Back when this piece first appeared (Merseyside UFO Bulletin, volume 3, number 1, January 1970) few ufologists looked much beyond the ETH for an explanation. Keel and Vallée’s game-changing books had not yet been published, although their work was finding an outlet in the pages of FSR, then in an open-minded period under the editorship of Charles Bowen. Looking back on this piece after forty years it seems very naive, but it was written at a time when any consideration of alternative theories was rare.
For all its faults the ETH has many attractive features which commend a serious consideration of its claims, These can be summarised:
- It fits the facts as reported, at least to a superficial degree. The majority of ‘straight’ UFO reports do accord with what one would expect from some advanced form of interstellar or interplanetary transport.
- It is an explanation that is within human experience. It is clearly defined, and does not involve the introduction of new
and unfamiliar concepts.
- It is finite. It is capable of being proved or disproved, and analyzed in a straightforward scientific manner.
- It is an attractive theory, both to the scientist and extravert, who would be excited by the thought of contact with an advanced civilization; and to the type of person who is receptive to space-brother ideas.
Obviously any other theory that claims to offer an explanation of the UFO must be strong indeed to take precedence over the ETH. The other explanations that have been put forward can be divided into three general categories: Physical Craft Theories, Natural Phenomena Theories, and Subjective Phenomena.
If one presupposes a physical craft, it must have an origin. Ruling out the ETH it must come from Earth. Many ufologists have put forward just such explanations. Perhaps the most spectacular is the idea propounded by Ray Palmer that the Earth is doughnut-shaped, with the UFOs originating from the part on the inside. Like most ideas of this nature a vast framework of shaky pseudologic has been painstakingly erected to provide some justification for it. The main interest with this theory lies in the examination of the mental imbalance of its fanatical adherents.
The Hollow Earth Theory does at least accept the spherical nature of the Earth, but alleges that it is either a hollow sphere with an alternative world on the inside curve, or that there is a vast world-wide network of caverns which shelter a race of deranged robots. – dero – bent an wreaking havoc amongst humanity. Again, considerable ‘evidence’ is presented to prove both of these theories. This evidence ranges from mysterious disappearances, strange caves and cave creatures, to the alleged ‘land beyond the poles’ where this world is supposed to open onto our own. These theories can be dismissed by a rational examination of the facts, although there is no denying the attraction they have for some people. It is possible that blaming the dero for all the ills that befall mankind is a subjugation of the feelings that in other circumstahces have blamed Jews, Blacks or foreigners.
Another terrestrial explanation suggests that the UFOs originate from under the sea. Often this is coupled with the ETH, claiming that there are undersea bases built by aliens. Or that there are underwater ‘gates’ to the inner world of the dero. Often the idea of Atlantis is introduced into these explanations. It can be considered as a refinement of the previous theories rather than an explanation in its own right.
Other Earth-bound explanations include unknown civilizations situated in the Andes or in Tibet or in some other comparatively remote part of the world. An ‘explanation’ that is constantly resurrected is that the UFOs are secret craft of some terrestrial nations variously identified as USA, USSR, Britain, even Italy and other less plausible countries.
The basically unsatisfactory nature of all these explanations is apparent. It can be summed up in the thought that if all the apparent UFOs and UFO related phenomena were earth-originated the facts would be so incredibly difficult to avoid that the matter would be common knowledge. The proponents of these theories do provide explanations for this, but these are so involved, requiring massive official secrecy, infiltration, suppression, intimidation, et al, that they become harder to accept than the original theory.
The Natural Phenomena theories must to a large extent be accepted by all serious ufologists, They cover what might be torned the range of ‘Menzelian Phenomena’, and are the explanation for many of even the so-called ‘unexplained’ UFO events, If one can also accept the distinct possibility of an unknown or little-known natural phenomenon one could probably account for 99% of even the ‘unexplained’ cases that crop up in the typical ‘lights in the sky’ sighting reports. Having said this one must add that a desire to explain all UFO sightings in these terms is as irrational and probably as worthy of psychiatric study as a desire to explain the matter in terms of doughnut shapad Earths or underground civilizations. There are obviously limits, drawn by the physical structure of the Earth and the atmosphere and the laws of science, to what a natural phenomenon oan do, This applies even to as-yet unknown phenomena. Similarly, even allowing for untrained observers there are limits to the misinterpretathon of facts that a rational person can make.
