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Search for a Method: Studying the Impossible

When Colm Kelleher and his NIDS research team embarked on their scientific exploration of Skinwalker Ranch, they found themselves confronted with a problem. Over the course of their investigation, they realized it was probable that they were not studying a purely natural phenomenon that was knowable in purely objective scientific terms. Rather, they appeared to be dealing with an intelligence.


This research project was beyond a simple scientific problem that was amenable to standard hypothesis-driven science. It involved hunting a very wily quarry. And NIDS constantly had to accept the possibility that any information acquired in this hunt was only the information that the intelligence (assuming that we were in fact dealing with an intelligence) wanted us to have… Our attempts to target a wily and deliberately evasive research subject is perhaps unprecedented in scientific research but is the norm in the cat and mouse games of espionage and counterespionage. For example, hunting the skinwalker transcended what wildlife scientists normally do to hunt or track wild animals because the target of the NIDS hunt proved over and over its capacity to keep a couple steps ahead of us” (Hunt for the Skinwalker, 268).





The phenomena on Skinwalker Ranch go beyond UAP, of course, but UAP have been observed on the property. A key commonality with the happenings at the ranch is that at least some UAP appear to be under intelligent control. They follow people and aircraft, react to movements, appear and disappear, dodge or disintegrate missiles, etc. The scientific method relies primarily on observability and repeatability in controlled conditions that allow the isolation of variables. While some patterns have certainly been revealed in the ufology literature, UAP are notoriously difficult to predict or control. Additionally, there are dimensions to different types of UAP experiences that may never be fully explainable through the lens of traditional science and require what John Mack called a “paradigm shift” (Abduction, 1994). For example, the feeling reported by UAP experiencers that time and space have collapsed, or that they have seen what lies “behind the veil.” We have to grapple with the possibility that the intelligence will only reveal itself on its own terms.


My suggestion is not to stop using the scientific method to study UAP. I argue quite the opposite, and believe that more responsible, scientifically sound studies and resources should be dedicated to understanding this mystery.


But I am also of the view that if we are indeed dealing with an intelligence, (and I think there are good reasons to suggest we are), the scientific method alone will never be able to fully account for the entire scope of the experience. Thus, we will need the tools of theologians, philosophers, historians, and literary scholars, among others, to help fill in the gaps.


The UAP mystery appears to be a conversation that involves us. It is possible that it ends up being all about us. It is also possible that it includes us and an unknown other. An important tool for exploring the mystery is the phenomenological method. Edmund Husserl, an early philosopher of science, first introduced the concept of bracketing, which involves suspending as much as possible all preconceptions, bias, assumptions, and looking at what appears to an individual consciousness. Phenomenology starts with the premise that phenomena cannot be separated from our experience of them, and thus the lived conscious experience of an individual is the starting point for inquiry. Using phenomenology to study UAP, we look at the observable phenomena, descriptions, emotions, and responses of the experiencer, suspending as much as possible any preconceptions about what the source of those experiences may be. Later existential phenomenologists such as Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, and Sartre argued that all conscious experience is inevitably imbued with human meaning. Using these lenses we can study additional questions regarding the meaning of these experiences for the people who have them.


In The Super Natural, Whitley Strieber, after recounting his famous harrowing encounter he first described in Communion, writes, “It is easy to jump to the conclusion that I am claiming here that I was abducted by aliens and had semen stolen by them, but I am not claiming that. I am reporting a perception, not making a claim, and there is a world of difference between those two approaches,” (The Super Natural, 37).


Strieber presents us with a good example of bracketing: he reports what he perceived, what appeared to him in his experience, while suspending preconceptions or assumptions about the ultimate source or ontological status of his experiences.


The phenomenological method does not allow dismissing any dimension of the experience or appearance because it does not fit in with current scientific understandings. We must look at what appears, what is perceived, and suspend our judgments about the impossible and the possible. With this starting point, we are forced to contend with everything on the table (as Jeffrey Kripal says), everything that appears, without making judgments about the ontological status of the perception. This becomes of utmost importance when dealing with UAP experiences that contain elements that challenge current scientific understandings of what can and cannot occur.


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