I'll start this off with a controversial statement. I think the crop circle (or corn circle as it is sometimes referred to) phenomena is currently the greatest terrestrial scientific puzzle going - full stop.
I admit from square one that I haven't the foggiest idea what they actually are, or represent, but I at least think I know what they're not.
I'm sure the phrase 'crop circles' need little introduction. I can't imagine too many people being ignorant of the general phenomena - there's lots of books, media coverage, internet sites, TV specials, feature films, even calendars which have, and continue to cover the subject.
In general, by way of a probably unnecessary introduction, crop circles are geometric patterns, pictograms that are often generally circular but not always, that appear mysteriously in crop fields, usually overnight, perpetrated by person or persons, or by a non-person or non-persons, unknown. While these 'circles' have appeared in many countries they tend to be associated by the public mainly with England. They have been especially common over the past three or four decades, though some earlier reports are on record.
There's no denying the picturesqueness of them, and often, in fact in more recent times, their geometric complexity.
There's no doubt that crop circles exist - that's undisputed. Crop circles are an ever on-going phenomenon, the pictograms growing in complexity year by year. So there's an evolutionary pattern that needs explaining. And at least crop circles have the decency to sit still and not vanish without trace like UFOs, the Yeti and the lone mysterious interstellar 'wow' signal so suggestive, yet so illusive of proving the existence of, extraterrestrial intelligence!
So what the hell are crop circles? Are they a new form of human graffiti? Are they messages from extraterrestrials? Are they a cry for help from our own Mother Earth or Mother Nature? Are they a now and again mysterious, but ultimately natural, even if chaotic feature of Mother Nature - say weather or biological phenomena? Are they in fact none of the above?
A few data points to start with if you please.
Firstly, it's now clearly an ongoing phenomenon, not a one or two year fad that college kids revel in doing (like goldfish swallowing or VW cramming) before something new grabs their attention for fun and games and mischief. Now I've likened crop circle 'art' to graffiti 'art', and of course graffiti is an ongoing fad, but there's a vast world of difference between some spray paint on an alleyway brick wall that harms no one and crop circles which robs farmers of income - at least IMHO.
Secondly, let's look at geographic distribution. Crop circles have appeared in many countries - that alone rules out just your lone rogue hoaxer or two. However, they do tend to be identified more with countries that have English as a native language, and in particular, by a relatively massive lot, the United Kingdom; Great Britain; England. This may be an artificial artefact as most of the relevant literature is in English. I mean there may be lots of crop circle activity in Asia, but Asian languages aren't represented in the media in proportion to population. Still, I'd wager that there is a real concentration in select geographical areas (i.e. - England), and that too needs explaining.
Thirdly, crop circles tend to be concentrated in areas of reasonable population density, though that could also be an artificial artefact. If they happened in Antarctica or the Sahara Desert there would be relatively few witnesses and reports and evidence. As well, any evidence would tend to be erased or eroded fairly quickly. Still, I'll take it as a given that crop circles do tend to be concentrated in more humanly populated areas.
And now for the non-explanations!
The Natural Phenomena Connection: Crop circles don't look natural. They most certainly do look like artificial creations, the creations of intelligence. However, before pursuing that chain of thought, one, in all fairness, needs to consider a non-intelligent (natural) explanation.
Mother Nature is not widely known for producing complex structured geometric patterns in non-living materials - snowflakes and crystals aside. Nature tends to be more chaotic. Patterns - symmetry is another valid term - are usually one way, and a fairly foolproof way at that, of distinguishing something natural from something artificial - which is why the 'canals of Mars' or the 'face on Mars' attracted so much speculation. Now clouds, for example, can take on all sorts of weird shapes or a pattern if you like. Every now and a rare again you'll see a pattern or a shape in a cloud which reminds you of something else - that's just random probability. 99.9% of the time, when you look at a cloud, all you can identify or think of is 'cloud'. But that other 0.1% of the time - well, it's just a freak of nature.
