For the Sake of a Greater
Cosmos:

The Themes of Colin Bennett

 

Colin
Bennett’s contribution to our culture is as a philosopher of anomalies and UFOlogy.
His thought is full of brilliance, broad humour, lyricism, and vitality, and vividly
allusive in its breadth of reference.  His themes are embodied in three
consummate biographies. His three highly original novels went far beyond the
contemporary scope that he dismissed as “Jack and Jill in Hampstead”. He also
wrote a spread of seminal essays and stories that are anthologized on this site.

He will
be remembered as a thinker who forcefully thrust the aging UFO and unexplained
phenomena into their true place among contemporary theories of media and
advertising, quantum theory, politics, and postmodernism.

Bennett was the vanguard outsider-warrior of the movement he
christened the New Ufology.  He was not entirely popular with the large
movement that he dismissed as Old Ufology. He summed up their work as “the
passive listing of countless case histories from the past.”

 

But I must stress that Bennett was an individual who nourished and
cherished his subjective sense of wonder. He loved footage of moving lights and
first person alien encounters as much as anyone. The problem was, however, that
he found the scope of
Old Ufology narrow and dated.  “Media does not appear to have arrived. The
result is that, for the most part, Roswell is usually investigated as some kind
of traffic accident,” he wrote.

 

He labelled Old Ufologists (and a great many literal-minded
scientists) “Victorian Station Masters,” a term that spread in wider Ufological
discussions online.  These were thinkers obsessed with minor and
ineffectual forms of measurement: “their universe conceived as number systems
inside railway timetables inside a Rubik Cube”.

 

Instead,
he argued, Ufological studies should be integrated with the latest developments
in psychology, mathematics and physics, along with contemporary Postmodern
views on Artificial Intelligence and image processing:

Old
Ufology must be deconstructed from bottom to top. It must transfer from
boiler-house analyses to a new Age where transcendental experience is seen to
consist of holistic components. In these elements all information is media, and
both language and culture are advertising systems. In such systems, objective
“solidity” is the most perfect prime-time performance of all.

Bennett
argued the urgent need for popular culture to form a radical new theory of the
anomalous event. The trappings and “troublesome apparatus of traditional
occultism” should all be slashed away.  He jettisoned these to produce—and
document—a systems model based on the viral creation, growth, and streaming of
information. Information streams are then challenged by warring
counter-information streams.

This is a
cosmos entirely composed of warring energy fields of advertising structures. In
Bennett’s system anomalies, rather like mutations, crop up as new viral
phenomena. Each one acts as a “cultural advertisement”, a new virus offering
and advertising a potential new ideology.

Their
existence imposes system-strains upon the many other cultural advertisements
vying for power. Propagandaic versions of “reality” all constantly compete in a
“bloody war” to grab the “ideological prime time of consciousness.” These competing
advertisements he called Story Technology: “the story-teller, with his age-old
technology, is still political dynamite.”

Bennett’s innovative, warring, advertising structures differ from
the paradigms of TS Kuhn in a number of ways. For one, Bennett’s anomalies
exist in the cosmos as semi-substantive “intermediate
states”. Their competition amounts to a live virtual dialogue between
ideological systems, where “imagination is the third state of matter”. Or, as
he calls it elsewhere, the “third grid”.  Within this “third grid” of
Bennett’s cosmological model there are perpetual battles for survival.

 

But they are not Darwinian battles. In Bennett’s view live,
dominant ideological systems do not destroy their opponents to ensure their own
survival. Instead they persuade them,
these overpowered enemy systems, to adopt their victor’s ideology in order to
survive the defeat and grow. It’s a process parallel to the Darwinian search
for food and environmental advantage but as Bennett puts it in his story
“Systems Analysis, the
law here is “Upgrade or Die”.

 

 

 

 

All
Bennett’s originality of thought erupts out of his fundamental conviction that,
literally, “when we imagine, we create a form of life.”  He describes the
powerful process of this story technology:

Stories
as advanced, complex metaphors enter and mutate the very interstices of matter,
symbol, spirit formulation. Like radiation, they pass through our brains
leaving their fertilising signals behind whether we like it or not.  Mere
bullets cannot do that.

Bennett
urgently defends and resurrects the active imagination, “one of the
great banned faculties of the twentieth century.” Ours is a scientific era
where the imagination “must be subject to almost medieval restrictions, as if
it were a dangerous radiation.” He laments, “How far the imagination has fallen
from Prospero’s idea of it as a magical, transforming faculty to a mere
Pavlovian function—the imagination reduced to instant consumer-product
pornography.”

