UFO Conjecture(s)

Monday, November 02, 2015

The Dichotomy in Cultural Studies, and also UFO Studies

A back-and-forth between my Facebook friend, academic Bryan Sentes (who teaches at Dawson College in Montreal) and me centered on his insistence that one should focus on artists’ work (in this instance, poets), eschewing, rather much, what I insisted, that one needs to look at the person, in all his or her facets, not just their output.

That is, there should be a gestaltian approach to cultural production: the work and the person creating it.

Bryan thinks the works stand on their own, and that’s true, for a critical stance.

I brought up my interest in cave art, where one cannot know anything, or very much, about who created the great works in such places as Lascaux.

Yes, the drawings/paintings stand alone and have for thousands of years but no one knows why they were created – their purpose – although many anthropologists assert such works were shamanistic.

Wouldn't it be interesting to know who created such magnificent works, and why?

Bryan thinks the output of some poets – Yeats and Eliot for example – is grist for adoration and critical evaluation apart from the sociological or psychological vicissitudes of the poets.

That, for me, is a sloppy way, or lazy way, to comprehend the totality of a cultural artifact, but his arguments are profound and de rigueur in academic circles and amongst  most critics it seems.

How does this apply to UFOs?

UFO events are usually (always?) “investigated” singularly, except when clumped together in that ufological cliché, flaps.

Even when a raft of sightings occur in large numbers, over time and locale, “researchers” often pull one or two out of the data or reports and concentrate on the few rather than the many.

Metadata hasn’t impacted “ufology” in any meaningful way, or any way at all, since the heyday of Aime Michel’s “orthoteny.”

But, while a gestalt view of UFOs might produce clues to the phenomenon’s essence, a particular study of one sighting or event, much like Bryan Sentes’ critical approach to cultural phenomena, is valid in ways I’ve supported, using the Sherlock Holmes’ techniques for solving his mysteries.

But such an approach has proven futile, thus far, as UFOs remain as enigmatic as ever.

So, would a gestalt approach prove fruitful?

Can an accumulation of data – BIG data, as corporations and internet enterprises use it – bring UFOs to heel, that is provide revelations about what UFOs are?

A total package, whether about a creator of cultural artifacts or UFOs, brings truths that a myopic approach doesn’t or can’t.

It is, for me, a question that is open and unanswered: do we find the essence of thing in its parts or in its totality?

I don’t know.

What do you think?

RR

47 Comments:

  • I think my writing is people-, rather than case-, oriented, but I don't know if my method is what you might mean. What I've found is the persons I've researched seem like normal, average folks.

    Sherlock Holmes method is associated with Pierce's Pragmatism; see the wikipedia article on Abductive Reasoning:

    "Abductive reasoning (also called abduction,[1] abductive inference[2] or retroduction[3]) is a form of logical inference which goes from an observation to a theory which accounts for the observation, ideally seeking to find the simplest and most likely explanation. In abductive reasoning, unlike in deductive reasoning, the premises do not guarantee the conclusion. One can understand abductive reasoning as "inference to the best explanation".[4]"

    At least for me, this method works best for those saucer accounts that interest me.

    Best Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Monday, November 02, 2015  

  • In my humble opinion I think it best to approach the UFO subject from the vantage point of its totality.

    One of the reasons Ufology has not advanced is because it tends, as you stated, to focus on individual cases with the premise that the parts of the story will yield a conclusion. But this hasn't happened. And those approaching the subject in this way have gotten their trousers caught on the ETH without advancing any further.

    If Ufology approached all sightings as parts of a massive whole, investigators might conclude something different. For now their minds are closed.

    The total picture would need to include aspects that ET supporters distance themselves from. This includes:

    1) Psychology and mass social influence
    2) Religion
    3) Alien abductions
    4) Cultural specificity regarding myths, lore, legends, and traditions

    No, this won't happen. Those backing the ETH are convinced they have the answer despite no proof.

    By Blogger Brian Bell, at Monday, November 02, 2015  

  • Ah...a walk down a different path?

    First, I recall taking an art appreciation class years back and interesting we were asked to look not only at the artist body of work, but to interpret what was being conveyed. Of course to come up with the plethora of answers, one would have to look at what motivated the artist, what environments (socially, politically, and religious) shaped his/her mind that transferred from the neurological to the motor functions that guided the paint brush.

    Second, UFOs should be looked at in a "subjective" and "objective" fashion concerning the collection of data. Much the same as in a clinical setting. One may corroborate the other, but we may also see the opposite.

    By Blogger Tim Hebert, at Monday, November 02, 2015  

  • Jacques Vallee has been a proponent and practitioner of "BIG data" since Anatomy of a Phenomenon (1965) and Challenge to Science (1966) and he devised a new classification system of anomalies, close encounters, manoeuvres, and flybys in Confrontations (1990), which is to say that, yes, such an approach possesses promise, at least in what I might term the "forensic" branch of ufology, that focuses on the question of the physical nature of the ufo phenomenon...

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Monday, November 02, 2015  

  • I keep thinking: what comprises what is being discussed but texts written by others?

