Monday, January 29, 2007

Dropping in on Earthlings

They seem worn-out, repetitive, even a little passé by now, like a fashion trend from another decade. Even the comedians' quips and the cute newspaper headlines are slightly quaint. I'm talking about UFO reports.

Nevertheless, they still appear. The Chicago Tribune reported (registration required) on Jan. 1, 2007, a sighting at O'Hare Aiprort:
A flying saucerlike object hovered low over O'Hare International Airport for several minutes before bolting through thick clouds with such intense energy that it left an eerie hole in overcast skies, said some United Airlines employees who observed the phenomenon. … The sighting occurred during daylight, about 4:30 p.m., just before sunset.

All the witnesses said the object was dark gray and well defined in the overcast skies. They said the craft, estimated by different accounts to be 6 feet to 24 feet in diameter, did not display any lights. Some said it looked like a rotating Frisbee, while others said it did not appear to be spinning. All agreed the object made no noise and it was at a fixed position in the sky, just below the 1,900-foot cloud deck, until shooting off into the clouds.

"I tend to be scientific by nature, and I don't understand why aliens would hover over a busy airport," said a United mechanic who was in the cockpit of a Boeing 777 that he was taxiing to a maintenance hangar when he observed the metallic-looking object above Gate C17. "But I know that what I saw and what a lot of other people saw stood out very clearly, and it definitely was not an [Earth] aircraft," the mechanic said.
Until recently I had not taken more than a casual interest in UFO phenomena. While by no means a hard-core skeptic, I was repelled by the large volume of quite loony stuff written on the subject — to see what I mean, search under the heading "UFO" — and the nearly inexhaustible claims and theories. It is as though UFOs are similar to Rorschach test ink blots, interpreted according the assumptions and personality anyone brings to them.

I did have some sympathy with whatever serious and level-headed UFO researchers might be out there, since it appeared that they suffered at the hands of the same kind of boneheaded scientists who have held back the progress of psychical research, a field of which I am an amateur devotee. These are the scientists who won't look at evidence if it contradicts their view of fundamental natural laws and what they "know" can and can't be. Robert A. Heinlein compared them to the yokel who saw a rhinocerous for the first time and said, "There ain't no such animal."

Still, I figured I didn't have time to read a dozen books to get my bearings and work out which UFO researchers might be credible and what the evidence suggested. But by luck, synchronicity, mysterious plan or what you will, I happened to run across a copy of Uninvited Guests, by Richard Hall, at a library book sale. The subtitle ("
A Documented History of UFO Sightings, Alien Encounters and Coverups") wasn't entirely promising — conspiracy theories are meat and potatoes to UFO buffs — but I glanced through it anyway. The tone of the writing impressed me as sane, and a glance at the author's bio note told me he'd played major roles in several of the most respected military-sponsored and civilian UFO studies, including the famous National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). So I spent a buck on the book in the hope that this might be the key to the subject that I had been looking for.


Uninvited Guests was published in 1988. Hall has more recently updated it with The UFO Evidence, although it appears from the reviews that he has not basically changed his outlook. Hall strikes me as the right man for the job of collecting and analyzing the bizarre, and often disturbing, evidence of UFO encounters, as well as such alleged phenomena as seeing or being abducted by extraterrestrials. He acknowledges that (as with many psychical phenomena) there is no absolute proof of UFOs or aliens. He agrees that many claimed sightings are the product of unusual natural phenomena or deranged minds.

But — again as in psychical research — unless you believe that hundreds of psychologically normal, not overimaginative and responsible people all over the world are involved in a pointless hoax or were hallucinating for no known reason, they have experienced UFOs.

Hall considers a large number of anecdotes, including stories about bodies of aliens from crashed UFOs kept secretly at military bases. (He's agnostic on that one — there are a few seemingly credible witnesses in the files, but he shows that a video circulated among "saucer" buffs of a supposed alien autopsy is a fraud.) There are discussions of many theories about the nature of UFOs, including such "sophisticated" ones as Carl Jung's that UFOs are some sort of mass projection of archetypes in a contemporary form, or that they are visitors from the past, the future, or a parallel universe. Time travel hypotheses involve well known paradoxes, and Hall quite reasonably points out that to claim UFOs as tourists from "another dimension" or "parallel universe" is logically and scientifically meaningless.

Hall believes that, taking the evidence as a whole into account, the extraterrestrial hypothesis (which UFO researchers abbreviate ETH) is the most likely. He isn't dogmatic about it; it's just that after more than 20 years (at the time of writing) of direct involvement in the subject, checking documentation and reading eyewitness interviews conducted by people known to him to be of sound mind, every other theory requires assumptions that are even harder to swallow than the ETH.

