Thursday, March 19, 2015

Re-reading the classics

Hi all,

One of the little pleasures of life for me, is re-reading "classic" books on UAP. I find they often provide historical insights which can be of use today. At the moment I am enjoying "The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry" by J Allen Hynek. Corgi Books. London. 1974. ISBN 0552 094307. (Click here.)

Hynek, as many blog readers will be aware, was a scientific consultant to the United States Air Force, on UAP. He started this work with USAF Project Sign (click here)  in September 1947, to February 1949, then worked with Project Grudge (click here) then Project Blue Book (click here), though to its closure in 1969.

So it wasn't long after the closure of Project Blue Book, that his own book was first published, in 1972 (Corgi edition 1974.)

His views on science:

His views on how science works, included:

"Erwin Schrodinger. pioneer in quantum mechanics and a philosopher of science, wrote "The first requirement of a scientist is that he be curious. He should be capable of being astonished and eager to find out." The scientific world has surely not been eager to find out about the UFO phenomenon and has expressed no indication to astonishment." (p.21.)

Applying this to the subject of UAP, Hynek felt that there were two classes of scientist. Those that denounced the subject without examining the data, and those that studied the data and concluded that it was most probably psychological. He reasoned that the latter group was worthy of debate, whereas the former group was not.

On this topic, Hynek concluded "It is likely that many scientists would have given serious consideration and effort to the UFO problem had they been properly appraised of its content." (p.24.)

J Allen Hynek

Hynek's years of interviewing witnesses led him to a few observations which I feel apply equally today. Among these are:

"In my experience in interrogating witnesses one phrase has been repeated over and over again. 'I never saw anything like this in my life.'" (p.29.)

Time and time again, in my own interviews, I have come across this phrase. This "newness" of the experience, with somehow an inability to put the observation into words, stands out. However, an investigator's job is to extract data, pulling out pieces of information such as colour, angular size, angular elevation, angular velocity, etc and to record these.

"I have seen this process of going from the simple, quick description and explanation, step by step, to the realisation that no conventional description would suffice (escalation of hypotheses.)" (p.29.)

Witnesses often tell you that "At first I thought it was a..." followed by a rationale as to why it wasn't a ...   As an investigator you are looking to exclude conventional explanations, so it is very useful if a witness takes you through their own mental analysis of their observation.

"Essentially, the crucial question is, did what the reporter say happened really happen?" Noting that it is preferable if there are multiple witnesses, Hynek observes "...there are no a priori reasons for dismissing such statements out of hand. The crux of the UFO reporter problem is that perfectly incredible accounts of events are given by seemingly credible persons..." (p.38.)

From my own experience, I would add that often, it is the interpretation of what the witness comes up with that may be in debate. I recall standing on a beach front suburb in Adelaide, looking at what I knew was the planet Venus in the sky, with a credible witness telling me "There's my UFO! It isn't Venus!"


"In terms of scientific study, the only significant UFO reports are, as we have seen, UFO reports that remain puzzling after competent investigations have been conducted." (p.41.)

Too often today, UAP groups place raw UAP reports onto their publicly viewable websites, before they conduct an investigation; or sometimes when no investigation is to be carried out. Viewers then get the impression of hundreds of UAP reports coming out of a particular country or region, when, if only investigations had been conducted, this number would have been reduced to a few, good cases - our "core" UAP.

Hynek's findings:

Skipping over the book's data related chapters to some of his findings, I noted the following:

"... we do not have the means at our disposal by study of highly selected and screened UFO reports to characterise explicitly what needs to be explained." (p.267.)

My own cataloguing work has led me to screen incoming raw reports, examine them and come up with screened observations that continue to puzzle me.

"The general confusion surrounding the subject and the lack of attention by scientists have effectively prevented proper data collection." (p.274.)

Regretfully, 40 years on from this statement by Hynek,  I still see UAP groups who are not properly collecting data. They collect raw reports and publish these, but do little or no investigation of them.

"We may even have to face the fact that the scientific framework, by its very internal logic, excludes certain classes of phenomena, of which UFOs may be one." (p.285.)

Perhaps so, but to me, the scientific method seems our best hope for understanding UAP.

Final words:

Hynek's final words in his book are:

"When the long awaited solution to the UFO problem comes, I believe that it will prove to be not merely the next small step in the march of science but a mighty and totally unexpected quantum jump." (p.288.)

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