UFO Conjecture(s)

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Damn you Kenneth Arnold!

Citing old flying saucer or UFO sightings irks some UFO mavens, but we have to consider one sighting, which is iconic and the causa principia of all that follows in UFO lore: Kenneth Arnold’s June 24, 1947 sighting near Mt. Rainier.


Was Ken Arnold deluded by flying pelicans or a strange, unique meteorological phenomenon? Did he see experimental aircraft? Was he hallucinating? Was his eyesight/mind affected by a lack of oxygen or airflight vertigo?

Whatever Ken Arnold saw or thought he saw, he was affected (or afflicted) by that June 1947 sighting in ways that confirm Mr. Arnold believed wholeheartedly that he saw something extraordinary and otherworldly.


An article by Sidney Shalett in the April 30, 1949 edition of The Saturday Evening POST provides confirmation that Ken Arnold became a “flying saucer” believer and dedicated the rest of his life to finding out what it was that he had seen or experienced.




Shalett’s interpretation of Arnold’s sighting:


Ken Arnold did not appear to have a psychosis or any other demeaning mental affliction. My feeling is that if a person truly has an unusual experience, it will be personally transforming, which was the case with Ken Arnold.

Persons hoaxing UFO sightings or who have been deluded by a hallucinatory event will come to discard their tale or mental disturbance; even “insane” persons will abandon their delusion if treated therapeutically.

But Arnold never wavered in his belief. That he came to the idea his sighting was of otherworldly craft can be debated. It’s an option that tests credulity but remains a possible option.

Whatever Arnold aw or experienced, his sighting, as Shalett observes in the rest of his POST article, that observation – real or mentally created – has brought the flying saucer/UFO phenomenon (or dilemma) down upon us, even to this day.

Without Arnold, UFOs or flying saucers would have remained odd occurrences dismissed by almost everybody, even those of us consumed by the damn things.



  • What sort of person was Arnold before his sighting? Martin Gardner once described him as an "enthusiastic fortean", but did he become one after his sighting or was he one beforehand?

    Did Arnold dabble in the paranormal or the 'unearthly' or in psychic phenomena prior to June 24?

    By Blogger cda, at Sunday, May 05, 2013  

  • Never being a big fan of Arnold, but enjoying his sighting over the years, I don't know but maybe someone else might have the answer(s) to your question(s), CDA.

    Arnold's mind-set, before his sighting is more important than his mind-set afterwards.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, May 05, 2013  

  • The placement of the two great landmarks, Mts Rainier and Adams, help make Arnold's a uniquely amazing case. A simple virtual tool like Google Earth really aid in visualizing not only the case's extraordinary nature but also confirm Arnold's apparent accuracy as a witness. His comment about the small flotilla passing behind a sub-peak of Rainier is amazingly borne out.

    By Blogger Frank Stalter, at Sunday, May 05, 2013  

  • Both the 'insane' and the temporarily deluded are at the 'mercy' of the electro-mechanics necessary to produce thought. Since we are ultimately dealing with biological cells/nerves/neurons, we should EXPECT that we will have an occasional misfire which results in the occasional zany thought.

    If electric stimulation of the human brain can (and does) produce images, sounds, etc., then why shouldn't we expect the same from the expected random misfiring?

    By Blogger Parakletos, at Sunday, May 05, 2013  

  • Parakletos...

    You are making no sense.

    Arnold'sighting, as defined, in the article and his original testimony, was protracted and specific.

    One can postulate that he "imagined" what he saw but that explanation is iffier than that he really saw what he said he saw.

    "Zany" and "misfire" don't factor into my psychology lexicon.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, May 05, 2013  

  • Parakletos wrote:

    "If electric stimulation of the human brain can (and does) produce images, sounds, etc., then why shouldn't we expect the same from the expected random misfiring?"

    Because random, chaotic processes cannot spontaneously produce ordered,negentropic results. It's the second law of thermodynamics. It's not just a good idea--it's the law.

    The only process we know of that produces negentropic results is intelligence, whatever the heck that is.

    Electric stimulation does not produce coherent sounds and images without there being a preexisting brain (or mind, which may or may not be the same thing) to be stimulated.

    Think back to the old days, when TV signals were sent through the atmosphere and you received them on an antenna. Suppose you were watching an episode of "Bonanza" and there was a solar storm that suddenly introduced a massive amount of random noise into the environment. You didn't suddenly see an episode of Doctor Who, you saw static--noise--entropy--disorder.

    By Blogger Larry, at Monday, May 06, 2013  

  • RR,

    Surely you have heard of the account of electric probes being used to stimulate the exposed brains of those who underwent brain surgeries. As I recall, one subject 'heard' Beethoven clear as day.

    And if that can be done with probes intentionally stimulating an area of the brain, why can't we use logic to conclude that misfires would produce the same degree of detail and 'reality'? If a misfire happens in that same area of the brain, will the subject not experience Beethoven again?

