UFO Conjecture(s)

Friday, June 19, 2015

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His historical references are amended by reality and fact, as is his wont when writing about UFOs or other paranormal activities and “things.”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.


The religious-like mystery of UFOs

A new book, noted in The New York Review of Books [June 25th 2015, back page], is Faith Versus Fact by Jerry A. Coyne [Penguin Publishing Group, 336 pp. $28.95].

The blurb by Harvard’s Steven Pinker says this:

“Coyne expertly exposes the incoherence of the increasingly popular belief that you can have it both ways: that God (or something God-ish, God-like, or God-old) sort of exists; that miracles kind-of happen; and that the truthiness of dogma is somewhat-a-little-bit-more-or-less-who’s-to-say-it-isn’t like the truths of science and reason.”

This put-down of belief, faith, or religion intrigues, and the book should be a good read.
But is science and/or “reason” all that it’s cracked up to be?

The queerness of quantum artifacts, gravity, dark matter, and dark energy are all as bizarre as religion or the UFO phenomenon.

There is reason to believe that things reported to have been seen in the skies or on the ground, dubbed flying saucers or disks or UFOs are just as real as the multiverses of science or the quarks of quantum mechanics.

Science’s attributes of (so-called) reality are as ephemeral as UFOs or the miracles of Jesus/Christ.
The witnesses to science “facts” are theorizing when it comes to pronouncements as grotesque as The Big Bang, and weirder than any pronouncement about UFOs (or religion).
 I accept, despite the rationalizations of Zoam Chomsky or Robert Sheaffer or other “skeptical” persons who haunt the UFO field, that UFOs have a rational basis as solid as Schrödinger’s cat or the burst of the Universe from a infinitesimal point in space, ex nihilo.
That God came to Earth as Jesus of Nazareth is acceptable to me, even though I think God and Jesus, too, have died, not metaphorically, but actually, and neither represent the ineffable God that created the Universe and us within it.

Thus, when it comes to UFOs, they remain, for me, features of actuality, hallucinatory perhaps, but an aspect of human reality, either way.

Placing science in a loftier plane than UFOs or religion is hubris of a deranged kind.

Science has its moments, but so do UFOs and religion.

It’s a matter of record, the UFO phenomenon I mean.

Sure, just as some of the Jesus story or Allah tale or the Einsteinian hypotheses make little sense, UFOs also, often, make little sense.

But that’s the attractive feature of UFOs, the mystery that attracts some of us, even the skeptical among us.