In August 2010, I was contacted by an Aboriginal family who live near the Bruce Peninsula at Cape Croker, Ontario. Some members of their extended family had been invited to visit and camp out in their yard so that they could all attend the community’s annual Pow Wow together. It was late in the evening when the UFO incident occurred. Five of the family members had gathered around a bonfire to talk, catch up, and enjoy the star-filled sky. The witness stated, “We first noticed what we thought was a satellite and then it started to move strangely. It started getting bigger and bigger by the second. It looked like a star at first, it was that high up.
Then we all heard strange voices inside and outside of our heads that said, ‘look up.’”
The family encountered a large inexplicable ball of light that seemingly descended from some distant point in the night sky. When asked to guess the duration of the experience, one of the witnesses remarked, “I do not know how long it was there, but it lit up my sister’s entire yard, and we could see the forest as if it was daylight. It made no sound and I almost feel like I lost some time. I don’t know what it could have been?”
All family members present that night were willing to discuss what happened with me, all acknowledged hearing an external voice urging them to look at the UFO, and all of them felt in some way profoundly affected by their UFO encounter. This is one example from dozens of cases, which I have personally investigated in the Canadian province of Ontario, that demonstrates a certain degree of what is known in UFO studies as ‘high strangeness.’ The term is a catch-all for the often absurd and paranormal features of UFO encounters.
In his ground-breaking book, The Hyperspace of Consciousness, astrophysicist and UFO scholar Massimo Teodorani describes the importance of such reports, and the need to study them in a meaningful way:
In reality, the witnessed cases gravitating around such light phenomena are even more intriguing than the phenomenology deduced by scientific investigation described so far. Many persons claim to feel suddenly attracted by such lights. Some even induced into telepathic contact by the light balls themselves. Of course, there are no scientific demonstrations yet of such claims, but certainly the witness statistics of such happenings is quite rich and valuable, especially when people reporting these facts are reserved and divulge their experiences privately. I have been meeting personally with such people wherever these phenomena occur.
Telepathy, disembodied voices, and other psychic experiences have been scientifically explored for more than a century via psychical research and parapsychology.
This essay will argue that high strangeness UFO reports that include various types of psychic phenomena may be the key to a greater understanding of the UFO enigma, or, at the very least, trigger more meaningful questions in our ongoing efforts to understand it.
I am not attempting to reinvent the wheel here. These ideas have been explored, previously, most famously by psychoanalyst and father of Depth Psychology, Carl Jung—the first to examine UFOs seriously as a paranormal event. In his 1958 book, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth, Jung looked at UFO cases through the lens of social psychology, and he suggested they were the result of shared mental images triggered by social anxieties.
The foundation for paranormal-based hypotheses for UFO encounters was well laid many decades ago by some of the greatest minds who took the time to investigate it. This was informatively discussed by scientists such as Drs. J Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallée in the 1970s. Moving onwards, beginning in the late-1980s, ufology took a free-fall off an intellectual cliff and landed where it is splayed today—in a mess of Disclosure and conspiracy theories, and characterized by a lack of neutrality.
I will here attempt to show the value of the parapsychological hypothesis as an approach to UFO case studies despite its being neglected or swept under the rug by most ufologists. By ignoring the paranormal in UFO cases, we have been left with little more than incomplete and unsatisfying attempts at explanations.
Pop Culture Succeeds Where Ufology Has Failed
One of the greater problems I see within modern UFO circles is the outright dismissal of high strangeness reports by investigators who subscribe to the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) as the default explanation for cases that challenge conventional science. Terms like “woo woo” to describe witnesses are freely thrown about in online UFO forums and social media, including by those UFO researchers who proclaim to take a more scientific or neutral look at UFO events.
While I can appreciate and respect a “nuts and bolts” approach to the phenomenon, the one clearly tangible vehicle central to any UFO story is the human witness. To ignore certain aspects of the experience, that are described as “paranormal” by the people who witness them, is an act of folly. It is the paranormal, or, in my view, exceptional human features of these experiences where parapsychology can play a strong role. What I am referring to here are things such as telepathy, or ESP, synchronicity, and the apparition-like appearances and behavior of the “aliens” that are sometimes reported along with the UFO experience or sighting of what appears to the witness to be an alien craft or spaceship. This is high strangeness.
The general public is actually far better acquainted with cases of high strangeness or paranormal UFO encounters through pop-culture than it is through the efforts of UFO study groups or investigative organizations. It is cinema, in particular, that has given us a greater appreciation of this experience.
