Ufology, the Future, and Why Science Won't Save It.
Let me begin by saying that I love science, but when it comes to the UFO question, it alone cannot save Ufology, nor can it lead some sort of revolution in the field. The call of many in the UFO discourse is that mainstream science is essential to understand the phenomenon. While the sciences may be able to provide insight, the current economic and social realities of the West will not allow this happen. Gone are the days of “science for the sake of science”- rather, all science is strictly controlled, monitored, and governed. Science is very much a Capitalist endeavour; the race towards new products, patents, and the development of new technologies makes or breaks corporations, economies, and shifts world markets. Even in academia, collegial bodies and universities, which mostly function within Capitalist mechanisms, control who gets research grants. While Ufologists may be hoping for some scientific revolution for the UFO phenomenon, UFOs do not fit into the construct of major production or consumption. Even scientists themselves are limited by their ability to explore the UFO question; many are blackballed for even entertaining the topic.
If the general sciences are unable to participate openly in the debate, this leaves few avenues for solid legitimate research, rigour and criticism. UFO believers and truthers will continue to fall back upon their theological faith in an intelligent Other; this religious fervour unfortunately leaves no room for actual debate and discourse. The political Disclosurists will continue to petition the systems of power, which they openly distrust, to release UFO information; information that, by its very nature, is untrustworthy. Historians will continue to explore old government, military and personal documents, painstakingly categorizing old cases with hopes of finding the smoking gun. The journalists and writers will record, detail, and expound upon sightings new and old. What about the philosophers and theorists?
Part 2 of 2 for this series. For Part 1, click here.
We must begin by examining how we culturally "understand" the UFO phenomenon, as objective reality is fundamentally unreachable.
The Cultural UFO
When we examine the existence of an object, a physical UFO, and a subject, an intelligent other piloting said UFO, we slam into a wave of ideological constructs. We, as creatures of the social world, are entrenched in cultural messages, experiences, values and ideas. There is no way for us to see or experience an objective base reality. Similar to Pokémon Go, we view the world through a screen that presents us with an augmented reality. The difference is that we cannot shut the game off. In simple terms, there is no place one can stand to see actual unfiltered, uncultured, unsocial, un-ideological truth. Science, like all other human endeavours, is also trapped in this ideological prison. We perceive the Wendt and Duvall object/subject dualism of the UFO then in purely cultural terms, void of any actual objective truth.
UFOs are undecidable, much like the in-game Pokémon, as they both exist and do not exist. In “official” popular culture, the mainstream, UFOs, as Hynek repeatedly reminds us, “do not exist because they cannot.” To the general public, UFOs are not real because they are told they are not real. The ideologically constructed state of UFOs, fashioned by governments and the human need/desire for anthropocentrism, is that they do not exist. However, people have reported seeing UFOs from far away and up close, being aboard them, etc. An entire subculture has been born out of the UFO phenomenon. To a certain minority, UFOs do exist. Scientists have yet to prove that UFOs do not exist, and UFO believers have not been able to prove that they do; we are left in a quagmire of ideology. Scientists, stuck in their own potent ideological dogmatism, typically fall back upon the social construction known as “common sense” in regards to the UFO question, but possess no actual evidence to disprove their existence. While the onus may be on the UFO believer to prove the existence of UFOs, for a scientist to state that UFOs (or an intelligent other for that matter) do not exist is a scientific error. What occurs instead is a curious pseudo-theological debate over which ideology is believed to be more true.
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
-Theseus, A Midsummer Nights Dream
An Augmented Existence
The recent explosion of Pokémon Go into popular culture brings with it a wave of interesting cultural and social ideas (I’m sure you’ve seen the countless memes). The object of the game, for the uninitiated, is to catch little creatures using a device called a Poké Ball, which is a sort of technological “non-cage” cage. Anyway, the entire game operates using your smartphone and its camera. As you look at your screen, you see the world around you, except it is filled with various Pokémon creatures and objects. It is known as augmented reality; the game places virtual “things” into your everyday, regular, boring, non-Pokémon world.
If we draw a comparison between the augmented reality of the game to our own ideological and social reality, we are greeted by a strange dualism in that the Pokémon both exist and do not exist simultaneously. In a general sense, one who is actively playing the game can “see” the Pokémon all around the augmented reality. When a player is not actively playing, the Pokémon are “non-things” with no presence, but they still exist within the augmented reality all around them. With the game switched off, the augmented reality created by Nintendo is still present within the infrastructure of the internet and the connections between millions of players who are roaming around actively playing the game.
To put it simply, the Pokémon in Pokémon Go dwell in two simultaneous states; they exist and they do not exist.
