Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review - The UFO Phenomenon

This post is reviewing a book published in 2009 (for a change...). I was please to find a serious book about UFOs that does not fall into the ETH mythology; such books are not often published. The author is an occultist, but his book is not too much influenced by his beliefs, and he should be congratulated for not letting his own views color too much his analysis. The full notice is:

Greer, John Michael. (2009). The UFO Phenomenon: Fact, Fantasy, and Disinformation. Woodbury: Llewellyn, 248 p.


In the first part, Greer’s book provides a very good overview of the history of the UFO phenomenon, and about how the ETH myth was created. He covers the most famous UFO sightings since the ancient Roman times to this the present period, and he concludes very soundly that “[s]ince the dawn of recorded history, in fact, human beings have been seeing weird things moving through the air, and those things have usually had a very close resemblance to the hopes, fears, and speculations of those who saw them” (p. 6).

He provides also an interesting explanation as to how science fiction and the lack of traditional religious belief in the later industrial age have set the stage for the UFO phenomenon. His argument is very close to Méheust’s, but he does not refer to him, and Méheust’s book is not in the bibliography either.

The rest of the first section provides a well-documented description as to how the UFO myth was developed over time. From the 1950s contactees, to the history of NICAP, to the Roswell and MJ-12 stuff, and the abduction narratives, Greer explains how the ETH mythology got firmer while it became clear that the phenomenon was becoming increasingly elusive.

As well, the book provides an interesting and accessible sociology of the UFO knowledge, exploring in a symmetric way the various hypotheses about the UFO phenomenon. I certainly recommend this book for any new comer to the world of ufology. The book is well-written, properly documented, and provides level-headed arguments.

The author, however, is first and foremost attacking two main views about UFOs: the ETH and the complete denial about the existence of UFOs, what he calls the null hypothesis. From this point of view, Greer’s book is moving beyond the familiar (and boring) territory of ufology.

The hypotheses in ufology

It is interesting to note that Greer is using an approach close to what can be found in sociology of science for his evaluation of the various hypotheses about UFOs. Among others, he is using Thomas Kuhn’s concept of paradigm to understand how the ETH and the null hypothesis came about as the dominant views in ufology. Yet, both the ETH and the null hypothesis are fundamentally logical fallacies. As he wrote, “ [a]t the core of most arguments for the extraterrestrial hypothesis, as we’ve seen, is a bit of dubious logic claiming that if an unknown object seen in the air isn’t a hallucination, a hoax, or a misidentification of something more ordinary, it must by definition be a spacecraft piloted by aliens. The defenders of the null hypothesis, far from challenging this questionable logic, have simply taken it and stood it on its head, arguing that since an unknown object in the air can’ t be a spacecraft piloted by aliens, it must by definition be a hallucination, a hoax, or a misidentification of something ordinary.” (p. 129).

Some of the most common alternative explanations are also presented by Greer. They include the intraterrestrial, cryptoterrestrial, time-travel, demonic, ultraterrestrial, and neurological hypotheses. For him, most of them are problematic, but they at least provide a wider look at the UFO phenomenon. Only the geophysical hypothesis (mostly the work of Devereux and Persinger) appears strong to him, although not completely able to explain the phenomenon. I certainly agree with him.

Solving the mystery?

The last section of the book is entitled “Solving the mystery,” and it is also the weakest one. Greer’s argument is three-fold. First, from time immemorial humans have seen apparitions, especially when in an altered state of consciousness, and this explains the complete lack of evidence about UFOs, as well as the phenomenological similarities between sightings (like the “ Oz factor” ). Second, there was a vast conspiracy by the military, and the U.S. Air Force in particular, to hide secret prototypes under the guise that they were UFOs (i.e., aliens in spaceship), which explains the physical traces when it is not caused by geophysical activities. Third and last is the cultural dynamics of UFO stories combined with the governmental conspiracies for hiding secret planes that provided the common content to the UFO phenomenon.

It is clear that the cultural dynamics described by Greer had a great role to play in providing the content of the UFO experience. As well, there is no doubt that some military establishments used the UFO phenomenon to hide secrets, which in turn just fuelled furthermore the UFO mythology. But the existing facts about UFO cannot be all explained that way. To paraphrase Hynek, I guess the U.S. Air Force is everywhere around the world, ready to produce hoaxes to hide its aircrafts.... No! This explanation can certainly cover a number of unexplainable sightings, but they cannot account for the ones that are truly unexplainable, especially when the UFO defies the laws of physics. A good example is the Belgian wave of 1989 where the secret American aircraft explanation has been proposed, but it still failed to explain the incredible UFO behaviour.

Another problem is about Greer not discussing at all the parapsychological (or psychical) hypotheses about UFOs, which is quite odd as there is a healthy corpus available. His notion of apparition is not very well-developed and he relies essentially on superficial comparisons with shamanism in a pop culture context to make his point. In the end, he does not explain anything on the issue of apparitions, while by integrating parapsychology he would have been able to provide some serious explanations about apparitions.

All this to say that, no, the mystery has not been solved as the section’s title implies.

Rear guard battles

The book, however, is more problematic from the point of view of those who are not new comers in the world of UFOs. Greer shows well why the ETH is so problematic. But ufology in its ETH version is on the decline, and more energy could have been spent on explaining the phenomenon rather than explaining what it is not. Similarly, the issue of the null hypothesis is overdone. There are very few people nowadays who reject completely that there are no UFOs (if not define as alien in spaceship, but just as what it is: unidentified flying objects). The fact that there are strange things in the sky that we cannot explain is nothing new, nor nothing hidden. Starting with the Project Blue Book of the 1960s, up to the present declassification of UFO archives by the many countries to include Belgium, Britain, Canada, Chile, France, and Russia (and there are probably others that I am not aware of), these various governments came to pretty much the same conclusion: there are strange things in the sky that we cannot explain, but they do not appear to be dangerous nor made of useful physical technologies, and therefore it would not be a wise use of public funds to investigate these aerial mysteries. Debunking the ETH and the null hypothesis, in 2009, is a rear guard battle.

To conclude, this book is an excellent introduction to the UFO phenomenon, especially for those who are new to the field. But for those who are not new, the book is not on the leading-edge, and is either superficial or focuses on the wrong issues.

Eric Ouellet © 2009

1 comment:

Pauline Wilson said...


I also enjoyed the book. I am presently looking at the possible relationship between the brain's "snese of presence" and the fact that some abductees and contactees feel they are "alien" and not human. See my blog at