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We’re About to Find Out What We Really Know About UFOs
July 25, 2023

We’re About to Find Out What We Really Know About UFOs

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We’re About to Find Out if UFOs Are Real. Nothing Will Ever Be the Same Again., Nothing will ever be the same again., Congress is about to find out if unidentified aerial phenomena, or UFOs, are real.

In the coming weeks and months, the phrase ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon’—the rebranding of the old, loaded term ‘UFO’—is going to enter the popular lexicon as Congress begins a series of unprecedented public hearings on the topic.

Unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, are a mainstay of pop culture, but have long been considered fringe by both scientists and the media. There have been groups of people who believe that the government and various corporations are in possession of alien technology and bodies since July 1947 (or in some cases, even earlier), when it was claimed that a flying saucer of extraterrestrial origin crashed in the small desert town of Roswell, New Mexico. UFOs found their way back into the mainstream spotlight in 2017 when the New York Times reported on the existence of a clandestine Pentagon program dedicated to investigating ‘aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift.’

Six years later, two of the journalists who worked on that report for the Times—Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal—published an article in the Debrief in which a former intelligence official named David Grusch claimed that the government and various aerospace companies possessed objects ‘of exotic origin (non-human intelligence, whether extraterrestrial or unknown origin),’ including not just aircraft (or sea-craft, in some cases), but bodies of the creatures that piloted those vehicles. Grusch has already testified before Congress in closed-door sessions, and will join others in the public testimony that has been scheduled in the House of Representatives for July 26.

Despite the fact that UFOs have been in popular culture for decades, there’s something about this moment that feels categorically different. After Kean and Blumenthal’s initial report, we’re no longer in tinfoil-hat territory—there’s no music from The X-Files or clips from Independence Day playing in the newscasts. This time, we have a high-ranking former intelligence official claiming that much of what the fringiest conspiracy theorists have long claimed regarding UFOs might have the tinge of truth about it—and Capitol Hill is taking his claims seriously.

The desire to investigate UFOs/UAPs is a rare example of bipartisan consensus in Washington. Most stunningly, in July, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (along with Republican Sen. Mike Rounds) proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act titled the ‘Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Disclosure Act of 2023.’ The proposal is being supported by Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, who have emerged as advocates for disclosure around UFOs/UAPs.

Among other things, the proposed amendment requires both government offices and private industry members that are in possession of records (or materials) related to UAPs to turn them over to a nine-person commission to be appointed by President Biden with the eventual goal of declassification. Name-checking former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s interest in the subject, Sen. Schumer said that ‘For decades, many Americans have been fascinated by objects mysterious and unexplained … The American public has a right to learn about technologies of unknown origins, non-human intelligence, and unexplainable phenomena.’

As the astronomer Carl Sagan famously said, ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.’ Without the receipts, Grusch’s assertions are only that: assertions. As to what House testimony or Schumer’s legislation might reveal, it’s fair to remain totally agnostic. It might turn out that the truth about UFOs/UAPs is somewhere between Chinese spy balloons and time-traveling aliens. It might turn out that there’s nothing there at all. But the fact that the Senate’s website now features legislation which contains the phrase ‘non-human intelligence’ is shocking. You can’t deny that we’re in unprecedented—and, frankly, surreal—territory.

But this isn’t completely unfamiliar territory.

The moment of ‘first contact’ between humans and extraterrestrials has been extensively imagined in science fiction and in entertainment (and, of course, among UFO enthusiasts who claim such events have already occurred). Central to the depiction of an auspicious meeting between two radically different cultures or species is the sense of mass disorientation, collective anxiety, and ‘ontological shock’ (a term coined by philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich to describe what happens when one’s entire sense of reality is disrupted).

Astronomer Fred Hoyle’s brilliant 1957 novel The Black Cloud envisions how radically different life could have evolved, positing the existence of a sentient interstellar gas cloud whose motivations are misinterpreted as malevolent until scientists are able to bridge what appear to be inconceivable barriers to communication. Ted Chiang’s 1998 novella Story of Your Life—adapted into the 2016 film Arrival—dramatizes a linguist’s attempts to tranMediaDownloader language from alien beings who don’t share our culture or biology. Then there is the iconic scene from the aptly named 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact in which the time-traveling crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is privy to the historic summit between the inventor of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane, and a group of Vulcans in the year 2063.

All of these narratives have one thing in common: an understanding that if we discover the existence of intelligent alien life, nothing will ever be the same again.

As Sagan wrote in his 1985 novel Contact, an awareness of extraterrestrial life would serve to inculcate the ‘power of the planetary perspective.’ It would, as Sagan told Studs Terkel in 1985, ‘de-provincialize’ humanity. In other words, we’d experience ontological shock.

This ontological shock would be different from mere discovery or invention; it’s not even synonymous with what the philosopher Thomas Kuhn called a ‘paradigm shift,’ when scientific consensus is amended by some revolutionary new theory. Rather it’s an apocalypse—in the sense of the word’s original Greek meaning of ‘unveiling’—whereby the true nature of reality is radically altered. In light of the reporting in the Debrief and the steps toward disclosure being taken in Washington, it’s reasonable to say we should prepare ourselves for the possibility of that very experience.


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