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A Graphic Wisdom research essay by Marchelo Bresciani

There is a famous poster with a picture of a UFO and the phrase "I WANT TO BELIEVE" written boldly across the bottom.

This poster was made famous by the TV show X-Files where government agent Fox Mulder explored various unexplained phenomena. The fictional agent Mulder sought to expose the truth, but his poster did a great disservice to the real study of UFOs: it equated the possibility of extra-terrestrial life on Earth with a belief.

This simple poster has become iconic to those who already believe in UFOs.

Its' message validates the internal struggle to understand the unexplained, but it does so at a great cost. The message "I want to believe" has turned the study of extra-terrestrial life into a psuedo-religion that is looked down upon by mainstream science, and rightfully so. Science requires us to discard our personal beliefs for the sake of reaching true and unbiased understanding.

A belief asks that we place our doubts aside and accept a particular conviction as true or real. It requires a certain level of faith to believe that the answers are just beyond our reach, but that they are true all the same. We encounter beliefs in many aspects of our lives. The most obvious venue for faith is Religion but it is also given to science by those who accept its' discoveries as true without understanding the methods. Belief is notoriously inflexible, yet we are able to adapt our beliefs when irrefutable evidence presents itself.  Whenever we refuse to acknowledge evidence that is contrary to our understanding of the world, our potential to grasp real knowledge of the universe around us suffers.

So let us take a look, without the bias of belief, at an unexplained phenomena that we are all aware of but refuse to discuss in mixed company: crop circles.

It wasn't until recently that I took a serious look at the crop flattening phenomenon. I viewed them as a kind of performance art by hoaxers or some kind of electromagnetic discharge at the most bizarre. I felt certain they were created by forces right here on Earth with no need for alien life to traverse the galaxy.
Then one day a friend of mine sent me images of some more recent crop circles. I became fascinated by the fractal patterns the circle makers were able to create. Many of them were simply beautiful expressions of geometric form.

As an artist, I wanted to know how they were made so I went digging...

In my naiveté I expected information about the formations to be relatively easy to find. Basic details such as the date they were reported, the dimensions of the formations and what they meant were buried in new-age websites of questionable reliability. Any conclusive evidence like who made them, scientific data from past circles, surveillance footage of people in a field or criminal cases where people had been caught by angry farmers or police was simply not to be found at all. The lack of real information available was a surprise.

I learned that crop circles are a worldwide phenomena with the majority of the formations appearing in the UK. I had assumed that crop circles were a relatively recent phenomenon; one that coincided with the increase in public interest for UFOs since we began to explore space.

I was surprised to find that the first unexplained crop circle was documented in 1678 in Hertfordshire, England. The article reported that the sky above a local farmer’s field was “all of a flame” one night and the next day an odd circle had appeared in his crop. The phenomenon was accredited to the Devil, for they concluded that no man could have done it. "If the Devil had a mind to shew his dexterity in the art of husbandry, and scorn’d to mow them after the usual manner, he cut them in round circles, and plac’t every straw with that exactness that it would have taken up above an age for any man to perform what he did that one night." (click picture on the right for more info)

The farmer's account of the events that lead to the crop circle in 1678 are remarkably similar to what is observed today. Three hundred years ago it was common practice to attribute unexplained phenomenon to the "Devil". Today we have more modern and complex reasons for the unexplained: extra terrestrials, government covert operation, cheeky vandals, profiteering locals, etc. Yet the question of their origin remains unanswered.

How can a phenomenon that has been occurring for over 300 years fail to attract any serious scientific attention? Isn't the sheer mystery of their creation worth investigating if only to catch those responsible for the crop damage?



There are formations that are undoubtedly hoaxes and others that have been commissioned for advertising purposes.

The rise in crop circle activity observed since the 1970's is most likely due to the increased attention they have received from a mystified public. In 1999, Andrew Collins did a two-year-long study on crop circle hoaxing and determined that 80% of them were very obviously man made. Doug Bowler, David Chorley and Matt Ripley confessed to have been making crop circles for years. There is significant evidence that humans are capable of and have been making crop circles.

Then there is the evidence that stretches the feasibility of a rational explanation. The complexity of the formations and window of time in which they appear were the two main factors that peaked my curiosity.

One particular crop formation of noteworthy complexity and size appeared on Milk Hill in Alton Barnes, Wiltshire on August 12th, 2001 (pictured right). This formation was comprised of more than 400 perfectly aligned circles. It measured 1500 feet in diameter with the circles ranging in size from a few feet to more than 70 feet in diameter.

