The Lure of the Edge: Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs, and the Pursuit of UFOs

By Brenda Denzler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
A Short History
of Alien Encounters

[Stories of] marvelous journeys [in the Middle Ages] offered more than just pleasure, satisfaction of curiosity, amusement, escape, terror, and enjoyment; they offered a more thorough explanation of the whole of reality than was available anywhere else.

Pierre Mabille, Le Miroir du Merveilleux
(quoted in Jacques LeGoff, The Medieval Imagination)

In its most basic manifestation as an aerial anomaly the UFO was, to borrow a phrase from C. G. Jung, a “myth of things seen in the sky. ” 1 In its simplest form as night lights and anomalous daylight disks, it presented formidable challenges to the grassroots organizations of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s who were dedicated to solving the mystery. Ideas about crashed saucers and a government cover-up conspiracy added layers of complexity to the basic myth and siphoned time and energy away from study of the core phenomenon while, some felt, yielding little of concrete value in return. The notion of a cover-up provided the frustrated with a partial explanation for ufology's otherwise slow progress in discovering more about the phenomenon. But the merit of conspiracy allegations and, as the years passed, their usefulness in advancing UFO research were subject to dispute. 2 After the closing of Project Blue Book, the entire public responsibility for UFO research fell to the UFO community. It only made sense that the priority for ufology from that point forward should be to find proof that UFOs were real rather than proof of conspiracy. But as ufologists well knew, proving UFO reality would be easier said than done.

A major problem in studying UFOs and proving their existence was the ever-changing conception of just what might constitute irrefutable proof. Project Blue Book's first director, Edward Ruppelt, pointed out that the UFO phenomenon had in fact exhibited in increasingly sophisticated ways that it was a physical phenomenon and not just an illusion.

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