    The specificity exists because it's drawing from a PREVIOUS memory -- not because Beethoven is traveling through the air via soundwaves.

    By Blogger Parakletos, at Monday, May 06, 2013  

  • "While operating on epileptic patients, Penfield applied electric currents to the surface of patients' brains in order to find problem areas. Since the patients were awake during the operations, they could tell Penfield what they were experiencing. Probing some areas triggered whole memory sequences. For one patient, Penfield triggered a familiar song that sounded so clear, the patient thought it was being played in the operating room."


    That's what I was remembering from that psychology class...

    So if a small electric current, via probe, can create the experience of elaborate 'realities', why can't a neural misfire in the same spot?

    By Blogger Parakletos, at Monday, May 06, 2013  

  • I agree that it would be interesting to see what Arnold's interests were prior to the report. As an historical figure, it would add to the record. However, I'm not sure that a prior interest in Fortean subjects would add or detract from the claim.

    Of course, if he had read Fort's Book of the Damned, some would be quick to twirl their fingers near their ears and run headlong down the path towards suggesting psychological issues. Conversely, if he had not, it could just as easily be undermined by alleging cultural saturation of sci-fi concepts in the Post-War world. Win-Win!

    Coincidentally, I've recently been listening to some audio lectures by Arnold. I found it interesting that his attention was caught by bright flashes in his periphery.

    Where I've held my own doubts in the past relates mainly to the estimated sizes. He said the distance was up to 25 miles away and Martin Shough calculated that it could have been as little as 16 miles. As you've posted, the objects were compared to DC-4s in size (<90').

    When I've run these figures through calculators of angular size, it doesn't make sense to me that he could discern such detail. Even at 16 miles away, that's 85 thousand feet. If we compare that to seeing a plane at an altitude of 40 thousand feet, it's hard to see how he could relate any details at double that distance.

    Incidentally, if anyone sees a small fleet of aircraft (that they later suspect were extraterrestrial), it seems eminently reasonable to become a 'believer.' It's the extent of that belief that probably needs to be held in check! It's okay claiming to see a UFO and not okay to conclude they are beings who love us and want to give us free energy and New Age bracelets.

    By Blogger Kandinsky, at Monday, May 06, 2013  

  • His reference to deposits of furnace slag in the ocean reminds me a great deal of the Maury Island affair and the slag that the ill-fated air-force officers took away from the scene.

    By Blogger Tristan Eldritch, at Monday, May 06, 2013  

  • Parakletos wrote: “So if a small electric current, via probe, can create the experience of elaborate 'realities', why can't a neural misfire in the same spot?”

    In principle, it probably could, and I guess that’s what you would call a hallucination, or delusion, when it occurs. The point is, any random stimulation like that does not contain within it the information to create the experience—it is just noise. It presumably stimulates the mind to recall or somehow gain access to information that is already in the mind (memories, associations, etc.). The only reason it’s able to do that is because some part of the memory happens to be accessible at that location in the brain. The fact that an electrical stimulation causes one memory to be experienced when applied at point A and another memory when applied at point B is evidence that the information is coming from the location in the bbrain, not from the electrical stimulation.

    That’s why hallucinations or delusions are usually “meaningful” in some sense. There’s a famous book that was popular back when I was a psychology major called “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti”. In it, a psychology researcher Milton Rokeach discusses the case of three delusional patients at the mental hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan, each one of whom claimed to be Jesus Christ. The point being, that if they had not had prior exposure to Christianity, their delusions would presumably have been about something else. If they were born in pre-Columbian times, they might have been the “Three Quetzalcoatls of Mexico”.

    It seems to me that if you want to use the delusion/hallucination explanation for UFO reports, you need to explain a few things, like:
    Why do witnesses who are aboriginals in the Australian outback or the Amazon basin have delusions/hallucinations with the same content as witnesses from Manhattan?
    If the answer to that is that UFO’s draw on some universal structure built in to the mind, like Jungian archetypes, why did that archetype only start being activated in large numbers in 1947?
    Why would such a universal propensity have evolved, in the first place? One would think that—rather than conferring some adaptive value--it would be maladptive.
    Why do people (like Arnold) go along for an entire lifetime functioning at a high level (and flying airplanes qualifies as that, if you’ll pardon the pun), have a 15 second interlude of delusion/hallucination, and then go back to being a normal, or above average individual?

    Back when I was a Psych major, and would talk to Psychology researchers and clinicians about UFOs, I was somewhat amazed to find out that the idea that all UFO sightings could be explained as simply the result of psychosocial disorders was not a consensus position among Psychologists. Jung did not hold that position, for example. If there were a consensus, then you would think that that particular psychological disorder would have been conclusively identified in diagnostic handbooks, by now.

    By Blogger Larry, at Monday, May 06, 2013  

  • Larry,

    Good thought provoking post.

