new definition of “reality.” In preparation for his Exostudies online course this fall, we look at how to make sense of the stubbornly ineffable – an evolutionary call to take up higher-dimensional logic and more nuanced understandings of What Is…


“When you go into the UFO field, at least with an open heart and mind, you come across some really crazy shit. It is a freakshow. There are so many bizarre claims being made by standup citizens who are quite believable in what they are saying, even though what they’re saying just does not map onto our general view of reality.”

“The truth is stranger than science fiction. Not just fiction, but science fiction.”

“The phenomenon is subjective and objective; it’s subjective and objective simultaneously; and it’s neither. So I think what it’s asking us is to re-examine the relationship between mind and matter, and how do we relate to subject and object, and how has our current scientific methodology failed us horribly in having a more sophisticated answer or framing or understanding of how these two aspects are related.”

“There are really good, legitimate photographs, and trace evidence, and all kinds of physical evidence for UFO craft and other otherworldly realities…and yet, there are so many fakes. And how do you sift through all that? You almost can’t.”

“We’re entering into an augmented and virtual space that’s going to be ontologically fragmented, and highly pluralistic, and solipsistic. So how do we navigate that culturally? I don’t know, but I think we’re largely unprepared.”

“We’re not that far from discovering some form of mini-life elsewhere. And as soon as that happens, then the floodgates are going to open in considering the implications of that.”

“So many UFO or ET enthusiasts often want to put everything in one box, like ‘they’re all bad,’ ‘they’re all good,’ ‘they’re all future versions of ourselves.’ I think it’s much messier than that.”

“I think one of the core strategies is hermeneutic generosity. A sense of critical thinking, but from a place of generosity, where we stay open. Postmodernism has been so jaded – the hermeneutics of suspicion – I think when we approach these phenomena, we need a different orientation.”

“To really bring any kind of justice to this inquiry, we need to draw on the best thinking from as many kinds of disciplines as we can – because the phenomenon is that big, and that mysterious, and that paradoxical. So anything short of a meta, integrative approach – and even that – is going to fail.”


Diana Slattery, John Mack, Avi Loeb, Ken Wilber, Jeff Kripal, Whitley Strieber, Arthur Brock, George Knapp, John C. Wright, Olaf Stapledon, Stuart Davis, Jeff Salzman, Richard Doyle, Carl Jung, Terence McKenna, William Irwin Thompson, DW Pasulka, Eric Wargo, Jacques Vallee

Sean’s appearance on the Daily Evolver Podcast:


If you liked this episode, check out Episodes 60 & Episode 91:



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