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Crop Circles: The Need To Believe

Mel Gibson's recent movie, Signs, is about a former pastor and farmer who discovers crop circles, or what some believe are spaceship landing pads, in his cornfield. The copycat phenomenon began in England in the late seventies and the circles have been found in 70 countries around the world. In the early nineties the original pranksters confessed that they created the circles with a plank, knotted rope, and moonlight. However, these spectacular images have become part of pop culture, and there are many who believe or hope that they are "messages" from aliens or superior beings.

Joe Nickell is a senior research fellow at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal in Amherst, N.Y. His organization has been studying the crop circle phenomenon since the mid 1980s. He believes all the designs are man-made, and they appeal to man's sense of mystery, hope, and fear. "In those three words, you explain the human interest in most of the paranormal phenomenon. Crop circles are mysterious to people. If they are made by aliens, that's a hopeful message. And there's fear because we're not sure what the aliens are up to."

Michael Shermer, author of Why People Believe Weird Things, believes that interest in crop circles "really is a religious belief. It's the promise of something transcendent, bigger than us, beyond us."

Signs writer-director M. Night Shyamalan is skeptical about crop circles, "but I'm hopeful they'll be proven true. I like believing in things and possibilities of thingsĀ—so tantalizing."

Colin Andrews, the crop circle consultant for Signs, and author of the 1989 best selling book Circular Evidence, believes that while most are hoaxes, many are made by spirits or some kind of mysterious natural life force.

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