    Regarding cultures like the aboriginals in Australia, and similarly Native American cultures, looking for "signs" in the heavens, for certain constellations/stars guided the planting and/or migration seasons.

    The Egyptians looked for "rising" of Sirius as a means of determining the annual flooding of the Nile which was important for the growing seasons.

    So, yes the ancients looked for "signs" and interpreted them based on what they knew or realistically what could be correlated from these events.

    Simply put, I agree that these were not hallucinations or delusional episodes concerning ancient tribes and cultures. We currently view true delusions and hallucinations as a pathological symptom of a possible larger on-going issue.

    It appears to me to be a simple thought process involving a mental construct being that of "the rule of expectations."

    I would be "expected" to see something in the sky based on cultural beliefs.

    This is no different than certain Native American tribes, pre-reservation era, that required a young boy to partake in a vision quest. The individual fasted, no water/food, for up to four days in an isolated area and was expected to have a "vision."

    Based on the prevailing custom of the tribe, he was expected to have his vision, if not totally obligated. So most accounts that I've read, the individual "successfully" completed his vision quest.

    Basic physiology shows that after prolong exposure to cold, hot, thirst, hunger and being scantly clothed the risk of suffering from delirium increases exponentially.

    Under those conditions, I would damn sure have my vision and be done with it... because it was expected of me.

    I hope I wasn't rambling too much...

    By Blogger Tim Hebert, at Monday, May 06, 2013  

  • Larry brought up Carl Jung. I happen to be currently reading Garry Lachman's "Jung the Mystic." Lachman briefly touches on Jung's UFO thought's.

    Jung was an enigma, never fully divulging what he truly thought or believed. Early psychiatrist, Jung included, had fractured psyches of their own with some becoming residences of the very asylums that they had once practiced.

    I've already staked out a room for future use for my own!

    Jung initially believed that UFOs were projection of the mind in need of meaning. His later views may have been altered due to the Cold War as he thought that Western consciousness was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Perhaps he later saw the UFO concept as a form of "reality" necessary as a form of mental compensation. But with that said, Jung was prone to silent hysteria, a trait that was known in his youth and throughout his adulthood.

    By Blogger Tim Hebert, at Monday, May 06, 2013  

  • How about the miner on the ground who claims to have withnessed the Arnold objects? Only he said that they were discs, not crescents.

    By Blogger ufonalyzer, at Monday, May 06, 2013  

  • The miner and/or engineer witnesses to similar flying disks in the time-frame have been covered amply at Kevin Randle's blog.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, May 06, 2013  

  • The point is, any random stimulation like that does not contain within it the information to create the experience—it is just noise. It presumably stimulates the mind to recall or somehow gain access to information that is already in the mind (memories, associations, etc.).


    It's random, but I don't think it's necessarily 'noise' once it begins acting as a substitute to the neuronal electrochemical stimulation. The 'mind' -- operating as a whole -- will stitch all the sensory and experience inputs together to create reality. If there's an electrochemical glitch in there, it will be swept right up into the experience as though it was happening. That woman didn't just hear music playing. She heard it playing IN THE ROOM. Her mind stitched it right into her active experience.

    By Blogger Parakletos, at Tuesday, May 07, 2013  

  • Parakletos and Larry:

    You fellows are engaged in an esoteric but interesting topic but are need to make it relevant to the subject matter: Ken Arnold.

    I don't wish to have the kind of off-road back-and-forths that make Kevin Randle's blog a way-side to all but the most dedicated devotees of obscure minutiae.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, May 07, 2013  

  • The miner (actually a prospector) was Fred Johnson. Unfortunately his claim was only published some weeks after Arnold. He did claim to see six discs not nine and they affected his compass needle.

    For some reason the AF had doubts about this report and decided it was a likely hoax.

    See Jan Aldrich's Project 1947 Report.

    By Blogger cda, at Tuesday, May 07, 2013  

  • "... the AF had doubts about [Johnson's] report and decided it was a likely hoax."

    That makes two hoaxes then: Johnson and Arnold. (vbg)

    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Tuesday, May 07, 2013  

  • KA was interested in one thing before and after the sighting: money. He was the dreamy handsome mouthpiece that Ray Palmer always needed and he/Shaver could never be...and a trained salesman to boot.

    By Blogger TSH, at Tuesday, May 07, 2013  

  • "KA was interested in one thing before and after the sighting: money. He was the dreamy handsome mouthpiece that Ray Palmer always needed and he/Shaver could never be...and a trained salesman to boot."

    We Have a Winner!

    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Tuesday, May 07, 2013  

  • Flying-saucer repeater Ken Arnold's 1952 fairy tale:

    "The impression I had after observing these strange objects a second time was that they were something alive rather than machines---a living organism of some type...."


    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Friday, May 10, 2013  

Post a Comment

<< Home