Dr. Diana Walsh Pasulka’s stellar academic background didn’t prepare her for Silicon Valley’s billionaires and their breakaway civilization.
photo by: Skeptiko
Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome. Dr. Diana Walsh Pasulka to Skeptiko. In 2012 today’s guest was at a high point in her career, a well-respected Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, research awards, a successful book with Oxford University Press. She had even gained tenure, which as we all know is almost impossible to do these days.
Then Diana the universe winked at you, didn’t it? A colleague noted that your account of a Catholic saint and her encounter with an angel sounded a lot like a UFO story that led you to a UFO conference. You met the amazing Chris Bledsoe, who told you about his encounter with ETs that seemed more technological than biological.
Next, you’re off to a UFO conference in California where you just happen to land a personal tour of your old hometown, Silicon Valley with none other than Jacques Vallée.
So, quite a journey and that really set you off on this six-year journey taking you from your academic religious conferences with our friend Jeff Kripal at Rice University to harvesting space junk from secret crashed UFOs in the New Mexico desert and with Silicon Valley meta experiencers who don’t think twice about ordering a thousand-dollar lunch from the Ritz and hopping on a private jet like an Uber and ultimately back to your roots in the deepest walls of the library of the Vatican.
Alex Tsakiris: Wow! What a story what a book. Congratulations on American Cosmic, a brilliant book and welcome to Skeptiko. Thank you so much for joining me.
Dr. Diana Walsh-Pasulka: Absolutely happy to be here.
Alex Tsakiris: So I really just kind of skimmed the surface which would almost sound unbelievable to anyone who heard that introduction and think, “Oh, there’s more?” But there’s like a lot more. Tell people your kind of opening line when someone bumps into you on the airplane and says, “Tell me about American Cosmic.” What do you say?
Dr. Diana Walsh-Pasulka: Right. Okay. So people in my field of religious studies, this is kind of a well-known joke among us. We never tell people what we do when we’re on airplanes because you know, they will inevitably think we’re ministers or priests in the formation or something like that and want to know that type of stuff and that’s not what we do.
So we are in interdisciplinary fields, you know, where archaeologists, sociologists, historians and things like that, and what we do is we don’t really weigh in on the reality of beliefs. You know, people believe in all kinds of things. They believe in Vishnu, they believe in Jesus, they believe in Muhammad and things like that and we don’t say yes or no to those, what we do is we study the effects and practices and these kinds of things.
So, if somebody asks me about American Cosmic, frankly, I’d have to figure out who they were and because that book has so many different levels to it, that if they were like basically ufologists, I’d tell them about the crash site and I’d talk about the crash site. If they were academics, I’d say, “Oh, well, what I’m doing is I’m basically using the UFO belief system as a case study that the infrastructure, the changing infrastructure that’s akin to the book of the Protestant Reformation,” that the book actually changed our culture. So technology changes culture, it changes everything, and religion is not exempt from that. So I would focus on that and tell them about that.
If they were interested in kind of like The DaVinci Code, I tell them a little bit about, you know, the kind of more unbelievable aspects of the book which are nonetheless true and my access to the secret archive because of my credentials and medium Brother Guy Consolmagno. He’s the Director of the Vatican Observatory, which is of course a giant telescope area in Castel Gandolfo, but also one in Arizona and I just happened to ask him…
He was just here to give a lecture at my university and we were hanging out and I said, “Hey, I do archival work,” and I said, “do you have a space archive?” and he said, “Well, as a matter of fact anything that has to do with space from thousands of years ago comes to our place in Castel Gandolfo, it doesn’t go to the Vatican.”
So, I just happened to sit there, and I thought about it and I thought, “I wonder if I could get a look in your archive,” and he said, “Of course.” He said, “We have a place for scholars to stay you could stay for free,” and of course I had to take him up on that.
So, yeah, I went there and honestly, that’s the end of the book. The book was done by then, I didn’t think that was the last chapter. So when I got to that chapter, I had to tell my editor that, “Sorry, there’s one more chapter to this book,” that’s already been taking too long to write.
Then it got edited about, oh, I don’t know, a million times and a lot of stuff taken out. So I should actually write the real story behind American Cosmic kind of thing, but who knows? It’s already caused quite a bit of controversy.
Alex Tsakiris: Yes it has.
