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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134 - Anthony Thogmartin on Mind, Music, and Technology

Ep. 134
Multi-instrumentalist musician Anthony Thogmartin of Papadosio [band], EarthCry [solo project], and Seed to Stage [music production tutorials] joins us for the first time since Episode 10 to talk about navigating the exponentially expanding body of human knowledge, how interfacing with different media technologies yields new minds and selves at the intersection, and the profound creative evolution he and his band have undergone by embracing tools like Ableton Live. For the ten-plus years I’ve known him, Anthony’s optimism and enthusiasm have inspired me to seize the day and strive for new horizons, and whether or not you make music I have no doubt this conversation will inspire you as well.Future Fossils Podcast is entirely listener-supported. Support the show on Patreon for more inspiring extras than you probably have time for.Buy any of the books we mention in this episode through my Amazon Shop and I’ll receive a tiny kickback at no extra cost to you.Mentioned:Ishi Crew, Complexity Explorers Facebook Group, Scott E. Page, Mirta Galesic, SpaceWeather.com, Neal.Fun/deep-sea, Caitlin McShea, InterPlanetaryFest.org, Sam Brouse, Korg Minilogue, Ableton Push, Meow Wolf, Jessica Flack, The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, Darwin’s Pharmacy by Richard Doyle, Gary Weber, Erik Davis, A Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, Plato, Thoth, Technopoly by Neil Postman, America Before by Graham Hancock, Wile E. Coyote, Star Trek, Google Translate, Ableton Live, Bitwig, Microdose VR, Android Jones, Anson Phong, Sennheiser, Magic Leap, David Block, Phaedroid, Glitch Mob, Mi.Mu gloves, Oculus Quest, Google Duo, Burning Man, Sweet Melis, The Glass Cage by Nicholas CarrDiscussed:The value of long-form media and the conversation as ways of deepening our engagement with an accelerating world.Neurodiversity and the “social molecule,” and how being different together is good for all of us.“The only reason we [human beings] made it is because we’re good at talking to each other.”Our understanding of the planet is not just expanding outward, but also inward…not just into the vastness of space but deeper into the oceans and crust and into inner space.The more attention you pour into things, the more finely differentiated they become, and things get bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. Earthcry’s concept album Identity Mitosis and its multimedia storytelling about a conversation between AI and Gaia long after the extinction of humankind.What does the future look like without us?Living at the bottleneck between the complexity of the micro and the macro.The self as a plural ecosystem and the conscience as the voice of various unconscious neural motifs erupting into consciousness.Awakening as the abandoning of episodic autobiographic memory and the vice grip of the default mode network.The egoic self as a kind of electrical phenomenon, and possibly a kind of auxiliary or emergency preservation mode (not our natural state of balanced health).Metabolic ontology and the possibility of reality itself changing with the states of the extended body-mind in psychogenic networks.The cybernetic self and how performing music is also being a part of the music technology ecosystem.The dependency of thought on the mediation of technology…handwriting vs. typing, etc., and how different selves emerge in different contexts.Polarization and our refusal to understand one another.Generation gaps in technological fluency.Is the Universal Translator not RUNNING Starfleet?Letting Ableton Live take over Papadosio.YouTube vs. Instagram.Moore's Law and miniaturization in music performance, and moving with the current of technological evolution rather than against it.Michael’s open call to developers to help us create software for controlling music and visuals simultaneously with a gestural interface in virtual reality……and Anthony’s disclaimers about why this hasn’t happened yet.Augmented reality versus virtual reality and how evolution is co-evolving with the human body and mind (not just people adapting to technology).What matters depends on the scale at which you’re paying attention.Future Fossils Theme Music:“God Detector” by Evan “Skytree” Snyder feat. Michael Garfield

133 - Brian Swimme on Telling A New Story of Our Universe

Ep. 133
This week’s guest is mathematician and cosmologist Brian Swimme, faculty at CIIS’ Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness Program and author of several books, including The Universe is a Green Dragon: A Cosmic Creation Story (which we discuss in this episode).Brian is a major voice in the conversation about the new myths required for us in an age of planetary culture, an articulate and approachable thinker whose warmth and generosity — virtues equal to his intellectual achievement —really shine through in this conversation.Brian at CIIS Brian at the Center for Humans and NatureBrian’s documentary, Journey of the UniverseBrian’s Coursera class“A lot of scientists will say, ‘I don’t have a metaphysics. I just deal with facts.’ But it’s not the case…”“Locating ourselves in time I think is the fundamental scientific or spiritual challenge.”“The Earth is closer to a living organism than it is a collection of objects.”“One of the fundamental errors of the modern period is RUINING this idea of Singularity…it’s thinking of ourselves as the intelligent species in a world that is basically a collection of objects. And then we imagine that we with our clever minds are creating technology…rather than joining a process.”“It could be that the future of science depends on the question of the within, the inner world…”We Discuss:Locating ourselves in time…The Universe is a Green Dragon: A Cosmic Creation StoryZak Stein (Episode 97)What We Learn From Mass ExtinctionsWe Are Something The Planet Is Doing Thomas BerryPierre Teilhard de Chardin (although V.I. Vernadsky coined the term “noosphere”)James P. CarseErnst HaeckelSean Esbjörn-Hargens (Episodes 60 + 113)Dr. Blue (Episode 124)Theme Music: “God Detector” by Evan “Skytree” Snyder (feat. Michael Garfield)https://skytree.bandcamp.com/track/god-detector-ft-michael-garfieldAdditional Music: “Valles Marineris” by Michael Garfieldhttps://michaelgarfield.bandcamp.com/album/martian-arts-epSupport this show on Patreon to join the book club and for secret episodes:https://patreon.com/michaelgarfield

132 - Erik Davis on Perturbations in the Reality Field

Ep. 132
This week’s guest is author, culture critic, and philosopher of the weird Erik Davis, whose work has been one of my main inspirations for almost ten years. His latest work of epic scholarship, High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies, is an exploration of topics I presumed inaccessible to academic inquiry so masterful I’ve been evangelizing it for months and basically forced a copy on my boss (David Krakauer, President of the Santa Fe Institute, who was a guest in Episode 75). In this episode we peer into the intersection of psychedelics, madness, systems science, postmodernism, and religious studies to ask about the truly other that refuses to allow us a clean answer to the questions, “What is the Real?” and “Did that just really happen?” Strap in for one of the headiest and most important conversations that we’ve ever had on Future Fossils…Join the Future Fossils Podcast Patreon for exclusive perks like an extra 10 minutes of this conversation, in which Erik & Michael discuss “black goo.”Visit Erik’s website to sign up for his email updates (always wonderful) and stay abreast of upcoming events, such as his talk at the SF Psychedelic Society on Thursday Dec 19.Get a copy of High Weirdness at MIT Press.Erik’s appearance on Future Fossils Episode 99 (a kind of prequel to this conversation).My 2011 and 2012 appearances on Erik’s podcast, Expanding Mind.Erik and I discuss over video chat (part 1, part 2) the revised and expanded third edition of his book Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information.Shop through my Amazon storefront and support the show indirectly with your purchases:https://amazon.com/storefront/michaelgarfieldJoin the Future Fossils Facebook Discussion Grouphttps://facebook.com/groups/futurefossilsShow music by Evan “Skytree” Snyder feat. 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