A gentleman named Jordan Hofer, with whom I’ve had a stimulating exchange of comments in connection with my post “Drawing Dirty Pictures – Philadelphia UFO, January 1974,” tells me he has no objection to my calling attention in a new post to some of the points raised in our conversation. So that’s just what I’ll do.
Jordan’s a research specialist in anthropology for MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network. He’s the author of the book Evolutionary Ufology: A New Synthesis, scheduled for publication next year; also a Young Adult novel on a UFO theme, Saucerville, scheduled for this October.
Jordan writes: “I taught human evolution at Oregon State University for seven years before the recession hit and my position was cut. Around that time my best friend of 33 years had a very clear sighting of a large, black, equilateral triangle, with white flashing lights at each apex, fly low and slow over his house, emitting a deep thrumming sound that rattled his windows. He was astonished, to say the least. The sighting deeply affected him. He had told fellow coworkers about his sighting and was called a liar to his face. He was in need of a friend who would believe him, take him at his word of what he witnessed. I was skeptical at first, but my loyalty soon won out (especially after I left the confines of academia) and I joined him in his search for an answer to what he had seen.”
I was deeply moved by Jordan’s story, and I told him so.
“As you may gather,” I wrote in my reply, “I am fairly committed to disbelief in the physical reality of UFOs. (Except in the banal sense that the planet Venus, mirages, etc. have a physical existence.) The history of the past 65 years of UFOlogy seems to me to demonstrate this. Yet we do have stories like your friend’s, which it’s impossible to disbelieve without outraging all that makes us human.”
Several months ago, at a lunch with my old friend Professor Rachel Elior, a scholar of Jewish mysticism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I expressed the view that people experiencing journeys through the seven heavens of traditional Jewish cosmology, seeing angels, demons and the like, are hallucinating. A graduate student who was there accused me of “epistemic violence.” The charge seemed to me nonsensical. After all, when people report seeing things that we know don’t exist—like those seven heavens—surely they’ve got to be hallucinating, don’t they? (Unless they’re lying. And I don’t like calling people liars.)
Especially if we accept the point I gather Oliver Sacks made in his recent book Hallucinations, which I’m sorry to say I still haven’t read–that it’s simply not true what we often think, that having hallucinations is a mark of insanity.
But would I have the courage to maintain this remorseless logic, in the face of someone like Jordan’s friend?
One of the things that makes J. Allen Hynek’s 1972 book The UFO Experience such an affecting human document, is that this broad-minded, warm-hearted scientist seems continually to have struggled with this question. He quotes the “frank and artless remarks” of children who’ve seen UFOs. “This is the truth, and there is no hoax implied since that is a serious offense at this school.” “ … we give you our Scout’s Honor that this is not a hoax or optical illusion.” (Though of course if it were an optical illusion, the three Boy Scouts who saw it presumably wouldn’t have been aware of that.) “Although I am only a child, please believe me.” (Referring to a sighting, of a cigar-shaped object, made on January 19, 1967; all quotes from p. 14 of Hynek’s book.)
Hynek also tells an awful story of the fate that befell an Ohio deputy sheriff named Dale F. Spaur who, in the early morning hours of April 17, 1966, chased in his patrol car a UFO “big as a house” and so bright “it’d make your eyes water.” Spaur wasn’t the only person who saw the object, or even who chased it; there were three other witnesses. Which makes what happened to Spaur all the more appalling.
“This,” Spaur told Air Force investigator Hector Quintanilla, “I have never seen nothing like it before or after or in the wildest far-fetched imagination. I know you can have an optical illusion or even see something moving or like if you look through a piece of glass or something … I can go along with this. But nothing this big. In my wildest dreams I don’t think I could have ever imagined or seen anything like it” (p. 106).
“Subsequently, Spaur was singled out for unbearable ridicule and the pressure of unfavorable publicity. The combination of events wrecked his home life, estranged him from his wife, and ruined his career and his health. He is no longer [as of 1972] with the police force, and, it is reported, he subsists by doing odd jobs” (p. 108).
I doubt if Dale Spaur is still alive in 2013, but it’s possible. I’ve often thought about what I would say to him if he confronted me, and my disbelief in UFOs, with his story. I know you’re not lying, I would tell him. (Although, to tell the truth, I don’t really know that.) And if you were hallucinating it wasn’t because you’re crazy but because the human mind has potentials we hardly begin to suspect, and hallucination is probably one of them. The bottom line is that I don’t have the slightest idea what you saw or what made you see it. I don’t think it can be a visitor from outer space, because if it was we’d surely have unequivocal proof of the presence of such visitors by this time, which after all is nearly a half-century after your experience. And there doesn’t seem to be any urgency in figuring out what you saw, because a half-century later we still don’t know what it was, or what any of the really baffling UFO cases were, and we don’t seem to be any worse off for that ignorance …
Except, of course, for poor Dale Spaur.
How lucky Jordan Hofer’s friend was, to have had a friend like Jordan!
And remember the little boy who saw the cigar-shaped object on January 19, 1967, and begged the gentlemen of the Air Force UFO project to please believe him, even though he was only a child?
There’s postscript to that one, too.
Go to the “Welcome” post on this blog, and sift through the “responses” to it.
by David Halperin
Learn more about David Halperin on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/davidjhalperin
Connect to Journal of a UFO Investigator on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/JournalofaUFOInvestigator
and Find David Halperin on Google+