For various reasons, I was recently put in mind of an exchange of Facebook comments which spun-off the interaction I had on Quora with one Zoletta Cherrystone (which you can see archived here). I copy-and-pasted the Facebook interaction at the time with the intent of putting it up here, but I never got around to it. Here then is a lightly edited account, with some of the conversational cul-de-sacs removed and some of the spelling and grammar tidied up. As I haven’t asked the other party for their permission, I have protected their identity behind an obvious pseudonym. There are also some references at the bottom should anyone be interested in further reading.

Here we go…

Peter Parker

Faith definitely affects perception. Belief is usually the basis upon which scientists set out in an experiment. They are usually setting out to prove or disprove a belief that they have, sometimes one held for somewhat scientific reasons, of course.

I personally neither believe nor disbelieve in ghosts, but I definitely DON’T believe in:

  • Statistics,
  • Documentaries,
  • Dramatisations of historic events,
  • Scientific empiricism,
  • Our understanding of all that is.

Watch this, from a brain doctor. It is fascinating:

Experience will tend to affect belief. I have also seen a flying saucer, in detail, fairly close, and witnessed it hover for a long time and then accelerate to what looked like several thousand miles per hour, as though it were a cosmic Subuteo player flicked across the sky. Am I delusional? Not even slightly, I’d like to think. I saw this thing as clear as day. I can’t prove it unfortunately. You’ll just have to wait for your own experience.

I can no longer tolerate a disbelief in UFOs based on the “lack of evidence” criteria, as my experience tells me they exist.

You, however, may or may not have experienced seeing a UFO, in a tangible, unambiguous experience that established such a belief in your mind. Therefore you have only my testimony and the testimony of others or else a dependency upon scientific validation (of which there is none of the triple blind, Nature journal published kind) for your verdict. Surely neither are satisfactory.

Therefore, our experiences affect our beliefs, which in turn affect a potentially massive culturally, scientifically, historically, religiously and politically transformational phenomenon, which could undermine and transform our collective perception of everything. The existence of UFOs here on earth is that profound, if proven true (to enough people). Many argue that scientific proof is already abundant, but discredited because of the stubborn-ness of scientific disbelief.

So, if somebody’s seen a ghost, had an out of body experience, died and returned with an experience that demonstrated the existence of other dimensions etc., we can either conclude that they must be delusional because you may not have shared such an experience and no scientific proof has been made, or we can simply NOT CONCLUDE ANYTHING, and remain objectively impartial.

Tom Salinsky

Peter – you don’t have to be delusional to suffer from the ordinary human problem of not being able to accurately judge speed and distance. And you don’t get to jump from “I saw something in the sky which I couldn’t easily identify” to “space aliens exist and they are visiting our planet”.

Many people see strange things in the sky all the time. In very many cases, an explanation is found which is far more mundane than space aliens. In the few cases where a more mundane explanation cannot be found, the lack of a clear explanation does not amount to positive evidence in favour of space aliens.

Your last paragraph in your last post again contains a false dichotomy. Either the witness is delusional or we cannot conclude anything. One does not have to be delusional to be mistaken. Remember that fuss recently about a missile trail over California? Turned out to be an aeroplane contrail from an odd angle. The people who saw it were not delusional – they saw what they saw. However, they interpreted the information from their senses incorrectly.

You were (probably) not delusional. You saw what you saw. But on the balance of probabilities, it is very unlikely that what you saw was visiting space aliens, and even if no more mundane explanation can be found, you can’t use the lack of a mundane explanation as evidence for your hypothesis. The same argument applies here as for the ghost hunters. What you have decided was an alien craft, I say is the manifestation of a departed spirit. Or the Holy Ghost. Or a wizard’s spell. All of these are equally good “explanations”, but none of them really tells us anything.

There is a world of difference between “I have yet to see any credible evidence for the existence of alien visitors and therefore I conclude for the time being that they don’t exist” (my position) and “no amount of evidence of any kind could ever convince me”. Of course, there is no reason why alien visitors could not exist, it’s just that the distances they would have to travel are unimaginably vast. There is every reason to suppose that ghosts could not possibly exist, and so the standard of evidence required for ghosts should be slightly higher in my view.

