“To my way of thinking, there is every bit as much evidence for the existence of UFOs as there is for the existence of God. Probably far more. At least in the case of UFOs there have been countless taped and filmed and, by the way, unexplained sightings from all over the world, along with documented radar evidence seen by experienced military and civilian radar operators” ― George Carlin
If you’re inclined to measure significance in terms of ticket sales, published bestsellers, or conference attendance, it might seem that the entire field of ufology is fading into obscurity, doomed to the dustpile, and dutifully lining up next to other charming human myths in the wake of overly enthusiastic interest in abject hoaxes, demonstrations of pernicious pareidolia, and the insistent dismissiveness of the skeptic and scientific communities who insist they only wish to protect you from the obvious limitations of the human brain – well, your brain, not theirs of course. They have managed transcendence through methodology. Don’t get me wrong. I’m married to a scientist. Methodology can be sexy, baby. The failure to produce tangible evidence in the form of a flying saucer on the White House lawn or an extraterrestrial in the zoo, and glaring examples of the will to believe such as the “Roswell Slides” debacle have helped to convince most folks that UFO’s belong firmly in the realm of the mythological, leading many wise and honestly curious seekers after truth to despair that ufology is entering a “Dark Age”. The only reasonable response I can see to the concern that ufological inquiry has reached a nadir and will inevitably degenerate into mythical status is, succinctly, so what?
Consider the fact that according to a recent HuffingtonPost/YouGov poll, 48 percent of adults in the United States not only believe that unidentified flying objects exist, but are open to the idea that they are alien spacecraft. Similarly, according to a 2013 Harris Poll, a staggering 74 percent of U.S. adults believe in God despite the fact that he’s never posed for a selfie, accepted a party invitation, done anything for me lately, and doubtless continues to move in mysterious ways. Tinkers, tailors, candlestick makers, and nuclear physicists have all demonstrated the capacity to live in a world that is simultaneously profane and sacred, where the mythological can coexist comfortably with the materialist. Are UFO’s a myth? Certainly. Is myth synonymous with fiction? Of course not. Mircea Eliade, in Myth and Reality, pointed out that “mythological” does not mean false, that “myths reveal that the World, man, and life have a supernatural origin and history, and that this history is significant, precious, and exemplary”. That is to say, out of an arid physical existence, myth is what supplies humans with models for human behavior, and in so doing give us the idealistic essentials of meaning and value. In short, myth makes us want to be better. Better than rocks. Better than animals. Better than we are.
Ufology as myth makes us want more. It forces us to turn our eyes towards the heavens and ask the question, “if they can traverse the depths of space, why can’t we”, simultaneously illuminating the dark recesses of both unassailable belief and nihilistic skepticism. Perhaps the primary and essential lesson to be learned from ufology as mythology is to continue to wonder, to mull over explanations both mundane and mystical, accepting that we simply cannot conclusively explain millennia of odd things in our skies, nor should we be expected to do so. Now is the time to refine ufological thinking, rather than sink into depression regarding the imagined poverty of the endeavor or the waxing and waning of popular interest, an attention easily distracted by the sensational, salacious, or scandalous, and burdened with existential ennui when the answer is a genuine, heartfelt “I don’t know”. Steve Volk, in his Fringe-ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable-And Couldn’t observed, “This country has a UFO problem, after all. You might not have been aware we have one, or thought about it in these terms, but we do have a UFO problem: namely, we don’t seem to understand what UFO really means. So here it is: a UFO is an unidentified flying object. So any time we see some object flying in the sky that we can’t positively identify, we’ve seen a UFO. But in the same way the words paranormal and supernatural have been conflated, we now equate UFO with alien spacecraft. How this came to be is easily understandable. If we’ve learned one thing in this book already, people don’t like the unknown very much. And so, if we believe we’re being visited by other civilizations, we read the piles of books and articles on unexplained lights in the sky, then fill in the massive gaps—with wild tales of alien races, interstellar technology, and government conspiracies. If we don’t believe, we hear someone saw an unexplained light in the sky and assume, first, that he’s claiming to have seen E.T. Then we figure what he really saw was an airplane, Venus, swamp gas, or a helicopter, and he must be a bit foolish—maybe even a UFO nut. Then we laugh”. And it is a kind of hysterical laughter, tinged with the fear of the unknown and perhaps unknowable.
From the depths of the Dark Ages the Renaissance emerged, as our myths molded us into a different intellectual species. We should not fear the mythological appellation, although critics use the term disparagingly for as Joseph Campbell rightly pointed out, “myths are our public dreams”, and taken one step further, Erich Fromm suggested “Both dreams and myths are important communications from ourselves to ourselves. If we do not understand the language in which they are written, we miss a great deal of what we know and tell ourselves in those hours when we are not busy manipulating the outside world”. Ufology is no more dead than God is. Wait. Maybe we do have a problem.