Thoughts on UFOs

When I was a teenager, I believed in a lot of fringe ideas that I’ve long since rejected by now.  Never really that strongly (it only took one major failed prediction for me to stop believing in psychic prophecy), but I was “pretty sure” about a lot of things where what I’d say now would range from “very unlikely” to “definitely not”.

I never really took the specific claims of ufologists as seriously as cryptozoology or even the Bermuda triangle, but I did read a lot of UFO books and think there was probably something unexplained that people were seeing. (Technically I’d still say there are unexplained UFOs; the belief I’ve rejected is the “all ordinary explanations have been ruled out” claim.)

So I recently read a UFO book for the first time in quite a while, just out of curiosity. The book was Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times by Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck.  Since it’s about UFOs before the time when most UFO narratives start, it’s obviously not the most representative work of ufology, but ideas I hadn’t seen before was exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately, the book contains some unnecessary bashing of skeptics that would be unnecessary even if it was providing stronger evidence than it even claims to, let alone actually is, so I had a bad impression before I even got to the important part.

A central premise of the book, repeated several times, is the similarity between sightings regardless of the time period, just interpreted differently based on the prevailing beliefs and interests of the era. It certainly mentions accounts consistent with this, but overall I was disappointed by the quantity-over-quality approach. The main chronology includes a whopping 500 alleged sightings, but many of these have one or more of the following issues:

  1. No contemporary source.
  2. No original language source.
  3. Not enough details to conflict with ordinary explanations.
  4. The same phenomenon divided into parts.

It also includes astronomical observations of maybe-real mysterious objects in space, which aren’t aerial objects and don’t share any similarities with any other accounts; and again, these are mostly the same alleged objects sighted more these than once. While interesting, “Neith“, even if it was real (which is unlikely), is not part of the pattern the book is trying to establish, so it would have been better placed in a special section than mixed in with the rest, or in a separate book entirely focused on illusory observations.

Basically, the number of alleged sighting can be drastically cut down before even considering any of the ways in which they could be inaccurate.

Beyond that, the fact that the book does not push a particular explanation means there isn’t much else to say about it. I mean, it’s good that it never falls into just making stuff up, or blatantly misreading things to make them fit a narrative, the way both ufologists and ancient astronaut proponents often do (in fact, the latter barely do anything else).

I actually agree with the book on the main point; that those sightings which are actually both real and unexplained among both these and modern UFO sightings are the same things. I just disagree on how many of those there are, and probably on how unusual the correct explanations would need to be.

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