Peter Parker

But Tom, you make numerous presumptions. Firstly, that my experience is in isolation. There are tens of thousands of accounts of people seeing UFOs in modern times, and numerous ancient civilisations also refers to them, quite literally. Your education precludes the interpretation of this as evidence, because you have a belief system that has discounted the possibility. Secondly, why would you attempt to discredit my experience by suggesting that I misjudged speed and distance? You have no basis, other than your own dis-belief on which to say that.

Yes I am not deluded, but neither am I gullible. The point I was making was not to convince you in any way that instant acceleration flying saucers exist, but more about the nature of belief. I believe, because I have seen irrefutable evidence. You refute my evidence because you have not experienced it and, understandably, want to be seen as a rational, scientific person.

Why would you conclude that something doesn’t exist because you have not experienced it? You hadn’t experienced microwaves before the 80s I should imagine, but they’ve always been there. Imagine how limited our world and scientific view would be if we still discounted them? So science has proved them – good old science. That’s great. But sometimes all we have is rational and sane testimony, and when it is produced in massive numbers, (such as very close UFO sightings by senior military personnel, policemen) together with various pieces of physical evidence (yes it exists) surely it should be taken seriously.

The distances are unimaginably vast, because our mindset is seriously limited by our technological understanding, which is perhaps still in its infancy. To assume that we know “mostly everything” is one of the biggest mistakes in science, through all time. What will we know in 20,000 years’ time, should we continue to develop? How to travel such distances is a distinct possibility.

Scientists who believe, investigate and find proof.

A statement of definite dismissal without serious research is the absolute height of ignorance.

It’s all about belief.

Tom Salinsky

But Tom, you make numerous presumptions. Firstly, that my experience is in isolation.

By no means. In fact, I wrote “Many people see strange things in the sky all the time.” Only when science-fiction stories about aliens entered the mainstream were these generally interpreted as alien visitors. Prior to then, they were more likely to be interpreted as religious. During the spiritual boom, they were more likely to be interpreted as ghostly. But none of these is a genuine explanation. You don’t get to jump from “I don’t know” to “alien visitors from space”.

Your education precludes the interpretation of this as evidence, because you have a belief system that has discounted the possibility.

My only “belief system” is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Since I know that many, many, many apparent sightings of UFOs have later been shown to have mundane causes, it now falls to those who claim that this particular odd thing in the sky definitely is an alien visitor, as opposed to being an odd thing in the sky which at the moment we don’t know what it is.

Secondly, why would you attempt to discredit my experience by suggesting that I misjudged speed and distance? You have no basis, other than your own dis-belief on which to say that.

That is not true. Countless experiments have been done which show that all humans have trouble judging speed and distance. I know (or at least strongly suspect) that you are human. Thus, like me, you will find it hard to judge speed and distance. Our visual system is very good at judging our immediate environment. But even a few metres away, it’s very hard for us to tell the difference between a small object moving slowly quite close to us and a large object moving very rapidly a long way away from us. Try it yourself and you’ll see.

Yes I am not deluded, but neither am I gullible. I believe, because I have seen irrefutable evidence.

There is no way that one person’s subjective experience can ever be “irrefutable” evidence of anything. Not yours. Not mine. Not anybody’s. All you can testify is that you experienced something. Your interpretation of your experience could certainly be refuted. All those people in California were *sure* they saw a missile being launched. That interpretation was shown to be faulty by more objective sources of information. It’s hard to downgrade the reliability of your personal perspective, but it’s vital to take on that humility if you want to discover objective truths about the world.

Why would you conclude that something doesn’t exist because you have not experienced it?

When have I said this? In fact, I’ve pretty much said the opposite. Even if I personally experienced an out-of-body experience, I would find the explanation that this was a fantasy more compelling than the metaphysical explanation, unless a more objective source of evidence can be added. My point is emphatically NOT “until I see it myself I refuse to believe”. My point is that strong evidence needs to be much more rigorous than my own perception – or yours, or anyone else’s.

