In for a Penny, In for a Pound: Moving Ufology Beyond Materialism
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I was honored to have this essay included in last year's collection from Robbie Graham, UFOs: Reframing the Debate. Now that a year has passed, Robbie has kindly given contributors permission to post their essays online. I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy, to check out the other brilliant entries.
SIR BAR: Look you Sir, Truth may be blam'd, but never sham'd. I cou'd give you farther proof if occasion serv'd. But Truth is not to spoken at all times.
ALD: Yet it concerns you to speak, and to prove what you speak, this is no jesting matter.
SIR BAR: Well than, O'er shooes, o'er boots. And In for a Penny, in for a Pound.
- Edward Ravenscroft, The Canterbury guests, or, A bargain broken a comedy
In the late sixteenth century Tycho Brahe proposed a model of the solar system wherein all the known planets—five at the time—revolved around the Sun, while the Sun itself orbited the Earth.  Referred to as the Tychonic System, the concept was not altogether new, having precursors in the fourth century B.C.—nonetheless, this hybrid geoheliocentric model was closer to the truth than contemporary theories, which held the Earth as the fixed point around which the entire cosmos rotated.
The Tychonic System maintained popularity among progressive scientists until the early 1600s when Galileo proposed his heliocentric model, wherein the Sun is the fixed point around which all other celestial bodies in the solar system orbit. Though persecuted by the establishment, Galileo’s proposition was eventually accepted.
Centuries later Albert Einstein would christen him “the father of modern physics—indeed, of modern science altogether,” a sentiment Stephen Hawking would echo in his A Brief History of Time: “Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.”
While Brahe is not exactly a minor footnote to history, at the same time he enjoys neither the accolades nor the man-on-the-street familiarity Galileo does in the twenty-first century. Brahe could commit to everything that made Galileo immortal except for the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. To do so would have been revolutionary. His significance to science would be enormous had he not engaged in half-measures and committed to a fully heliocentric model of the solar system.
In for a penny, in for a pound, as it were. Ufologists take note.
If there is such a thing as “mainstream ufology,” it focuses upon a “nuts-and-bolts” (N&B) interpretation of sightings in support of an Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH). Advocates of this grounded approach assume—while naïvely, in all fairness not illogically—that an extraterrestrial civilization would mirror our own dreams, desires, and abilities as a species. Humans wish to explore the galaxy, therefore aliens wish to explore the galaxy; humans would accomplish this goal by building metallic flying machines, aliens would as well; humans would study and catalogue alien life, aliens vice versa. To make a gross reduction, it is a quaint mid-twentieth century proposition wherein little green scientists in physical spacecraft regularly visit Earth.
In this model the materialist paradigm—the dominant philosophical doctrine of science, wherein matter is the fundamental constant of reality and all other phenomena, including human consciousness itself, are illusory byproducts of matter—reigns supreme. N&B/ETH researchers hold the UFO problem can and will be solved by physical evidence: burn marks at landing sites, a stunning video, a compelling photograph, a crashed flying saucer, an extraterrestrial body.
While plenty of cases support the N&B/ETH view, its materialist foundations are shaken when confronted with the High Strangeness characteristic of a majority of UFO sightings. Alleged “alien” abductees report profound synchronicities manifesting in their lives, battle poltergeist phenomena in their homes, and occasionally encounter loved ones during their brief sojourn to the Otherworld.
These pernicious data points serve as constant reminders that we are swimming in a very strange pool indeed. Of all the fantastic motifs reported by eyewitnesses, telepathy—the ability of aliens (or even just lights in the sky) to exchange ideas with witnesses via thought—is most common.
“Of 124 cases with the means of communication specified, 98 (79%) involve telepathy, thought transference, or the witnesses being able to understand or ‘hear’ the beings without their mouths moving or any apparent auditory input,” wrote Eddie Bullard in his comprehensive 1987 work UFO Abductions: The Measure of a Mystery. While no study of similar magnitude has been compiled in the intervening three decades, even a cursory survey of the literature suggests that this trend has not abated.
