194. UFO Filmmaker Paul Kimball on The Other Side of Truth

Interview with author and UFO filmmaker Paul Kimball.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with author and UFO filmmaker Paul Kimball. During the interview Kimball discusses the hypocrisy of belief in the paranormal:

Paul Kimball: ‘Who’s the Paranormalist-In-Chief in the United States right now?’ I had this dialogue with a friend of mine who’s a liberal Democrat in the United States who was going on and on about how we have to elect Barack Obama. I was going, ‘Yeah, sure. Absolutely. I agree with you.’

But he was also a guy who continually would chide me about my interest in the paranormal. He would occasionally call it “woo” and that sort of stuff. He was very big into the James Randi kind of stuff. So one day we’re sitting there and we’re talking about both of these things and I said, “Well, wait a second now. You’re telling me that you’re going to go vote for a guy who has stated repeatedly that he believes in God, this telepathic being…”

Alex Tsakiris:   Hold on, Paul. I love that. It’s in the Introduction of your book and I have the exact quote that you include in the book and it’s really good. This is in a 2008 interview between Christianity Today and Barack Obama: “I am a Christian. I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.”

Paul Kimball:   Right. So I asked my friend the next time I saw him after the election, ‘Let me get this straight. You just voted in an election for the most powerful office in the world for a man who believes in the supernatural being with whom he communicates by telepathy. This supernatural being also sent his only Son to Earth to be tortured and executed and then brought Him back from the dead a couple of days later. All so a prophesy could be fulfilled. And of course, there’s the whole walking on water thing, not to mention the water to wine trick, the raising of the dead.’ I could have mentioned the virgin birth, but I didn’t. And you think I’m a big goofy for having an interest in UFOs and ghosts?’

And the point to me is in the materialistic world we live in now it has become very de rigueur to just dismiss all of this stuff and I understand why. Religion has gotten—and deservedly so—a bad name over the course of human history. But you should be able to separate organized religion from what’s actually out there. Call it spirituality; call it faith; call it philosophy, if you will.

Paul Kimball’s Website

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Today we welcome filmmaker Paul Kimball to Skeptiko. Paul has written a fascinating new book entitled, The Other Side of Truth, in which he takes us on a road trip of sorts through all sorts of questions about ghosts, extraterrestrials, reincarnation, and the afterlife. Quite a fascinating book.

Paul, welcome and thanks so much for joining me.

Paul Kimball:   Hi, Alex. Good to be here. Long time listener, first-time guest as they say on some other sort of radio show, so great to be here talking to the Skeptiko audience.

Alex Tsakiris:   That’s great to hear. As you know, I love the opportunity for the cross-fertilization, if you will, because I think there are so many opportunities when we look beyond the narrow field that we focus on. That narrowness is necessary, right?

To really understand something we have to focus on it but then it’s nice to back up and look at the bigger picture, which is certainly something that you’ve done in this book even though you’re probably best known as a documentary filmmaker–films like Best Evidence, film about UFOs and the best UFO cases and a bio pic that I really enjoyed titled, Stanton T. Friedman is Real. I love the way it starts out with him on the pulpit and you have almost like organ church music in the background. I thought that was really well done.

Paul Kimball:   Well, thanks. I’ve been criticized actually by a number of people over the years. That was made almost 12 years ago. A number of people criticized me for the use of the organ music and I said, “Well, you know, Stan Friedman is in many ways a Flying Saucer evangelist and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in a pejorative sense.” But that’s what he does. He goes out and he spreads the gospel of Flying Saucerdom as he sees it.

And so it was a little cheeky but you find out pretty quick that people on either extreme of any intellectual divide are singularly devoid of any sense of humor. So that was my first experience with the people who were on the far extremes of the UFO sub-culture. And yeah, they didn’t get it but most of the people in Canada and elsewhere who watched the film who are not particularly obsessed with UFOs but just wanted to see an interesting film—at least I think it’s interesting—about an interesting guy there’s no question.

Whether you agree with him or not, Friedman is a very interesting man who’s lived a very interesting life. Then they enjoyed the film. But the people that believe that aliens from Zeta Reticuli are coming here and harvesting our genetic material or whatever, they were less enthused. But fortunately filmmakers don’t make their films for particular audiences; they make them for everyone.