Dr. Diana Walsh-Pasulka: I don’t know if I’m up for that. I had to get off social media and I had to kind of, like I said my computers all got hacked and, like I have university police and we have tech police at our university and friends of mine too, who are academics. It all happened to us at the same time, same kind of thing. So it’s not a coincidence. I don’t know who or what, so I’m just fixing my computer as I go.
I don’t say anything in there that should get anybody in trouble. Basically, what I’m doing is I’m just reporting on this new form of religiosity and to me it changed my life. I mean, as an academic the best thing you want is to be surprised by your research and the book I wrote about purgatory, which is a Catholic dogma, I found out that people actually went to purgatory caves and that it was actually a physical, kind of practice before it became an actual dogma of the Church. That surprised me, I didn’t know that, I don’t think anybody really thought about it. So that’s the kind of stuff we do, is we uncover things.
Now, I was, and still am being daily mind blown by the research I’m doing into this field for the very reasons of the meta experiencers, the people I met who like I say, could Uber a jet. I’ve seen this on a number of occasions, and I’ve had the hate mail about it. Like, “Who do you think you are? You’re not The DaVinci Code person and blah blah blah,” and I’m like, “I’m sorry, but I’m not making it up. This guy can Uber a jet.” And when I say Uber, I mean he just calls up and says, “I need to be here. Can you can me a jet at the airport?” And they do, and he goes. I’m not making that up, that actually does happen.
I know it sounds unbelievable, but if you look at what I’ve written so far and you look at my CV, nothing is out of the ordinary. I’m a completely ordinary professor. I move up the ranks. I’m a full Professor actually, I’m not an assistant or an associate, I’m at the top. I’m a chair of a department, and like you said, I’ve won researcher awards, I’ve won grants. I’m a very typical boring professor and all of a sudden, I come out with American Cosmic. I mean, that’s not because I wanted to do it, it’s because that’s what presented itself to me, and I felt it was my obligation to present it to an audience.
I honestly presented it to an audience that I thought would be academics mostly, but it crossed over into the mainstream and people were fascinated. So I’ve been pretty much doing, on average for interviews at week.
Alex Tsakiris: Let me just comment on that, because you were just super welcoming about doing this interview and at this point, I think you would reach interview fatigue. You’ve done just phenomenal interviews. I’ve listened to half a dozen of your interviews in addition to reading the book and they’re all great. You’re so just unpretentious and welcoming.
I’d like to talk more about, you just touched on this transformation. Folks this is just a super important book. It’s one of the most important books I think you could possibly read about the current state of consciousness research, UFO research, the whole inner play with technology, all the stuff you’ve hit on and it’s also just this wonderful well-written story of this personal transformation that you’ve gone through, that you let out a little bit. In the book you hint that it’s been deeper than that, which I can only imagine.
You were born in a Born-Again Christian kind of house in California. You’re not religious in that way anymore, but you still attend Roman Catholic services. Again, I mention that because that is not always the case when you talk about a Professor of Religious Studies. Most of those people that I have come across are pretty theistic when you really kind of get down to it.
So you go through this and then you go through this just amazing amazing… I can’t stress it enough. The stories that you’re alluding to are literally the tip of the iceberg. I mean, the Uber jet thing is so minor to the story, because really the guys in the field showing you how to get alien crashed chips from a 1947 craft and then you’re meeting the people that he’s saved lives with because he’s taken that and reverse engineered it into some biotech stuff and he’s made a billion dollars doing it and this is true.
So I don’t know how you go through that without being transformed, but it did transform you, right?
Dr. Diana Walsh-Pasulka: It did. Okay, so the thing is, and I thought and I hoped that I could evade that. At first, I was very suspicious, to the point of being frightened really, of a lot of the people that I met because they were not at a level that, you know, they’re these were not people that I’d ever met before. There were some who were professors and who were studying this as well and I kind of bonded more with them like James in the book. I bonded with James a lot more and he’s a good friend of mine.
The other people that are, you know way out there and doing that pace program…
Alex Tsakiris: Can I just interject something because the weirdness never stops? Yeah, that’s James. James is also an experiencer, who’s had multiple experiences with ET, if you want to call it that for simple terms, and his main driving ambition, research project is to kind of counteract this ability that ET has to seem to just bump into us in the extended consciousness realm, wherever he wants and he wants to have greater control of that.
