Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Roswell and all that

Given that Reflecting Light has a fair number of posts under the "Paranormal" heading, it might seem odd that UFO phenomena have been almost completely neglected. (Here's the only exception.)

From time to time I have looked at UFO studies web sites, and on the whole it has been an unrewarding experience. You can find whole cosmologies -- I'm almost tempted to write ideologies -- about UFOs. Various species of aliens (grays, Pleiadeans, blues, oranges, etc.) are authoritatively described. There are disturbing accounts of an underground facility housing aliens where dreadful experiments are carried out on aliens, or humans, or both. Ultimately all a rational person can do is file this stuff under "Hmmmm." And, not surprisingly, adherents of various schools of ufology can be quite unkind about one another's alleged ignorance or misunderstanding.


Almost everyone in the field agrees about the importance, although not the facts or details, of the UFO said to have crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, on or about July 4, 1947. Here, if anywhere, we should be able to examine the evidence objectively.

Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt seem to have made a serious effort to do that in their book, The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell, which I read recently. It was published in 1994, and while there have been Roswell books since and doubtless will be many more, this is among the last to be based on interviews with people or close relatives of people involved with events immediately following the crash. By now the eyewitnesses have almost all left this life, so unless some new physical evidence turns up, this may be as close as we are going to get to knowing what happened.


The authors slightly alienated me (pun intended, as usual) by a sentence in their very first paragraph: " ... In New Mexico, where the population is still sparse, it is fortunate that there was anyone around to see what might be considered the major event of the last one thousand years." 

Even supposing, as the book tries to show, that a UFO crash occurred, debris was recovered, and alien bodies were found, I am slow to see why it should be considered the major event since the year 994. What is so important about life on, or from, other planets? We have still not finished finding all the species on earth. The possibility of extraterrestrial life is interesting, but is it more interesting than finding a living coelacanth, formerly thought to have exited the stage 65 million years ago?


If I have a somewhat negative attitude (or prejudice, if you prefer) toward UFO researchers, it is because of this notion that extraterrestrial life is a complete game changer. I suspect the great majority of ufologists are scientific meterialists. Based on such evidence, or speculation, as now exists there appears no reason to think that UFOs have any particular spiritual meaning. 

Life has evolved in different forms for different environments; we see that all around us on earth; what's the big deal if it happened on other planets as well? Even if some alien races have evolved spiritually beyond most humans (an idea for which there is little evidence), the human race has also produced men and women who have been highly evolved spiritually: the Buddha, Jesus, saints, mystics. Fewer people than ever today try to emulate them. Why would they do any better following teachers from another solar system?


Now I've gotten that out of the way, I can recommend Randle and Schmitt's book, with a few reservations. Their dedication is admirable. They spent five years or so conducting personal interviews with every available persona dramatis, in some cases several times. The authors went to great lengths to track down anyone who might be able to shed light on any aspect of the case. They persisted in an often frustrating document search as well.

Truth is written fairly clearly, but not too well edited; a lot of the testimony and proclaimed facts are repeated several times, although in different contexts. Even that has an upside, because it helps to understand who all the players were, and there were surprisingly many people involved in some aspect of the purported crash, recovery, and subsequent cover-up.


Unless Randle and Schmitt made up the witnesses' words (unlikely, and some of them were recorded) or the witnesses themselves were being economical with the truth, it's hard not to accept the crash and cover-up story at least in its broad outlines. (It's also chilling to read, according to several witnesses, that they and their families -- civilians -- were threatened by the army with being killed if they ever breathed a word of what they saw.) The book's tone is pleasingly straightforward, sticking to what the authors believe the evidence shows, without extravagant theorizing about the nature and purpose of the alien visitors.

It also perhaps enhances Randle and Schmitt's credibility that they consider the famous Majestic-12 documents to be a hoax.

No one source, or perhaps all sources put together, can tell us for sure what happened at Roswell. But for the curious, Truth is worth looking into.



Stogie said...

There are paranormal subjects that interest me greatly. UFO's are one of them, including some of the tales of alien abductions (the Barney and Betty Hill case, for example). I am neither a groupie-believer nor a skeptic, but I find a lot of these tales very compelling.

I will probably buy the book you mention and give it a read.

Rick Darby said...


Kevin Randle also has a Web site you might want to check out.

Van Wijk said...

John Keel was of the opinion that UFO's exist but that they are in all likelihood not of extraterrestrial origin. Keel associated UFO's with creatures and beings from human folklore, such as ghosts, demons, and cryptids. This argument has always made much more sense to me than aliens from Alpha Centauri. I don't think most UFOers appreciate just how arduous interplanetary space travel would be, to say nothing of intergalactic travel.

Even supposing, as the book tries to show, that a UFO crash occurred, debris was recovered, and alien bodies were found, I am slow to see why it should be considered the major event since the year 994.

I think aliens serve as a sort of God-replacement for a lot of UFOers, as I argued here.

The possibility of extraterrestrial life is interesting, but is it more interesting than finding a living coelacanth, formerly thought to have exited the stage 65 million years ago?

Excellent point. It's my understanding that the deepest parts of the ocean are still complete mysteries, due to the extreme pressure crushing any man-made probes. Likewise, we haven't even begun to explore the myriad geodes and caverns that lie beneath our feet.

Rick Darby said...

Van Wijk,

I'm not familiar with John Keel's work. His explanation, as you describe it, doesn't seem to me to satisfy the literally thousands of close-range sightings (not to mention abduction stories, about which I am agnostic) of very physical phenomena, and their effects that include burnt patches on the ground and disturbances of electrical equipment.

Keel's suggestion may account for some UFOs, and all serious researchers acknowledge that most sightings are of natural, albeit unusual, phenomena. But reducing them all to "folklore" is just too facile. It's like ascribing all hauntings and ghosts to a mental "stage carpenter," as G.N.M. Tyrrell tried to do.

I agree with you that many of the most naive UFO enthusiasts find in their beliefs a substitute, ersatz spirituality.

Van Wijk said...


I'm sure I didn't do Keel's views justice in my last statement. The heavily abridged version is that Keel doesn't doubt that these phenomenon exist, just that he doesn't see a direct, clear-cut relation to extraterrestrial space aliens. Do you see one?

I remember seeing Fire in the Sky as a teenager and being scared out of my wits. I had nightmares for a few weeks. I can definitely see why the ET movement has such a strong following. Aliens are enticing.

I always enjoy discussions about this topic. Please do keep these articles coming.

Rick Darby said...

Van Wijk,

No, I wouldn't say UFO phenomena establish a direct, clear-cut connection to extraterrestrials. However, in scientific investigation, including investigation of the paranormal, it's often necessary to weigh probabilities based on all the available data and make a tentative assessment of what explanation is most likely.

That is what psychical research has done concerning life after death. Nothing absolutely proves it, and it's hard to imagine what objective proof could be. (Individuals who have spoken with deceased loved ones through a medium often believe it's proven for them, but those who have not can still claim it's wishful thinking by the sitter or "cold reading" by the medium.)

But when you look at the body of evidence as a whole, survival seems more probable than alternative explanations, which are themselves often more far-fetched than the survival hypothesis.

UFOs and descriptions of ET contact can be intriguing, but what we learn about the deeper layers of the human mind and the nature of transpersonal reality via psychical research is a lot more important to me.

Stogie said...

Rick, "Fire in the Sky" is another tale that adds credence to extraterrestrial visitation. I had just left Arizona to move back to California when this event happened. The lie detector tests of several eye witnesses makes me think the event happened as described. That, and an earlier incident in Brazil involving a tractor driver seems to validate these alien abductions.

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