Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Burning Question: Do I Believe in Strange Things?

Believing in ghosts has a certain stigma attached to it, something like the "stigma" of being observed in Central Park with wild hair and no pants accusing people of stealing your squirrel. So does belief -- I don't really like the term, but maybe we'll get to that in a later post -- in anything even vaguely out of the ordinary, physically speaking. If you tell people you think it's possible we may have been spotted a time or two by UFOs, or that you just think there's something out there that's unexplained, you'll either get a story out of them or a ghastly roll of the eyes and a newfound concern about whether you're cool enough to hang out with any more.

I'm well aware of the lack of absolute evidence for X-Files phenomena. And I admit that deciding what you think about them may be more of a litmus test for your personality than a meaningful gauge of the truth of the matter. When I hear a story, I'm usually more compelled by the idea that it was true than the humdrum business of pointing out that it sounds like an urban legend. I'd rather let my imagination get carried away than be a wet blanket, which may be why I'm such a fantastic writer. When someone tells me about something that happened to them -- and I've heard a few pretty good ones, from people who just aren't the type to make things up -- my first instinct is to say "Wow," not "Oh, brother, what a rube you are." That's just me. But that doesn't amount to proof of anything.

No amount of accumulated anecdote will satisfy skeptics, unless they're skeptics who just haven't heard the right one. So I fear it's pointless to post links to records of multiple people who don't know each other telling the same story about the same incident on the same day etc. etc. because as intriguing and suggestive as they are, especially considered as an aggregate, they aren't nearly enough to overcome the doubting Thomases, who demand to know what ghosts are made of and how the aliens got here and where the tape recorder is hidden. I also fear that videos taken by, for instance, the Mexican Air Force will carry little water because the green men do not pop out of the hatch and speak English. And should the Mexican defense minister believe that evidence is worthy of publication, well, who's ever heard of the Mexican Air Force anyway?
In an exclusive interview with the La Prensa newspaper, Maussan stated that the Secretary of National Defense himself, Ricardo Clemente Vega Garcia, authorized the broadcast of this material to both domestic and foreign news media.

According to the researcher, the encounter occurred on March 5, when an aircraft belonging to the Mexican Air Force, a Merlin C26/A, was engaged in drug interdiction patrols. At around 17:00 hours it detected the presence of 11 objects following it.
Furthermore, were there to have been an especially strange and exceedingly well-documented case, with literally hundreds of witnesses and adjoining photos and videos, in my old stomping ground not too many years ago, I'd worry that highlighting it would just seem like a strange form of bragging to point it out.

When the "Phoenix Lights" were reported last year, I yawned. I didn't see them, and breathless TV broadcasts were underwhelming. It seemed easy enough to dismiss the lights as flares or military aircraft. UFOs? You've got to be kidding.

Still, as the March 13 anniversary of the sightings approached, I was curious enough to seek out some witnesses. I suspected most would turn out to be UFO devotees. My skepticism was heightened by a New Times story last week that debunked the extraterrestrial theorizing and discredited a leading local theorist, Jim Dilettoso, as a "quack scientist."

I found several people with credible credentials who witnessed the lights. At the least, their stories are interesting. Even if you regard their accounts dubiously, as I do, they raise legitimate questions.

Enough questions, says Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle, that what happened that night "may rank as the most dramatic UFO event in the past 50 years."

First, a little background. The lights were spotted between 7:30 and 10:30 in the evening over a 300-mile corridor from the Nevada line through Prescott Valley and Phoenix to the northern edge of Tucson. Some reports indicate that a single "V" formation traveled across the state, while others suggest multiple UFO events. The lights were seen by hundreds of people.

Here are four: Dr. Bradley Evans, 47, is a clinical psychiatrist from Tucson. He and his wife, Kris, were driving north on Interstate 10 to a swimming meet in Tempe. They watched the lights for 20 minutes or so move slowly south in a diamond formation and pass over them at an estimated 1,500 feet. Even then, with the car's moon roof open, they heard not a sound from the sky. He was "awed" by the experience and has no idea what he saw. Kris said she couldn't explain it either and guesses it was "something military."

Trig Johnston, 50, is a retired commercial airline pilot who lives in north Scottsdale. His 22-year-old son was looking for Comet Hale-Bopp that night when he noticed the lights and told his dad.

"I looked up and remember saying out loud, "I'm going to chalk this up to an illusion.' It was the size of 25 airliners, moving at about 100 knots at maybe 5,000 feet, and it didn't make a sound.

I've flown 747s across oceans and not seen anything like I saw that night," Johnston said.

"I don't expect anybody to take my word for it," he added. "This was something you had to see for yourself to believe."

Max Saracen, 34, is a real estate consultant who lives in north Phoenix. He and his wife, Shahla, were driving west on Deer Valley Road when they saw a huge triangular craft. They pulled off the road, got out and watched it pass overhead. "It was very spooky -- this gigantic ship blocking out the stars and silently creeping across the sky. I don't know of any aircraft with silent engines."

Dr. X is a physician who lives near Squaw Peak in Phoenix and asked to remain anonymous for fear of ridicule.

Her home has an elevated, panoramic view of the Valley, and she has some of the best known videotape and photographs of the lights. Though she had no prior interest in UFOs, the episode prompted her to begin her own investigation.

"I think what happened is mind-boggling," she said. "I'm trying to be as scientific as I can, and a number of things just don't compute."

I'm not given to an otherworldly answer. But neither do I think these four people and so many others who saw the lights are all exaggerating or delusional.


Blogger charvakan said...

So, what are you saying? It's one thing to acknowledge that a lot of people saw something strange, and quite another to leap to the conclusion, sans any evidence I've seen, that what they saw was...well, what? Space ships?

10:56 PM  
Blogger Lapp said...

The only thing I'm saying is that people can be overly proud of their skepticism, and they often seem weirdly incurious about the prevalence of incidents that seem to indicate something beyond the obvious is going on. Like I said, I can't prove anything and I don't expect anyone to jump to conclusions. But even if these links don't show the world proof, they should at least prompt questions that deserve more than a roll of the eyes. Calling it "something strange" puts a lot of untidy information in an awfully tidy box. Why couldn't it be space ships, for argument's sake? What do you think it is? If the burden of proof is on me, at least I can ask what you have in mind, and I feel like a shrug will sort of prove my point.

12:26 AM  
Blogger charvakan said...

I think that a skeptic should never be afraid to say that he does not know the cause of a thing. In the case of UFOs, we have hundreds of proven hoaxes and optical illusions, as well as satellites, planes, and other prosaic explanations. Some of these can and have engendered many consistent reports. I have yet to see any physical evidence for an extraterrestrial craft, or even any good observational evidence. My tentative conclusion is that if and when sightings such as you describe are explained, the cause will be similar to those already found numerous times, rather than to an attractive but unparalleled cause such as aliens.

Yes, there are smarty-pants dismissive skeptics, and sometimes I am one. But does that mean we're wrong? I do not think that extraterrestrial visitors are here, let alone the cause of UFOs. There are a number of lines of reasoning that lead me to that conclusion. I'll discuss it if you like.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Lapp said...

I would, actually, be interested in hearing your take. We should begin this dicussion with the caveat that a lot of eyewitness accounts describe things that, if accurately reported, are impossible given currently known human technology. If you want to call the eyewitness accounts into question as a general matter, there's no point in talking about it. My idea is to proceed from the premise that at least some of these claims are accurate.

1:29 PM  

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