Alex Tsakiris:   So from that you’ve ventured into something different with this book. Much broader, much more of this journey and encompassing a lot of different paranormal–that’s the term you always use—phenomena. What were you trying to accomplish here?

Paul Kimball:   Well, the mistake a lot of folks have made—my mom’s sort of drilled it into me. When I was writing the book she said, “You know, until you make a Spielbergian feature film hit (which I’m working on) you’re probably always going to be known for the UFO films you did,” despite the fact that the majority of my work as a filmmaker has had nothing to do with the paranormal.

I did two seasons of a television series for Bravo about classical music. I’ve done documentaries about music and art and all sorts of other subjects. But some of them had to do with UFOs and then I did a season of a show about ghosts. So, you know, my interests have always been far broader than the paranormal but I’m interested in the paranormal so I thought, ‘Look, I’ve written this blog for years sort of about the paranormal but sort of about the world that I live in and my own views about various things. Why don’t I try and bring all those together and also bring together my own past?’

Some of my own experiences but not just as it relates to the paranormal but as relates to my entertainment career. Before I was in the film industry I was a musician. Folks in the United States might or might not remember this but in Canada it was a big thing. We were known as the Seattle of the East Coast in the 1990’s Halifax. The Halifax pop explosion in Canada. So I was playing rock and pop music in the midst of that and like I said, a lot of my filmmaking has dealt with music. So I’ve always had this broad interest in art and music. In all sorts of things.

So I thought, “Look, why don’t I just put them all into one big pot, stew it around, and see what comes out? See if there’s some sort of relationship between all of it?’ And weirdly enough, as I figured out, to me at least there seems to be some sort of relationship to it, which is why the subtitle of the book is—I have to make sure I get this right—The Paranormal, The Art of the Imagination, and the Human Condition, which is something else that I’ve always been very concerned about even before I was into music and film.

My undergraduate degree is in history and political science and I have a law degree. So I was always very concerned about politics, about what was going on in the world around me. So all of those things. I mean, you talked at the very beginning about people having broad interests. It is good to focus but the book actually has a phrase that I take to heart and is a motto for my life which is “The journey is the destination.”

I think people often get too focused on the destination. It’s like driving on an interstate from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and all you can do is think about getting to Las Vegas. Well, you miss some interesting things along the way, including a really good Greek restaurant. I think it’s in Barstow. But if you’re not willing to look at what’s around you as you’re focusing in on that destination, you’re going to miss everything else. And so what I wanted to do is create a book that didn’t just focus on a destination but actually looked at the journey.

Alex Tsakiris:   So enjoy the journey. But I have to jump to the conclusion. What did you find out? What was the big take-away from the journey?

Paul Kimball:   Yeah, this will probably drive people mad but the take-away from the journey, I guess, is that I’m still on the journey. But the over-arching theory which I hesitate to call a theory because I know that annoys people but I will. The over-arching theory is that there is an advanced non-human intelligence interacting with us, has been interacting with us through all of human history. I don’t say where it’s from. I don’t say what it is. I don’t even actually say that I firmly completely absolutely believe that this is true. I just say this is what I’m going to assume for the sake of argument and now I’m going to make the argument based on that.

There are three possibilities when you look at this advanced non-human intelligence interacting with us. It could either mean us harm; it could either mean us good in a positive sense; or it could mean benign neglect. I heard Michio Kaku give a lecture at the RSA in London in 2009, which I refer to in the book. He basically said that we are ants to any advanced non-human intelligences. That sort of relationship. So it’s not that they mean us harm; it’s not that they mean to do us any good. It’s just they don’t even really notice we’re here and we have no way of interacting with them. Just as ants really have no way of interacting with us—at least in his view.

Alex Tsakiris:   Let’s go back to Michio Kaku because you have a great passage in the book—I think you really nailed this when you say that maybe the mistake that he’s made is in seeing us in this anthill and saying there’s no way that any message that this higher intelligence could be giving us could get through to us. It’s broken up into a million little pieces. You say in the book:

“The mistake that Kaku might have made, however, is seeing the message as something for us or about us or beyond us when it may well be that that message is us. Perhaps we are the information and slowly over the course of time the message is being reassembled into its whole.”