John Lundberg, a self-confessed crop circle hoaxer, said "If this formation was man-made, allowing for time to get into and out of the field under cover of darkness, the construction time should be around four hours. Given that there are 400 circles, some of which span 70ft, that would mean that one of these circles would need to be created every 30 seconds and that's not even allowing time for the surveying, purely for flattening. This formation pushes the envelope, and that's a massive understatement."
Karen Douglas, 31, who is a crop circle expert from Gosport, Hampshire, added: "This is very, very exciting. Even the people who usually debunk the formations think this one is incredible. It is the sheer size and complexity that sets it apart. There have been big formations before but never as many circles. People are really astounded by it."

As I expanded my research I learned that the plants within some formations have characteristics that seem impossible to recreate with a board and some rope. In a "genuine" crop circle the stocks are bent, not broken as is the case when they are stomped down by people with boards. This is particularly odd as some plant stalks simply can not be bent over without breaking. There was a crop circle reported May 22nd this year that was made in a canola field where the stocks of the plants were bent and woven together. Canola stocks have a consistency like celery and break easily when bent over.

Video evidence of bent stocks within a young Canola crop formation reported on May 22nd, 2010. Its a bit slow but provides a worth while examination of the plants.
Skip to 4:00 to see the how far Canola can bend before it snaps, as seen above.

The formations that are made of bent plants will continue to grow. The plants are able redirect themselves upward thanks to phototropism and will be perfectly fine to harvest when mature because the flowers and young seedpods at the top were intact and undamaged during the creation of the crop circle. When most plants are flattened over with a board and pressed into place, they snap and do not continue to grow. If they do not break they will rebound and stand upright again. Farmers who find themselves with a formation of bent plants have taken action to prevent tourists from accessing them because the excessive foot traffic will kill the plants that would have otherwise been fine to harvest.
The action of preventing access to the formations by farmers is particularly interesting. It makes sense to do so if they are the victims of an unknown circle maker but makes less sense if they know who is making them and allow it to happen for the increased tourism revenue, a claim that is often made by skeptics.

Man-made formations leave tell tale signs of the simple tools used to flatten the crop. Trauma to sensitive young plant life and crumpled flowers point to being pressed down with a board. Holes are found where stakes were posted to survey the shape. Most form along tractor lines to provide access for people walking into the field. All of this is easy to observe, yet there are some formations that lack all of this evidence.


We must dispel the belief in aliens as well as the belief that extra-terrestrial encounters are impossible to reach an unbiased understanding of crop circles.

While the thought of extra-terrestrial beings may seem highly unlikely, so too is our very existence within the universe. It is is unbelievably improbable that a planet of just the right size, with a large moon, a tilted axis and an active planetary core should form at the perfect distance from its' star for liquid water to coalesce. Yet here we are; mostly enjoying the apparently rare gift of life.
Yet as our technology improves, we are beginning to see that life may be more plentiful then we once thought possible:

We once believed with certainty that we were at the center of the universe / that the solar system was the center of the universe / that the Milky Way galaxy was the entire universe, and to say otherwise attracted the same kind of attention searching for extra-terrestrial life does now. It would seem that one constant in our understanding of the universe is the tendency to overplay our own role.


The idea that crop-circles may not be man made has not made it very far in mainstream science. It is easy to understand why a reputable researcher would be unwilling to be ostracized by their peers for wasting time on hoaxes. This makes funding for substantial research virtually impossible to find. The scientific community has seemingly passed judgment without a single conclusive case study: crop circles are hoaxes made by humans.

According to science, every crop circle made for more then 300 years on multiple continents is the work of humans. Well trained teams of people who are able to create complex formations that are up to 1500 feet in diameter with extreme precision, overnight, without being seen or heard, while bending plants in ways botanist have been unable to recreate. People who have never been caught in the act once.

Then there is the alternative view.
Highly advanced extra-terrestrial beings are attempting to communicate with us by creating cryptic symbols in our crops. Beings that are capable of traveling an immense distance at a seemingly impossible speed, who create complex pictographic puzzles to communicate with the technologically inferior inhabitants of Earth. Extra-terrestrial beings who have never been caught in the act once.



The motivations to create crop circles may reveal insight into their obscure shapes

Formations created by people have been motivated by: spontaneous whims of drinking buddies, pagan ceremonies, profiteering, anonymous fame, deceiving a mystified public for hoax humor, artistic expression, and shear curiosity.

It is difficult to assume what might motivate an alien intelligence to use such a poor method of communication as crop circles. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to obscure the meaning from reaching the public at large. The easy explanation is that it is the work of clever humans who make the formations visually appealing to attract attention while offering no clear message to reveal the hoax.

Formations created by extra-terrestrials would need to be more refined in their intended purpose to justify the risk of contact and the ambiguous nature of the messages. The formations might be a calculated method of communicating their existence to us in a way that does not cause global panic or defensive attack. We are familiar with this concept of limited first contact thanks to works of science fiction. At the risk of losing credibility by sighting works of fiction, I believe there is wisdom to be taken from the Star Trek universe Prime Directive:

As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely.