“Regarding UFO contact, we would do well to recall that most contactees and abductees have claimed some form of telepathic connection with these other beings,” wrote Richard Dolan in UFOs for the 21st Century Mind. “In fact, such connections are often felt by people who have UFO sightings, without even experiencing the extra level of abduction or contact. In other words, these beings appear, somehow, to connect to us telepathically.” He later adds this aspect is “not fully appreciated by current science.”
At first blush, accepting the presence of telepathy in alien abduction cases seems as though it would be anathema to N&B ufologists of the ETH persuasion. After all, their position firmly seeks scientific answers to the UFO question, while telepathy is regarded as New Age bunk by the materialist establishment. In practice, however, most ETH advocates seem quite keen to declare this peculiarity a reality of the UFO experience.
Prior to his death in 2011, Budd Hopkins suspected not only that extraterrestrials were responsible for the abduction phenomenon, but also that they possessed telepathic abilities. In 1981’s Missing Time he sidestepped any possible contradiction by suggesting the telepathic component could represent extremely advanced technology.
Alien abduction researcher Dr. David Jacobs, though initially skeptical of telepathic communication in his early work, later warmed to eyewitness testimony of “Mindscans” and telepathy as a reality: “In virtually all abduction accounts, the communication between the aliens and the abductees is done through ‘telepathy,’ and not aurally through their ears,” he wrote in 1992.
J. Stanton Friedman—someone who has arguably done more than anyone else to legitimize UFO research while holding a firmly N&B paradigm—most overtly articulated his acceptance of telepathic communication in UFO encounters on a January 21, 2012 episode of Alex Tsakiris’s popular Skeptiko podcast:
I’m convinced that any advanced civilization will know about telepathy and mind control and communication at a distance. It really came home to me when I was standing at the exact location where Barney Hill was standing when the saucer was over their car and he’s looking through binoculars at the crew on board.
For no good reason, they jumped back in the car, very frightened, and they get off the main road, Route 3, and they go onto a secondary road. Then they go onto a dirt road—which Barney would never have done. And he winds up alongside the only place in the area where you could land a, let’s say 80-foot in diameter, flying saucer… It was clear proof to me that these guys were directing his actions.
It seems to me eminently clear that these guys have capabilities—as the only simple term I know—to do things that we don’t look upon as being respectable. Such as mind-reading, mind control, and getting people to forget.
In short, telepathy is regarded as consensus gentium among N&B/ETH ufologists, as well it should be. If we tossed out every account involving telepathic communication, we would be left with only a tiny fraction of the cases reported. The question stands, however, whether or not those in favor of the N&B/ETH solution have fully wrestled with the implications raised by telepathy in UFO and abduction reports.
The Slippery Slope
The most obvious repercussion of a belief in telepathy is how it normalizes a host of other psi phenomena in a domino effect, which in turn busts the perceived N&B/ETH ufological monopoly. After all, it seems arbitrary to draw a line in the sand at telepathy, which is but one point on a robust spectrum of psychic abilities. The UFO literature is rife with witnesses who experience such activity, from the comparatively mundane (precognition, clairvoyance) to the dramatic (psychokinesis, astral projection). Telepathy, a phenomenon whose existence is roundly accepted by N&B/ETH advocates, accompanies nearly all such examples.
Wrote Jacques Valle in the mid 1970s:
I have long had an interest in both UFO manifestations and such psychic manifestations as telepathy, poltergeists, and psychokinetics, but I have refrained (until a few years ago) from attempting to build a bridge between these two fields. To be sure, I have been aware that many UFO cases contained elements indicative of psychic phenomena. At the same time, I have found in the literature of psychic history many observations that were suggestive of either the presence or the interference of UFOs. It would have been impossible not to recognize these connections and yet, to give just one example, when I was recently invited to speak about UFO research at a University of California extension course on psychic phenomena, my decision to accept the invitation was greeted with disbelief among astronomers privately interested in the subject. One of my physicist friends who was studying the material aspect of the sightings even called me to ask, ‘Why are you getting such a solid field as UFO research mixed up with the disreputable area of psychic phenomena?’ implying that by speaking of the analysis of UFO, sightings before specialists in brain research, meditation, biofeedback, and brainwave analysis, I might jeopardize my chances of ever capturing a real, material flying saucer!
At the same time, it was amusing to observe the initial reluctance of those who had spent all their lives studying poltergeists, telepathy, and the human aura to consider the subject of UFOs.
