UFO Conjecture(s)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Perception and UFOs

The current discussion at Kevin Randle’s blog and the discussion here, earlier, of the Chiles/Whitted 1948 cigar-shaped UFO sighting raises the issue(s) of perception.

Do people see what they say they saw or do they misperceive?

There are a plethora of reasons for misperception: eye diseases, hallucinatory inclinations, neurological and psychological delusions, and encumbrances to sight because of location, weather conditions, and times of day.

But, over all and generally, normal people, with good eyesight, see what they think they see, even taking into account those rare or occasional instances of pareidolia (where something is visualized within a confluence of random stimuli).

See Wikipedia’s take on pareidolia here:

For instance, in the Chiles/Whitted account of their UFO-rocket, the pilots saw what they say they saw – a craft in flight, not a meteor or bolide as some proclaim.

The experienced pilots with good eyesight determined they saw a rocket-like ship.

Then that’s what they saw.

The book Illusions by Edi Lanners [Holt, Rinehart and Winston, NY, 1973] (covered here in earlier postings) presents a raft of illusion and explains how they come about.

But those illusions are often created by egregious set-ups by man and nature.

NASA scientist Larry presented a litany of reasons at Kevin’s blog, if I read him correctly, why the Chiles/Whitted sighting could not be interpreted as a meteor, comet, or bolide.

The credulity of observation cannot be undercut by an interpretation that struggles with an onslaught of Ockham’s Razor – that the simplest explanation explains a phenomenon.

Ockham’s Razor per Wikipedia:

While Chiles and Whitted drew slightly different versions of what they thought they saw…[images from Project 1947]:

The object remains intact as a craft of some sort, not a disintegrating bolide:
But what about those alleged 1896 Airship sightings adduced to be hoaxes or misperceived sightings of the planet Venus (a vibrant view of French skeptic Gilles Fernandez) or manmade ships (also from Gilles)?

One has to, after sifting through accounts of the sightings as those of Jerome Clark and Lucius Farish and others, accept, out of common sense, that some who say they saw airships as described by the press, at the time, actually saw what they think they saw, not Venus, but ships, either made by Earthlings or from places elsewhere than Earth.

Not everyone is crazy or needs eyeglasses….ask David Rudiak.

And when Hickson and Parker report they saw beings who ended up abducting them, sort of, one can surmise that they saw what they saw, or were hallucinating or delusional by drinking alcohol or subject to a military experiment (as Nick Redfern suggests).

But they did see what they think they saw; their perception wasn’t marred by neurological malfeasance even though a folie à deux is possible. However that doesn’t relinquish what they think they saw. Their perception was intact and wholesome.

People see things, and convey what they see to others, with variations of detail from mental intrusions surely, but the essentiality of what they see and tell others they saw is, intrinsically, what was presented to their eyes (and brains).

Mankind isn’t blind, and man’s eyesight isn’t flawed in ways that allows everything reported to have been seen as flawed either.

Odd things are seen in the skies and one has to accept that the reports by those who see these odd things are actually what they saw.

People are, generally not dishonest or privy to hoaxing, nor are they flawed with bad eyesight.

Chiles and Whitted and all the other reports one can muster from UFO lore and achives are replete with actual accounts of strange things seen.

What those things are is another matter.



  • Hello Rich & All,

    TU to recall my work, but I didn't defend manmade aircraft (excepted some "pranks" consisting of contemporan Chinese Lanterns-like).

    BTW: In my (extended and revised) "big" article, you will find many examples of witnesses drawings for space-rentries, etc. where the so-called "airships effect" is at play, probably echoing to Chiles drawing.

    As some points devoted on witness cognitive mecanisms (Human Inter-Individual Variability in Perception, Memorization and Restoration of an Event or Stimulus).

    A book is in preparation, but it will be in French, first...

    The original "big" article (but revised and extended) can be found here for those maybe interested:




    By Blogger Gilles Fernandez, at Monday, February 01, 2016  

  • You are too ready to accept at face value what Chiles & Whitted saw. Why do you trust so perfectly what they describe? Is it because, being airline pilots, they have a superior sense of vision and know what is in the sky?

    Adopting your attitude, ALL sightings by pilots and other experienced aircrew would be genuine unknowns, on the grounds that these guys are too knowledgeable to make a silly mistake, and if they said they saw a pink or white elephant in the sky, then this is indeed what they saw. Such an elephant is no sillier than a visiting spaceship; both are equally unknown to science, both in 1948 and 2016!

    Is not the whole point of ufology, or mostly the point, that it is because such people make these mistakes (for whatever reason) that so many sightings are explainable, and so few remain as unknowns?

    We cannot say with certainty what Chiles & Whitted saw. But we CAN say, based on other sightings (both before and after) of apparent rocket-shaped objects giving out sparks & exhausts, and having 'lighted windows', that very probably they DID witness a bright fireball, something they might see once in a lifetime. The identification is not certain, of course, but it has a high probability.

    If you do not accept this ID, perhaps you can suggest something better. Like what?

    Larry's argument has value, but it depends very much on whether the pilots were right in saying the UFO was:

    (i) at the same level as their plane
    (ii) was travelling truly horizontally

    Both these, of course, depend very much on whether the pilots adjudged the elevations and azimuths correctly. It was a short (only ten-second) night-time observation and they were very startled and excited by the 'thing'. This can easily affect their overall judgment.