Pretty deep stuff there. Really great stuff but pretty deep. Talk about that for a second.

Paul Kimball:   Well, there are two things that I take out of that. The first thing is—and I talk about this briefly in the book—humans actually do take an interest in ants. They can actually communicate with ants. I know because I do this myself and I talk about myself as a younger man sort of being the ants’ Satan. I would fry them. I hate to admit it. I would fry them under the magnifying glass. I think all young boys might have done that at some point or another.

So if you’re an ant you would be looking up at me and going, “Ahh, where is this coming from?” This is this horrible Ant’s Satan, not that they would phrase it that way. But I was bad. Now I’m more the God Scientist of ants. I’ll look down as I’m walking along. If I notice them I’ll watch their little behavior. I find them quite fascinating. So you know, in that sense I think Kaku was wrong that you can’t communicate. Even if you’re at that gulf you can’t communicate.

But then he continued on and he said, “Well, look. We’re listening to them using steady radio signals. We’re trying to see UFOs or whatever it is that we’re trying to figure out. This is how we view extraterrestrials or an advanced non-human intelligence. But what if it’s something so much more interesting than that?”

So they would be communicating. It could be thousands or millions of years in advance of us using technologies that we would call magic. It’s not even a science that we would understand. And so they’re communicating in all sorts of different ways. Then he broke it down and used the example of email. He said, “Email was developed for military applications so that if there was a massive attack the information could be split up and reassembled.” And I didn’t really think of it at the time but I said, “Wait a second now. What if we are the information?”

At least to me this gets into the kinds of things that you’ve talked about about consciousness. About our relationship to ourselves but also to all the people around us. To the universe as a whole. I said, “Well, Kaku might be right but for the wrong reasons.” He’s talking about it in terms of the very simplistic—if you want to look at it that way—just using the emails as an example. But what if you took that and you extended that even further and said, “Wait a second. There is a form of communication going on. We’re a part of it. We are it.”

Alex Tsakiris:   As you may know, I had a chance to talk with a fellow Canadian, Grant Cameron, a while back. He’s someone who’s dug deeply into UFO research and come out and said, “Wow, it’s all about this consciousness thing.” He isn’t saying it from a theoretical basis; he’s saying, “Hey, the evidence when I look at what I’ve uncovered, the insiders have told us that it’s about this consciousness thing.” Why is it so hard for many folks in the UFO community to approach these topics in a broader sense of consciousness?

Or even dare I say spiritual, because there is a certain spirituality that you bring to your book, as well, even though it doesn’t mention it explicitly very often. You have no problem weaving together transcendence, spiritual experiences from people like Christian mystic Henry Allen. You have no problem talking about people who have this belief in this relationship with God. You just very smoothly weave all that stuff together in a way that a lot of folks in the UFO community just can’t seem to get to. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Paul Kimball:   Sure. I’ll preface it by saying I’ve never considered myself a UFO researcher nor have I any desire to ever be considered as a UFO researcher. You know, good for them but it’s just not where I’d like to be pigeonholed. I don’t like to be pigeonholed anywhere. You’ve read the book, Alex. I think that should be pretty clear.

Alex Tsakiris:   Sure. But touch on that for a minute, Paul, before we move on. What about your experience as a filmmaker, as a presenter, pulls you back from saying you’re not a UFO researcher? There’s obviously a distinction there that I think is worth making and you’re making it but let’s be explicit about it. What’s the difference between you and a UFO researcher?

Paul Kimball:   Two things; at least I think two things. I made a film about classical music. I don’t consider myself a classical musician. I’d like to. I’m just not that talented. So when I’m putting out films about folks who have researched, who have particular views, I’ve always believed the documentary.

Yes, you have a point of view. It’s impossible not to have this subjective point of view of the filmmaker drift into the film, no matter how hard you try not to do it. But I’ve always gone to great pains to be as objective as possible. To present both sides of the argument to the point where nobody I’ve interviewed—I’ve never had a complaint from anybody I’ve ever interviewed—what do you call them? Skeptics or disbelievers or true believers or whatever in the UFO stuff about how I presented their views. I’ve always given them a fair shake. So I think that’s part of it.