One
cultural reason for this great fall in the status and concept of the
imagination was that the major literary writers of the mid twentieth century
took no interest in the “flashy” or “lurid” new marvel, the UFO, with its
associated inexplicable phenomena. Bennett, who read English at Balliol,
sketches the panorama of literary apathy:

The
Argentinian fantasist Jorge Borges, alive and well at this time, and not all
that far away, would have loved all this had he come across this cutting-edge
of a new culture, but if he knew of it, he ignored it.  The great writers
of [George] Adamski’s day ignored it also. They were absorbed in largely
obsolete literary conventions and unaware of the “pan-dimensional” texts these
“non-literary” writers such as Adamski were weaving out of myth, popular
culture and the newly emerging technological imagination. Thus did the very
last generation of great writers miss out on the first wave of quite
unprecedented changes in the world.  Writers such as Norman Mailer and Tom
Wolfe are almost contemptuously silent on the flying saucer, as were Allen
Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and surprisingly, Timothy Leary.

What literary
qualities should writing on UFOs have?  They should be of literary value,
yet scientifically, politically, philosophically, and technologically alert.
Richly and rebelliously allusive across many fields.   Bennett’s
acclaimed analytical biographies of Charles Fort and George Adamski, and his
book about both Edward Ruppelt and Project Blue Book invest their subjects with
unprecedented literary quality.

Bennett
once remarked wisely that “the corner of the eye defeats us if we do not find a
language for it.” One crucial task Bennett tackles is that our culture “lacks
an effective language to describe events that exist outside the old industrial
colonisations of yes and no.” This task is vital because “the way we name things
means admission into the spectrum of sanctions.”

He noted
that investigators, when trying to locate strange phenomena, “look anywhere but
where [Charles] Fort looked: that is, into the conceptual architectures within
the descriptive language that governs our reasoning.”

It’s
certainly no use our turning to Science for that language, for “Science is
about as good at describing non-material phenomena as it is in describing human
relationships—namely, nought out of ten.” Among the many examples, he points
out, there isn’t an algorithm that can express superficiality. 

The
inadequacy of science to describe consciousness and our world of experience,
particularly when its own “rigorous” tests are turned upon itself, is one theme
in his essay “Managing Mystery.” He comments that a runaway bus on a hill, full
of drunk, rioting skinheads, is seen by science as merely a point mass moving
down an inclined plane.

Rejecting
such poverty of expression, Bennett builds his own language for anomalies.
Anomalies are Half-Forms, “subtle forms of energy suspended between symbol and
realisation.” Anomalies are Fast Transients or elsewhere, Knife-Edge Systems, that
“lack the high-performance repetition rate required for continuous appearance.”
 These, he pointedly comments, are “just
as fleeting as any quark or muon.”

He says
that images have “emotional fields” attached to them. These accompanying
“fields of belief”, these “live domains of interest” compete to govern our
world of experience. Another phenomenon of Bennett’s is the Systems Animal.
 Systems
animals are “forms of pure organisation [which] appear to lie in wait for
hunters or buyers and let themselves be captured or bought.  Once in place,
they often capably mimic a complete holograph of authentic life-responses…they
breed swiftly, as if pure information is an unprecedented form of life.”

This cosmic
model of Bennett’s is often sparked alive by a specific being: a rebellious outsider—whom
Bennett redefines (and dehumanises) as an “advanced prototype”. By imagining, communicating,
and constantly replicating their envisioning, the outsider produces new challenges
to the most powerful “cultural advertisement”. When the new challenge becomes
the victor in these clashes, it then becomes the dominant “cultural
advertisement”.  

But of
course, defences exist against these outsiders and their challenges. Bennett
identifies these as “belief sanctions” or implicit “structures of not-seeing”. These
“structures of denial” are intrinsic to any victorious operating paradigm. His
essay “Managing Mystery” centres on the “mythological engineering” of such
implicit denials. Censorship occurs through a process of Wonder Management,
with its “channel restrictions” and “machinery of explanation”. To Bennett,
these machineries are “explanations as products” that ought to be re-examined
and their prejudices removed.

Usually
such explanatory products are navigated using a two-state instrument for
validation. But Bennett throws away the old two-state view of anomalies – the
polarities of “true/false,” “yes/no” or the binary “1-0.” These he replaces with
a grey scale of cultural or cosmological allowances. Or, as he has called them,
“octaves of appearance”. Operating along this grey scale, he asserts,

Belief
and scepticism are reality controls: their inputs and outputs sculpt, programme
and eventually construct what we decide to experience. They are the
differentials that generate our systems of mental navigation.

