Monday, November 14, 2011


Unreal UFOs

It is often claimed that some UFO sightings provide important evidence of unusual aerial objects because there are multiple witnesses. One interesting example is the Rogue River, Oregon, sighting of 24 May 1949, where five witnesses reported seeing a circular object, silver in colour, which was in view for up to three minutes. Investigators could not correlate this sighting with the presence in the area of any known aircraft, and there is no generally acceptable explanation of the incident. A detailed assessment is available on Bruce Maccabee's web site.

Although there were five witnesses, they were all together in a boat and they all knew one another. There were no independent witnesses. Thus they obviously compared their impressions before talking to investigators. For example, in this case they apparently agreed that the object was at a height of 5,000 feet. I think it is generally agreed that witnesses can influence one another so that the version given to investigators tends to be that of the person with the most forceful personality in the group. However, there is another possibility, which is that in some such cases the witnesses might have been "seeing" something which did not exist. I must make it clear that I am not suggesting that this happened in the Rogue River case, or any particular case, but I am sure many of you can think of a number of cases where this might usefully be considered.

Many years ago the psychiatrist,C.G. Jung raised this matter in his book Flying Saucers: A modern myth of things seen in the skies. I quote from the English translation by R.F.C. Hull (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959).

Apart from collective visions, there are on record cases where one or more persons see something that physically is not there. For instance, I was once at a spirtualistic séance where four of the five people present saw an object like a moon floating above the abdomen of the medium. They showed me, the fifth person present, exactly where it was, and it was absolutely incomprehensible to them that I could see nothing of the sort. I know of three more cases where certain objects were seen in the clearest detail (in two of them by two persons, and in the third by one person) and could afterwards be proved to be non-existent. Two of these cases happened under my direct observation. Even people who are entirely compos mentis and in full possession of their senses can sometimes see things that do not exist. I do not know what the explanation is of such happenings. It is very possible that they are less rare than I am inclined to suppose. For as a rule we do not verify things we have "seen with our own eyes", and so we never get to know that actually they did not exist. I mention these somewhat remote possibilities because, in such an unusual matter as the Ufos, one has to take every aspect into account.

How does one decide which UFO sightings are of real objects and which ones are of unreal objects? Perhaps if there were other potential witnesses nearby at the time who saw nothing unusual that would indicate a UFO that had no objective existence, but if there was independent confirmation then the sighting would have to be taken more seriously. How many interesting UFO reports pass this test? Any serious suggestions welcome.

The Father Gill case in Papua has some similarities. Although 38 witnesses were allegedly present, they were not independent, and only a few actually said anything about it. The object sighted by Gill was certainly real (whatever it was), but did the others actually see it as Gill did or did they unconciously 'follow their leader' and simply agree with what he said? Strange.
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