Also, I just don’t do that kind of research. I don’t dig through archives; I don’t go out and interview witnesses. I have talked to obviously people in the field but it’s not something that obsesses me. It’s just a very small part. When I step back from the actual work of doing films it might involve UFOs, what my life is. You know, UFOs is just a very small part of it.

So Grant, for instance, Grant it’s a very large part of his life and he’s dug through archives and made Freedom of Information Act requests and all that sort of stuff. Whether you agree with him or not, he can legitimately say he’s a researcher of the UFO subject like Stan Friedman can and some other people.

Then there’s the rest of us who are more commentaries or if you want to say bards in the sort of medieval way. We tell their stories. We give them the opportunity to present the research and then folks can make up their own minds. So yeah, that’s why I don’t consider myself a UFO researcher just because I’m not. But somebody like Grant Cameron is.

The difference is I think it does allow people like me or like my friends Nick Redfern and Gregg Bishop who are also writers and observers of the UFO scene and the paranormal scene to step back and view it more objectively, which I think gets back to the question that you had asked before about spirituality and stuff. I think it allows us to take a broader view.

For those who don’t know, Nick Redfern has written a wide range of books on everything from Bigfoot and sea monsters to UFOs. The UFO community hates the Bigfoot community in the sense that it’s like, oh, there can’t be any relationship between the two. There can’t be any relationship between ghosts. This is just within paranormal stuff. There can’t be any relationship between ghosts and UFOs. It’s all separate.

Then if you broaden it out and you say, “Okay, let’s leave that part of the paranormal and let’s talk about spirituality or consciousness.”

“Oh, good heavens no. We don’t want to talk about Bigfoot or ghosts. We definitely don’t want to talk about consciousness. What we want to talk about…” The majority mean within the UFO subculture has been extraterrestrials coming to Earth from planet Zeta Reticuli or whatever in nuts-and-bolts flying saucers. It hasn’t really changed.

That narrative hasn’t really changed since the 1950s when it was very much informed by the sort of science fiction culture that people were living in at the time. Not just science fiction but also the science culture. You know, the advent of the Atomic Age and all that sort of stuff. So it’s very, very much rooted in something that happened 60 years ago and the majority of the people within the UFO subculture haven’t changed a great deal.

There are exceptions to that rule. Somebody like Jacques Vallee is a very good exception. Vallee began in the ‘60s as a very much nuts-and-bolts UFOlogy kind of guy. He left that behind very quickly and he brought his scientific training and his very broad interests and looked at it in a much more holistic kind of way. So there are people like Vallee out there. I think there are more of them now than there used to be, but generally speaking those people don’t associate with the nuts-and-bolts crowd of UFO researchers because they just don’t find them very interesting.

The material that they cull to a point is interesting but actually getting into—it inevitably leads to fights and arguments and flame wars on the Internet or whatever. I think people who take a broader view–Call them Agnostics if you will—don’t have any time for that, whether it’s coming from the arch-disbeliever side or whether it’s coming from the arch-true believer side. Different sides of the same coin for those of us that sit where my friend Greg Bishop has called “the excluded middle.”

Alex Tsakiris:   I’m not sure on that point that I totally agree with you because I think that there’s a huge difference between accepting a reality to the UFO phenomena and rejecting and denying a reality to the UFO phenomena. I think there’s more of a parallel between deniers of different stripes, if you will, than there is between the two sides of the same coin, the radical UFO believer and the radical UFO denier. Do you know what I mean on that?

Paul Kimball:   I do. For me, the spirituality thing is a good example. I’m an Agnostic when it comes to questions of faith or spirituality or whatever tag you want to put on it. I look at both sides. I could look at Tim LaHaye who wrote the horrible Left Behind novels about the post-apocalyptic end of the world on one hand and I can look at Richard Dawkins on the other hand. I can say, “Well, you know what? Both of them have something that I can find remotely interesting.”

But to me when I deal with those folks it’s like walking into a bar. I apologize in advance if this sounds a little sexist but you can flip it around. I’m a guy so I’m going to use the guy example. A guy walks into a bar and sees a bar full of women. He sees two other guys standing in the bar and they are consistently looking at only that one woman and they’re both trying to get her. They’re both presenting their best case and they’re both arguing over her. They’re fighting and all that sort of stuff. I don’t care because there’s a bar full of other very interesting women. If you’re woman walking in you’d see a bar full of other interesting men.

