On November 17, 2012, the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP), held a summit in England to determine if ufology was a dead field. It was based on the notion that UFO sightings were in steep decline. Directly following the summit, Chairman of ASSAP, Dave Wood, told the UK Telegraph: “We look at these things on the balance of possibilities and this area of study has been ongoing for many decades. The lack of compelling evidence beyond the pure anecdotal suggests that on the balance of probabilities, nothing is out there. It is certainly a possibility that in ten years’ time, it will be a dead subject.”
These were sobering words, and they made international headlines. The true believers simply shrugged off Wood’s statement as nothing more than aggressive UFO debunkery, and perhaps rightfully so. Similar words had been spoken many times before. In an article for Saucers magazine, Max Miller stated:
... much of the enthusiasm over UFOs has vanished in recent years due to a lack of sightings and important developments. Also, the unimaginable quantity of material, almost wholly devoid of a new approach or even new data, has flooded the UFO field in recent years, and has done little more than to deluge a respectable subject with wholesale garbage.
The above quote by Miller was written in 1959, some five decades prior to the 2012 UK summit—essentially same discussion of the same issue separated by more than fifty years. As technology has evolved, anomalous objects in the sky have become increasingly identifiable. Year after year, the heartrate of ufology seems to weaken. Some would argue it’s already flatlined. But the phenomenon itself seems always to find a way to resuscitate the field.
In a paper titled, Ufology: Is There Life After Death?, researcher and author Jenny Randles states, “Eventually, something will spark humanity’s desire to know about these things, which any prolonged absence of wide public reporting will fuel.” This spark of interest has taken many forms throughout the history of ufology—a mass sighting of a boomerang craft over the skies of Phoenix, Arizona in 1997, for example, or a disc-shaped object piercing the clouds over Gate C-17 of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in 2006. More recently, the spark has come from the outer reaches of space with the discovery in 2016 of a habitable planet orbiting Earth’s closest star, Proxima Centauri. It is such events and discoveries that converge into a desire to learn more, and to know more about UFOs. Why, then, do some feel it necessary to hang a toe tag on ufology every time it hits a brick wall? We often fear that which we don’t understand, and, if the history of UFO study has taught us anything, it’s that we understand very little about these phenomena. Yet, even if we did, would we not fear that knowledge as well?
In 1818 England, at the age of twenty, Mary Shelley brought her now iconic monster to literary life. It wouldn’t be until 1823 that her name would appear on the second edition in France. The novel, Frankenstein, is arguably one of the first examples of science fiction; the protagonist, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, making a decision to create life using science, alchemy, and technology. He achieves this divine goal with results both fantastic and terrifying. The manifestation is the monster we’ve grown to fear and love.
So how, exactly, does this brilliantly grotesque story relate to ufology? We can start with a sharp distinction between Shelley’s original novel and the classic 1931 film directed by James Whale. Near the beginning of the film, Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant breaks into a university to steal a brain for his master’s experiment. He swipes a jar marked “normal brain” but is startled by a noise. This causes him to drop the jar, damaging the brain and rendering it useless. He then takes a second jar, labeled “abnormal brain.” This would subsequently be implanted into the monster with disastrous results. Interestingly, this entire scene had no part in the original novel. Regardless, in the film version, the monster’s consciousness was explored and the primitive creature found itself aware of its reality, causing it to lash out in a frenzy of emotions it could neither process nor control. Had the monster any understanding of who or what it was, perhaps the story would have unfolded differently. Or perhaps not. But the role of consciousness in the film narrative was not just valuable, it was essential. For me, this brings to mind ufology. We can look at the blood of the monster—seek to study its physical matter—or we can seek to understand its consciousness. To do this, we might start by turning the microscope on ourselves to understand better how our own consciousness (individual and collective) interacts with phenomenal stimuli.
Reality, in its simplest of definitions, is the quality or state of being actual or true. However, when we look at the definitions of actual and true, we find both words defined as: consistent with reality. The definitions not only contradict one another, they circle around in a whirlpool of unverifiable factors. Therefore, we find ourselves relying on something a bit more cerebral. In addition to taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing, we have a sense of awareness. We are aware of a reality, which we’ve believed into existence. This theme was explored by the late Jim Keith, co-author of The Octopus, and publisher of various alternative magazines. In November of 1995, Keith gave a talk in Atlanta, Georgia, where he went into a deep deconstruction of reality through the lens of human perception. In a published 1997 version of his talk in Paranoia Magazine, titled UFOs at the Edge of Reality, Keith stated:
Awareness is potentially a creator, and it can create freedoms and it can create limitations. The fact that ten people or a thousand people believe the same thing, does not render said thing any more real in an absolute sense. But it does point out the structural underpinning of the determinant of this illusion called reality. What people believe deep down is what they consider reality.
