What is a UFO (Unidentified Flying Object)?

“A visual stimulus which provokes a sighting report of an object or light seen in the sky, the appearance and/or flight dynamics of which do not suggest a logical, conventional flying object and which remains unidentified after close scrutiny of all available evidence by persons who are technically capable of making both a technical identification as well as a common sense identification, if one is possible.” – Richard Haines (NARCAP Science Chief)

When something is a UFO we do not know what it is. Once it is identified it is no longer a UFO; It becomes an IFO (Identified Flying Object). Some researchers and organizations have stopped using the term UFO in an attempt to forgo some of its misuse and cultural baggage. UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon) is a common alternative and may also be used to describe a similar range of phenomena.

Calvine UFO photograph, 1990 (source)

The following is an abridged version of Mark Cashman’s article What Kind of Science Is The Study Of Unidentified Flying Objects?

Despite frequent criticism, scientific study can be performed on UFO phenomena and is an integral pursuit of credible researchers. Generally, the ideal scientific process follows this procedure:

1. Observe something which needs explaining (the observation).
2. Formulate a mechanism which explains it (the hypothesis).
3. Determine characteristics which differentiate an observation consistent with the hypothesis from one which is inconsistent with the hypothesis (the discriminator).
4. Formulate an experiment or an observation which will identify if the discriminator is present
5. Perform the experiment or observation.
6. Record and publish the results for comment and attempted reproduction by others. If the discriminator is confirmed, then the hypothesis may be considered correct, otherwise it is considered incorrect.

The self-correcting nature of science comes from step six, which allows others to comment on the entire process or attempt to reproduce the results of the experiment or observation and publish their own results.

By adhering to a definition of UFOs which does not include initial reports which contain any known physical event, object, process, or any psychological event or process (after examination by qualified persons) we can subsequently eliminate the notion all instances are the result of misperception, hallucinations, or hoaxes (MHH Hypothesis).

The Objective Existence Hypothesis (OEH), which states UFO reports are the result of an objectively existent phenomenon, generally acts as a baseline hypothesis regarding UFOs and do not reach as far as other, more frequently discussed theories. However, many criticisms are still regularly made against the OEH which can further illustrate the nature of study necessary for investigating UFOs:

Myth: UFO reports are typically anecdotal. Anecdotes are not scientific data. Therefore, the study of UFOs is not scientific.

Initial reports are the result of the observation of a phenomenon by a witness who is typically in a normal context, recognized by that witness as being unusual, and which is then reported to some authority. In this sense, the UFO observation is similar to the observation of a crime being committed, and forensic procedures are appropriate for determining the truth, falsity, and accuracy of the account. Such techniques include testing with leading questions for ease with which the witness incorporates spurious data into an account, validation of witness visual and auditory acuity via standard tests, validation of witness accuracy via comparison with accounts from other (preferably independent) witnesses, and measurement of any physical results of the incident. Where possible, qualitative information must be supplemented by quantitative information.

The UFO filter must be applied to the resulting account, and only if it passes that test, is it admissible as UFO data.

Anecdotal, qualitative and quantitative data are admissible as scientific data, as can be seen in criminology, natural environment animal behavioral studies, etc. The study of UFOs is not physics or chemistry – it is more like intelligence gathering, forensics, or sociology.

Myth: UFO observations are non-repeatable. Only repeatable observations are amenable to scientific study. Therefore the study of UFOs is not scientific.

Obviously, this is not entirely true. For instance, one could cite any reliable multiple witness observation as, in essence, a repetition of the observation. One could also cite those cases of objects of similar descriptions being reported at different times and locations as repetitions of the original observation.

But the key point being made by critics of UFO study is that the UFO will not perform on demand, and that therefore no conclusions can ever be drawn from a study of essentially unrepeatable events. Since hard sciences like physics and chemistry can perform repeatable experiments on demand, UFO research can never be a science like physics or chemistry.

In essence, this is a straw man.

First, UFO photographs, landing traces and medical effects are amenable to laboratory analysis by a variety of workers.

Second, potentially valid and testable hypotheses can be arrived at by examining the universe of UFO reports, as Vallée did in his examination of the “psychosis” hypothesis for UFO observations. This is not dissimilar to how astronomers derived concepts of stellar and galactic evolution. Stellar and galactic evolution are not directly observable, but a number of objects at various stages of evolution are. Thus, careful examination of the characteristics of these objects for similarities and differences, can, in conjunction with known laws of physics, provide hypotheses as to the process of stellar or galactic evolution. By the same token, the observation of similarities and differences between reliable UFO reports can yield testable hypotheses as to energy output, flight characteristics, landing trace characteristics, occupant appearance and behavior, etc.

