Seeing and believing

UFO sightings are down. Ghosts are in decline. Are we more discerning now, or just afraid to trust anything?

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A sense of wonder: toy packaging from the 1950s.  Photo by Getty

A sense of wonder: toy packaging from the 1950s. Photo by Getty

Stuart Walton wrote Out Of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication: A Natural History of Human Emotions and the forthcoming In The Realm of the Senses: A Materialist Theory of Seeing and Feeling. He also writes on food.

One late evening in the early summer of 1981, lying sleepless in my student bedsit at the top of a house in the Fallowfield district of Manchester, I became aware of a pattern of bright flashing lights on the wall. All I could see through the curtainless window on the opposite side of the room was a strip of rather cloudy night sky. The vivid flashing was coming from within, or perhaps behind, a bank of cloud. As I continued to watch, an object materialised from within the cloud, advancing until it stood in plain view in the night sky.

It was a strikingly large craft of some kind, flattish but with rounded edges, like an old-fashioned bedwarmer, or perhaps a huge English muffin. It was sparkling-silver and covered all over with a regular pattern of flashing white lights. After hovering for a few seconds, it began to move across the sky, and as it reached the right-hand frame of my window, I leant over the side of the bed to keep it in view. At a certain point it ceased its progress and, at the same sedate pace, retraced its route back to its starting-point. There it lingered for a few more seconds, before retreating into the cloud-bank until its evanescent flashing had entirely dissolved from view. Only then did I collapse out of bed and start frantically pulling on clothes. I rushed on foot to my girlfriend’s place to gibber out an account of the incident.

Convention demands the following declaration: I had not been drinking or taking drugs, I hadn’t dozed off and reawoken, and I wasn’t in a general state of agitation. It was a perfectly normal evening: I had gone to bed and was waiting to fall asleep. Nothing remotely similar has ever happened to me before or since. If everybody is entitled to at least one experience of the paranormal or unexplained, this was mine. For the three to four minutes that the whole episode lasted, it filled me with a mixture of trepidation and thrill, with an intimation that there might after all be another reality beyond the everyday one.

The classic mise-en-scène for a UFO sighting was a remote, deserted location — country roads or woodland at night, or outside a ranch in New Mexico. A large spaceship hovering above Manchester should have been seen by tens of thousands of people. It wasn’t much after midnight, so there would still have been plenty of traffic on the streets. I followed the local news and talked to everybody I knew about it, but apparently only I had seen it, from my bedsit room in Fallowfield. Years later, when the archive of reported sightings processed by the now defunct UFO desk at the Ministry of Defence went online, I searched through the lists for 1981. There was nothing that resembled my sighting, and nothing at all in the whole of the UK for the month in question, or the months before and after it.

The spectacular fulfilled its purpose in shoring up devotion, transporting the soul, training the inner vision on higher things

There are no UFOs, and there never were. That, at least, is the official story, and it commands acceptance. There was something reassuring in the notion that the Ministry of Defence took them seriously enough to monitor reports, and perhaps even a trace of disappointment that virtually none of those alleged sightings was left unexplained when the desk closed in 2009. They were all night-flying aircraft, weather balloons, comets, car headlights seen at unusual angles through trees and mist, often by people who had been drinking, or who were half-asleep, or of whom it could be said, in the judicial discourse, that the balance of their minds was disturbed. Some of the famous photographs are of Frisbees. Whatever I saw in Manchester was there in front of me — there remains no doubt in my mind about that, even after 32 years — but I have never worked out what it was.

UFO sightings reached their spate roughly within a decade of the release of Steven Spielberg’s spellbinding film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). One good reason to believe there were never any UFOS is that nobody sees them any more. Once, the skies were refulgent with alien craft; now they are back to their primordial emptiness, returning only static to the radio telescopes, and offering the occasional meteor shower to the wondering eye.

It isn’t only flying saucers that have receded into history. They are being followed, more gradually to be sure, by a decline in sightings of ghosts, recordings of poltergeists, claims of psychokinesis and the rest, as is regularly attested by organisations such as the Society for Psychical Research in London and the UK-wide research group Para.Science. Many of those with a vested interest in the supernatural industry naturally resist this contention, but there is far less credulity among the public for tales of the extraordinary than there was even a generation ago. The standard explanation attributes this to growing scepticism. But, as is only fitting for the paranormal, it might be that there are more mysterious forces at work.