If you are curious about UFO phenomena, but lack the time or inclination for an in-depth study, here are some of the tentative conclusions, observations, and surmises that Hall's book leads to:

1. "Flying saucers" are only one configuration of observed UFO. Most are round (horizontally) and relatively flat (vertically), often with a dome on the top or bottom, sometimes with windows or "portholes" in the dome; but others appear elongated. Some are described as spinning. Color is often silver (matte or reflective), sometimes gray. Colored lights are often reported on the object, and sometimes beams of light emerge from it. Descriptions of size vary widely, from a few feet to hundreds of feet.

2. They maneuver at fantastic trajectories that seem to defy the known laws of physics, and at speeds from hovering to several thousand mph. They may be seen at any altitude but a surprising (to me) number appear near or occasionally at ground level. They play "cat-and-mouse" games, traveling over, in front of, or behind cars or aircraft, often quite close.

3. They are associated with disturbances in electromagnetic fields. In the vicinity of UFOs, engines and electrical equipment frequently stop, then resume when the UFO leaves.

4. Human viewers or experiencers sometimes, though not always, exhibit psychological or physical symptoms afterward.

5. There have been periods of heavy UFO activity interrupted by relative lulls. Sightings go back at least a hundred years, or much longer depending on what evidence you accept, but they started in earnest post-World War II. At first, they just appeared in the sky; then (roughly, in the '60s) began to initiate "close encounters"; later, in the '70s, reports of appearances of aliens and abductions started coming to the fore. In recent years, there have been much-publicized cases of people remembering being probed and studied aboard spaceships, recalled under hypnosis.

6. "Aliens" are often described as little, though not green, men (and sometimes women). They, too, seem to vary considerably in physiology. "Humanoid" is an often-used term. Although most reports speak of creatures only three or four feet high, there are a few reported giants.

What on earth (or not of the earth) are we to make of all this?

Obviously, if UFOs are interplanetary craft, there are many kinds. It also appears that the extraterrestrials, if such they are, are of different species or races.

Why are they here? Their behavior suggests that they are studying us; their motives can hardly be guessed because we don't know anything about their psychology or culture. It is possibly significant that while people who encounter UFOs, particularly those who say they have seen "aliens," are often scared out of their wits, there is little evidence of any overtly hostile activity on the intruders' part. While the ETs have technology far in advance of our own, Hall suspects they are not omniscient. (If they were, why would they need to study humans?) He thinks it possible that even some of the terrifying examinations and occasional damage to equipment might be the result of ignorance or clumsiness ("Oops, that needle in the navel was not supposed to hurt"; "that plane got too close and we didn't mean to damage it").

Hall (and many other UFO researchers) speculate that the UFO crews are preparing us for an eventual meeting, getting us used to the idea gradually so we won't be totally shocked and panicked when the time comes. The evidence so far does indicate that with the astonishing technology available to them, these ETs could clean our clocks with no trouble at all if some War of the Worlds type of invasion was on their minds, and they haven't.

All this, mind you, is speculation. But as speculation goes, Hall's seems to be as sensible as any, and a lot more so than much of it about this perplexing subject.


Anonymous said...

Three "UFO" stories for your enjoyment and a couple of comments:

1. I was driving my mother at night to show her my new condo, as she was house-sitting for me the next day. I told her it was near a small airport, and as if on cue, an aircraft passed low over my car and headed in the direction of my condo a few miles away. I could only see the pattern of lights, not the aircraft itself. I saw it fly ahead of us, then the flight angle changed and it seemed to descend - too fast, as if it was crashing. Then just above the treetops in the distance, it stopped - dead in mid-air. I was confused. As I approached the house, I saw the pattern of lights hovering just behind the woods behind my house. I began to get creeped out. We went inside. I grabbed my binoculars and went out on the deck. The lights were half obscured by the trees, and I could hear a low drone, but I couldn't make out any detail. So I brought out a small telescope. As I did, the lights began to rise above the trees, and I was able to see that I was looking at a blimp! Having since made friends with the blimps and watched them perform all sorts of aerial acrobatics at odd hours of the night, I'm convinced that some of those UFO stories were caused by blimps (possibly military) and people who simply did not understand what they were seeing.

2. There are sometimes reports of UFOs "chasing" cars. While driving one time at sunset, I spotted Venus off to the left. (I'm an amateur astronomer, and I know Venus when I see it.) It was low over the trees, and I was able to mentally shift my perspective and make it feel like Venus was "chasing" my car, speeding alongside. I think another subset of UFO reports are of this type.

