Wednesday, March 03, 2010

UFO sightings may be as much X-Files as reality

Or rather, all X-Files, as the case may be.

From the Los Angeles Times courtesy of the Houston Chronicle:

We were reminded of this scene recently when the British government released its fifth and largest collection of files about unidentified flying objects, which officials in Britain continued to monitor for years after the U.S. government stopped in 1969 (or claimed to have stopped — some conspiracy theorists think there are still men in black keeping tabs on little green men). It's fascinating stuff for lovers of the unexplained, loaded with stories of eerie lights in the sky, descriptions of vessels that defy the laws of physics, and warnings of alien viruses. One of the more compelling reports comes from a man in South Wales, who in January 1997 claimed his car was enveloped by a beam of light one night. He emerged from the car to total silence and began to feel ill. When the beam passed, his car was filthy, and he developed a skin condition that required treatment.

Maybe it's coincidental that the TV series
The X-Files, which prominently featured alien abductions and viruses from outer space, was then a top-rated show on BBC2. Indeed, the British records, which detail sightings from 1994 to 2000, show that perceptions about UFOs might owe more to Hollywood than previously thought.


Yeah, I want to believe, too, but...well...I just don't have any good reason to do so.

Like most people my age, I've been into the concept of UFOs and alien abductions and such since I was a kid back in the 70s. I loved In Search of with Leonard Nimoy. I was wowed by Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Captured my imagination and all that. But, of course, I've never seen a UFO. I've never encountered an alien. I've never found a chip planted in the back of my head. Nothing suspicious, nothing weird. And I've never heard a story about a UFO sighting from anybody I've met that even came close to being persuasive--actually, I don't think I've heard a persuasive story about aliens that couldn't be discounted using details drawn directly from the narrative from anybody at all, ever, on television or in print. Throw in astronomer Carl Sagan's remarks on the UFO phenomenon, and, despite my desire, I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that aliens have been visiting Earth for decades, or even centuries.

So why do so many people appear to believe?

Look, I have no fucking answer for this other than to observe that human beings are prone to group think, mass hysteria, and herd-like behavior. I mean, we witnessed only a few years ago the widespread post 9/11 hallucinations that terrorists were going to get us all, and that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. People get spooked by shit, and go balls-to-the-walls with it. I have no doubt that countless individuals have seen things they can't explain, but that in no way means they've seen aliens flying spaceships through the sky, or that they've been abducted and experimented on. After all, before the age of technology in which we live, it was ghosts, demons and angels, or God Himself. Now it's UFOs. Well okay, it's still ghosts and God, too, but you get my drift. People see things they can't explain, and try to make sense of what they've seen in the only way they know how.

I think.

That's the thing. UFOs are indeed possible, albeit highly unlikely. So because I want to believe, I'm still waiting for some actual evidence, and I don't mean stuff that can't be explained; I mean evidence. It's a shame that aliens, ghosts, and God never visit skeptics. Maybe they'll change their minds someday and my universe will get weirder. Until then, I'll keep listening to Coast to Coast and hoping for a close encounter.