So even when you blow past that, which you should be allowed to do because your story’s so huge, there’s a lot of depth there that just would blow people away, totally change our paradigm, change everything we think we know about this stuff.
So, I’m sorry, please continue with your transformation.
Dr. Diana Walsh-Pasulka: Oh sure. Yeah. So again, so I put off the meeting. I became a very good friend with Christopher Bledsoe and his family. We actually happen to live about an hour and a half away and one of his kids went to my university. So, we would see each other very often. I would go to his house and bring my kids and he would come to my house and we’d eat dinner and stuff like that, and he met several of the professors in my department and he would come and talk to my students. What a sweet nice man, and what an incredibly hospitable family.
So what happened was that he became surrounded by the meta experiencers and people that were affiliated with, like government programs, and that was something I didn’t actually want to get into at all, I was afraid of it frankly. I was like, I’m just a normal, professor mom, going about my business and you know, I was worried about Chris frankly. So, I had to kind of step away and then I met Tyler.
Tyler was a person who I agreed to correspond with over email for about a year-and-a-half before I ever met him, and when I did meet him he wanted to take me to New Mexico because he said that he wanted to know what I knew about consciousness and the religious experience and mysticism. He said, “You don’t believe in the physical aspects of the phenomenon, but I’m going to show you the physical aspects,” and I thought, “Hmm. I’m not sure I want to know about that.” But he kind of insisted.
Then, I met him in Atlanta at one of our conferences, the American Academy of Religion and I asked Jeff Kripal, who is a friend of mine and an academic at Rice University, he has an amazing body of work, and I asked him to meet him with me.
So, that was funny because here we are at this giant conference of religious studies, scholars, they’re all like wearing black. You know how the scholars, they’re like shuffling around and looking for food and tables and everything, and in comes this guy completely cool wearing Gucci, and I immediately knew that was Tyler. I was like, “Okay, this is not a scholar of religion.”
He comes in and we introduced each other, and he looks around he says, “We can’t eat here.” He said, “Let’s go to my hotel, the Ritz.” So Jeff and I said, “Sure.” So, he just phones and he said, “Hey, I need a table for three,” and when we got there, he was incredibly charismatic. I had told Jeff too, I had said, “Don’t give in to his charisma. He might…” and Jeff completely did. By the end of the lunch Jeff was inviting him to his house in Huston, meeting his wife and everything and I was like, “What are you doing? You need to be more suspicious.”
So he again, Tyler reiterated his invitation to go to the alleged “crash site” of these artifacts in New Mexico, and I was not going alone. So I said to Jeff, “Why don’t you come with me?” And Jeff was like, “That’s a little outside of my comfort zone,” and I said, “I know.” So then I decided to ask James the scientist, and James of course was all over it.
So James went with me. We had to wear a blindfold because it’s a place that can’t be known apparently. There are apparently, like seven crash sites that happened in that time period.
Now remember, I’m speaking as a scholar of religion, so I don’t actually believe or disbelieve that there are actual crash sites of UFOs. What I’m doing is, I’m going to document this extremely elite group of people who believe that they’re getting these artifacts and they’re engineering them into biotechnology
Alex Tsakiris: Back to the idea of the transformation, what I picked up on, and I totally understand it, but only from a person who is really uniquely open to following the data in a way that you don’t care if it makes you uncomfortable. You did say you were cautious about, “Hey, I’m tenured so maybe I can do this,” you weren’t like totaling foolish about it, but you just kept following and following the data in a way that most people just don’t do.
So that first step is interesting, that first step is like somebody says, “Wow Diana, your angel story sounds a lot like a UFO story,” and you dig into it and you go, “Yeah, it does. Let me go to a UFO conference,” which is pretty out there for people in your position. But then you do and then you take the next step and the next step and the next step. Is that in your history?
Dr. Diana Walsh-Pasulka: I’ve been interested in religion since I was 11, so I’m not the kind of person who is going to follow the kind of theory about it. I’m going to look at it and I have actually thought a lot about the religions I’ve studied. So like Zen Buddhism, I credit with getting me good grades in math and calculus. I’m serious because you know, it taught me how to actually look at something without frameworks.