Thirdly, the study of UFOs does not have to be a repeatable laboratory exercise like chemistry and physics to be scientific. As mentioned above, psychology, sociology, natural behavior of animals, and astronomy are all sciences which have extremely limited components of repeatable laboratory science. Does this make progress more difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.

Myth: UFOs are investigated by non-professional investigators without funding. Scientific research requires professional researchers, therefore the study of UFOs is not scientific.

Many fields of science such as physics, electrical science, biology, etc, were begun by the efforts of dedicated amateurs working in their own time at their own pace. Science does not require professionals. It is a process

The gathering of data requires a careful and thorough approach. Often, even professional scientists are not up this. One has only to see the original and recent criticisms of the work of Kinsey in human sexuality, or criticisms of the attribution of medical effects to low level EM fields, or criticisms leveled at “cold fusion” researchers, to see that professional status is no guarantee of accuracy or unbiased sampling. But one also sees thereby how scientific data and theories are validated or invalidated.

As long as the method used to gather data is openly discussed and the discriminators used in confirming or denying a hypothesis are presented, the self-correcting nature of science ensures that errors will eventually be found and purged. Those who fail to meet these criteria will find their work is not supported in the scientific community.

Myth: UFO anecdotes are corrupted by non-professional investigators who are biased toward finding that the OEH hypothesis is confirmed, and that the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) or paranormal hypothesis (PNH) accounts for the data better than the MHH. Scientific research requires unbiased investigators, therefore the study of UFOs is not scientific.

The myth of the “disinterested scientist” is one which seems to persist, despite the obvious fact that no one spends enormous time and effort on a subject which they find inherently uninteresting and unimportant. However, the nature of the process of science is such that the publication and critiques or attempted reproduction of results are an inbuilt bias correction mechanism. This mechanism clearly operates within the study of UFOs, where members of the field frequently debate the IFO/UFO classification of specific cases, the validity or accuracy of specific evidence, and the validity of hypotheses such as ETH, PNH, etc.

If the progress of science depended on the scientist being an unbiased saint, said progress would not occur, since this is not the nature of the scientist. It is not some specific grace associated with the scientist which ensures the validity of their results and the absence of mysticism, it is the harsh application of external criticism, and, in some cases, internally enforced sanctions, which purges science of frauds and unsupported theories.

There is no reason to think that such a process is not or cannot be applied to the study of UFOs. It is certainly true that adherence to this part of the process is at present uneven, and certainly imperfect, but this is a sign of the field’s immaturity, not that the field is unable to follow the process of science.

Science, like law, is an adversarial process, and does not work unless there are parties in disagreement during the transition between initially confirmed hypothesis and reliable theory.

Myth: UFO investigators are not familiar with, experienced with or trained in methods for uncovering hoaxes, hallucinations, and misperceptions. Only “skeptical” investigators [read: debunkers] have this knowledge and attitude. Since this is required for the scientific study of UFOs, the study of UFOs is not scientific.

This is not consistent with the facts. UFO investigators and organizations have classified many reports as IFOs. However, this contention reflects the belief of skeptics that better knowledge and better investigation will result in the elimination of UFO classifications and will result in all cases being claimed as IFOs. Unfortunately, the record of such “investigators” as Klass and Menzel (neither of whom ever spent much time interviewing witnesses) has not shown that they make better application of the UFO filter than those who are going out into the field from the major UFO organizations, or those who come from outside the field (such as John Fuller). Much of their “investigation” seems to be to find key items of the UFO account which can be distorted or omitted until the result fits an ad hoc hypothesis of misperception or hoax.

Is “skeptical” knowledge required for the scientific study of UFOs? Certainly some forensic knowledge and experience is useful. However statistics from the Air Force Project Blue Book and the Condon committee indicate that only a relatively small percentage of initial reports are proven to be hoaxes. It is believed, but not yet quantified, that the percentage is higher with regard to photographs, and some contend that it is also higher with regard to contact claimants and repeaters, but, again, there has been little quantitative study to demonstrate these propositions.

Myth: UFO reports represent a transient phenomenon, localized in a narrow slice of time and space, witnessed largely by unspecialized personnel who are unprepared to make quantitative or qualitative observations. Like it or not, that is the nature of the beast.