3. In college in Pasadena, CA in the mid 1970's, I was up at 3:00am studying for a test. I stepped outside for a breath of air, and looked up just as an extremely bright meteor - nearly as bright as the full moon - passed between a gap in the clouds. Cool, I thought, and noted the time. A couple of days later I'm watching local TV, and a caller to a talk show tells of driving by Pasadena the other night at 3:00am, and he "sees this UFO flashing *back and forth* across the sky". Now, I was there. I know what he saw, and there was no "back and forth" involved. Yet this simple confabulation by an inexperienced observer turns a simple natural phenomenon into an "unexplained mystery". Another subset of UFO reports are undoubtedly of this type.

My point is that people are very unreliable observers. (Check the inconsistency in eyewitness testimony to anything.) They hardly ever look up and have no idea what kinds of things are in the sky, thus their reports are likely to be even more uninformed than usual. And sometimes they just make shit up to fill in the gaps in their own story and have it makes sense to themselves. Their reports are then recorded and transmitted by the MSM and its various subsidiaries, and we've come to see how unreliable *they* are. And of course, at every step in the chain of reporting and recording, the information passes through a different human filter with its own beliefs, biases, perceptions and agendas. Given all the above, I'd take the existing UFO data with numerous grains of salt, preferably wrapped around the rim of a margarita glass. Personally, this observer of the night skies for over 40 years has never seen a spacecraft that wasn't one of ours.

My other point is that there may be some psychological aspect to UFO reports, as others have noted. There seemed to be a lot in the 1950's and 1960's during the Cold War when the nuclear threat was weighing on our minds. It was almost as if people, losing faith in religion, were looking for a different kind of Savior to come down from the skies and fix the world. Well, here we are in another period of increasing world tension, with massive loss of faith in religion and an accompanying sense of despair and hopelessness. I won't be surprised if people start "seeing" UFOs again.

All of which does not mean that extraterrestrials don't exist. I think they do exist, but I don't think they're visiting us, and I can't explain why that is the case.

Rick Darby said...

Your experiences are good examples of how many so-called UFO sightings — the great majority — are odd natural phenomena, optical illusions, and "will to believe" psychological processes.

Nonetheless, I was impressed by the large number of case studies in Hall's book that can't reasonably be explained in those terms. It was quite surprising to read how many UFOs were seen from only a few feet away, sometimes on the ground.

It's true that the stereotyped images of UFOs and humanoids are now part of our culture, which might contribute to people imagining them. But Hall's case studies include many instances of animals reacting fearfully just as the humans did — do dogs and cattle have such vivid imaginations, synchronized with their owners'? Do electromagnetic instruments, engines, etc. stop working because they're psychologically disturbed?

Anonymous said...

It seems like you are a sensible person, who has been befuddled by all of the nonsense on the internets about UFOs.

All anyone has to do to understand the truth about UFOs is to watch 'UFOS are REAL', a documentary by Brandon Chase...or should I say THE documentary, since it is th best one ever made.

That documentary makes it clear beyond all doubt that UFOs are real, that they are the spacecraft of extraterrestrials (at least the ones we are interested in) and that this fact is actually known about and conceeded by the best scientists on earth and has been for decades.

Its a great pity that this film is not more widely known about.

You might also want to read the COMETA report, which was widely published in France. It is a shocking report, made by ex members of the French Government.

USpace said...

Great piece, well done, it's in and you're linked, thanks!

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
there are no UFOs...

Earth is the only planet
that has life worth anything

Bill Cooper said...

Hi Rick

If you get the chance read 'Extraordinary Public Delusions and the Madness of Crowds' by Charle Mackay. It's an old book but is relevant in this age of 'global warming' anf UFO's. The witch manias are a good example. many people swore (not under duress) that they were wiches and attended sabbaths etc and they probably believed it. The mood at the time was in favour of the belief in witches and witchcraft. The reason that UFOs are no longer in the news much is that new manias have taken their place, global warming is a big one but there are a few others out there as well. The ufoligists should not get too worried though, the witch manias waxed and waned for many years before they died. The ufo craze will probably resurge.

John Rudkin said...

Hello again, Rick.
Anyone interested in this topic must please see Michael Swords informative and entertaining piece in the current issue of the Journal of Scientific Exploration (Volume 20, Number4) pages 545 to 589).
John Rudkin

Rick Darby said...

Hey, John, good to hear from you! And thanks for the heads-up on the article. I will look it up.

Provident 360 said...

In my opinion, UFOs in the Bible are angles and are referred to as a cloud, fire, star, etc.

BJ said...

Hey - since you're into UFOs, have you seen this Roswell video?
I thought it was fake until I watched Part 2. What do you think?