In The Society of the Spectacle (1967), the foundational text of Parisian situationism, the French Marxist theorist Guy Debord argued that consumer culture had acquired the dimensions of an alternative reality: it had replaced the dull, grey world with its own, phantasmatic iridescence. It didn’t matter whether or not everybody genuinely could buy a part of the universal plenty. What mattered was the mythology, the illusion of bountiful possibility and limitless choice, wrapped up in a spectacularity borrowed from the film and television industries.

Debord was not the first to remark on this. When the social theorists of the Frankfurt School arrived in New York during their wartime exile in the 1930s, they found the giant billboard ads for toothpaste even more-nerve jangling than they had expected. Here was a culture entirely mortgaged to the secular spectacular. In previous centuries, what was visually remarkable stood for the other-worldly, the spiritual. The baroque façades and soaring spires of cathedrals, the carmines and cobalts of stained-glass windows with the sun streaming through them, devotional processions and carnival parades, gargoyles, misericords, miraculous relics — all attested that there was an intangible reality beyond the physical one, a reality that could at most be suggestively delineated in extraordinary sights. By the time of the European Enlightenment, the sublimity of nature, together with its representation in the bravura period of landscape painting, achieved the same effects.

To be sure, there was always an impulse against these manifestations of visual culture. The very fact that they can be seen, and that in some cases they bear the traces of human artifice, tells against their association with the other-worldly. Arthur Schopenhauer at his most biliously saturnine would have none of it. To those who would counter the argument that the world is a dungheap of suffering with the pabulum that there are at least beautiful sights to see in nature, he scoffed: ‘Is the world, then, a peep-show?’ And yet, the spectacular did in fact fulfil its purpose in shoring up devotion, transporting the soul, training the inner vision on higher things.

My great-grandmother, a stranger to television, waved her handkerchief as the Queen’s carriage passed by on the small screen

Where people were convinced that they had seen the other world impinging on material reality, or were persuaded that others had, the connection between what one could see and what one might believe grew deeper. Materialisations of the Blessed Virgin at Lourdes in France, at Knock in Ireland, and at Fátima in Portugal, suggested that the visions of the first Christians — those who not only saw but spoke to, ate with and touched their risen Lord — were still available for anyone with eyes to see. Similarly, the bodying forth of Roman centurions, headless noblemen, wailing women and whey-faced children, not to mention the ectoplasmic effusions at seances, bore fugitive witness to another dimension beyond the temporal one, a realm to which we were all evidently journeying. We knew this because, for a second or two, in the dead of night, in solitude, every now and then, the odd one of us could see it.

The audience members who fled from their seats before the oncoming train at one of the Lumière brothers’ first cinema screenings in 1896 might look, in retrospect, as though they were fleeing in vain from the inexorable onslaught of the spectacular age. That they accepted the evidence of their own eyes turned out to be matter for derision. What motion pictures achieved was a simulacrum of reality, but one in which the world we were watching was unable to see us — an exact reversal of the centuries-long disposition of the sacred and secular realms. As late as 1953, when my family gathered to watch the coronation of Elizabeth II on the BBC, my great-grandmother, a stranger to television, waved her handkerchief as the Queen’s carriage passed by on the small screen.

If the growing spectacularisation of media culture began to undermine belief in the spirit world, the widespread dissemination of video technology hastened its decline. Filming is now within the grasp of everybody with a smartphone. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) beadily observes the nothing that is all that seems to happen on deserted night-time streets. Video cameras used to be reserved for the signal events of a life (weddings, anniversaries, birthdays), but now scarcely anything is beneath the attention of YouTube. In the heyday of ghost stories, the elusive grail was a photograph or moving film of some spectral emanation. There should no longer be any technical obstacle to providing this, and yet all we see is the odd whitish blur that could as easily be a mark on the screen.

W hat these countervailing powers have brought about in postmodern society is the wrong kind of scepticism. A large element of rationalist doubt certainly accompanies the decline of interest in the paranormal, driven primarily by these cultural and, latterly, technological factors. Yet underlying that doubt itself is the growing incredulity with which people evaluate anything. Supermarket discounts appear to offer wines at half-price; products for smearing on your face purport to make you look younger — these are the all-too-evident mendacities. The homilies of party politicians at election time sound like the exclamatory drivel of PR companies. And the way this stuff has permeated culture as a whole has bred a widespread incurious scepticism. We now extend the same degree of undifferentiating refusal even to those phenomena that, while hard to credit, deserve to be heeded. Climate change might be the most obvious current instance but, at its most noxious, scepticism results in an unwillingness to believe in others’ suffering. The attitude of wholesale rejection, by which one might stand a chance of becoming impervious to fraud, is thus bought at the ever greater risk of nihilism.

