Monday, July 26, 2010

An Intriguing Case . . .

The most common UFO report I receive is about strange lights in the sky. The lights are often of multiple and/or shifting colors. Sometimes the lights will move in patterns that defy the behavior of conventional aircraft or satellites, such as making right angle turns or ‘crazy’ loops. Sometimes they will blink out and then reappear in another part of the sky. While these cases are interesting, they are so frequent that it may be difficult to derive new information from them about the nature of UFOs.

The more interesting cases involve what J. Allen Hynek, former chairman of astronomy at Northwestern University and father of scientific ufology, called close encounters of the first, second or third kind. Consider the case of Stephanie (witness names in this blog will be changed to protect their privacy) who related the following set of experiences.

Stephanie was tending to her horses one morning when she noticed a thin, rectangular, metallic object across the fenced-in pasture. The object puzzled her, since she was the only one who used the pasture. Even more perplexing — the object had no apparent means of support. In fact, it seemed to be floating in the air. When relating the story to me, Stephanie couldn’t comprehend why she didn’t go over to take a closer look at the hovering object, which would have been her natural impulse.

Later that afternoon, Stephanie returned to the property where she ran into Miguel, the ranch hand who had worked there for many years. Miguel pointed out that her horses were acting strangely, as if they were scared of something. He went on to say that he had seen a metal object in the pasture that looked like a feeder except it was moving up and down and side-to-side. A grounded and dependable man, Miguel was clearly upset by what he had seen. He told Stephanie, “I don’t think it’s from here” — meaning, not from Earth.

 (Photo by Carl Jones, Black & White Horses)

Stephanie reported several other anomalous encounters too. Among these was a sighting in the late 1980’s of two barbell shaped craft larger than 747’s, floating above the trees outside her house. The flying barbells seemed familiar to her and made her feel happy. On another occasion, a strange beam of light danced along the dashboard of her car, making her dog “go crazy.” The way she described these events indicated that Stephanie had a personal, even spiritual, relationship with the source of these events. She confided to me that she wasn’t sure if they were aliens or spiritual beings.

Her curiosity inflamed, one night before retiring to bed Stephanie asked these beings to show themselves so that she could know who they were. Later that night she awoke to see her tabby cat sitting just outside the window across the room. Above the cat was an egg-shaped, golden orb. Stephanie’s thought was, “It’s heard me and it’s telling me that everything is okay.” Upon hearing this story, I wondered if it was a moving dream incubated by her attempt to summon the source of the UFOs. However, Stephanie insisted that she was fully awake.

This complex case presents several conundrums for the investigator. One immediate question was – what did the feeder shaped UFO want with Stephanie’s horses? And why was she so nonchalant when she saw the object hovering in the pasture with no visible means of support? The impression I had when hearing her story was that the UFO in the pasture was affecting her mind, blocking her natural interest and curiosity.

The fact that Stephanie reported so many strange encounters makes one wonder if the intelligence behind the UFOs and orbs had an ongoing interest in her. For instance, it’s not unusual for someone who has been abducted to report multiple experiences. While Stephanie did not claim to be an abductee, she did report several close encounters of the first kind. Another possibility is that Stephanie is an intuitive, and her mind is porous to other dimensions. Yet, didn’t Miguel see the UFO too?

Another puzzle is this. Assuming that the orb that appeared above her cat was not a dream, then what can we make of the fact that Stephanie seemed to summon its presence? If UFOs represent an alien intelligence, then how likely is it that they would show up upon request? It strikes me that true extraterrestrials from other worlds would be here for their own purposes, not to satisfy our curiosity. Or maybe her orb experiences have nothing to do with the UFOs she described. In this case, the orbs might represent a spiritual experience, and the UFOs, a nuts and bolts visitation. However, during my conversation with her that Stephanie clearly viewed these experiences as pieces of a single tapestry.

The skeptic in me might be tempted to dismiss her account as the product of an overactive imagination. But that would be an easy out, a psychological defense against a discomforting metaphysical ambiguity. Most of us like to divide the world into two categories: real or unreal, material or spiritual, fact or fantasy. When confronted by events that seem to have aspects of both, our minds seek to resolve the paradox by leaning right or left, making half of the phenomenon disappear. While I believed Stephanie’s story, in the end this case left me left with more questions than answers. I call to mind writer and publisher Ray Palmer's startling proposition:

Flying saucers are here to make us think.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Clearing Up a Confusion

Recognizing the potential diversity of the audience here, I hope to be explicit enough in these early posts not to overwhelm the UFO newcomer, while conveying enough sophistication to appeal to the interests of those who are steeped in the field. Whether I succeed at this, you can be the judge.

