From MUFOB New Series 7, Summer 1977
In order to define the limits ufology has now reached I put forward the following propositions:
• We must recognise that a crisis exists in the subject, and that attempts to define it in terms of a classical world view have failed.
• One of the central features of this crisis is the conservatism of the ‘scientific ufologists’ By tradition the ranks of the ‘sensible’ ufologists have been filled largely by technologists and engineers, or by laymen sharing their world view. This is the nuts-and-bolts world view of classical physics, not that of contemporary physics. (One cannot but note that this classical view dominates school physics. Is this a cause of the fall in interest in science among students?) Many of the ideas readily condemned by scientific ufologists are easily discussed by the philosphers of contemporary physics. (1)
• Ufologists in general are ignorant of parapsychology, which they confuse with spiritualism and occultism, a term so vague as to be devoid of meaning. For an example of this ignorance see the farcical ‘booklist’ in the BUFORA Investigator’s Manual.
• Once realising that parapsychology is not a set doctrine, we can assert, as John Keel contends, that UFO research “rightfully belongs to psychical research”, because only within parapsychology can one see the interdisciplinary platform needed. It is there that the physicists, psychologists, philosophers, anthropologists and sociologists are meeting. It is here that the new world views are being discussed, combined and debated.
• We are suffering not so much from a lack of theories but, on the one hand from a great number of potential theoretical models which could be applied to the UFO problem, and on the other from a basic unwillingness by UFO researchers to apply such concepts to the subject.
• The domination of the Extramundane Intelligence type of hypothesis (which often fails to define what it means by ‘intelligence’) is a major drawback to progress within the field. Such hypotheses taken literally tend to become cumbersome and virtually un-testable. They tend to alienate scholarly opinion away from the subject, and divert attention away from more profitable, percipient oriented approaches.• We must acknowledge that our culture contains certain in-built blockages to discussion. Out world-view is very much conditioned by what the psychologist Liam Hudson has termed the “Cult of the Fact” with its worship of the concrete, and an accompanying denigration of the creative aspects of the psychic. Therefore we find that in our culture to say that a UFO experience is a dream evokes powerful hostility. To say “he dreamt it” is regarded as implying that the experience is valueless. Yet in many other cultures that would be a high accolade. Within the ‘common sense’ view of our culture, dream experiences are of no validity, yet in many tribal societies they are more valid and meaning-ful than those of so-called daylight reality. Again our friendly positivist ufologists is quick to dismiss the experiences of Miss Z (2) or Mr L (3) because they occurred in hypnogogic states. Yet it is in such states that the inspiration of many writers, artists and composers has come. Richard Bach ‘saw’ the story of his mystical novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull in a hypnogogic vision (4). William Blake received the inspiration for his art in a like manner.
• An even more deeply ingrained belief system is that there must be one single, unique answer universally valid for all. Perhaps this is not true. Let me emphasise that I am not just repeating the truism that UFO experiences are generated my a multiplicity of stimuli, but that there may not be one true answer in any given case; and that the question “Is there a UFO phenomenon?” may not have a yes/no answer.
Let us now try to find out what we are really studying. For a start, what we read in books and magazines and in our own INTCAT are stories, which we might call UFO Records. All documents, unless directly written or spoken by the alleged percipients, constitute UFO records (5). Those stories actually spoken or written by the percipient constitute the actual UFO Reports. These are still stories. We are certain that UFO records exists because we can actually read them. Similarly one can inspect letters or recordings of the UFO experients telling their stories, so we know that UFO reports also exist. We can feel that it is very probable that at least some of these records and reports indicate that people are having UFO Experiences, but short of having such an experience oneself we cannot actually prove it. However it would be extremely unlikely that for instance the several million Americans who, according to Gallup Polls claim to have had UFO experiences, might not have done so. Before totally rejecting such an idea one might note that while there are plenty of records, and indeed some reports of the ‘phantom hitch-hiker’, one entertains doubts as to whether any anyone has ever really had a phantom hitch-hiker experience. (No doubt several of our readers will now tell us they have had such an experience!)
