The Myth and Mystery of UFOs

Jenny Diski writes:

Try as we might to imagine ETs that are not like us, we remain the baseline. In The Myth and Mystery of UFOs, Thomas Bullard suggests that this may be more interesting than merely evidence of compulsive anthropocentrism and a limited imagination. Surely, we aren’t really trying to grasp the actuality of extra-terrestrials. Or at any rate, the narratives related by believers in and experiencers of UFOs, aliens among us and extra-terrestrial abductions tell us as much about human fears (and hopes) as about the real or fancied activities of visitors from outer space. Bullard is a board member of the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), a privately funded research group set up in 1973 to make UFO studies more academically respectable – ‘the flagship of scholarly excellence for the field’. CUFOS was headed until his death in 1986 by Josef Allen Hynek, a professor of astronomy at Northwestern University and longtime consultant to the US air force. He publicly switched from doubter to believer in the fact, at least, of unidentified flying objects, having decided that in spite of all the false sightings there was ‘a stubborn, unyielding residue of incredible reports from credible people’. Bullard echoes Hynek in holding that ‘the body of data points to an aspect of the natural world not yet explored by science’ and goes further, to say ‘that enough threads of coherent experience exist to reject cultural explanations as less than the whole story, though cultural influences contribute much to our interest in the phenomenon even as they do much to confuse our understanding of it. Both sides deserve the serious attention they have never received.’

(LRB 17 November 2011)