“If you look for the saucers deep within yourself, that is where you will find them.”
In the first 60 years of looking at UFOs and many thousands of reports, we have not moved any closer to a provable theory of their origin. It appears that the goal of most UFO researchers and advocates at present is to make more people take the subject seriously, or at least consider that UFOs are not just the product of misidentifications, hoaxes, or hysteria. The problem is that most UFO enthusiasts seem to want to answer critics by using an idea (aliens from other planets) that doesn’t adhere to our classic standards for proof. The argument is at cross-purposes. The experience is not available on demand, nor is it amenable to normal scientific scrutiny. There is also the existential issue of a supposed extra-human intelligence and if it is connected to the phenomenon or even within our realm of comprehension.
For decades, the pursuit of so-called “respectability” and the nagging idea that the “perfect case,” well-documented by video, radar returns, and physical traces will convince doubters has been the holy grail of UFO study. There is already enough evidence in this regard and it has not made much difference to those whom the researcher hopes to impress. Perhaps a quest for a deeper and wider understanding of relevant and previously overlooked issues and their implications is what is called for at this time, and not the need to be believed or accepted.
The late UFO theorist Bruce Duensing wrote that there is really no apparent reason for non-humans to be visiting us, at least not in any way that makes rational sense, and that there may be an intention on the part of supposed “aliens” of presenting images and feelings that are specifically designed to be inscrutable to us. In this scenario, the option to choose our own meaning and intent may be forced on us for some unknown purpose. Is some intelligence communicating with us by holding up a mirror whenever we try to look too closely? If we subtract our own innate bias, cultural cueing, and psychology from the history of UFO reports, what is left? How much of the experience comes from the observer? The answer could range from “None at all” to “Everything.” There are many places where a UFO sighting (or any extraordinary experience) could fall on this spectrum.
The existence of an extra-human consciousness is assumed to be a possibility for the purposes of this discussion. We will also work from the premise that at least some reported interaction with apparent non-humans are genuine attempts at describing what witnesses have seen, and are not misidentifications, hallucinations, or hoaxes, although there is a case to be made for the blurring of these lines.
In 2008, I suggested a thought experiment that considered anomalistic encounters with supposed unknowns as a radical form of art which forces the viewer or witness to experience “art” that engages not only their senses, but, more importantly, their inner life. What if a hypothetical artist was so talented that the viewer’s life was changed deeply and permanently? What if this change was so insidious that even the artist didn’t consciously intend it and the effects varied with the individual, based on the witness’ culture, psychology, upbringing, genetics, etc.? This artist would become famous not for what they were trying to communicate in their work, but for what was pulled out of each person’s individual makeup as a result of the experience. This may be what is happening during UFO close encounters. There is a massive backlog of apparent craft and beings seen, as well as a wide spectrum of individual reactions. This suggests either that countless types of strange entities are visiting us, or that the brain has some kind of creative control over what is experienced.
In 1952, Albert K. Bender convened the International Flying Saucer Bureau, which was one of the first civilian UFO research groups. In the premiere issue of his house newsletter, Space Review, Bender asked for members’ theories about the origin of the UFOs. Every last one of them stated something to the effect of, “I think the saucers come from other planets.” UFO research has been saddled with this idea ever since. With the background of fantasy and science-fiction and other cultural precedents, this is not surprising. As early as 1732, Voltaire’s fictional story Micromégas described ETs from Saturn as well as a planet orbiting the star Sirius, and pulp fiction of the early 20th century was rife with evil aliens. Even early U.S. government studies like Project Sign’s classified Estimate of the Situation in 1948 supposedly touted an interplanetary origin.
We labor under this heavy legacy, but it does not have to be so. A conscious effort should be made not to assign any origin or meaning to these encounters, because we may have been fooling ourselves for so long about what they are that we have backed ourselves into a corner. Although routinely ignored by the majority of researchers and other interested parties, the fields of psychology, physiology, and even the emerging discipline of information theory should be vitally important to anyone who is interested in the subject.
For most of the modern era, the majority of UFO investigators believed that the main objective in interviewing a witness was to shore up the idea of aliens visiting us from other planets. The easy tunnel vision we have built up for ourselves over the decades seemingly ignores the witness in the equation. Many other issues may be very important: What was the UFO percipient doing in the months, days, or hours leading up to the encounter? What happened afterwards? Did the percipient’s life change in any way? Did their beliefs and outlook change as a result? These issues and others are only sporadically recorded in the literature, but may actually be far more important than what is supposedly an effort at a statistical or “scientific” documentation and any answers that may be derived.
The terms of the search may need to be changed. If we are looking for an “answer” to the enigma, this assumes that there is an easy or understandable one waiting in the wings for just the right researcher who gets lucky or is amazingly smart. Perhaps the process should be referred to as a quest for understanding rather than any search for a specific truth. This may serve to keep the question open, and direct thought processes and models. The search may be aided by mimicking the obliqueness of its subject.
To this end, perhaps large UFO groups should be disbanded in favor of smaller, autonomous groups with a narrow research focus. Or, the big organizations should concentrate on collecting and cataloguing data rather than pushing a specific theory or becoming the subjects of breathless reality shows. “Mainstream” abduction study may also benefit from a hiatus of 5 to 10 years in favor of small support groups, and then resumed with no assumptions and no use of hypnosis and see what transpires. The suggestion here is that since we haven’t really gotten anywhere with anything that can be proven to the greater public and, more importantly, the arbiters of popular reality, such as the media and academia, then, perhaps, different methods and ideas could be more fruitful. No one should fear what could be learned. A serious shift in focus and methodology could change many ideas completely, and that would be a good thing. The answer is encoded in the question.
