This article has now been transferred to the new Magonia website:
This article has now been transferred to the new Magonia website:
That man has reached the moon is now history. That he will shortly reach out to the planets is no longer confined to the realms of science fiction. Gone with man’s journey to the moon is a good deal of mystery, imagination and romanticism. Indeed the moon is dead, as expected. No air, no water, no life, or even signs that life may have existed there in the past.
Where then, Adamski’s are your moon bases? Where are those outposts of alien civilizations that contactees claim? The footprints of Armstrung and Aldrin, and those of the following lunar missions will remain on the moon’s surface for many years to come, as they are slowly covered by accumulations of cosmic dust and meteoric debris. An advanced civilization with resources and man power as grand as that which the majority of the UFO contact books and cases infer would surely have at some time left lasting scars on a relatively inert body such as the moon? Unless of course these aliens have a broom like appendage with which they are able to cover their tracks and sweep up their cosmic garbage. I think not.
I also think that they were never there in the first place.
We are entering an age of stark realism and chronic symptoms of cosmic loneliness. Science on earth, through materialism, has steadily decreased old beliefs, fears and hopes about the supernatural world on earth, and in its place the world of the supernatural has moved into outer space. As the progress of science has shown that each planet, save the earth, in our solar system is devoid of intelligent life, so these infertile spheres have been filled with a proliferation of spirit creatures existing on different planes, in different dimensions, in different states, and God knows what.
Of course it is possible to contact these entities, not through radio or laser beam, but through the mind, telepathic contact. The meanderings of insanity mixed with personal beliefs and subconscious urges are given as messages from the great Aetherius, from Diophantes of Sirius Six, and from other intangibles. From a host of telepathic messages there has not been, to my knowledge, a single, properly authenticated gem of information that has proved of value or use to mankind. The prophecies such as they are, are completely withoat impact, since we are told such obvious and daft things as our sun will become part of aa binary system, and. that the orbits of the planets will be displaced, or even such brilliant foresight as ‘a new age will dawn’.
We are surely moving out of the era of sensationalist and unbounded speculation (just as we moved out of the dark ages) as the solar system is reduced to its essential physical and chemical equations by scientists and mathematicians. Thus the romantic flying saucer will die away in the minds of the cranks and nuts as generation gives way to generation. The flying saucer mystery will be killed largely by natural causes. Still, I believe an element of truth will still remain. Life must exist elsewhere in the universe, as mathematical probability is in favour. Must we keep it at arm’s length, or is it not kept from us by some divine plans or perhaps through man’s innate inadequacies
One Sunder paper recently carried a report on the dangers of seeking contact with extraterrestrial civilizations, and in particular warnings from Professors Zdenrik Kopal and Clyde Tombaugh. Both men agreed that it could be disastrous to contact other intelligent beings as we may well end up being treated like ants and put in test tubes, or treated little better than animals.
The fact is we are animals and our technological explosion has made us conspicuous by the amount of radio energy that this planet emits into space. I do not think it idle speculation to say that there is probably in the galaxy at least one race of intelligent beings thousands of years ahead of our technology who, having mastered the problems of interstellar flight, are quite aware of what is going on here on earth. Yet we are left alone. It is a process of civilization that there comes a point when intelligent beings realize that there is no need to ill-treat or eradicate lower forms of life without very good reason. A lesson that is only slowly dawning on the more enlightened homo sapiens after a million years or so of brutality, not only to animals in general but also to his own species.
If man lives or, should I say, survives a million years more, though he probes the universe to its outermost limits and the atom to its innermost secrets, he will never realize the meaning and purpose of the universe that imprisons him. We watch, and are watched. We observe, and see nothing. Yet we are ourselves observed and seen. We are as ants in a test tube, and when the experiment is done our owners will pour us down the galactic sink, and nothing we can do shall prevent it.
Is this the mystery of the flying saucer, and man’s sole purpose on earth? If so, what price religion now? What price admission to the human zoo?
One more book (1) about abductions has appeared, but this time with a significant difference: the author is a distinguished Harvard psychiatrist and has the background and credentials that previous dilettantes (2,3) lacked. Thus, one would expect a more precise and scientific presentation of a controversial issue, establishing a solid platform from which a rational treatment of the subject matter could be launched.
Unfortunately, that is not the case, perhaps because the topic itself is unameanable to scientific discourse. As in previous attempts, all we find is a collection of anecdotes obtained mostly by hypnotic techniques from witnesses whose personalities, occupations, training and position in our society are barely sketched. The narratives are interesting, unusual, bizarre more often than not, with an abundance of detail that, instead of increasing their ontological validity, only emphasises the absurdity and physical impossibility of what we are told.
As in previous works, not a shred of evidence is provided to substantiate the stories, even in instances where apparently corroborating information could have been obtained. As one of Mack’s critics (4) has perceptively indicated, the author is content with whatever he obtains from the witnesses in his office and does not go into the real world to validate his contentions. In fact, one has reason to doubt that he has done his literature research with enough care, when, for instance, he uncritically repeats (Ref.1, p.12) that abductions have taken place in 17 countries, among others, France, Spain and Uruguay. The truth is that only one totally discredited abduction report in France is found in the literature, that the three or four cases allegedly occurring in Spain are very dubious and that – as far as I know – no abduction has ever been reported in Uruguay. The reality is that the abduction aspect of the UFO phenomenon occurs typically and predominantly in the US, not surprisingly considering that its main advocate, former artist Elliott Budd Hopkins, is a resident of that country.
From the viewpoint of the hard sciences there seem to be two options mutually exclusive: either the whole abduction structure has no foundation in reality, in which case we are wasting our time, or, alternatively, the stories reflect real events, although at times they may be somewhat distorted and diffuse. We will assume that the latter is true, and see where reductio ad absurdum will lead us.
(a) Provenance: The basic tenet of Hopkins et al.’s ideas is that we are presently visited by aliens whose world is coming to an end, and who are engaged in an all-out effort to save their race from extinction by applying their more advances genetic knowledge to engineering a hybrid race that eventually will take over Earth.
Since our spatial probes have visited most of the planets able to support life in our solar system and found no indication of life, it follows that the aliens must come from exterior space, bringing into focus the difficulties of interstellar travel. The abductees describe huge crafts, sometimes of the order of hundreds of yards, with large crews of at least two types of aliens, which have to be fed and lodged. But more important, the energy requirements to displace such a craft through distances of the order of light years would be staggering. Yet, we are led to believe that more than one of those interstellar crafts prowl in our atmosphere.
What does the Devil’s Advocate say about this?
Only (v) above has some merit, but then the expectation would be to see smaller crafts better adapted for the Earth-Moon milk run, contrary to the data. The first absurdity is thus firmly stated.
(b) The familiar aliens: Since the pioneer work of artist E B Hopkins, passing through the entertaining book of historian Dr David Jacobs, and terminating with the respectable efforts of psychiatrist John Mack MD, we have been confronted with a parade of aliens having some surprising common characteristics: i) they are overwhelmingly humanoid, exhibiting two arms, two legs, one head, two big wrap-around black eyes, and the rudiments of mouth and nostrils; and ii) they move unencumbered in the Earth’s gravitational field, without requiring breathing apparatus.
Probabilistic considerations indicate that it is quite likely that among the large number of stars which form the galaxy, many will have the correct conditions to harbour planets capable of supporting life. But life, as we know it, is possible only within a very narrow range of physical parameters, and a small percentage change, say in the value of the solar constant, would wipe out life from our planet. Consequently, humanoids as described by the abductees must come from a planet almost identical to Earth, another absurdity. Such a planet indeed can exist, but can be anywhere in the galaxy, and the question is: why would the aliens select our insignificant star in a remote galactic arm as the destination of their quest for a new home?
D.A.: If the aliens reached the solar system many millennia ago, and settled in a base on Mars or the moon (say), they had a long adoption period, and only in modern times were capable of implementing their genetic plans.
(c) Alien multiplicity: The aliens described by the witnesses studied by each researcher (Hopkins, Jacobs, Mack) might be similar in form but the three authors make quite clear that their attitudes toward the abductees are remarkably dissimilar, although their genetic efforts seem to be the same.
We can safely reject the notion of three groups of aliens from the same remote planet, but having diverse philosophies, not only because of its absurdity, but also for the fact that the aliens described to each specific researcher seem to have the same attitude in spite of the random witness selection process.
D.A.: The descriptions of the aliens seem to be similar, thus establishing a common origin, which could be even a single planet, but might equally well result from the fact that latter-day abductees have unquestionably read previous books (Hopkins, Jacobs) and have subconsciously adjusted to the pattern.
Each abduction book is the end product of the interaction of a certain group, the abductees, with one specific analyst. An exact statement of the protocol is not given, but since the hypnotic sessions were lengthy and extended over many months, the influence of the
analyst is not only expected but unavoidable. This influence is not reflected in the physical descriptions of the aliens, but in their moral and ethical attributes, mirroring the political or other bias of the authors. While Jacobs’s aliens are indifferent to issues not related to the breeding activities, in the words of one critic (5) “the abductors have the same relationship to abductees that laboratory technicians have to white rats”. Mack’s witnesses are terrified by the entities, which inflict intense physical pain and torture with sadistic unconcern.
This dichotomy is an absurdity. For if the aliens have a common provenance and a common operational goal, it would inflexibly control their behaviour in all cases. Thus, the diversified perception of the entities by their victims, not randomised but sorted out by researcher, only decreases the potential reality of the abduction experiences.
(d) Technical contradictions: The abduction researchers have asserted that the aliens are able to penetrate solid obstacles such as walls, (6) specifically during the initial stages of the events. There is no evidence for this except the testimony of the witnesses, but when one abductee arrives at the waiting craft, she is brought inside “through a hole in the floor”. (7) When the same victim is ready to be returned, the floor “sort of disintegrates beneath us”, (8) which is not the same as penetrating solid matter.
The main and apparently only objective of the aliens is the creation of a hybrid race, and to that effect they have mounted a vast operation to obtain sperm and ova from human victims, selected at random and transported to their ship(s) for the purpose. This implies not only a great deal of effort, but also entails a definite operational risk of detection. Yet, the same ends could be obtained by raiding a sperm bank or similar facilities where the desired items are stored without stringent security. This would be easy to accomplish by aliens capable of transversing solid walls, and yet, we don’t see any signs of such activity.
D.A.: The aliens endeavour to keep their activities covert, and the sudden disappearance of stock from a sperm bank would undoubtedly trigger an in-depth investigation. Forensic examination of the place would reveal the visit by non-human entities, something the aliens can’t afford. Besides, time is on their side, and their present method is less likely to attract attention, as so far there is no incontrovertible evidence of the abductions.