    What is the source data except what you can read about (stipulating to a bit of a/v which are also 'texts')? Of course one can interview witnesses or join ufo reporting organizations to get them as fresh as possible.

    How do you get to the experience, the moment by, reading a bunch of stuff others have written?

    Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Monday, November 02, 2015  

  • Right Don:

    First hand witness accounts can be flawed by all the reasons we've read over the years.

    But the regurgitation of accounts by others far removed from the original events or sightings is far, far worse, as you note.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, November 02, 2015  

  • A thought, Don: What is the data of ufology? Arguably, "traces"--physical (burn marks, impressions, etc.), instrumental (photographs and videos, radar, etc.), and linguistic (witness accounts or more formal reports). This last, it seems, draws attention to the others, which is why Vallee remarked to Hynek that "reports" are what ufologists study. Sometimes, though, the (a?) source stimulus can be subjected to physical study, as in the case of The Green Fireballs or the Hessdalen lights. Though each of these four entails its own complications and problems, have I covered all the bases?

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Monday, November 02, 2015  

  • Bryan, those are the usual sources, but, unless we are the subjects or the immediate investigators, we will be reading reports of traces, both ground and instrumental, as well as witness statements.

    These chosen sources imply an object seen in the sky, no matter it is on the ground, it landed and will take off; it enters the earth, the ice, the mountain, but from the sky, and will emerge into the sky.

    So the base datum of ufology is a 'U.F.O': something seen in the sky, mostly and approximately disk shaped, which is not identified, and might not be identifiable.

    The texts of ufology are often treated like scripture by advocates. The raw material (the texts) get smoothed out in narration, the aporias filled in, cause and effect assumed and assigned, good guys and bad guys delineated, and read either literally or allegorically. Since the skeptics are reactive to advocates, they do the same.

    Thus 'readings' are shared; they form a consensus among the readers, no matter they violently dispute the interpretations. Pointing out their 'smoothing' of the information often leads to being shunned, oddly (to me) more by the skeptics than advocates with whom I seem to get along with...mostly.

    Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Tuesday, November 03, 2015  

  • Don, unless the ufologist is him or herself a witness, like those observing the Green Fireballs or the Hessdalen lights, then the ufologist has only the traces to study with which to infer something about the original stimulus of the report or physical cause of said traces. This seems to be the situation of the forensic ufologist.

    Yes, once we move away from such field investigation, then we become "armchair" ufologists, studying the studies of the people on the ground, which is rife with the problems you remark. Of course, one can make precisely the phenomenon in toto an object of study, everything from the witness report, the physical or instrumental traces, the working up of this forensic data into texts (articles and books), and the more general social effects that might said to both ripple out from that original sighting and that also inform and shape the sighting (no witness is naive, but is always already acculturated).

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Tuesday, November 03, 2015  

  • “Can an accumulation of data . . . BIG data, as corporations and internet enterprises use it . . . bring UFOs to heel?”

    Talk about big data in relation to ufology misses the crucial point that big data involves billions of widely valid, diachronically reliable data points. Everyone tends to agree on what a date of birth, a point of sale, a calendar date, a credit score, etc. is and has done so at least since the invention of the internet. Big data is not the same as the kind of information processing models that Vallee worked with or suggests now. Nor is Michel’s orthoteny an example of the use of metadata. Michel sought to find intelligibility in the phenomenon by presenting a hypothesis based on observational data. That’s plain old everyday use of data. (Shocking, I know.)

    Ufology is not in any danger of having to deal with big data, even if Jacques Vallee himself returned and programmed a database for MUFON. I for one would be particularly interested in how any such database dealt with Simonton’s pancakes. Were pancakes present? Yes/No. Were they offered? Yes/No. Was the offer accepted? Yes/No. How did they taste? (Look what happened to Proust with the madeleine.) There are a million equally weird, equally significant variants on Simonton’s pancakes; databases are not designed to keep track of that kind of information.

    If metadata or big data or the gestalt or big picture or whatever you want to call it has had anything at all to say about UFOs and suchlike, in my opinion it’s that that a trickster element is frequently involved and that no single explanation for any collection of cases will be satisfactory. I tend to think it’s more useful and interesting to look at UFOs etc. in terms of social/psychological construction and, for when you want to get esoteric, co-creation with an as yet undefined Other.

    Reading UFO texts is very much like reading scripture; lack of sourcing or references to original data in a potentially high-stakes field rife with known frauds and fakes leaves the reader in about the same position as if they were reading the Bible. Hermeneutics, not big data, might be a better approach.

    By Blogger Sue Johnson, at Wednesday, November 04, 2015  

  • Sue:

    You make some superb points, only diluted by bringing in the Trickster concept.

    Reading UFO texts is not going to help, as noted here by others.

    But metadata is a viable approach even in the Simonton pancake tale.

    Everything must be looked at -- everything.

    That said, thanks for the thoughtful response.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, November 04, 2015  

  • I have probably given the impression I consider texts of less importance or value than first hand 'on the ground' investigation. But we think in text -- we compose our thoughts, 'narratize' what we and others are doing, assigning motives, causes, effects, colored by our 'insights', and all with a dollop of our desires in the matter and the state of our digestion. The 'on the ground' responder is doing so, as well. Some things become the center of the investigation, and other things become marginal.

