What UFOs can tell us about life on Earth

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falkor
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What UFOs can tell us about life on Earth

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UFO sightings happen in clusters. The same is true of books about UFOs. While clusters of UFO sightings are called “flaps,” there is no similar term for clusters of UFO books. I propose calling them a “Sagan” (despite the risk of implying that there are billions and billions of them).

The 1950s saw one Sagan, with Gray Barker and Frank Scully shaping our idea of flying saucers while skeptics sought to expose them as Barnum-esque bunk-peddlers. Another occurred in the 1970s, with Erich von Daniken and Charles Berlitz pointing to phenomena like the carved stone heads on Easter Island as evidence that ancient astronauts influenced the development of humanity. In the 1990s, Whitley Strieber’s “Communion,” first published in 1987, ushered in a host of alien abduction books. In each of these Sagans, half the authors required only observed phenomena to believe in extraterrestrial contact, while the skeptics worked to show that the reports were false or had alternative, more likely explanations.
We are in the midst of a new Sagan of UFO books that is different and, frankly, more interesting. The central concern in these books is not truth but meaning. UFOlogy is similar in many ways to religion. While writers from Thomas Aquinas to Richard Dawkins argue for and against belief in God, a different approach was taken by William James, who sets aside concern about God’s existence and starts from the fact that people do have religious experiences. Whether or not there is a God, James asks, what does it mean that there are so many who have these transcendent experiences? Sarah Scoles’s “They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers,” David J. Halperin’s “Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO” and Keith Cooper’s “The Contact Paradox: Challenging Our Assumptions in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence” take a similar approach to the question of UFOs. Maybe we have been visited, maybe not (probably not), but regardless, what does it mean that so many of us have these experiences and beliefs?
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