The X-Files and Science
This pop culture file is divided into four parts.
1. The Conspiracy
2. The Realm of Science
3. The Realm of the Fantastic
4. Mulder´s Philosophical Method
1. The Conspiracy
While the monster of the week might draw the viewers in, it´s the promise of The Conspiracy being revealed that keeps them watching The X-Files. The secretive shadowy Conspiracy supposedly runs through most aspects of our lives and we don´t even know it.
The shadow government (cryptocracy, secret government, or invisible government) is a family of conspiracy theories based on the notion that real and actual political power resides not with publicly elected representatives but with private individuals who are exercising power behind the scenes, beyond the scrutiny of democratic institutions. According to this belief, the official elected government is in reality subservient to the shadow government who are the true executive power.
Shadow government theories often propose that the government is secretly controlled by foreign elements (such as aliens or the Vatican and Jesuits), internal minorities (such as the Jews, moneyed interests and central banks, or Freemasons), or globalist elites and supranational organizations, who seek to manipulate policy or conquer the world.
Conspiracy-oriented literature postulates the existence of a secret government which is the true power behind the apparent government. And popularizing the idea was the hit US television show, The X-Files. And on the whole, this idea is central in popular culture as such.
But The X-Files is just a TV show, right? There are real conspiracies, like Watergate and Iran-Contra, and there are conspiracy theories, like the New World Order being brought about by The Illuminati or the World Jewish Banking Conspiracy, and the 9/11 attacks being a “false flag” operation orchestrated by the US government itself…or maybe the Israelis.
There are somewhat more elaborate conspiracy theories too: for instance, the theory that ancient astronauts, in the past, programmed the DNA of our neurons so that these neurons can be made unstable by triggering the aggression centers of the brains of people who live in the areas of the world where evidence of these astronauts is hidden.
My concept of The Matrix Conspiracy is permeated with such theories of DNA activation, some programmed by evil aliens, others by good aliens. But also a huge amount of other alternate theories of our DNA, and their hidden “spiritual” programs. This kind of “Spiritual Eugenics” is extremely popular in the culture of today. And popular culture is what The X-Files builds upon. I have even heard Matrix sophists claim that The X-Files made them realize the “truth.” (this is also the case with another pop culture phenomenon, namely the movie The Matrix, which is the movie behind my own concept of The Matrix Conspiracy – see my pop culture file The Matrix).
My claim with The Matrix Conspiracy is, contrary to the traditional conspiracy theories, that it is the conspiracy theories themselves that, among others, constitute a kind of shadow government, and that it is the promoters of these ideas who are the Men in Black. In popular culture and UFO conspiracy theories, men in black (MIB) are supposed men dressed in black suits who claim to be government agents who harass or threaten UFO witnesses to keep them quiet about what they have seen. It is sometimes implied that they may be aliens themselves (not that far out, if we consider the weirdness of their ideas). The term is also frequently used to describe mysterious men working for unknown organizations, as well as various branches of government allegedly designed to protect secrets or perform other strange activities. The term is generic, used for any unusual, threatening or strangely behaved individual whose appearance on the scene can be linked in some fashion with a UFO sighting. Several alleged encounters with the men in black have been reported by UFO researchers and enthusiasts. The reason why it is a fair idea that The Matrix Conspiracy constitutes a kind of shadow government with its own agents, is the enormous impact it has on popular culture. This is a far larger “spiritual” movement than all religions together. And you can really get yourself into trouble if you are critical. It is for example not possible for me to have an email on the internet.
The Matrix Conspiracy is also intimately linked to the concept of philosophy, and therefore I also call these MIBs “Matrix Sophists”, teachers who are the archetypal opposition to the archetypal philosopher Socrates. In connection with the movie The Matrix, I especially refer to the Matrix Sophists as a multitude of Agent Smith clones, and the rebels as the Socratic liberators.
The Matrix Conspiracy is therefore closely related to the branch of philosophy called epistemology. Epistemology is concerned with the theory of knowledge. It studies the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief.
Much of the debate in epistemology centers on four areas: (1) the philosophical analysis of the nature of knowledge and how it relates to such concepts as truth, belief, and justification, (2) various problems of skepticism, (3) the sources and scope of knowledge and justified belief, and (4) the criteria for knowledge and justification.
Epistemology addresses such questions as "What makes justified beliefs justified?", "What does it mean to say that we know something?" and fundamentally "How do we know that we know?"
In connection with The X-Files the question is: how can we sort the real conspiracies from flights of fancy? It really does seem that we learn that governments and corporations across the world have been hiding important information from us, as Wikileaks and Edward Snowden have shown us. Much of this information is information that we think we should have been told about. Mulder relies on The Lone Gunmen time and again for that little piece of information that helps him solve whatever roadblock he´s run into.
The Lone Gunmen are a trio of fictional characters, Richard "Ringo" Langly, Melvin Frohike and John Fitzgerald Byers, who appeared in recurring roles on The X-Files, and who starred in the short-lived spin-off, The Lone Gunmen. Their name was derived from the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was solely responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Described as counterculture patriots, they are ardent conspiracy theorists, government watchdogs and computer hackers who frequently assist Mulder and Scully, though they sometimes have their own adventures.
The Lone Gunmen author a news publication called The Lone Gunman (once referred to as The Magic Bullet Newsletter; a pejorative reference to the single bullet theory and, like the group's name, a reference to the Kennedy assassination), to which Mulder loyally subscribed. None of them have day jobs; they rely on financial backers who believe in their cause, and the revenue generated by the subscriptions to their paper. They share a loft apartment where they also work, and use a 1974–79 VW Transporter to commute.
But what exactly is a conspiracy theory? What is the difference between a theory about a real conspiracy and one that turns out to be a fantasy?
No one wants to be called a conspiracy theorist. It´s an insult, a dismissal. Except for a few who proudly and defiantly label themselves that way, people who insist that Lee Harvey Oswald was a government patsy want to avoid the label. (Besides, we all know that the Cigarette Smoking Man was the actual lone gunman, and he wasn´t shooting from the grassy knoll). If we are going to call these implausible theories “conspiracy theories,” we would ask what exactly is a conspiracy theory? I mean, there really are conspiracies. Since the term “conspiracy theory” is so widely understood to be a derogatory, dismissive term, we should try to go with the flow. So, as British academics Jane Parrish and Martin Parker do, perhaps we should call the kinds of theories we shouldn´t take seriously “conspiracy theories” and the kinds of theories we should take seriously as “theories of conspiracy.”
Seen in that light my concept of The Matrix Conspiracy is a theory of conspiracy. But what´s the difference between a conspiracy theory and a theory of conspiracy? Put very simply, conspiracy theories offer very implausible explanations involving secret plots to account for an event. Theories of conspiracy offer explanations involving secret plots that are plausible, even if they are improbable (or even turn out not to be true). The difference seems to depend on the implausibility of the explanation.