Sometimes all we have is rational and sane testimony, and when it is produced in massive numbers, (such as very close UFO sightings by senior military personnel, policemen) together with various pieces of physical evidence (yes it exists) surely it should be taken seriously.

I’d be happy to pick over a particularly strong piece of evidence if you care to present one. But I’ve seen an awful lot of UFO stories which completely fall to bits when you start going back to the primary sources. How closely have you investigated the stories that you’ve heard? Are you sure you’re getting the primary sources? Have you cross-checked against more objective records?

To assume that we know “mostly everything” is one of the biggest mistakes in science, through all time.

I don’t believe I’ve ever made this claim either! Are you sure it’s me you’re arguing with? You’re putting an awful lot of words into my mouth that I simply never said/wrote.

Scientists who believe, investigate and find proof.

Absolutely, yes. This is called confirmation bias. Better scientists gather evidence, build hypotheses and then figure out ways to test those hypotheses which can in principle disprove them. You can only be sure your idea is correct when you’ve tried your hardest to destroy it. Anyone can go out and find “evidence” in support of the idea they’ve already decided is correct.

A statement of definite dismissal without serious research is the absolute height of ignorance.

Again, when have I ever made such a statement? Read what I’ve actually written and you’ll see that I hold the opposite view. I am willing to be shown more compelling evidence than I’ve so far encountered. It’s just that having seen so much superficially convincing evidence fall apart under closer inspection, I’m no longer holding my breath.

It’s all about belief.

No, it’s all about evidence. Belief tells you about the person who holds the belief. Evidence tells you objective truths about the world. Both are interesting, but I prefer to spend my free time looking at the latter.

Peter Parker

PP: But Tom, you make numerous presumptions. Firstly, that my experience is in isolation.

TS: By no means. In fact, I wrote “Many people see strange things in the sky all the time.” Only when science-fiction stories about aliens entered the main…stream were these generally interpreted as alien visitors. Prior to then, they were more likely to be interpreted as religious. During the spiritual boom, they were more likely to be interpreted as ghostly. But none of these is a genuine explanation. You don’t get to jump from “I don’t know” to “alien visitors from space”.

Actually that’s not true. In ancient early history they were documented often as literal tales of men is spacecraft. Later they were re-interpreted into spiritual phenomena. If you researched this you would know that.

PP: Your education precludes the interpretation of this as evidence, because you have a belief system that has discounted the possibility.

TS: My only “belief system” is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Since I know that many, many, many apparent sightings of UFOs have later been shown to have mundane causes, it now falls to those who claim that this particular odd thing in the sky definitely is an alien visitor, as opposed to being an odd thing in the sky which at the moment we don’t know what it is

Well, I beg to differ. It is clear that you do have a belief system, and a fairly well defined one, as defined in much of this thread, for a start. I would maintain that if you really had done significant research on the matter, you wouldn’t be so readily dismissive.

PP: Secondly, why would you attempt to discredit my experience by suggesting that I misjudged speed and distance? You have no basis, other than your own dis-belief on which to say that.

TS: That is not true. Countless experiments have been done which show that all humans have trouble judging speed and distance. I know (or at least strongly suspect) that you are human. Thus, like me, you will find it hard to judge speed and distance. Our visual system is very good at judging our immediate environment. But even a few metres away, it’s very hard for us to tell the difference between a small object moving slowly quite close to us and a large object moving very rapidly a long way away from us. Try it yourself and you’ll see.

Conversely, I could easily argue that “countless?” experiments have been made which demonstrate that human beings, of which I am one, have amazing spatial perception. This is just silly nonsense. What I saw is a sharp edged white almond shaped disc, hovering in the clear blue cloudless sky. I watched it for several minutes, pondering what it could be, flitting between a hypothesis of weather balloon/UFO. Then, as though flicked across the sky, it accelerated to an extraordinary speed in an instant. As I am not prone to hallucinations, I interpreted it as a real thing. There was no ambiguity, no possibility of mistake in my mind. I was with my then girlfriend who also experienced this.

PP: Yes I am not deluded, but neither am I gullible.