But once the connection was established, there could not be any more doubt that we had to deal with one, not with two, subjects; not with two sets of phenomena but with a single universe of events in which a single set of laws was in force.
It is easy to illustrate how this inevitable connection declaws the traditional N&B stance. Starting in the 1970s, the United States government began pouring funds into research on remote viewing, an alleged psychic ability wherein a sitter is given a series of coordinates and asked to articulate what impressions and sensations come to mind. The Stargate Project, as it was called, cost Americans at least $20 million before it was shut down in 1995 for “failing to produce any actionable intelligence information” (one suspects that if this official narrative were true, the project would have been terminated after one, five, or even ten years rather than twenty, but that is a topic for another day).
A list of those attached to this endeavor reads like a rogue’s gallery of ‘70s parapsychologists and psychics: Russell Targ and Hal Puthoff spearheaded the research, enlisting the help of individuals like Joseph McMoneagle, Pat Price, Uri Gellar, and Ingo Swann in various capacities. Swann is of particular note for an anecdote he related in his 1998 book Penetration: The Question of Extraterrestrial Telepathy.
Just prior to Stargate’s formation, a mysterious government agent calling himself “Mr. Axelrod” contacted Swann and asked him to remote view a set of coordinates on the far side of Earth’s Moon. Swann was initially frustrated with his results, which seemed to produce visions of very un-Moonlike things, including artificial structures and evidence of some sort of mining operation. After Axelrod assured him these results were consistent with their intelligence of activity on the Moon Swann, gobsmacked, continued with his session.
There were “nets” over craters, “houses” in which someone obviously lived, except that I couldn’t see who—save in one case.
In THAT case, I saw some kind of people busy at work on something I could not figure out. The place was dark. The “air” was filled with a fine dust, and there was some kind of illumination—like a dark lime-green fog or mist.
The thing about them was that they either were human or looked exactly like us—but they were all males, as I could well see since they were all butt-ass naked. I had absolutely no idea why. They seemed to be digging into a hillside or a cliff…
But there in my psychic state, as I felt I was, some of those guys started talking excitedly and gesticulating. Two of them pointed in my “direction.”
“I think they have spotted me, Axel. They were pointing at me, I think. How could they do that… unless… they have some kind of high psychic perceptions, too?” 
While the story is no doubt fanciful, it raises a host of compelling possibilities if true. We have no idea how these moon inhabitants would have described Swann to their peers.
Was there a visual component? Did he appear like a ghost to them? Or perhaps Swann appeared to the Moonites as an anomalous light in their sky, or as a flying saucer? Perhaps when we observe such things in our skies, we do not see physical extraterrestrial spacecraft, but manifestations of advanced intelligences remote viewing Earth. Perhaps only the psychically sensitive among us can see them—those of us receptive to telepathy.
Why build a clunky metal disc and travel 40 light years to observe Earthlings when you can do it from the comfort of your living room? N&B spacecraft are not fait accompli. This is one of a myriad of possibilities rendered plausibilities when ufologists endorse psi phenomena.
Less obvious but far more profound is how this endorsement of telepathy in UFO encounters draws irreconcilable battle lines between ufology and materialism. In the eyes of modern scientists, belief in telepathy and psychic abilities further degrades the already-sullied topic of ufology; they despise these concepts and reject them outright, because they directly threaten the scientific method.
Scientific literature is littered with sentiments such as those espoused by philosopher-physicist Mario Bunge:
Precognition violates the principle of antecedence (“causality”), according to which the effect does not happen before the cause. Psychokinesis violates the principle of conservation of energy as well as the postulate that mind cannot act directly on matter. (If it did no experimenter could trust his own readings of his instruments.) Telepathy and precognition are incompatible with the epistemological principle according to which the gaining of factual knowledge requires sense perception at some point.
Parapsychology makes no use of any knowledge gained in other fields, such as physics and physiological psychology. Moreover, its hypotheses are inconsistent with some basic assumptions of factual science. In particular, the very idea of a disembodied mental entity is incompatible with physiological psychology; and the claim that signals can be transmitted across space without fading with distance is inconsistent with physics.