    What is almost always at the center is the ufo and everything else moved to the margin where it can be forgotten. That is the problem with ufology. I tend to poke about the margins. After all, they are marginal only because ufologists have ignored them.

    Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Wednesday, November 04, 2015  

  • Sue--thanks for the clarifications re "big data"--Digital data analysis and hermeneutics both have a place in ufology, just as the digital humanities and hermeneutics both have their place in the study of texts. The former can reveal quite informative patterns that at the same time cannot be said to replace the value of more traditional interpretation. Valee's work is a good example, that seeks both to find what data analysis can reveal while at the same time engaging in the study of patterns in "ufo" stories (as in Passport to Magonia), an exercise not out of place in folklore studies.

    Don--of course, all understanding is linguistic, narrativized, but the question still remains, what access does the ufologist who is not a witness have to the purported phenomenon at the centre of the investigation? Unlike most other sciences, the ufologist cannot isolate and investigate the object of study, like the chemist or biologist can. There are "witnesses" (some which might be ufologists as I mention) and those who study what these witnesses report, either forensically in the field or textually in the armchairs in the libraries. The ufo as the object of study of ufology is not an immediate object of study. If there even is a central object to ufology, apart from a concept that informs perception and consequent narratization, is a question!

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Wednesday, November 04, 2015  

  • Bryan: "Don--of course, all understanding is linguistic, narrativized, but the question still remains, what access does the ufologist who is not a witness have to the purported phenomenon at the centre of the investigation?"

    None, except text. The activity being engaged in is reading. To get anywhere with the reading I believe one has to forget about the "central object", the "purported phenomenon" and stop picking and choosing from the texts those things that support one's beliefs.

    In nearly 70 years now, what has ufology's methods achieved? Name its top ten UFO solution successes. Ok, then, name three. One? In my reading of cases, and ufologists work on them, I conclude their failures were due to attempting to identify the ufo...was it or wasn't it?...and considering nothing else.

    From Wikipedia, the article on Historical Criticism:

    "The primary goal of historical criticism is to ascertain the text's primitive or original meaning in its original historical context and its literal sense or sensus literalis historicus. The secondary goal seeks to establish a reconstruction of the historical situation of the author and recipients of the text. This may be accomplished by reconstructing the true nature of the events which the text describes."

    Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Wednesday, November 04, 2015  

  • Don--maybe I misunderstood? You wrote "the base datum of ufology is a 'U.F.O': something seen in the sky, mostly and approximately disk shaped, which is not identified, and might not be identifiable". But your last remark makes it seem we in some way agree? That language or narrative is always already at work, even at the moment the witness struggles to make sense of the unfamiliar or disorienting experience, and that even the "reports" worked up forensic ufologists are in this sense texts, that then can, with enough critical acumen and labour ("historical criticism?"), compose a corpus of evidence, as they might be said to for Vallee or, in the case of anthropology, Frazer?

    What would happen if we accepted as an essential feature of the phenomenon its protean resistance to being "solved" like a problem in the physical sciences, what Sue referred to as the "Trickster element"? Maybe my cold and grading addled questions here stumble toward a notion like Vallee's Control System, maybe the phenomenon's purpose or meaning is precisely to keep us guessing, questioning, to irritate our epistemologies, to evoke or provoke what Kuhn termed a Paradigm Shift...

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Wednesday, November 04, 2015  

  • Sue: let me be a little mischievous: Despite the confidence of Jung, Jacobs, Peebles, and Bullard that there is fairly finite, containable ufo mythology, a more rigorous approach would arrive very quickly at the conclusion that the data is an overwhelming near infinite of stories. If one has to interpret each of these stories (following a hermeneutic method) one will never arrive at a body of knowledge. However, on the one hand, data analysis a la Vallee or the digital humanities can reveal patterns (whose value of course is relative to the quality of the data mining algorithms and initial "raw" data bases); on the other hand, one might adopt the method developed by Levi-Strauss to deal with exactly the same methodological problem: how can I arrive at any knowledge of a practically infinite set of data? Levi-Strass faced the thousands of myths of the peoples of the Amazon basin and developed his structural mythology modelled after structural linguistics to arrive at a large (four volumes +!) but finite knowledge (in the same way the linguist, faced with an infinite of actual and potential utterances in a given language can still arrive at a knowledge of the rules that govern that language). Given that the stories, or "reports" if you will, can be said to constitute a "mythology" in this sense, maybe it's time to resurrect Levi-Strauss' method! (If I had world enough and time I'd give it a go, just for a lark!)

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Wednesday, November 04, 2015  

  • Bryan: "Don--maybe I misunderstood? You wrote "the base datum of ufology is a 'U.F.O': something seen in the sky, mostly and approximately disk shaped, which is not identified, and might not be identifiable". But your last remark makes it seem we in some way agree?

    I'm guessing that the confusion was caused by the phrase "base datum". I gather your understanding is more formal, or at least different, than my use here.

    "What would happen if we accepted as an essential feature of the phenomenon its protean resistance to being "solved" like a problem in the physical sciences, what Sue referred to as the "Trickster element"?"