TS: And nor did I say you were.

No, but you have implied that i am mistaken, when you really have no basis upon which to say that, other than your world view.

PP: I believe, because I have seen irrefutable evidence.

TS: There is no way that one person’s subjective experience can ever be “irrefutable” evidence of anything. Not yours. Not mine. Not anybody’s. All you can testify is that you experienced something. Your interpretation of your experience could certainly be refuted. All those people in California were *sure* they saw a missile being launched. That interpretation was shown to be faulty by more objective sources of information. It’s hard to downgrade the reliability of your personal perspective, but it’s vital to take on that humility if you want to discover objective truths about the world.

It’s irrefutable to me, just as it is irrefutable to you that you have seen anything you’ve seen. I can’t downgrade my perception, as it would be disingenuous and would discount my very real experience.

PP: Why would you conclude that something doesn’t exist because you have not experienced it?

TS: When have I said this? In fact, I’ve pretty much said the opposite. Even if I personally experienced an out-of-body experience, I would find the explanation that this was a fantasy more compelling than the metaphysical explanation, unless a more objective source of evidence can be added. My point is emphatically NOT “until I see it myself I refuse to believe”. My point is that strong evidence needs to be much more rigorous than my own perception – or yours, or anyone else’s.

Strong evidence is very desirable, of course, but sometimes it is forthcoming and yet people refuse to accept it because of their world view. Often, scientists consider something so unlikely they are far too quick to dismiss things, such as UFOs for example, as nonsense.

PP: Sometimes all we have is rational and sane testimony, and when it is produced in massive numbers, (such as very close UFO sightings by senior military personnel, policemen) together with various pieces of physical evidence (yes it exists) surely it should be taken seriously.

TS: I’d be happy to pick over a particularly strong piece of evidence if you care to present one. But I’ve seen an awful lot of UFO stories which completely fall to bits when you start going back to the primary sources. How closely have you investigated the stories that you’ve heard? Are you sure you’re getting the primary sources? Have you cross-checked against more objective records?

I doubt you have looked at any primary sources before reaching your conclusions here Tom. Am I right? Yes I have seen many primary sources.

PP: To assume that we know “mostly everything” is one of the biggest mistakes in science, through all time.

TS: I don’t believe I’ve ever made this claim either! Are you sure it’s me you’re arguing with? You’re putting an awful lot of words into my mouth that I simply never said/wrote.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you subscribed to this view, but that it is a trend among scientists generally.

PP: Scientists who believe, investigate and find proof.

TS: Absolutely, yes. This is called confirmation bias. Better scientists gather evidence, build hypotheses and then figure out ways to test those hypotheses which can in principle disprove them. You can only be sure your idea is correct when you’ve tried your hardest to destroy it. Anyone can go out and find “evidence” in support of the idea they’ve already decided is correct.

OK we agree here. Sometimes it’s very easy to “destroy” evidence in an unreasonable way though.

PP: A statement of definite dismissal without serious research is the absolute height of ignorance.

TS: Again, when have I ever made such a statement? Read what I’ve actually written and you’ll see that I hold the opposite view. I am willing to be shown more compelling evidence than I’ve so far encountered. It’s just that having seen so much superficially convincing evidence fall apart under closer inspection, I’m no longer holding my breath.

Again, sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest for a minute that you were guilty of this, but it is quite common that many subjects, such as the UFO phenomena are dismissed without sincere research.

PP: It’s all about belief.

TS: No, it’s all about evidence. Belief tells you about the person who holds the belief. Evidence tells you objective truths about the world. Both are interesting, but I prefer to spend my free time looking at the latter.

Well evidence is subjective too. My point about belief is that evidence is affected by belief all of the time. Belief will affect how ready you are to accept or denounce evidence.

Anyway, I am enjoying this, and although we are poles apart on this, I do hope you understand that I do respect your position, as it’s quite understandable and indeed rational.

Tom Salinsky

PP: In ancient early history they were documented often as literal tales of men is spacecraft.

Interesting. I have not seen that before. Do you have a cite?