So if you actually utilize some of the techniques that religious traditions have taught us, you know, they’ve been around for a long time and they can actually teach us things. So I have learned those techniques and that’s helped me in my research.
Alex Tsakiris: One of the themes that came through, I couldn’t think of it any other way than this idea of breakaway civilization kept popping up, breakaway academia where there’s this Fight Club college, they know stuff nobody else knows. I think it extends into politics; I think it extends into technology as you document. Is that what you’re documenting here? Is that one of the stories. Is there distance between where these folks are, that you’re talking about in the book and where the rest of us are, and even us being like we’re kind of reading American Cosmic, we’re in the minority anyway, we’re in this tiny little tribal community that’s willing to accept what you’re saying? What about the rest of the people, have we reached that breakaway civilization kind of point?
Dr. Diana Walsh-Pasulka: Okay, the I know the theory and from my perspective the people that I interacted with were… Now, this is where it gets really weird, I know that it’s already weird enough, but this is where it gets really weird. This is where I think that at the Vatican, when we went to the Vatican Tyler and I we learned a lot and we learned a lot because he said, “What should we do?” and I said, “The only thing we should do is keep quiet and listen, that’s all we do,” and that’s how we learn.
So we went and we met people that were the people we should meet, and what I learned was that, let’s theoretically suggests there’s this breakaway civilization within our species, and they are at the forefront of discovery.
By the way, I don’t know if you know about this author Ted Chiang. His book was the basis for the movie called Arrival, which is a great movie about the phenomena. He wrote a very, very short story in nature about 20 years ago called, Picking Up the Breadcrumbs and it’s basically about the breakaway civilization, but about scientists who hack into their own bodies and become super humans and are so far removed from humans that we have to just study them.
Alex Tsakiris: Just let me be clear on this because some people take the Breakaway civilization and they take it in a whole other direction, in kind of a sci-fi(ish) direction, which may be the future reality. But what I thought was amazing about American Cosmic is, that’s my literal read of your book not extrapolating, it’s just, you’re chronicling a breakaway civilization, you’re chronicling an academia that is, you know, there’s the people who know and the people who don’t and James has passed a card, you know, like out of a movie and says, “Call us.”
Then, the kind of men in blackish, not real men in blackish, but guys who just know stuff say, “Okay, you’re invited in the Invisible College,” and it’s real and you’ve been there, and you’ve seen the Fight Club, kind of thing, the secrecy. It’s a whole different world.
And again, this is what you’re documenting in the book, and then when you go and meet Tyler, he is in a different world, not just because he Ubers planes but because he just knows stuff that is way beyond what other people know or would ever be willing to accept, will ever make it on the news. Again, I’m emphasizing the point maybe too much.
Diana you’re documenting a breakaway civilization. It’s not a sci-fi one, but aren’t we already there?
Dr. Diana Walsh-Pasulka: Okay, I hear what you’re saying. I didn’t know I was doing that. I just was amazed by what I was discovering and the things that were happening, even with Jacques Vallée, his trust in me. He’s got a whole library of and archives of information and I’m one of two people who have accessed it for 10 years. So, I was being given a lot of access which I didn’t understand why. Well, now I understand a little bit more but still don’t know the full story.
Nobody Knows the full story here Alex. So that’s why it’s not an invisible college anymore because at least they used to talk with each other, now they can’t, and I want to convey the tragedy of this for these people. Take Tyler, I wanted to convey that place in the story where he sees Judy Resnik and the whole situation of the Challenger blowing up. What I want to show is that this this guy leads a tragic life. I mean, hey, it’s all cool, he can order this Uber and he’s really awesome, he wears Gucci, and this kind of thing, but he’s not a happy person. The things that he knows it drives him crazy, he doesn’t know how he knows these things.
I’m glad I’m not Tyler, I’m glad I have this kind of more ordinary life. I don’t even know if I ever want to get back into this thing again because of the pain and suffering of that group and when you bring it out, look what happens to you, you get targeted as a crazy person and this and that. So who wants that? And it stops academics from actually trying to study it because once they do, they get ridiculed and things like that happening, things very, very bad that I don’t actually want to have in my reality. It sounds glamorous and everything, those lives, but their tinged with pain and suffering and constant anxiety.