Conspiracy theories typical have several aspects. The conspiracy involves a number of powerful, yet unknown people operating in secret (for instance, a small group of men operating inside the US government but without the knowledge of their superiors). The conspiracy is a prime motivating force in historical events (for example, the assassination of JFK or the 9/11 attach on the World Trade Center). The conspiracy has a detailed and comprehensive objective (for example, that the US government engineered the attacks on 9/11 in order to whip up fear and hostility that would justify the invasion of Iraque; a “false flag” operation).
Lastly, conspiracy theories are nearly always irrefutable. No matter how contradictory the available evidence is, or how much evidence to the contrary is produced, it can all be dismissed as “what they want you to think,” evidence of just how powerful, clever, and manipulative the conspirators are, or that those who are trying to debunk the conspiracy theory are either patsies or fellow conspirators. The conspiracy theory mentality gets fed by taking evidence that would normally be thought to refute and making it into evidence that confirms the conspiracy theory.
The conspiracy theory is almost immune to any possible evidence that it is not true. Theories of conspiracy, on the other hand, look like any other kind of legal case. That is, you can think of something, that if it were true, would show the theory of conspiracy not true. But exactly does this all work? How do you go about deciding whether a conspiracy theory of theory of conspiracy is true?
If you are a scientific oriented paranormal investigator, which both Mulder and Scully are (though in different ways, as we shall see), one crucial principle is, that a certain theory has to have falsifiability or refutability, or said in another way: it has to be testable. Another crucial principle is the use of abductive reasoning (inference to the best explanation).
It is possible to deal with conspiracy theories rationally and reasonably. And though The Lone Gunmen stumble their way through their investigations, and sometimes get duped into getting caught trying to break into fake data vaults, they more frequently find the truth by constructing explanatory theories that are warranted by the evidence and testing those theories by following the evidence. More so than that, the boys have a skeptical but realistic sense of what is plausible and what isn´t. Doing as The Lone Gunmen do with a story is not the worst advice for someone who has good evidence that the truth is out there and wishes to discover it for themselves.
2. The Realm of Science
Mulder: When convention and science offer us no answers, might we not finally turn to the fantastic as a plausibility?
Scully: …What I find fantastic is any notion there are answers beyond the realm of science. The answers are there. You just have to know where to look.
One of the central (and most beloved) subthemes in all of the show´s numerous subplots is the distinction between “science” and the “fantastic.” It´s part of what makes the show so watchable. One of the things The X-Files does so well is to blend the two: for example, cryogenics – a “proper” science – was responsible for the freezing of the head of Dr. Arthur Grable in the episode “Roland.” What was “fantastic” was the level of control Arthur had over his brother Roland. Thus, you have the perfectly “ordinary” scientific process of freezing heads with the psychic ability of controlling brothers´ actions (at least sometimes).
Psychic abilities are outside the norms and conventions of mainstream science, sure. But are they fantastic? Why not simply unusual? Scully and Mulder imply the mainstream is scientific. But perhaps they should say that the divide is between the nature of consciousness and will on the “fantastic” side, and, on the scientific side, phenomena that obey laws of nature, even if some laws are really weird. Let´s take a look.
What should be included in the “realm of science?” Stuff that fundamental physics deals with is safely in the realm of science. Also the show treats most of the special sciences, such as geology, meteorology, chemistry, and biology as “proper” sciences. Let´s acknowledge that fundamental physics and the special sciences belong in Scully´s “realm of science.” These sciences differ wildly in terms of subject matter. For example biology is a whole different ball of wax than fundamental physics, a human cell, say, is a very different object of study than a quark. So what do all the sciences share that permit each of them to hold citizenship in the realm of science?
Each of them, in varying degrees, relies heavily on observation and experiment. Observation is obvious: if I want to know what´s going down in a cell, I should look at it. Possible compare observations with others in journals. Experiment is a bit more tricky to nail down. Ideally, experiments are controlled, and can be repeated in any lab, anywhere. It´s tricky to nail down because each science employs different kinds of experiments. At any rate, experiments and observation aim at general knowledge of the observed.
Wherever water is observed it´s a sure bet you´ll find the chemical compound H2O. Through experimentation, we know that adding baking soda to vinegar results in an unstable carbonic acid. Often, both observation and experiment are employed. For instance, a great deal of observation and experiment, has not revealed any exceptions to the laws of thermodynamics (leaving aside debates in quantum mechanics).
Scully tells Mulder that the answers are in the realm of science, but one just has to know where to look. In other words, observation, experiment, and what is already known from these will give us the tools to launch a scientific investigation of the tools to demonstrate a falsehood or hoax.
Mulder says that if science and convention fails us, we can look to the fantastic as a plausibility. This is a really strange claim. For one thing, if the realm of science has not yet found a way to explain something, it doesn´t follow that they won´t eventually, using the same methods as usual. No, if Mulder´s claim is to be taken at face value, then the “fantastic” is a realm with objects of enquiry that cannot undergo the treatments of experiment and observation, or be subjected to the discovered body of knowledge derived from them. Mulder, in effect, introduces the realm of the fantastic (though he accepts Scully´s false distinction).
So, The X-Files presents us for two FBI agents (Mulder and Scully) who work as paranormal investigators. A paranormal investigator (PI) is a person who investigates claims regarding the presence of ghosts, demons, spirits, aliens, lake monsters, the chupacabra, and other "strange and bizarre" things. (The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) lists 45 subjects for investigation.
The paranormal investigator should be distinguished from the parapsychologist or laboratory researcher of psi, although some paranormal investigators also do lab work.
Some PIs are field PIs. Some are "house" PIs. The field PI goes on site to investigate. The house PI reads the reports of field PIs, but does not travel to the site of weird phenomena. House investigations are essential, since nobody can travel to all the places that warrant investigation. To get a complete picture of paranormal investigations, one must rely on the reports of others even if one is a field investigator.
There are those who do not go into the field to investigate, nor do they study the reports of those who do, yet they accept or reject the conclusions of a PI. Such people are sometimes characterized as either "true believers" or "debunkers." In that case Mulder could be characterized as a true believer and Scully a debunker, but those are not the correct terms.
It is probably fair to designate someone who accepts a claim that a ghost or lake monster has been verified, even though he or she hasn't done any investigation or studied any reports, as a "true believer." But I don't think it is accurate to refer to everyone who rejects a claim that a ghost has been verified, even though he or she hasn't done any field investigations or studied a specific report, as a "debunker." To debunk is to expose something as false or as not what it is claimed to be. You can't expose something by simply denying its existence. A better term for such people would be "paranormal denier," rather than debunker or skeptic. From the first episode Scully certainly fits this term, but she changes. And Mulder is not a true believer, though he has experienced paranormal phenomena. Both are due to their jobs as FBI agents committed to scientific skepticism. Scully probably fits the term “scientific paranormal investigator”. And Mulder would, as we shall see, fit the term I use on myself, namely a “philosophical paranormal investigator”.
Debunking is often what a PI does after investigating a place that others have claimed to know is haunted or inhabited by a monster, etc. Debunking is also something that a house PI might do after studying the reports of field PIs.