These
controls generate the effect of our “collective not-seeing” of anomalies like
discs and chemtrails. And these controls invite the question, “what shall we
allow ourselves to experience?”

Instead
of the two-state, true-false system Bennett makes anomalies part of a
three-state system. It’s one where the third state “works—but not very well.”
This “third state” or “third grid” of activity takes place in a liminal
territory: “a conceptual region parallel to our modern ideas of internet
cyberspace.” In some ways this liminal territory is the “lost hinterland
between fact and fiction”. It is also a haunted domain where “the lost
relationship between mind and nature” persists. In this territory, “the myth of
accuracy” is itself just one myth among many.

In this
hinterland, Bennett observes, it is “the peculiar nature of our virtual world
conceived of as hologrammatic” that allows fictions and facts to be true by
gradations, or in degrees like “fairly true” or “barely true.”

Bennett’s
third grid is also emphatically a Quantum region:

In modern
quantum theory a description is an experience and more than sufficient for a
temporary reality.  In these terms any observer, real or imagined, any
character created—or indeed met—is involved in Jung’s participation mystique of
experience and observation. 

Therefore,
Bennett argues, it doesn’t really matter if the spaceman Orthon that George
Adamski encountered is real or imagined: it only matters that he has been described.  Such
descriptions are the advertisements from systems animals. The ideological
seeding of these advertisements by systems animals grows and challenges the
dominant ideological cosmos for primacy. In this view of Bennett’s, information
itself as a teeming, battling form of life, the alien is not real or unreal, so
much as “under construction”—the subject of Bennett’s notable essay on this
site.

Contact may not be in terms of either “greys” or spindly War of The Worlds  machines
spouting laser death rays, but in the cool form of that powerful suggestion-virus
called the advertisement … ‘Advanced’ life might be indeed as vaporous as a
mere power metaphor that dines on belief batteries as cattle chew the cud.

 

Of course
the many UFO experts and hobbyists who are driven to try to capture empirical
proof that UFOs are “real,” will not be satisfied with Bennett’s proving an
alien presence by this statement. For many people, simply seeing the
word “postmodern” creates in them an immediate Pavlovian reaction to refuse to
understand. (That’s even before they start reading the theory.) Thus Bennett’s
view became a controversial, polarising element. He could also be spitefully
provocative: for instance, when he described Carl Sagan as “the John Delorean
of Old Ufology.” Whether one a greed with him or not, certainly Bennett’s
stimulating views enriched, overturned, and irrevocably expanded the Ufological
galaxy of reference.

 

Bennett
placed the imagination first in his system, he argued for it as the prime mover
of our cosmos. The active imagination, that is. Not the passive
imagination, for he absolutely and eloquently loathed the infinite, passive,
societal absorption of media images and star “personalities”.

Whether
these personalities are the Kennedys of Camelot, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe or Lady
Gaga—he believed that these images stream in and degrade the imagination into a
mere passive receptor. In this age of “mass TV inoculation,” all levels of
perception are “bent in this strong Camelot image-field.” He saw the withering
of real vision by this political, metaphysical and existential control system
that he called “Entertainment State”.

Entertainment
State, he observes, is a culture with absolutely no “off” switch. It is a state
that humans, cannot escape, even if they have no earpiece, screen, or phone.
Bennett’s Entertainment State is in one way a political model. It documents

the birth
of an age that would have surprised both Marx and Fort: an age of media and
entertainment in which the old visible ruling class and the old industrial
equations vanished into the powerful alchemy of political conspiracies with the
entertainment / glamour complex as the controlling programme … an age ruled and
controlled not by fact but by image and advertising, and the deep-laid plots of
the military-technological-entertainment establishment.

His piece
“Non-Cerebral Systems as Weaponry” observes that “hot” methods of social
control are obsolete now, because all that our temporal rulers require from the
masses is the purchase of a phone: then, “passive viewers become mere
image-processors in the supermarkets of ideologies.”

As a consequence Bennett argued that human beings—or as Bennett
sometimes satirically called our species, “Viewers”—do not reason by facts, but
by the tenets of what he called “Big Doll Culture”. “From Jesus to Monroe, from
Michael Jackson to Orwell’s Big Brother, people reason by inspirations provided
by such big dolls of
one kind or another.”