Lest we assume this is an isolated opinion, consider the conclusion of a 1988 panel commissioned by the United States National Research Council to study the paranormal: “Despite a 130-year record of scientific research on such matters, our committee could ﬁnd no scientific justification for the existence of phenomena such as extrasensory perception, mental telepathy or ‘mind over matter’ exercises... Evaluation of a large body of the best available evidence simply does not support the contention that these phenomena exist.”
It doesn’t matter that this statement is demonstrably false (more on that in a moment). What matters is that ufologists make no friends in these circles—the circles they so desperately wish to be included in—by endorsing telepathy.
How do N&B/ETH ufologists seeking mainstream acceptance hope to reconcile extraterrestrial visitation with something science declares a fundamental impossibility? Who cares about evidence like burn marks on the ground, radar data, radiation effects, or government documents when the eyewitness adds, “The aliens spoke to me without their mouths moving”? Inadmissible by association.
Any ufologist worth his Fortean salt will point to recent advances in the field of consciousness studies as legitimizing such data. It is true: while plenty of dreck exists as “evidence” of psychic phenomena, a handful of well-qualified researchers are tearing down the materialist paradigm brick-by-brick, producing top-notch research and even publishing in highly regarded peer-reviewed journals.
Rupert Sheldrake has conducted a great many consciousness research projects, but perhaps none more famously than his “pet telepathy” work. His rigorous experimentation, conducted with utmost dedication to the scientific method, suggested that dogs rush to wait by a door or window the moment their owners begin the return journey home. One dog in the study, Jaytee, boasted an 85% success rate, despite Sheldrake randomizing departure times, drivers, and vehicles.
Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel conducted one of history’s largest longitudinal surveys of cardiac arrest patients with the express purpose of examining their Near Death Experiences. His subsequent article, which appeared in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet in 2001, concluded that no current medical explanation satisfactorily explained the patients’ experiences.
Before his 2007 death, University of Virginia School of Medicine psychiatrist Ian Stevenson practically ended the reincarnation debate. Just one of his works, 1997’s Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects, chronicled the past-life memories and anomalous birthmarks of over 200 children, each corresponding to the lives and wounds of the deceased they claimed to have once been.
Cornell University professor Daryl Bem published a paper in 2010 suggesting that intense emotions may directly enhance psi phenomena. In his research, over 1,000 subjects exhibited greater aptitude in guessing the location of erotic images over neutral images (53.1% versus 49.8%—statistically significant).
This is but a taste of the reputable work currently underway in consciousness studies. It is required that if you are unfamiliar with any of the individuals above—who are but a handful of the researchers pushing back on materialism—you avail yourself of their work posthaste.
In light of this admittedly stellar research, some will counter that the N&B/ETH approach will be exonerated if psi abilities are one day accepted within the scientific establishment. In that event, these human capacities will not be regarded as supernatural phenomena, only poorly understood natural phenomena.
These individuals could not be more wrong, at least in the way materialism has forced us to define “natural” over the last few centuries. Materialism holds that only the tangible is real. Extended consciousness effects have no place in a materialist paradigm, period.
At the same time, remember that non-materialist does not equal non-scientific. Science is nothing more than a set of guidelines and tools to honestly and objectively evaluate reality, whereas materialism is an assumption based upon the notion that only things replicable in a laboratory setting are worthy of labeling “real” (though, as illustrated above, not even controlled repeatability satisfies this arbitrary standard). Confirming the objective reality of telepathy, remote viewing, clairvoyance, or any other psi effect would devastate our understanding of natural laws, which would in turn cripple the surety with which the scientific method operates. It would shatter materialism.
Alex Tsakiris deftly explains this in his book Why Science is Wrong… About Almost Everything.
If my consciousness is something—anything—other than a product of my brain, then science is out of business until it figures out exactly how my consciousness interacts with this world. If my consciousness is more than my physical brain, then consciousness is the X-factor in every science experiment. It’s the asterisk in the footnotes that says, “We came as close as we could, but we had to leave out consciousness in order to make our numbers work.”
The good news is the tide of consensus is beginning to favor researchers like Sheldrake, van Lommel, Stevenson, Bem, and company. Scientists are speaking and behaving less like materialist drones and more like open-yet-critically-minded truth seekers (in other words, more like actual scientists). There are well-placed individuals in the materialist establishment entertaining ideas like the multiverse, or the notion we may be living in a simulation. Granted, they’re still banging the antiquated drum of eighteenth century materialism, but at least a dialogue is starting.