So, does that kind of give an indication of… It’s out there, yeah, and maybe somebody will take the banner and go and do the next American Cosmic 2 or something like that, but it most likely will not be me because I’ve been burned by it. I mean it hurt me.
The realizations that you see are amazing and you’ll never be the same and maybe that’s what life is really about, is to open up and see, not just the amazingness of it, but also the pain and suffering of it. I saw a lot and I just kind of want to go back into my cave again for a while.
I do do the interviews because my book just came out, people want to know about it, and I do like the book. I mean, I’ve read it a couple times now, you know, we read our books. Academics, by the time we’ve read our books a couple times, we’re sick of our books. I actually still like my book, when I read it, I go, “Yeah, I remember that experience.” These are experiences I had; these aren’t theoretical kinds of things. I went through all these experiences.
I retain excellent relationships with James and Jacques Vallée and Jeff Kripal, Whitley Strieber. The others of the Fight Club, I’m just like I was before, I want to retreat from that because I don’t want to be involved again with that.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, wow! I mean, you just said a ton right there and I guess that’s one of the topics I really am most interested in. I mean people, you have to buy this book. I mean if you’re not already so tempted then you’re listening to the wrong show because we are scratching the surface of a much, much broader painting of a landscape which we can’t fill in all of the pieces, but at least someone has stepped out there and has tried to map the territory, you know what I mean? The map isn’t the territory, but all we’re ever going to have are maps.
One of the things that kept coming up for me as you were talking about that, and as I was preparing for the interview, was this idea of religion versus spirituality and that’s a huge question for all time, you know, but all sounds so left-hand path(ish) to me, so much of the stuff that’s described in the book. Materialism is cool, tech is cool, but it’s still materialism, it’s not consciousness. If there is a spirituality, then it’s not that, I don’t think it is. So, what are your thoughts in general? You laid out some of them but what are we looking at?
Because also in the book, and I can’t help but jump around, the book is about a spiritually transformative experience as well at the end of the day, not even your own but one of the key characters in the book, and what our spiritually transformative experiences tell us about what’s going on, is that closer to a real spirituality? Is there such a thing as real spirituality? Does it make sense to talk in those terms? A lot of people point at religion, particularly Catholicism and say, “Hey, was that ever real spirituality?” even though there’s no doubt that people who experience spiritually transformative experiences through it, as the vehicle, but please rescue me here. Tell me how we begin to pull that apart.
Dr. Diana Walsh-Pasulka: Right, okay. So I think what you’re getting at is this idea of, is there some kind of objective reality of, what is called… When we talk about religious language, are we actually talking about something that’s objectively real, outside of ourselves? And if we encounter those things, are we having genuine experiences or are we having subjective experiences? So it’s this kind of problem of other minds, it’s called in philosophy.
You also mentioned Jeff Kripal with respect to this, who says that it’s all of us, you know, it’s all kind of us, and I’m actually not of that opinion and I think that there could be… I mean what our religions, but experiences that expand who and what we are.
Heidegger, one of the philosophers that I talk about in the book says, the age-old philosophical question which is not asked in philosophy anymore is, “Why something rather than nothing?” I mean, once we start to contemplate, wow, we’re here and that’s a little bit strange. So, once we start to think about those things and think about these experiences.
So, okay, Jacques Vallée made a great point at the UN in the 70s when he said, “Regardless of whether UFOs are real or not, there is a huge belief system around them and that’s why we should study them because they could be real or they could not be real. It doesn’t really matter, but we study them anyway.” Jesus could have walked on water or he could not have walked on water. It doesn’t really matter because a lot of people believe that he walked on water.
Okay. So the belief system exists regardless of their actual reality of the thing that is the object of the belief system. So that being said, if we’re going to really go down that field, we have to get into some serious philosophical metaphysics and being the chair of my department I’ve had the honor actually of interviewing… We just hired a metaphysician in our department who’s incredibly talented, and I had the honor of hearing the job talks and research of about four different young metaphysicians who are at the top of their field in philosophy. Every single one of their job talks is basically saying that when you get into the physicality and the objectivity of things, or actually just the physicality of things, there’s nothing there.
So if we’re talking about there’s nothing there, then what kind of language do we use to describe that and each of them, their dissertation was basically about the different languages to describe the nothingness, right? It sounds a lot like Buddhism frankly to me.
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