We have thousands of years of stories about strange phenomena, and many years of investigation into paranormal claims, but no hard evidence yet that a single ghost, for example, exists. If one is familiar with the history of ghost stories and spirit hunting, and one has studied the reports of many PIs, one might reject a current claim that a ghost has been spotted or that a building is haunted by a demon without doing a personal investigation. Since the existing scientific evidence has failed to verify the existence of a single ghost, lake monster, spirit, or alien being, the likelihood of the next positive report being true is slim. Thus, being a paranormal denier seems much more reasonable than being a true believer, accepting a ghost story without investigating it. One should not claim to know that there is no ghost or demon, nor should one claim to know with absolute certainty that any investigation of allegedly haunted premises cannot possibly find the presence of a ghost or a natural explanation. Even a paranormal denier should admit that it is possible that the next ghost story will prove true, even if it is highly improbable.
The scientific PI (Scully) approaches an investigation with an open mind, collects and examines as much relevant evidence as is reasonable for the claim being investigated, develops hypotheses, and tries to falsify them. Yes, a scientist tries to falsify, not verify, her hypothesis. If you set out to verify your hypothesis you are very likely to be misdirected by confirmation bias. You will look only for those things that confirm what you believe and you will systematically ignore those things that might disconfirm your belief. To keep an open mind, the scientist, like a good detective, must not form hypotheses too early in the investigation, as the tendency of all of us is to confirm, not disconfirm, our hypotheses. Unless you are lucky, and your first guess happens to be the right one, you run the risk of building up a convincing case for a false claim. (The study of criminal profiling offers examples of the dangers of forming hypotheses too early in an investigation.) The importance of trying to collect data that is relevant to the investigation in such a way that one's biases don't lead one to ignore important avenues of investigation cannot be overemphasized.
A scientific PI also knows the purpose and limits of the technology she uses in the investigation. The main tools in the PI's toolkit should be critical thinking and a healthy skepticism. If she brings a camera or tape recorder to the scene, she uses them for documentation, not as tools for identifying "spirits" or "demons". If you're collecting data from measuring devices, you have to take multiple samples at different times on different days. The good scientist works first at ruling out natural and obvious sources of phenomena. When a gate closes behind her, she doesn't think 'the ghost of grandma', she thinks wind or gravity. When a rapid thumping or scratching noise is heard above the room, she doesn't think 'the ghost of a murdered guest'; she thinks squirrels or rats, or tree branches scraping the roof. When a temperature change occurs, she does not think 'Satan is here'; she thinks wind draft or architectural feature that needs exploring. When she feels a presence, she might think infrasound rather than ghost. When she sees something that looks like a light or a human form moving without visible cause, she might ask 'is my brain tricking me? Is there a physical source for these perceptions?'
A scientific PI does all the necessary groundwork before actually setting out to a location, including historical research and interviewing people. One example should suffice to illustrate this point. It comes from PI Ben Radford:
“The ghost hunting team of Ghost Hunters International traveled to Montego Bay, Jamaica, to investigate ‘one of the world’s most haunted places’: Rose Hall, said to be haunted by the ghost of an evil woman named Annie Palmer, ‘The White Witch of Rose Hall.’
“....Annie Palmer is in fact the title character in a famous Jamaican novel, The White Witch of Rose Hall, published in 1929 by Herbert G. de Lisser. There was no real Annie Palmer even remotely resembling that of the White Witch. Thus Annie Palmer never existed, thus they presumably could not have found any evidence of her ghost. Rose Hall, ‘the most haunted house in the Western Hemisphere’ and indeed one of ‘the world’s most haunted places’ is in reality merely myth passed off by careless writers as fact.”
As psychologist Ray Hyman once quipped: don't try to explain something until you're first sure it happened.
There are a few individuals and groups who have earned the reputation of being scientific in their approach to paranormal investigations: Peter Brugger, Joe Nickell, Ben Radford, Jan Willem Nienhuys, Richard Wiseman, Chris French, Massimo Polidoro, Luigi Garlaschelli, Karen Stollznow, Independent Investigations Group, the Skeptical Analysis of the Paranormal Society (SAPS), and a good part of The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP).
Some might object to my examples because all of them except ASSAP are skeptics or affiliated with skeptical organizations. Skeptics might object to the inclusion of ASSAP because of its history. However, if you understand what a skeptic is, you shouldn't quibble with including the skeptics. Only if you mistakenly believe that a skeptic is automatically a denier who rejects without inquiry every claim about ghosts, demons, lake monsters, UFOs, etc., would you object to including these skeptics as scientific investigators. As noted above, being a denier is distinct from being a skeptic. Any good scientist must be a skeptic; no good scientist is a denier. The scientist must be open-minded, willing to investigate claims that will probably turn out to be unfounded, and willing to test several hypotheses in the search for the truth. ASSAP, I admit, is a mixed bag. In the area I will be focusing on—investigating ghosts and hauntings—it seems skeptical and scientific in its approach. With regard to things like past-life regression, remote viewing, morphic resonance (Rupert Sheldrake has been a long-time member), "operation lightning strike," and a few other paranormal things ASSAP seems to be in the "true believer" camp. – also see my article Regression Psychotherapies.
Some PIs are so uncritical and unscientific in their approach to the investigation of paranormal claims, that they deserve to be ranked as "pseudoscientific PIs." This is a tempting term to put on Mulder, but as a FBI agent he is not a pseudoscientist. I will return to Mulder´s philosophical method in the end of the article.
The pseudoscientific PI (PPI) not only fails to do important preliminary investigative work, such as historical research, he usually leaves critical thinking out of his toolkit. Instead, he packs his equipment box with electronic gizmos: EMF detectors, Gaussmeters, audio and video recorders (including infrared cameras), thermometers, Geiger counters, radiation monitors, motion detectors, dowsing rods, Ouija boards, and even psychics. A typical PPI thinks of ghosts as "spirits," non-physical beings that have "crossed over" from the natural world to the supernatural world, or as "forms of energy" that somehow exist in space independent of any obvious material object. The PPI thinks his work can somehow prove the existence of life after death. Yet, the tools the PPI brings to an investigation are ridiculously inappropriate for detecting spirits or non-physical entities. While it is not impossible to conceive of an energy form that manifests itself to our senses as a human or animal form under certain conditions, the evidence that such energy beings exist is speculative. The philosophical paranormal investigator would supply such speculation with good arguments.
3. The Realm of the Fantastic
The X-Files traditionally divides the realm of the fantastic into three categories: the alien, the supernatural, and the monstrous.
With regard to the alien, I refer to both Extraterrestrial Biological Entities (EBEs; see what I did there?) as well as their technologies. In the episode “Deep Throat,” there´s a scene where Mulder is watching for UFOs over a secret military installation. Eventually, balls of light are seen dancing erratically and with great speed over the darkened landscape. The speed, sharp angles, and extreme acceleration clearly defy known laws of physics. On the other side of this coin, intelligent EBEs themselves are generally thought to be exceedingly unlikely and The X-Files introduces two distinct alien races at war, with humanity caught in the middle. But unlikely does not necessarily mean beyond the sciences. Presumably, if there were such entities, they could be studied using the usual methods of biology and chemistry.