For a more specific example of how mainstream thought is sounding weirder by the day, consider the sentiment expressed in a 2015 press release from The Australian National University. Upon confirming that particles exist in a state of abstraction until they are observed, quantified, and measured (basically saying that events at the quantum level are defined by the future, not the past), Dr. Andrew Truscott said, “At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it.”
Talk like that from a ufologist in the 1990s would have been greeted with men in white coats.
Once the last tile falls in the “psi acceptance domino chain”—and it will, through fits and starts—it will be patently obvious materialism is, if not outright falsified, at least undermined to an irreparable degree. From materialism’s ashes a new model of reality will arise wherein the scientific establishment accepts the completely intangible, wholly interiorized phenomenon of human consciousness can manifest measurable effects in our physical world.
Sound like any unexplained aerial phenomena you may have run across?
Either materialism is correct or materialism is incorrect. If it is correct, how can N&B/ETH researchers believe in telepathy? If it is incorrect, then why do so many still feel obligated to explain UFOs using the exact materialist paradigm that telepathy’s existence refutes?
Telepathy in UFO accounts or scientific materialism—one must be rejected. No middle ground. No half measures. In for the penny that is telepathy, in for the pound that abandons materialism. Why continue playing by scientific rules when you’ve already broken them by ascribing to telepathy and, more to the point, the rulebook is being rewritten in your favor as we speak?
Granted, none of this precludes the possibility of telepathic extraterrestrials visiting Earth in sophisticated spacecraft, nor is it suggesting that plenty of N&B/ETH researchers have not already adopted a post-materialist, consciousness-based paradigm. But it is fatiguing to read convoluted descriptions of crash site “memory metal” nanotechnology or hear lecturers suggest elaborate proposals on how faster-than-light travel could be achieved. Such materialist apologies become completely unnecessary when operating in a consciousness-based paradigm.
A magical paradigm.
A Consciousness Paradigm or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Magic
Orthodox ufologists will likely recoil from the term “magic.” Admittedly, it sounds like the least scientific thing possible. But to take an Arthur C. Clarke-ism and turn it on its head, if any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic then it follows that magic is indistinguishable from any sufficiently advanced technology.
Those straddling the magical-ufological line are in good company. The United States government, as evidenced by The Stargate Project, has a long history of keen interest in both UFOs and magic for decades (perhaps the big secret of UFO Disclosure, should that day ever come, is that they’ve been studying the two as a single phenomenon). The dynastic families of America have long been rumored to empty their pocketbooks into a variety of occult projects. A quote apocryphally attributed to J.P. Morgan says, “Millionaires don’t use astrology—billionaires do.”
To make the term “magic” further palatable, let us turn to the perennially articulate chaos magician Gordon White, who said in a 2015 interview:
Magic is a culture-specific response to naturally occurring consciousness effects like telepathy, and precognition, and all these normal things that as humans, with a normal-functioning mind, we experience… If you look from Australian Aboriginal tribes to chaos magicians in 2015 London, the quote unquote “powers” or the quote unquote “effects” that you can achieve with magic pretty much boil down to the same four or five things: telepathy, precognition (so seeing the future, clairvoyance, whatever you want to call it), visiting the Otherworld, and in some way, trafficking with the spirits.
Much less frightening, no? It is easy to entertain the objective reality of magic once we cast aside the restraints of materialism, to which magical practice stands diametrically opposed. It is but another domino. If you believe in telepathy, you have a de facto magical worldview—in a manner of speaking, hardline N&B/ETH researchers have endorsed magic for decades.
It is difficult to imagine the well-read ufologist arguing against White’s description of magic. The greatest amount of pushback would likely focus on his last two points—visiting the Otherworld and trafficking with the spirits—but doesn’t that perfectly describe alien abductions? If the magically operant have been correct about the reality of psi effects for millennia while science tumbled down materialism’s rabbit hole, perhaps we should give that community the benefit of the doubt when it claims disincarnate spirits exist?