Let's be honest with ourselves; humanity has a poor track record of maintaining civility when confronted with information that challenges our beliefs. It makes perfect sense for a government to conceal information that might cause violent panic or civil unrest to protect the public (from itself). It is a difficult topic to discuss without crossing the line into conspiracy-theory-land. The most famous cover up conspiracy is undoubtedly the Roswell incident of 1947. Believers on both sides have their theories (alien autopsies -vs- weather balloons) but the clearest and most apparent explanation I have encountered is Project Mogul (excellent videos by Richard Muller of Berkeley University, describing Project Mogul).

While most conspiracy theories can be debunked by science, some remain unexplained to this day. There is mounting evidence that cover-ups have been occurring for some time. As public interest in UFOs shifts from panicked fear to reasoned curiosity, our governments have begun to declassify documents revealing unexplained phenomena from the past. So while most conspiracy theories are the work of our mystified imaginations, some are beginning to see the light of day as new information surfaces.

An extra-terrestrial civilization that is aware of our cultural short comings might chose to deliberately communicate in a manor that can be ignored by humans if they chose to do so. Landing on the White House lawn would conclusively prove their existence, but it would also alter the independent future of humanity.

• • •

One problem with the ET communication theory is that the formations mostly fail to communicate anything more then confused wonder.

While geometric formations are interesting to look at, they offer little clue to the point of the communication. Why would an alien spices undergo all of the effort of flattening some crops into pretty shapes if it fails to communicate a clear message? The odds of such contact are phenomenally thin so it makes little sense for the message to be so obscure and subject to misinterpretation, even among the UFO believers.

Famed skeptic Dr. Michael Shermer recalls a comment from SETI scientist Seth Shostak who makes much the same observation:
"Shostak notes that crop circles are a very poor means of communication because they represent only a few hundred bits of information, 1,679 bits in the most complex crop circle to date, which is less than a paragraph of text! If ET's are advanced enough for interstellar space travel, why resort to using wheat fields, which are only ripe a couple of months a year, and then the crop-circle communication is quickly mowed down by angry farmers!"

The use of complex geometric forms is reasonable if you consider the likely intelligence gap between an extra-terrestrial civilization and our own.

When observing our culture, one might notice the extensive use of iconography. The use of symbols is basic to our written language. Letters are icons that represent the sounds we use in speech and when they are strung together in just the right way, a word communicates a concept. There is meaningful iconography outside of written language as well: logos combine simple lines and shapes to effectively communicate the idea of a product, and signs use pictographs to direct us through our urban environments. They are easily understood across different languages and cultures by design.

The usefulness of icons and symbols in communication is undeniable but they require context to have meaning. Without context even the most beautiful symbols will fail to communicate a clear message. The only universal language we know of is mathematics, so we should expect to see mathematically themed crop circles if an extra-terrestrial intelligence is behind their creation.

• • •


There was a crop circle reported on June 17th, 2008 that was decoded by retired astrophysicist Mike Reed to be an elegant pictogram for the number pi:


This year, a formation appeared in a canola field near the Wilton Windmill that was reported May 22nd (seen in the video earlier in the article about the bent canola) which also has a mathematical solution: Euler's Equation, the aptly named "most beautiful theorem in mathematics".



Beyond simple mathematical messages, crop circles have become surprisingly specific from their usually varied interpretations.

The formations below are specific enough in their designs that they leave no question of the intended message:

Reported July 15th, 2008, this crop circle is clearly a diagram of our solar system. The exact alignment of the planets depicted in the formation is December 21, 2012.

Solar System calculator (click the link and enter date: 2012-12-21 to verify.)

Adding another level of coincidence to this particular formation is something I stumbled upon by chance. When I searched the web with "July 15th, 2008" for more information about the crop circle, I found an odd NASA video that was taken from the International Space Station on that same date. It shows an unidentified object in the distance... just watch for yourself:

Ok, so the official NASA YouTube video I initially found has been removed... this WAS the link (I really am not making this up).

Huzzah for, they have the video!

Also huzzah for Metacafe, they also have the video.



Series of formations reported near the British Chilbolton Radio Telescope in Hampshire, England from 1999 - 2002.


These formations appear to be related to each other both thematically and by location. They appeared once a year near the Chilbolton Radio Telescope between June 1999 and August 2002.

The first formation of the series appeared in a barley crop near the Radio Telescope on June 16, 1999. It was 230 feet wide and was comprised of 138 perfectly aligned circles, each 10 feet in diameter. Its triangle and diamond pattern is only noteworthy in its location and that it is unlike the typical circular formations that are commonly seen.

• • •

The next formation appeared in the same field as the previous one a year later on August 13th, 2000. This formation was much closer to the antenna compound and was significantly more complex and well defined.