The X-Files also dabbles in the supernatural, for example in “Shadows.” The spirit of Lauren Kyte´s boss, Howard Graves, is avidly protecting her from dangerous people as well as trying to explain that he did not commit suicide. He was murdered. In one eerie scene a terrified Lauren is awoken by ghostly sounds in her bathroom. As she walks down the hall, we hear a man´s voice, presumable Graves, pleading silently for his life to unknown assailants. Upon entering the bathroom, there is the macabre and uncanny sight of blood running swiftly out of invisible wrists, coloring the bathwater a rich, rich crimson. This also is an event that would indeed seem beyond what is known about the laws of the world learned through experiment and observation.
Finally, there is the monstrous. There´s a wide variety of the monstrous: the failed experiments of the alien-human hybrid experiments (and also the alien-human hybrid experiments of the Chupacabra from the episode “El Mundo Gira”); the “natural” mutants such as Guy Mann in “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”; finally, there are the monstrous beings that are a mix between the natural mutants, and supernatural ones. For example, the lycanthropes in the episode “Shapes” or the zombies in “Millenium”…or vampires (“Bad Blood”). Natural mutants are not outside the realm of biology, identifying and observing what has occurred at the cellular level as well as the bodily changes. This is also true of the alien-human hybrids, failed and successful, as well as the Chupacabra. (That episode applies an X-Files alien twist to the Mexican creature of folklore). However, the lycanthropes from “Shapes” and “Tooms” are different. It does seem that their identity does feature supernatural properties.
Let´s bring these points together. According to Mulder, the realm of the fantastic is beyond the reach of the realm of science on the following grounds. Certain alien technologies are beyond the scope of physics because they violate known laws of physics. From the supernatural element of the fantastic, we have phenomena that seemingly defy known laws of everything: just how can blood already spilt, spill again, into a bathtub from wrists that are noncorporeal? And finally, from some versions of the monstrous, such as “Tooms,” we have unexplainable beings insofar as they are also somewhat supernatural.
But those events are beyond observation and experiment. True, stuff like blood from incorporeal wrists, voodoo, and flying crafts that defy the known laws of physics are extremely rare events. Well, rare from the perspectives of most of us. I imagine such crafts are a commonplace thing among alien. Also, such things being really weird and exceptionally rare, we just say they don´t exist, or aren´t scientific, or involve superstition.
For Western civilization, there is also a historical bias against the supernatural. This bias goes back arguably about five hundred years, but it really took off with Hume, Kant, and the rise of empiricism. A favorite target of these thinkers and this movement was the supernatural, both in the religions sense and the ghostly-witchcraft-y sense.
The combined effect of relative rarity, strangeness, and cultural bias leads us to the basement office of the FBI, where Mulder and Scully exchanged those words.
But The X-Files does not allow us to escape culpability. The show is not a passive exercise in entertainment; it not only includes us but implicates us – luring us in and then exploding truth all over our wide-eyed faces. Chris Carter´s series cleverly translates fear through the lens of allegory; through the language of science fiction, laced with a bit of horror – making the reality of our insecurities more palatable, offering a safe platform for cathartic intervention.
Little green men; flying around in saucers hatching plots to take over the world…and all that stuff. The fantasy lures us in and then we realize that The X-Files is a whole lot more than a weird-looking-but-strangely-cute extraterrestrial stretching its finger toward the moon and asking to phone home. Carter´s aliens are all about world domination, death, destruction, an alien baby or two and – true to genre – a government cover-up. Some scary shit, right? Yup, even for our musing mystic and skeptical scientist – six seasons in, walking up a dark staircase in “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas”:
Scully: These are tricks that the mind plays. They are ingrained clichés from a thousand different horror films. When we hear a sound, we get a chill, we, we – we see a shadow and we allow ourselves to imagine something that an otherwise rational person would discount out of hand…
Mulder: Tell me you´re not afraid.
Scully: All right, I´m afraid. But it´s an irrational fear.
The thought of being abducted by an alien and fondled under bright lights, or being swiped by a sewer monster and incubated with worm larvae, is frightening but only sort of because, like Scully, we ‘logic’ the scenarios into submission. Mulder might call “misplaced anxiety,” as suggested by his comment in “Irresistible”:
“It´s been said that fear of the unknown is an irrational response to the excesses of the imagination. But our fear of the everyday, of the lurking stranger and the sound of footfalls on the stairs, the fear of violent death and the primitive impulse to survive, are as frightening as any X-File, as real as the acceptance that it could happen to you.”
The proverbial monster under the bed; literal, hideous and unscrupulous in its fear-invoking propensity – it´s all smoke and mirrors; masking a “greater” truth. But what does this mean for Mulder and Scully, and The X-Files mythology – if monsters are indeed a manifestation of minds perverted by industry, as suggested by Rousseau and the Romantics?
Perhaps the point is not the monsters themselves but what they represent – our own degeneracy. The X-Files manipulates its monsters into a metaphor for the moral disintegration of mankind, as acknowledged by Scully in the show´s pilot, “It´s like all the horrible acts that humans are capable of gave birth to some kind of human monster.”
Personally I see paranormal phenomena in the light of spiritual crises. The Czech-American psychiatrist Stanislav Grof has made a pioneering work mapping different types of spiritual crises, which I below, on the background of my own experiences, present in a slightly reworded version:
The Awakening of Kundalini. Described as a snake-like energy, which in spiralform moves ifself from the foot of the spiral column up in the head, while it opens a line of psychological centers, called chakras (see my articles The Awakening of Kundalini, and What are Chakras?). The phenomenon is especially known in connection with the Indian Tantrism.
Para-psychic Opening. Visual, auditory or emotive knowledge about a past and a future, which lies outside your own personality. Is especially known in connection with different types of clairvoyance. Also known in connection with astral travel or astral projection (out-of-body experiences) – see my article Paranormal Phenomena Seen in Connection with Clairvoyance.
Spiritual Crises as a Hero´s Journey. The experience of yourself as a hero who travels through a mythological and fantastic empire, filled with good and evil forces, as well as a fount of other sharply marked opposites. The crisis takes you farther and farther back into the past – through your own history and the history of humanity, all the way to the creation of the world and the original ideal state of paradise. In this process, you seem to strive for perfection, are trying to correct things that went wrong in the past. It often culminates in the meeting with death and the following rebirth. Such death-rebirth themes are known from ancient schools of mystery, as well as in the transition rites of scriptless peoples´ religions (see my article The Hero´s Journey).
The Shamanic Crisis. At the beginning of his career the shaman often goes through heavy ordeals, the so-called initiation crisis. The initiation often includes a journey to the underworld, where the shaman aspirant goes through terrible ordeals with diverse demons and other mythological creatures. As in the hero´s journey the initiation often culminates in the experience of death, dismemberment and extinction. Typical the extinction then is followed by resurrection, rebirth and ascension into heavenly regions.