Alien visits to specific indoor spaces are sometimes a daily occurrence, as was the case with Melissa Bucknell, Dr Jacobs’s star witness. (9) An attempt was made to record the event using a TV camera, but it failed, as could be expected considering how easy it was for the aliens to circumvent the trap. It would have been a completely different story if someone had thought about doing an in-depth forensic sweep of the “scene of the crime” after the fact. Yet, absurdly, this was not done, perhaps because negative results would have been the kiss of death for abduction research.
D.A.: Indeed, immediate examination of the location of an abduction by forensic techniques could provide incontrovertible proof of an alien presence in a room But the staggering cost indeed was and is a powerful deterrent. Perhaps the Fund for UFO Research should consider setting aside the necessary resources and have them available at once if the occasion presents itself again.
(e) Craft size and multiple humans: Abduction researchers (Hopkins (10), Jacobs (11)) have repeatedly asserted that the crafts described by the witnesses are extremely large and display a constellation of lights. The huge dimensions are confirmed when the abductees tell the investigator that they were taken into gigantic rooms, with hundreds of tables where they saw other humans, “between one hundred and two hundred”, on whom procedures were being done (Mack (12)).
The absurdity of such a possibility is twofold. First, a large illuminated craft hovering over a fixed location for the duration of the procedures – which we are told is of the order of an hour or so – hardly would have escaped detection not only by the public at large but by the authorities monitoring our air space. And second, if the craft remains at a fixed place, the simultaneity of the procedures for ‘a hundred or more persons seems to demand that the abductees were taken from a limited geographical area, again an event that could hardly go unnoticed.
D.A.: The craft doesn’t have to remain stationary at a given location, but moves continuously to lift and return the abductees. If the lights are off, and the aliens have stealth technology, those motions will not be recorded by radar, and their chance of escaping detection is excellent.
The absurdity is then in the scheduling. To collect and return each abductee of necessity requires some time that, from the given narratives, one could estimate at two minutes, each individual at a different location. Thus, 100 abductees demand 200 minutes, to which a prudent man would add a transit time between stops, say another 2 minutes, for a grand total of 400 minutes, or more than 6 hours, just for the logistics of the operation. No matter how we look at it, the concurrent presence of one or two hundred abductees in a single room in an alien craft is almost a physical impossibility.
The hybrid question
According to Hopkins et al., we are being visited by one or more alien races in decline, whose purpose is to shore up their genetic pool by using the human reservoir. The abductions are aimed at obtaining sperm and ova for hybridisation processes.
Two things do not seem to fit this hypothesis. First, in the accepted view of present-day science the issue of mixed species is not fertile, and thus the resulting human-alien hybrids would not represent a definite solution for the long-term survival of the aliens. But perhaps the real purpose is different as, for instance, just to create a work force which could easily adapt to local conditions and perhaps eventually melt into the earth’s population and go undetected. This would explain the need for the continuous aggressive programme that the abduction experts believe is taking place.
The second point is just an observation. In subsequent visits to what are apparently the same craft, the abductees are often shown human-alien babies which are their own, but no mention has been made in the published material of full-grown hybrids. There are two possible explanations for this omission: the alien breeding programme is failing, and babies do not reach adulthood or, on the contrary, the programme is a success and the grown-up hybrids are shipped elsewhere to do what they were designed to do in the first place.
I am not a biologist and only offer the above suggestions for completeness, in an attempt to give sense to those relentless activities which the abductionists believe are covertly taking place in our midst.
D.A.: The aliens are by far more advanced than we are in biology and particularly in genetic engineering, and have no difficulties in inter-species breeding, as shown by their activities, which otherwise would be senseless. It is anthropomorphic to attribute to them our own limitations.
ConclusionsThe absurdities loom in spite of efforts by the Devil’s Advocate to eliminate them, a clear indication that the interpretation given by the abduction experts to the bizarre narratives of their clients must be ontologically incorrect. Until such a time when and if physical evidence of the abduction phenomenon becomes available, those events have only anecdotal value at best, although the many books on the topic, even if of dubious scientific value, make entertaining reading and are a source of revenue for their authors.
- MACK, John E., Abduction, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994
- HOPKINS, Budd, Missing Time, New York, Marek Publishers, 1981 and Intruders, New York, Random House, 1987
- JACOBS, David M., Secret Life, New York, Simon & Schuster. 1992
- CLARK, Jerome, ‘Big (space) Brothers’, International UFO Reporter, March/April 1994, p. 7
- Reference 4, p. S. col. 2
- Ref. 1, p. 170: “she described passing through her window, the porch and a tree” riding the beam of light.
- Ref. 1, p. 170
- Ref. 1, p. 174
- Ref. 3, p. 258
- HOPKINS, Budd, ‘The Woman on the Bridge’, MUFON UFO Journal, 298, December 1992, p. 8. Since the alleged witness (known only as Janet Klmble) “stated that it was wider than the size of the building”, an estimated diameter of 100 ft is conservative.
- Ref. 3, p. 82. “Abductees describe UFOs that range In size from thirty-five to hundreds of feet in diameter.”
- Ref. 1, p. 182. ‘Catherine’ was led naked into an enormous room “the size of an airplane hangar”.
In a recent article in this journal, Rogerson (1) reviewed a critique of psychological theories of UFOs in which I had suggested that, as a rule, such types of explanation were inadequate (2,3,4). He concluded that the critique contained “a number of unfounded statements and over-generalisations and thus has not established its case”.
It seems to me that Rogerson has somewhere lost sight of the central point of the critiques which was finding an answer to the question: can conventional psychological facts and theories be used to explain UFO phenomena? I stress conventional. because Rogerson is perfectly willing to make use of ‘paranormal’ concepts within a general explanatory framework and, despite his assertions to the contrary, such ideas do not have “a wide measure of acceptance in psychological circles”. Nor– as I hope to show — is their introduction into UFO debates to be encouraged, since they carry with them multiple problems of methodology and metatheory which Rogerson neglects even to mention, although he is quick to point out similar defects in my own logic.
In many single-witness cases of alleged UFO sightings it may be logically impossible to rule out the hypothesis of ‘conventional’ hallucination (i.e., hallucination due to drug intake, sensory restriction, psychosis, etc.), no matter how implausible such an interpretation may appear on the surface. In regard to the special hypothesis of ‘normal’ hallucination, therefore, single-witness cases unaccompanied by information about the witness or physical evidence of some sort remain a matter of controversy. Certain statistical considerations indirectly counter this proposition (5), but empirical evidence, for or against, is notable for its absence. Much of the relevant argument can be found in Hall (6,7), Grinspoon and Persky Johnson (9) and the various papers of Schwarz and others.
When it comes to multiple-witness cases the theory of simple hallucination becomes irrelevant, because shared hallucinations are unrecognised by psychology. This has nothing to do with the question of whether such events have ever occurred of course, nor does it throw much light upon problems concerning the validity of using such a concept as an explanation.If we rule out the hoax theory at the outset — a convenience which might find some objections, inasmuch as it is the only explanation capable of relating all UFO phenomena — we are left in a situation in which as Rogerson argues, we shall have to throw down at least some of our generally-accepted ideas about the structure of the universe. The question being, which?
There are two major alternatives: reports of UFOs can be attributed to:
1, extramundane intelligence, which includes the ETH as well as some of the more exotic possibilities, or
2, some sort of parapsychological interaction.
Rogerson supports the second alternative. In deciding between them, it should be kept in mind that the criteria by which we judge theories of UFOs must be identical to those employed in the evaluation of less dramatic notions. The most important of these are the requirements that theories should be based upon the minimum number possible of inferred or unobservable concepts; and that they they should be advanced in sufficient detail as to be capable of generating testable predictions preferably quantitative in form. Theories which fail to measure up to those yardsticks are not satisfactory.
In fact, neither of the two alternatives defined above are truly satisfactory, on these terms. Both make assumptions hard to verify outside of the UFO evidence; neither make precise predictions. It is a poor choice, in regard to methodology. It is true that whereas extramundane intelligence is supported by no hard evidence, astronomical or otherwise, there is a corpus of recognised, if controversial evidence relating to ‘paranormal’ phenomena. On the other hand, it would probably be true to say that the scientific community views the concept of extraterrestrial life with less dismay than it experiences when the concepts of ESP or psi are touched upon. It is not hard to see why. Paranormal concepts reflect a fundamental break with most of our models of reality; even in the absence of direct observation it is reasonable to posit the existence of extraterrestrial life via a process of simple extrapolation. All we can conclude here is that both possibilities are equally ridiculous.The main weakness of the ESP approach lies in its total inadequacy as a concept. It is in no sense a unitary concept –rather,
it is a rough way of classifying a heterogeneous moss of puzzling events. ‘Paranormal’ merely means — so far as I can see — anything which present-day science cannot explain. Imagine what this same concept would represent to an ancient Greek, to a medieval monk, an Elizabethan sailor;, just about anything. It is not an explanation but a description; and if science ca. 1972, cannot explain UFO phenomena, there should be no argument against classifying UFOs as paranormal. But isn’t that just playing with words? Does it help us to understand anything?
Even the most naive form of the extraterrestrial hypothesis is is more constrained, better defined. We may dismiss the logic employed by Smiley (10) in ‘disproving’ that UFOs come from Mars but at least here is an example of the scientific method: a formal statement of basic assumptions, the production of specific (even quantifiable) predictions and he testing of those predictions. The Mars Cycle observed in some UFO data could clearly provide some support for an extramundane hypothesis, if we wore to relax the rather puritan assumptions made by Smiley in regard to the capabilities of possible alien technologies. Rogerson’s answer is that people may tend to have more hallucinations when we are closer to Mars. An argument that I don’t accept.
This example indeed highlights the weakness of the parapsychological approach. Rogerson makes no attempt to describe the mechanisms involved in the transmission of an hallucinatory UFO experience from one person to another. The vagueness which characterises ESP-type concepts relieves him of the need to do so. Thus the following questions, and many others remain unanswered:
1. If a single ‘experience’ is shared by several persons why do UFO events typically obey the laws of perspective? Why don’t UFO witnesses report totally identical stimuli as would TV viewers?
2. Admitting that question 1 raises a valid point, what mechanism is there inside the human information processing system capable of calculating the perceptual effects of change-of-perspective for each of a number of individual and instantaneously transmitting the appropriate image
3. If question 2 is left unanswered would this not logically force the parapsychologist to accepts the possibility of intervention by a superior, nonhuman intelligence?
4. It is easy to imagine visual images being ‘injected’ into the witnesses’ perceptual systems just as a signal enters a TV set and produces an image on the screen. but human sensory processes in general, and the visual system in particular, are remarkably complex. We have only a very vague idea about how they work. To To put it crudely: if we can’t explain how normal perception operates, what chance is there for a model of some even more exotic process?