Freaks of nature, very rare natural phenomena, certainly can and have happened, no more so than with all things meteorological, like clouds - weather phenomena. There's documented cases of paper straws being driven into hardwood trees via the force of tornado winds. Ball lightning is another case in point. So, a freak of nature, weather-related in all probability, may account for some of the relatively simpler flattened crop circles.
In the beginning of the modern crop circle phenomena, the pictograms were fairly simple circular patterns in various crops. It was thought that perhaps swirling storm winds, whirlwinds, mild tornados, or other sorts of wind vortices might be responsible, though few newly created circles were created under those sorts of weather conditions - and why only at night? Say a whirlwind as cause for the effect. But, I defy anyone to examine the more complex geometrical (and often fractal) patterns and tell me how Mother Nature, meteorologically or otherwise, did it! Since crop circles exhibit patterns or symmetry, then that argues against them being natural or nature-made phenomena. Life forms certainly exhibit patterns or symmetry, but whatever crop circles are, they themselves aren't alive, so again, we rule out a natural explanation.
Today, no thinking person in their right mind could look at these highly complex geometric patterns (not all are circles anymore) and think that Mother Nature could have produced them. If crop circles are natural, it nearly has to be weather related and no kind of weather can produce complex geometric patterns in crops. So, crop circles really have to be the product of intelligence; there's no way Mother Nature can be held accountable for these complex geometric pictogram formations - that's now indisputable. Scratch Mother Nature.
The Human Connection: That human beings are the culprits behind the crop (or corn) circle phenomena is taken almost as given by most people. Humans are the most logical and most accepted explanation, especially by hardnosed sceptics of all things weird, strange and the downright paranormal. But, there are several problems with such a blanket explanation that crop circles are terrestrial hoaxes perpetrated by people with too much time on their hands.
Question one: assuming crop circles are hoaxes, what is it about the British mind set that prompts them to commit these 'works of art'? That's never been explained. Nearly all crop circles are British crop circles. Although there are isolated cases from other countries, crop circle formations are 99 & 44/100% reside in merry old England - no arguments there. Maybe crop circle hoaxers might be reluctant to do their thing in the USA where farmers shoot first and ask questions later, but why not France, Canada, Australia and a host of other nations with major agricultural (crop) industries?
Question two, again assuming hoaxes, can the sum total of crop circle formations be explained by artistic human intelligence, keeping in mind the restraints of sheer numbers of circles; the period of limited darkness in which to operate (high summer in England); the fact that it is dark; the possibility of being caught (you don't want to use floodlights or flashlights); not to mention the ever additional time required for the ever increasing complexity of these crop circle formations?
That all crop circles are human hoaxes is ridiculous. Have you ever read of someone being caught in the act, apprehended, and prosecuted for trespassing and destroying personal property (these crops are valuable commodities to their owners)? [Actually, a few have been caught, but so few relative to the thousands of circles created that for all intents and purposes, if all are hoaxes, then the vast, vast majority are getting away with their vandalism.]
It's clear from some media coverage and internet sites that lots of people, even organisations, claim responsibility for crop circles, even to the point of giving demonstrations (in daylight of course) how its done. Case solved? Hardly!
These circles have been appearing on a regular basis for decades now. So what's the point of continuing to produce them, at considerable time and trouble, having 'proved' your ability, or proven your point, that you can do it. All the more so as especially seeing as how in the process you are trespassing as well as vandalising another person's property. People or organisations admitting to creating crop circles are publicly admitting that they have performed criminal activity.
From what I've seen on YouTube or documentary interviews, farmers really are pissed off over this issue. This costs them money in terms of lost crop yields, not to mention having to put up with hoards of sightseers, the press and investigators. Affected farmers would dearly like for nothing better than to toss these jokers behind bars and throw away the key! But you have got to catch them first - and few have - so that's one of the flies in this ointment.
So, why haven't all these guilty claimants been arrested, charged, tried, fined, forced to pay restitution or do community service, even jail time for damages, and thus put an end to their activities? Maybe because, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, these claimants are no more guilty or responsible than the little old lady from Pasadena or the man in the moon.