However, we will bet on the overwhelming probability that people do have UFO experiences. Now the only reasonable experience of a UFO experience is an experience that people think is an UFO experience (This apparent tautology is debated and justified in Dr. Westrum’s paper Knowing about UFOs in MUFOB, new series 5, Page 4.). The fact that in very many of these cases we are able to say with some certainty just what the original stimulus was that induced the experience, does not of necessity render the experience meaningless or worthless. The belief that once one has identified to one’s own satisfaction the stimulus that has given rise to a particular UFO experience, then the matter is at an end and the account may be put in a waste paper basket is very mistaken indeed. On the contrary, a study of such cases may be of great value in determining why a given stimulus should induce UFO experiences in one person and not an other.
At this point we should consider what the classical ufologists consider to be the vital question. Are at least some of the high strangeness UFO experiences stimulated by some novel phenomenon? Here there are no clear answers. Indeed, our normal yes/no dichotomy may not apply at all.
A very useful way to whether such a phenomenon exists or not might be to determine if it can leave any physical effects after the termination of the experience itself. In fact only two such effects have been reported to any extent, photographs and traces, mainly holes in the ground. (Some supposed UFO ‘artefacts’ exist, and Jerry Clark has reminded me of Joe Simonton’s pancakes. Are these really ‘other’ or are they mundane objects which the UFO experience has invested with a numinous quality?) The photographic evidence for the UFO phenomenon is not very impressive at all, and as the number of ‘absolutely genuine’ UFO photographs which turn out to be hoaxes increases from year to year, the reliability of this material as evidence for something ‘other’ becomes weaker.
The landing traces fall into a rather different category, for they remain crucially ambiguous and always capable of a variety of interpretations. For example, does a novel physical phenomenon create landing traces and induce UFO experiences, or were the traces already there and only given significance by the UFO experience? Or again, can the witness create the traces himself, ‘fake them’ in a dissociated state in order to concretize an experience or enact it into ‘our’ reality? The number of possible interpretations is legion, but always tantalizing.
Such ambiguity is typical of parapsychology where the one ‘foolproof experiment never arrives, and where the very notion of the repeat-able experiment seems out of place. Nor are such odd effects confined to parapsychology – compare with apports, alleged materialisations, etc., and the various ambiguous traces supposedly left by mystery animals. There are a number of anomalous effects in both physics and chemistry, where non-repeatable results seem to have occurred. One recent example is the search for the ultra-heavy elements, where similar kinds of always-ambiguous evidence turns up (6).
However, if we are dealing with an ‘other’ or not, we can make some general comments about the UFO experience.
It is ambiguous. It does not seem to be amenable to reductive study. Just at the moment that the Great Solution seems at hand new experience to the contrary turns up. This is Harney’s ‘Rainbow Effect’ or ‘Guerin’s Law’. In some way also the collectivity of UFO records and reports, and also perhaps experiences, seems to posses properties that the individual items do not, like a mirage that dissolves when one approaches too close but reappears when one steps back. UFO researchers have used the analogy of radio, searching for a discrete signal in a welter of meaningless noise. I suspect they will find we are dealing with ‘meaningful noise’, a structured noise, whose structure is uncaused. Perhaps another analogy is the transfer of information without energy exchange, the presumed mechanism of ESP – note the statistical nature of many ESP experiments.
Perhaps a concrete example will give a suggestion of what such an idea could mean. Recent studies (7) of the great 1954 French wave are showing that many of the records of that period were fake, and that some of the reports were hoaxes. Suppose then that every one of the cases on the BAVIC line (left) turned out to be a hoax or newspaper invention, yet calculate as we may, BAVIC cannot be exorcised.
Two of the best known ‘laws’ of ufology are the Law of Time and the Law of Population Density. Added together they suggest that one is much more likely to have a UFO experience at night in the country than at mid-day in a busy city street. A plausible interpretation of this is that the UFO experience is inversely correlated to the level of sensory input. This is significant, because apparitional and other metachoric experiences are generally assumed also to be inversely correlated to the level of sensory input. Apparitional experiences tend to occur to people in relaxed situation, whilst dreams are notoriously nocturnal!
