Why Ufology is Actually Philosophy.
This was my response to a question asked by esteemed UFO researcher Ryan Spraque. His question was regarding how philosophy fit into the study of UFOs, and after some quick thinking, the above quote came spewing out of me. This quote got my “little grey cells” ruminating about the UFO question, and this is quite a substantial Ufological claim; is the study of UFOs a purely philosophical one?
The greatest hurdle that scientists face in dealing with the UFO subject is that it is taboo according to mainstream culture. No corporation, university, or other scientific body will allocate research funds to the UFO question because no physical evidence exists to support there is something worth studying. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson suggests, if you are ever abducted, steal something from the alien ship. Whatever the underlying reason, be it a Bassettesque “truth embargo” or simply the basic functioning of modern ideological Capitalism (more on this in a future blog post), UFOs exist upon the fringe, and the current subculture that makes up UFO discourse is too varied and chaotic to form a stable concise definition of what the UFO is.
To mainstream culture, particularly in the West, UFOs are either not discussed, are discussed with the understanding that they are probably fantasy, or are simply regarded as such without any formal consideration. The fact of the matter is that UFOs are tantamount to other mythologies according to popular social zeitgeist.
Philosophically, the UFO, on a cultural level, as a physical thing exists in a dualist state; it exists and does not exist simultaneously. UFOs are real and not real, physical and nonphysical, true and false, fact and fiction. We see a similarity here to the concept of the self. You exist because you think you exist (to paraphrase Descartes), but no biologist or philosopher has been able to prove you exist. The place of the self, the seat upon which the self sits, has not been located. The self, as far as we understand, has no physical place* within the brain that a scientist can point to and state, “there YOU are…”
*Unless you enter the realm of quantum physics, which really muddies the philosophical and scientific waters even further. Perhaps your consciousness, your “self” is comprised of an infinite amount of subatomic particles that stretch out through time, space and dimensions. It isn’t that you are you, rather you are all...and all is you. Philosophers love the quantum world because quantum physics is just philosophy with a lot of math.
In simple terms, thinking makes it so.
So, what does this have to do with UFOs? From a strictly cultural standpoint, UFOs are similar to the self. They exist because there are countless witnesses, testimonies from “people in the know”, radar tracks, even a few physical traces, arguably dubious, of their spooky existence. We can all agree people see or experience strange unexplainable things once in awhile. We can also all agree that the self exists in some mysterious albeit undefinable sense.
That being said, there exists no incontrovertible piece of evidence, no totally accepted artifact, picture, video, or anything that proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that UFOs are anything more than their acronym. In other words, an intelligently controlled object versus an aerial phenomenon that is just currently unidentifiable but perfectly prosaic. Much like the self, no one can point to the physical residence of the subject in the brain. No one can find you within your body.
UFOs are much like the mind-body problem; they are a thought experiment. They are an activity of the mind, a mental exercise in logic, rationality and reasoning. While science cannot prove the self exists within the body, and is unable to locate the seat of consciousness, scientists generally agree it is there. The agreement that the self exists rests upon personal experience; “I exist because I think I exist. I can communicate about myself. I can tell you who I am…” etc. More importantly, it is an experience we all share. A scientist who states the self does not exist would be in the murky state of a logical fallacy (ie: if the self does not exist, how can the scientist state that it doesn’t because the statement requires the scientist to have a self. There is more, but you get the picture...).
As with the self, UFOs are equally tough to pinpoint. If we assume that at least a couple of UFO sightings and events are “true unknowns,” then we have reached this state of duality, and more importantly, a similarity to the idea of the self. Furthermore, since no one can point to incontrovertible proof, they rest solely within the realm of what reason, logic, or rationality can argue.
Science may one day find the physical location of where the self resides in the brain, if it exists at all. There is nothing to say that science may not one day be able to objectively prove UFOs are more than prosaic events either. However, until that day, both the self and UFOs will remain philosophical concepts, and not scientific ones. If this is the case, then Ufology is philosophy.