None of this argument should be thought of as disproving or dismissing the parapsychological theory. Rather, the aim is to demonstrate the dangers inherent in a chain of reasoning which runs: paranormal phenomena cannot be explained, therefore any phenomena which cannot be explained are paranormal, therefore UFO phenomena can be explained paranormally. The weakness of this logic is glaringly obvious.
5. Is there any puzzling or inexplicable event or set of events which a ‘paranormal’ theory could not explain?
My personal feeling is that if the extramundane theory is weak (in methodological sense), the parapsychological theory is weaker still. It may not be very enlightening to claim that “people see UFOs”; but is our curiosity any more satisfied by the assertion, “people parapsychologically transmit UFO experiences to each other”?
Rogerson’s closing argument is that contemporary psychology is in a primitive state, therefore novel theories which attack psychological laws are in some way more satisfactory than are theories, such as the ETH, the acceptance of which would imply the violation of known physical laws. The argument contains one or two flaws, depending on one’s philosophy: monists would maintain that all psychological laws are ultimately physical, anyway; less committed thinkers night point out that telepathy and clairvoyance, for example, provide no less profound a challenge to recognised physical concepts than does any physical UFO.
In sum, I think that the parapsychological theory as statedby Rogerson is still not powerful enough to explain UFOs, primarily because of its lack of clear definition and the absence of any specified means of disproving it. But the extramundane theory is, so far, insufficiently developed, although it is a somewhat better choice than the more specific extraterrestrial model. The best thing to do would be to adopt a less contentious inductive approach, but UFO researchers, unable or unwilling to resist the lure of speculation, rarely accept this alternative. Proponents of rival theories blandly neglect inconvenient data. Thus Rogerson would be happy to explain away reports of physical traces and radar sightings; Sharp (11) is careful to dismiss reports involving paranormal or religious manifestations; and Menzel, Condon, et al. dismiss the whole lot. In all cases there are some perfectly rational reasons for rejection; the mistake made lies not in rejection but selection. As Fort pointed out on many occasions, if you reject what you can’t explain’ you should be able to explain everything, It merely depends what you mean by ‘everything’.
Some progress be made if ufologists seek to maintain a theoretically neutral position recognising that UFO reports such as the cases of Rita,Malley, ‘Dr X’, the Welsh wave of 1905, frequently involve phenomena which, at face value lie beyond most of our current physical and psychological concepts. A search for patterns which involved the systematic neglect of these phenomena would violate most of the requirements of statistical sampling. If the final answer is a completely novel concept, the deductive approach would necessarily fail.
I know that I nearly fell into that trap myself, for I swam with the torrents of raging subjectivity for several years, up to the last two or three. In working on my last couple of books I went back to basics and reappraised a few things in my own mind. I also started to listen to UFO witnesses for a change. That was a rather eye-opening thing to do; for I discovered that I had been preaching to them, largely from ignorance, saying “Sorry – despite what you think you saw that night two years ago you did not really see it at all, you only imagined it, but in such a way that it seemed very real”. Again and again witnesses would stare back at me and say, “But if you had been there, you would know:”
Then it occurred to me that I was foisting my conviction that their encounter could not be describing reality, onto them. But with what right? A dozen witnesses who were generally fine observers, clearly sane and intelligent, and obviously sincere, were telling me each year that what they saw was as real as the nine o’clock bus. And a dozen armchair theorists (me included) were telling them that this just could not be.
If you really think through this situation you may get a hint of the magnitude of error I believe we have been making. But I think I now understand why we have been making it. Quite simply we have always assumed that the world comprises black and white choices. In truth it rarely does. The question of UFO reality does not consist of either John Smith saw a real, objective, exotic craft that flew through the air, landed somewhere, and then stayed there until its next flight past an unsuspecting witness; or else he merely dreamt/hallucinated/imagined/archetypally reconstituted/birth trauma dramatised this, when nothing was actually there at all.
Whenever you keep hedging around a question in many different ways but still end up with paradoxes in return, then quite simply you have asked the wrong question. That is a basic scientific principle. We have never resolved this clearly because exotic UFOs are neither objectively real nor subjectively real. They are something else altogether. They are what I call ‘Quasi-Conscious Experiences’. They form their very own niche on the spectrum of reality.
We, as ufologists, have been acting rather like chemists in the last century, struggling with the embryonic periodical table of elements. We have this ‘thing’ called mercury which is a whopping great anomaly. But we have only two elements on our table clearly defined: hydrogen at the ‘light’ end and lead at the ‘heavy’ end. Mercury has certain characteristics of lead so we might choose to call it ‘funny lead’. Others may argue that it is too ‘light’ to be lead and call it ‘funny hydrogen’. The debate rages and goes nowhere.
From our cushion of years this looks stupid because we know mercury is mercury and not any sort of hydrogen or lead. But only the clear development of the table of elements demonstrates this. I think we are now similarly failing to see that the UFO close encounter, as a facet of QC-Experience is neither a strange kind of subjective reality, nor an extreme form of objective reality – but something in between and altogether different.
Once we accept this gradation of reality some remarkable things start to happen. We can slot particular experiences into their correct little niche and clearly define their parameters. What is more, we can predict sorts of experiences and their properties which seem to fit into the gaps in our gradation – just as the chemists were able to define the properties of rare elements which completed the Periodic Table. It is in this way that the QC-Experience is seen to be a necessary feature of the spectrum of reality. If nobody had ever experienced anything like it, we would be rather puzzled because the way phenomena blend into one another, as we move from objectivity to subjectivity, clearly shows that it ought to exist.
If we take total objectivity at one extreme, for example posting a letter in a bright red postbox. This is objective, everybody who approaches it sees the same red box. But the complete extreme of total objectivity is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, because our mind and perceptions experience the box, and (however slightly) distort our interpretation of it. We may perhaps feel a strong empathy, or antipathy, to the colour red. This will distort our view to some extent.
At the other extreme of the spectrum is total subjectivity; again hard to achieve in practice, but most dreams come close. The imagery is wholly imagined and personal to us. But just as emotions affecting our colour concept of the postbox produce a slight step down from total objectivity, so can external data intrude into our dreams, and thus create a step down from total subjectivity.
These two step-downs enable us to see how the extremes begin to blend together, and the image of the spectrum of reality becomes clear. At some point, of course, there needs to be a 50/50 halfway house, where there are equal levels of subjectivity and objectivity. But there are also many shades in between.
Our present need is to slot the vast wealth of what we call ‘paranormal’ phenomena into their correct places on the spectrum of reality.
One phenomena we can place is the lucid dream , that strange experience where the person knows they are dreaming as the dream unfolds, and this realisation allows a certain conscious control over the dream imagery, and also sharpens the focus of the dream-making: it becomes dramatically more ‘real’ or lucid – hence the name.
It was my own personal experience of these magical things, plus later reading and research into them, which helped clarify my ideas about the spectrum of reality. The lucid dream has a place between the subjective end of the spectrum and the halfway house. It may be perhaps 60% subjective and 40% objective – although these are no more than figures at this stage of the game and ought not to be taken too literally.
The lucid dream seems so real because it contains such a relatively high degree of ‘objectivity’, but it is still recognisable as a dream because it lies on the subjective side of the halfway house. We can define it as a subjective experience with a (say) 40% level of objective data intruding; thus allowing the ‘waking consciousness’ to partly control and adapt the environment created by the ‘sleeping unconscious’. In other words, the dreamer emerges from a sleep/dream state, close to 100% subjectivity, with the dream landscape thus intact, but the new level of objective override moulds and shapes this.
Now, if you have accepted my argument so far you will see that some sort of phenomenon must exist that fits the point on the spectrum between halfway house and the objective end of the spectrum. In many respects this is a mirror-image of the lucid dream, and it is what I recognise immediately as the Quasi-Conscious Experience. The term ‘waking lucid dream’ may well be apt.
Here the person emerges from normal waking reality, and steps down towards the subjective end of the spectrum, with the intrusion of a 40% subjective over-ride. Consequently the landscape which finds itself moulded and shaped is originally an objective one – the ‘real’ world. In the QC-Experience, or Waking Lucid Dream, the percipient finds subconscious data flooding in to a 40% level, to such an extent that it changes the perceived environment to a considerable extent.
In the lucid dream the balance favoured subjectivity and the step down occurred from the dream state, so the percipient believes the new experience to be a dream, but much more real. In the QC-Experience the opposite is true. The balance favours object
ivity and the step down was from the ‘real’ world. Now the percipient believes the new experience is real, but more dream-like.
UFO close encounters display this dream-like aura well – I call it the ‘Oz Factor’ . It is, in my view, just the symptom which denotes the stepdown towards subjectivity.
I have tried to put these ideas across to ufology for the last couple of years, but with limited success. This is probably because it is a complex thing which is much easier to grasp in my case because: a] it has developed over a long period, and b] I have experienced several of the different niches on the spectrum of reality.
But I am quite excited by it, because it seems to be making sense out of so much that previously left me baffled and confused. In no way am I suggesting this as some sort of dramatic discovery. To me it is only something reasonably obvious that many people must have seen before. Nor does it solve the problem of precisely what UFOs are (except that they are neither real nor unreal – but a bit of both. However, I think it opens up new
avenues of exploration.
You see, UFOs are many things, and I want it clearly understood that I am here discussing what I term ‘Exotic UFOs’ (principally close encounters). UAPs – Unidentified Atmospheric Phenomena – are entirely different, and are objective. They really exist, in every sense of the word real, and are natural physical mysteries on the threshold of science. There are almost certainly several different UAP types that are reported as UFOs; earthlights may well be one, extreme forms of ball lightning are another probably kind. I need to make this very plain, because certain reviews of my two latest books – including one in Magonia – have referred to my alleged theory that UAPs are alien. That is nonsensical, UAPs are earthbound, natural and in no sense controlled by intelligences of any description. The evidence that they exist is, to me, irrefutable.
The ‘Exotic UFOs’ are actually a very small residue out of the total of UFO reports; a fairly obvious fact when you realise that up to 90% of UFO reports are IFOs, and possibly up to 90% of the remainder are UAPs. The left-overs are few and far between, but in global terms they are still a large number of experiences.
Exotic UFOs are not spaceships. That fact is reasonably obvious once you see that, a] we have no photographs of UFOs landed or involved in creating close encounters and b] we have no photographs of alien entities, and c] nobody has yet witnessed somebody else undergoing an alien contact of any kind. You can backtrack as much as you like with convoluted hypotheses, but there is really no way out.
