The notion that ‘UAP’ as a term is of relatively recent provenance is,
as many of you likely know, mistaken. In fact, the term goes back to what we
like to think of as the very origins of the modern fascination with and
interest in the phenomenon of unidentified aerospace anomalies (there’s another
acronym to add to our soup bowl…). We can find it used as early as 1949.
A day or so ago, I was digging around for more information on
the “Oak Ridge” UFO case, very surprisingly cursorily sketched in Hynek’s own
excepts from the rich Project Blue Book files. As I get some of my thoughts in
order for my interview on Coast-To-Coast AM with George Knapp tonight at 10pm PST
(you may be surprised or annoyed at that—and I’ll explain to you dear readers, annoyed
and delighted, just why I’ve been invited by Mr. Knapp to do the interview), I’ve
been going over some of the more classic UFO cases, sometimes reconsidering
them entirely, or reviewing what I had thought I knew about them.
Even before my upcoming interview with Knapp, this digging around was prompted by my reading of Eddie Bullard’s excellent
text The Myth and Mystery of UFOs—a book on which I plan to do a
characteristically, shall we say, long (wordy?) review. At the end of his
utterly fascinating introduction, Dr. Bullard lists what he considers to be the
cases that have withstood the test of time, as it were: those—at least for him—that
constitute what I’ve previously called the recalcitrant residuum, cases
stubbornly refusing to abide by the canon of conventional explanatory options utilized
by skeptics and sincere ufologists alike (yes, the best ufologist proceeds
exactly like the skeptic—except that they don’t try to force every
case into the Procrustean bed of convention). On Bullard’s list are a few that
skeptics have had their field day with—like the Fr. Gill Papua New Guinea case from
1959 (a CE3 with saucer-bound beings waving back to the priest, which has multiple witnesses)—and
some that are even harder to explain, like the eerie Coyne helicopter case of
1973, or the more recent Chicago O’Hare silvery disc (and cloud-hole) incident
of 2006 (each with multiple eyewitnesses).
One on Bullard’s short-list caught my eye as a case I couldn’t
immediately recall the details of: the so-called incident at Exeter (New Hampshire)
of 1965, and so for a sketch of it I turned to the relevant section of Hynek’s UFO
Report. Turns out that John Fuller, who would go on to author perhaps one
of the most famous UFO books of all time—The Interrupted Journey, chronicling
the Betty and Barney Hill case (another that, perhaps surprisingly, makes it onto
Bullard’s short list of hard nuts to crack)—also wrote up an extensive monograph on Exeter.
It’s one of those cases that is rich in phenomenological detail, and reported
by reliable witnesses (the UFO was observed by one witness to move in a “floating leaf” like
pattern, which is an archetype of UFO movement).
In any case, I was moved to read around in Hynek’s book while I stopped by, and ended up landing upon a case that Hynek himself considered “to be one of the most interesting
radar and visual cases … in the Blue Book files” but which, strangely enough,
is given only the scantest retelling at the end of his chapter on radar/visuals. In fact, there’s nothing much about the
actual incident beyond the mere claim of a radar contact visually confirmed,
and the (characteristic) dissimulations about the incident by the irascible Blue Book miliary point man, Maj. Quintanilla (with
whom Hynek would eventually but heads, as is widely known to UFO history buffs).
I’m speaking about the Oak Ridge (Tennessee) case from 1947.
Actually, I should say
cases, as, according to Hynek: “there is no doubt that a number of incidents
had occurred … beginning in June of 1947, when a photograph of a UFO was
taken by a civilian” (1977/2020, p. 137). The incidents would spread out from ’47
to at least October 1950 when the USG was still recording cases under the curiously
named “Project Grudge” (and we all probably have a theory about why that interregnal
project was so named: it’s probably better referred to as project begrudgingly
Wanting some more information on the case, I dug around the
web, and I was intrigued to come up with a cache of images reproducing
confidential documents relating to the incident and its investigation (where
the FBI was even involved). (These documents were released, I believe, in the
flood brought on by the new FOIA in the 1970s—a law originally instituted in 1967 or
thereabouts; most of the documents I looked at were stamped with some releasement
approval dated 1973). Somewhere amidst my scrolling around the “vault.fbi.gov”
website wherein I found these scanned copies, I landed on several reams of
memoranda sent to the director of the FBI regarding the now-infamous Roswell
case—dated 1949. Since this was a very early case in the U.S. government’s UFO
files (and very iconic), I was rather surprised when I found what we consider to be very contemporary
(and recent) language used to describe the phenomenon under investigation—I was
intrigued to find the descriptor “unidentified aerial phenomena” clearly
printed in the case narrative contained in that Roswell memorandum.