Channeling. The ability to make contact with divine creatures and levels of consciousness, which is thought to possess informations of spiritual value for people, and through the body mediate communication from these levels (see my article Paranormal Phenomena Seen in Connection with Channeling).
Close Encounters with UFOs. Experiences of unusual light phenomena, communication with aliens, or experiences of being abducted by aliens, or of travelling with them to other worlds.
Breakthrough of Memories from Past Lives. Sequences of experiences, which take place in other historical periods and/or other countries/planets – or in connection with karmic experiences.
Near-death Experiences. Experiences, which are connected with death or the death process. This can be experiences of anxiety or existential guilt, but also experiences of a peaceful, harmonic condition after death.
Possession States. An experience of, that your mind and body (it can also be things or places) have become invaded and are controlled by a being, or an alien energy, which can be of divine or, most known, demonic kind. Often with inexplicable bodily manifestations.
Oneness-consciousness. Experiences of oneness between inner and outer, strong positive feelings, transcendence of time and space, feeling of holiness and paradoxical nature. It sounds like a genuine mystical experience, but it is not. It is rather a so-called peak experience - about the problem of peak experiences read my article A Critique of the Indian Oneness Movement and its use of Western Success Coaching. Also see the thought distortion Nondual Bias in my book A Dictionary of Thought Distortions.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse. The strong longing after alcohol or drugs corresponds on a low level to our own being´s spiritual longing after wholeness: the unification with God. The important role of the Ego-death under the above-mentioned types of spirituel crises is a direct parallel to the abuser´s experience of “hitting the buttom.” Can for example be seen reflected in the “Beat Generation”, and the works of the Beat writers. Another aspect of alcohol and drug abuse as spiritual crisis, is that alcohol, and some kind of drugs, can relieve the intense stress from other kind of spiritual crises (see my pop culture file on Ghost Rider).
Spiritual crises are in my interpretation (and experience) the dark inter-dimensional gates between worlds (see my article Spiritual Crises as the Cause of Paranormal Phenomena).
A spiritual crisis can be expressed in two ways: 1): as suffering, often called The Dark Night of the Soul, or 2) as Ego-inflation (inflammatio).
1) If the borders to the collective time is broken down or being exceeded out of hand, for example through LSD or through one-sided developmental techniques, or in shock, the consciousness and the personality will slide crucial out of balance and therefore it will suffer. The Ego (and the connected painbody) will sideways with its personal identity and life-situation, suddenly experience break in of tremendous astral energies, clairvoyant abilities, visions of mythological beings, good and evil forces, various demons and angels, death and themes of rebirth, unusual light phenomena, messages from supernatural beings, memories from past lives. These experiences will, because that the Ego´s nature has not been realized, be characterized by unreality and division, anxiety of going mad and anxiety of death, or the experience of a total meaningless and dark extinct world.
2) The personality can receive informations through the break in of astral and collective energies, images and symbols: information about, what approaches human beings from outside (from other people, from chance, destiny, life etc.). However, informations through collective images are contradictional and split. Many have therefore been seduced by these colourful experiences and have remained there, with the ability to see the aura, with the ability to create images, to create in reality. When the collective time is used spiritual in genuine sense, then the Ego, in its egoistic isolating and self-affirmative function, steps aside. However, the same forces can be used for other intensions. It can be creative, Ego affirmative, political, demonical and so on. The forces which in spirituality are given to others´ disposal in healing, energy transmission and spiritual information exchange, the same forces can themselves be turned in through the Ego-structures and open creative channels, create super Egos, create political leaders and popular seducers. The problem, or the danger, does not consist in using creativity or auric abilities. It is actually a good idea to formulate the experiences creatively; the danger is, whether the Ego grows and becomes swollen on the world´s positive responses. And if the Ego gains strength, takes the honour, or blows itself up, the transformation-process of consciousness stops, the growth forward towards the goal: illumination and later enlightenment.
The painbody is – (through the inner evaluating ego, which the painbody is constructed around) - connected with the more dangerous depths of the astral plane´s collective history, which also are a kind of dark, ancient inertia which opposes any change of the ego. The energies found here are unfathomable, and when you direct them into your painbody, you are really facing problems. That is what is happening in a spiritual crisis.
The ego-religion and the ego-exercises are the ego´s incessant confirmation or denial of the ego: “it is no use with me!”; or: “Wonderful me!”. Both, either the denial or the confirmation of the ego, maintain the ego-proces, the ego-identity, and the ego-centralization. The ego´s religion and exercises are the ego´s needs and longings and will: I want to, I think, I believe, I feel, I wish, I hope, I think, I believe, I feel, I wish, or, in its most common core: I, I, I...Me, Me, Me... Therefore a spiritual crisis can be both “negative” and “positive” – the Dark night of The Soul, or Ego-inflation.
Your ego, and your painbody, is in other words the inter-dimensional gate where collective energies, and astral beings, can enter into your world (note that I also think that both things and places can have a painbody). When you in a selfish way use the powers from the collective history of the astral plane, and which demonical astral beings (the monsters) will help you with (because the ego phenomenon is their magnet of attraction), you can create personal power and material glory. That is the essence of Black Magic. The ego is a demonical structure, and it attracts demonical powers and energies, which also have been created by the ego phenomenon (see my articles The Ego-inflation in the New Age and Self-help Environment and The Emotional Painbody and Why Psychotherapy Can´t Heal It).
True spiritual practice is about leading people around the areas/experiences of the collective time, into the universal time where the wholeness is awake. Enlightenment simply means to be awake, to have realized the nature of the wholeness. The whole thing reminds about waking up from sleep and dreams.
Throughout history, people in intense spiritual crises were acknowledged by many cultures as blessed; they were thought to be in direct communication with the fantastic (sacred) realms and divine beings. Their societies supported them through crucial episodes, offering sanctuary and suspending the usual demands. Respected members of their communities had been through their own spiritual crises, could recognize and understand a similar process in others, and, as a result, were able to honor the expression of the creative, mystical impulse. The often colorful and dramatic experiences were nourished with the trust that these individuals would eventually return to the community with greater wisdom and an enhanced capacity to conduct themselves in the world, to their own benefit as well as that of society (again: see my article The Hero´s Journey).
With the advent of modern science and the industrial age, this tolerant and even nurturing attitude changed drastically. The notion of acceptable reality was narrowed to include only those aspects of existence that are material, tangible, and measurable. Spirituality in any form was exiled from the modern scientific worldview. Western cultures adopted a restricted and rigid interpretation of what is “normal” in human experience and behavior and rarely accepted those who sought to go beyond these limits.