The range of subjective explanations is the widest of all, from theories that all UFO witnesses are psychotics to total mysticism. As the subjective aspects of ufology have only been probed with any enthusiasm in the past two or three years the various theories have not been worked out in as much detail as have the Physical Craft theories. One theory that has been presented in some detail is Allan H. Greenfieldis concept of ‘Alternate Realities’. This is a complex idea to explaing but it involves a number of universes occupying the same space and time, but on different ‘planes’ of existence. Put thus baldly it may seen to be confined to the realms of science fiction. However, some reccnt discoveries in sub-atomic physics may cause one to pause before discarding the idea completely. The theory explains the UFOs as ‘projections’ from one of these other realities. Possibly the main value of a theory such as this is to force us to re-examine our concepts of reality.
Another subjectivist theory that has been worked out in some detail is Jung’s idea of the UFO as part of mankind’s ‘racial memory’, a collective experience that is born into everyone. Various forces stimulate this memory, and cause subjective responses that are discerned as UFOs, psychic phenomena, and a wide range of supernatural entities and events. This theory accepts and accounts for the characteristic elusive quality of all these events, whilst at the same time explaining their relevance to an exceptionally wide range of the public. Critics however can point to the all-inclusive nature of this theory, and claim that it is a convenient ‘get-out’, to avoid many complex explanations.
Psychotic conditions in individual percipients are certainly relevant to some UFO events. A variety of personal anxieties may be worked out in a UFO context; many of the more bizarre and sensational contactee incidents can be seen in these terms. Whether similar conditions apply to more emotionally well-balanced witnesses and less spectacular events is something on which research is currently being done.
The pioneering work which John Keel is undertaking in the study of the vast range of associated phenomena has revealed many hitherto unknown facts of the UFO problem. These seem to take the subject beyond any of the theories outlined above. Seemingly, objective events seem to be linked with other events of a very subjective nature. Attempting an explanation for many of the incidents he describes takes one through the theories at an increasingly confusing rate, The overall theory that seems to be emerging from his work, and that of others who are independently is part of an elaborate hoax or deception. This is a very attractive theory, considering some of the more outrageous aspects of UFO experiences. It would seem that the strength or weakness of this theory depends on who is supposed to be doing the hoaxing. So far no definite suggestions have been put forward, although we may anticipate some revelations in Mr Keells forthcoming book.
Other ‘subjectivist? theories move into completely occult fields. One school of thought suggests that UFOs are a variant of spiritual and/or religious or cryof the Lord, or the Devil. This is a direct reversal of the ETH which explains that biblical descriptions of Angels and Devils are mininterpretations of extraterrestrial contacts. So little serious attention has been given to that class of phenomena described as ‘occult’ that many of the ideas associated with it seem rather woolly and indecisive. One interesting idea that has been put forward is that occult phenomena are so total and overwhelming that civilization is only possible through the action of the brain, which serves to filter out the occult influences.
Exponents of this theory would allege that UFOs and the Associated Phenomena are aspects of the occult reality which have escaped the brain’s filtering mechanism. Again, the complex and irrational nature of the phenomenon lends itself to such ideas, however there is as yet no overall theory worked out in any detail that can accomodate occultism in the light of present conventional knowledge.
The theories outlined above range from the plausible to the ludicrous. It is however, in the light of our present knowledge, a dangerous practice to reject flatly any of them, although I have done that, by implication, in this essay. The terrestrial origin theorists in particular are on very shaky ground, The theories seem to founder on their own absurdity. (one school of thought alleges that the UFOs are controlled from a secret South American base by Hitler and Martin Bormann) Even so one cannot rule out secret weapons and military devices for a small proportion of events. Can such an explanation be ruled out entirely for Socorro or some of the Warminster incidents? The natural phenomenon, known or unknown, seems a distinct possibility as an explanation for many as yet unidentified sightings. This Bulletin has published a number of articles suggesting the racial-momory explaanation, and pointing out folklore-occult-UFO links. At the same time the major drawback to most of the subjectivist theories has to be the lack of any viable conventional scientific basis. It can be argued that this is the very last thing one would expect to find in occult phencmena. A valid point of view.
The ETH is a theory worthy of consideration, and many ufologists will feel that it is the only aspect of the phenomena that is of interest to them. However if they do they will miss a very large part of the mystery of ufology, and may risk adopting a closed-minded attitude to many aspects of the problem. At the present time probably the great majority of ufologists are adherents of the ETH, and the majority of UFO publications put forward this theory almost exclusively. There is a real danger that research into the other explanations will tend to be stifled by lack of encouragement and scarcity of suitable outlets for published work.
It is vital that the alternative explanations should be given adequate consideration. The ETH must not be considered as the only explanation, with the assumption that if it is not the UFO subject then becomes something else, of less intrinsic interest.