Allen Hynek – UFOs: Its Time for a Scientific Approach

UFO’s: It’s Time For a Scientific Approach

J. Allen Hynek. The Christian Science Monitor; Boston, Mass. [Boston, Mass]. 15 July 1981. 

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UFOs are difficult to take seriously, and much of the derision from the scientific community is well deserved. Three aspects in particular have led to their general dismissal: the preponderance of identified flying objects (IFOs); the space-age-spawned belief in the concept of “we are not alone” and its corollary, “We’ve gone to the moon so why can’t they come here?”); and the few but highly visible “true believers” who have adopted the idea of celestial visitors with quasi-religious fervor. . 

These emotional, even neurotic aspects of the UFO scene could easily lead to the conclusion that the UFO phenomenon is utter rubbish. But this impugns the integrity, and perhaps the competence, of our scientists, pilots, engineers, and others judged sane and responsible who have related sober albeit incredible accounts of UFO encounters. These certainly cannot be put into the same category as alleged visits to Venus and Mars

After many years of experience with virtually all aspects of the UFO phenomemon, I have come to believe that if we “precipitate out” the essential elements from the chaos of “popular ufology,” we will uncover a new empirical phenomenon, perhaps comparable to the first glimpses of microorganisms by Leeuwenhoek or Jupiter’s satellites by Galileo. Unfortunately, the process may be almost as taxing as Madame Curie’s extraction of a gram of radium from several tons of pitchblende

This hasn’t already been done because in the face of overwhelming ridicule, it has been impossible to obtain qualified personnel and the necessary funds to treat the subject seriously and professionally. . 

If, in due course, grants for professional study of the UFO phenomenon do become available, how might we proceed? The late astronomer Henry Norris Russell set a fine example in “The Origin of the Solar System.” He didn’t quite solve the problem, but he did set down the known properties of the solar system (coplanar orbits, the revolution, rotation, masses, and densities of planets and satellites) for which any viable theory must account. We can hardly do better than to follow his example with respect to the UFO phenomenon. . 

In our search for the properties of the UFO phenomenon, do we find anything that sets it apart from the everyday world? Is there something thhat makes it both shocking and paradoxical. . .and hence that might suggest where to look for a breakthrough? The answer appears to be yes

The UFO phenomenon, whatever its orgin, is largely localized in both space and time. For example, unlike commercial aircraft, which can be tracked and viewed sequentially as they pass over town after town, a UFO is rarely observed in more than one locality, and virtually never is it seen sequentially. Like the Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland,” it appears almost out of nowhere, makes its presence known, and then disappears. . 

Alice’s cat had only one witness. Records show that about two-thirds of the cases involve two or more witnesses, but they very rarely have a host of witnesses. This has been the primary objection of some who might otherwise take UFO reports seriously: Why so few witnesses? If we were dealing with a “nuts and bolts” craft launched from some cosmic Cape Canaveral, shouldn’t it be visible to a great many earth dwellers

The selective appearance of the UFO suggests deliberate staging, but on whose part? By whatever intelligence lies behind the UFO phenomenon or by an unconscious effort of the witness? For example, it is frequently stated that a UFO landed “on the road, directly ahead of our car.” Why not far off to the side? Why directly in plain view, but then only to a handful of people

Beyond these reported properties must be added even more bizarre “paranormal” characteristics. In addition to “materialization,” “dematerialization,” and change of form, implausible accelerations, speeds, and “instantaneous” changes in position without any apparent travel time have also been frequently reported. Although seemingly incredible, these paranormal aspects are too well documented to be disregarded

We are apparently faced with a dualism similar to the wave-particle dualism of light that physicists had to confront a century ago. On the one hand, the UFO exhibits a physical nature: It can be seen and photographed, registers on radar, and can interact with the environment. On the other hand, it behaves as though it were obeying laws yet unknown to physics. We have a situation that is both shocking and paradoxical -one cannot discard one aspect in favor of the other just because it doesn’t fit

We may have to accept the possibility that the UFO phenomenon is beyond conventional, straightforward explanation, perhaps as the true source of the sun’s light was beyond Kelvin and Helmholtz, who held stoutly to their “contraction theory” at the close of the 19th century -that as the sun shrank under the influence of gravity, potential energy was transformed into kinetic energy. The concept of the sun as a “nuclear energy device” was, of course, totally beyond them. Indeed, when told that fossils from the distant past proved that the sun must have been shining then as at present, Kelvin would have none of it. He told the geologists that he would “give them 10 million years and not a day longer” for the age of the sun. Perhaps if Kelvin had been more of a philosopher, he might have pondered whether the fossils were telling him something. Likewise, perhaps we should ponder whether the UFO phenomenon is telling us something

The UFO phenomenon is experienced largely through human consciousness and the human psyche. Laboratory physics attempts to work with “objective reality,” but suppose there exists a class of phenomena in which subjective variables enter in the first order? How do we handle their study

Eugene Wigner, the noted Princeton physicist, wrote that “the present laws of physics are at least incomplete without a translation into terms of mental phenomena. More likely, they are inaccurate, the inaccuracy increasing with the role that life plays in the phenomena considered. . .As we consider situations in which consciousness is more and more relevant, the necessity for modifications of the regularities obtained for inanimate objects will be more and more apparent.

It is becoming increasingly apparent to those who seriously study the UFO phenomenon that some modification in approach and methodology is necessary. Do events in the mind represent interlopers from a parallel reality? Or, indeed, are they themselves such parallel realities? Should we look to distant star systems for the solution to UFOs or much closer to a metaterrestrial rather than an exraterrestrial hypothesis

The paranormal or “psychic” aspects of the UFO phenomenon have generally been taken as sufficient reason for dismissing the entire subject, but such dismissal smacks of scientific irresponsibility. Erwin Schroedinger wrote: “A scientist should be curious and eager to find out.” I would hold that we have accumulated enough UFO data over the past three decades to be truly curious about it. . .

Credit: By J. Allen Hynek; J. Allen Hynek is a professor emeritus and former chairman of the Department of Astronomy at Northwestern University and founder of the Center of UFO studies in Evanston, Ill. Excerpted from an artcle in the July issue of Technology Review. Copyright $; 1981 by Technology Review. Reprinted by permission.

Citation APA 7th edition

J. Allen Hynek. (1981). UFO’s: It’s Time For a Scientific Approach. The Christian Science Monitor (1983).

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