Can we then extrapolate that the existence of UFO phenomena rests solely on our belief in them? Jim Keith noted:
I think that their existence challenges the tightly-formulated definitions of reality and imagination, and points up the limitations of those definitions. It seems to me that UFOs sometimes happily cross these lines of demarcation, and defy the definitions. The way they do this gives us some clues to the something else, to the nature of reality, what is real and what is possible, in terms of the understanding and potential expansion of awareness.5
This expansion of awareness needs also to be explored. Even to scratch the surface of the UFO enigma, we must move past the mentality that we are dealing purely with nuts and bolts, past the notion that the key to the UFO phenomenon lies in physical analysis. Jacques Vallée once stated that “Human beings are under the control of a strange force that bends them in absurd ways, forcing them to play a role in a bizarre game of deception.” Could this deception relate to human perception? The mind has perceptual limits—a filtering mechanism that, based on our awareness, shows us only what we can process in a manageable format. It works under restraints that have been carefully constructed throughout an individual’s life and throughout the long history of our species. Are those who witness UFOs breaking those perceptual restraints?
Awareness and perception are the heart of reality. We perceive things on a scale of either filtering that which we see, or widening our scope to accommodate more. When the scope is broadened, we are aware of our newly-enhanced perception, thus altering our former perception of reality. We have, in essence, created a new reality for ourselves. This could be the very reason the UFO phenomenon exists in the first place. Could it be possible that we have created a phenomenon that stretches the limits of our perceptual reality? It may be that our established modes of logic limit us so greatly that we can’t fully comprehend the monster we created. We must ultimately face the fact that, at some point, the awareness of that monster is going to shape and mold our consciousness completely, moving forward.
In a 2014 article titled Consciousness Inside-Out, science writer and anthropologist Eric Wargo states:
We are at a crux in our science and our culture when a new model is desperately needed to think about the relationship between consciousness and material reality. Much as I’m sympathetic with those who privilege consciousness against materialistic reductionism, I think a more nuanced and non-hierarchical relationship between mind and matter must be possible.
The majority of witnesses I’ve spoken with, who’ve encountered UFOs, have described feeling as though their reality was somehow altered in the moment. Time seems to slow down, and the air around them seems different. Their senses seem either to heighten or to disappear altogether. It is as if their perception is fundamentally challenged and they are left with only a hazy memory of what they’d actually seen, having no meaningful frame of reference in which to place it. Whether or not this is partly due to whatever is in control of the UFO is speculative. It could very well be the tuner or limitation of the current awareness and perception of the individual. And, as Wargo points out above, we are left wondering if the materialistic make-up of the UFO is actually there in front of us to feel, smell, and hear, or if it is something “bending,” as Vallée puts it, into a contorted reality. While many UFO researchers argue that the question is no longer if UFOs exist, I argue that this still is in question. It’s a matter of how one views existence. Wargo goes on to say:
The word ‘exist’ comes from the Greek eksistere, ‘to stand forth.’ As mystics from time immemorial have insisted, the material world is a manifestation of consciousness—the self-world continuum experienced passively, as observed, rather than actively, as observing. These two aspects pass from one to the other at certain mysterious boundaries—in dreams, at death, and in paranormal phenomena (such as UFOs) that turn our outside into an inside (or vice versa) without our quite being aware how we made the passage.
This passage between established and newfound realities is where UFOs seem to float, hover, zip, coast, appear and disappear in and out of ambiguity. But even more interesting is the theory that that UFOs, as physical objects we perceive, have been created and manifested through our own pre-existing awareness of the UFO phenomenon to begin with. We believe that UFOs are coming to us under their own volition. But what if we were subconscious initiators, pulling UFOs in? This could explain why, even in the case of a mass sighting, individuals see the same object slightly different from one another, their previous awareness shaping and molding the object from their own set of reduction valves and evolving perception. Continued ...
“FRANKENSTEIN & FLYING SAUCERS by Ryan Sprague” is an extract from his contribution to UFOs: Reframing the Debate edited by Robbie Graham.