I’d like to thank Kimberly Engels for her posts, “A Phenomenology of the Phenomenon: Mapping a Path Forward” and “More on Phenomenology for UAP Studies.” Like Engels, I believe phenomenology offers an undeniably rich addition to conventional ways of investigating what we’ve come to know as “The Phenomenon,” the title of a James Fox documentary.
By no means do I suggest that our well-equipped scientists change their current path of instrumentation, experimentation, data gathering, propulsion theorizing, and hypothesis projecting. But I would like to see the larger UFO research community augment the strictly scientific approach with a second method, the phenomenological method.
What I like about phenomenology
What I like about the method of phenomenology is that it temporarily brackets out the truth question, permitting us to attend to the details of interpretation within human experience. With phenomenology, we can get at the meaning of an event without getting sidetracked by the sometimes-frustrating exercise of trying to find out what “really” happened.
Again, do not get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we substitute phenomenology for science. We need both.
I certainly applaud the new commitment made by our scientists at SCU and the Society for UAP Studies along with those in other organizations to accumulating data in order to hypothesize about the reality behind unidentified anomalous phenomena. We need the data. We need to grasp what can be learned by applying what we know from physics and engineering. We want to know: are we alone in this universe?
Even so, phenomenology adds something of value beyond scientific data gathering. Briefly, the term phenomenon includes both what is perceived and the meaning of what is perceived to the perceiver. It includes both object and subject. Phenomenology temporarily brackets out the truth question in order investigate the relationship between object and subject within experience. It also permits investigation into wider cultural meanings and their influence on what an individual subject interprets in an experience.
For the most part, phenomenology is the method I relied on when constructing my treatment of the phenomenon in my book, UFOs—God’s Chariots? Even if the truth question or the reality question could not be answered in strictly scientific terms, I believe phenomenology provides a productive way to grasp the cultural meaning of UFOs over the last three quarters of a century.
Are scientists genuinely curious about what might be true?
Don’t you just love the way the so-called scientific method is sometimes assumed to work? Here is an example of the role of unalterable presupposition when two cognitive scientists investigate reports of UFO abduction experiences.
“Many thousands of people around the world firmly believe that they have been abducted by alien beings and taken on board spaceships where they have been subjected to painful medical examination. Method. Given that such accounts are almost certainly untrue…” (Holden & French)
At no point do these two researchers actually examine the question of whether abduction reports are true or not. They simply presuppose they are untrue. Now, is this genuine science at work in the field of cognitive science? I trust we can do better.
Here’s the problem with such a method. It neither brackets out the truth question nor does it investigate the truth question. Rather, it settles the truth question without investigation. That’s intellectual cheating, in my book. This renders their approach neither phenomenological nor scientific.
On the truth question, I prefer Michael E. Zimmerman. Zimmerman approaches the abduction phenomenon with honest puzzlement.
“…there might be ‘something’ to this weird phenomenon [UFO abduction reports]. Just what this ‘something’ is, however, I am unable to say with any assurance, since the phenomenon itself seems to defy most attempts to categorize it in terms either as a subjective event of ‘inner space’ or as an objective event of ‘outer space’”(Zimmerman, 1997, 235).
Zimmerman goes on to plead with scientists to get curious, to tackle the phenomenon with honest curiosity.
“The glory of modern science rests upon the willingness of its practitioners to investigate any reported phenomenon, no matter how inconsistent it may be with respect to existing theories” (Zimmerman, 1997, 237).
Again, I’m grateful that for the last half decade serious scientists have committed themselves to taking UAP seriously.
-- Ted Peters
Katharine J. Holden & Christopher C. French (2002) Alien abduction experiences: Some clues from neuropsychology and neuropsychiatry, Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 7:3, 163-178, DOI: 10.1080/13546800244000058.
Zimmerman, Michael Z., (1997). “The alien abduction phenomenon: Forbidden knowledge of hidden events.” Philosophy Today 41:2 (Summer) 235-254.