What is the relationship between the ‘real’ UFO experience and the hoax? Let me suggest the following model. In the real experience the experient is ‘taken into’ Magonia from consensus reality, whereas the hoaxer ‘brings out’ from Magonia, enacting its reality into our world, by an artistic process like literature or drama. The evidence suggests that the inspiration for both ‘experience’ and ‘art’ is the same. The artist (whether culturally approved or not) seeks to ‘communalise his personal experience. The much derided hoax (e.g. Scoriton) may be quite seriously regarded as a true naive art form, through which the suppressed talents of the artist are given an expression. This culturally vetoed art can be as deep and as profound as any culturally legitimate art (8).
When we ask about the reality of the UFO experience the only reality we can sensibly talk about is that experienced by the percipient, and not whether this corresponds with some hypothetical ‘absolute reality’. This phenomenological approach is one by which we should recognise the validity of each individual’s experience as a thing in itself, rather than just as a means of discovering the nature of potential generators of such experiences. Our further axiom is that no experience, however absurd from our commonsense world view, is to be discarded and denuded of meaning.
Now I wish to comment on the ‘transmutation’ of certain UFO stories. The archetypal ‘contact’ story describes contacts with benevolent spacemen. Latterly we have contact with impersonal beings who regard man as a laboratory rat. From our viewpoint – that of UFO experience giving an insight into the human condition – we must seek to understand these stories in their historical and cultural context.
In the early stories the vision of the future is one in which humanity is in control of the machine. This is a basically humanistic and optimistic vision, a product of that naive optimism of the fifties. In these stories one can see echoes of the ‘liberal imperialist’ attitudes of pre-Vietnam America. This naivety perished in that war. We no longer believe in the saving power of technology. In the more modern stories technology is no longer liberating humanity but is essentially oppressive and a dehumanising force. We must recognise that we are presented with a vision not so much of the forces from Zeta Reticulli but of the sense of alienation from our own technological world. The fundamental phenomenological nature of the abduction experience is the sense of being seized by impersonal forces which reduce our humanity to nothing. The seizure becomes a metaphor for our sense of being abducted by our technological society (9). Thus we find ourselves in a situation to those in tribal societies who feel helpless before the natural world. Conversely the Space Brother mythology shows similar features to those tribal communities who feel at home in their environment.
Let us now consider some of the ufological mythologies and try to find what meaning can be discovered in their apparent absurdity.
I will first comment on what is superficially the most absurd yet most dynamic – the ‘UFO as Demon’ mythology (10). One possible impetus for this belief system is just that alienation from technology discussed above. We can translate ‘UFO as demon’ into ‘machine as demon’. The metaphor is necessary, for in the modern world even the most dedicated anti-materialist finds it hard to denounce his or her car or washing machine. However much we may deplore technology, we are unwilling to reject any particular part of it. However the UFO can become the ultimate essence of machine, machine per se. It is on this symbol that the scarcely formed fears and frustrations of the people can be projected. The artist has no such inhibitions, he can people his world with any number of truly demonic motorcars and man eating television sets.
Clearly these mythologies appeal not just to fears of technology. Technology itself becomes a metaphor for a whole spectrum of social change, and of loss of status of various groups within the community. These mythologies generate mass movements which offer total liberation from the terrors of alienated selfhood.
The UFO is a symbol of all that which is really damned and excluded in order to preserve the coherence of consensus reality and the integrity of the ego itself
Yet there is something much deeper her, for the UFO also symbolises the totally demonic. It is a symbol of all that which is really damned and excluded in order to preserve the coherence of the cultural universe of consensus reality and the integrity of the ego itself. As part of this ‘damned and excluded’ the UFO exists as a symbol on the horizons of our collective consciousness. It is the symbol of the Ultimate Outsider, the very hint of whom existence threatens our ontological security. Everything is at stakes precisely because the UFO symbolises, in this context, that which cannot be accommodated in any system whatever. Such an image must also serve as a symbol of the rejected and excluded aspects of our own personalities. (The various depth psychologists would argue that this represents a rejection of the unconscious. The situation must be more complex, as many of the ‘UFO as Demon’ adherents may surrender totally to the unconscious in a manner exactly similar to the spiritualists and the contactees, a standard shamanistic response.)
