Science and Philosophy in Ufology: Micah Hanks, UFO MODPOD, and Why the Hell is This Getting All Cerebral?
In the latest episode of Rogueplanet's "UFO MODPOD" podcast, Micah Hanks was interviewed by hosts Jason McClellan, Maureen Elsberry and Ryan Sprague. As usual, it was a terrific and entertaining episode, and Hanks raised a few interesting questions regarding science and philosophy. Citing a quote that claims the "death of philosophy" made by the famous scientist, Stephen Hawking, Hanks ponders whether science can progress without philosophy.
While Hanks raised a few interesting questions, one question came to my mind the next day that was touched on but never truly addressed in the episode.
Which discipline benefits the study of UFOs more; science or philosophy?
It's an interesting question when we really examine the reality of studying the UFO phenomenon.
We begin and end where Ufology lives; with the investigation of a sighting or close encounter. Is there really anything more? We can argue over hypothetical flying saucer engines, alien biology and trans-dimensional travel all we want- science and philosophy, like any other academic discipline here, is impotent. These concepts, ideas and mechanics are all speculation better left to authors of science fiction than to the scientists and philosophers of today. What do we truly KNOW in regards to the study of UFOs? People see strange things in the sky that they cannot explain in a given moment; in other words, the investigation sightings and close encounters.
In a previous post, I claimed that photographic and/or video evidence is generally (and the stress here is on "generally" as exceptions may exist, see the post) moot in dealing with UFO sightings/close encounters. The reasoning for this claim is that since any photo or video can be reproduced, they can be debunked as being "man-made." Evidence for UFO sightings and/or close encounters must now dwell in other realms that are unable to be reproduced by debunkers. Since, let's be honest, trace evidence or other types of physical evidence remain scarce and are only present in a very few cases, the vast majority of sightings (probably 99%) come down to witness testimony. From a scientific perspective, witness testimony is not exactly objective. While credibility of a witness can be extremely high, scientific method requires more than "someone's word."
The "truth" of witness testimony really exists in two places. First, it exists in the mind of the witness. They claim they saw something, whether they believe it or not, what they saw lives within their own consciousness. Secondly, it exists within the mind of the person receiving the testimony. In the case of Ufology, it is typically an investigator "hearing the story". The investigator must then make a decision, to believe the witness or not. Science is useless here.
Can philosophy help? Yes, and no. Philosophy is able to provide a better understanding of the cultural, linguistic and sociological world our witness exists in. In other words, philosophy may be better able to establish the social biases and cultural zeitgeist the witness dwells in based upon the cultural reality they were born into and live. Will this establish "Truth?" That depends on who you ask.
Ask a scientist, they'd say "No." According to science, "truth" is not relative to a given time or place. "Truth" is true beyond cultural constructs, zeitgeist or other relativistic ideologies. Ask a philosopher, and you'll get two answers. One philosopher might agree with the scientist that "truth" extends beyond culture and society- that "truth" is true in "all possible worlds", that is, it is universal. Ask another philosopher and they'd say to the scientist and the previous philosopher, "prove it." How can one prove that "truth" is true outside of cultural or social context since every single thinking being exists within culture and society? How can we argue for an objective reality when all our realities are governed by our current relativistic zeitgeist? Can we escape the cultural consciousness we've existed in for our entire lives? How can one establish "universal truth" when our thoughts, identities and minds exist within a subjective reality (language being one, for example)?
Science, while lovely, is useless in establishing the validity of UFO sightings and close encounters as the vast majority rest upon the testimony of a witness. Philosophy, while able to potentially understand where "the witness is coming from," is also unable to "prove" that a witness's testimony is true.
What is the future of Ufology? I have no idea. What I do know, however, is that a degree in Chemistry, Physics, or Engineering is no more useful than a degree in Philosophy, Critical Theory or Cultural Studies when it comes to the study of UFOs.
Hanks and the UFO MODPOD team really opened a can of worms here. The real question doesn't balance upon whether science and philosophy can coexist; the actual question is whether Ufology can exist within the balance? If science and philosophy are useless in the current study of UFOs, then what the hell are we doing?
- M. J. Banias