Archive for February, 2012
I recently posted a review of Thomas Bullard’s book, The Myth and Mystery of UFOs. In that review I noted that Bullard favors the psycho-social interpretation of UFOs. There was some discussion in the comments about Jerome Clark, the famous UFO researcher, who had been an adherent of the psycho-social view but then abandoned it. I photocopied Clark’s article on the psycho-social interpretation from the 2nd edition of his two-volume UFO Encyclopedia and scanned if for those interested. Like everything else in that encyclopedia, an excellent article.
I just listened to a short podcast from the Skeptoid blog entitled, “Are We Alone.” It’s a good, succinct survey of the problems and obstacles to being optimistic about other inhabited worlds and intelligent civilizations — in terms of there being such a thing, our ever knowing it, and how our civilization and that one would ever detect each other. If you are a zealot about how there *must* be ET life, this might depress you (but a cold dose of reality is good for you). Nevertheless, the Skeptoid host still feels optimistic, but not because of any actual science. I know what he means. It just seems like there might be other worlds with life, but even so, the odds against there ever being contact are formidable. Have a listen!
I just finished Thomas Bullard’s book, The Myth and Mystery of UFOs, by scholar-folklorist Thomas Bullard (University of Kansas Press, 2010). Rather than write my own review, I found the work summarized nicely in this review over at Magonia review of books blog. I’ll just add a few thoughts below on this important work.
Bullard’s book is not light reading. It is an academic work. In my view, as an academic, it’s a wonderful volume. Bullard has detailed chapters, with the expected documentation in mainly academic sources, on all the major motifs of UFO studies: descriptions of alien craft, the aliens themselves, abduction narratives, and alien mission and homeworlds. In each case, Bullard painstakingly details how virtually all the UFO anecdotal evidence can be found in ancient, medieval, and early modern tales across the globe. Importantly, the vast majority of these correlations have nothing to do with other planets, inter-planetary travel, or extraterrestrials. That is, though the correlations are overwhelmingly present, it is only in the contemporary era that narratives about abduction and “otherworldly visitation” conforms to anything we would recognize as high technology. His point in this effort is to raise question of how any of the UFO phenomena could in reality be about visitors from space given the vast arrays of correlations. Good question.
Bullard’s (for the most part) explanation is the psycho-social approach. This is not a view that says a culture produces these episodes or encounters and their descriptions. Rather, it is the encounter with the anomalous that produces the descriptions — and the descriptions are far more likely to not be about genuine aliens from space than other deep-seated thoughts, fear, beliefs, yearnings, etc. The reason the overlaps are so high, reasons Bullard, is that experiences are parsed in such a way that new mythologies are constructed that serve the same fucntion or outlet as older ones. The garb changes because we are living in a different era, our lives defined by technology and the “final frontier” of space.
Bullard doesn’t take a dogmatic stance on this, though. He simply feels it has high explanatory value, but not complete explanatory power. He leaves room for truly anomalous events that might include genuine extraterrestrial contact, and outlines in some details how such experiences might be winnowed from the those experiences for which the psycho-social explanation can best account.
I would encourage anyone interested in UFOs to read this book, and to keep it as a handy reference for its coverage and source material. In particular, those for whom the UFO subject goes beyond the nuts and bolts (questions of physics and reverse engineering which a priori assume that most UFOs are physical craft of non-human origin) will be well served by Bullard’s focus on how the UFO subject molds and produces religious experience and worldview.
There ought to be some sort of ancient astronaut believer gullibility test. Really.
If you want to have your faith in your fellow man lowered (again) by such nonsense (but perhaps raised by the fact that there are those hardy souls who investigate this sort of nonsense), have a look at this post from Silver Screen Saucers.
This “controversy” revolves around the wacky claim made months ago that yet another enlightened researcher (Raul Julia-Levy) had new, incontrovertible proof that the Mayans had been contacted by an ET civilization and was going to release it to a dutifully astonished world. To tease the world Mr. Julia-Levy before his explosive documentary film (“Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond“) made history, he released unprovenanced (and surely not Photoshopped) pictures of saucers and Mayan sculptures. <GASP>
Even more shocking, the Catholic Church was purportedly in cahoots with this shocking revelation. <B-MOVIE FEMALE SCREAM>
Predictably, as the post details (with links), Mr. Levy seems to be nothing more than a con man. Too bad. George Lucas’ Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull film was so awful that I was hoping this one would be better.