Given this, however, it is an unjustified assertion to state the phenomenon cannot be studied scientifically, or that its existence cannot be demonstrated. It is clear that science can study any subject which allows for its process to be followed, and, as we have seen, one can indeed

  • Observe something which needs explaining (the UFO report).
  • Formulate a mechanism which explains it (the hypothesis).
  • Determine characteristics which differentiate an observation consistent with the hypothesis from one which is inconsistent with the hypothesis (the discriminator).
  • Formulate an experiment or an observation which will identify if the discriminator is present.
  • Perform the experiment or observation (on the original report or similar / different reports).
  • Record and publish the results for comment and attempted reproduction by others. If the discriminator is present, then the hypothesis may be considered correct, otherwise it is considered false.
  • In fact, in the study of UFOs, this process is followed in at least two layers:
  • Determining if an initial report is a UFO (the hypothesis is that it is not).
  • Determining if UFO reports support OEH, MHH, or any other hypothesis as to the generative cause of the report.

From what has been presented, it seems clear that not only can UFOs be studied scientifically, but that they are being studied scientifically. Observations are recorded, hypotheses are formulated, discriminators are isolated, the discriminator is sought in the observation, and the results are published, discussed, validated or invalidated by subsequent follow up.

The nature of the UFO filter tends to discount the MHH, since MHH cases are not allowed to be considered UFOs. Additional objections to UFO research on the grounds that the data are not suitable or have been biased in the field have been shown to be unsupportable. The existing research thus so far supports the OEH as the only fundamental alternative to MHH.

Drake’s Equation

The Drake equation, first proposed by radio astronomer Frank Drake in 1961, is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy by multiplying several variables. It is generally written as:

N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L
N = The number of civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.
R* = The average rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.
fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.
ne = The number of planets, per solar system, which can potentially support life.
fl = The fraction of those planets which actually develop life.
fi = The fraction of those planets on which intelligent life emerges.
fc = The fraction of those civilizations which have developed technologies releasing detectable signs of their existence into space.
L = The length of time over which such civilizations release detectable signals.

Many of the estimated values for the equations various factors are highly conjectural and not well established. Other factors are excluded entirely, such as the possibilities of panspermia (i.e. intentional or passive spreading of live across the universe). The resulting uncertainty is so large the equation is not useful for drawing firm conclusions. Although, the equation was not written for the purposes of quantifying the number of potential extraterrestrial civilizations, but as a way to stimulate scientific dialogue at the first scientific meeting on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). The equation better serves to summarize the main concepts which scientists contemplate when considering the possibility of life outside our solar system.


Additional Reading: Reflections on the Equation (2013) by Frank Drake

The Fermi Paradox

“Fermi did not say UFOs aren’t being seen. He did not say there are no aliens visiting. He asked a question: “Where is everybody?”. Please can’t we all stop putting words in his mouth?” – Stanton Friedman, physicist and ufologist

Fermi’s Paradox is the apparent contradiction between the high probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of contact with such civilizations. The paradox is named after Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), an italian physicist and Nobel prizewinner who created the world’s first nuclear reactor. While lunching with his colleagues Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller, and Herbert York at Los Alamos National Laboratory one day in 1950, they were chatting about a cartoon in The New Yorker showing cheerful aliens emerging from a flying saucer carrying trash cans stolen from the streets of New York City when Fermi asked “Where is everybody?”

Everyone realized he was referring to the fact that we haven’t seen any alien spaceships, and the conversation turned to the feasibility of interstellar travel. York seemed to have had the clearest memory, recalling of Fermi:

“… he went on to conclude that the reason that we hadn’t been visited might be that interstellar flight is impossible, or, if it is possible, always judged to be not worth the effort, or technological civilization doesn’t last long enough for it to happen.”

Both York and Teller seemed to think Fermi was questioning the feasibility of interstellar travel—nobody thought he was questioning the possible existence of extraterrestrial civilizations. So the so-called Fermi paradox—which does question the existence of E.T.—misrepresents Fermi’s views. Fermi’s skepticism about interstellar travel is not surprising, because in 1950 rockets had not yet reached orbit, much less another planet or star.

