Sunday, March 07, 2010

Voodoo Skepticism

I'm skeptical about true believers -- and skeptics.

I mean skeptical in the sense that I eXamine claims with a critical -- but not emotional -- eye.

For eXample, I have a problem with an article by Matt Graeber in issue V. 2 #2 (March-April 2010) of the "SUNlite" newsletter, a piece entitled "Twenty first century UFOlogy Part III." (SUN = Skeptical UFO Newsletter). You can download the PFD file of the issue at .

Graeber examines two UFO sightings using the traditional skeptical POV, i.e., UFOs aren't extraordinary objects, they're really misidentified everyday objects.

In the first case from 1976, a "Mr. Raefield" mistook birds (gulls) one misty morning as disc-shaped alien spacecraft. And in the second case (1977), a Mrs. Bailey confused an airplane with its lights for a flying saucer one night.

Graeber provides an added dimension to his examinations of these cases, the concept of "dynamic display." Each observer was sincere, believing he or she saw something truly unearthly, but what caused the misidentification was that individual's subconscious turmoil.

Graeber says that Mr. Raefield saw four UFOs, three to his left and a smaller one on the right. The UFO-gulls symbolized the stress Raefield was undergoing at the time, the larger three representing his estranged wife and two children, the smaller fourth one his girlfriend. The reason why the fourth one was smaller was because his relationship with his girlfriend was still growing.

Too Freudian for me. Voodoo psychology. When it comes to the murky subconscious and symbolism, all sorts of connections can be inferred. To borrow a line from UFO researcher James Moseley: "Whee!"

As for Mrs. Bailey, projected symbolism also played a role, turning an airplane into an UFO. Graeber writes: "It was at this point that the object [UFO] symbolically took on [for Mrs. Bailey] the great emotional significance, which was primarily kindled by a deep-seated fear she had long harbored concerning the potential of an incestuous episode taking place involving Mr. Bailey and their oldest daughter, Kathy."

Really. And conspiracy theorist Richard Hoagland claims that you can see glass domes on the moon's surface, structures built by aliens, when you look really hard at grainy NASA photographs. With both Graeber and Hoagland, one can say "That's one great leap for mindkind."

Check out the small print disclaimer at the end of Graeber's article that states the author "is not a trained psychologist and offers these data as speculation and opinion." I can agree with that, except "wild speculation" might be a better term.

To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a cigar-shaped UFO is just a cigar-shaped UFO -- not a symbol of penile inadequacy.


X. Dell said...

I find this and the following post most helpful. Especially when networking on the Internet, there's pressure from all sorts of people to identify which side is the right one. The assumption is that one side is always right, and one side is always wrong. Kind of a party-line mentality.

I had this psyche professor once who explained the concept of explanatory fiction by dint of circular reasoning. In other words, the answers to your question always lead to the question itself. For example, you might ask, "What makes a good basketball player."

The answer could be, "Someone who handles the ball well, is fast enough to penetrate the zone, can score lots of points, come down with lots of rebounds, and so on."

That would lead to the question, "So, why would a person be able to do all these things?"

The answer, "Because he/she is a great basketball player."

"Okay, so what makes...."

By the same token, the "traditional skeptical" view has the same basic problem. One might say with all confidence, "There are no such things as ufos."

To which, a witness might reply, "But I saw one. They exist."

The traditional view: "What you really saw were misidentified everyday objects."

To which the witness responds, "You weren't even there when I saw it. How do you know it's a misidentified everyday object?"

"Because," says the traditionalist, "there are no such things as UFOs."

"But I just...."

Ray said...

X. Dell:

I agree. In fact, some skeptics are so rigid in their anti-UFO views that it's like blind faith.

And when I say "UFO," I don't strictly mean the sighting of an alien starship. I stress the "Unidentified" in UFO. Because of the connotation with UFO and ET vehicles, some people prefer the term "aerial phenomena," meaning a puzzling event caused by an unknown source.

For all the talk of logic, how can a skeptic say that every UFO sighting that remains hard to explain away has to have an earthly, not unearthly or paranormal, explanation? How do they know that every case of aerial phenomena is a hoax, misidentification, etc.?