Similarly, Exotic UFOs are not totally subjective experiences of any kind. I say that because they contain far too many obscure but repetitive motifs; because they generate real physiological effects which are unlikely to be psychosomatic; because there are physical effects (e.g. car stops) which demonstrate some form of energy exchange; and because animals get disturbed by them too. I leave aside the thorny question of multiple witness close encounters, although enough exist with sufficient overlap to worry any truly open-minded adherent of the psycho sociological school.
What we end up with is something in-between. A QC-Experience does have heavy subjective overtones, simply by definition. The very thing which makes it different from normal objective reality is the over-ride by subjective data. What we have to do now is to decide the origin of this subjective over-ride.
It may come from inside ourselves, I accept that option. In a lucid dream the intrusion of objectivity is essentially self-oriented. But there is, to my mind, ample evidence that this is not always the case. Precognitive dreams, for example, seem to involve external objective data from the ‘real world’ (or ‘real universe’) – and this in a sense beyond the normal confines of space. In other words, information from an alien civilisation somewhere ‘out there’ is received subconsciously and intrudes into objective reality as a subjective data over-ride, thus changing our perception of reality, to create an alien or UFO reality.
The only reason I am taking the alien origin of the subjective data over-ride seriously is that it explains what we see much more simply. It explains why there are patterns and consistencies (the source is consistent); it explains why there are individual differences (the degree of pick-up and the way we integrate it into our experience will vary from person to person). It explains the form of the QC Experience – it is alien, because that is what lies at the heart of the message; I think it even explains the physical and physiological effects. It is my viewthat UAPs, or ambiguous IFOs, are at the root of most, if not all, close encounters. When UAPs are involved energy will be associated.
We have a situation like the following: Witness A sees a UAP and thinks “Oh my, a UFO”. Energy is emitted and may or may not harm the witness or the environment. Meanwhile because he is naturally susceptible to switches of location on the spectrum of reality (in other words he is psychic) or because of some other unknown trigger, he steps down into a QC-Experience. The Oz Factor takes hold and he later describes his strange sensations and maybe even describes a time-lapse, due to his temporary slip out of normal objective reality into UFO Reality, where time is not as easily delineated. In the QC state the subjective data flows in from the alien source and moulds the external reality. If it is an orange ball of light (a UAP) this may become a spaceship, symbolising the information he is receiving in terms familiar and acceptable to his subconscious, just as when we receive objective facts in a precognitive way in a dream we tend to express them in dream symbols.
As the QC-Experience unfolds the witness believes he is perceiving reality exactly as before, unaware that he has slipped into another niche on the spectrum, where he is now subjectively dramatising received data and superimposing this on the UAP. The experience eventually ends, possibly when the UAP disappears, the aircraft flies away, or the satellite reentry burns up, or when whatever had been the initial stimulus no longer exists.
Of course, the essence of the episode lies in the witnesses mind, clothed in symbolism, and he may not, consciously, even realise that fact. When questioned he will tell what he believes he ‘really’ saw, but that is not terribly important. What is important is the inner substance of the message – the data which was responsible for the over-ride.
Perhaps we ought to be analysing UFO encounters rather like Jung analysed dreams. But we should do so recognising that we may be seeking something much more interesting than our own deeply hidden wishes or desires, or some archetypal facet of the human race. We may be decoding messages from an alien realm.
And so finally to answer the question really posed by this article: are the UFO phenomena alien in origin? If we mean in the traditional sense of gravity-powered space ships from Alpha Century my answer must be no. The ETH in that sense is dead. But I have a growing suspicion that the ETH in a more subtle – or Quasi Conscious) sense may yet provide a few surprises.
2. Spencer, Lawrence R. The Oz Factors: The Wizard of Oz as an Analogy to the Mysteries of Life AuthorHouse, 1999
There are considerable disagreements among philosophers and scientists as to exactly what constitutes a scientific hypothesis, but the general consensus is that scientific hypotheses should yield specific, testable, predictions; thus if hypothesis A is correct we would expect an experiment to yield, or to observe in nature B, C and D, if however the experiment yields, or we observe in nature X, Y or Z, then the hypothesis is unlikely to be true. In other words the hypothesis should lead to specific conclusions, the universe, or some aspect of it should be an observably different place if the hypothesis is true, than if it is false.
A well known example of a hypothesis which is not a scientific hypothesis, because it leads to no testable conclusions, is the one invented by the Victorian geologist Philip Gosse, who sought to reconcile the growing evidence for the great age of the earth, with his personal belief in the Biblical account of the creation of the world in 4,004 BC. His answer was to argue that the prior history of the earth existed as an idea in the mind of God (as virtual reality, as we would say today). The world went through cycles of development, and at some point in 4,004 BC this virtual world was manifested by God, complete with the record of its previous virtual history such as fossils in the ground and Adam and Eve’s navels (and presumably their memories of non existent parents). Clearly such a hypothesis leads to no different conclusions that one in which the world really existed for vast ages.
Also scientific hypotheses should lead to further questions, they should not end with question stopping answers such as “that is the way God wills it, it is not for us to question why”, or because boggarts cause it. (Why does sodium when placed in water fizz and spit – because the boggarts make it so). In other words they should not invoke supernatural forces, or arbitrary wills, whether that of God, or lesser supernaturals such as angels or devils. That explains everything, and therefore nothing.
If the UFOs behave like conventional machines, then the evidence of exotic machines proves the ETH; if they behave like something else entirely then this also proves the ETH
It is here that the ETH in its most general form clearly falls, in the absence of any independent knowledge as to the nature and capabilities of ETs, ufologists feel free to invest them with any properties they choose, often self contradictory ones. If it suits the case for the ET’s to come in fallible machines which repeatedly crash in the New Mexico desert, then they will ascribe that property to them; if it suits to grant them near omnipotent supernatural powers, for example enchanting whole cities while abducting people through solid walls into invisible space ships, they will gladly do so. If the UFOs behave like conventional machines, then the evidence of exotic machines proves the ETH; if they behave like something else entirely then this also proves the ETH, because, of course no-one is naive enough to believe that they could come here by any kind of machine or process which we are familiar. It’s clear that wherever the evidence leads, proponents of the ETH will find confirmation for their belief it ETs.
Not surprisingly, Jerome Clark, for example, has never responded to my challenge as to how he would go about refuting the ETH. The only way that could be definitively be done, would be to search every planet in every solar system in the entire universe for signs of life, and even then if none were detected proponents of the ETH would say that was because the ET’s had camouflaged themselves so well, or because they were the wrong vibrational level for our instruments.
This does not mean that no version of the ETH can ever be a scientific hypothesis; however unlikely. The hypothesis that UFOs are fusion powered spaceships from Mars is a scientific hypothesis. We could work out in advance what the properties of fusion powered spaceships are likely to be, and compare them with unexplained UFO reports (there is a problem there we will come to later), and eventually go to Mars to look. In other words the hypothesis stands a chance of leading to specific conclusions, and one can devise a finite, once and for all, test.
How general can the ETH be made and still be a scientific hypothesis? At the very least we have to limit the ET’s, however advanced their technology, to the currently understood laws of physics, and I think we have to make the assumption that the ET’s are in very general sense, somewhat like us. They have manipulative organs, and the equivalent of a complex, highly developed form of consciousness. Make these two assumptions, in order to make the ETH at least somewhat manageable, and something interesting happens. It does not predict UFOs, predicts that it is more likely than not that if ET craft carry biological beings, they will be very, very big indeed, but if they are mechanised they are more likely than not to be very, very small indeed.
How can make such a prediction? Note that I said we have to say that the ET’s are roughly like human beings and that statements made about human interstellar flight apply to them also, and that we denied them any mysterious Z-process. This means they can’t go faster than light, so all journeys take a very long time. This means that whatever means you use, explicitly or implicitly you are sending your astronauts into permanent exile.
There are three main methods suggested by which human beings might reach the stars. The first is the space Ark, this travels at moderate speeds, but takes huge amounts of time to reach its destinations. Generations pass on the ship before star-fall, there is no return. This is a route for permanent colonies only. The Ark therefore has to be huge. Remember this is not just a colony which must sustain itself for ten or so generations of travel, but must establish a long term breeding programme at their destination. A minimum population to establish a wide enough genetic mix, to guard against future disease, population crash, etc., is probably in the region of 10,000 people. Some other points must be borne in mind. These people would have to be given space, a colony divided into separate villages seems more sustainable than some giant apartment block. They would have to take a sustainable biosphere; we simply do not know how bound up with the general biosphere human beings are, how simple things like the cl-mate, the seasons, the alternation of night and day, the tides, etc., affect us. Remove us from the earth for long periods of time, and viability cannot be guaranteed. It seems a whole artificially biosphere would need to created. We are thinking of ships many kilometres long.
No human society ever before would have gone into such a permanent exile, with not even the wildest, fondest dream of return.
In any case it is not at all clear that such a voyage could ever succeed. For a start could any sane human society ever permit any group of people to make a totally irredeemable choice on behalf of unborn generations to come? Even if the voyage got under way the psychological problems seem overwhelming. No human society ever before would have gone into such a permanent exile, with not even the wildest, fondest dream of return. No human society before would become so enclosed, locked in with themselves, unable to escape. What sort of people might be initially attracted to the ideas of being pioneers among the stars? The restless, the adventurous, the derring-do, precisely the sort of people who would eventually find being cooped up into the space Ark, even one a couple of hundred kilometres in diameter, unsustainable. Their world might become enclosed on itself, abandon its original project, or, I suspect, collapse in personal and factional feuds.
If the space Ark is not a very pleasant prospect, then what of the two touted alternatives: some kind of artificial hibernation, or very very fast relativistic voyages, taking advantage of the time dilation effect? Though it may seem these offer the chance of voyage and return within the lifetime of the crew, in reality these too offer a subtler form of irrevocable exile, the world to which they return if they choose to return, will be one transformed beyond recognition, all friends, family, familiar landscape, gone, all social mores changed, the language transformed. Returnees would indeed be strangers in a strange land. If ETs have the sort of complex level of consciousness needed to build spaceships, then, because it seems that consciousness has at least in part of evolved as a means of dealing with social interaction, the ETs will be as embedded in their society as we are in ours, capable of feeling their equivalent of pain, loss, loneliness and bereavement.
This means that whether there is a planned return or not, a small crew is out, you would have to send a social support network, capable to sustaining the voyage and creating a society within a society on return. Given the vast changes on return, why return? The relativistic or cryogenic spaceships are likely also to be colony ships, with vast crews and no plans for return. It should be borne in mind that even relativistic spaceships will take crew-time voyages of several years: it takes time to accelerate and decelerate.