To Debord’s generation, spectacle culture was responsible for weaving an ineluctable web of deceit around its clients, blinding them to the true nature of reality. In fact, the opposite has turned out to be the case. Notwithstanding its pervasiveness, there is virtually no one who doesn’t secretly know that he is being cheated. Nothing ever quite lives up to its billing. Grandiose claims framed in the hysterical superlative — ‘The most terrifying movie ever made!’, ‘The funniest novel I’ve read all year!’ — carry within them the seeds of their own refutations. So ingrained is this habit of disbelief that it comes to seem as though there is nothing that isn’t part of the scam.

True scepticism lies in the considered suspension of belief, the opposite of that state of mind in which, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested, we attend to tales of the otherwise incredible. The patron saint of this true scepticism is Thomas Didymus, or Doubting Thomas, who has erroneously come to be associated with weak-kneed faithlessness, but whose pathos consists precisely in his steadfast loyalty to his late teacher. It is this, after all, that prevents him from accepting what sound like fantastical stories of Jesus’s reappearance. When the resurrected Messiah informs him that it is blessed to believe without having seen, the moral applies to nobody present, as the other disciples have already declined to believe Mary Magdalene. The account is, of course, addressed to succeeding generations, but the salient point is that Thomas doesn’t stand condemned for his fidelity. Even so, the early councils of the Church would not be content with faith as mere obedience to divine precept and the exercise of goodwill to others. Instead, they insisted on a legalistic, faith-based version, in which a weekly statement of what one actually, literally believes is required of its participants. Thus did the Church hand the Enlightenment, and its current crop of science apostles, the free gift of an evidentiary case against itself.

The visible and the invisible, the material and the spiritual, the phenomenal and the noumenal are no longer the distinct realms they once were

In contrast to Thomas, contemporary scepticism takes the form of playing along with the racket because there seems to be no alternative, while privately knowing that it can’t deliver what it promises. In this cast of mind, somebody’s hyperventilating tale of a translucent wraith seen drifting about the stately home, or the disembodied footsteps that clatter up and down the stairs when everybody is tucked up in bed, is neither more nor less believable than the long-range weather forecast. The dignity of spooky stories was that, unlike obvious tissues of lies, they occasionally managed to cross the divide between the highly unlikely and the just barely credible. If they could never be proved, neither could they ever be disproved — except by pointing to the laws of physics, an alienating language spoken by experts who couldn’t conceal their contempt for ordinary gullibility. Now that so much of the culture of the spectacle evokes the same response, the laws of physics have no greater claim to finality than do poorly produced video-hoaxes on YouTube.

The visible and the invisible, the material and the spiritual, the phenomenal and the noumenal are no longer the distinct realms they once were. They have become mutually permeable to their mutual diminishment. We seem to see to the heart of things, to what Kant knew as the thing-in-itself, to a degree undreamed of at the high-water mark of pure reason in the 18th century. The cameras of natural history programming miss nothing, even at the cellular level, even in pitch dark, and yet everything looks like the video that it is. There are those who continue to believe the Moon landings were a hoax just because the film evidence looks so fake, and could so easily have been produced in a studio. By contrast, the notorious black-and-white alien autopsy footage from Roswell, New Mexico is an insultingly obvious fraud, as educated people reassured each other at the film’s emergence in 1995, having forgotten for a moment that the absurdity lay not in the cinematography but in the very idea of a humanoid space-creature.

Seeing and believing used to belong together only when they occurred in the mass. When individuals claimed to have seen something extraordinary — a man with two heads, the Niagara Falls, tombs in the desert crammed with gold — their testimony was a challenge to credulity until it was demonstrated to be true. René Descartes undertook ‘never to accept a thing as true until I knew it as such without a single doubt’. Doubt was the primary basis for the rationalism of the Enlightenment, so the first witness to the miraculous had to be seen to have seen. In the age of electronic mass media, when so much flashes around the world instantaneously, when video clips, in a telling usage, ‘go viral’, there should be no doubt about what is real and what isn’t. Yet the critical mass is no longer critical. There is an air of the semblance, of ‘facticity’, about what we are urged to look at. The very fact that it is shrieking for public attention tends to speak against it.

A couple of years ago, I saw a documentary about the UK’s dwindling UFO sightings. Various people who had reported them in the past were invited to relive their experiences, often going back to the very places where the incidents had taken place. Some of the interviewees were still as unshakeably convinced of the concrete reality of what they had seen as they were at the time, though the thrust of the programme was towards likely explanations, set against the general cultural fascination there once was in the idea of alien civilisations. One man had seen a mysterious object in the sky, some time (if memory serves) in the late 1980s. He had drawn a sketch of it soon after. Hearteningly enough, it was identical to mine.

