The title was inspired by the Flying Dutchman, that legendary ghost ship, first recorded in the late 18th century. I remember once researching ghost ships, and I couldn't find any that were earlier than the 18th cy., despite ghosts in general being a widespread and ancient belief.
IA reported on how the proceedings of a 1973 conference on UFO's has an article by a certain Stanton Friedman on "Science Fiction vs. UFOlogy". It started with "Many people are surprised when I point out that two of the most noted science fiction and science writers, Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke, are both quite vehement in their anti-UFO sentiments." IA got annoyed at how he would supposedly believe in some mystic cult that seems to have something in common with SF. But then again, it shows how influenced by SF the UFO business has been.
After IA asked why ET's would go through the trouble of crossing interstellar space without bothering to contact us, SF wrote "(What egos we earthlings have! Are we worth contacting?)" He then quoted IA as saying "I will continue to assume that every reported sighting is either a hoax, a mistake, or something that can be explained in a fashion that does not involve spaceships from the distant stars." SF wrote "(How about the nearby ones, Isaac ?)", and IA responded that even the nearby ones are distant.
The Betty and Barney Hill case was the first notable UFO-abduction case.Friedman goes on to urge me to write a non-fiction book about flying saucers, saying that cases like the Betty and Barney Hill case are far more exciting and interesting than any of Asimovs stories. Well, perhaps, Mr. Friedman, but they are also much more fictional.
IA then continued in question-and-answer form.
1) Why do you insist on calling them flying saucers'? Isn't that unfair ridicule? Why not call them UFOs, a more sober term?
He responded that if one wishes to treat them as unidentified, then UFO is an appropriate term, because it's short for "unidentified flying object". But if one insists on identifying them as extraterrestrial spaceships, then he will use "flying saucer".
2) Do you deny that there are other intelligent life forms in the Universe?
He certainly didn't.
3) Well, then, why are you so skeptical of the possibility that spaceships guided by extraterrestrial intelligences are visiting Earth?
He then noted interstellar distances and the difficulty of interstellar travel. I don't find that argument very strong, since it may be possible to send out some huge space-colony spaceships. One of them would arrive at the Solar System and its inhabitants would then explore the Earth with much smaller spacecraft. They may even build forward bases relatively close to the Earth or else use big carrier spacecraft for their exploration spacecraft.
4) But suppose we just happen to be in luck as far as the distance of the nearest advanced civilization is concerned? And why are you so certain that the speed of light is the ultimate limit?
IA conceded that a close ET homeworld is possible, and that faster-than-light travel may be possible.
5) But if all that is so. what are your objections to the concept of flying saucers? Why might not ships be exploring Earth freely and frequently?
He argued that they would either contact us or else keep themselves hidden from us.
6) But how can you be sure you understand their motives? Perhaps they dont care to communicate with us, but, on the other hand, dont care if we see them.
IA responded "Ah, but if you keep on piling up the conditions you need to improve your case, you come very rapidly to the point of the totally unconvincing"
7) Now wait, there is certainly direct evidence for flying saucers as spaceships. There have been numerous reports from people who have seen spaceships and their extraterrestrial crew members. Some claim even to have been aboard the ships. Have you investigated these reports? If not, do you dismiss them all out of hand as worthless? What justification do you have to do that?
He conceded that he has not investigated any such report, stating that "My justification in dismissing them out of hand is that eyewitness evidence by a small number of people uncorroborated by any other sort of evidence is worthless." He then noted eyewitness evidence of angels, ghosts, spirits, levitation, werewolves, precognition, fairies, sea serpents, telepathy, abominable snowmen, etc.
Some UFOlogists, like J. Allen Hynek and James E. McDonald, have pointed out that the mainstream of the scientific community had once been similarly skeptical about extraterrestrial rocks, and for that sort of reason. It took a meteorite fall of L'Aigle, France in 1803 to demonstrate that meteorites were indeed extraterrestrial rocks.
"I want something material and lasting, something that can be studied by many. 1 want an alloy not of Earth manufacture."
Like a mixture of metals that we find difficult to make? That's a rather tall order, but there is something that I've mentioned elsewhere that is the same kind of evidence: materials with isotope-abundance variations. Materials like plastics that require a lot of complicated chemistry to make from their component elements.
If I went aboard an extraterrestrial spacecraft and I brought back a plastic bottle filled with water, and both contained excesses of deuterium in their hydrogen, the bottle would be a *much* stronger case for having ET manufacture than the water. One can easily get "heavy water", but I don't think that anyone has tried to make "heavy plastic".
"I want a device that does something by no principle we understand."
Like a sort of super smartphone?
I don't know if he ever read George Adamski's book Inside the Spaceships. But given what a horndog he was, he'd be slavering over GA's descriptions of the spaceship crewwomen that he encountered.Best of all I want a ship and its crew in plain view, revealing itself to human beings competent to observe and study them over a reasonable period of time. These reported revelations to farmers in swamps and to automobile drivers on empty highways simply dont impress me. Nor am I impressed by descriptions of the ships and their interiors that are what I would expect from scientific illiterates who had seen some equally illiterate science fiction movies."
More seriously, UFO's often seem much like the typical advanced technology and science fiction of their sighters' times. In 1896-1898, the US had a rash of sightings of "mysterious airships", and in World War II, many military pilots saw "foo fighters", while nowadays it's spacecraft. The clothing of UFOnauts also reflects this -- it's often jumpsuits.
8) But how else can you account for all the reports of flying saucers if youre going to rule out spaceships?
As he says, "What else can they be?" is a bad argument.
9) What do you think yourself that flying saucers are?
"My own feeling is that almost every sighting is either a mistake or a hoax. Many are so confused and incomplete there is no room to decide what they can possibly be."
Then those few reports that seem difficult to explain.
10) All right, stick to those puzzlers. What are they if they are not spaceships?
"I dont know. I dont have to know. The Universe is full of mysteries to which I dont have the answer. Challenging me and having me fail proves nothing."
Then he mentions J. Allen Hynek's take on the issue, that there is something new and otherwise unknown here.
11) Does Hynek have any theories about this at all? Where does he think science may be heading?
"As far as I know, hes drawn a complete blank so far."
12) What makes it so difficult to find an answer to this problem?
Because the more mysterious UFO's are difficult to experiment on or to observe carefully.
It must be conceded that there are a few phenomena recognized by mainstream science that have that character. Phenomena like ball lightning. They are rare and evanescent, and not surprisingly, they are very controversial.
Interestingly, UFO skeptic Philip Klass first thought that many otherwise mysterious UFO's were a sort of ball lightning.