The location of these formations is notable not for its proximity to ancient temples but to the British Chilbolton Radio Telescope. The compound is a government controlled facility that is staffed by professional scientists who view the field daily. Each formation appeared overnight for three consecutive years. One day it was an untouched field, the next day it was host to a formation.

• • •

The next year brought two more formations to the Chibolton field. The first was reported almost exactly on the anniversary of the previous formation. The second came six days later and was closer to the compound.


These two formations were unlike any others that came before them. The familiar circular shapes and fractal patterns were gone, revealing a new level of complexity in design and clarity of message.

The face is straight forward enough, but the second has been interpreted as a response to the 1974 Arecibo message. There are several noteworthy differences in the message that appeared in the field versus the one we sent in 1974:

  • Silicon element indicated in the place of Carbon for life on Earth.
  • More complex DNA structure, suggesting a third strand.
  • Change in the number of DNA nucleotides.
  • Humanoid body shape has large head and is 3' 4" tall.
  • The 3rd, 4th, and 5th planet are indicated, with an extra emphasis on the 5th.
  • Have a population of 21.3 Billion.
  • The previous formation's circular fractal shape is shown as their radio telescope.

• • •

The final formation in the series is the most complex as it combines the two methods to show a figure with a large head holding a disk. On the disk is a message written in the 8 bit binary codes described by the international ASCII character set that reads as follows (capitalization and spelling included):

"Beware the bearers of FALSE gifts & their BROKEN PROMISES.Much PAIN but still time.EELRIJUE.There is GOOD out there.We oPpose DECEPTION.COnduit CLOSING/"

The message itself holds no great revelation. The word "EELRIJUE" has been interpreted as a mistaken form of "BELIEVE" and also as the name of the place where "There is GOOD", within the context of the message, but these are just our best guesses. I have yet to see any reasonable explanation for the odd capitalization means as either, though there are some rather interesting theories.

In the ten years since these formations were discovered no evidence has come forward to bring the people who made them to justice for their vandalism; nor has any proof come forward that humans did not make them. Whoever made these did so without leaving a trace.

Of all the formations I have seen, none of them galvanize preconceived beliefs more then the one on Crabwood Farm in 2002. It is almost too audacious to be taken seriously by skeptics, yet UFO fanatics view it as substantial proof; and therein lays the problem with crop circles.



In my search for reliable data on the phenomena of crop circles I mostly found one of three things: subjective analysis, flame wars, and flat out refusal to discuss their origin at all. The subjective analysis is so thoroughly clouded by belief that conspiratorial cover-up is often thrown at those who disagree. Those who refuse to discuss the crop circle creators have done so to preserve a fragile cease-fire so they are able further their efforts of simply making information available. The sad result of discussions that focus on the circle makers is that they quickly become flame wars (when both skeptics and believers are equally represented). Hardly useful information for an unbelieving truth seeker.

The community of individuals who follow crop circles has become divided:

Those who do research crop circles have become afraid to put their reputations on the line to defend specific formations as genuine or hoaxes.

Profiteers who sell scenic pictures of the formations have increased the practice of withholding information about new crop circles so they can be selfishly revealed in a lecture or publication.

There is no great effort to catalog the yearly formations in useful scientific detail for public scrutiny.

UFO fanatics who "participate" by making their own crop circles can be likened to cargo cults in their desire to recreate something they do not fully understand. (I should note of course, that if it IS all just a hoax this point is moot).

It is no small wonder the public at large is generally uninterested in the sideshow crop circles have become. Those who do show the slightest interest are quickly filed into opposing camps based upon their beliefs with very little space for the open-minded skeptic.

I began this article when a friend asked me what I thought about crop circles and I didn't have an honest answer. I knew nothing about them and when I looked for more information both the beauty of the more recent shapes and the lack of quality data about them surprised me. I had taken the culture of scientific discovery that surrounds natural phenomena for granted; the culture that questions everything for the betterment of human understanding.

Crop circles do not merit belief; they are tangible. We have the means to fully understand these phenomena but we chose instead to cling to familiar beliefs.

I imagine it will be uncomfortable for the believers of UFO contact, and for those who hold firm that such a scenario is impossible, to take the necessary steps towards uncovering the truth once and for all. The only thing I can do is to remain open to either possibility and wait patiently for public interest to match my own. I do not want to believe,







Resources and pertinent links:

The wonderful crop circle images are from Temporary Temples.

The video of the Wilton Windmill formation is from the lovely chaps over at Crop Circle Reporter Blog.

Detailed account of the Chibolton formations and their derivations, as well as a call for better record keeping.

Recent NPR article discussing the evolution of human symbolic thought.



So now what?

I would like to keep this article up to date as new information and evidence comes forward. So, if you have something to say please leave a comment, don't be shy. I will answer your questions to the best of my knowledge and would love to hear your answers for the questions I've raised.