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Comments

  • TampFamp

    I think aliens have jsut grown bored with us.

    Anon-ISP.tk

  • Vintage Furniture

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  • LugBug

    Great read, thanks. And hey, the Sirius documentary will be released in a couple weeks. Maybe there's something of substance in there. Probably not. But... maybe.

  • MouseDog

    The article touched on this with its reference to YouTube, but did not hammer this point in strongly enough.

    Technology has provided the means whereby nearly any individual residing in a first-world country has the ability to carry their own portable, video and/or photographic recording device. The fact that the Internet is not clogged with videos and photos of purported UFOs, or of chairs stacking themselves, doors opening mysteriously, or ghostly apparitions at the end of a dark hallway; is telling.

    The recent meteor strike in Russia is a good example of an event that occurred quickly, and unexpectedly, and yet we have numerous videos and photos of it sailing through the skies. Something unheard of in 1981.

    • Rex Riley

      Exactly right. Now that anyone, anywhere can capture very crisp images and video of 'paranormal' activities, we see a DECREASE in their number. The grainy images of Sasquatches and UFOs are going to become a thing of the past.

      • BigfootBeliever

        Hey! Ease up on Bigfoot. He's real.

    • DogMouse

      Equating unidentified flying objects with blatantly supernatural phenomena is pretty disingenuous of you. The strength of anecdotal evidence from highly credible individuals who have no motivation to make false claims is compelling. Setting aside the extraterrestrial portion and the general quackery the topic usually garners; is it really that much of a stretch to think there is something flying around up there? Also, if every UFO sighting had the visual impact of a nuclear blast in the sky I'm sure we would have more evidence of them...

      • dude

        more evidence? How about a single piece of evidence?

      • andy_o

        Setting aside the extraterrestrial portion and the general quackery the
        topic usually garners; is it really that much of a stretch to think
        there is something flying around up there

        You're also setting aside the laws of physics, and known psychological and astronomical phenomena.

        The strength of anecdotal evidence from highly credible individuals who have no motivation to make false claims is compelling.

        Compelling to someone who doesn't know that the only thing worse than an argument from authority is eyewitness "evidence".

        • jjbreen

          The thing is - exactly that. EVIDENCE.

          QUOTE:
          The strength of anecdotal evidence from highly credible individuals who have no motivation to make false claims is compelling. (EOQ)

          Yes they did have motivation - $$$ - and back then they made a good few bucks and some not so much. Because the question of the 'character' did come into play.

          I said, $$$ - YES! Just go look at some of these 'highly credible individuals' and look at what they charge for speaking fees - books - Videos/DVD's and so on.

          The thing is and I've yet to hear a good counter debate point:
          WHY? After 50+ years of asking the same questions we are NOT seeing one ounce of proof? (See?)

          There is a term for asking/doing the same thing over-and-over and expecting a different result.

          Maybe it's time to start looking at other questions and possible answers?

  • william

    The answer to your headline should be obvious: because of better education (from science, rational-minded skeptics who insist on concrete evidence rather than anecdotal stories, etc.), the public is better informed. Instead of snap judgments, Now people want proof. There is not one shred of credible evidence for the existence of ghosts, UFO's, or any other paranormal occurrences.

    • Taylor

      I would like to point out that people like William, here, are the reason why the subject of UFOs are not taken seriously; because of close-minded, ignorant individuals who believe scant public information is enough to make definitive, albeit naive, claims of truth.

      Not one shred of credible evidence for the existence of UFOs you say, William? Ok, well how about the Phoenix lights? The STS missions? The Rendlesham Forest incident? No? Ok, well how bout the UFOs over the White House in the 50's? Still not doing it for you? Then how about the expansive, growing amount of military officers, astronauts, and government officials who openly testify, on the record, that the UFO phenomena is not only real, but is a serious threat to national security, especially when they have the capability to disable Minuteman nuclear missile bases?

      • http://twitter.com/DaveHimslef DaveHimslef

        Sensing a trend I decide to stop after researching your first 3 examples. They are all repeatedly debunked by numerous reputable sources. The scant and unscientific articles I could find supporting your examples appeared on web sites accompanied by ads for astrologers, psychics and healing crystals.