Furthermore, very, very, very fast voyages are probably not possible. This is because the discussions on ultra fast flight, say 99.99% of the velocity of light, are based on idealised models in which interstellar space is an absolute vacuum, but this is not the case; there is gas, fine dust and no doubt small lumps of rock out there. Of course the density from the view-point of a static observer is very low, but from the point of view of traveller close to the velocity of light, the distances ahead are increasingly foreshortened; the faster the ship, the greater the density of the interstellar matter, and, from the ships point of view, the greater the mass of its components. At these high speeds, impact with something the size of a grain of sand, would breach the hull, anything the size of a pea, blow it to smithereens. Not only that, the foreshortening of the incoming space, means the wave-length of incoming light will in-creasingly shortened. As the ship gets ever closer to C, the incoming light will blue shift into the ultraviolet, then into hard X-rays. The crew will fry. What relativity gives with one hand, it takes with the other. This leaves out the stupendous energies which would be required to accelerate the ship to velocities close to C, as the ships mass (from the viewpoint of an external observer) is ever increasing.
All of this suggests than neither slow nor very fast space-ships are a practical proposition, if human beings are to go to the stars, it will be in fast (say 25 per cent to 75 per cent of C ) but not ultra fast, very big ships, with founding populations in the many thousands. If ET’s are anything like us at all, it is more likely than not they are coming in something very big indeed. If UFO reports are generated by biological ETs they must have a very big base somewhere in our solar system. No-one has detected one so far, nor do we see daily spaceships visiting us.
If however, we go for unmanned probes, then the priority is speed, in order that we can get the information from the probe in as short a time as possible. The route is as obvious as possible, An unmanned interstellar probe should be as cheap, and small and fast as technology will permit. Indeed the major limit here may be finding a way of decelerating the probe at the other end, though use of friction with interstellar dust might work. Launching would be using some process which does not use on-board fuel, firing from laser cannons, or using some vast linear accelerator (on the Moon perharps). How small these probes can get will depend on advances in computer technology, but my guess is that they could get pretty small. Once that path is taken both the costs and risks will be some many orders of magnitude less than manned voyages that the manned voyage route will never be taken. If ET’s are anything like us, it is not likely they will send biological beings on interstellar voyages.
The problem with the ETH is now clear. The ideas underlying much of the speculation surrounding it are already old fashioned by our own science.
The problem with the ETH is now clear. The ideas underlying much of the speculation surrounding it are already old fashioned by our own science. The ETH was formulated in days when spaceships, (always thought to come from Mars) were seen as kinds of ultra high performance aircraft, before ultra high resolution satellite surveillance, before the computer revolution, before miniaturisation. If real ET’s were visiting us, we would probably never notice.
It may be argued that that all of this is very anthropomorphic, that real ETs may be very different from us, that they come here using processes which we cannot understand. There could be a lot of truth in that, but supporters of the ETH must understand that the moment they invoke unguessable psychologies and exotic technologies about which we know, and can therefore say nothing, they are abstracting the ETH from the realms of science, into those of metaphysics and personal faith.There is another difficulty which would face proponents of an ETH even if they could state in advance what the properties of the ET craft were, so as to compare them with UFO reports; this is that there is no agreed upon, uncontaminated data base of UFO reports. Indeed as the definition of UFO is essentially a negative one, those reports as of today not yet identified, there can be no guarantee that the reports will not be explained tomorrow, (remember Peter Day’s film) There are no UFO reports which are wholly different from all IFO reports. There is furthermore no reason to suppose that even if (as might well be the case) that there are UFO reports generated by novel phenomena, they all have the same cause. As I found out while compiling the notorious INTCAT, there are few cases which everyone agrees on. There would also be the problem of determining whether an equal or better fit might not be made with some other phenomenon in the future.
As I have noted several times before, there is an even bigger problem with the ETH. Its central proposition may be just too anthropomorphic; the belief that there are ETs who are in essence people of another shape, perhaps looking different from us, but who are engaged in essentially the same projects. The occupants reported as being connected with UFOs are just too human, and there is a large measure of agreement among evolutionary biologists that there is little chance of human beings evolving elsewhere. Indeed if human beings were wiped out tomorrow, there is almost no chance of them evolving on earth again. At this point there is a tendency among some Ufologists to cry parallel evolution; what these people forget is that parallel evolution is something which occurs when creatures having different immediate ancestors, (but like all terrestrial organisms sharing a good deal of common DNA coding), adapt to very similar ecological niches.
Supporters of the ETH must understand that the moment they invoke unguessable psychologies and exotic technologies about which we know, and can therefore say nothing, they are abstracting the ETH from the realms of science.
This has not happened in the case of upright walking, tool users. There are no marsupial people, there are no New World people, there aren’t any people descended from the orang-utans. The best parallel evolution might come up with is some ET equivalent of a nondescript little furry animal, Unless one makes the assumption that the presumed ET world has ecological niches virtually identical to our own, even that might be asking too much. As most women who have given birth, and as anyone who suffers from back problems will tell you, the human body is not particularly well adapted. Large-headed upright walkers are not likely to be widespread. And as for the Mekon-like entities so often reported, they are even less likely. How do they give birth? How could a small heart in a small body supply enough oxygen to such a large brain.
Could creatures physically very different from us be sufficiently mentally similar to us to build radio telescopes and space ships? It has to be remembered we are not just talking about creatures which are anatomically different from us, such as elephants and pangolins, but physiologically and possibly even biochemically different. It is by no means clear that they would be composed of DNA, as opposed to some other complex reproducing molecule, which had evolved in the specific circumstances of their primal ooze. These would be entities who genetically would be far more different from us than yeast is. When, as I noted a few issues back, we realise than a very tiny genetic mutation in our own species can produce a major transformation of consciousness, it seems very improbable.
Perhaps this would be the next Copernican revolution, not to see ourselves as being of such cosmic importance that the universe would be somehow bereft if not filled with us or our surrogates, but to accept ourselves as one unique species among many, on one unique biosphere, in a universe of unique biospheres and unique entities. (We don’t seem to have any problem in facing up to the fact that we are not likely to live in a universe filled with armadillos and kangaroos). That our ability to build radio telescopes would be no more or less surprising that the unique nature of any other unique species abilities.
We also have to realise that the idea of building radio telescopes and space ships is not just unique to our species, among all the hundreds of millions which live or have lived on earth, it is unique to ours alone among many thousands of human cultures past and present. ET’s wouldn’t just have to think like humans, they would have to think like twentieth century Euro-Americans. The ET/CETI proponents don’t just regard all other species as being somehow irrelevant, all other human cultures and human achievements are tossed aside as being of no importance.
As evolutionary history shows that the coming of human beings was not an inevitability, so history shows that the coming of heavy industry was by no means inevitable. The merger of science and technology appears to have been the result of something specific about western European culture, possibly a merging of Greek notions of rationalism, with Irano-Judaic notions of the linearity of history, the existence of a common culture and lingua franca (Latin) in the absence of a centralised political authority, as well as notions of individuality, the relative lack of affluence and comfort in the ruling class, amongst other factors. One can say with some confidence that many of the other cultures depicted in Star Trek, say, as having space travel, in reality would be most unlikely to develop techno-scientific heavy industry.
Of course proponents of the ETH can argue against all of these points, and I would be the first to agree that in our state of such profound ignorance (we don’t even know that there are any extraterrestrial life forms) there can be no certainties. But it is precisely for that reason that the ETH, while by no means wholly irrational to hold as an article of personal faith, is not and cannot be a useful scientific working hypothesis.
This article is now archived here: http://magoniamagazine.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/the-plurality-of-worlds-part-1-from.html
from MUFOB New Series 6, spring 1977
Is it likely that there are intelligent beings on other planets? Would they resemble us, or would they be totally different in appearance and behaviour?
Many scientists today believe that life will eventually evolve wherever it is physically possible for it to do so, and given sufficient time and favourable conditions, intelligent beings will eventually emerge. New discoveries in biology are taking place almost daily, but the question of the origin of life is still controversial. Some experts believe that the origin of life on Earth was a singular event, the result of an extremely unlikely chain of chemical reactions, an event so improbable as to be unlikely to be repeated anywhere else in the Universe at any time. According to Jacques Monod:
“…the biosphere does not contain a predictable class of objects or of events but is a particular event, certainly compatible indeed with first principles, but not deducible from those principles and therefore unpredictable”. (1)
However, many scientists would argue that it would be possible to predict the occurrence of life, is only we knew enough about biology. Those who believe that life is quite common in the Universe often say that it is unlikely to be much like life on Earth:
“Some scientists have been especially impressed by the number of individually unlikely events which are together responsible for the development of men and human intelligence. They have emphasised that even if the Earth were started out again from scratch, and only random factors allowed to operate, the development of anything like a human being would be highly unlikely”.(2)
Such opinions seem very plausible, but they fail to take into account the various constraints imposed by the laws of nature. For example:
“…silicon compounds might replace carbon compounds as structural biochemicals”. (3)
The notion that there could be forms of life based on silicon rather than carbon compounds crops up again and again in the literature. It should not be taken seriously, as such an idea betrays an ignorance of elementary chemistry. Some writers assume that because silicon is the nearest neighbour to carbon in the Periodic Table and also has a valency of four, then it can form bonds with other silicon atoms and hydrogen, oxygen, etc., to produce compounds analogous to compounds based on carbon and having similar properties. This is not true. The bond energies involved in the links between silicon and other elements, and carbon and other elements have different values. The Si-Si bond is weaker than the C-C bond, but the Si-0 bond is stronger than the C-0 bond. To see what this means in practice we can compare the gas that bubbles out of fizzy lemonade, carbon dioxide, with a lump of quartz, silicon dioxide. I maintain that anyone who takes the trouble to consult the appropriate chemistry text-books will readily be convinced that a biochemistry based on silicon is impossible.
So here we have a basic constraint on the nature of any living creature, imposed by the laws of chemistry. Observational evidence indicates that these laws are the same throughout the observable universe, so there would seem to be no way of avoiding this conclusion.
Assuming that intelligent beings have evolved on other planets, what then would they look like? It is tempting to speculate that they would look like “nothing on Earth”, but we must not let our imaginations run wild. The laws of nature impose many constraints on the size and shape of living organisms, and even on the social behaviour of intelligent creatures.
If we wish to design a hypothetical intelligent being, where do we start? Well, it would need a brain, and a very elaborate one at that. Thus it will need to be big enough to support a large brain, and this delicate organ will need some form of protection. How about a skull? The brain will also need sensory inputs to tell it what is happening in the outside world. It will need eyes, if only to avoid such disasters as falling down cliffs, or walking under buses. Yes, but would those eyes necessarily see the same wavelengths as our eyes? Undoubtedly so, because planetary atmospheres are most transparent to those wavelengths which we detect as visible light. What about “seeing” with radio-waves? Well, with radio waves:
“In order to have any useful resolution – that is, detection of fine visual detail – the effective collecting area must be enormous. To have the same resolving power at 5cm wavelengths that they eye has at 5000A. wavelength, an extraterrestrial microwave “eyeball” would have to be roughly half a mile in diameter”. (4)
We could go on to fill a full-length book with similar arguments, but the whole question is neatly summed up in the words of Professor M R House:
“Typical gross form associated with ecological habit for a given animal size and node of life, suggests that there is a ‘paradigm’ or theoretically appropriate form for given circumstances, and that selection pressures tend to work towards this by eliminating those organisms least approximating to it”. (5)
House points to various examples of evolutionary convergence such as gross similarities between swimming reptiles, mammals and fish and the fact that “sabre-tooth tigers of the Tertiary of South America were marsupial mammals, whilst the present day tigers are placental mammals”.
