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Real Aliens - crop CIRCLES symbols


All this said, I will now risk being wrong in a major way. I will argue that we are indeed looking at a symbol system. The shapes seem to have a certain "symbolicity" (see Colin Andrews' catalog, Appendix I.) I don't necessarily mean that they are a phonetic alphabet like English; I mean something more like pictorial codes or schematics. However, I shall have to be rather vague about what I mean by the word "symbol." The most specific definition I can offer is "a mark which means something to a group of people, by convention." For there can be many different kinds of symbols.


A symbol can be a mark with exactly one referent; for exam- ple, there is a certain schematic which signifies exactly one kind of tran- sistor. Or it can be a mark amenable to different interpretations, like the color red in the Soviet flag (it means revolutionary political possibilities to some, raw tyranny to others.) Or it can be a mark which functions in a language, meaning little in itself but contributing to a total meaning. For example, the physical mark "key" contributes in a certain way to the sentence "Where are my car keys?" and in a different way to "The key to the treasure is there." It seems to me that the real aliens crop circles could be symbols in any of these ways (and there are many more possible ways.) I tend to gravitate toward the third, language-oriented kind of symbolicity, but I don't wish to exclude the others. My intention is to spark a rich debate by opening up possibilities, not to truncate debate by closing them off.


To a lot of people, the formations "feel" like a symbol system. And they do have broad structural elements in common with human symbol systems (which, it must be pointed out, may not be much of a basis for comparison.) Like many human symbol systems, they can be broken down into certain recurring basic shapes--the alien circle the line, the rectangle, the ring, the curved arc, and so on. These elements are their "strokes." If the formations are complex, they are complex by the accumulation of pre- existing elements, not the creation of new elements (though each summer does bring some new elements.)


Like human symbol systems, the real crop circles present enough variety to suggest the possibility of reference to a large number of objects or ideas. If we saw only three formations repeated over and over, we would probably be more inclined to think them artistic or cultural icons, or natural artifacts, rather than members of a linguistic or representational system.


Like human symbols, their variety remains within limits; of 1990's numerous single and double dumbbells, no two are alike, but all are recognizably part of a class. It's a bit like the way the English letters b,d,p,q,c, and o form a recognizable class. The Egyptian hieroglyph for "bird" would stick out and look very strange in that class, and indeed it would not belong anywhere in the alphabet. As would the letter "b" look very odd, if claimed to be a Chinese ideogram.


The "variety within limits" argument is important for another rea- son. The appearance of "scrolls", rectangles, and triangles suggests that there is no physical limitation to the kind of shapes that can be created. If a short rectangle can be made, so can long ones to form lines, and the scrolls suggest that irregular lines can be drawn "freehand", as it were. The fact that the formations seem to vary within boundaries seems to suggest a defined and ordered system.

Michael Chorost

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