PP: Well, I beg to differ. It is clear that you do have a belief system, and a fairly well defined one

It isn’t really up to you to tell me what my belief system is. You’ve already put words in my mouth more than once in this debate. It seems that you have misunderstood my position several times already, and so if you disagree with me about what my belief system is then it maybe that you have misunderstood me yet again.

Let me be as clear as I know how regarding my “belief system” where UFOs are concerned.

  1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
  2. The claim that we are being visited by aliens from space is an extraordinary claim for any number of reasons.
  3. A great many stories of alien visitors have been investigated and determined to be hoaxes, mistakes or a combination of the two.
  4. None of the many accounts which I have read have got beyond “we can’t explain this” and most have had a mundane explanation.
  5. Even if we had on our hands a thoroughly documented phenomenon which passed all understanding, you can’t jump instantly from “we don’t know what this is” to “we do what this is and it is a visiting alien from space”.
  6. In the absence of any convincing evidence to the contrary, I continue to subscribe to the null hypothesis – we have not yet been visited by space aliens.

What puzzles me is why you keep attacking my belief system as if that was the problem. My stated position is that I am interested in evidence. So instead of complaining that my approach is wrong, or I’m the wrong kind of person, or I’m this or I’m that – why not just show me the evidence which I claim is lacking? That’d shut me up, wouldn’t it?

PP: Conversely, I could easily argue that “countless?” experiments have been made which demonstrate that human beings, of which I am one, have amazing spatial perception.

A fascinating claim. Can you cite such an experiment? Consider the problem here. You have an object which is high in the sky, at minimum tens of feet away. Your eyes are focused at infinity. There are no intervening objects to provide any kind of parallax cues. You do not recognise the object so you have no sense of scale. Just what visual cues are you using to correctly judge size, shape, speed and distance?

Look up in the sky. The moon and the sun look about the same size, yes? If your account of how human vision works is to be believed, we should effortlessly be able to tell the difference between a globe with a diameter of 1.4m km which is 150m km away (the sun) and a globe with a diameter of 3500 km which is nearly 40,000 km away (the moon). In fact, both just look like flat discs which take up about half a degree of our angular vision. We can’t tell the difference between a big object far away and a small object close to. We can’t even see the curvature at that distance. Our vision system works brilliantly at smaller scales, but once our eyes focus at infinity our ability to judge distance has to come from other cues, which will have been lacking in your case.

If you dispute this, then please tell me what visual cues you used to judge the size of the object you saw.

PP: No, but you have implied that i am mistaken, when you really have no basis upon which to say that, other than your world view.

I have said that your interpretation of what you saw is open to question, in two ways. Firstly, because humans have difficulty judging the size, speed and distance of faraway objects, as I hope I have now demonstrated. Secondly, because you have leaped straight from “I saw something which I didn’t know what it was” to “I do know what it was and it was an alien spacecraft”. I really don’t think that either of these two points of view is unreasonable.

If you can now show records from satellite imaging, or military radar, or some other corroborating evidence which would show a sizable object moving at massive speeds, then that corroboration would certainly count for something. As it is, all we can say is that you saw something, and we don’t know what it was, what size it was or how far away it was. There’s nothing in this testimony which is in any way convincing evidence that earth is being visited by space aliens. I’m sorry that you find my refusal to accept your interpretation of what you saw, but it isn’t because of a closed-minded attitude, a preconception, or a world view. It’s because you haven’t provided good enough evidence, and evidence is all I care about.

The only way you can jump from “light in the sky” to “aliens” is by having a prior expectation that aliens exist and will look like glowing discs in the sky. Why do you reject the interpretation that, for example, your glowing disc is the spirit of my Uncle Henry? Are you sure that you’re not the one with the fixed and unchangeable world view?

PP: It’s irrefutable to me, just as it is irrefutable to you that you have seen anything you’ve seen.