In other words, where there is an ecological niche it will eventually be filled, by the processes of evolution, with the appropriate animal or plant. Because of the natural constraints imposed by the laws of physics and chemistry, ecological niches on other planets must bear some resemblance to those with which we are familiar on Earth.
There is nothing new in the idea that an intelligent being should conform to a certain specification. According to the Bible: “…God said Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”
There is nothing new in the idea that an intelligent being should conform to a certain specification. According to the Bible: “…God said Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (6) Also it is difficult to imagine an intelligent being which did not have the “knowledge of good and evil”. (7) That is, any creature which we would regard as being intelligent would have free will, or the power to choose between different possible courses of action. It is customary to draw a distinction between intelligent and non-intelligent sentient beings. We tend to assume that animals (at least the higher ones) are conscious, whhereas we humans are not only conscious, but also conscious of being conscious. In other words, we have the “knowledge of good and evil”, but we do not hold animals to be morally responsible for their actions.
This brings us to the question of whether intelligent extraterrestrials would have any religious beliefs or not. Would beings more advanced than we are be theists, atheists, or agnostics. Some theists maintain that the existence of God is pretty self-evident, and would presumably be even more so to more intelligent creatures. Atheist argue that belief in God is mere infantilism, so more advanced beings would have grown out of it. Maybe, but one cannot help speculating that a unanimously atheistic race, lacking any convincing ultimate purpose for its existence, might eventually die of inanition.
We are hardly likely to reach general agreement on this matter, so let us move on to slightly firmer ground, that of economics. Can you imagine a civilized society without some form of monetary system? In ancient times, as human cultures gradually grew larger and more complex, money had to be invented in order to replace the practice of barter which gradually became more complex and difficult. It is easy to dream of a Utopia where money is abolished, but would it work? No. Some such system is needed, however honest people may become, if only to act as a check on supply and demand, and to monitor and control the distribution of resources. Such considerations, as well as many other economic facts of life will continue to apply on Earth and will also apply to any other conceivable extraterrestrial civilization.
I think that I have said enough in this essay to begin to make some sort of a case for extra-terrestrial intelligences bearing some physical resemblance to ourselves. I have also argued that they would tend to resemble us in many other important ways in their social organisation and behaviour, as they would undoubtedly have to face and find answers to similar problems to ours – technical, economic, political and philosophical.
- 1. MONOD, JACQUES. Chance and Necessity. (translated by Austryn Wainhouse). Collins, London, 1972.
- 2. SHKLOVSKII, I.S. and SAGAN, CARL. Intelligent Life in the Universe. Dell, New York, 1968.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Ibid.
- 5. HOUSE, M. R. “Evolution and the Fossil Record” in Understanding the Earth, (I.G.Gass, Peter J.Smith, R.C.Wilson, eds) Artemis Press/Open University Press, 2nd edn., 1974.
- 6. Genesis 1.26
- 7. Genesis 2.17; 3.1-24.
1957 was ‘International Geophysical Year, a United Nations sponsored event which united scientists across the globe in a range of experiments and research designed to find out more about the structure of the Earth. (In fact, the ‘Year’ ran to eighteen months, well into 1958.) As part of the Brazilian government’s contribution, in October of that year it set up a research station on the small, rocky islet of Trindade, in the South Atlantic Ocean, 600 miles off the coast of Brazil.
Although the main UFO event, which produced the photographs that have become the object of so much controversy, did not take place until after the arrival of the Brazilian naval training ship Almirante Saldanha in January 1958, a number of very interesting reports were made on the island before the ship’s arrival. These included UFOs apparently interfering with radio transmissions from a balloon and an object tracked through binoculars and a sextant, and a photographic case which has important implications for subsequent events, which I shall return to later.
Present on the ship, but not part of the Brazilian navy crew, was a professional photographer, Almiro Barauna, and several colleagues from an underwater photography club. On 16 January 1958, at around mid-day as the ship was preparing to depart for Brazil an object was allegedly sighted by people on deck, and Barauna took some photographs of it. The object was described as “Saturn-shaped” – an ovoid disc with a distinct band around it at its widest point, which was likened to the rings of Saturn. Barauna took five photographs of the object as it moved around and behind the peak of the mountain on the small island.
Shortly afterwards, Barauna’s photographs were developed in a makeshift darkroom on board the Almirante Saldanha, but because no photographic paper was available, only the negatives were available for examination at the time. After examination by Captain Bacellar, the Commander of the naval post on Trindade who had now taken command of the ship for its return journey, Barauna was allowed to keep the negatives and Almirante Saldanha returned to Brazil, where Barauna disembarked, still with the negatives, at the port of Vitoria, and returned to his home by bus. The ship lay up in Vitoria for two days before sailing onward to Rio de Janeiro.
After returning home, Barauna produced prints from the negatives, and was then visited by Commander Bacellar , who took the enlargements away for examination, returning them a couple of days later. Barauna was interviewed by naval officials, and the negatives were examined by a photographic laboratory, which concluded that they were not the result of a double exposure.
The story of the UFO and the photographs had by now made the front pages of the Brazilian newspapers, and had attracted the attention of politicians, including the Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek. On 24 February, the Naval Ministry issued a statement denying claims that it was impeding the publication of the photographs and statements by the ships crew about the UFO incident: “This Ministry has no motive to impede the release of photographs … taken by Mr Almiro Barauna … in the presence of a large number of the crew of the Almirante Saldanha from whose deck the photographs were taken”. The statement concludes: “This Ministry will not be able to make any announcements concerning the object seen, because the photographs do not constitute sufficient proof for such purpose”.
This is a very significant statement, as it is a clear declaration that not only were photographs taken of a UFO, but that this object was seen by a large number of people. It is this which has given the Trindade case a special position in UFO history. However, this statement is not borne out by closer examination of evidence subsequently released by the Ministry.
In his substantial UFO Encyclopedia Jerome Clark concludes his summary of the case with the claim: “Given the number of witnesses, the results of photo analyses both military and civilian and the need for debunkers to ‘reinvent’ the incident to explain it, it seems most unlikely that the Trindade photographs were hoaxed”. In captions to photographs in that encyclopedia Clark states that “48 witnesses saw the object”, while the figure of 150 witnesses is given in Coral and Jim Lorenzen’s account in Fate magazine. It is not clear what the source is for either of these figures.
Clearly, if the events are as described above, this is one of the most important UFO cases ever, being that rarest of things, a multi-witness, photographic case. Naturally, this account of events has been challenged, particularly by the ‘usual suspects’, UFO sceptics Donald Menzel and Phil Klass. Menzel claimed that the photographs had been produced by double exposure. In a letter to UFO investigator Richard Hall in 1963 a Project Blue Book official pointed out that Barauna had previously produced a hoax UFO photograph for a Brazilian magazine article.
However, the question of whether or not the photographs were hoaxed would be irrelevant if it could be conclusively proven that the UFO was witnessed, at the time, by anything between 48 and 150 members of the crew of the Almirante Saldanha. As most of these potential witnesses were naval personnel they would obviously be readily available for interview by the appropriate authorities, and as the Naval Ministry had confirmed that they had no interest in impeding the story, many may have been available to speak to the press. This is where things start to get more ambiguous.
In the first edition of Magonia [Monthly] Supplement, editor John Harney refers to this case when considering the evidence for the ETH. Quoting Jerome Clark’s Encyclopedia remarks (above) he asks:
Well what are the agreed facts on this case? I was astonished to discover, on re-examining the literature on this incident that some of the most basic and presumably easily ascertainable facts are very much in dispute. For example, how many witnesses were there?
The answer, he claims, depends on whether you are a believer or a sceptic, as according to Coral Lorenzen, “Rio de Janeiro’s Ultimo Hora on February 21 reported that at least a hundred individuals had witnessed the sighting of the object”.
Harney then quotes the US Naval Attaché in Rio (who was quoted in the letter to Richard Hall) who says that the Captain of the Almirante Saldanha only named his secretary as having seen it, but when interviewed the secretary was noncommittal on the matter.
This debate was re-opened on the Internet’s UFO UpDates mailing list. In commenting on an unrelated topic, I quoted John Harney’s article as giving an example of the way that even apparently well-witnessed UFO sightings became more doubtful when they were looked at in greater detail. This sparked a response from several American ufologists as to what evidence I had that the Trindade case was not as well witnessed as claimed. As I had merely been quoting John Harney’s article, I decided that I should have to do some more research of my own.
One of the first things I discovered was that the Brazilian Navy seemed to be remarkably careless about these photographs, which, if taken at face value, would be almost certain evidence that a large physical object was flying around a Brazilian scientific station and a naval ship which was engaged on a scientific mission! Although I had originally been concerned only about the veracity of the figure of 48 (or 150) witnesses, the more I learned about this case the stranger the story of the photographs themselves turned out to be!
For a start, it seems remarkable that the Almirante Saldanha had no facilities for developing and printing films, even though there were according to some reports, at least four photographers on board. Although there seemed to be developing equipment and chemicals available, Barauna had to develop his film in a makeshift darkroom in one of the ship’s lavatories! Remember also, that at this time the ship was moored off Trindade Island, where there was an IGY scientific station. Was this also devoid of photographic equipment? Apparently not.
As I mentioned above, even before the arrival of the Almirante Saldanha there had been a number of odd UFO-like incidents over the scientific station on the island, whose main function was a launching and tracking post for high-atmosphere research balloons. Olavo Fontes, in his extensive report on the case outlined seven separate incidents, including ones in which a UFO possibly interfered with radio transmissions from a balloon, and another object was observed through binoculars and a sextant.
The object sighted in the final, island-based case, “appeared to be made of polished aluminium (or similar metal), and was shaped like a flattened spheroid with a large ring circling its equator. The spheroid body did not rotate, but the ring appeared to be spinning at fantastic speed.” This makes it very similar to the object depicted in the Barauna photographs.
Fontes then says that “the investigation also revealed another important thing (also denied by Com. Bacellar): that the UAO had been photographed by one of the witnesses, a Navy sergeant. The man was taking pictures of the island with a box camera when he spotted the UAO moving across the sky. He shot one picture before it disappeared”.