Psychiatry found biological explanations for certain mental disorders in the form of infections, tumors, chemical imbalances, and other afflictions of the brain or body. It also discovered powerful ways of controlling symptoms of various conditions for which the causes remained unknown, including the manifestations of spiritual crises. As a result of these “successes”, psychiatry became firmly established as a medical discipline, and the term mental disease was extended to include many states that, strictly speaking, were natural conditions that could not be linked to biological causes. The process of spiritual crises in general, along with its more dramatic manifestations, came to be viewed as an illness, and those who demonstrated signs of what had been previously thought of as inner transformation and growth were in most cases now considered to be sick.
Consequently, many people who have emotional or psychosomatic symptoms are automatically classified as having a medical problem, and their difficulties are seen as diseases of unknown origin, although clinical and laboratory tests do not offer any supportive evidence for such an approach. Most nonordinary states of consciousness are considered pathological and are treated with traditional psychiatric methods such as suppressive medication and hospitalization. As a result of this bias, many people who are involved in the natural healing process of spiritual crises are automatically put in the same category as those with true mental illness – especially if their experience are causing a crisis in their lives or are creating difficulties for their families.
So, with the industrial modernization Man has cultivated a mind, which can solve almost any technological problem; that, which the German philosopher Habermas calls the instrumental reason. But apparently human problems have never been solved. On the contrary mankind are about to be drowned in its problems: problems concerning communication, the relationship with others, heaven and hell. The whole of the human existence has become one extremely complex problem. And apparently it has been like that through the whole of history. Despite the knowledge of Man, despite his millenniums of evolution, Man has never been free from such problems.
The solutions to such problems require a communicative reason, a reason, which understands the human community: a philosophical reason. We need to rediscover philosophy. But as Habermas says, then we are not using such a reason, on the contrary we are using an instrumental reason on human problems, where it only should be used on technical problems. We seek to solve human problems technically, where they should be solved in a philosophical way. The systems (the market, the economy, the bureaucracy, the systems) have colonized the lifeworld.
An aspect of, that the instrumental reason has conquered territory from the communicative reason consists in, that we in connection with human problems treat each other as means or as items, which have come on the wrong course (the treatment society). Tragically enough the New Age movement, which actually claims to be a spiritual alternative to this (hereunder Stanislav Grof himself), and be an advocate for a communicative reason, on the contrary is one of the most aggressive advocates for the instrumental reason. This is due to its psychologizing of philosophy. New Age is possessed with all kind of self-invented forms of treatment, and with pseudoscientifical attempts to justify them as science. Often they manipulative use instrumental/scientific inspired terms about their methods, but which are without any scientific meaning at all. It is just a rhetorical trick to persuade people to pay the fee.
So, the problem is shortly told the tendency within New Age and the self-help industry, to reduce religion (and the traditional spiritual traditions and their spiritual practices) to psychology and psychotherapy. An example is, paradoxically enough, Stanislav Grof, who in his therapeutic technique “Holotropic Breathwork” is combining Regression psychotherapies with Cathartic psychotherapies, and is calling this technique a spiritual practice with an ancient shamanistic lineage. He evens claims that this technique is able to skip years of meditation within the traditional practices. The intention is to provoke paranormal phenomena of the same kind as those known from spiritual crises (see my article A Critique of Stanislav Grof and Holotropic Breathwork where I show how experiences akin to genuine spiritual experiences are confused with these).
The misunderstanding, and the following misleading of clients, happens because of the psychologizing of these phenomena. Grof wrongly thinks, that these experiences correspond with the theories within Regression psychotherapies and Cathartic psychotherapies, and that the goal is to re-experience or re-visit them; that is: you have go through heavy ordeals of regressive and/or cathartic kind, and experience death and rebirth (especially known from the shamanic illness and the Hero´s journey) in order to experience healing and personal transformation.
So, we have two ruling metaphysical theories in the Western society: materialism (the science bias) and idealism (the New Age bias). The consequences of both are a worship of the ego. In materialism this could be depicted in Richard Dawkins´s notion of The Selfish Gene. In her book The Solitary Self – Darwin and The Selfish Gene, the renowned philosopher Mary Midgley, explores the nature of our moral constitution to challenge the view that reduces human motivation to self-interest. Midgley argues cogently and convincingly that simple, one-sided accounts of human motives, such as the “selfish gene” tendency in recent neo-Darwinian thought, may be illuminating but are always unrealistic. Such neatness, she shows, cannot be imposed on human psychology. Midgley returns to the original writings of Charles Darwin to show how the reductive individualism that is now presented as Darwinism does not derive from Darwin but from a wider, Hobbesian tradition in Enlightenment thinking. She reveals the “selfish gene” hypothesis in evolutionary biology as a cultural accretion that is not seen in nature. Heroic independence, argues Midgley, is not a realistic aim for Homo Sapiens. We are, as Darwin saw, earthly organism framed to interact with one another and with the complex ecosystems of which we are a tiny part. For us, bonds are not just restraints but also lifelines. The Solitary Self is a significant re-reading of Darwin and an important corrective to recent work in evolutionary science, which has wide implications for debates in science, religion, psychology and ethics.
My own claim is that Richard Dawkins´s notion of The Selfish Gene (or The Selfish Meme) is a pure fantasy, which has no more scientific or philosophical validity than many of the theories of “the evolution of consciousness” we see in the idealism of New Age. Both are paradoxically enough new kinds of Social Darwinism (see my article A Critique of Richard Dawkins and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and the Matrix Dictionary update on Richard Dawkins). And both are involved in the rise of a new kind of fascism (see the Matrix Dictionary entry The Matrix Conspiracy Fascism).
In idealism the ego-worship could be depicted as self-assertion (or even self-love): the ultimate narcissism. Both materialism and idealism are included in The Matrix Conspiracy, though idealism is the ruling philosophy. The reason why both is included is that they define each other; they are so to speak complementary to each other, because they mutually exclude each other and at the same necessarily must supplement each other.
According to the true spiritual traditions the movement of time is a power, an expression of energy, which follows certain laws. This power moves in wave movements, pendulum movements, in situation-movements, as well as in circulation movements. The universal energy-laws in the movement of time are known as Tao, the Dharmalaw, Karma, Destiny, Hubris-nemesis, Logos, the Will of God, etc.
An example: Once your thoughts spread themselves too far out in an extreme, the energy-system compensates by seeking to bring itself back to the balance of the middle. The system does this by seeking over towards the opposite extreme (for example from perfectionism to feeling of fiasco). That is: through a contra-balancing, a compensation. The energy works as a pendulum. The more energy, which is invested in the one extreme of a pair of opposites, the bigger the swing in the opposite direction becomes.
Now, if you test our modern culture in relation to this law, then it says as follows: the ideals of power/perfectionism/success only exist in relation to their opposites, namely powerlessness, fiasco, loss.
If you are extremely occupied by your own success (whether as a materialist or an idealist) the system will seek to balance your thoughts by bringing them over in the opposite extreme, namely the powerlessness and the fiasco. It is therefore evident, that these modern ideals about being a success and a winner, are taking part in creating a swing over in stress, anxiety and depression.