 

Ultimately these dolls—“massive, savage dolls laying waste to what
was once called intellect”—are images that should be regarded as intelligent,
non-carbon lifeforms in themselves. Thus personalities like Elvis Presley
actually operate as Systems Animals, “whose indestructible and self-replicating
images possess utterly whole and entire world populations.”

 

A theme
of Bennett’s article “Manchurian Candy” is the wilful creation and manipulation
of prototypal media-dolls. From Sylvia Plath to Jon-Benet Ramsey, all of these
exist in that liminal territory between fact and imagination. They are
sometimes, like the American model Candy Jones, for instance, psychologically
contained and controlled in the literal sense by authority-induced
trance-states: “America first gave birth to this brood, and all its assassins
share similar characteristics.”

In
Entertainment State, Bennett points out, “cartesian measurement and indeed
facts mean practically nothing.” These entertainment idols utterly dismantle our
mass cerebral functions without shedding a drop of blood. How very odd and
tragic that Science, that sober, rational, methodical, responsible and
ontologically overwhelming paradigm, has surprisingly met its conqueror in this
most unexpected, banal and frivolous of places: entertainment. Science fell by underestimating
entertainment as an ideological system in the bloody battle for cultural
control:

The basic
scientific assumption is that the limitless absorption of countless powerful
images through various media means that nothing happens of any [functional] importance
at all with regard to the physical objective world as structured and conceived.

That
images are forms of intelligence which continue to develop long after the
finite moment of perception is again hardly recognised by science, since this
would upset all the objective machinery set in place for political, intellectual,
and cultural domination.

In his
day-to-day life Bennett was fascinated and delighted by science, mathematics, technology,
and electronics. His flat was a crowded archive shrine to the material and
scientific world. A great Myford lathe and old oscilloscopes, hammers and clamps,
telescopes and Revoxes. Sometimes he designed and etched his own circuit
boards. His short story “Milteer’s Rooms” on this site is his affectionate
technological obituary for one dying era of the junk workshop of evolving science.
 

“Green
Screen Time” is what he called that era where computers had black screens and
green type – before those were all dumped obsolete on his street corner. Bennett’s
song for dying technology and military technology is one outstanding motif in
both his fiction and prose, one of his original attractions as a thinker.

Despite this elegy for mechanical, technological breakthroughs, in
the end Bennett jettisoned Science ruthlessly. To him it was just a paper hoop
paradigm to jump through when racing towards an ever-expanding liminus of
understanding at the horizon. To Bennett, Science was just another cultural
advertisement among many, all caught in a bloody propaganda battle for what he
called the “prime time of human consciousness”.

 

He viewed science “not as lies but rather as an array of game
possibilities that are liable to exhaustion and decay.” He believed it was
declining as an ideology to become just a technical support base for Big Media:

 

It started perhaps with the great vision of Star Trek and
it ended with insect vehicles crawling around sterile planetary deserts. Hammer-and-anvil
science won’t compete in the image-evolution race.

 

Elsewhere he commented:

 

All cultures collapse in time because their advertisements fail to
sustain their product range.  The word nuclear—still used by some ufological physicists as a
badge of honour and achievement—is now a badge of shame.  From Chernobyl
to Fukushima, from Three Mile Island to Fallujah, it is doubtful if the world
will recover from such devastation caused by nuclear physicists and their
satanic manoeuvres.

 

To Bennett the proudly “real” structure of science is based on
leaps of metaphorical faith. “Since well over 170 years after Michael Faraday’s
discovery of the electromagnetic induction, still no one knows what a magnetic
or electrical field is, exactly.” Such leaps of faith are found in any religion,
and to Bennett, science was another religion.

 

In “Science as Showbusiness,” Bennett examines the New Cosmology of the
1990s. Here, he catches Science right at the point of re-advertising itself to
compete with other similar occult sales-campaigns. He argues that its
statements are just as fantastic as claims of green humanoids landing in
Bradford. For instance, this below by cosmologist George Smoot:

 

By a
ten-billionth of a trillionth of a second inflation had expanded the universe
(at an accelerating rate) a million trillion trillion times, and the
temperature had fallen to below a billion billion degrees.

But
Science is predominantly a political ideology to Bennett: “Science is a
political control over the world of appearances and as such cannot help but
align itself with massive institutionalised authority.” Science is a censoring
form of control, where “facts” do not operate to provide honest demystification. 