So that’s what I look at and I see people on the extremes of other side. Honestly, I’ve spent enough time with the UFO true believers—Lord knows I’ve spent enough time with UFO true believers to know. And I’ve spent enough time talking to the James Randi types, the psi-cop types, the dis-believers. Once you talk to them at any length you realize that they are both exactly the same. They’re locked into this—it’s like the old Star Trek episode from the original series where Lazarus shows up and there’s the anti-matter Lazarus and the matter Lazarus.

Or Loki. Even a better example. The two guys with different colors on different sides of the face. Loki and whatever the police officer’s name was. They just can’t get beyond their fight that’s been going on for thousands of years. No matter how hard Kirk and the Enterprise crew try to tell them, “Look, we’ll take you back. You can live in the Federation. You can have a great life. You can move beyond that,” they can’t. And it led to the eventual destruction of the world.

There’s nothing that I’ve ever experienced that you can profit from getting involved in those conversations. I get where you’re coming from; I absolutely understand. Frankly, if you put a gun to my head and said, “Would you rather spend time with the true believers of any stripe, whether it’s UFOs or God or whatever, or the true dis-believers,” I’ll choose the true believers because at least I think they’re a little more fun. And they’re just less churlish.

Alex Tsakiris:   Yeah, I hear you on that. But since the book title is The Other Side of Truth and you’re true to that in what you just said and I appreciate that, but I guess I want to get to nudging a little bit closer to The Truth. Of course, that always throws people off because there is no “The” truth. There is no ultimate truth. I mean, that’s the reality that you’ve come to in your conclusion. It’s about the journey. It’s the reality that I’ve come to that it is really about the journey. It’s about our personal process.

At the same time, in this enterprise you and I are engaged in here, we’re going to play this game that there is a truth and we have to move a little bit closer to it. To that extent there’s this dialogue that’s going on that’s dominating our culture. It’s this dialogue about what we are, about who we are, and I think the UFO phenomena has a definite take on that. If there’s a reality to the UFO phenomena, it has a strong influence on our understanding of who we are and what we are.

I’d say the same thing about—I hear you on the Fundamentalist Christians. They can be a real pain but if we step back and we say, “Gee, if we had to judge it looks like they are more right, more true, more real than our hardcore Atheist skeptics over here.” I mean, there’s useful information there that I want to take away and use for my personal journey.

Paul Kimball:   Absolutely. And the interesting thing to me, and I point this out in the book at the very beginning, I say that I’m just going to talk about the hardline—they would call themselves skeptics. I really do like the term “Fundamentalist disbelievers.” They look and they use terms like “woomeister.” I hear that all the time. I think I’ve even seen that directed at you on occasion. You know, whatever sort of pejorative terms. I know it’s been directed at me. Whatever the pejorative terms, we’re in good company.

People are so focused on bringing people down. I step back and say, “Whoa. Who’s the Paranormalist-In-Chief in the United States right now?” I had this dialogue with a friend of mine who’s a liberal Democrat in the United States. Being a Canadian I don’t have very many friends who are conservative Republicans, so all my American friends are liberal Democrats. But he was going on and on about how we have to elect Barack Obama. I was going, “Yeah, sure. Absolutely. I agree with you.”

But he was also a guy who continually would chide me about my interest in the paranormal. He would occasionally call it “woo” and that sort of stuff. He was very big into the James Randi kind of stuff. So one day we’re sitting there and we’re talking about both of these things and I said, “Well, wait a second now. You’re telling me that you’re going to go vote. You’re going to mark an X or whatever—“ I don’t know what his state does, hanging chads or whatever. “You’re going to vote for a guy who has stated repeatedly that he believes in God, this telepathic being…”

Alex Tsakiris:   Hold on, Paul. I love that. It’s in the Introduction of your book and I have the exact quote that you include in the book and it’s really good. This is in a 2008 interview between Christianity Today (consider the source here) and Barack Obama.

