Hallucination and/or Hysteria in Ufology: The Airship sightings of the late 1800s
Jerry Clark’s book Unexplained! [Visible Ink Press, Detroit, 1993] is full of precise stories about UFOs and other things that are mysteries in the human realm.
The first entry in the book takes on the Airship phenomenon predominately occurring in the late 1800s. [Page 1 ff.]
Mr. Clark offers correctives to many of the stories still considered ufologically germane.
His historical references are amended by reality and fact, as is his wont when writing about UFOs or other paranormal activities and “things.”
This brings me to what happens when a UFO event takes place: either it is real (which some of you would deny), or hallucinatory, or a product of hysteria, sometimes mass hysteria.
The “mass hysteria” epithet applies to those 1890 airship sightings and reports.
Mr. Clark offers that many of the sightings were hoaxes or tales told for various self-aggrandizing reasons.
But what caused persons who were not hoaxers to see airships?
Were they hallucinations? No, not necessarily.
Hallucinations are “An apparent perception of an external object when no such object is present.” [Psychiatric Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Hinsie/Campbell M.D.s]
Hallucinations stem from a mental or psychological or neurological failure.
Hysteria comes about for many reasons [as cited op. cit.] while “mass hysteria” is a condition whereby groups of people assume the dictates of hysteria on a large scale, a mass scale, while not necessarily located in situ.
While an hallucination comes from within, hysterical manifestations come from without, often producing an hallucination-like perception.
This is what happened in the airship sightings: many persons, often not in locale, seem to think they saw what appeared to be airships out of time, technologically.
They didn’t see such ships, but they saw something.
Hysteria needs an external trigger, whereas hallucinations are triggered by neurological (or brain) malfunctions.
Persons purportedly seeing airships in the 1890 era had to see something, not an airship, as such, perhaps but something.
French UFO skeptic Gilles Fernandez has offered a number of causal factors, one being a misperception of the planet Venus, but such a perception by rational persons is a stretch.
Persons reporting airship sightings were induced to see odd things flying in the skies, before such things were extant, by newspaper reports and tales from others that were grist for the social media of the time, gossip.
But they did have to see something; they were not prone to hallucinations, not all of them or many of them.
Something appeared in the skies over various areas of the United States and other countries as Mr. Clark offers.
Whatever those somethings were, they were not airships, as such, perhaps, but things that evoked a response that they were.
Now, what were they?
They seemed to have tangibility and caused sensory responses of various kinds.
One can discount the mix-up of atmospherics or astronomical misperceptions, if one reads the accounts that Mr. Clark (and others elsewhere) have proffered.
The 1890s airship sightings provoked hysterical sightings, I’ll give you that.
But that hysteria was caused by triggers after the initial triggers: newspaper stories and/or communal gossip.
What were the (secondary) triggers? Actual airships or a phenomenon that looked like airships?
The mystery remains, to this day, unanswered mostly.