Facts are
the intrinsic weapons of a propaganda cult. They promote the ideological “live
domains of interest” of rationalism and scepticism. “The patronising social
policies of science (essentially about stability, rule, formula, good
behaviour, and predictability) are reflected completely in its lower middle
class practitioners,” Bennett comments provocatively: “its deeply conformist
mythological engineering is actually a political conspiracy against wonder,
innocence, love and all imaginative transcendence.”

This political usurpation of authority by Science was called by Bennett
“Factual Authority,” where
Science becomes our “cultural interrogator.” In this scientific system,
anomalies play the politically subversive role of viruses or “hackers in the
mainframe system of reference,” which attack to reveal that science is “a
system doomed in ideological time.” Science all the while advertises itself as
a force for stable enlightenment with its myth, as he puts it, “that the new
experiments in the new, shining laboratories will surpass the old experiments
in the old shining laboratories.”

 

This view of Bennett’s, that ideological systems are literally alive,
swift-breeding and warring systems of advertising, has powerful ramifications
for individual and group liberty.  On the subject of coercion Bennett
argues that the contemporary media era disproves the Orwellian narrative. Pleasure,
not torture, is the form of political control that has seized the “Prime Time
cultural slot.” Our current victorious paradigm he calls, “Entertainment
State.”

 

Entertainment State swamps the universe with a saturating junk
culture, uses “non-cerebral systems as weaponry”. Flooded with junk, “passive
viewers become mere image processors in the supermarket of ideologies”.
Pragmatically considered, “changed minds are more useful than battlefield corpses,”
and thus it is important that human individuality and autonomy must undergo
this “death by a million carparks.” It’s a view central to his novel The Entertainment Bomb (1996)
where “trash systems operate as effectively as dreary rational ones.”

 

Bennett’s
stabbing exploration of propaganda also extends beyond Factual Authority to its
brute opposite, the ideology known as Exopolitics. Exopolitics was created by
Dr Alfred Webre and is propagated by groups such as the Centre for the Study of
Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Bennett’s essay “Child Brides from Outer Space”
examines some aspects of Exopolitics. Exopolitics explores the political
implications of alien life while assuming, and even experiencing, that human
practical interaction with aliens is already taking place. Bennett reports, certain
UFO communities talk matter-of-factly about “existing, full relationships with
alien intergalactic communities as if they were describing a session at the
UN.”  Bennett asks, “Do they ever stop to fry a sausage?”

 

Bennett
is an occultist who attacks the dominant occult system of his time: “the flat
Cartesian control signal of so-called mechanical objectivity.” Human beings are
“unwitting plankton” swallowed by Science which, like all governing cultural
advertisements, generates immense “implicit denial systems.”

Implicit denial
systems, not any explicit conspiracy mechanisms, are the processes that
interest Bennett most. He was preoccupied with the idea of an “implicit
conspiracy” theory. This conspiracy begins innocuously in the natural fact that
“lawyers talk to lawyers and doctors talk to doctors.” But it quietly develops
into a new implicit system of censorship. The restrictive governing paradigm
creates pre-existing socio-political structures of “collective not-seeing” that
prevent both the individual and the mass from experiencing anomalies that occur
right before their eyes.

Bennett’s
Theory of Explanations examines this dynamic form of censorship where
“explanations become products,” both as phenomena and in their sheer matter or
substance. Explanations are “cultural deceptions” which are forms of political
control. The function of explanations is now to conceal more than reveal so
that “in the information society, the last thing you can expect to receive is
information.”

Those who
try to explain away anomalies are part of a larger process he called “Wonder
Management”. Here, Science becomes “a massive public relations exercise” and is
as much about data-suppressions as revealing factual truth. “The great aging
evidence-games of Western culture…strip systems of all anomalies until the
equations work, then equate the results to wonderful reality.” He argued that
mythological thinking, propagandized by science as lies, “is the most powerful
and ancient means of communicating with the collective unconscious.”

Such
cultural editing of experience damages the spirit and the mind. It creates
floods of petty factual data that swamp and eliminate transcendent thinking and
vulgarize our intellectual response: “the modern brain turned into endless
corridors lined with filing cabinets full of sterile facts.”  

Thus, as
well as editing our world of experience, the proliferation and pollution of
these irrelevant facts is another means of putting humanity to sleep:

Factual
systems are labyrinths in themselves, ghetto alley death traps in which all
proper identity is exterminated by being cut off from all sources of magical
transformations.

Bennett’s
Wonder Management implies a cosmos always recalculating and searching for one
crucial, shifting equilibrium point, an “acceptable level” of wonder. For
instance, the credibility and factual “reality” of phenomena are always
regulated by Science. Science only validates anomalies that occur at a great
cosmic distance from us – or conversely, when they happen on an atomic scale.

