Crop Circles

Crop circles are a fascinating phenomenon - intricate patterns appear in fields of grain. They are made up of circles, lines and other geometric forms. They once garnered a LOT of attention, but have lately fallen off in interest, largely because two Englishmen, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, admitted to making the circles for over 12 years. They had pulled off one of history's longer-running hoaxes.

We viewed a few video segments about crop circles, including one that demonstrated that three guys who knew what they were doing and equipped with a few simple implements and a preplanned design could easily execute a large and complex design in under six hours.

The following sites will give you all you ever wanted to know about crop circles and then some.

In the context of our class, crop circles provide some examples of how to approach such weird things.

As the crop circle phenomenon developed in England, and number of people calling themselves "cerealogists" began to "study" the circles. They decided that the circles must be the work of super-intelligent aliens that were visiting Earth. These "experts" were convinced that it was simply not possible for humans to make these figures. Then - Doug and Dave confessed to the hoax, and even demonstrated how they did it. This, as one might guess, immediately spawned legions of copycat hoaxers, some of whom styled themselves as artists, or circle-makers. Patterns got more and more complex, some being really nice designs.

This was not good news for the cerealogists. It became rather obvious that most, if not all, crop circles were really made by humans, whether strictly for amusement or for the sake of art.

Cerealogists did not give up. They maintained that, while most circles were hoaxes, there were still a few that were "genuine", meaning that aliens made them.

How to approach this?? Is it necessary, or even useful, to invoke a supernatural explanation here? Remember this premise: The fact that you can't explain something does NOT mean that is supernatural. It more likely means that you do not have enough information to figure it out.

One claim to be skeptical of is one that asserts that "humans could not have done this." Is it really impossible for humans to make crop stalks lie down like that? The artists and hoaxers have shown that humans are perfectly capable of doing it. How about the complex designs? Humans can make those perfectly well. A strange crop circle showed up in South Africa; it somehow resembled a BMW emblem. In fact, it WAS a BMW emblem; BMW had paid a circle-maker to do it.

Does the acknowledged fact that most crop circles are human-made (art or hoaxes) prove that aliens are not responsible for at least a few of them? The surprising answer is NO. You can't prove the negative. However, there is no need to postulate aliens when humans will do. Cerealogists are still looking for "genuine" crop circles, which means those made by some supernatural force. Seems like a futile effort. How will they be able to identify the "genuine" ones?

Consider the Hume approach: Which would be more miraculous - aliens making the circles or humans making them?

Take the Occam's Razor approach. Which explanation - aliens or hoaxers - requires the most assumptions?