From my own perspective as a UFO researcher, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is the seminal cinematic work for the portrayal of some of the more unusual aspects of the UFO phenomenon. Much like the witnesses I interviewed in 2010, who felt compelled to look at the UFO by disembodied voices, characters in Spielberg’s film also felt an unusual compulsion to look for the UFOs that was coupled with paranormal or psychic phenomena. In this respect, the film gives us a much richer appreciation and understanding of the UFO experience, and of its impact on the lives of the witnesses, than does much of what is being offered to us today in the way of nonfiction UFO books. Most of the current popular UFO literature offers us little to no meaningful analysis of cases or innovative ideas towards attempting to resolve the mystery.
Commentary within UFO websites and forums is not much better. Online UFO discussions, when not just an echo chamber for the prevailing viewpoint of the online post’s creator, often descend into heated and circular arguments. These do not engage anyone beyond those who might enjoy watching virtual shouting matches.
I have, occasionally, participated in UFO study discussions through social media, and the wide-held and incorrect assumption is that if you do not agree that UFOs are spaceships, then you must not believe they exist at all—a prevalent view among the ETH crowd. Their belief that UFOs must be the result of aliens is as firmly entrenched as any religious fundamentalist faith. It is all rather disappointing.
High Strangeness and the Scientist
Spielberg’s Close Encounters was strongly influenced by the research of the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who was a scientific advisor to the study of Unidentified Flying Objects that was conducted by the United States Air Force and named Project Blue Book.
It is to Dr. Hynek that we can attribute the term “high strangeness,” which he coined in a technical paper he presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in December 1969. Almost a decade later, he addressed the United Nations on the subject of UFOs, describing them as:
... a global phenomenon… so strange and foreign to our daily terrestrial mode of thought… it carries with it many implications of the existence of intelligences other than our own ... [It] bespeaks the action of some form of intelligence… but whence this intelligence springs, whether it is truly extra-terrestrial, or bespeaks a higher reality not yet recognized by science, or even if it be in some way or another a strange psychic manifestation of our own intelligence, is much the question.
Considering these remarks, it is of no surprise that paranormal or psychic events were included in Spielberg’s film, for which Hynek served as a technical advisor on the UFO phenomenon.
Poltergeist phenomena, electrical disturbances, telepathy, synchronicity, and other paranormal occurrences are experienced by multiple characters across parallel storylines in the film, all of which converge at the meeting point with an otherworldly intelligence.
Popular Ufology Needs Shaking Up
Forty years have passed since Hynek delivered his speech to the U.N. and Spielberg released his classic UFO film. A handful of researchers, most notably J. Allen Hynek, Jacques Vallée, Jenny Randles, and John Keel, continued to examine the paranormal within UFO reports, but their ideas have been continually drowned out in favor of the ETH, conspiracy theories, and the Disclosure movement.
Currently, the testimonies of UFO witnesses that describe corresponding high-strange and paranormal events are often either ignored or met with ridicule from ufologists who would rather not deal with the more bizarre aspects of UFO reports, and by the professional skeptic organizations who are openly hostile to anything other than the Null hypothesis, i.e.: it’s all just swamp gas and Venus.
This, in my opinion, is a big mistake.
Dr. Hynek’s friend and colleague, Jacque Vallée, who, incidentally, was the inspiration for the French scientist in Spielberg’s film (played by Francois Truffaut), has noted this error on the part of UFO investigators by stating:
UFOlogists have consistently ignored or minimized reports of seemingly absurd behaviors that contradict the ETH by selectively extracting data that best fits their agenda or version of the theory. Thus, the ETH—just like the skeptical argument—is based on anthropocentric self-selection.
By cherry-picking reports and ignoring or being unsympathetic towards cases of high strangeness, researchers are losing valuable pieces of information and data that could work towards a greater understanding of the experience as a whole.
UFOs: Physical and Psychic
UFOs, much like ghosts and other similar manifestations, are elusive. The late anomalies scholar Hilary Evans noted this within his comparative study of entity cases. UFO pilots, religious visions, and ghostly visitors have much in common in terms of how they appear, the circumstances in which they are experienced, and the overall effects they have on their witnesses.
UFOs are occasionally measurable via radar signatures or leave physical traces. The idea that they are at least partially psychic has therefore been loudly denounced by the mainstream UFO crowd. This is a false assumption because the same state of being physical and psychic has also been noted in experiences perceived as ghosts of the dead, visions of the Holy Mother, and more complex paranormal manifestations such as the poltergeist. Like UFOs, these phenomena also occasionally produce physically measurable effects. These have been documented within the literature of scientific parapsychology.
In 1952, a twelve-year-old girl who was living with her family in Port Dalhousie, Ontario, was woken up in the middle of the night by an odd humming noise. She got out of her bed with a strong compulsion to go to the window. Looking out, she saw a sky filled with strange lights and disc-shaped UFOs. Continued ...
“UFOS AS A PARAPSYCHOLOGICAL EVENT by Susan Demeter-St. Clair” is an extract from her contribution to UFOs: Reframing the Debate edited by Robbie Graham.