Because
most scientists, he comments, reach a crisis point of focus where the
credibility of any phenomenon is strictly a function of its scale. Science is
prepared to accept all kinds of quark-like degrees of strangeness deep within
the atomic structure or else out in the super-macro-cosmos, an immense distance
from earth, but never in daily life: “It is in the normal scale of the working
kitchen world—it is in this scale of experience in which scientific denials
most cluster.”

Constancy
of repetition is another feature Science requires to validate an anomaly. Bennett
argues for the existence of what he calls “Fast Transients” – those anomalies “that
lack a high performance repetition rate necessary for continuous appearance.”
 

 

 

Bennett
was a committed follower of the writer Charles Fort (1874 – 1932) whose New
York Times obituary identified him as “the foe of science.” It is an important
contribution from Bennett that he brilliantly explicated and re-conceived Fort
as a modern operational philosopher—and an early postmodern commentator on the
cultural preoccupations and developments of the new millennium and contemporary
science, media, politics, and popular culture.

“As soon
as I began to read Fort’s works,” Bennett once recalled, “I knew his views were
a foundation for developing my own.”  In a strange, opposing mixture of
roles, then, Fort was both Bennett’s muse and his protegé. Fort viewed the
universe as an organism.In the atmosphere of modern technological awareness, Bennett
built onwards from Fort’s foundations. To Bennett, the essential organisms of
our universe are all information systems, systems that are indestructible,
self-replicating animals fighting for ideological pre-eminence.

Charles
Fort’s theory of continuity, where everything exists in an intermediate and
transient state, was developed by Bennett into a cosmological vision where
belief and scepticism are the dominant reality controls and exist in a
continual state of flux—“they are the differentials that generate our systems
of mental navigation”— where the subtractive tension between belief and scepticism
gives rise to the half-forms or anomalies. Bennett’s model, combined with his post-modern
ideas of persuasion and advertising, inspired his essay “The Alien is Under
Construction.”

Fort owes Bennett an immense debt for his rehabilitation, for
Bennett radically transformed our contemporary understanding of Fort and our
new sense of an irrevocable debt to him.  Bennett’s classic biography Politics of the Imagination champions
Fort as a prescient prophet for the new millennium and our
exponentially-uncertain future.

 

Previously Fort had a passionate niche following among bohemians,
occultists and science fiction writers. But Bennett detected a distinct strain
of conformist, rationalist facetiousness in some followers and he fought this:
“Fort was not just an amusing and eccentric purveyor of sea-serpent stories.”

 

Fort was
perhaps the first to speculate that moving lights in the sky might actually be
crafts from outer space; while Bennett championed the UFO at a time when the
established Fortean coterie resolved to dismiss it. Bennett felt the Fortean scene
had been contaminated by sceptics whose beliefs undermined Fort’s own.

It was Bennett who first observed that Fort had pioneered the
concept of paradigm shift many years before T S Kuhn. Bennett
expounded—and himself expanded—Fort’s argument for a new humanism based on
intense subjectivity to show that Fort’s territory was a precursor to that
explored by Sartre decades later.  And Bennett also related Fort’s ideas
back to classical philosophy in his piece “A Late Disciple of Lucretius.”
 Further, Bennett’s grasp of our modern conspiratorial mysteries, our
ambiguous assassinations, our systems analyses, and our nuclear follies enabled
him to weave Fort’s ideas through all these currents in his satirically-paced
essay, “Lee Harvey Oswald as Fortean Man.”

 

Bennett showed the modern relatability of Fort’s ideas to the
thought of Dawkins, Hawking, Edelman and Penrose, thus planting signposts for
future writers to explore; and he also related Charles Fort’s “intermediate
states” to fuzzy logic. And, unlike many narrow writers on anomalies, Bennett’s
time as a scholar of English at Balliol College allowed him to draw attention
to Fort’s valuable literary technique
and themes, to relate his “wounded syntax” and comic stream-of-consciousness to
the revolutionary style of his contemporary Joyce in Ulysses, to
the anarchic style of Sterne, and to Surrealism. Bennett’s fascination with
European culture, modern military history and technology meant he could also
connect Fort with the powerful themes of Mann, Solzhenitsyn, and Kafka, A N
Whitehead and McLuhan, Borges, and Barthes.