Such mythologies arise in contexts in which eschatological speculations are rife. Ira Progroff, (11) has argued that ‘end of the world’ fears are the major mythological force of our time. Such myths tend to occur in times of severe social dislocation. The eschatological vision occurs in a fair majority of other contemporary mythologies.
The ‘Ancient Astronauts’ is one such, which can be examined in some detail. When stripped of its modernistic imagery it proves to be a true recapitulation of more traditional forms. It can be summarised thus (12): in the ‘time before history’ mythological beings communed openly with mortals. As a result of some cosmic catastrophe, usually a violation of taboo by man or the beings, the contact was severed. In ‘history’ only certain individuals (shamans, contactees, Illuminati, etc.) can commune with the mythological beings. Within the context of the AA mythologies these beings are the ancestors. In this framework the notion of the return of the ancestors (or the mythic realm in general) has clear eschatological overtones. If the break between the sacred and the profane inaugurated ‘history’, then the ‘eternal return’ will end it. (E.g.. the Second Coming of Christ, The final incarnation of Vishnu etc.)
Two points seem appropriate. Firstly that this mythic origin of man contrasts with our rational knowledge of man; in exactly the same way certain societies argue that while children are factually born of their mothers, they are ‘really’ born of all Mother Earth.
Secondly, the attitude to technology shown through the Ancient Astronaut (AA) cults is interesting, Although there is a clear exaltation of technology it is worshiped as a sovereign power in its own right, rather than as a servant of humanity. The mythology of Dione (13) for example, is based on total surrender to technology, however capricious it becomes. Despite the mutual hostility shown by UFO as Demon and AA mythologies, they share many common features; a rejection of humanism, total self-surrender to a system, a reduction of mythology to literal history, as well as a marked hostility to evolutionary concepts and hence to man’s kinship with ‘the animal’. Above all a general statement of man’s existential helplessness. This is a fundamental sensation of the abduction experience.
The shamanic nature of the contact experience is increasingly evident. In this framework the ‘shaman’ enters the mythological realm, where he is given supernatural gifts. He is able to enact the events of the ‘dream-time’ into consensus reality, and can enter and leave that realm at will. The ordeals of shamanic initiation show features similar to those of some abduction experiences. Abductees talk of tests, examinations or even ‘ordeals’. In one case the abductee said that his heart was removed and replaced. This correlates closely with the shamanic initiation ritual in which the shaman’s entrails are ‘removed’ and ‘replaced’ with magic entrails. The contactee or abductee may often claim to possess new powers and some kind of expanded consciousness. Sometimes these powers can be collectively experienced. For example he may claim to be able to affect the physical environment, to possess ESP or some other wild talent, or to have become a healer or witch. These gifts are part of the repertoire of all shamanistic cults.
The contactee may project a more extrovert, prophetic role than the shaman-contactee. The archetypical shamanic UFO group could be that of James Cook of Runcorn, Cheshire. Cook’s experiences merge into a general mediumistic background and he currently runs small healing circles in the locality [In 1977, these subsequently closed and Cook moved away from the area]. The opposite pole is represented by Arthur Shuttlewood, whose movement is decidedly evangelistic in tone. As far as we know Shuttlewood does not lay claim to any ‘wild talents’ other than the discernment of UFOs. By that we might mean that a wide variety of stimuli induce UFO experiences.
The contactee ideology organises a reformist attitude toward technology. It warns of the dangers of a technology gone wild, yet offers hope that a ‘humanistic technology’ is the metaphor for salvation. The technological features of the contactee story are derived from the Wellsian vision. The decline of that belief reduces the mythic power of the contactee vision. The growing rumour of the ‘lying ufonaut’ reflects the lost power of the myth.