But this is exactly my point! I know full well that my senses, my memories and my interpretation of the world are all fallible. I know my point of view is limited and subject to bias. I don’t regard anything I’ve seen as irrefutable – I’m very open-minded like that. Of course, if what I’ve seen is ordinary, everyday and unremarkable then I don’t waste time questioning the reality of it. But this morning, when I thought I saw a dead body in my wardrobe in the morning gloom, I didn’t claim this as irrefutable evidence that a murder had been committed in the night – I took a second look from a different angle and with the light on and saw that it was my dressing gown folded in a funny way.

PP: I can’t downgrade my perception, as it would be disingenuous and would discount my very real experience.

Then, it sounds like you have no interest in discovering objective truths about the world. That’s fine, you don’t have to have such an interest. But if you are keen on doing that, then I suggest that the first – undoubtedly difficult – step is accepting the fallibility of your own senses. Have a look at some optical illusions. Notice all those times your memory tells you you’re *sure* that such-and-such a thing happened in such-and-such a way but it turned out not to be true. Accept that you are an imperfect human and look for ways to cross check your subjective experiences against more reliable sources of data.

PP: Often, scientists consider something so unlikely they are far too quick to dismiss things, such as UFOs for example, as nonsense.

But how is this unreasonable? If all our experiences of the world to date tell us that such-and-such a thing is very very very unlikely to be true then isn’t it just a waste of time to suddenly throw all of that prior experience out of the window? Unless, of course, we are confronted with evidence of a very different calibre than that having been presented before.

I have the good fortune to be acquainted with you delightful partner Mary Jane. I’ve no doubt you have much more experience of her than I have. You have tons and tons of evidence about what kind of person she is. Now imagine I tell you “she’s actually a man”. You have an awful lot of evidence which contradicts this assertion – not least of which, she’s given birth to your offspring! Would you consider it reasonable to set all this prior experience to one side and say to me – “well I’d better make sure I investigate this new claim thoroughly”? Would you be any more likely to take me seriously if I said “But I’ve seen evidence of her manliness with my own eyes!”? Of course not, you know this is such a low-probability claim that you have no need to entertain it based on my word alone.

So it is with ghosts, UFOs, water-divining, psychic healing, the Loch Ness Monster and so on and so on ad nauseum. In each case the evidence for these ideas has been consistently found wanting and the reality of many of them conflicts with so many hugely successful principles of engineering, biology, physics and so on, that to entertain them is just a waste of time. As discussed previously, that we are being visited by aliens is probably the most likely of all of these. But when you’ve already investigated 200 strange lights in the sky and found them to be military spy planes, meteor showers, weather balloons, the aurora borealis and so on – then being shown another strange light in the sky and told “but this one is the real deal” just doesn’t impress you.

That’s my position. Not “no evidence will ever be enough”, but “the evidence I’ve so far seen has been feeble and I don’t consider it an especially good use of my time to look at more equally feeble evidence.” Strong evidence, correlated from multiple independent sources and well-documented at the time of sighting would be very exciting indeed. Do you have any?

PP: Well evidence is subjective too.

Evidence which is subjective is weak evidence. The best evidence either requires no subjective interpretation or is correlated from multiple independent sources. The aim of scientific enquiry should be to remove subjectivity to the greatest possible extent. I won’t drive my car across a bridge because some guy “reckons” it’ll probably support the weight. I want to see the evidence, I want to see the calculations, I want to see the experiments (or more practically, I want to see that all the other cars ahead of me get over fine).

Peter Parker

Primary evidence for UFOs is primarily testimonies. There is also much video evidence, most of which is discredited on account of video being so easily manipulable, which makes it very hard to produce tangible video evidence. There are videos of UFOs that support multiple testimonies, but if neither are regarded as sufficient evidence it makes it hard to show you anything that you won’t just rubbish.

There is a good deal of military evidence, both here and in the US, and also accounts of the military finding craft in Nazi Germany and elsewhere. For a local example, read about the Rendlesham Forest Incidents, or watch this doc for a basic account of it.

There’s also Roswell, of course. It’s not straight forward, nor easily refutable, considering the number of eye witnesses.

Also consider this, from the former MoD researcher put in charge of this, who was a distinct non-believer when he started the job.