    What is the phenomenon? I mean what makes it into the ufo (trickster/phenomenon) dataset and why?

    "Maybe my cold and grading addled questions here stumble toward a notion like Vallee's Control System, maybe the phenomenon's purpose or meaning is precisely to keep us guessing, questioning, to irritate our epistemologies, to evoke or provoke what Kuhn termed a Paradigm Shift..."

    The problem here for me -- and I mean no offense to anyone -- is that sounds like our alien overlords. So does "Trickster". So does "protean resistance to being solved".

    No one can 'solve' anything without sufficient information to produce a solution. That's basically every ufo case I know of. I'd rather avoid odds of valorizing slack and ineptitude.

    Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Thursday, November 05, 2015  

  • Rich and Bryan indicate there is a glitch in this discussion and it seems to be mine, although I don't know what it is. So...

    I think I know why the phrase "protean resistance to being "solved"" got my attention. I'm reminded of the origin of ufology in the form of Et-ology, and last night it popped up in the form of "alien overlords".

    This morning it refers to how the ETH began in frustration with solutions to the riddle of the saucers. I believe the key moment was in April 1949, following the publication of Shallet's article, but especially the USAF press release about project saucer. Scully, Palmer, Keyhoe inverted the USAF's solutions' pyramid, at the bottom of which was the "highly improbable" ETH. Frustration because there were unidentifieds and doubt. So, if they could not be known by what was assumed to have been a comprehensive and authoritative study, then the "highly improbable" must be true.

    You see it? A solution to the "protean resistance to being "solved"" The alternative to the ETH for the emerging ufologists could only be satire (which Scully and Palmer engaged in, too).

    It may be whatever the 'glitch' is, but the trickster seems another name of Orthon and his kin, only different yet somehow the same. And that is fine. ET is fine, too. But, since I am working chronologically from the 47 Wave, forward and back in time from there, ufology is only on the forward horizon, about a year away.

    Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Thursday, November 05, 2015  

  • Don:

    Is there any way to eliminate the use of the Trickster concept in your evaluations?

    The Trickster thing is a psycho-mythical rubric that diminishes the idea of coincidental malevolence in Nature or from God (should one exist).

    I find that UFO buffs who bring in the Trickster mantra for UFO shenanigans do so because they lack insightful imagination.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, November 05, 2015  

  • Rich: "Is there any way to eliminate the use of the Trickster concept in your evaluations?"

    Absolutely. Done. I didn't start it. 8-)

    Best Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Thursday, November 05, 2015  

  • Yah, I know...Sue brought it in and I think Bryan likes the concept.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, November 05, 2015  

  • Bryan picked up Trickster from Sue. The helps characterize the behaviour of the phenomenon, its meaning, if you will: I don't think it's intended as an explanation. Vallee's more trenchant but no less provisional, tentative notion of the Control System functions the same, as an intriguing, provocative description of the behaviour of the data (quite rigorously so in Vallee's case) more than an explanation or solution.

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Thursday, November 05, 2015  

  • That Sue....(missing in action it seems)...

    The Trickster and Vallee's "control system" like Caravaca's "external agent" leaves much to desire.

    That is, the Trickster concept and its relatives merely muddy the waters.

    The shamanistic rubric was used for non-explainable occurrences, in the days before quantum mechanics, which is also non-explainable.

    I'll be doing a posting about this, spurred by a review in TLS of Frank Wilczek's book, "A Beutiful Question: Finding nature's deep design" [TLS, 10/23/15, by Martin Kemp, Page 3 ff.]

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, November 05, 2015  

  • "These chosen sources imply an object seen in the sky, no matter it is on the ground, it landed and will take off; it enters the earth, the ice, the mountain, but from the sky, and will emerge into the sky.

    So the base datum of ufology is a 'U.F.O': something seen in the sky, mostly and approximately disk shaped, which is not identified, and might not be identifiable."

    Object seen in the sky. Not in the refrigerator, not in the basement, not in the Taj Mahal, not tooling down the interstate, but in the sky. This simple fact is why people think ufos are craft, maybe from outer space. If anyone thinks ufos are not craft, not something flying about the sky, then they must explain why they are seen in the sky.

    Is the sky a screen, a 'blue screen'?

    Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Friday, November 06, 2015  

  • Don: I think I can articulate what I take to be the grounds of our disagreement, which hinges on just what you mean by "basic datum". You write "chosen sources IMPLY an object seen in the sky." What is IMPLIED must be INFERRED from what is GIVEN (immediate). The UFO (its existence and characteristics) are implied by the report of the UFO. The UFO then is not IMMEDIATE (a "BASIC datum") but is MEDIATED by that data from which its appearance is inferred. The ufologist who is not him or herself a witness is therefore always at least one step removed from the phenomenon that gives rise to the reports and traces the ufologist studies. This mediacy of a posteriori investigation is precisely where the difficulties insert themselves, compounded by precisely what you point out, the original phenomenon immediately experienced by the witness is itself already "unidentified" and therefore subject to the cognitive struggles of the witness to find concepts to make sense of his or her perceptions. I think the difference between us hinges on these two slightly overlapping classes of "investigator" (ufologist) and "witness."