Sorry to burst this bubble but if you openly admit to criminal activity, you get slapped down by the hard hand of the law, and then some. Question for all those who seriously believe that crop circles are a version of terrestrial graffiti - has any claimant ever been seriously dealt with by relevant legal authorities? Damned if I can find evidence of it!
It doesn't wash; it doesn't make any sense, even if on the surface it's the most likely logical explanation, so by Occam's (Ockham's) Razor I should accept this explanation, but I don't. One reason is that there is a rather long history of people confessing to crimes they didn't and couldn't possibly have committed. Why? I'm no psychologist, but I rather expect to liven up they very dull little lives - it's their moment in the sun; their face on TV; their name in the newspaper.
And while some people have admitted to being the perpetrators of hoaxing crop circles (publicity seekers?) perhaps it's the people who keep quiet who are the real culprits! But a somewhat similar argument applies. Again, why haven't these new age graffiti (so-called) artists been caught in the act? To the best of my knowledge very few individuals have ever been caught in the act, far less arrested, tried, fined and/or imprisoned. By 'few' I mean the numbers caught are very few relative to the multi-hundreds to thousands of reported crop circle incidents. Their graffiti activities are in relatively densely populated areas - we're not talking Antarctica, the Sahara Desert, or national wilderness parks here folks; local people, especially crop farmers would be on the alert, maybe even holding stakeouts in areas of high crop circle activity. Yet we have thousands of these circles appearing on an ever on-going basis. Few are ever caught in the act. Thus, I conclude that while of course there are some hoaxes, probably the simpler and smaller of these circle patterns, that's it - a relative few.
I mean think of the obstacles hoaxers face. They (I'm assuming a team here) have to create a highly geometrically complex pattern, usually extending over a fairly wide area (often hundreds of square metres), in the darkness, without ever being caught. Pull the other one!
Another puzzling feature, if all crop circles are made by human hoaxers, is the absence of mistakes. The lines are straight; the angles perfect; the circles circular and in general to the eye, the overall imagery and geometry looks spot on. And in many cases it is quite complex imagery and geometry, all made during the short summer British nights, presumably by individuals or small groups, while in a rush to avoid detection, using flashlights (if that). Where are the human mistakes? Once crops are crumpled by mistake, you can't un-crumple them again - there's no crop circle whiteout or correction fluid. Any mistake, say a right angle that was actually 88 degrees or 92 degrees would immediately be seized upon by the sceptics as proof - ah ha, it must be humans because there's human error. Another thing I haven't read about, but should have, is where are the human footprints or tire marks or any other evidence of human activity at crop circle sites like a dropped bit of litter or something accidentally left behind in the rush. I mean these are the things one looks for - clues and evidence at a crime scene. Where is the crime scene evidence that implicates humans?
Now to my way of thinking, two things seem crystal clear here. There's intelligence behind the crop circle phenomena; equally clear (to me anyway) it's not by any stretch of the imagination a 100% human intelligence - the hoaxes - criminal activity - referred to above.
The Terrestrial Intelligence but Non-Human Connection: If the intelligence behind crop circles is not even close to being 100% human intelligence in the main, then it must be a non-human intelligence, though not of necessity extraterrestrial intelligence. So, what about a non-human intelligence? While we share this planet with other relatively intelligent species - dolphins, parrots, apes, the octopus - I find it unlikely in the extreme that crop circles can be blamed, or credited, to any of them.
Since I know of no other native intelligences on Planet Earth, I'm somewhat reluctantly forced to now go for an extraterrestrial intelligence, without any evidence other than process of elimination. However, there's some logic behind that assumption, otherwise I wouldn't entertain it.
The Alien or Extraterrestrial Connection: For better or worse, crop circles have been associated with UFOs to a greater or lesser extent depending on whom you consult. However, one immediate objection would be that a solid UFO, landing in a field, couldn't produce these sorts of complex patterns - that would have to be one hell of a weird UFO 'car' body underbelly!
Assuming now not human, but extraterrestrial intelligence (the UFO connection - if any), what is the motive? Sceptics have pointed out, rightly so, that it is ludicrous in the extreme to suggest that extraterrestrials come here, from there (wherever there is) just to do geometrical graffiti using agricultural crops as their canvas! It's probably equally ludicrous to suggest that UFOs are alien tourist buses, the extraterrestrials on a holiday tourist tour, and England has been set aside as the area for extraterrestrial artists on tour to practice their art!