So, not only is UAP an old and very early term used (perhaps
evasively) by the government when dealing with “the phenomenon”, it was used as
early as 1949 in official communication from SAC, El Paso (“Strategic Air Command”)
to the FBI in connection with the Roswell investigation.
I’ve heard it said that ‘UAP’ is a recent construction used
to obfuscate, or (less tendentiously interpreted) used to shed the historical-cultural
baggage that has unfortunately accreted around ‘UFO’. Whatever one’s philological
predilections, the fact is that it seems to be a relatively neutral term that
attempts to indicate something about which we, at least initially and upon beginning
an investigation, have little idea as to what exactly (or even approximately)
we’re dealing with when it comes to the shining, sparkling, twinkling somethings
dancing and flitting and leaf-dropping in bizarre ways in the sky, that abode
of gods and angels and other assorted celestials from time immemorial.
I like ‘UAP’, probably because I like the term phenomenon
or phenomena (although users of the terms often don’t get that there’s a
distinction in number at work: one phenomenon v. many phenomena).
We use the term frequently in philosophy as a somewhat technical term: phenomena
are, as the ancient Greek origins would suggest, what manifests to us as an appearance
through (and by means of) our senses. The term plays a crucial role in the subtle philosophical deconstruction
of human knowledge undertaken in Kant’s philosophy: the phenomena as appearance means
that what we come to know by means of our sensory engagements with the world is
already a heavily-constructed presentation, a kind of dialectical dance between the
world “as it is in itself” (as Kant would have said), and the apparatus of
accessing that world given to us by Nature (which, for Kant,
is simply the mind). A “phenomenon” is a dynamical object, then: part
mind-constructed, part world/reality-supplied. And this, in a nutshell, is Kant’s
genius move in the history of philosophy: the realization that the human mind
plays an active, determinative and therefore ineliminable role in all human knowledge. The mind just is not like a passive mirror, reflecting what is already there; it works with what is there to give us a re-presentation and in so doing informs that world, transforming the given into something we can think. As such human knowledge is circumscribed, beyond the horizon of which circumscription
lies no dragons, but only the demons of ignorance, the distractions of unrestricted
speculation, and the intoxications of the transcendent—about which we shall, argued
Kant, inevitably and fruitlessly debate, without end.
are words used in common parlance to indicate just something there, a
something-or-other for which we cannot quite yet find more precise language.
But it is also a phenomenon in this more technical sense: a
something-out-there (coming from Nature, even if manufactured) interacting with
us (if only fleetingly, on the liminal edge of our awareness or perceptual
capabilities), producing some sensory experience we then have to confront with
the strange and elusive imprecisions of language. As we don’t know what “they”
are, the genuine ‘UAP’ is a challenge more than a thing. A challenge to language,
yes, but a challenge most significantly to that attempt to more precisely grasp
the world symbolically which is science (with its language of
Well, dear readers, I must apologize for my trickle of posts
these days. I have been busy. VERY busy, as some of you may know…
Perhaps now is the time to out myself: I am the organizer of
a rather large and, I hope, significant academic conference devoted not—I
must hasten to stress—to “ufology” per se but rather more specifically devoted
to UAP Studies, a discipline I am hoping we can work to collectively define during this event (and beyond), especially
since mainstream academia as a whole tends to be a bit slow on the uptake (not
that that’s inherently bad).
I am referring to the inaugural event for the journal that I founded almost a year ago (it will be a year this April): a “Symposium” of
presentations, a few panel discussions, and exhibitions set up by a number of
important UFO/UAP research organizations from around the world.
The journal is called Limina, for reasons that, over
these many months of writing this blog, I have attempted to variously outline.
It is, I think, a badly needed instrument for advancing UAP Studies, and the
study of “the phenomenon” itself, to a more sophisticated level of discourse. The
journal is owned and operated by another organization which I built around it, which will
function as a learned and professional society. This is called the Society for UAP Studies, and we have incorporated officially as a nonprofit. It
will hopefully supply the discipline of UAP Studies with the international academic infrastructure we need
to sustain this subject as a serious and worthwhile one going forward.