The modern ideal about being a success, a winner, is, as the Danish philosopher of life (and my own teacher) Mogens Pahuus says, a perverted ideal. In our society rules a self-assertion which has gone over the top, and in our society dominates a self-assertion, which is a vice, because it both destroys the life of the self-assertive, and the life of those, whom the self-assertive measures himself in relation to, and whom he wants to surpass. It is by the way interesting, that what we today see as virtues (vanity, ambition, pride, joy of power) before was considered as deadly sins.
In a consumer culture everything (the ideals of perfectionism, winner, success) is measured depending on, whether it is interesting or boring, and there isn´t any deeper considerations whether it has any other value than the possibility for making money. Aesthetics has therefore replaced ethics. The Sophists have returned. A consumer culture is in other words also a culture of boredom, a culture where everything is about fighting boredom, without being aware, that boredom is connected with the consumer culture, as the other side of a coin. And stagnation and boredom have been connected with lots of problems in the modern society, as for example drug abuse, alcohol abuse, smoking, anorexia, promiscuity, vandalism, depression, aggression, hostility, violence, suicide, risk behaviour etc. etc.
What apply for the individual person, apply by the way also for the collective and for nature. You can therefore also observe these energy-laws in groups, societies, world images, yes in the whole of mankind, as well as in the universe.
Today the Ego-extreme reflects ifself in countless fields. Too much energy is invested in armament. Too many atomic weapons. Too much pollution. Too unequal distribution of the riches of the Earth. Too unequal distribution of the food and fruits of the Earth. And first of all: all too many people are all too focused on their Ego; they accumulate energy to their Ego, to themselves; or to the family Ego/the company´s Ego/the national Ego.
Now, if you look at the energy-law, then this is the energy in its one extremity. With necessity the energy will swing over in the opposite extreme. And this won´t happen in a quiet way, when you consider the enormous momentum which is in the actual extreme, and it will happen quite simple: through pollution of the environment, through diseases (aids, cancer and others) through war, terror, crises, inner mass psychotic collapses, and through natural disasters.
Furthermore: the Ego´s images of desire and of sexual pleasure, will, because of, that energy also functions as pendulum movements, gradually begin to switch over in their demonic primordial images, which we have repressed to the collective time - they begin to become more and more extreme and therefore perverted. These demonic images (which in my view are real ontological entities), these monsters, will begin to invade reality. In popular culture we see a constant flow of Netflix series and movies, which depict how our world is getting invaded by parallel universes. We hear about inter-dimensional gates, and the desire after opening them, and the following chock when it succeeded.
And because we have got the Devil, the evil, the destructive and the sexual, weaved together, this also begins to appear in a rise of aggression, violence and pollution.
The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges´s fascination with idealism is central to one of his longest stories, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” It is a “what if?” think-piece: if the idealists´ speculation really were true, what would a world based upon them be like? It is striking how much it reminds about The Matrix Conspiracy, and it could be taken as an experiential analogy to The Matrix Conspiracy. That´s of course not that strange though, since the main philosophy of the Matrix Conspiracy is idealism, especially Berkeleyan idealism.
Borges is, like me, sceptical of psychology – in particular that of Freud – which he associates with the nineteenth century and realist novels: if the very notion of identity is unfounded, then psychology is an empty study. In Tlön, as there is nothing outside the perceiving mind, psychology lies at the heart of its culture (well, that´s almost also a fact in our own world today – see my article Self-help and The Mythology of Authenticity). This is an interest not in the individual psychology but in the idea that mind is all there is, and the mind in Tlön is just clusters of perceptions.
Borges published “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” in May 1940, as Hitler began his western offensive. Borges´s postscript, futuristically dated 1947, predicts how the world would have been changed by then: it is a terrifying place in which the imaginary planet of Tlön, which seemed to have no existence outside the pages of an invented encyclopedia, invades reality (see my Matrix Dictionary entry on Jorge Luis Borges).
The outer pollution corresponds in that way to an equivalent dark collective inner pollution. The outer war-crazy armament, corresponds to an inner astral tension in power, aggression and anxiety. That which caused, that the ancient wise of the East termed our time Kali Yuga, the dark age. This is what is reflected in The X-Files.
In its nature it is a manifestation of a collective spiritual crisis.
The main method of the wisdom traditions has always been philosophy, and it´s my claim that Mulder precisely has a sense of that.
4. Mulder´s philosophical method
In my own work as a philosophical paranormal investigator I make a distinction between the metaphysical identification of the ultimately realm of reality (the wholeness; or the form of consciousness) - and the content of consciousness. The metaphysical identification of the ultimately realm of reality I call metaphysical naturalism. The metaphysical identification of the content of consciousness (or the content of reality) I call metaphysical pluralism.
Metaphysical pluralism in philosophy is the multiplicity of metaphysical models of the structure and content of reality, both as it appears and as logic dictates that it might be, as is, for example, exhibited by the four related models in Plato's Republic and as developed in the contrast between idealism and materialism.
Within these models is the more restricted sub-fields of ontological pluralism (that examines what exists in each of these realms). Ontological pluralism deals with the methodology for establishing knowledge about these realms. And in order to describe them I suggest a so-called gnoseological or epistemological dualism, which is inspired by the philosophy of Niels Bohr (see my article Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Niels Bohr). This suggests that both materialism (the scientific bias) and idealism (the New Age bias) are mistaken point of views.
I also suggest that this philosophical method is pretty much Mulder´s method as well.
Mulder can seem like a materialist since many of the X-Files do have materialist explanations for the Moth Men who evolved green skin camouflage for life in the Everglades in “Detour,” and Big Blue the lake monster in “Quagmire,” and the aggressive parasite in “Ice,” and the Neanderthal-like woman in “Jersey devil,” and a man-like creature that comes out of hiding every thirty years to feed on human livers in “Tooms,” and a teenager possessing a proboscis and an insatiable appetite for humans brains in “Hungry.”
While far-fetched, all these X-Files have explanations falling roughly within the parameters of evolutionary theory, a complete materialist theory. And let´s face it, the material world does have some pretty weird stuff that doesn´t qualify as immaterial or paranormal in any way. African frogs change sex spontaneously, elephants mourn their dead, time stops at the speed of light, and causality breaks down at the quantum mechanical level of reality. The material world can seem like an X-File!
So, is Mulder a materialist? Well, not exactly. Because there are also plenty of examples of Mulder believing in things falling far outside materialist explanations. For example, in “Shapes,” Mulder investigates a case on a Native American reservation that resembles the very first X-File, a human who shape-shifts into an animal to attack other animals and humans.
An elder tribesman explains that the Manitou, an evil spirit, inhabits a person periodically to release its own savage energy causing the shape-shifting, and Mulder accepts this story. And in “Avatar” Mulder explains Agent Skinner´s visitation from a ghostly woman as a succubus who warns him of danger. Then in “Calasari” a still-born brother returns to haunt his living twin, and Mulder ends up asking the grandmother´s Romanian priest to perform rituals in order to subdue the spirit and free the child.