So how is this related to UFOs and Ufology? Surprisingly, the similarities are significant, and those similarities shape how UFOs are perceived by “official” popular culture and the UFO subculture.
Part 1 can be found here.
Part 2 can be found here.
The final post in regards to this topic. I hope you have enjoyed it and I hope it was successful in answering the big question; are the general sciences truly more valid than Ufology?
Feel free to leave comments or shoot me a message.
The Lunatic Fringe and Why It Matters...
We need to question the ideological motivations that push science to dismiss the UFO/UAP phenomenon as a whole. Good ufologists worth their salt do not “cry aliens” when a well documented/credible UFO sighting occurs. Rather, they cry “what the hell was that, we probably should look into it…”
It is interesting that the same cry was the basis for the birth of the general sciences. People witness an event and say something to the effect of, “what the hell was that, we probably should look into it…”. We learned that lightning wasn’t an angry god, but rather a natural electrostatic discharge. We learned that the stars weren’t angels, but massive balls of burning hydrogen held together by gravity. We see something, and we want to figure out what it is.
For Part 1, please click here.
In Part 1, I hoped to establish the basic question that needs to be answered; are the ideologies that surround the general sciences more valuable than the ideologies that surround Ufology?
The "Catch 22" and Ideological Hubris
In order to arrive at an answer, we need to establish what “Ideology” is.
Ideology is separate from objective “base reality”. Mother nature, the universe, base reality, whatever you wish to call it, does not function upon ideologies. Humans form ideologies to make mother nature, the universe, and base reality livable, to make it understandable to our limited minds.
We must be clear here; we do not purposefully and willfully create ideologies- they simply happen without our control. Similar to the heart, one do not consciously force it to beat, it simply does so as a condition of its existence within the human body. Similar to the formation of human social ideologies, we do not force them to occur, they simply do as a condition of our consciousness and existence. Ideologies shift, develop, and change based upon human choices and experience.
Humans are social creatures, so arbitrary rules and constructs have settled into our social world to ensure life isn’t chaotic. This is generally a good thing; humans need these mechanisms in order to survive in groups, otherwise, we tend to murder each other. It stands to reason then that when we try to expand our knowledge, our understanding, and to progress forward, we do so ideologically. Science moves along with society and society moves along with science. Ufology moves along with society and, one could argue that, society does move along with Ufology.
In this three part series, I hope to establish a justification for Ufology to be accepted by the mechanisms that govern the general sciences, and the scientists who work under that mechanism.
This needs to be approached with an open mind, but I hope the logic and rationality of my arguments stand up to potential critique. If you do wish to engage in a discussion concerning this three part series, please comment below or send me an e-mail.
Part 1 - The Ideological Construct that Governs Human Endeavours.
Ufology, like every other field of study, including the general sciences, is significantly governed by social ideological constructs. All human endeavour, whether it be historical, artistic, or scientific exists within the frame of human experience and society. No field of study operates in a vacuum, separate of our current cultural zeitgeist; nothing humans do is independant of our social world, as we are trapped in it. There is no place in which one can stand “outside” of the given social, cultural and experiential reality we dwell in. Therefore, the sciences are governed by the same ideologies as Ufology.
On June 25th, The Alien Cosmic Expo in Brantford Ontario will play host to the first ever international panel on the existence of UFOs and Extraterrestrials using primarily Canadian government documents; suggesting that Canada, along with many other nations, have and are studying the UFO phenomenon. This massive collection of government files, according to the Research and Development team behind this panel, allegedly claims Canada is well aware of the UFO issue and that some of the evidence suggests that these UFOs rely upon intelligent operation.
Ok, I may have a few concerns here...
It was 9 years ago, almost to the day, that on April 23rd, 2007, Ray Bowyer and his passengers aboard flight A-Line 544 departed Southampton, England. It was a routine 45-minute flight in good weather and visibility- and as they neared their destination, they witnessed two large unidentified objects hovering over the English Channel for several minutes. This simple flight, flown hundreds and hundreds of times previously, threw Boywer and his passengers into the world of ufology, and their experience has been dubbed the 2007 Alderney UFO Sighting.
In an article written for GeekWire.com, Alan Boyle, makes a fundamental connection between the upcoming X-Files mini-series and the "renewed attention" UFO's will be given by the general public.
Interestingly, he interviews a few names that pop up pretty regularly in the ufology field, including Seth Shostak of SETI and Peter Davenport of the National UFO Reporting Center. Boyle presents Davenport's "laissez faire" attitude towards shows like The X-Files. Boyle writes, "What Davenport can’t figure out is why it takes something like The X-Files to get the broader public interested in UFOs."
Davenport can not figure it out because he does not value the fundamental desires present in our collective cultural consciousness; that is, the broader public is interested in UFOs because of something like The X-Files.