Still, perhaps these pictograms are an attempt at communication - extraterrestrial intelligence to terrestrial intelligence.
SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) scientists have always maintained we could decipher any deliberately sent alien message, optical and/or radio, because we shared in common at least an understanding of fundamental mathematics and nature (the laws, principles and relationships of physics). Now crop circles, pictograms if you like, are certainly mathematical in structure - geometry if nothing else. But what can they mean?
A traditional (radio/optical) SETI equivalent of mathematical pictograms could be sending a series or radio (or optical) pulses representing prime numbers. Another starting point could be a series of pulses - a 'dit, dot, dot, dit, dash, dash, dash, dit, dit', or [1 + 1 = 2].
So, perhaps these pictograms are an introductory ways and means of establishing a communicative relationship, starting off with some geometry. That might be a more effective way of doing things. If you were an alien, how would you try to establish first contact and communication? I mean for starters, you could just send radio and/or optical signals (traditional SETI strategy noted above) and hope we were looking at the exact right time and in the exact right direction and (for radio) at the exact right frequency. The odds for a successful contact are not that crash hot, IMHO.
You could leave an artefact on the Moon (as in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey), but the Moon has a lot of real estate and there's no guarantee any artefact(s) would be found.
You could land on the White House lawn with a 'take me to your leader' (sort of as in The Day the Earth Stood Still films) and get shot for your troubles!
You could buzz all and sundry in your UFOs, and abduct us, but that's gotten nowhere, at least to the best of my knowledge. In any event, such UFO events are too transitory. You need not only a close to terra firma presence, but a longer lasting (relatively speaking) record of your existence. Crop circles fill the bill nicely. No danger of being overlooked; no danger to yourself. Of course the logician in me says that this is one hell of a weird way of trying to establish communication, but I'm no expert on alien psychology or alien logic - and neither is anyone else. It's not a ways and means predicted by SETI scientists, but it is a ways and means.
However, all up, using crop circles as a means to establish communications just doesn't seem to be that entirely logical, vis-à-vis landing on the White House lawn. Aliens I assume wouldn't go to all the effort of coming here just to draw us pretty pictures in crop fields - unless of course maybe these are alien college students doing their mischievous pranks.
Assuming aliens, but not alien pranksters or trick or treaters out cruising our solar neighbourhood, then what - or now what?
Speaking of those damn UFOs, do crop circles and UFOs share any traits that might firm up the presence of an alien intelligence(s)? Yes indeed.
Both became well known common phenomena within a relatively narrow time frame window relative to our overall history - that window being the latter half of the 20th Century. While we do have isolated examples of both before that era, it was roughly 1950+ that saw the two phenomena bloom, UFOs first, then the crop circles - which makes sense.
Both are ever ongoing phenomena.
Both have evolved in complexity over time. The geometric patters of crop circles have grown ever more intricate; in fact, something relatively new in the on-going evolution of complexity of crop 'circles' is the development of actual images pressed into the crops instead of purely geometrical symbols - images like faces, etc. But what's really interesting is that some of these images only really stand out under low light angles like occur in the early morning or late afternoon. That's getting more than just a tad sophisticated. Complexity evolution regarding UFOs started off with them as mainly lights in the sky, hence close encounters (of the first, second and third kind); finally abductions.
And both exhibit intelligence behind them - at least in part. Crop circles nearly always exhibit intelligence behind their manufacture; UFOs to a lesser extent, except of course for the unsolved cases, which are the smoking guns we're really interested in.
Both are global in scope, yet both have geographic areas where there appear to be flaps or concentrations - of longer duration for crop circles; shorter for UFOs. These flaps or concentrations occur in time frames as well as in locations.