Mulder again uses immaterialist explanations in investigating a man who survives virtually countless near-death experiences simply because he is genuinely “lucky,” the one man on Earth with almost perfect luck (“The Goldberg Variations”). Mulder also accepts the power of religious snake-handling (“Signs and Wonders”), and voodoo (“Theef”), and even genies (“Je Souhaite”).
In these episodes Mulder makes no attempt to bring these theories “down to Earth” with a more materialist explanation. There simply are no materialist explanations for things like shape-shifting, luck, voodoo, genies, and ghosts, in terms of electrons and quarks. Yet, Mulder is happy to accept such immaterialist entities. So, Mulder can´t be a materialist if he uses idealist explanations.
Is Mulder an idealist? While idealists do not typically take on the topics of ghosts and avatars, this is the metaphysical worldview that admits the reality of immaterial objects, like minds, ideas, and free will. But since Mulder uses both materialist and immaterialist explanations, we have to look at a third option, a metaphysics that combines the two.
Some philosophers say that we don´t have to decide between either materialism or idealism. Instead they argue for the before-mentioned ontological pluralism admitting that reality is made up of many different kinds of things. For example, there are particular beings, such as Bob Dylan and Socrates and Barack Obama, and there may also be things like the color red, the number two, and the world of Alice in Wonderland (see my pop culture file Alice in Wonderland), and weather systems and foreign policy and moral laws, and the way we eat a lobster.
And all these different things can be real, but they may not fit into one neat ontological category like “material beings” or “immaterial beings,” and may not fit into one neat scientific theory like quantum mechanics or relativity theory.
We may be stuck saying that the world is pluralistic, and, what´s more, we may have to appeal to many different explanations in order to make sense of our very real and everyday complex world. This view has the difficulty of explaining how all these things interact, but most pluralists simply accept this problem rather than accepting the absurdity of the other two metaphysical worldviews that deny the existence of either material or immaterial things.
The history of pluralism is long and includes Aristotle who famously claimed that “being is said in many ways” and gave ten categories of being, as well as Descartes who argued that mind and matter are two distinct substances, neither of which is prior.
Now doesn´t this sound like the view Mulder holds? He doesn´t try to fit the evidence into either a materialist or idealist metaphysics, but he´s willing to follow the evidence and let it suggest what explanation might be called for. Many different metaphysical possibilities are open to Mulder because he is not concerned about how they all reduce to one ontological stuff.
Viewers are used to thinking of Scully as the scientist and Mulder as not so scientific. But these days ontological pluralism comes with support from science as well. Philosophers like Nancy Cartwright in The Dappled World and John Dupré in The Disorder of Things, both members of the Stanford School of the Philosophy of Science, known for its pluralistic approach to metaphysics and science, have argued for scientific and ontological pluralism. These philosophers probably aren´t going to buy into the existence of ghosts and the transmigration of souls, like Mulder, but they would probably agree with Mulder´s insistence that the laws of physics don´t apply as often as we would like to think.
After all, we appeal to many different successful sciences to explain our own complex reality. For example, we might appeal to social forces when talking about things like marriage and child rearing practices, and economic forces when talking about employment rates, and biological explanations when trying to understand reproductive patterns in insects and psychological explanations when trying to explain the mind of a serial killer. Reductionism is when you try to reduce everything to just one kind of reality. Both materialism and idealism are reductionisms.
As Patrick Suppes, another member of the Stanford School of the Philosophy of Science, has argued, science has become increasingly complex over time, increasingly specialized, and increasingly pluralistic: in other words, we are getting farther and farther away from the view that one science can unify all the others. And the fact that there is not likely to be just one simple scientific theory to explain everything suggests that the world itself must be really be made up of lots of different kinds of things.
Note that this hasn´t anything to do with relativism. Relativism is essential about language, and in the most extreme forms, idealist, in which it claims that there is no reality outside our language and ideas. Reality is a linguistic construct. Ontological pluralism is essentially about different kinds of reality. When you see an elephant from different angles, this doesn´t make the elephant unreal. But that´s what relativism claims. Relativism says that each person or group of people defines their own truth, establishes their own ethics, and chooses their own values, and since you can´t see the elephant in its wholeness, none of those truths, ethics, or values are inherently any more true, ethical, or valuable than any others. Relativism would for example not allow that an investigation could show something to be false, or that you could reach an experience of the wholeness. Relativism is essential both anti-scientific and anti-spiritual. The enormous failure of New Age is therefore its support of relativism and idealism.
My own notion of the ultimate reality, the wholeness, and the gnoseological dualism we all must use in the same way in order to obtain unambiguous description of the different kinds of reality within the wholeness, both suggests that truth is universal and absolute, and that the absolute in the end is undescribable (you can only describe something in opposition to its negation. The wholeness can´t be put in opposition to anything, and is therefore undescribable).
This pluralistic and scientific ontology is precisely what Mulder holds, and it allows him to see things that others don´t see. Very often a person´s metaphysics more than evidence serves as her guide to choosing beliefs and theories to consider. This isn´t a bad thing, unless her metaphysics is bad. For example, if someone is a materialist, she isn´t going to entertain the possibilities of ghosts, telepathy, mind control, God, or angels. Her metaphysics prohibits her from even considering those things as possibilities.
Mulder´s pluralist metaphysics allows him to entertain possibilities others do not, and this in turn allows him to do fantastic detective work, while Scully´s too often reductionist and materialist philosophy shuts her off from different parts of reality for which there is good evidence. In other words, Scully´s metaphysics often does the work of rejecting theories even before she considers the evidence.
But while Mulder´s pluralistic metaphysics allows him to see possibilities, he has way more work to do in sifting through different possibilities. His more open metaphysics doesn´t do the work of rejecting theories for him. And Mulder does reject plenty of theories, both mainstream scientific, and paranormal.
In “All Things” Mulder checks out a crop circle case in England only to learn that it is a hoax. In “Clyde Bruckman´s Final Repose” Mulder rejects the phony celebrity psychic The Stupendous Yappi, but Mulder accepts this actual precognitive ability to see people´s future deaths in the aptly-professioned life insurance salesman Clyde Bruckman (Peter Boyle). Mulder is also critical of Scully´s sister Melissa (Melinda McGraw), who uses New Age techniques like crystals and theories about negative and positive energy in trying to communicate with Scully in her coma.
As Dupré argues, pluralism requires a set of virtues and good judgments rather than a simple, one-size-fits-all formula to decide which theories to accept. And this is just what Mulder has, namely, good judgment – amazingly good judgment. Mulder´s metaphysics is so open that he has to do the work of looking at the facts rather than appealing to one neat worldview to “decide” for him. In other words, Mulder has to do the work of a real scientist.
From the “Pilot” episode onwards in The X-Files, we see Mulder´s pluralistic metaphysics clash with Scully´s unified metaphysics, and it is always Mulder´s metaphysics that can handle the cases. The apparent choice between materialism and idealism is really a false choice, and Mulder, like todays´s pluralist philosophers of science, actually holds the position of ontological pluralism.
There really are many different kinds of beings in the world, not just in world of the X-Files, but also in our own world as well.
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