        • http://www.facebook.com/johnburnettconsulting John Burnett

          So the Rendlesham Forest incident was debunked? I don't think so. (If you're satisfied with the debunking, post a link.) From the official report, a physical craft was observed and even touched. Just about every famous UFO report is officially refuted with some form of ridiculous theory of what they actually saw. And of course, those debunking weren't there to witness what was seen themselves. For some people it's easier to accept that a group of highly trained personnel chased lighthouse beams through the forest all night than to accept a stranger possibility. Personally I feel the subject is worthy of review, in spite of the high percentage of identifiable UFO sightings. There are too many reports of close encounters had by extremely credible witnesses to discount it all as swamp gas.

          • jjbreen

            Here is the thing: Military have CLASSIFIED PROJECTS. Now think about that -

            http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/east/series3/rendlesham_ufos.shtml

            Now I want you to ponder another possible theory - Could have been a TOP SECRET STEALTH PROJECT that men did NOT have clearance for? (Very likely.)

            Could it be they were told to KEEP THEIR MOUTHS QUIET? More than likely.

            Could it be he "ALIEN" story is just that - "Hey people will believe this! (Like you.) So use the common "people will believe the lie way to easily" and tell them ALIEN! Then "cover the lie up" just enough to make it look "True".

            If you do not think this has been done before - Think again!

            People are way too easily fooled with lies and scams.

      • jjbreen

        I kow the "Need To Believe" is strong:

        http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/08-05-21/

        Yes, I challenge you to read it then check out their facts/sources. This has been DEBUNKED.

    • Rosco Bell

      I have a couple of questions for those who would maintain that UFO’s are real. First, I have no doubt that other civilizations could exist in the universe. The odds of this occurring are pretty high given the vastness and the age of the universe. I’m not arguing that there are no others out there. But I have my doubts that the Earth has been visited by them.

      So my first question is this: If we have indeed been discovered by other civilizations, how many have discovered us? Because if it is only one, then presumably all reported sightings of UFOs should describe roughly the same phenomenon. We should not expect a single space explorer to inundate us with all sorts of different probes and craft. Since reported sightings seem to describe all manner of shapes and sizes, I think it’s important to ask how many inter-galactic visitors could possibly have developed the technology needed to discover our world, let alone to travel here.

      My second question: If humans ever do develop the technology needed to discover life on other planets as well as the ability to send spacecraft to explore them, would we insist on hiding our existence from them? I ask this question because if other civilizations have discovered us and are exploring our planet, why do they not make contact with us? Surely they would quickly discover that we have a common interest in what’s going on in the universe. If they are keeping their existence a secret for nefarious reasons, then I think we have to ask – would we do the same? Would we be investing the vast resources needed to travel across the universe in order to inflict some sort of horror on the unsuspecting natives? Or would we be more likely to be curious about what was there and to share our experience? What would humans do? Why would extraterrestrials be any different?

      I think an honest answer to both these questions would indicate that the chances of Earth having been visited by space beings are remote (at best) and while I would never say impossible, I would say if they had we would be well aware of it by now. The resources required to develop a culture that sees space travel as beneficial and to then develop the means to undertake (and succeed) at it are enormous. Overcoming the inherent limitations of time and distance required for successful space travel would strain the resources of the most advanced cultures. To think that more than a couple of them would succeed pushes credulity to the extreme. To believe success would then be kept a secret is to deny our own human nature.

      • http://www.facebook.com/johnburnettconsulting John Burnett

        I think Michio Kaku answers your questions quiet well. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TXZegj_7u4

        • Rosco Bell

          The good professor’s argument boils down to little more than
          a belief in astrophysical gods: we are like ants in the presence of an ancient superior intelligence, so far advanced that we cannot even begin to apprehend it. He does not, however, answer my questions – if we have been visited by extraterrestrials, how many are there? and Why don’t they talk to us?

          Unless you believe that the universe is chock-a-block with
          million-year-old civilizations, all of whom are whizzing about in the atmosphere above us, why are there so many disparate descriptions of UFO sightings? Even if you think there are as few as two visitors, the question is Why now, why here? What are the odds of two multi-millennial-old civilizations stumbling across us at the same time? Even the professor has to confess the improbability of this sort of coincidence.

          And if you believe there are only one or two visiting civilizations, then my second questions needs to be addressed: why don’t they talk to us? We are not, as the professor puts it, like ants in the path of an astronomical super-highway. We are intelligent beings with a keen interest in the workings of the universe – just like them! We may not have developed the means to overcome the space-time problems inherent in space travel, but we are also not digging holes in the
          ground to hide our food.

