Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sick day Musing

I'm sick. I've caught a bug of some sort, so I'm home with my computer, dog, cat, and my thoughts. (I could be sick from the wifi in my house, the electric lines leading to my house, the cell phones, the microwave, the nuclear power plant about four miles away, the toxic chocolate smell that I breathe when walking Bernie, or I could just have that bug that's been going around the office.)

Anyway, I recently was reading the latest "Skeptical Inquirer." In the latest issue there is a retort to Stanton Friedman's (the pro UFOlogist) response to an article published earlier this year in the magazine regarding Unidentified Flying Objects. It reminded me of the first, and currently the only time I decided to do some modest investigation of one of the mysteries of our day.

The year is 1990. Iraq had just invaded Kuwait, and I was a freshman at a well regarded small liberal arts college in the Northeast. The school looked the part down to the tree lined pathways and earnest smiling or hungover middle class youth. It was probably the best place for a geek like me to attend college, and it cost my parents a pretty penny to send me there. So, I did what any red blooded American male would do at this stage in his life at an expensive school, I decided to read everything I could on the UFO phenomenon, and come to some conclusions.

I blew through the six or seven books our library had on the topic. It is a liberal arts school, so what can you expect? I then went through the reference guide to periodicals, and delved into the microfilm readers and the bound book sets of magazines and periodicals in the library basement. (Yes, the days when the internet was usenet lists and before web browsers, its how we did it old school, when it was just school.) I remember reading about twenty to thirty articles. I also went to the local used book stores in the area (We had quite a few and I had a car. Yes, I lived like a rockstar.) and read about another five or six books. Some of the books and articles were recent late 80's, others were vintage early 50's. Some were clearly written by the mentally delusional, some were written from a Christian perspective, others tried to be even handed, but very few came down against the existence of ships from other worlds (or other dimensions.) I cannot say I did more than a respectable survey of all the material out there, but I believe I made a good effort.

At the end of my first year at college, I did not write a paper or give a lecture. I just reflected upon the topic. To be fair, at the start of the great UFO read of 1990-1, I was not a hardcore believer in UFOs. I really think I wanted them to be real, but I had my doubts. The conclusion I was forced to come to was that there was no good evidence for UFOs being anything other than misidentification of natural phenomenon or man made activity. I did not read a thing that made me think "ah-ha" there is the silver bullet to prove nothing extraordinary is or has occurred. You cannot prove the negative.

However, all the evidence for UFOs came down to pictures that were either fuzzy, clearly a hub cap tossed in the air, or a possible real saucer that in an article printed ten years later turned out to be a fake. There was no good or reliable physical evidence. Some of the best eye witness testimony either turned out to be so vague as to be anything, or very specific descriptions from some poor delusional person, or a person who turned out to have some secondary gain. I am not saying seeing a UFO makes someone delusional. However, when a person can look up at the sky at almost any random time and see spaceships, you have to wonder. This was the case in a few articles. Also, it struck me as fishy that the look of the ETs and their spacecraft never seemed to be consistent. There was lots of evidence, lots of noise, but none of it convincing unless you want it to be convincing. Almost all the clearly pro-UFO books had a prediction that within a few short years the aliens would make themselves known for all to see, but it never happened. I wanted to be convinced, but I what is available came up very short. It was time for summer break.

It was an educational experience, and I am glad I did it. For the record, I performed quite well my first two semesters of undergrad making the Dean's list both times. All that time I spent on this little effort did not cause me to drop out of school, and join the merchant marine. Parents money was well spent.

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One more reflection before I take nap number three for the day. When I was growing in the 80's from mid-night to 1am on early Sunday morning the local christian channel aired "E.T. Monitor" with Robert D. Berry. When SNL was boring, you could always flip over to E.T. Monitor and be entertained until you drifted off to sleep. Here's a taste of my childhood.


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