The Problem With Ufology



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By Robbie Graham



Ufologists speak often of “The Truth.” It’s out there, they insist, and it must doggedly be pursued for the benefit of all mankind. But rarely are ufologists truthful with themselves. There is, of course, no such thing as “ufology,” not in any meaningful sense of the term. If “ology” refers to a branch of knowledge or learning sprung from organized research, then ufology is a broken twig.

The UFO field has produced thousands of dedicated researchers over the years, and reams of literature; but to what end? What can we claim to know conclusively today about the underlying nature of UFO phenomena that we didn’t know in the late-1940s? UFO study has always suffered from major organizational and methodological problems. It has also become dangerously self-referential. Few researchers are prepared to think critically.

Today, as ever, the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) is the most popular ufological theory. It has become so popular that the already-flimsy architecture of the field has morphed into “exopolitics”—a movement born of the Internet and based on a blanket acceptance that UFOs are extraterrestrial vehicles, that the government knows this, and that, in time, “Truth” will break free and a new age of human enlightenment will begin. It is a myth, spun partly by external design, but largely by the UFO community’s profound need to believe that universal truth is tangible, and within arm’s reach. Today’s UFO conferences bear an increasing resemblance to the spectacle of the Megachurch, where the cult of personality attracts thousands of believers, all hopeful their prophets can move them just an inch closer to UFO salvation.

If ufology is a New Age religion, then “Disclosure” is its Holy Grail—that ever-imminent announcement from officialdom that we are not alone in the universe, and, moreover, that “They” are among us. The problem with the Disclosure mindset is that it declares an end to the UFO enigma and discourages us from further study of the phenomenon, and of its cultural and societal effects. Why study when we can simply wait? All we need do is talk about UFOs in online forums and occasionally send a petition to the White House. Eventually, our leaders will see fit to share with us the aliens’ world-changing information and technologies, ushering in a new era of cosmic consciousness. It’s only a matter of time. Disclosure requires little more than our passive spectatorship.

The ultimate irony of the Disclosure movement is that, by imagining all answers to the UFO mystery to be out of public reach, deep in the bowels of the national security state, it places power into the hands of officialdom, while disempowering the individual. Modern “ufology,” therefore, is no longer about asking challenging questions. Rather, it is about fitting predetermined answers into an established quasi-religious belief system.

If ever we are to further our understanding of the UFO enigma, we must fundamentally reframe our debate. We must wipe the board clean and fill it with new ideas, new theories, even new language. We must be willing to start from scratch when the field stagnates. We must be critical, sober, and free from dogma—ready to rinse away the residue of our own beliefs.

With the above in mind, in April 2016, I began approaching a select few individuals in the UFO research community—free-thinkers and iconoclasts—with a proposal for a volume of original essays presenting alternative perspectives on UFOs and the UFO subculture. Just under a year later, I find myself writing this introduction for the near-complete manuscript. It all came together relatively quickly and smoothly, if not without the usual amount of effort and sacrifice that goes into such an endeavor. All those who chose to write for this volume have committed to it wholeheartedly, and I have been inspired daily by their enthusiasm for the project.

I know I speak for all contributors here when I say this book was a challenge to write. I know it was a challenge to edit, and I also know it will be a challenge to read. Whether you’re a “skeptic” or a “believer” (for lack of more nuanced terms), this book will irk you. And that, of course, is the intention. Indeed, it is structured such that it may provoke maximum discomfort in the reader and push cognitive dissonance into overdrive. For the first half of this volume, the essays spar back and forth between pro-and-anti-materialist approaches. Some of our contributors advocate extreme skepticism of any UFO claim, while championing traditional scientific methodologies—the dispassionate pursuit of objectively verifiable evidence—while other contributors see limitations in such an approach, preferring instead a more oblique path of engagement with what they see as a consciously oblique phenomenon. Other contributors explore why modern UFO accounts seem often to overlap with other mysterious phenomena, or how the UFO can be utilized as a looking-glass for profound introspection, one reflective of personal belief, stress, or trauma.

For all the unconventional theories presented herein, none of the contributors would be so bold or naïve as to discount the possibility that some UFOs are representative of extraterrestrial intelligences. We are suggesting, however, that today’s UFO field is sorely lacking in meaningful debate and is close to the point of stagnation in its uncritical thinking and lazy acceptance of what may seem like the most logical theory for inexplicable aerial anomalies, but which, when tested against the full depth of data, falls desperately short as an exclusive hypothesis. To quote SMiles Lewis in this volume: “I advocate for a multi-theory interpretation of the UFO phenomenon. I don’t think there is any one explanation that accounts for all the data. I think there are a number of things going on simultaneously.”

Many of these “things” undoubtedly stem from what Susan Demeter-St. Clair refers to as “the one clearly tangible vehicle central to any UFO story”—the human witness. The role of the witness in UFO events typically is overlooked by UFO investigators, whose focus often is on what the witness has seen, rather than why they have seen it, or how they have interpreted it. The assumption, strangely, is that UFO witnesses are almost always independent of their anomalous experiences. Multiple essayists in this volume urge a fundamental redirection of UFO research, from the external to the internal—by seeking to understand the daunting complexities of human cognition and consciousness itself, we may better understand the UFO, and, perhaps more importantly, better understand ourselves.

If by some slim chance this is the first UFO book you’ve ever picked up, I’m afraid you’ve thrown yourself in at the very deep end of the pool, but that’s all the more reason to push on with it; if you do so, I feel confident in stating that the wider ufological waters will seem clearer and more navigable…




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