In recent posts I know I’ve been raining on the UFO believers’ parade, and I’m trying to keep an open mind about what I’ve discovered after a few weeks of looking into the UFO phenomenon, but the fact that eyewitness testimony plays such a huge role in the UFO movement is a serious sticking point with me. It’s just not a terribly well bolted peg on which to hang so extraordinary a claim as alien visitations. Click here, for example, to read a detailed article on memory from the most recent issue of Discover magazine. Memory is the basis of testimony, and unfortunately memory is simply not as reliable as we would like it to be. For example, here’s a quote from the article that strikes me as relevant to the UFO question:
Until recently, long-term memories were thought to be physically etched into our brain, permanent and unchanging. Now it is becoming clear that memories are surprisingly vulnerable and highly dynamic. . . . Already it corrodes our trust in what we know and how we know it. It pokes holes in eyewitness testimony, in memoirs, in our most intimate records of truth. Every time we remember, it seems, we add new details, shade the facts, prune and tweak. Without realizing it, we continually rewrite the stories of our lives. Memory, it turns out, has a surprising amount in common with imagination, conjuring worlds that never existed until they were forged by our minds.
Absent well established scientific parameters for what is possible and impossible, and absent physical evidence to anchor memories to facts, a movement based on eyewitnesses telling extravagant and emotionally charged stories is bound to be riddled with gross errors and, consequently, self deception. And this is the situation the UFO movement is mired in. It’s a total intellectual mess, preyed upon by hucksters, hoaxers, and fabulists looking to make a quick buck on the gullible. The UFO movement is in this loathsome position for two very good reasons:
- The movement tolerates the replacement of current scientific paradigms about what’s reasonable and possible with extravagant speculations about time travel and telepathy; and
- it can offer not a single piece of tangible evidence for any of its claims. It has, for example, not a single screw from any flying saucer, nor does it have, say, any authentic photographs of any aliens.
All the movement really has is storytelling and some pretty good evidence that the U.S. government is hiding something. It’s not enough. As Shakespeare’s Gertrude said to the ever verbose Polonius: More matter and less art.