My current Trickster's Realm column for Tim Binnall's site. My new column will be up Monday.
"Absurd Bits" in Fortean Phenomena
Reading one of my favorite esoteric Fortean authors Colin Bennett right now: Flying Saucers Over the White House; The Inside Story of Captain Edward J. Ruppelt and His Official U.S. Airforce Investigation of UFOs. I'm only just into it, but, as usual when I read Bennett, there is so much rich, juicy and insightful right on stuff it's exhilarating. It's almost too much, one quick brilliant statement after another. One of the numerous gems is the "psychosocial filter" as Bennett calls it concerning UFO (and, I'll add, paranormal events in general) witness experiences:
It is an amusing feature of the Western mind that those people who have had a UFO experience of any kind are judged to be people least worthy of analyzing that experience."
The witness is often treated as an afterthought, or even an embarrassment. And all is lost if the witness has things that clogs up that "psychosocial filter":
The courts of "proper" debate rule out any odd, highly individualized, comic, or ludicrous or absurd elements. Here we see the most tragic-comic emblem of mankind's philosophy: get rid of the nutcases and there will be revealed the shining truth. [Bennett: 39]
It seems obvious that without UFO witnesses we wouldn't have UFOs to investigate in the first place. The UFO investigator wasn't there, nor the Sasquatch explorer or the ghost hunter. The witness was there, and she knows of her experience.
The problem is with interpretation and assumption. But that's different than what happened, no matter how crazy it may sound. The researcher brings her or his own bias as well. The whole thing is -- I don't want to use words like contaminated or polluted because those words frame UFO and paranormal events as a negative -- but it's all messed up, turned inside out and upside down, from the moment it started. That's okay. That in itself is part of the phenomena.
Instead, there are a lot of people out there chasing UFOs and ghosts and Bigfoot who believe they'll get to the truth of things if they reject anything that hints of those "absurd elements" Bennett refers to. That, and bringing along a lot of clanking high tech equipment that lights up and does other cool stuff.
I don't remember where it was that I read a suggestion from Jacques Vallee, who commented that many UFO researchers were going about things all wrong. Instead of asking the witness about measurements, size, yards, feet, longitudes and latitudes and behaving in somber UFO Investigator mode, just give the witness a pad of paper and a pencil and have them draw what they saw. In their own words, in their own way. Stand back, don't talk much, and just let them relate their experience. Then go from there.
It's a symbiotic relationship between witness and chroniicler of the event. Despite the insistence of some, Fortean phenomena isn't scientific (not to be confused with complete rejection of using scientific methodologies when desired), it's not objective, and it's nothing to be embarrassed about. You're either in it or you're not. You're in it and that means you take in the "absurd elements" along with the rest. The moment you start rejecting bits from a report because it's too weird or subjectively stupid, you've "contaminated" the research.
The UFO Police (and the Bigfoot Police) pop up with regularity, with new mission statements and rules about what will, and what will not, be accepted into their (always) scientific minded organization. Embarrassed by most all of UFOlogy UFO Police want to be treated with respect by the residents of Debunkerville and the MSM (mainstream media.) Those invites will never happen, because the phenomena won't let it. Which the UFO Police would realize, if they stopped rejecting the "absurd elements."
Meanwhile, witnesses continue to have UFO sightings that often contain high strangeness. I can only speak for myself, but I take it very personally when a stuffed shirt UFO investigator condescends to me that they only consider "hard evidence" and my experience is "only anecdotal." Well kid, it's all I got. But really, in my case, as with many other witnesses, that's a lot. It's actually huge. Lately I've been chronicling all of the strange UFO events in my life, going back to my childhood, (including those pesky "absurd" bits) and it's startling how connected and big this all seems to be.
The "problem with UFOlogy" as some like to say, isn't with the "absurd bits." It's with the idea there's a "problem" that needs to be fixed.