As we enter into this new era of concern with and attention
to UAP, we need careful guidance from our gifted scholars and researchers—and we
must attempt to move as a community from amateurism to academic professionalism, whether we
approach UAP scientifically or not. And that means we must get serious about UAP
Studies as a real academic discipline, with all the rules, regulations, and peer-created
expectations that such a thing entails. It is no longer fringe.
I won’t belabor this blog with the Society’s more specific plans,
strategic initiatives and goals which we are currently developing for 2023; for that,
you can keep up with our activities as a subscriber to both Limina’s and
the Society’s websites. What I can say is that the Society wants to act to
bring together the serious-minded, and especially the serious UAP research
groups, to forge a global community of talented scholars and researchers,
enabling a sustained international and interdisciplinary dialogue—a global
ecosystem of exchange. If the USG recently spoke of the UAP issue as being a “whole-of-government”
affair, given how important the issue is, then why don’t we, joined together in
a global civilian network of serious scholars, combine our efforts into a “whole-of-global-community” affair? Elevate the
discourse? Forge the needed academic infrastructure ourselves, as a prelude to inclusion within the
This is why we have brought both Limina and the Society
for UAP Studies into existence. And the overture, we hope, will be Limina’s
Inaugural Symposium 2023, which goes live this coming February 3rd
at 9am EST. We have already received generous financial support for our February event from a number of private donors, and especially from the new UAP research initiative EnigmaLabs (for which we are very grateful). We are therefore hopeful that with this kind of backing, these nonprofit ventures of ours (and others like them) will thrive.
But this is not just an academic conference—and it’s not your
typical UFO conference either. It hopes to not only bring together academics
and interested professionals from around the world, and from almost every academic
discipline (from the STEM to the humanities), to discuss the UAP issue. It hopes
to be a way for the existing UFO community to be part of collectively developing this new kind of conversation,
where we consider not necessarily the relative merits or demerits of this-or-that
particular UFO/UAP case (this, of course, is very much still important), but
where we start to think about the necessary foundations for the study of
the phenomenon, and how it is that humans— culturally, politically, and so on—engage
with it (whatever the “it” is—yet another foundational question, dealing with
the specific “being” of the phenomenon, as distinct from the meaning(s) it
has). Thus, the title of this Symposium is: “Foundations, Frontiers and Future Prospects of UAP Studies”.
And this is what I’m likely going to chat about with George Knapp
tonight. I hope I won’t annoy too many in the community, especially since I’m a
rather unknown quantity (as in, “so who’s this a-hole and why should I care,
and who does he think he is, anyway?”). My hope is that I communicate a simple message:
that my role here is as a facilitator of a new level of discourse; an organizer
of our international colleagues in the best interest of cross-disciplinary dialogue;
a mediator (we’ve invited our skeptical bothers and sisters to be involved in
this event—all points of view are needed for progress to be made, as difficult as
this will likely be); and finally, someone part of an organization offering a
safe space for those academics and professionals who still find it hard to be
open about their serious interest in studying the phenomenon … safe because
open to radical disagreement, and not necessarily committed to a particular categorical thesis concerning UAP (including the view that all UAP must and can be
dismissed as mundane, or that there are no recalcitrant cases, or that all such cases are evidence of ET, and so on). We are also hoping, because of the safety of our dialogical openness, to draw into this young discipline new minds, therefore allowing fresh air into a discourse that has, in many ways, become trapped by its own sincerity. As the air lightens a bit, perhaps we can see a way out of the intellectual cul-de-sacs of believer v. skeptic, nuts-and-bolts v. high strangeness/paranormal, and so on and so forth through the litany of conceptual impasses plaguing the discourse. (Perhaps even UAP Studies will, in turn, allow fresh air to rush into those stale discourses within mainstream academia itself.)
We take refuge not in the power of human knowledge but in the enlightened ignorance born from self-examination—which is the initial stage of all authentic knowledge. Having passed through the humility of awareness of one’s ignorance, we
may then attain to a power greater than that of a knowledge lacking in
self-examination (knowledge merely learned, not discovered).
Perhaps, then, we pursue at first a spiritual rather than a
scholarly task in this undertaking on the first weekend of February 2023. Let us
at first not immediately disagree; let us at first find agreement in our common
humanity, one rooted more in epistemic fragility than unshakable certainty.
It may be that this self-awareness is our true progress here, or
the foundation for it…