Fermi was not the first person to consider the notion, nor did he ever actually publish anything exploring the question or on the subject of extraterrestrials. Others have elaborated on the notion, and the notion “… they are not here; therefore they do not exist” first appeared in print in 1975, when astronomer Michael Hart claimed if smart aliens existed, they would inevitably colonize the Milky Way. If they existed anywhere, they would be here. Since they aren’t, Hart concluded that humans are probably the only intelligent life in our galaxy, so looking for intelligent life elsewhere is “probably a waste of time and money.”

Hart’s argument has been challenged on many grounds—maybe star travel is not feasible, or maybe nobody chooses to colonize the galaxy, or maybe we were visited long ago and the evidence is buried with the dinosaurs—but the idea has become entrenched in thinking about alien civilizations and instilled an air of pessimism around efforts such as the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute.

Over the years, however, their idea has been confused with Fermi’s original question. The confusion evidently started in 1977 when the physicist David G. Stephenson used the phrase ‘Fermi paradox’ in a paper citing Hart’s idea as one possible answer to Fermi’s question. The Fermi paradox might be more accurately called the ‘Hart argument against the existence of technological extraterrestrials’, which does not sound quite as authoritative as the old name, but seems fairer to everybody.

As for the paradox, there is no logical contradiction between the statement “ETs might exist elsewhere” and the statement “ET is not here” because nobody knows that travel between the stars is possible in the first place.


Additional Reading: There Is No Fermi Paradox (1985) by Robert A. Freitas, Jr.


There are many theories which attempt to explain or address the potential nature of UFOs. No one theory could possibly explain all cases, and more than one may be closer to the truth. Regardless, we should clarify the difference between theory and hypothesis, since they are not reliably distinguished outside scientific contexts.

A hypothesis is proposed for the sake of argument so it can be tested to see if it might be true and is constructed before any applicable research has been done. You ask a question, read up on what has been studied before, and then form a hypothesis. It is usually tentative, an assumption or suggestion made strictly for the objective of being tested.

A theory is a principle which has been formed as an attempt to explain things which have already been substantiated by data. It is a system of explanations which ties together facts, explains those facts, and predicts what we might find from other observations and experiments. A theory has a much higher likelihood of being true.

UFOs are far too elusive for anyone to have developed a working theory regarding their true origins. Although, many hypothesis have been widely debated and attempts are still being made to view UFO data within broader contexts to discern more effective perspectives.

Additional Reading: UFO Theories and Explanations (2013) by Daniel Tarr

Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH)

UFOs are physical spacecraft occupied by extraterrestrial life or non-human aliens from other planets visiting Earth.

Despite the ETH being most culturally pervasive and widely discussed explanation for UFOs, it is not necessarily accepted by all ufologists and has received a significant amount of criticism as a result. Some ufologists argue that the ETH is inadequate at explaining many of the anomalous qualities of the UFO phenomenon. For example, researcher J. Allen Hynek summarized his own arguments against it in 1983. To paraphrase them:

  • Our surveillance systems lack the ability to reliably detect incoming or outgoing UFOs.
  • Contact reports indicate a significant lack of physiological variance in extraterrestrials, who appear overwhelmingly humanoid, even thought extrasolar planets would likely have very different biospheres, gravity, and other conditions.
  • The amount of reports are disproportionate to the number of expeditions an alien civilization would statistically be expected to mount for a study of Earth.
  • The reported behavior of extraterrestrials during alleged abductions is often inconsistent, irrational, and contains aspects of high strangeness.
  • UFOs are isolated in time and space and seem to appear and disappear at will, leaving only vague, ambiguous and mocking evidence of their presence.
  • Reported UFOs are often far too small to support a crew traveling through space, and their reported flight behavior is often too erratic to be representative of a craft under intelligent control.
  • The distance between planets makes interstellar travel impractical, particularly because of the amount of energy that would be required for interstellar travel using conventional means.

Bruce MacEvoy has a set of articulate critiques as well, contained his is extensive treatise UFOs as Wildlife:

The gap between evidence and conclusion in the extraterrestrial hypothesis is spanned by a remarkably complex and fragile series of factual assumptions or inferences, and it is clarifying to unpack the individual steps in this reasoning. The original factual observations, whether from human witnesses or sensors, can be characterized by the universal UFO witness declaration