Although the X-Files TV show went off the air in 2002, interest in the series has continued unabated. There have been books, a spin-off TV series and several graphic novels. A “tenth season” done as a comic book continued the series until 2015, and “season 11” has just started. But the X-Files fanbase was part of the reason that helped encourage the miniseries revival that will air beginning January 24, 2016.
The X-Files followed the exploits of “believer” Fox Mulder and “skeptic” Dana Scully as they investigated otherworldly events (not all of them related to aliens) and battled a secret group trying to prevent their discovering “the truth.” The X-Files partially drew on case reports of tens of thousands of UFO sightings worldwide and the widespread belief that aliens are visiting Earth, abducting humans and working in secret with government agencies desperate to cover-up the “truth.” Among the memes and themes recurring often in the series are the following...
A few months ago, Seth Shostak wrote a piece for the Huffington Post entitled "UFOs: The Trail is Stale" exploring why modern ufology is not delivering "the goods". In other words, why isn't there a modern Roswell incident or Rendlesham Forrest? Where have all the aliens gone? Why are the reports and evidence showing up for modern day cases so...blah.
'The Illusion of Conspiracy and Disclosure"
I conclude my review, no, my exploration, of Hynek’s book by discussing the largest movement in modern ufology. I will undoubtedly do many posts on this topic, as it seems to be a juggernaut that requires further discussion. I will begin here- as this entire four part project has been about a return to the roots of UFO culture.
Hynek is, without a doubt, one of the earliest ufologists to touch on the idea of a government cover up. If you’ve been reading my earlier posts like a good little boy or girl, I wrote about “era” and “authority”. During Hynek’s heyday in the late forties and early fifties, when he was actively working for the Air Force, the suggestion that the military was working against the citizenry would have been undoubtedly taboo. The nation had just come out of a war, and not only that, a very successful war, which launched the United States, and many other western nations, out of a depression and into economic growth and prosperity. The idea of a cover up of any sort would have been absurd, as the military was regarded with deep respect, pride and gratitude. Looking back on his time with Projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book, Hynek questions, in 1977 (the date he published this book we are reviewing), why many reports were never filed, were missing or never saw his office.
"Does it all boil down to credibility?"
The next two posts should be a little shorter. I apologize for the length of the first few- but there is always tons to get through when you start something like this. My initial idea for this project was a simple grade 5 book report; it has become something bigger- a way of linking the roots of ufology to the branches we all exist and differ on.
For modern ufologists, there is a cesspool of data out there. I’m sure if we combined all the sighting reports over the last decade into a stack- it would go for miles and miles. The vast majority of these reports are lacking data and wander about the lines of storytelling, assumption, and fact. So what is a person to do and how can we sort out the good from the...crap?
"Sightings and Reports"
I’d like to expand on the first point mentioned in my previous post - the UFO reports submitted to the three respective projects in Hynek's book.
Hynek’s example reports typically go into great detail with regards to each sighting. The people who made these reports seem to have a good handle on directional information, speed and size information as well as providing detailed location data. More importantly, the reports are generally rich in detail and provide an in-depth understanding of what the person was doing at the time of the sighting. The majority of the reports in the book that were made by “non-experts” provide significant detail with nearly no assumptions as to what the object was (more on this later). There are nearly one hundred reports in his book, but a few personal favorites are Five Witness and Five Discs (p. 107), The Case of the Missing Report (p. 108), The Case of the Tricky Disc (p. 115), and UFOs at Oak Ridge (p. 142).
Note: These are titles that Hynek uses in his book, not official Blue Book names.
Let’s compare this to how cases are reported today. There are a handful of UFO reporting organizations and websites. The largest, and probably the one closest to holding a household name, is MUFON.
"A bit of background...so to speak."
The Hynek UFO Report begins where he began. He worked as a consultant for the Air Force on Project Sign, Grudge and the famous Project Blue Book studying the phenomenon of UFOs. Like his peers, his job was as a debunker and to propose natural reasons for any UFO sightings. As time went on, he began to realize that these sightings were more than just meteors, balloons or hallucinations. His account of Project Blue Book is steeped in criticism. According to Hynek, the commanding officers were typically low ranking junior officers who couldn’t requisition a car half the time to investigate a sighting. The filing and record keeping system was in such total disarray that a huge collection of the program’s files were missing. The most telling and sure sign for Hynek was the unwritten rule amongst Air Force Intelligence concerning a UFO sighting; as Hynek put it, “it can’t be, therefore it isn’t.” In simple terms, the three projects designed to investigate the phenomenon were lacking funding, integrity and proper scientific method and inquiry.