    In this model, moreover, there need not even be in fact an original experience: in the case of the Phantom Airships there are reports arguably inspired by witness experience and others that are mere "hoaxes", newspaper stories composed along the lines of witness reports merely to boost sales. Of course, it can always be asked whether the mere stories inspired the reports or vice versa!

    So, we agree there'd be no ufology without REPORTS of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, but I think we might also agree that ufology as such is characterized more by a particular set of interpretations of those UAP (that they exhibit intelligent behaviour, that they appear to be structured craft or at least material (giving a radar return), etc.), precisely the features that inspire curiosity (or fear, in the case of the Cold War militaries) in a certain subset of UAP.

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Friday, November 06, 2015  

  • "Of course, it can always be asked whether the mere stories inspired the reports or vice versa!"

    Since we know that the newspaper fictions and hoaxes (fictions presented in the form of reality) preceded witnesses' reports not just of airships but phantom balloon expeditions, ghostly spy and armed dirigibles, biplanes, bombers, ghost rockets, and every other kind of aircraft for half a century before Arnold's 1947 "saucer" report, I think the question was put to bed about, oh, say 1947!

    That was the year that the FBI accused Palmer and Arnold of cooking up "flying saucer" hysteria to bootstrap off of the ongoing Shaver mystery craze and launch FATE magazine. The rest is simply the longest running social delusion in history.

    Just a few of those distracting facts that are left out of most "UFO" books. (g)

    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Friday, November 06, 2015  

  • Zoam: If the fact that newspaper fictions and hoaxes (fictions presented in the form of reality) preceded witnesses' reports is left out of most "UFO" books, upon which sources do you draw to arrive so confidently at so overarching and reductive a claim? Do you include among witness reports those of UAP made by astronomers over the past three centuries?

    I don't take all the narratives (whether sincere or otherwise) at face value (the mythology they compose is what interests me in the final analysis, so I imagine in a certain respect we're both comfortably ensconced in the psychosocial camp in that regard), but nor am I so confident that all UFO reports can be reduced to socially-shaped interpretation of an UAP sighting. Many (though surely not all) cases studied by Vallee are more troubling and curious, e.g., the observations made by the French submarines Junon and Daphne 1 July 1965.

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Friday, November 06, 2015  

  • Bryan: "Don: I think I can articulate what I take to be the grounds of our disagreement, which hinges on just what you mean by "basic datum". You write "chosen sources IMPLY an object seen in the sky." What is IMPLIED must be INFERRED from what is GIVEN (immediate). The UFO (its existence and characteristics) are implied by the report of the UFO. The UFO then is not IMMEDIATE (a "BASIC datum") but is MEDIATED by that data from which its appearance is inferred."

    I wrote "the base datum of ufology", whch should not imply 'the base datum of ufos'. I can amend that to "the base datum of most ufology", if it helps. Recall I was referring to your comment; the "chosen base datum" is implied by taking "ground and instrumental" information (something was in the air, something was on the ground but no longer there [it flew away]), as well as witnesses statements (it flew, it landed, it took off).

    "The ufologist who is not him or herself a witness is therefore always at least one step removed from the phenomenon that gives rise to the reports and traces the ufologist studies."

    This assume the ufologist is a 'fair witness' rather than an interested party with an agenda -- actually, it assumes the same for the witness as well. Often, reports don't "rise" on their own, but the ufologist follows a lead and hunts down the "witness". Some of the encounters between the two are a wonder to behold (I recommend Stephens and Gray, 1975 by various, as an example of such a bizarre entanglement).

    I don't think there is any disagreement. I think we are talking about two different things. I am not much interested in the "UFO Myth", which seems to require a lot of ufo reports which are simply accepted as such. Since "Myth" studies are cultural or sociological or psychological, it doesn't matter whether the reports are real (I mean, there actually was a witness and a report), or true, or accurate, merely that they exist in the literature.

    Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Friday, November 06, 2015  

  • Don: By "witnesses who are ufologists" I had in mind specifically those investigators of the Green Fireballs and Hessdalen lights, who we might term UAPologists (not quite the same chime to it as 'ufologist', eh) prompted by the question "What exactly are we observing?". At any rate...

    Thanks for the back and forth: it's sharpened some of my own concepts, helped me develop some distinctions (e.g., between ufo and uap), sent me back to Levi-Strauss (whose structural anthropology is, I'm told, still active), and caused me to fill out the already too-big library.

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Saturday, November 07, 2015  

  • You're welcome, Bryan, and thank you. I have an interest in the Fireballs, or better, an interest in Lincoln LaPaz. We may meet again.

    Best Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Saturday, November 07, 2015  

  • Rich: "It is, for me, a question that is open and unanswered: do we find the essence of thing in its parts or in its totality?"

    I guess my question is, what comprises the totality. What are "parts" of the totality dataset? What is the "phenomenon" or "thing"? If it is a personal issue, so that the totality is made up of your thoughts and experiences re: ufos, that's fine, and my questions then are perhaps irrelevant. If the totality is the ufo expression (perhaps, by analogy, phenotypic expression) in our culture, then it has its own criteria for "parts" included in the dataset.

