Jeffrey Kripal writes on Immanent Frame, the sociology of religion blog, about this New Hampshire road sign marking an infamous UFO incident:

[It] signals that such extraordinary events are also part of real history; that they too deserve our attention, remembrance, and analysis; that they are not simply a function of cranks and frauds. The New Hampshire road sign is jarring precisely to the extent that it brings the impossible into conjunction with the utterly solid and banal—all that metal, all that paint, and all authorized by the official Seal of the State of New Hampshire. With its appearance, American history suddenly becomes much more interesting, more alive, and way weirder. I am delighted not because I am persuaded or convinced by the factuality of the sign’s iron presence or the matter-of-factness of its words, or, for that matter, because I “believe” anything at all (I don’t believe in belief). I am delighted because the sign functions as ahistorical marker, that is, as a recognition that something strange and uncanny happened there, on that same road, a little over fifty years ago.

Something.

Kripal, who teaches at Rice University, is a fascinating guy. Last year I wrote a column for Real Clear Religion reviewing his eerie and wonderful book, “Authors of the Impossible”. Excerpt:

In Kripal’s view, the mind and consciousness are far more complex than science and religion think, which renders our various interpretive models inadequate to explain reality. Kripal doesn’t propose a clear alternative, though he does propose that in some way, human consciousness helps create reality through its interaction with the material world, much as we have learned from quantum physics the fantastical lesson that a conscious observer helps determine physical outcomes at the quantum level. He doesn’t believe UFOs are hallucinations or creatures from outer space, for example, but theorizes that UFOs are a a real phenomenon that is, in some dimly understood way, a result of human consciousness interacting with the universe.

If this sounds impossibly New Age, well, it kind of is. But this is precisely where Kripal wants to take the reader by the collar and say, “Not so fast!” The kind of characters we dismiss as kooks may in fact be kooky — but their very distance from the mainstream may help them to see things as they are more clearly, or at least to ask questions that are important, but embarrassing to the right-minded. This is why he turns to a handful of outsider figures, both historical and contemporary, in his search for forgotten insights. One of them, the 20th century American eccentric Charles Fort, described as “damned” information and phenomena discarded by dominant intellectual paradigms. Fort was a legendary curator of the damned, and though he entertained some thoroughly crackpot notions, Kripal values him for paying attention to things respectable intellectuals ignored.

More Kripal, from Immanent Frame:

I listen to the news each morning on the radio and think, “Really? This is really what I am supposed to identify as ‘what happened yesterday’ to all those billions of people? Really?” It’s all just completely ridiculous. There are other histories, much more important hidden histories that we have only begun to note and trace.

Read his whole post. His point is not to endorse any particular religious perspective — he emphatically denies religious particularism — but rather to say that reality is a lot stranger than most of us imagine, and we have a habit of holding on to our rationality by excluding facts inconvenient to our theories. This, he says, is what secular materialists do every bit as much as orthodox religious believers.

You have to admit it’s very, very strange for the state to put a historical marker out commemorating a supposed UFO abduction.

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