Ancient accounts of men in flying machines include the Mahabarata, Sumerian “Anunaki” (they who came from the sky), The Greek and Norse Gods, Genesis (a simplified account of the Sumerian creation story), Ezeikiel, Enoch (an amazing document!), Aboriginal creation stories, certain native American creation stories, Mayan creation stories. There’s more and more, and their parallels are startling when you get into it.

I can see though, that we are unlikely to get anywhere with this, as we are both fairly fixed in our opinions. Perhaps there are more important things than what somebody believes in, or trying to convince somebody of your beliefs. Mine are not all scientifically based, but also experiential, anthropological, ethnological and ancient-historic in context and evidence. I can’t offer you the kind of evidence you need to be convinced, so we might have to continue in our ruts, as before.

Tom Salinsky

Why do you think it is that evidence for UFOs is almost always confined to eyewitness reports? What qualities do UFOs have which make it so difficult to corroborate their existence, especially given the profusion of satellite imaging, radar cover and so on which we have today?

I am familiar with Rendlesham Forest, the only story you specifically cite (there are *way* too many stories associated with Roswell to know which one you have in mind). It was shown to be a mistaken identification of a lighthouse I believe – unless I’m thinking of the wrong story.

PP: we are both fairly fixed in our opinions.

Yes I suppose we are. The only difference is, I have explained what would be required to change my mind.

Peter Parker

I’m sorry Tom, but that you can attribute the Rendlesham Forest Incident to the mistaken identity of a lighthouse, proves to me that you have no real interest in ascertaining the truth, but merely re-enforcing your already stated view. If you want to inform yourself and learn something, actually do some research instead of just well, being ignorant in your knowledge and arrogant in the superiority of your scientific modus. Watch the documentary I have linked to and then re-tell me that it is a lighthouse. Jeeeez, you are frustratingly stubborn and rigid!

Tom Salinsky

PP: I’m sorry Tom, but that you can attribute the Rendlesham Forest Incident to the mistaken identity of a lighthouse, proves to me that you have no real interest in ascertaining the truth, but merely re-enforcing your already stated view. If you want to inform yourself and learn something, actually do some research instead of just well, being ignorant in your knowledge and arrogant in the superiority of your scientific modus.

Funnily enough, Rendlesham Forest is one of the sightings which I looked into very carefully, several years ago when I took a more consistent interest in these things. So, rather than calling me names why not explain what is wrong with the lighthouse theory?

PP: Watch the documentary I have linked to and then re-tell me that it is a lighthouse. Jeeeez, you are frustratingly stubborn and rigid!

Read this account and re-tell me that it isn’t a lighthouse.

What’s key is that it is possible to establish that airmen must have been looking directly at the lighthouse. If there had been an unidentifiable light in the sky they would have reported two lights – the UFO and the lighthouse. Instead they reported one. And what they reported looks pretty much like the view of the lighthouse you’d see in that location and looking in that direction.

So, ignorant and arrogant I may be – by all means be as aggressive towards me as you want. As I’ve said, I’m only interested in discussing ideas and evidence. What is lacking from this account which requires the insertion of space aliens to make it consistent?

Peter Parker

Tom, if you have indeed investigated the Rendlesham Forest Incident, you have clearly forgotten the testimonies of the several people involved. The notion that we are dealing with a bunch of guys that saw a lighthouse and freaked out, when they claim to have touched the craft, made notes on its marking, made plaster-of-Paris moulds of its landing marks, taken Geiger counter readings, makes about as much sense as the most outlandish claims for psychic phenomena. If you research Rendlesham, you’ll realise that very quickly.

I like science. I think it’s good. But I don’t think we understand even 50%. Perhaps in 20,000 years we’ll be seeding Mars and time-travelling. I don’t know. Genetic manipulation is here though, so in 20 years we’ll potentially be creating humans with quite different capacities and qualities, perhaps even greater intelligence, which may have seemed like science fiction only 20 years ago.

Tom Salinsky

As I understand it, Penniston and only Penniston claims to have inspected the craft, but only in accounts given some time after the incident. The notebook which he produced much later is inconsistent with Burroughs’s and Cabansag’s accounts as made at the time and so is hard to rely on. It’s not unusual for stories to become more elaborate in the repeated telling and no deliberate fraud is necessarily required. But it’s obvious why the earliest and most consistent versions should be given the most weight.