    We can take the long view, back to the caves perhaps, but certainly as far back as there are documents and artifacts. People have seen things in the sky for a long time.

    I don't think people (I mean 20th century Americans -- my linguistic limits come up fast) only began reporting 'ufos' following Kenneth Arnold's story. Arnold and his associates in the press pushed his story onto the wires and into the national news. There were earlier stories, even immediately earlier, which if I didn't know their date, I'd swear were from the ufo era. Did Arnold's story encourage people to make reports, or, as Richard Dawkins said of his memetic thesis, that there are always multiple origins for memes that gain traction in the culture. So, then we can't pin it on Arnold's account, although its appearance probably 'released' others to report.

    "A total package, whether about a creator of cultural artifacts or UFOs, brings truths that a myopic approach doesn’t or can’t."

    I 'sense' there is something of significance buried in the 47 Wave which has not been gotten at by ufology. I think it is the political dimension of it. If the ufologist is only reading ufo clippings from the newspapers, they will miss the context. I may be detail-oriented, but it is not myopia, rather good peripheral vision; I see context, which is why my approach is "historical", not "ufological".

    Best Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Saturday, November 07, 2015  

  • Don:

    The totality is the totality.

    In "ufology" as in science, one can specialize, and concentrate on a particular aspect of a thing, but that, for me, is an intellectual deficiency.

    Metadata or BIG data, as internet business slugs have it, is data that takes in all things relevant to their product and its eventual purchase by internet stooges.

    I've used the term, generically.....as metadata would be metadata.

    Context is part of a totality, and there are a number of other things also part of a totality.

    One must grasp the whole, which is daunting.

    But that has been the problem with medical cures (cancer is an example). Looking at the "disease" from only a biological slant often misses what may be the cause. and eschewing "medicinals" from the fringe (primitive tribes perhaps) may overlook a cure. Et cetera.

    In ufology, the Travis Walton case is an example where ufologists have eschewed a number of evaluations of the episode, concentrating on an ET abduction or hoax, whereas there may be a number of related and/or relevant elements that have been ignored or not even considered.

    I've touched on some of those factors that should have been weighed: drug/alcohol use, group hysteria, environmental toxicity, a military experiment (from Redfern's influence on me), a psychotic/neurologic or medically induced event, et cetera also.

    Then there is context -- the mid 1970s plus Walton's predilection for sci-fi culture, desire for notoriety, imaginative amnesia, etc.

    The parts are almost endless. But one needs the totality to arrive the part or parts that explain the episode.

    History, your interest, is itself fraught with the shortcoming of neglecting the whole of things, often examining only the parts of events.

    (I'll do a thing on this soon, as I promised to do a while back but avoided for lack of interest by readers here.)

    The 1947 wave, another pet topic of yours, is part of a whole and can't be properly analyzed by itself, as you seem to think, I believe.

    Anyway, the totality is the thing that is the premise for any study or evaluation.

    Part evaluation may follow, but only after the fact.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Saturday, November 07, 2015  

  • Rich: "History, your interest, is itself fraught with the shortcoming of neglecting the whole of things, often examining only the parts of events."

    History is a dump. Why do you think I'm so insistent about provenance?

    "The 1947 wave, another pet topic of yours, is part of a whole and can't be properly analyzed by itself, as you seem to think, I believe."

    When you or Bryan get around to defining the "totality" or "the phenomenon" and what's in the dataset, I'll be all ears. Until then, I'll just piddle along according to my own lights, and for the very good reason that it is productive.

    "Anyway, the totality is the thing that is the premise for any study or evaluation."

    And the totality is...?

    Best Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • Don...

    Again, the totality is just that "the totality" -- the all of everything.

    The totality encompasses everything: it's even more than Hawking's "Theory of Everything."

    Of course, one can't include or study everything, but one has to try to include all relevant materials, data, et cetera of the thing being evaluated, an impossible option or task surely but necessary to find that which impacts the thing being studied: UFOs or the 1947 wave for example.

    The 1947 wave is interesting and important but only in context of all previous UFO/sightings and ensuing sightings.

    By itself, the 1947 wave is for the specialist: you.

    It's part and parcel of the UFO "history" but alone not the UFO history..

    That's all I'm trying to get across here.

    Have at it. Your insights derived from an analysis of what made up the 1947 wave will be (and is) interesting, but it's akin to examining the tattoo on a boxer but not examining the boxer as a whole -- his or her muscle-mass, fitness, weight, et cetera.

    Each UFO/flying saucer episode is revelatory is some ways, but hasn't and doesn't tell us what UFOs are and, as I've surmised, UFOs may not be explainable at all.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • I have philosophical reservations about the very notion of "totality"--we can't think without the concept, but a total knowledge of any phenomenon is inaccessible, because the investigator is part of said totality, and the investigator is not transparent to him or herself; more importantly, in the realm of the natural sciences as they're actually practiced, the idea that they might be harmonized or totalized died sometime after Hegel: now, the sciences don't even pretend that there's a problem that their basic concepts or findings might be inconsistent across the sciences. That being said, I think any dispute that sets its terms as either Totality or Perverse focus poses a false dilemma; there is a happy medium, represented by investigations by Vallee or Jenny Randles and others.