The reaction of the naval authorities to this incident is quite different to the relaxed response to Barauna: “The negative was immediately requested by Commander Bacellar and the film developed the same day. The picture was good enough to show that the object photographed was the same as described by the witnesses. Its spherical outline as well as the large thick ring around it could be clearly seen in the enlargements made from the negative.”
So, the scientific base on the island had the facilities to quickly develop films and produce good quality prints, yet Barauma developed his film in a makeshift darkroom on board ship and was unable to make prints due to a supposed lack of photographic paper. What is going on here?
Even after the film was developed and examined by Commander Bacellar on board ship, it was returned to Barauna, who then had complete possession of it for at least six days until Bacellar turned up at Barauna’s home and asked to be allowed to take the film and prints away for examination.
The question of the lack of control of the exposed film before it received adequate analysis is addressed as a ‘negative point’ by Corvette-Captain Jose Geraldo Brandao in the Naval Intelligence Section’s report on the incident:
However, he also listed the ‘positive points’ that led him to accept the photographic evidence:
These positive points might be conclusive if we could verify that the UFO was also observed by 48 (or 150) other people who could confirm that its appearance and manoeuvres corresponded with the photographs. Surely, with all those witnesses there must be plenty of first-hand reports. In a response to my original comments on this case Jerome Clark pointed out that the official Brazilian Naval report into the case referred to “many” witnesses. This report, surely, would confirm the exact number of people who reported seeing the UFO at the time Barauna took his photographs? Well, the report does indeed say that “many” other people were present, but it presents no evidence to corroborate the claim that Trindade was one of the best witnessed reports in UFO history.
The official Brazilian report can be found on the CUFOS website. It is headed:
INTERNAL COMMUNICATION – CONFIDENTIAL No. 0043
From: The Subchief of Intelligence.
To: The Vice-chief of the Navy High Command
Subject: Phenomena observed over the Trindade Island
Reference: Report No. 0005, of 1/6/1958, from the Chief of the Navy High Command to the Commander of the Trindade Island Oceanographic Post.
So this is a fairly high-level document. But its value as proof of an extraordinary event over Trindade is subverted by its opening paragraphs:
Further on, the report describes the circumstances under which the photographs were taken:
Obtained, from the deck of the NE “Almirante Saldanha”, when anchored close to the Trindade Island, four photographs of a UAO, taken by a professional photographer in the presence of other witnesses who state they have sighted the object photographed.
Well, what we now expect are the names of these other witnesses, maybe not all 48 (or 150) of them, but at least eyewitness reports from the numerous naval officers, ratings and civilian personnel who we assume witnessed the events. Far from it. Although there are a number of references to “members of the ship’s crew” having seen the object (at one point they are described as having an extremely strong emotional reaction to it) the only direct eyewitness reports, apart from Barauna’s come from two people.
Firstly, the longest statement comes from Amilar Vieira Filho, president of the Icarus Club for Submarine [Underwater? - an over-literal translation from the Portuguese?] Hunting. In an interview to a reporter from O Globo he reports:
First, I want to make it very clear that I don’t know if what I saw was really the so-called ‘flying saucer’. What I saw, in fact, was an object of gray color and oval in shape when first sighted, which passed over the island and then – emitting a fluorescent light it didn’t possess before – went away toward the horizon and was gone, vanishing just on the horizon line. Everything happened in just a few seconds, in no more than 20 seconds, and for this reason I cannot give you more details about the curious craft. It looked like an object with polished surface and uniform color. I am sure it was not a balloon, an airplane, or a seagull.
Further questioned, he adds:
As I said before, the thing was too rapid. It was almost impossible for the human vision to fix any detail of the object. Mr. Barauna, however, was operating with a camera of modern type which was able to register those details. Generally speaking, the shape of the object sighted was the same seen on the negatives developed aboard the NE Almirante Saldanha.
This latter comment is rather odd, giving the impression that the whole event was over in a second or so, yet Barauna had time to take five photographs using his Rolleiflex camera, and after taking the last photograph the object remained in view for a further ten seconds before “gradually diminishing in size and finally disappearing into the horizon”. Rather different from “the thing was too rapid, almost impossible for the human vision to fix any detail”. The business about Barauna’s “camera of modern type” is quite irrelevant.
The other directly quoted witness, Captain (Retd.) Jose Teobaldo Viegas, also was a member of Barauna’s underwater exploration club. He mentions other witnesses on deck, but we have no statements from them, and although there was apparently another photographer on deck at the time he failed to get any photographs at all. Viegas states:
I was on the deck. My friend Amilar Vieira Filho suddenly called my attention to what he thought to be a ‘big seagull’. I looked toward it and was unable to control my excitement, shouting: ‘Flying saucer!’ Mr Barauna was 20 yards away with his Rolleiflex, watching the manoeuvres [loading equipment onto the ship before departure]. He heard my shouts and came running – in time to take four pictures of the object. Other people were also alerted by my alarm: a sergeant, sailors, the ship’s dentist (Lieutenant Captain Homero Ribeiro), and other persons. They all sighted the object. The photographer Farias de Azevedo, who was more distant, didn’t come in time to get photos.
(One question occurs to me here; if the object was circling the mountain peak more than a thousand metres away, why would it have been necessary for Azevedo to “come in time” to get photos, if he was already on deck? Couldn’t he have taken the photo from where he was standing?)
Viegas was also the person who accompanied Barauna into the makeshift darkroom to develop the negatives whilst Captain Bacellar remained outside. (An odd aspect of this is that Barauna, apparently because of the hot conditions in the darkroom, stripped to his underpants to develop the film. Captain Bacellar and the investigator, Olavo Fontes, saw this as additional evidence that he could not have faked the photographs by smuggling some equipment or film into the darkroom. Curiously, we have no record as to whether or not Viegas also stripped.)
The third named witness, Antonio Homero Ribeiro the ship’s dentist, is never quoted directly in any of the reports I have been able to find, and is only mentioned by Barauna as one of the people, along with Viegas and Filho, who drew the UFO to his attention. So Barauna names three other people as witnesses of the event, but only two, Filho and Viegas, gives any form of direct statement, and this to a newspaper rather than the Government investigator. Viego mentions Ribeiro and Azevedo, but we hear no more of them.
Although in the Internet discussion much was made, by Jerome Clark and others, about the “thorough” investigation by the Naval authorities, in fact the report is based solely on second-hand reports, largely from Commander Bacellar, who, on his own account was below decks at the time, and was only alerted by the shouts of – presumably – Barauna and his associates. The “thorough” report does not interview any of the other alleged witnesses.
Federal Deputy Sergio Magalhaes who originally raised the matter at government level, requesting an investigation into the facts connected with the incident at Trindade, protested to the Navy Ministry at their failure to secure sworn statements from witnesses:
For the first time in flying saucer history, the phenomenon was attended by large numbers of persons belonging to a military force, which gives these photographs an official stamp. Threats to national security require greater official attention and action.
So it’s not only sceptical ufologists who were dissatisfied with the quality of the Brazilian Government’s investigation.
Now, when I pointed all this out in the UFO UpDates discussion, I felt that all that was needed was for the proponents of the case’s importance to come up with the names of a few more direct eyewitness testimonies, either from contemporary newspapers, or from Government sources. I wasn’t expecting 48 (or 150), but even three or four more direct statements would have made my argument very shaky indeed. Perhaps even just one statement from someone who was not a member of Barauna’s underwater diving team!
(One small point: Jerome Clark took me to task for describing the other witnesses as ‘friends’ of Barauna, just because they were members of the same diving club. Captain Viegas describes Filho as a ‘friend’ in his statement (above), and Olavo Fontes also describes Barauna, Filhio and Viegas and ‘friends’.)
It seemed now that I was expected to come up with a statement from someone who was present at the time who did not see the UFO! Surely, Jerome Clark thundered, with all the hullabaloo going on in the press and elsewhere, non-witnesses would be lining up to sell their non-story to the newspapers. In one exchange Clark says: “John has yet to produce the name of a single individual who, while in a position to see the UFO Barauna photographed, stated that he saw nothing. I have named witnesses. John has named none, only continued to indulge in innuendo.”
The only comment I can make here is that if there were, as I suggest, no other witnesses to this event, how could anyone be “in a position to see the UFO [that] Barauna photographed”, and how could anyone therefore challenge Barauna’s version of events?
Even if you were on deck when Barauna and company were running around shouting hysterically – yes, that is what happened; it is claimed that ship’s dentist Ribeiro was so flustered he allegedly fell over a cable in his panic! – how would you realise what you were supposed to see, or that it was significant that you didn’t see anything? After all, as Amilar Vieira Filho said: “the thing was too rapid. It was almost impossible for the human vision to fix any detail of the object”. Over in a flash, what significance would it be if you hadn’t seen anything? Certainly nothing worth going to the newspapers about, or risking the attention of more military investigators – perhaps the very ones whose report you were, by implication, criticising.
Imagine if you were a member of a military unit, and military Intelligence officers were coming around asking about an incident which, remember, was reported only by civilian personnel, would you voluntary stick you head over the parapet to present a statement that nothing happened? Especially if you knew that your country’s authoritarian President had taken a personal interest in the case? How would you actually know that you were meant to be one of the 48 (or 150) witnesses?
Maybe, buried deep in the vaults of the Brazilian National Archives there exists a report which lists the 48 (or 150) witnesses of this case. Maybe one day Brazilian versions of Dr David Clarke and Andy Roberts will uncover it and I will have to eat my words. But until then, I feel the Trindade Island case rests on far shakier foundations than its chroniclers would have you believe. And, moreover, that the responsibility is on saucer proponents to demonstrate that independent witnesses did see the object, rather than I should start searching for improbable statements from people who may not have been there that they didn’t see it!
After this debate continued on the UpDates list for several weeks, gradually getting more and more circular in its arguments, there came an intervention from a researcher in Brazil, offering what he claimed was new evidence. In fact this turned out to be some cuttings sent to Richard Hall in the 1960s. I was unimpressed, and replied:
I have said this ad nauseam, and I will not repeat it until some new material is available (and Richard Hall’s cuttings are certainly not new material. They are second, third, or fourth hand accounts); we have no direct evidence from anyone except two people who are known to be associates of the photographer prior to the incident. We are nowhere near the “48 witnesses” claimed in Jerry’s encyclopedias.
Then, in a dramatic intervention Jerome Clark replied, “Wrong, old boy. There is some very important new evidence. I’m sorry to say that the news, for you, is not good.”
Before completing this piece, I e-mailed back to Clark to see if this new material was yet available for publication: “Are you able to give me any further details of this important new evidence?”