Viewing ufology with a magical eye is not novel (early pioneers like Allen Greenfield advocated this approach for years). It is novel to declare that we shouldn’t feel ashamed at this interpretation. It is novel to predict that, one day, their science will look a lot more like our science. All we have to do is keep our heads down and wait out materialism’s death throes. In the meantime, it is imperative that ufologists familiarize themselves with magical resources and thought.
One of the biggest things holding back ufology is that two thirds of researchers have never cracked open a grimoire. Had they done so, they would realize the hodgepodge array of spirits catalogued therein mirror the varied appearance of extraterrestrial species in UFO literature. They would see how communing with deceased loved ones in alien abductions isn’t so odd when your paradigm encourages the construction of ancestor altars. They would see that there is very little difference between a tenth century mage summoning Ashtaroth and Steven Greer calling down UFOs from the night sky in 2017.
And they would begin to understand how non-human logic works.
“Magicians have personal experience of non-human logic; what it feels like, how it manifests in life and culture, and so on,” White wrote in his 2016 book Star.Ships. “It is characterized by atemporality, high levels of coincidence, repetition of motif and symbol in entirely unrelated contexts and a quasi-fractal capacity to look weirdly resonant at whatever level you observe the phenomenon, from the micro to the macro.”
White describes the forces behind this non-human logic as “Magonian,” a term borrowed from Jacques Vallee’s invaluable 1969 book Passport to Magonia. Vallee’s intercontextual examination of the UFO phenomenon drew parallels not only to faerie folklore of Northern Europe but also to medieval French stories of airship-piloting wizards from the cloud realm of Magonia. Calling these phenomena “Magonian” is connotation-free and handily strips away the artificial barriers mainstream ufology has erected between accounts of extraterrestrials, spirits, the fae folk, and Blessed Virgin Mary apparitions.
In 1918 magician Aleister Crowley famously claimed to have repeatedly summoned an entity named “Lam,” which he sketched with a bulbous-headed highly evocative of modern descriptions of Gray aliens. Ufologists view Crowley’s interaction with Lam as extraterrestrial visitation, the magically operant view it as conjuration, but calling the experience “Magonian” gives us a much-needed lingua franca facilitating interdisciplinary discussion between these communities.
This heady ufological-magical blend is a promising avenue of exploration. Moving beyond materialism is about honestly confronting the fact that we know nothing for certain about UFOs, yet choosing to be inspired rather than frustrated by this realization, leading to a type of non-dogmatic gnosticism. Magonian phenomena encompass any number of answers to the UFO problem: aliens, yes, but also time travellers, demons, spirits, cultural poltergeists, interdimensional entities, the Jungian collective unconscious, daimonic higher selves, faeries, ghosts—or infinitely hybridized theories therein.
“If there are physical [extraterrestrial] lifeforms… I posit they are subject to the same nonphysical interaction and subsequent wobbles in technological complexity [as us],” wrote White. “Granted, it gets a little blurry when you allow for the fact that a universe-spanning spirit world must contain the Dead of numerous alien races and hence interaction with it implies a roundabout transfer of technology from one species to another… only separated in time.”
The truth of the matter is that, as a ufological community, we have left the door open to a consciousness-based—and, by logical extension, magical—view of reality since the field’s inception. The cognitive dissonance of accepting telepathy in UFO encounters while simultaneously striving for mainstream scientific acceptance is a recurring stumbling block to contemporary ufology… we are collectively treading water by clinging to notions of flesh and blood extraterrestrials in nuts-and-bolts spacecraft.
There is yet hope, however. A field which is constantly marginalized need not be on the wrong side of history—the materialist paradigm will fall apart given time, and consciousness studies is the proverbial star to which ufology should hitch its wagon. The study of UFOs and alien abduction has zero obligations to a N&B/ETH model. What it does owe an obligation to is, to quote Alex Tsakiris, “follow the data wherever it leads.”
Perhaps Gordon White articulated this sentiment most evocatively:
To abandon interpretation to scientism is to shirk natural philosophy’s most sacred duty. Your tribe deserves better. And if you feel some residual squeamishness over who has legitimacy of interpretation in our culture, consider this. We are wholly justified in turning the question on its head and asking the scientists what it is they think they are doing swimming in our pool in the first place.
You now have permission to wade into the deep end.
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