What I’d love to do is since I read this quote in your book, I’ve always had this fantasy of walking up to people on the street with a camera—your kind of thing, a documentarian—and giving people this quote and not telling them who it’s from and then having them pick from the various candidates out there from the right wing-most ardent Christian to Barack Obama. No one would properly credit this to Barack Obama. But that’s too much of an aside. Here’s the quote that he gave to Christianity Today:

“I am a Christian. I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.”

Paul Kimball:   Right. I’m looking at it too and I’ll just read what my reaction was because I think it was much pithier at the time than I might remember now. I write:

“So I asked my friend the next time I saw him after the election, ‘Let me get this straight. You just voted in an election for the most powerful office in the world for a man who believes in the supernatural being with whom he communicates by telepathy. This supernatural being also sent his only Son to Earth to be tortured and executed and then brought Him back from the dead a couple of days later. All so a prophesy could be fulfilled. And of course, there’s the whole walking on water thing, not to mention the water to wine trick, the raising of the dead.’ I could have mentioned the virgin birth, but I didn’t. And on and on and on.

And so I remember the conversation very well. I paused for effect. My friend began to frown and I delivered the punch line.

‘And you think I’m a big goofy for having an interest in UFOs and ghosts?’

I think he finally got the point.”

And the point to me is in the materialistic world we live in now it has become very de rigueur to just dismiss all of this stuff and I understand why. Religion has gotten—and deservedly so—a bad name over the course of human history. But you should be able to separate organized religion from what’s actually out there. Call it spirituality; call it faith; call it philosophy, if you will.

Alex Tsakiris:   Back to a point you mentioned a little bit ago. One of the things that you run into when you deal with the paranormal or when you try to wrap your arms around spirituality or whatever is beyond as you’re saying is, as you just mentioned, the extent to which it is intentionally obscured by our culture or by certain groups within our culture that see it as being in their benefit to direct things in a certain way.

I thought it was refreshing that you don’t seem to engage too much in that we’ve got to beat the skeptics and they’re out to get us kind of thing, which is great. But at the same time, as a filmmaker what do you think is your obligation to bring people closer to stripping away some of those preconceived ideas they may have to reveal a deeper truth that has been intentionally obscured from our view?

Paul Kimball:   Absolutely. I think the obligation is to present the information. So take the Friedman film, for instance. In Stanton T. Friedman is Real you obviously have Stan telling his life story, talking about the things he believes and that he considers true. I give not quite equal time but I gave Vaughn Rees, who is with the Center for Scientific Inquiry which is part of CSICOP, Karl Pflock, who was a UFO researcher but who was also very much a skeptic to the point where they called him within the UFO community a dyed-in-the-wool debunker when it came to Roswell, which is of course Friedman’s big thing. That’s the one thing that he’s really hung his hat on for 35 years.

I gave them equal time but I’m actually a big believer that people are smart. I think—and this is will be my one poke at folks on either side of the intellectual divide, the arch-disbelievers and the arch-believers—that the Richard Dawkins’ and the Tim LaHaye’s or whatever you want to call them—I think they have very little respect for the average human being and the ability of the average human being to look at as much information as you can give them from all different perspectives and come up with their own conclusions, which might actually be different than the one you hold.  That’s fine.

Alex Tsakiris:   Tell us what else is going on with you, with the book, The Other Side of Truth. When is it officially going to be out? What other projects are you working on?

Paul Kimball:   It’s officially out now, Alex. It’s available on Amazon.com; you can get it from my company’s website. It’s kind of a test run because after years of making films I decided, you know what? I love books. So I started a publishing company and I’ve been working on editing a series of new books that are going to be coming out over the next year.

I moved away from television and documentaries a couple of years ago and I’ve moved into something that I’d always wanted to do which was drama. Theatre, film. So I’ve actually started directing a feature film script that I wrote next month. Weirdly enough, the film is a psycho-sexual thriller with supernatural overtones. So even when I move into dramatic work I can’t quite get away from the paranormal or the supernatural.

Alex Tsakiris:   Great. The book again is, The Other Side of Truth. Quite a fascinating journey, as you’ve talked about here. Best of luck with it. Thanks again for joining me, Paul.

Paul Kimball:   Thanks for having me, Alex. Good talking to you.