    I repeat: what did those two pilots, and one passenger, see? Yes it MIGHT have been a genuine UFO, but the overall evidence suggests otherwise.

    By Blogger cda, at Monday, February 01, 2016  

  • My point is a general one CDA: People see what they say they saw.

    Mistakes are the rarity. (Details may be botched for various reasons but the essence of the visual is pretty much what is described and seen.)

    I'd appreciate some supporting or contrary material on this.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, February 01, 2016  

  • Thank you Gilles.

    I suggest readers here use your link for more:



    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, February 01, 2016  

  • RR,

    Interesting topic but as interesting was the comments to the article. The referenced pdf research paper in the article proved I should never have dropped my science major studies but it still was informative, although long, for we generalists.

    The comments on the article were also most enjoyable. Nice to read the criticisms and praises. I particularly liked the suggestion that we are an 'older' civilization in an older galaxy and another regarding the slowness of radio research that might be passe to even older civilizations, the latter being what I've considered regarding simplex conversations that take years each way.

    Then here comes AI for us as we approach the 'singularity'...


    By Blogger Bryan Daum, at Monday, February 01, 2016  

  • “Do people see what they say they saw or do they misperceive?”

    Human perception and reporting is notoriously fallible; and under extraordinary circumstances even so much more so that it verges on being worthless. Chiles-Whitted is a good example. The recent Georgia “flying saucer” misinterpretation of space junk reentry is another. How many Zond IV-like examples does one need? How many “UFO” reports generally does one need since 95% of ALL reports are misperceptions, misidentifications of mundane things.

    The idea that pilots could observe in darkness at altitude while flying a plane, perceive without preconceptual bias, and then accurately report to the extent of definite identification is utter rubbish! This has been shown to be untrue repeatedly. Geesh!

    “Larry presented a litany of reasons why the Chiles/Whitted sighting could not be interpreted as a meteor, comet, or bolide.”

    One of Larry’s favorite tricks is to take the most plausible explanation for a “UFO” report and turn it into the least plausible using a lot of make-it-up sciency-sounding mumbo-jumbo to justify his predetermined conclusion.

    The reality is that every random event is so fraught with contingencies that no amount of would-be, could-be, should-be guesswork can ever account for ALL events—and much less show that a unique event is unlikely.

    We know for a fact that meteors can and often do travel horizontally. Meteors can exhibit any behavior. Meteors can and have in recent time circled the Earth before exploding or returning to space. So the idea that Chiles-Whitted could NOT have witnessed such a common event is ridiculous.

    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Monday, February 01, 2016  

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    By Blogger Parakletos, at Tuesday, February 02, 2016  

  • Memory plays an insignificant part in an observation reported rather quickly after the visualization.

    And while memory may befoul a sighting from months ago, or even weeks (which I'll give you), perception is not as faulty as you indicate Parakletos.

    You've read the literature, yes?


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, February 02, 2016  

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    By Blogger Parakletos, at Tuesday, February 02, 2016  

  • You're arguing, Parakletos, a form of neurological "how many angels dance on the head of a pin."

    You've made memory into a defacto element of what we humans do every moment of our lives when, in fact, what we observe does go into memory but resides in the conscious now for a period before it does go into memory.

    You are besmirching consciousness, unconsciousness, and memory in one fell swoop.

    (You might check out Eric Wargo's thenightshirt.com for an erudite examination of consciousness and the unconscious that is not superficial.)

    Memory is an artifact of the future, not the here and now, which is what I'm dealing with in my speculation about what people see and report rather immediately, as was the case with the UFO accounts I noted.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, February 02, 2016  

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    By Blogger Parakletos, at Tuesday, February 02, 2016  

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    By Blogger Parakletos, at Tuesday, February 02, 2016  

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    By Blogger Parakletos, at Tuesday, February 02, 2016  

  • "The debate is not entirely resolved."


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, February 02, 2016  

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    By Blogger Parakletos, at Tuesday, February 02, 2016  

  • I'd like to see you gather some books -- even ebooks -- on the matter(s), from scholars in the field.

    Oliver Sacks has commentary mixed into his books, and Wargo provides sources that should be read.

    Memory has little to do with someone providing discourse on what they just saw.

    You would derail humanity by provoking questions about what people are capable of, denying them the ability to convey what they experience, honestly and uncomplicatedly.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, February 02, 2016  

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    By Blogger Parakletos, at Wednesday, February 03, 2016  

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    By Blogger Parakletos, at Wednesday, February 03, 2016  

  • Parakletos:

    You have to read such books, not just list them.

    Where are your citations from them?

    Let me assure you that memory does not provide a haven for an observation (visualization) of anything.

    Memory may house the observation for future recall , but when one observes something it can be presented intact for a period before it resides in memory.

    Painters took their palettes and paints with them to capture what they were seeing as it occurred. Had the things they were observing gone into memory, from which there was a concomitant recall mechanism as they painted, we'd have a distorted image of what they were seeing, which is not the case when one looks at their paintings and what they painted....as in Van Gogh's gardens or Tom Cole's Hudson Valley images.

    Inserting memory as a barricade to accurate recounting of what one sees is a philosophical canard -- something within which you are trapped, unfortunately.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, February 03, 2016  

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