What can be heard on the recording they made is an identification of a bright light at five seconds intervals. The Orfordness Lighthouse flashes once every five seconds. So whatever they were looking at was in the direction of the lighthouse and flashing with the exact same frequency of the lighthouse and their testimony did not also include the lighthouse. At this stage, it really is awfully difficult for anyone to claim – yeah, but actually it wasn’t the lighthouse. It was something else (we don’t know what and therefore it was a space alien).

It’s also curious that the claim is that the airspace around a US Airforce base on British soil was violated by a craft of unknown origin and yet neither the British nor the American government did anything about it. No fighters were scrambled to intercept, no radar detected its presence – almost as if it wasn’t there at all.

I have looked into this one, I really have. And the evidence for alien visitors from space is very flimsy, whereas the evidence for the misidentification of a lighthouse is very strong.

Here’s Peniston’s original statement in which he clearly describes that he got no closer than 50m from what he thought was an object generating light (but which I assert is light from the Orfordness Lighthouse scattering in an unusual fashion through the trees and fog).

In this statement he makes no mention whatsoever of having inspected the object, and his colleagues claim that he had no opportunity at that time to create the notebook which he has more recently produced on UFO-related TV shows.

Primary sources. See, I have seen them.

Peter Parker

Yeah, they went back later, and then what about what happened two nights later? Landing indentations? Geiger readings? It’s no good picking holes where it’s easy and leaving the rest unpicked.

Tom Salinsky

I don’t think that the essay I linked to does that. The “landing indentions” were positively identified as rabbit diggings and the geiger counter recorded background radiation right at the bottom of its sensitivity range. Halt checked with RAF Watton to see if they had picked anything up on the radar, but as far as Watton could tell, the skies were clear. There was no sign of an alien spacecraft.

And I don’t think you can let the lighthouse off the hook so easily. If, as it sounds, you are now conceding that the lightshow was the result of Orfordness Lighthouse shining unexpectedly through the trees, then are you now saying that by coincidence, at the same time as Penniston et al were chasing lights through the forest, an invisible alien craft with no lights also just happened to be making indentations in the soil?

The fact is that to someone who wants an answer, nothing in the Rendlesham Forest story is particularly hard to explain. To someone who wants there to be a mystery of course, pretty much anything can be made to sound mysterious.

This whole story is a good example of what I was talking about way back when this conversation began. I’d love to believe these stories of alien visitors, but on closer inspection they generally fall apart and generally in the same way.

Dozens of comments ago, I wrote…

“But I’ve seen an awful lot of UFO stories which completely fall to bits when you start going back to the primary sources. How closely have you investigated the stories that you’ve heard? Are you sure you’re getting the primary sources? Have you cross-checked against more objective records?”

Here we have an example of exactly this problem. Peter is very keen on Penniston’s account of inspecting the craft, but the notebook in which he records all this excitement first made its appearance in public over 20 years after the incident – it isn’t a primary source. In his statement at the time, Penniston makes it clear that he always thought the object was at least 50m ahead of him. He never inspected the “craft”. Local police fail to corroborate the sighting, stating that the only lights they could see were from the lighthouse – of course they were much more familiar with the area than the visiting American airmen. No radar corroborates the story either, which is why Col Halt thought the event of so little defence significance that he waited two weeks to report it. This is also the MOD’s view.

So, just as I feared, we have a very exciting-sounding story, written years after the event, which derives from a much more mundane story written at the time, missing all the corroborating details one would expect to find if this was a true visit by space aliens.

This is why I say that showing me yet another set of lights in the sky is a waste of time. The story generally goes the same way, but even when it doesn’t, unexplained does not equal space aliens.

And this, by the way, is generally regarded as the absolute zenith, the most important, significant and convincing British UFO story. This is as good as it gets, folks.

References

California (missile) contrail

Rendlesham Forest

Happy Christmas everyone!

Culture roundup 2012
So… What Did I Think About The Snowmen