The phenomenon has not proven to be anything that can be reconciled by our current standards of proof. Therefore, UFO researchers and enthusiasts would best be served by making no firm judgments on any of the data—at least on its existential origins. The Greek philosophy of Pyrrhonism is a good model of inquiry in this regard:
“Nothing can be known, not even this.” Pyrrhonian skeptics withhold assent with regard to non-evident propositions and remain in a state of perpetual inquiry. For example, Pyrrhonians might assert that a lack of proof cannot constitute disproof, and that a lack of belief is vastly different from a state of active disbelief… Pyrrhonians recognize that we cannot be certain that new evidence won’t turn up in the future, and so they intentionally remain tentative and continue their inquiry. Pyrrhonians also question accepted knowledge, and view dogmatism as a disease of the mind.
This method prevents the investigator and researcher from falling into the trap of a belief system from which there is a need to entrench and defend opinions since, seemingly, any viewpoint on this weird subject does not cover all the bases.
An example of a sane attitude towards UFO study can probably be summed up as something like “total interest combined with complete agnosticism.” Investigators should listen and log everything that that seems interesting and relevant, but try to make no value judgments on them. Keep notes and store the information away for later when it may make more sense or significant connections can be made. The first step is to formulate new questions, rather than to work backwards from an answer. In this regard, the most information-rich reports seem to occur when the phenomenon is closer to the percipient.
The close encounter witness is at first blindsided by something for which he or she has no previous framework, and which the mind tries furiously to stuff into a mental “filing box” during and soon after the event. Later, the aftermath of trying to find some sort of context and meaning is readily available in literature, popular culture, the internet, and from UFO researchers, who are, for the most part, notoriously wedded to an extraterrestrial explanation.
What many fail to realize is that most UFO witnesses have had an experience for which they have no benchmark. They are thrown into an alternative reality where something that they ignored, or perhaps even derided, has been forcefully presented to them. Descriptions of colors, speeds, distances, time frames, “what the aliens looked like” and similar concerns are no longer important, or may even become meaningless from their point of view.
In his 1991 book, Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination, Keith Thompson described a dilemma of which few took heed at the time:
Many UFO witnesses emerge from their sighting experience or close encounter with a surrealistic appreciation that the world is filled with enormous vistas and abysses. It is as if they have glimpsed the edge of reality so precisely defined by the surrealists, and now can never go back to the mechanistic Newtonian world absent of depth, beauty, significance, and soul. In contrast, both extremes of the UFO debate—proponents and debunkers—seem committed to forcing witness interpretations into narrow boxes that witnesses themselves tend to see as inadequate. This is surely one of the richer ironies of the UFO epic.
Witnesses may not be prepared to give the investigator what they are looking for, and, in fact, the two parties may often be talking about very different things. The witness’ desire to make sense of their experience moves him or her inexorably closer to any seemingly rational explanation.
Throughout the history of the subject, UFO enthusiasts and researchers have been concentrating on gathering information from witnesses based on presumably unbiased observations of their encounters. It is an established fact that recall of even mundane experiences and witnessed events can vary widely. Over time, memory becomes hazier and the mind tends to fill in details that are either incomplete or that flatter our prejudices or those of the listener or audience. The instrument for recording these encounters is not radar or a video camera: it is the human brain and nervous system, which are notoriously imprecise things.
People who study UFOs are, for the most part, not interested in the murky and complicated issues of human perception and memory. Perhaps what should be called into question is not just the origin of sightings and abductions (which may or may not be connected) but the very way we look at things; how our brains and nervous systems process input and remember events, and how traumatic events and memory affect what was seen and how we recall events after the fact. If we can pick apart these issues as they relate to UFO sightings and close encounters, we may not only gain some level of interest from intelligent people from outside the field, we might also make a breakthrough in understanding, which is far more important.
The idea of an extra-human consciousness is such an enigma that perhaps the key (or one of them) starts with us, sort of like the dog who looks at your finger rather than what you are pointing at. We may be looking at the effect rather than the cause, and the cause may be wrapped up in our visual and nervous systems. A thorough and up-to-date understanding of these issues might give the researcher a way to get at the cause of sightings and encounters rather than the perceptual packaging that surrounds them. In this regard, close encounters (in J. Allen Hynek’s definition of a sighting within 500 feet or less) have the potential to be much more profound than sightings of distant objects, and where far more things seem to be happening between the witness and the witnessed. In fact, the outlier cases may be more accurate precisely because they do not fit a pattern that we expect.
Basic questions like “What causes UFO sightings?” and perhaps on an even deeper level, “What do the weirder cases tell us about the phenomenon?” should take center stage. The late abduction researcher Karla Turner said that, “the truth to me more likely is going to lie in the anomalous details.” The stranger cases may contain clues about the nature of the phenomenon and how we perceive it. This probably appears counterintuitive, since most researchers tend to throw out or ignore these reports, but the whole phenomenon can be looked at as counterintuitive, and, when things don’t fit a pattern, it should serve as a beacon for attention.
Some very strange and generally little known cases illustrate the variety of human experience with UFOs, and blur the line between the internalized experience and the external world. They suggest that the mind is far more creative than we expect when confronted by cognitively dissonant input. Here are just four among many similar examples that could be presented: Continued ...
“THE CO-CREATION HYPOTHESIS: THE OVERHAUL OF UFO RESEARCH by Greg Bishop” is an extract from his contribution to UFOs: Reframing the Debate edited by Robbie Graham.