          Coming up with rationalizations, no matter how complex or
          multi-dimensional (pun intended), to describe what one wants to exist is, in the end, wishful thinking.

        • jjbreen

          I have a lot of respect for Pf. Kaku ... but I also know the difference between an opinion/belief and science fact.
          Sure it's more than possible that life exists out there. I would not even begin to debate that. But "possible" is shy of FACTS/EVIDENCE. Sot it becomes a "theory/belief".
          But have we been visited? The EVIDENCE OF FACTS is seriously M.I.A. A little too seriously missing.
          Here is a FACT:
          Do you know how many backyard astronomers take NIGHTLY PICTURES/VIDEOS of our Solar System - Planets and such? Try =-> 100's of 1,000's. They can take defined pictures of the Space Shuttles - ISS - Satilites - Asteriods and even comets crashing into Jupiter.
          Now with all those 100's of 1,000's of videos/pictures - funny thing - NO ALIEN SPACE CRAFTS ever being seen! Think about that. NOT ONE!! (Ponder that point of FACT.) Because had something "unusual" been photographed/video recordered it WOULD BE HEADLINE NEWS an be a YOUTUBE instant MEGA HIT!
          So with all due respect to Prf. Kaku - belief/theory do not facts make and it is not: EVIDENCE!

  • Nihilist

    with billions of camera phones out there now, how come we havent seen, ufos, bigfoot, nessie, or ther so called phenomena. in russia every car now has dash-cams if et shows up, it will be on utube, and redditt.... j

  • http://twitter.com/TheCoryDorsey Cory Dorsey

    The same reason why God doesn't appear before us anymore. They're sick of our shit.

  • http://twitter.com/DaveHimslef DaveHimslef

    Different article, different approach, MUCH better title.
    TWILIGHT OF THE GULLIBLE
    http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/ideas/charles-nevin/twilight-gullible

  • yourmom

    a decent piece of disinformation, 1 out of 10 stars

    • Ray El

      seriously, this person has done 0 research as there's a mountain of evidence and keeps piling. What an idiot.

  • xiaoyanzi

    I don't really see this lessening of belief in paranormal things ... in fact we now have a paranormal ghost busting team in my area which we never had before, and which once upon a time I think most people would have thought utterly ridiculous but now people are like wow how cool.

    To me, people seem far less skeptical today than ever before. They look at a photo of Obama standing with a photoshopped Osama bin laden, whose head has been placed atop an overweight African American man's body, and readily accept that as true, even though it is so obviously fake.

    Osama bin laden has never been overweight, doesn't wear American rings on every finger and wouldn't likely be seen in a floppy Hawaiian shirt. An obvious photoshop, yet a lot of the people in my Facebook feed thought it was real.

    People have grown less skeptical and less discerning over time, less observant.

    As far as whether what the writer saw was a UFO, obviously you saw something, and someone else saw the same thing. What that was exactly, we may never know, but if you investigate the size of the universe and realize how big it really is ... Even with faster than light travel, it would take years to get here from the nearest star system. And if that star system doesn't have life, then the next nearest star system, is geometrically further away.

    The chances of alien life visiting us seem to me astronomically small. I would imagine your UFO was more likely a top-secret military vessel. The smaller number of sightings might just as well reflect better security on the part of whatever military branch was causing the sitings in the first place. That theory's just as likely an explanation as any.

  • Taylor

    People wonder why there aren't anymore sightings of UFOs with the advent and rapid increase in personal electronics; they also tend to connect the lack of increase in sightings with the argument that UFOs do not exist. That is laughably fallacious and pitifully ignorant.

    For one thing, anyone who has had a UFO sighting, such as the author of the article, can attest to the fact that the human mind undergoes a certain process when viewing something so extraordinary: first you notice something out of the ordinary (for the author it was the lights), then you slowly begin to realize that what you're seeing is exciting and grasps your curiosity because it is of extraordinary nature, and then you continue to watch it with the utmost curiosity, with little to no chance of having any other thought during the whole episode, and most episodes only last a few minutes.

    So why don't people who see UFOs record them? Because people are too captivated by what they're seeing to be consciously aware of the fact that they have a recording device they could be using. Furthermore, most sightings are not up close and personal, so any camera-phone technology or handheld camera would not have the resolution to capture the sighting in good quality.

    Even further, next time you're in a public place, try and notice how many people are on their phones and how frequently. You'll slowly realize that everyone who is using their phone (pretty much everyone is all the time now) has their head down looking at it and nothing else. Thus, how often do you see people looking at the sky? Very rarely. It's a sad realization, really.