 

Bennett’s
book on Fort is a dazzling exposition of his own philosophy. It won the
appreciation of Nobel Laureate John Nash who was beyond all else a thinker immersed
in an inner cosmos of outrageous propositions. He wrote privately to me in his
customary unusual phrasing, “The book of Fort by Colin Bennett is really very
stimulating and its derived theme-concept [the essay “Skepticism as Mystique”]
that the British do not appreciate their own geniuses, seems valid.”

With
regard to psychological themes Bennett notes, “Our reaction to anomalies sheds
light on how we think and organize our concepts.” The “cultural
advertisements” in our cosmos that Bennett describes, are battling to become
“the prime-time advertisement within human consciousness.” They are attempting
an insidious control over the autonomous mind. Bennett relates the mind to
systems theory, and views the mind as a mainframe entity constantly challenged
by viruses. Moreover, the mind sometimes actually introduces these viruses
itself to become a self-subverting system.

 

In the relatively short modern period of our world, the objective
mechanical experience has prevailed culturally, and one reason is our
censoring psychological need for reassurance, as well as narcissism: “When
humans research, we expect to find that high seriousness which is a compliment
to ourselves, and the reward for all our exertions.” In his essay “Putting the
Noise Back Into the System,” he observes, “the conception of mind as a
complete mess and not a set of grocer’s rules is not a politically correct
view.” Bennett observes that models of mind which are developed reflect the
censoring scientific view of mind as composed of work, worth and studied
application. “Scientists want a digital brain, and electronic digital at that.
The messy wetness of the Brain’s bio-soup is out this season.” These models
exclude the psychological operations of play, deception, anarchy, insincerity,
inefficiency, and time-wasting; deviance and fantasy are dismissed as
pathological instead of interwoven with the model.

 

However such failures of vision are of course very natural, he
writes with understanding: 

 

Science is the human view which would valiantly wish nature into
being a completely serious, coherent, well-directed, fair-playing entity that
has a clearly definable direction and purpose.

 

The fact that both the individual psychology and the “mass mind”
accept this view implicitly without questioning is an example of our
“collective not-seeing”.

 

And yet
the functional importance of waste in both mind and models of mind is crucial. At
the turn of the millennium, Bennett’s own model was a contemporary digital
archetype of the information dump – with the information stream and the virus.
 

Anomalies
are illustrations of his model in operation: “Such terrifying visions are a
fragmented waste … dumped information fields gradually decaying, like the
contents of the waste-bin of a hard disc. The idea of mind needing such vast
rubbish dumps is only starting to enter AI discussions.”

Such
waste materials,  “rather than false in terms of old iron-age industrial
logic, are more profitably looked at as forms of possible world-models, partial
sets of almost-realized instructions which can behave like live tissue … in the
most sensible, alert humans.”

Bennett identified one irrepressible essence in human psychology:
the hardened, wilful, voracious self-programmer.  Humans are not just
animals who reason, he argues, they are craving “animals who willingly form
countless, outrageously speculative systems of reference.”  

 

To Bennett, we are “the only animals who can rapidly and
consciously program and deprogram ourselves to reach a wide range of goals and
group agendas.” In his essay “Managing Mystery” he comments, “Be it psychic
phenomena or cinema screens, advertisements or quasi-religious mass suggestion, no animal
other than the human needs such a massive input of structured reality.”

 

Man’s
compulsive, self-programming, discursive consumption of ideological structures
conflicts with another part of his psychology: man’s devastating appetite for
the very passive absorption of visual images and their “attached emotional
fields.”  This devastating,  previously
dormant mental appetite has erupted into life with the rise of Entertainment
State. The rise of Media has accelerated a primal compulsion in humanity to
live in and to reason or progress by images and Story Technology: “This vast
semiconscious theatre within us makes nonsense of the theory of evolution.”

Bennett’s
story “The Lanternslide Girl” takes place at the very first moment of this
eruption which, for Bennett, creates a bloody and fluctuating battle.

It is a
battle waged between the healthy active imagination and its foe, the
contemporary mass mind which is “controlled not by measurement but by images,
live and immaculately-structured, countless billions of which enter the human
brain at every moment of the day and night.”

This flow
is a chaotic mental torrent. It has to be absorbed by our dualistic mind in a
process where, Bennett observes, we are severely split between our conflicting
needs both to feel, and also to censor, the experience of magical wonder: “the
much-propagandized quest to know is counterbalanced by the human need not to
know.” He argues in his essay “Skepticism as Mystique” that scientists and
skeptics who dismiss anomalies and UFOs as “psycho-social fantasies” are
“people who have a terrible problem with wonder.”