Let us take another example of the way UFO groups develop: Ray Stanford’s Project Starlight International. (14) An examination of this group shows that it is a western example of a cargo-cult. Stanford claims that the concept of his ‘UFO Detection laboratory’ was given him by the mythic beings who guide his destiny. Such a claim would be quite usual with Third World cargo-cults, where the cargo beings may appear to a visionary and order him to construct a surrogate airfield or other quasi-device in order to bring about the return of the mythological beings and the ‘rightful cargo’. The cargo-cult often argues that the white man has stolen the cargo from its rightful owners. The loss of cargo becomes symbolic of man’s alienation from a disintegrating world view.
The PSI cult is perhaps a syncretism of the cargo cult and the wide range of ‘cults of the engineer’ (Dianetics, Mankind United, etc.). PSI and its parent organisation, Association for the Understanding of Man (AUM – note the initials) contain shamanistic, eschatological and manipulative ideas.
I suppose the central question is still being avoided. Are UFO experiences ‘real’? The answer is surely ‘yes’ provided that we understand that their reality is not that of our western consensus. Lawrence le Shan (15) tells of the various modalities of reality. One is the Mythic Reality where the various mythological beings are as real as motorcars in normal sensory reality. The only factor unifying each modality is that each proclaims itself the only true reality, all others are illusion. Therefore we might see how UFOs, ghosts and boggarts may exist in the mythic reality but not in consensus reality. Believers and sceptics are both right. UFOs may ‘really be’ from outer space to Major Kehoe or may ‘really be’ illusions to Philip Klass.
One thing is certain. The great dreams of our time speak not to our intellect, but to the depths where elves and trolls still live. At times they seem to sweep beyond our control. The UFO investigator can never be immune. He is human, born into a culture and subject to its dreams and tides. He too can fall of the edge of reality, he too must take the heroic journey into the water at the foot of the cliff…
He too may discover that doves are just middle class pigeons.
- 1. See Capra, F. The Tao of Physics, (Fontana, 1976) for an adventurous viewpoint on modern physics.
- 2. MUFOB new series 4, for an account and discussion of this case
- 3. NUFON News 27. Mr L’s metachoric experience contains features also encountered in ‘real’ abduction cases.
- 4. As quoted in Moss, Thelma The Possibility of the Impossible (Routledge 1977). Bach’s use of ‘fable’ to convey philosophical concepts should be compared to Castaneda.
- 5. The next few paragraphs are based on the second part of a talk given to BUFORA at the Birmingham Conference, November 6th, 1976.
- 6. Safart, Jack in Mishlove, Jeffery, The Roots of Consciousness (Random House, 1976) lists a number of similar results in high energy particle research. Older textbooks of chemistry list dozens of anomalous compounds and even mystery elements. The history of the noble gas compounds has some unusual features. Perhaps the ‘absurd’ in frontier sciences can alert us to the ‘absurd’ in more conventional science.
- 7. Bonabot, Jacques and Gamard, Alain, in personal communications.
- 8. Among the several lines of connection which can be traced are the controversies around the Psychic Surgeons of Brazil and the Philippines, where commentators fail to see that what is a ‘trick’ to us, is most profound and meaningful within the shamanistic tradition, within which the chicken entrails ‘ready become’ the disease which afflicts the patient. (Eliade, Mercia, Shamanism, Princetown, 1964) Compare with the symbolism of the Christian Mass.
- 9. Note the symbolism of the Beit Bridge case – being a helpless prisoner in one’s own car, under the control of a stranger, while the real self is in a symbolic other place. Add to this the symbolism of the empty African bus, which to a white South African could symbolise the emptiness of the instinctive side of life. Laing reported similar themes in the dreams of pre-psychotic patients. One cannot over-emphasis the nightmare quality of the abduction experience. Its global and collective nature suggests a general psychic crisis of western man.
- 10. As popularised by Clifford Wilson, etc.
- 11. Progroff, Ira. Jung’s Psychology and its Social Meaning (Anchor 1973)
- 12. Eliade, Mercia, Myths Dreams and Mysteries. (Fontana)
- 13. Dione, R. L., God Drives a Flying Saucer (Corgi, 1973)
- 14. Discussed in Mishlove, op.cit., also private communications from Jerome Clark.
- 15. Le Shan, Lawrence, Alternate Realities, (Sheldon Press, 1976)