Fact, Fantasy and Good Sense on UFOs

John Michael Greer. The UFO Phenomenon: Fact, Fantasy and Disinformation. Llewellyn, 2009.

When you read that the author of this book is "a student of magic and the unexplained ... with training and initiation into several Druid and occult orders" you might think this is going to be one of those strange crank books that exist on the fringes of ufology. You would be wrong, because it is a very sensible book, which critically examines the cases made by proponents and critics of ufology and finds both wanting.

Rather than examining the evidence in an opened minded, scientific fashion, both sides, he argues, use rhetoric to argue for their predetermined conclusions; the ETH on the one hand, the null hypothesis on the other. UFO proponents argue roughly that UFO cases which cannot be given a satisfactory mundane explanation are ipso facto evidence for extraterrestrial spaceships, skeptics on the other hand argue that extraterrestrial visits are unlikely, all UFO reports must be misperceptions and hoaxes. This image of the flying saucer as the extraterrestrial spaceship is founded in popular culture.

He makes many of the same points that I have about the ETH, that in the absence of any information as to the nature or capabilities of ETs just about anything can be explained by the ETH; that what people report are really folk images of spaceships and extraterrestrials (real aliens likely to be much more alien than the humanoid figures of UFO literature), the lack of physical evidence and so forth; and how the ETH is founded upon hidden assumptions about the great chain of being and unlimited technological progress, and that the latter may well be an illusion He notes equally that many null hypothesis supporters also create virtually irrefutable hypotheses.

He looks at various alternatives, many of which have similar problems to the ETH, in that they are based on arguments from ignorance. He comes up with three potential streams to account for unexplained UFO reports: poorly understood physical phenomena of the earthlights variety, ‘apparitional’ experiences generated in altered states of consciousness, (interestingly he claims that one occult training to generate visionary experience is to stare at the sky for long periods of time) and cover-ups of secret military projects.

In support of the last hypothesis, he notes the curious behaviour of the official investigations, which by their often implausible explanations, gave rise to suspicions of cover-ups, and actually helped promote the ETH. He even argues that some UFO reports may have been made up by the military to covertly promote the ETH. This comes close to the territory of the hypothetical ‘Project Far Stranger', the idea that there was a conspiracy launched in the immediate post-war world to promote the idea of extraterrestrial invaders to unite humankind against a common enemy. The problem with these sorts of explanation is that they rapidly descend into the realm of the grandiose conspiracy theories which blame everything on the Jewish, Communist, Jesuit, Freemason, American bankers in the Vatican, and the Reptillian Illuminati.

While I don't agree with everything here, and can see several gaps in Greer's knowledge of the subject, this is a book worth recommending to believers and skeptics alike to challenge their presuppositions. -- Peter Rogerson. Originally published on-line, April 2009

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