Thursday, 11 August 2011

Pseudo-ostension in southern England

Trystan Swale spoke at the Oxford Skeptics in the Pub event on 10th August.  The topic of the talk was crop circles.  And it was very entertaining to hear the tales of a circle maker himself.

Recovering from a mental illness that has prevented him for a while from presenting the Righteous Indignation podcast that he founded, he related a lot of interesting anecdotes and factoids.  While admitting that circle making is effectively vandalism, he noted that the circle makers tend to keep the 'ear to the ground' (ha ha) and they know which farmers are most likely to object to their activities.  Apparently a few large Wiltshire farmers seem to bask in the notoriety of their land as crop circle territory.  Still, the makers go to some lengths to avoid being spotted at work.

Many people wonder how they can work in the dark, but it seems that after half an hour outside on a dark night it becomes relatively easy to see what you are doing.  By the time that the crops are ripening they become light enough in colour that you can easily see what you are doing.

He covered some of the history of circle making and then showed some good examples of patterns and indicated have they were set out.  Six fold geometry is favoured because equilateral triangles around a centre point mark the positions that define the patterns.  (In other words, a chord of the same length as the radius of a circle marks out positions 60 degrees apart.  However, other formations, e.g. with five or seven fold symmetry have been made to demonstrate that it is not necessary to invoke alien origins.

It seems that there are about 12 people actively involved in circle making in the UK this year (down from about 20 in 2010), with the majority of circles being in the 'Marlborough Triangle' (which stretches from Swindon in the north to Stonehenge in the south).  When asked how many people it takes to create a formation, he gave an example of the 409 circle created at Milk Hill in 2001 by a team of 12 people.

He got a laugh by mentioning that in the mid 90s there was a bit of a flap about whether it is safe to eat wheat and barley from inside a circle and he went on to describe some of the common 'proofs' used to show that the circles are not man-made after all.  Sometimes the nodes on the stems of the crop are 'blown' as they are bent but not always.  He explained that the fluid in the stems has to go somewhere as the stem is compressed.  It happens particularly to formations made late in the season, or in crops that have been over-fertilised.

He explained that the famous video of circles being created at a site called Oliver's Castle was in fact an elaborate fake that was made in conjunction with the circle makers.  (But then again - he would claim that - he's a circle maker!) But this video agrees with him albeit invoking a slightly different explanation (and I have very little doubt myself).  Note the common six-fold symmetry in this formation.

He also explained about the symbiosis between the circle makers and their circles and with the people who are taken in by their work.  The makers seem careful not to claim an alien connection but also they take care not to deny it too much.  Pseudo-ostension is the term for a process that involves a hoax in which the perpetrator enacts a legend.

All in all - an entertaining evening for all of us!  Thanks Trystan.

Related posts:
'Out' Crop Formation
Cornucopia for Cereologists
Income from crop formations  
Where are the formations?
Japanese Rice Art 
Crop formations in trees
Wallabies on opium make crop circles!

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