There might be one other association with UFOs, albeit not the sort of UFOs one tends to associate with extraterrestrial intelligence. In this case the UFOs are more akin to ball lightning or the World War Two 'foo-fighters'. So, an apparently associated if somewhat rarer phenomena are motion pictures that shows a small ball or balls of light executing a smooth trajectory over or near crop circles. From what I've viewed, maybe its birds, but I didn't see any flapping activity or maybe paper or toy balloons blowing in the wind - though the pathways seemed too smooth to cater for random wind movement or wind gusts, and even bird flight is somewhat erratic. What could give the illusion of small balls of light relatively close to ground level? That is, we're not talking Venus or high altitude weather balloons or clouds or flares or searchlights or aircraft lights, etc.
So, overall I'm forced reluctantly into an extraterrestrial intelligence explanation. Crop circles just might be an alien's way of showing their intelligence and desire to communicate in a friendly, non-threatening manner. In a sense, we've done the same - recall the pictograms we attached to the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, and the Voyager 1 and 2 probes, all of which are heading out there into the depths of interstellar space to one day, maybe, be found by extraterrestrials.
If crop circles are alien pictograms, maybe said extraterrestrial intelligence think us pretty thick for not having figured out their message(s) - well, maybe relative to them, we are thick as a brick. However, if aliens are behind these pictograms, then in one sense I think they are thick as a brick! I fail to understand, if this is an attempt at a mathematically oriented communication, why not just put a 'crop' circle, with fractal design, on the Moon, visible through any reasonable telescope? That alone would settle the human vs. alien intelligence debate!
When all is said and done, I have to use the Sherlock Holmes oft quoted saying that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". Still, I find the extraterrestrial intelligence possibility unsatisfactory, but probably the least impossible of all the impossibilities.
The 'Maybe It's Some Other Explanation' Connection:
New Age gurus suggest that crop circles are Mother Nature's way of telling us that we're responsible for doing nasty things to her. Or maybe Planet Earth has mysterious energy forces that somehow manifest themselves as pictograms in the English countryside. Now I'm not (yet) into nebulous natural energy grids and ley lines and mysticism and New Age cosmic forces and extreme forms of Gaia Theory as explanations of crop circles. But, then seeing as how 'dark energy' unexpectedly popped out of the astronomical woodwork! Still I'm not ready to gamble on those metaphysical ideas quite yet, if for no other reason than concepts like ley lines and undefined 'cosmic forces' and related ilk are hardly an intelligence or life force, and thusly ruled out. Intelligence has to rule here.
So, maybe crop circles are a smoking gun that we do live in a simulated Universe and on a simulated planet. All other 'rational' explanations are equally, if not more so, ridiculous. If extraterrestrials, their motive isn't at all obvious. If human in origin, crop circle graffiti should be way more widespread like ordinary back alley brick wall graffiti is, not to mention that a lot higher percentage of crop circle culprits or 'artists' should have been caught, tried, convicted, and fined for vandalism, destruction of private property and just plain trespassing.
On the other hand, they certainly aren't the landing marks of UFOs. Nor are whirlwinds a be-all-and-end-all explanation. And again, I really don't want to try to come to terms with any mystical solutions - earth energies, Gaia, whatever. There is clearly an intelligence at work here, and I'm damned if I know what it is. If I had to vote for the most puzzling scientific mystery of our times, this would be it. However, I'm reasonably convinced it has probably nothing to do with UFOs or ETI and therefore has little relevance here, but that's still the least plausible of all the other impossible explanations. I sure wish I knew what was going on!
Ultimately, the pictures tell the story, and that story tells you that crop circles just can not exist - but they do. How you resolve that paradox is, well, your problem. One division is to decide whether crop circles are information or communication. They certainly are information, in the way a painting is information, but are they communication? If so, and if human, then the message is 'ha-ha, fooled you!' If not human - ah, therein lies the rub.
Anyway, we can speculate until the crops are harvested to little end. Perhaps it might be better to conclude instead that the jury is still well and truly out despite the above mentioned Sherlock Holmes observation that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth".
In summary, I'm convinced some, many, even most crop circle cases are genuine - what I cannot suss out, rather only speculate on, is the who (or whose intelligence), the why and the how.
Science librarian; retired.
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