Anyone who follows UFOs closely will soon find that the topic creates a vortex of debate between believers, experiencers, debunkers, investigators, authorities, and academics. As an outsider who just came into contact with the so-called field of UFOlogy, this debate can be bewildering.
The modern hub of UFOlogy is on Twitter and falls into the hashtag
#UFOTwitter. In that space, you will find a constant stream of UFO videos, detailed catalogs of aliens and their planets of origin, UFO cults, Air Force pilots worried about threats to air safely caused by UFOS, articles debunking any UFO story that comes out, and even petty gossip and in-fighting.
A wider system of podcasts, History channel series, and YouTube videos swirl in orbit around UFOTwitter. Each one of these channels compete over UFOlogy luminaries to appear on their shows. It's wildly entertaining. But, is any of it real? And if it was, how would we know?
In this swirl of hype, religious fervor, and profiteering it's hard to know what is honest. It's like a wall of noise is separating seriously interested people from the facts themselves.
And when facts do come out, they are hard to interpret. Experts are hard to trust and each has their own agenda. Most just want your attention. The few academics who are interested in UFOlogy are understandably conservative in their thinking on UFOs. Debunkers fall into this trap of looking around for any possible prosaic explanation of an event regardless of context. Government officials lack credibility and can only make statements that are not backed up because government data is almost always classified. Religious leaders don't engage at all.
Typically, when a new case comes out we will get an extraordinary story along with a video artifact or a picture. Often the story will involve strange lights in the sky that behave in ways that seem impossible to the observer. Sometimes the objects appear to be technological crafts that operate in such a way that would be impossible for our aviation technology. Occasionally, these reports are collaborated by other witnesses or technicians who operate sensors such as radars. Many reports come with video or photos.
Stories by themselves are hard to verify or deny. Supporters will argue that people are authoritative because they are trained observers, military pilots, police, or simply good honest people. Debunkers will simply say that "witness testimony" is not good enough to "scientifically prove" that something extraordinary is happening.
The videos and photos are what get the most attention for obvious reasons. Most of these however are taken from specialized military sensors that are impossible for an untrained person to interpret. Others are cell phone footage which is not detailed enough to come to any type of conclusion.
What tends to happen is that a social media channel will champion a new video and then debunkers will seize on the video and find ways of analyzing it until they come up with any alternative to the witness's story. Sometimes videos are literally just hoaxes and with today's technology it is almost impossible to know which is which without highly specialized training in video editing.
All of this tends to ignore the history of UFOs which started in earnest in World War II right after the dawn of aviation. Some people will argue that the history of UFO extends back into ancient times and many cultures. Do we simply ignore these past 70 years of UFO history of dramatic sightings and hundreds of thousands of less dramatic but equally compelling experiences of regular people?
In short, we are left with a lot of noise and provocative stories. What we don't have is a good way to evaluate for ourselves what is real here.
It seems obvious that scientists would have the answer to the UFO question. They look up at the sky and have telescopes and for many people Science has replaced Religion when it comes to the answers to the Big Questions. Scientists are depicted in the media as these sorcerers who have occult knowledge that to most people may as well be magic. We tend to project a lot of authority on scientists and expect them to know way more things that would realistically be expected based on their training.
Most scientists are technicians and problem solvers who using data and the scientific method to slowly develop information that ultimately helps them figure out universal laws of the universe. It's a long tedious process with no guarantee of success and a near certainty that any new theories and evidence will ultimately be rejected and replaced as new data becomes available. It's a far cry from the mythology created by Hollywood.
While a scientist will know a lot about their field of expertise, they will not necessarily know more or less than the average person about topics far outside of their interests. And for many of them, UFOs are far outside of their professional interest.
Still, following an approach inspired by science will help at some point. Not science with a capital S as in the Science establishment, but using evidence to test theories about UFOs will be important eventually. But, not until we have evidence. If you ask a scientist or any critical thinker today if "UFOs are real" they will ask for the evidence. What we have is 70 years of stories and blurry videos. UFOlogy is not quite ready for science.
What story, tangible object, or piece of media would you accept as proof that UFOs are something extraordinary? When I think about things I take as real and really think about it, there are very few things that I know that I have learned from direct experience or carefully weighing out evidence that I have verified for myself.
I know that everyday technology like cars and computers work because I have direct experience with them. When engineers and scientists discuss how these things work I tend to believe them because they are authorities on the subject. While I don't fully understand the mechanics of internal combustion or precisely microcircuits work I can see the result of the work done with these theories.
But, when you start to listen to scientists theories about the beginning of the universe or how they know a tiny piece of rock they found in an ocean came from a comet that passed by 200 years ago or that climate change will have specific catastrophic effects years in the future it becomes much more difficult. It would be impossible to rigorously examine all of the subjects in detail for ourselves to be fully confident in the truth of all of these claims.
It boils down to trust.
At some point, to be functional in this world you have to choose to either trust or not trust in the institutions and people who makes these claims that build the knowledge of our civilization.
Perhaps what is so unnerving about the UFO Phenomenon is that it shows us how little we really know about the world we live our lives in. It forces us to embrace the uncertainty that is the only real personal truth that we have and it's unsettling.
We don't like living with so much uncertainty, let's be honest. And when we do we predictably look to authorities to take this uncertainty away. They can be gods, priests, scientists, trained observers, generals, presidents, dictators.
When it comes to UFOs, all we have is uncertainty.
For the ordinary person who has not experienced a UFO themselves, the best we can do is list out the facts that we have today and make a conclusion. Maybe we can't say that we know the truth 100%, 95% or even 65% but we can make a bet on what the real story is based on the facts that we know today. Here are the facts as I see it:
Am I missing anything? I ranked the facts based on what I think is most important.
For me, it's really the overwhelming amount of very public reports that is compelling. Next it's the attention by authorities in government who admit that there is "something unexplained" going on. You don't get that kind of attention with Big Foot stories. Finally, the re-occurring drama of military panels and ex-military talking about UFOs is something I see as a tell about this being an issue that they cannot come to grips with.
My personal belief, well it's more of a suspicion than a belief, is that there are real but rare events that do happen and prompt these stories. I think they are real physical objects and I believe that the military or government does have at least some knowledge of them. I also suspect that witnessing these objects can cause psychological episodes in people that will inspire them to create these archetypal narratives that seem to mirror mythological stories so closely. This could be similar to how our ancestors saw stories in the stars or it may be rooted in a deeper reality that is hard for us to understand.
What do you believe?