    In terms of the basic datum: ufology starts with reports; sometimes these lead to forensic investigations (the experience inspiring the report is inaccessible except via traces) or observational studies (the experience inspiring the report is a type that is persistent or recurrent, e.g. the Green Fireballs or Hessdalen Lights).

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • I agree Bryan....

    One gets into a philosophical mess pot trying to explain or access "the totality" but I think Don took me astream, pleading for an explanation of "totality."

    I initially proposed a gestalt approach, which limits an evaluation to those matters about a topic of phenomenon that are relevant.

    For the 1947 UFO wave or UFOs one can eliminate, I think, what Kanye West is rapping about, or what Heinz catsup has for ingredients.

    But even then, one is flush with possibilities that may impact the topics.

    Vallee takes the data approach as that's where his (computer) expertise lies, but even then he will miss that which is not amenable to computer algorithms.

    When LaPaz took to studying the Green Fireball phenomenon, he allowed for lots of things, meteorological, mechanical, et cetera.

    Did he miss something? Evidently he did, as the phenomenon was not and has not been explained or understood.

    What he needed was a consortium of scientists to assist him, something like Einstein's "Genius Club" that ruminated upon physic theories.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • Two addenda:

    1. If you review some of Vallee's actual personal investigations of individual cases, as related in Confrontations (1990), you'll find a very careful, multidimensional, methodical approach, that aims to sift through the available data (psychological, physiological, meteorological, etc.) in a relatively "gestalt" manner, especially when compared to those "researchers" with a proverbial axe to grind.

    2. As much as I laud a more "total," "gestalt," or--as I would say--"phenomenological" approach (one that seeks to collate and logically order all goes at a particular phenomenon; this is how Hegel used the term) one must also admit (with whatever implications) that the natural and even the social or human sciences have achieved the gains they have precisely because of their specialization. In the case of the natural sciences, the gains and losses of this development are, I think, fairly evident. In the case of literary criticism, for example, the struggle in the first half of the twentieth-century was to determine the object of literary studies, precisely to disentangle it from the amateurish and impressionistic and _generalist_ approach that had reigned to that point. Jakobson joked that his teachers were like the Moscow police, who would round up everyone in an apartment building where a crime occurred in the hope of catching the criminal in so wide a net! An excellent and readable article on this matter is Paul de Man's "Return to Philology" in The Resistance to Theory (I can't find an on-line version of this article offhand...).

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • Bryan...

    Leave it to you to take us into an intellectual arena..."Return to Philology." (I love it!)

    I am, despite a few comments here and there, a Vallee advocate. His approach is exemplary, when compared to everyone else's in ufology.

    The need for a real, proletarian "Invisible College" is redolent with anticipatory delight for those of us left out of Vallee's circle of thoughtful friends,

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • Rich, Bryan,

    When I got interested in ufos (that was 2009) beyond a slight curiousity, I decided to go to the most dense, diverse, and extensive contemporary documention available to me, which was the USAF, FBI, and secondarily, the press, and began at page 1, chapter 1, the 47 Wave. I think my method will hold good until Condon. I've decided not to go forward in time from then, but to back before 1947. Since there are no ufo reports, explicitly, before then, I had to come up with criteria for reading the texts which was innocent of the language -- concepts --of the above named sources, and also ufology.

    So, the basic model for me was an object often or mostly circular in some way, disk, sphere, elipsoid, seen against the screen of the sky, which should not be there and really could not be, as far as we know.

    Next, what did people make of it? What did they think or conceive? The answer is: machines. That is straightforward obvious about the saucers and airships. Going further back one has to stretch the analogy (and I am never happy with that) but if Ezekiel saw a chariot, and a chariot is a machine -- my question would be did Ezekiel think it was a machine. Did he have the concept in mind? That I do not think I can find out because, if he once existed, he's dead now.

    Consider the Air Loom. Is there earlier evidence of machine-control of a human being? When a machine becomes what afflicts the paranoid schizophrenic, rather than demons or gods, we're no longer in Kansas. Something psychologically and culturally significant has occured. We read texts prior to the 'machine age' from this vantage and we may see the chariot as a machine, but only by analogy, because that's how we see it.

    Post-Condon, ufology struggles with the burden of the machine concept.

    It looks like I'll need a framework for working back a couple of centuries, and set some limit on just how much
    "by analogy" I can accept.

    Best Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • I think that's a good approach Don.

    The early "reports" should be free of the corrupted influences that we're all familiar with in the post 1947 era.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • Don: do you know Vallee's and Aubeck's Wonders in the Sky (2009)? There's a rigorous, methodical, and compendious counterargument to the thesis that "there are no ufo reports before 1947" (unless we hold to the thesis there are no ufo reports before the term U.F.O, is coined...). Aubeck has just published a new book, focussed on a very limited number of pre-1947 cases (which I have yet to read; it's in the post). Otherwise, your point re how existing concepts guide the identification of an otherwise unidentifiable "object" (an already loaded term) are well-taken. My academic sociological rep is built on a paper essaying just this topic, but with the exemplary example being "flying saucer religions" in general and the Raelian Movement in particular. http://www.academia.edu/9203265/Presumed_Immanent_the_Raelians_UFO_Religions_and_the_Postmodern_Condition

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • That people see things in the sky they can't identify is not significant; the completely modern idea that it is significant is known as the "UFO" delusion.

