The trick to a really good anti-climax is the buildup, the hype, the long, colorful, breathless, anticipatory windup before the pitch. The recent U.S. Government release of the tensely awaited report on UFOs and UAPs is just such a specimen (with everything that’s been going on since, does anyone but a fanatical few even remember it?).
The buildup was intense, remarkable, complete with breathless commentary and speculation from all media, everywhere, footage from jet aircraft cameras, long interviews from “former” UFO officials who speculated (but in a teasing way) about what MIGHT be in the report, never-ending loops of various night-vision scenes of a myriad of “somethings” doing a lot of amazing stuff, and having a wide variety of shapes. And because we are living in a modern age, we do not call them UFOs anymore; they are UAPs now (unidentified aerial phenomena). And then the report came out.
There was no bombshell; there was a popping sound, a puff of smoke – like a flag escaping out of a prop gun emblazoned with the word ‘BANG’. The report patiently, distantly, explained that “if and when” these UAPs are resolved (not, you will note, “explained”), they will fall into one of five categories: random airborne (uh…birds and things); weather phenomena (OMG! the return of the infamous Weather Balloon!); defense prototypes (either ours or some “foreign adversary systems”; and (wait for it) “other.” In other words, no one has a solid explanation for any of it – for all the solid information the report held, one might as well go out to a cornfield in Pennsylvania and ask Mel Gibson what the hell is going on with those crop circles. But maybe there ARE no UFOs. Maybe what is in the sky is in our collective minds, our social psyches. Maybe what we see up there is a reflection of the angst, the chaos, the uncertainty, the dissolution of what we assumed were solid cultural and psychological landmarks. This is the psycho-social hypothesis (PSH).
Basically, and somewhat simplistically, it says, we make our UAPs and UFOs from our own human contexts. That sounds a bit disappointing for many, like the people who anticipate saucers landing in Joshua Tree National Park, but when examined a bit, one is led to the possibility, the possibility, that WE create our world and that – if we do – almost anything is possible. A breathtaking conclusion, for good or ill.
This is not to say that there ARE no UAPs, just that most “sightings” are mundane, but are construed as some exotic, perhaps extraterrestrial, product of a dysfunctional context, a social, cultural milieu – and we are certainly inside that scenario right now. Distorted elections, riots (well, protests, anyway), athletes succumbing to mental collapse, viruses, South America in constant chaos, Haiti’s president assassinated, followed by a devastating earthquake. The constant drumbeat of the newest viral variant (now COVID 2.0) and the inevitable uproar over masking, the Taliban turning Afghanistan into their Disneyland of the Mideast, the constant trumpet-blaring of the media declaring that The Sky is Falling, the rise and muscle-flexing of Maoworld, and a re-alignment of our education system – just to name a few discomfitures. Carl Jung, in his Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, was quoted as seeming to confirm that SOME UFO sightings indicated “real” objects, which Jung later rejected as not conforming to what he said:
“This report is altogether false…one must draw the conclusion that news affirming the existence of [UFOs] is welcome, but that skepticism seems to be undesirable. To believe the [UFOs] are real suits the general opinion, whereas disbelief is to be discouraged…This remarkable fact in itself surely merit’s the psychologist’s interest.”
So Jung spotted that crack in the deniers’ façade: they do not want to hear that UFOs and UAPs are not real – in fact, they insist on that – but that very denial is manifestly relevant and revelatory. It’s similar to fish denying that water is wet. We swim in our delusions, our mental constructs, but we cannot identify them nor deny them because they are part of us, what we swim in.
Perhaps the reader has noticed the increasing number of articles and movies and general contextual uptick in the ideas surrounding the possibility of a sentient universe. Perhaps notice has also been given to the increase in the amount of news stories and essays concerning quantum physics and quantum reality, notice of which is old news buttressed by new experimentation and theory affirming that news: reality, as we all think we know it, is a mass of flowing energy, coalescing eventually, only, in an “observation” (a term so fraught even physicists don’t agree on what one is). The consensus, so far, seems to be that what we call reality is just a product of our own “observations”, that our minds (perhaps) affect reality. But wait! Isn’t that what George Berkeley said or, at least, was trying to say?
Berkeley, one of the most misunderstood philosophers ever, said, basically, that reality is the ideas in our minds, that reality is what we can observe, that “to be is to be perceived.” Many have derided the good Bishop for denying that things exist, that the sun isn’t there when we blink, but Berkeley explicitly denies this in his Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge:
“It is indeed an idea strangely prevailing amongst men, that houses, mountains, rivers, and in a word all sensible objects, have an existence, natural or real, distinct from their being perceived by the understanding…For what are the fore-mentioned objects but the things we perceive by sense? And what do we perceive besides our own ideas and sensations?”
Things are there, Berkeley declares, because we perceive them to be there. It’s not like looking through a window. Windows do nothing but pass our gaze along, unmolested. Looking through our minds is another matter. Minds filter, distort, enhance, diminish, and alter what there is, and Berkeley say what we perceive is all there is:
“…all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any substance without a mind [here he means outside of a mind]…so long as they are not actually perceived…”
And if this is a universal phenomenon, if this reality-altering is cosmos-wide, then what about all those nonhuman beings out there? If ANY of those UFOs and UAPs are real, then what motivates your average visitor from Out There to nose around Earth? Are his or her contexts as muddled as ours and are WE created from THEIR mental distortions? Are we all – every living particle of this vastness – tied to each other in ways as are yet only dimly perceived by a very few? Is every sentient being in the universe entangled in an ever-tightening realization of Oneness? Maybe when things calm down here on this planet, we’ll be seeing fewer flying wedges and more actual weather balloons. At this point, we can only hope.
* * *
If you enjoyed this piece, check out the automachination YouTube channel and the ArtiFact Podcast. Recent episodes include an interview with singer Eva Schubert on writing good songs, a philosophical look at kitsch, aesthetics, and NFTs with UK painter Ethan Pinch, and a long discussion on Edward P. Jones’s classic short story collection, “Lost in the City”.
More from Len Holman: Ladies in Hats, Naked Chess: A Meeting of Hearts and Minds, Entropy and Simone de Beauvoir