Legitimacy of UFOs and the Paranormal
I'm sure I'm not the only one suffering from the internal clash between belief in the validity of ufological and paranormal phenomena and the occasional self-doubt from lack of definitive proof. If you're reading this, I'm guessing you know how I feel. I'm not kidding, sometimes I have serious doubts about my research and interest in these topics.
More often than not, however, I'm quickly relieved from the pits of doubt and the nagging feeling that haunts me during these spells. A nagging feeling caused by the irrational supposition that paranormal reports can only ever be conventionally explained. Because of my experience as an interviewer, documentarian, podcaster, and Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) field investigator in NY, I have become convinced that it is highly improbable that every single high-strangeness report is of a mundane nature.
I do listen with an open mind to skeptical analysis and the opinions of others. I look to those who do their due diligence to explain away bizarre phenomena by researching and testing hypotheses. The most obvious examples are: technical glitches within recording and measuring equipment; misidentification of an anomaly due to luminous reflection from sunlight (suddenly blinking in and out of sight like magic); and physiological effects such as autokinesis (the illusion of a point light amid darkness appearing to move); or hypnogogic hallucinations which may occur from lack of sleep, extreme hunger, or even stress. So, as a researcher and investigator, it is my job to try to find a conventional explanation while keeping an open mind.
For instance, a scientific paper in Nature just came out which opposed theoretical physicist and Harvard Professor Avi Loeb's hypothesis that the near-Earth interstellar object, Oumuamua, might have been a space probe of intelligent design. The paper by Jennifer Bergner and Darryl Seligman attempts to illustrate that the odd trajectory change of Oumuamua was due to the release of molecular hydrogen, and not because Oumuamua was an intelligently controlled probe.
I am a fan of Avi Loeb's determination to destigmatize the academic study of UAP/UFOs. However, I am not utterly attached to the idea that Oumuamua was an object designed by extraterrestrials. Perhaps someday it will indeed be proven to be an asteroid or comet. If so, will I be slightly saddened by a non-extraterrestrial explanation being proven out? Sure. Am I able to separate what I want to be true from objective truth? Absolutely.
What bothers me are the hypocritical criticisms that UFO, paranormal, and cryptozoological researchers endure from biased debunkers. Malignant debunkers often criticize researchers for too easily celebrating any evidence presented that the researcher believes supports their alleged pre-drawn conclusions. Conclusions such as questionable testimonies, unclear videos with insufficient data, or even articles by qualified scientists who may flirt with heavy speculation. Yet, when a paper like the above mentioned in Nature is published, we see the same behavior from these skeptics. They rush to tout and exclaim that this paper invalidates the extraterrestrial probe hypothesis, and that all of us who cheer Avi Loeb's work need to settle down and be humbled. Well, when I first heard about this paper in Nature, I did of course think it should be taken seriously. After all, these are trained and qualified scientists who wrote it.
Admittedly, the math and chemistry that this paper used to explain that, "the acceleration of ‘Oumuamua is due to the release of entrapped molecular hydrogen that formed through energetic processing of an H2O-rich icy body", is above my expertise. But shortly after this paper was released, I saw that Nick Pope tweeted a paper by Avi Loeb and Thiem Hoang, which nullifies the molecular hydrogen theory and states that the authors "miscalculated the surface temperature of `Oumuamua." Alas, this is the way of good science applied to ufological study: mystery, explanation, change of opinion, mystery, explanation, new conclusion, renewed original conclusion, and so on. That's part of the fun! In fact, I know a lot of ufologists and paranormal investigators who accept when their proven wrong, and will alter their position based on new information. Just like a responsible journalist or scientist should do.
I wish I could say that all supernatural and UFO cases had enough of such qualified scientists studying them. Unfortunately that is not the case. But we do have many serious amateur investigators who are doing great work and are helping to provide valuable data. For that I am grateful because many new and old UFO cases have enough gaps in data that academics simply ignore them. Yet, these mysterious incidents and reports are still worth looking into.
For instance, I was assigned a case reported to MUFON that fits into this category. The event took place in early June of 2001 in Queens, NY. The witness left their apartment building and walked toward their car as part of their early morning routine. It was a quiet, clear morning, with no one else on the city block. They noticed something in their peripheral vision, turned to look up, and saw a very large anomaly hovering above a familiar building. The witness worked in construction as a contractor, so they are quite familiar with dimensions, scale, and measurement taking. What they saw was a solid long black cuboidal object they estimated to be about 150 feet in length (possibly more), with a width of about 35 feet, and a height of about 18 feet. The object was silent with a non-descript charcoal colored surface. The witness was so shocked, that alone on the street they blurted out loud, "Holy shit!" The object then changed elevation by about 10 feet up and down with slight lateral shifts, then headed NE over power lines to quickly disappeared into the distance. It is nearly impossible to debunk this as a conventional object. Nor is it possible to exclaim without a shadow of a doubt that this was a craft created by a non-human intelligence. But I will say it most definitely deserves to be described as exotic.
Whether a case involves an anomalous object passing through our solar system, or comes from a witness report from years ago, I think it is fair to say that none of us should be absolutists regarding UFOs and the like. Here we have two very different cases that lack definitive data, yet both include a high number of factors that strongly suggest an object of alien design. So we ask, "is it probable that it is conventional, or probable that it is otherworldly?" Paranormal investigators deal with this in and out everyday. Serious study requires patience and my gosh do paranormal researchers have patience. I only wish they were given the respect they deserve.
Instead, many skeptics ask us for controls to create repeatability. Yet, they won't accept that if we are dealing with something that is aware of us and behaves of it's own free will, that it becomes almost impossible to provide controls to predictably capture phenomena. If this is the case, it becomes extraordinarily challenging to know which method or tools are perfectly attuned to detecting these manifold phenomena. Of course, this does not delegitimize the study of UAPs and other Fortean like reports. On the contrary, we amateurs are only encouraged to keep at it. Actually, as I write this, the people behind the Galileo Project at Harvard University are trying to develop their own methods for the detection and recording of UAPs. This is exciting and encouraging. I just wish they would consult the seasoned UFO and paranormal investigators (and investigative organizations) that have developed methodologies; and have experimented with various equipment which has produced an array of persuasive evidence such as images of apparitions, UFOs, and EVPs (electronic voice phenomena). Of course, let's not forget decades of government documents that mention UFOs or blatantly refer to UFOs as real. Even the U.S. Congress is curious these days.
So, it seems to me, between work done by amateurs, private sector scientists, and the academic scientist, a collective case is being formed that these strange studies may soon be normalized. You see, just because the study of a preternatural occurrence can be multifarious and unpredictable, that does not mean it isn't a legitimate study. The fact is we humans are curious by nature. If we find something to be curious, then it's worthy of our attention.
- Alan B. Smith