    Everyone who bashes Ufology repeats the same, ignorant claim over and over and over: there is no evidence to support such claims. To which I reply, as nicely as I can: yes, there are troves of video evidence that happens to be of excellent quality, you just have to look in the right places; the internet is a vast place full of cooks and nuts who unfortunately perpetuate the negative stigma associated with Ufology, but make no mistake: the evidence is there.

    If you don't believe me, then spend some time on youtube, or wherever for that matter, researching the NASA space shuttle missions, particularly the STS missions.

    • Vorathe

      To add to your point, look at the Google Glass project and their reason for creating it. We're ALWAYS LOOKING DOWN at our handheld devices and rarely do we even look up at the sky these days.

  • Ray El

    This article is just plain stupid and FULL OF S#IT! There's been more sightings than ever. Try doing some ACTUAL research and go to youtube, and type in UFO Jerusalem 2011. This article is the worst.

  • Lilly

    I found this article spot on! Working in the public schools, it's
    apparent how skeptical and jaded our kids have become. I won't judge
    this as good or bad, but it's a fact.

  • Mrs Grimble

    Stuart DID see a UFO and UFOs DO exist. 'UFO' simply stands for Unidentified Flying Object.
    Stuart's UFO could have a variety of explanations - a laser light show, floating Chinese lanterns, an advertising balloon, a large helicopter. It was, however, highly unlikely to have been any kind of secret government project, not over the middle of Manchester!
    Despite Stuart's belief that he was sleeping, it could have been a dream - who hasn't had the experience of dreaming so lucidly that you believe you're awake?
    Whatever it was, it clearly had an effect on him; perhaps even changed his life.

  • http://namuol.github.com/ namuol
  • http://www.livinginthehereandnow.co.za/ beachcomber

    Calvin & Hobbes - "The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere is that they have not tried to contact us"

  • John Bitme

    Starts with navelgazing, then meanders past some clumsy references, while the author masturbates to his own vocabulary. Sorry, but it has to be said.

  • John Doe

    How about light pollution? The city lights make it difficult for us to see anything in the sky - and our cityscape has expanded a lot in the last 30 years. I'm not saying that there are little green men up there - but there certainly are minor astronomical events, and they're a lot harder to see these days.

  • BlazeEagle

    Sightings have likely dramatically decreased because cameras are inexpensive & are easy to use by amateurs thus requiring UFO’s to be much more cautious with their activities so they’re much less likely to be sighted by "common" folk.

    Also, Science isn’t concrete & obviously changes as humanity learns & discovers more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrick.elliott.5872 Patrick Elliott

    "Whatever I saw in Manchester was there in front of me — there remains no
    doubt in my mind about that, even after 32 years — but I have never
    worked out what it was."

    Possibly what is called a "foo fighter". Basically, its like the "car lights" thing, but happened to people in air plane, where lack of clear landmarks, or a sense of orientation, would cause them to see distant lights, or even stars, as though they where "moving". Some pilots even, before the phenomena was understood, tried to "chase" them, but since the object in question was vastly farther away than they thought it was, it always "outpaced" their pursuit. One of the biggest problems with human perception is that, quite simply, when all the data needed to correctly interpret something is missing, and this is common at night, or in dark places, or when staring at say.. night vision images, which are flat and lack both 3D data and color, etc., our visual system will try to "fill in" stuff that makes them make sense. The very reason why computers are very bad at figuring things in images out is why we are very good at it, and, conversely, why we get things wrong so often - we will construct complete interpretations of the world, out of a near total absence of data, and, the best we can manage, with respect to not making mistakes, is to define a category of, "This isn't possible", to drop things into, where we know we might be being tricked by our own minds. In the past, it was far less obvious how much you could trick yourself, as you point out, and there are still parts of the public which either a) don't understand how common this is, or b) actually still believe in "special categories", where the phenomena is real, even though its based on the same flawed perceptions.

    Such people *want* to have some special capacity to see through to the truth, or perceive what others cannot, or otherwise have some compensatory "ability", which side steps the problem that their brains are showing them a simulation of the world, and that "sanity" requires that some sort of consistent simulation is being created, even if there is literally *nothing* real being seen at all. In fact, this is how sensory deprivation works. Devoid of "all" sources of data, including the nearly all of the feedback that says, "This is where your body is", you brain literally "constructs" a model of the world, including a false body for you (the whole out of body thing), which is disconnected from all actual reality, hence the inability of said people to see things that they where not already aware of, from their perspective before going into a tank, or being drugged for surgery, etc.