Such
chronic cultural skepticism is ultimately “a dangerous intellectual allergy”. It
destroys other, equally important psychological needs and experiences. “All
proper identity is exterminated by being cut off from all sources of magical
transformations.”

No human
is psychologically and spiritually complete unless the active imagination is
integrated:  “Without our autonomous imagination the brain, like the
planet, will become a televised car park of infinite episodes.” Thus when
science and media reduce the imagination to only passive entertainment, the
outcome is one of Bennett’s great themes: the death of profundity,
concentration and the intellect.

It is
their possession of an uncensored cosmological imagination that allows
Outsiders like Lee Harvey Oswald to behave anomalously: “Somewhere within the
vast interiors of the Outsider there has been a failure of the kind of cultural
colonisation intended to convince that one sort of thing is unreal and another
thing is real.”

Outsiders
who seem to walk through walls can do so because “they live in perspectives we
have long discarded.” Human beings’ awareness that their imagination has active
potency within the cosmos is vital for their existential self-empowerment,
freedom, and individual will. The fantasizing Outsider is an existential Walter
Mitty who takes up again his lost autonomous fancies. The Outsider uses such
fancies to seize the Prime Time cosmological paradigm in “the mainframe of
cultural realisation.”

This is
the final, central axis of Bennett’s philosophy—which is also a natural
philosophy—that the imagination is the third state of matter; that “when we
imagine, we create a form of life.” This fertile, irradiating “lost interaction
of mind and nature,” Bennett observes, was in previous centuries taken entirely
for granted: for instance, in any two-character scene written by Shakespeare there
is always a third character: the System. The system  may be Elsinore, it may be Lear’s blasted
heath. It is this two-way traffic of mind and landscape that Bennett depicts in
his essay on Keel’s Mothman, “Invasion of the Doll People.”

Subversion
is intrinsic to Bennett’s unique cosmological model where “Mind and World are
very often subversive and paradoxical in their complexity”. Broadly speaking,
the cosmos consists of self-subverting systems, these subversions constantly
remind us that the cosmos is bigger than our finite philosophy. In an emphatic
tour de force Bennett’s essay “Putting the Noise Back into the System” provides
an original and telling anthropological situation that explains our
difficulty in the UFOs and anomalies. Pacific islanders who have evolved
without encountering modernity are then invaded by WW2 Forces and their
products for a brief period. After that short burst of war, the outside world
disappears. Then thirty years  later, a
big film crew with all its equipment arrives to recreate the war. These
islanders with total bewilderment are forced to accommodate, within their
jolted mythology and cosmology, the repeated recreation of the original battles
with shot “corpses” that get up and walk again afterwards. Where does reality
lie?  Bennett’s wise and smiling analogy
is irrevocably revealed – the infinitely expanding, ontological fractal of our
human struggle to perceive cosmology and the anomalous.

For this
is the problem with scientific cosmological models: they generally ignore that
“the world will just not sit still long enough to be nicely photographed as a
finished product in central focus.” Such models do not accept that “irrational
fears and equally irrational loves” may actively help to shape the world, or
that “the universe, and truth, may be wholly comic and absurd.”  

Bennett
therefore thumbs his nose at “such blatant sales-campaigns as the scientific
new cosmology” by selecting, not measurement, but metaphor as the basis of his
universe. He dares to propose a cosmology based on an aesthetic effect or
phenomenon. This is not just courageous but outrageous: “a mechanics of
metaphor as causality would be regarded as a gross intellectual indecency.”

In this
cosmos of Bennett’s all information is media, all language and culture are
advertising systems, and “a rationalist is just another mythological performer
like everyone else.” This is a cosmos characterised by his wholesale,
straight-faced dismissals of contemporary phenomena: “CERN, Lady GaGa, George
Adamski, the Palomar Observatory, and Big Science are now best seen as product
spectra within the general consumer syndrome.”  

Here,
indeed, “all mechanical forces are just the masks of metaphysical elements” –
where “the myth of accuracy” is overwhelmed by torrential flows of image and
information; where, instead of accuracy, we have “an endless stream of
splintered and bitmapped approximations to that [certainty] we call the
absolute.”

Quite
possibly the future will view the most laughably naïeve, “flat earth”
assumption of our era to be the rationalist’s emotional insistence that the
imagination has no mechanical causative effect. When that day comes, and in
particular through these collected essays and stories, Bennett will ultimately
be viewed as the thinker who fought his own age for the sake of a greater
cosmos.