For the wider public, UFOs conjure up alien spacecraft and little green men. For the fully initiated, this idea is called the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis — the notion that these disks, rods, cigars, snow cones, conical hats and black triangles flying the friendly skies hail from distant solar systems or even other galaxies. While the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis appears to be the most widely held theory among American ufologists, after sixty plus years of modern research into UFOs, we still have no smoking gun, or should I say, smoking ray gun. Moreover, there are several lines of evidence that suggest that UFO occupants do not come from other stars.

The idea that UFO occupants are aliens from another world appeals to our anthropocentric bias and our desire for metaphysical clarity. Just as we have sent men to the moon, presumably an advanced civilization will send them to the stars. And while we can’t drive down to the White House lawn and “kick the tires,” at least we can imagine that there are tires to be kicked. But what if these strange gray beings are time travelers or creatures who live in other dimensions? What if the craft we see in the sky wink in and out of existence? What if they can — as is commonly reported — change shape and even split into multiple craft and then rejoin? And what about the fact that a witness may see a UFO, while another person in close proximity will not? Very soon our tidy sense of metaphysical clarity breaks down.

None of this rules out the real possibility that we are being visited by extraterrestrials from other worlds. Isaac Asimov pointed out that a sufficiently advanced technology would appear to us as magic. Having grown up on Close Encounters and ET, I would like nothing more than for enlightened space beings to come down and lift me (and the rest of you) up to a higher level of consciousness and intergalactic brother and sisterhood. Even the darker motifs displayed in abduction reports reflect the idiom of our collective nightmares. But the deeper one delves into the UFO literature, the more complicated the landscape becomes. In other words, Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

In sum, it seems important for proponents of ETH to specify conditions that, if satisfied, would distinguish genuine extraterrestrials from other sorts of visitors. One promising line of evidence comes from the work of Dr. Roger Leir — a California podiatrist who has carved out a rather unique medical specialty in extracting so called “alien implants” from those who have had close encounters with ETs. Dr. Leir has reported that surgically removed implants have included materials with isotopic ratios not found on Earth. Even more compelling would be material that comes from outside the solar system, since we can presume that future human time travelers would very likely be mining the asteroids and the moons. In fact, recently Dr. Leir has made such a claim. It will be interesting to see what the scientific community makes of any released lab reports.

One could argue that it doesn’t really matter who is flying about our skies, since clearly they aren’t from here. But in my view, who they are and where they come from, is intimately connected with why they are here. And that, in a nutshell, is the heart of the matter.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beginnings . . .

For those who don’t know me, I would like to introduce myself. I am a writer, psychologist and ufologist who hails from Eugene, Oregon. I use the term ufologist with some trepidation, since it is not very well defined and may imply things that are untrue. Besides, lacking any social status or academic heft, anyone can call him or herself a “ufologist” without complaint from the relevant professional society. Be that as it may, I have been reading about UFOs and ufology for more than two decades, and have been involved in investigations with UFOS Northwest for the past five years. I should probably mention that the views expressed in this blog — apart from comments by others — are mine alone.

So how does a psychologist become interested in the marginalized and slightly suspect field of UFOs? Putting it simply: UFOs and related phenomena represent the greatest mystery of our time. For many decades — and probably for centuries — strange objects have been seen plying our skies. UFOs have cropped up in ancient pictographs, Egyptian temples and medieval art. In modern times, these objects have been reported by highly reliable witnesses, including amateur and professional astronomers, policemen, military and commercial pilots. I have dabbled in amateur astronomy, and perhaps I will have more to say about the relationship between astronomy and ufology in another post. But for now let me mention a couple facts. In 1976, the American Astronomical Society conducted a survey and found that roughly five percent of its membership had witnessed something that could be classified as a UFO. Furthermore, Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered the recently demoted dwarf planet, Pluto, reported no less than three UFO sightings. In sum, well-qualified observers are seeing things in the sky for which we have no satisfying explanation. This alone makes ufology a worthy field of study.

On a more personal level, I think that my openness to UFOs and other strange phenomena comes from my grandmother, Hilda, who grew up in a dirt floor cottage in a Ukrainian stetl. Like many Jews of her generation, she immigrated to America around age 12 and eventually married a junk dealer from San Francisco. My grandmother had a strong psychic bent with deep roots into East European mysticism. While growing up, we were regaled with stories about her telepathic prowess. Also, my aunt seemed to have inherited a hint of these powers, and at times she attempted to keep us out of trouble with her precognitive warnings.

For those of you who also have the ufology bug, you understand the endless fascination with shape-shifting craft that zip around our atmosphere at impossible velocities, doing dances around our most sophisticated military aircraft, shooting beams of electronics defeating light down upon nuclear missile silos, and sometimes landing in a field at night — or even beside a military base, as in the remarkable Rendlesham case in the UK in December, 1980. Ufology is a place where science fiction becomes reality, and is this intersection between the fantastic and tangibly real that grabs my interest like nothing else.

In this blog, you will find my thoughts about UFOs and related phenomenon, as well as some anecdotes and observations from my investigations. So strap on your harness, pull up the shades, and get ready for the ride.