    Whether it's 2015, 1947, 1896, 1066 or 600BC doesn't make much difference except that revisionist classification of such events before 1896 as "UFO" reports suffers from the fallacy of presentism and the fact that they're simply not good evidence of anything because we can't know how accurate they are or if they're even true.

    Vallee has never been anything but a "UFO" conspiracy monger and a trickster. He does it all to sell books; and his decades in ufoology have only served to obscure the very obvious truths about this subject rather than expose and clarify them.

    Paul De Man was a NAZI sympathizer who wrote blatantly anti-Semitic screeds. And then he spent the rest of his life in a massive cover-up effort of that despicable fact so that prevarication became his way of life.

    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • But Zoam, is there no value in delusion?

    Would we be better without Coleridge or Van Gogh et al.?

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • Hey, Zoam, with all due respect, I fail to see the value in wasting time/energy engaging with an interlocutor who can't be bothered to answer points raised in all seriousness or who resorts to not even accurate ad hominems (e.g. de Man's being a NAZI, whatever THAT has to do with anything...).

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Sunday, November 08, 2015  

  • Bryan, I haven't read Wonders in a serious way yet, but I know what it is. I have a copy for reference for the reasons you mention. I've also begun reading your essay, and I think we may share a common perspective on the matter (but I haven't finished reading).

    I think ufos can be identified before 1947, but at the present I'm looking at the 'machine age', maybe from Gutenberg, or maybe when the town hall displayed on its facade not the face of the Saviour or allegorical figures symbolizing truth and justice, but a clock face. The clock is like the Air Loom, and a symbol of regimentation, control, and loss of freedom (consider the movie Metropolis). It is also a 'disk', as much as Akhnaton's god. The industrial revolution, the machine age, was traumatizing for many -- the time of "single vision and Newton's sleep".

    Two other eras seem as traumatic, the change from bronze to iron, and from 'paganism' to Christianity. So, if there is some response to them (like the Raelians), then, if we find it in modernity, it is likely we will find a form of it in similar eras.

    Just some as yet uninformed thoughts on the matter:

    As for Wonders, or rather its material, I'd want to separate out texts of monuments and set them aside because they are 'political speech' which informs us that the king's exploits were sanctioned by the gods, and here's how...

    I also wonder about their intended audience. Why erect a monument with text in a society were illiteracy was about 100%? Maybe the only people who could read it were those who wrote it, so what was the point of doing so? My guess is the audience was the gods. They could read. Probably, as well, for magical reasons, which may explain the habit of writing one's name onto building bricks that would be covered up and never seen (or read) again.

    Omens may be a better source, especially records of spontaneous omens because they require something to have been seen or heard, which is then interpreted.

    Trying to avoid matters of state and political speech, I'd be interested in fairy tales, myths, legends, songs, poems, nursery rhymes that do not appear to be 'political', so collections by ethnographers or folklorists, rather than national epics. A real problem is our ignorance and our inability to change that. We hardly know anything about the common people, only some things about the nobles. We have no way I know of to determine what the average Joe thought about anything in Uruk or, for that matter, 15th century Vienna. I mean, just what was what we call "pop culture" back then?


    Best Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Monday, November 09, 2015  

  • The notion of historical watersheds is, I think not unimportant.--The problem of just what materials to consider is one addressed if not answered totally satisfactorily by Aubeck and Vallee. Their thesis seems to be UAP have always been with us, their interpretation only has changed with the times, an approach I find troublingly ahistorical.--In terms of "machinery" a really thought-provoking and learned volume I found by chance years ago is Michael Lieb's Children of Ezekial (Duke UP, 1998), a historical/textual study that traces the Divine Chariot from Ezekial through the centuries into its latest incarnation in Louis Farrakhan's race mythology, perhaps not without interest!

    By Blogger Bryan Sentes, at Monday, November 09, 2015  

  • Bryan, Ezekiel's 'chariot' -- we know he doesn't describe a 'chariot' (that is a later interpretation), but God enthroned. What we have here is political speech couched in language that would resonate with its intended audience. My guess is the descriptive language is of the "as above, so below" kind. Ezekiel's image of God enthroned may reflect something within Solomon's temple, perhaps the inner sanctum which contains the "below" throne of God. 'Above' is the heavenly Jerusalem and Temple, and 'below' is its material earthly expression. This is similar to the Egyptian concept that the Milky Way is the celestial Nile. As above, so below; as below, so above.

    Another take would be Ezekiel did have an encounter and he wrote it down in the language available to him, which analogies and metaphors were Temple 'symbolism' in prophetic texts and histories. One can consider it a sighting and a contact. The space people are always nagging us about our sinful ways and the disasters we're lurching towards: atomic war, and these days, global warming. Back then for Ezekiel, it was the same thing: sinful slack and impending siege and conquest.

    The chapters following the 'chariot' moment are fascinating.

    Best Regards,

    Don

    By Blogger Don, at Tuesday, November 10, 2015  

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