    People in the past "trusted" their senses. You have to be literally disconnected from all media, street magicians, and every possible source of knowledge about how your mind can, and does, derail itself, when the proper conditions are met, to not question what you are seeing today. The fact that some people "still" are isolated from at least some of this is the only reason why, quite frankly, we still have shows like "ghost hunters" on the TV. Though, the complete absurdity of the show, for all but those already convinced about ghosts is probably yet another cause of skepticism about the phenomena. I mean seriously, these people practically pee their pants every time a wall settles, and their "evidence" is, like I mentioned above, "shadows, lights or movement, in images that are ***devoid*** of context, 3D information, or enough lighting to be able to even guess at what, or where, they came from. I.e., absent critical data to make "any" kind of assessment of what actually happened.

  • http://www.barnabyandersun.com Barnaby Maichael Andersun

    I miss the UFO's - it has been far too long since I've seen one!
    But I doubt we are living in a less and less mysterious world. That is not how the world is occurring to me. If there really is a decrease in sightings, or of any reported paranormal activity, let's see the stats.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pchandler1 Paul Chandler

    The message of the ETs is: you're quarantined until you can stop killing each other and your planet. One of the best recent books on the subject: "Talking To ETs" http://www.monroeinstitute.org/product/talking-to-extraterrestrials/

  • Pete Ventura

    I have seen numerous UFOs recently. They are the size of knats but fly in really, really neat flying saucers.

  • Press_to_Digitate

    Are you kidding? There are more UFO sightings, pics, and video now than there have ever been. It increases day by day. The volume of credible sightings on YouTube has been increasing exponentially. More than 1,000 UFO vids are uploaded daily, and the volume is increasing. The idea that UFOs are fictional or have somehow 'vanished' (after 10,000+ years of their deep involvement in human history) is totally preposterous - its ludicrous beyond belief. There is absolutely no credibility whatsoever to the thesis behind this article. How can something so totally unsubstantiated and in contradiction of *ALL* the available avalanche of incoming evidence even get published?

    The Skeptastrophe occurs when the prevailing belief set suddenly becomes at obvious odds with reality. We are perilously close to that happening with the UFO issue. Phony "skepticism" is going to get people killed when the reality finally sets in. Its time to stop taking those government paychecks and do something constructive instead.

  • Marino

    How many believe in "god" and yet have not seen god?

    • ArchiesBoy

      Yes, excellent point! Seeing is believing, but believing is seeing. Don't forget that.

  • ArchiesBoy

    Every era has its own indigenous ghosts and goblins.

  • Jared Hall

    It seems like the number of sightings has not decreased but increased with the advance of technology. New videos pop up everyday on youtube and elsewhere on the net. This does not mean they are genuine but it also doesn't mean they are any less genuine than sightings of the past.

  • Michael Franklin

    We haven't stopped seeing them. We just have bigger fish to fry right now... here in the US, we're faced with a government that is betraying its people and constitution. Across the rest of the world, wars and rumors of wars are spreading like wildfire. Our economies have been laid waste by globalist agendas. And besides all that, since when was the media ever a friend to the subject of aerial phenomena?
    One has to take it all into context.

  • Walter Adams

    My particular peeve is the notion that UFOs, crop circles and ethereal entities are trying to convey a message; "Stop-wars, nuclear experiments, "Hurting" the earth, dropping bear cans by the road- take your pick.
    If this is so, they are Incredibly incompetant at communication.

  • Bugo

    Everyone here is saying that UFO sightings have increased over the years? Where are the sources about this? Youtube video captures have increased over the years? Of course they did, more people in technology, more vids on the subjects, regardless if fake or real. But did the sightings in the real world really increased? Are people just less afraid to out themselves? I'd like to check some statistics from MUFON or something.

    p.s. And personally I liked the article, it's one of the more interesting pieces I have recently read on the subject.

  • Nina

    Just came upon this article and realize it's old news now. "Whatever I saw in Manchester was there in front of me — there remains no doubt in my mind about that, even after 32 years — but I have never worked out what it was." This is the bottom line of the whole piece. What others say is ultimately irrelevant to the author's quest to come to terms with what he saw and what it means to him. What is most disappointing about this piece is that the author proceeds to discredit his own experience by pointing to what he perceives to be the jaded skepticism of the general public, a conclusion startlingly at odds with reality. Science fiction used to be a fringe genre 50 years ago, hardly the case anymore. Similarly, movies and tv shows about the paranormal are also widely popular. Why?

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