Jerry replied: “Yeah, it’s still out there and will be announced, I’m sure, in the near future. As I understand it, it pretty much eliminates whatever small possibility there was, if any, that the photos were hoaxed. You’ll know about it when the report is released.” It will be fascinating, after fifty years, to learn what this evidence might be. My hope would be that it was additional contemporary eye-witness reports, with direct statements from named individuals who were present, on the deck of the Almirante Saldanha. I would be disappointed if it were merely a re-hash of the photographic analyses that were made at the time.
If it is true that we are by nature an inquiring species, seeking an explanation for everything, it is no less true that the kind of explanation we prefer is the kind that explains as much as possible by as little as possible.
We started by inventing gods, who could be held responsible for pretty well everything from thunder to crop failure. Evans-Pritchard in the 1930s found that life with the Azande was impossible until he adopted their working hypothesis that everything is the result of magic. But little by little, we have learnt that some things can be blamed on natural causes, some on our own misperceptions, until, for many of us who live in the second half of the 20th century, field-theories and blanket explanations have become things we tend to cast a cold eye on.
But the lure is always there – to blame the Government, the Atom Bomb, the Jews, the Papacy: “Them” in this form or that, whichever is convenient.
So, when Kenneth Arnold saw some strange things in the sky, and when several other people said “Me too!”, and when no terrestrial explanation was forthcoming for what they said they saw, the suggestion was made that maybe they were extraterrestrial? And lo! it turned out to be the suggestion everyone had been waiting for. A great big hold-all of a hypothesis into whose limitless folds could be shovelled every shape and size of enigmatic phenomenon that could conceivably be related to visiting alien spacecraft.
If UFOs have fascinated us for 50 years and more, it is because it is such fun trying to fit all those disparate elements into a single category. The aliens fly saucers and triangles, mother-ships and scout-ships. They maintain underground bases in the Antarctic and collaborate with the US government in New Mexico. They mutilate cattle and channel J.Z. Knight. They fly black helicopters and carve circles in crop-fields. They take George Adamski for a ride and get Elizabeth Klarer in the family way. They do unspeakable things to Brazilians and Whitley Strieber. They seek out innocent children and implant monitors under their skins, they rape their mothers and steal their fathers’ sperm. They dress up as Men in Black, they paralyse Maurice Masse with their ray-guns, they grant Betty Andreasson a religious experience. All this – and goodness, there’s much more! – is somehow trimmed and tailored until it can be fitted into the ETH.
And all the time the paradox remains: the ETH is nothing but an idea, an artifact, constructed to meet a contingency and clung to for convenience. There is not a scrap of evidence that it has any substance whatever outside the minds of those who conceived it, nourish it and cherish it.
The only thing going for the ETH is that it offers a refuge of a sort, luring us out of the cold into a kind of security, where those huddling within feel justified in jeering at those outside. “Well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it!” Or in ufological terms, whenever a crucial case comes up – Gulf Breeze, the Strieber abduction, the Manhattan Transfer or whatever – we are challenged to refute the evidence, if any, and to offer contrary evidence, if we can: or, failing that (and so far, it has always been a case of “failing that”), to offer an explanation that has a higher probability rating than the ETH.
Previous issues of Magonia ETH Bulletin have rightly cited the Walton case as a classic exemplar of the UFO enigma. A sincere-seeming primary witness, with a bunch of seemingly no less sincere secondary witnesses, tell a story which ultimately has nothing to stand on apart from what the narrators narrate. If they were telling us about a strange animal they saw in the woods, we would believe them: but the “high strangeness” of their story makes us hesitate.
Of course it isn’t as simple as that. There are a wealth of circumstantial hints which might tip us towards belief or rejection – the fact that Walton always wanted to see a UFO, the fact that after all these years he is sticking to his story, the astonishing unworriedness of his family during his disappearance, such signs point us this way or that, and we either follow them or don’t according as we find them persuasive. But ultimately, it’s a question of trust/distrust.
So did the ancients trust their gods, and the Azande their witch-doctors.
Another crucial case is the 1976 Allagash abductions, investigated by the redoubtable Raymond Fowler whose lifelong dedication and manifest sincerity would alone be enough to make us take the case seriously. Four primary witnesses, and many secondary ones, testify to an event which, if it happened as described, seems to offer (in Fowler’s words) “evidence that would demonstrate, beyond a reasonable shadow of doubt, that worldwide reports of humans being abducted by alien entities were really happening”.
As with the Walton case, the events take place in an isolated location where there is no one else around to confirm or deny the story. Four young men go for a boating trip in the wilds, and experience a collective abduction. Their stories jibe. The events open up a series of links to the past, lead on to further incidents, tie in to yet more incidents involving relatives and friends, forming a web of disparate but interlinking happenings. Indeed, it’s with Allagash like it is with Walton: IF what the witnesses say happened DID happen, then there’s no two ways about it, ETs are real, flying saucers are real, abductions are real, all is real as real can be.
So did it happen? There are four primary witnesses, not to mention the various friends and relatives who get drawn into the story: their accounts all more or less agree. If one of them isn’t telling the truth, then none of them is.
Could they be mistaken? It’s hard to see how. Their stories are detailed, factual and mutually validating. Hallucination? Misinterpretation? Folie a quatre? Whatever is true for one must be true for all.
So if their story isn’t true, it has been in some manner fabricated. And if so, the four of them must know it, or at the very least suspect it. So, if we reject their story, do we have any choice but to label them as liars?
Well, we could suppose that  something happened which they didn’t understand, which  led them to formulate an imaginary scenario to help them understand, which  subsequent events encouraged them to perceive as fact. Far-fetched? Yes, but stranger things have been reported in the annals of psychology.
But could they tell so elaborate a story without having any doubts whatever? Is there never, at the back of their minds, some little niggling hesitation as to the factualness of it all? Alan Godfrey, that most bemused and confused of abductees, at least has had the good sense to express a degree of uncertainty as to the reality of his adventure: but the Allagash abductees show no discernable wobble in their story-telling.
Some thoughtful students of the UFO phenomenon, reluctant either to accept such stories or to label their narrators as liars, dodge both horns of the dilemma by invoking such abstract concepts as virtual reality, imaginal reality and the like – a middle ground where things which are impossible by normal consensus become possible because they take place on some other level of reality. The believer is placated, the sceptic disarmed.
Intriguing as these ideas are, though, they are only ideas and nothing more. They have no more substance than the ETH itself. There is nothing to support these metaphysical constructs; they float in mid-air with only one thing going for them, that they offer a neat way out of the truth-or-lies cul-de-sac. And, appealing as ever, another catch-all “explanation” like possessing demons or Azande sorcerers.
But whether or not such scenarios contain any truth, they won’t do for us as we confront the Allagash Four. They, like Walton and his mates, are living human beings like you and me, and unless we are prepared to let go of everything that experience has taught us about the universe we live in, we have to believe that if something happened to them, it happened on a touchy-feely physical level. Walton’s earthly body was taken somewhere by some method which enables a human body to be borne safely through the air, and when it got there it was able to continue functioning, breathing, taking in the 2.5 litres of water it requires for daily sustenance, and so on. To invoke a kind of reality in which the processes of nature are suspended is to invoke magic and miracle. If we are willing to accept imaginal reality for Walton or Allagash, we may with equal justification accept it for diabolical possession and Azande magic.
But unless we are prepared to settle for magic, we must continue to seek understanding at the level of human experience. We need to understand why the Allagash aliens choose to manifest, on occasion, as “a white-glowing, robed, bearded figure”, on others as a “horrible looking monster”? We need to know why abduction brings with it so many other anomalous happenings, ranging from balls-of-light to out-of-body experiences? Why do odd lumps appear on bodies, then vanish into nowhere? What are we to infer when witness Chuck Rak says: “In instigating and organising that trip, I knew that the bizarre haunted those twins. If I could get them up there, I knew I could be part of something unusual”? That doesn’t sound like a bunch of all-American youngsters heading for a healthy weekend in God’s great outdoors! Everything anomalous that ever happened to the Allagash Four, or to their kith and kin, is lumped together in Fowler’s account, all seen as part and parcel of alien abduction. Likewise, in Debbie Jordan’s true confessions, (2) the unwinding of a toilet paper roll is ascribed to extraterrestrial intervention. In Ann Andrews’s account (3) of her son Jason’s abductions every inexplicable event (walking-shoes under bedclothes, a smell as of burnt sugar) is attributed to the aliens. We’re back with the Azande ascribing every unexplained event to magic.
Most of us accept that inexplicable things happen every day. To classify such incidents as side-effects of the abduction experience indicates a state of mind in which reality-testing has been set aside: a persecution complex, a touch of paranoia. In which case we have the right to wonder if that state of mind wasn’t responsible for the core experience also?
The late Renée Haynes, of the SPR, invented the phrase “boggle threshold” to define the point at which we exhaust our supply of willingness-to-believe and scepticism takes over. Consider Larry Warren. Seems a nice enough fellow, he comes over well letting it all hang out in his account of his involvement with Rendlesham. (4) But when he tells us he experiences “nonhuman visitations” on an almost nightly basis, and that on the first night of his re-visit to Bentwaters he and his co-author observed 25 UFOs, he raises a boggle threshold so high that only the most agile of True Believers could think of accepting anything he says at face value.
But if we balk at Warren at Bentwaters, or at Linda Napolitano floating out of her Manhattan apartment, that is tantamount to saying, Whatever happened to these witnesses, it wasn’t what they thought happened. And if that is so for these cases, then is it not equally so for Walton and Allagash, Debbie Jordan and all?
If you read the life of Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney, the cure d’Ars, you will learn how this unfortunate priest was plagued by the Evil One who sent little demons to pull the bedclothes off his bed at night. The Catholic Church made Vianney a saint, but most of us will boggle at his story, marvelling that Satan, with all the power at his command would use such childish means to harass the poor fellow, and we will think less highly of the Church for accepting his story. We boggle when we hear of spirits of the dead who revisit Earth and can find nothing better to do than float luminous trumpets through the air and bang tambourines in suburban s‚ance-rooms, and we think less highly of Spiritualists in consequence.
If we find ourselves boggling at Allagash, Strieber, Gulf Breeze, Napolitano and Walton, it’s because they, too, offend our sense of the plausible. Extraterrestrial intervention, per se, is logical enough: but these alleged instances of it savour more of magic than matter-of-fact. If we boggle at the ETH, it is because we boggle at the evidence that its champions offer in its support.
1. Fowler, Raymond E. The Allagash Abductions, Wild Flower Press, 1993
2. Jordan, Debbie. Abducted!, Carroll and Graf, 1994
3. Andrews, Ann and Ritchie, Jean. Abducted, Headline, 1998
4. Warren, Larry and Robbins, Peter. Left at East Gate, Marlowe, 1997