Evidence: “I never saw anything like that before in my life.”
Assumption 1: The UFO appears to be a solid (metallic or self luminous) physical form.
Assumption 2: The form displays powered flight (aeronautical capability).
Assumption 3: The flight exhibits evasive guidance (intelligent control).
Conclusion A: UFO are an autonomously powered and intelligently guided vehicle technology.
Assumption 4: UFO flight does not utilize conventional structures for propulsion or control.
Assumption 5: UFO speed and acceleration “defy the laws of physics”.
Conclusion B: UFO utilize a far advanced propulsion technology.
Assumption 6: UFO capabilities are beyond any secret foreign adversary or US military program.
Assumption 7: UFO design/control require an alien “maker/pilot”.
Assumption 8: UFO manufacture requires a planetary civilization.
Conclusion C: UFO are vehicles of extraterrestrial (alien) origin.
Assumption 9: The vast number of stars means there is high probability of extraterrestrial civilizations.
Assumption 10: Fringe science asserts interstellar travel is possible.
Assumption 11: The Earth is interesting enough to justify the economic and social costs of alien visitation.
Conclusion D: UFO are a vehicle technology from a far advanced extraterrestrial (alien) civilization.


This deconstruction suggests the extraterrestrial hypothesis depends on no less than twelve assumptions or empirical judgments (1 to 12) and four conclusions (A to D). There can be other ways to describe a logical argument as complex as the ETH; the claim that UFO are beyond the capabilities of human technology supports both conclusions that the technology is “far advanced” and of alien origin.


The important exercise is to weigh each step against the evidence for or against it and the logical connection of the assumption to other assertions. For example, the claim that UFO capabilities defy the laws of physics depends on our assumptions about the mass of UFO and our confidence that we understand what phenomena will arise when physical laws interact or how physical processes can be combined by either natural confluence or a technological object to produce novel effects. I think few physicists would express complete confidence that they know with certainty the limits of either claim. And this assumption connects to other assumptions about the apparent lack of conventional propulsion and the improbability that UFO are the product of a terrestrial secret weapon program to support the conclusion that “UFO utilize a far advanced technology”.


Five Arguments Against the Extraterrestrial Theory (1990) by Jacques Vallée

Related Hypotheses:

Intraterrestrial Hypothesis (AKA Hollow Earth Hypothesis) – UFOs originate from somewhere on or within Earth.
Extraterrestrial Energyzoa Hypothesis (ETZH) – UFOs are some kind of biological lifeforms.
Geophysical Hypothesis – UFOs are the result of unknown natural phenomena.

Misperception, Hallucination and Hoax Hypothesis (MHH)

UFO reports are psychologically induced and the result of misperception, hallucination, or hoaxes.

The MHH implies UFOs do not exist as objective and distinct phenomenon, and UFO reports cannot be considered as evidence for UFO existence or as information about the properties of a UFO phenomenon.

Although, the generally accepted definition of a UFO and its purpose is to filter or eliminate reports which meet the MHH criteria. Indeed, there is significant amount of reports (between 80-95% in many cases) which are explainable or fall within the context of the MHH. Scientifically, we could claim reports which do meet these standards cannot be explained by the MHH.


What Kind of Science Is The Study Of Unidentified Flying Objects? (2015) by Mark Cashman

Related Hypotheses:

Mistaken Observer Hypothesis – UFO sightings are the result of misunderstood phenomena.
Psychological-Social Hypothesis (PSH) – UFO reports are best explained by psychological or social means.
Thought Form Hypothesis – UFOs are psychic projections originating from the mind of the observer.

Objective Existence Hypothesis (OEH)

UFO reports are the result of an objectively existent physical phenomenon.

Prior to applying any filters, we have initial reports of an indeterminate nature which may be UFOs or IFOs (Identified Flying Objects). The OEH implies there are UFO reports which pass through the necessary filters and are not IFOs.


What Kind of Science Is The Study Of Unidentified Flying Objects? (2015) by Mark Cashman


Anthropogenic Hypothesis (APH)

UFOs are advanced, secret or experimental aircraft of earthly origin.

The APH purports secret groups or governments have been researching and developing advanced aircraft and causing sightings for some time. Stories from figures such as Bob Lazar, involving supposed accounts from such research facilities, have caused significant speculation as to the capabilities of classified technology. Papers have shown circular-shaped aircraft were being considered as early as the 1960s.


The UFO Phenomenon: Fact, Fantasy and Disinformation (2009) by John Michael Greer

A Case For Man-MAde UFOs Or Not? (2018) by Nick Redfern


Interdimensional Hypothesis (IDH)

UFOs involve visitations from other “realities” or “dimensions” which coexist separately alongside our own.

The IDH is an idea advanced by Ufologists such as Jacques Vallée which states unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and related events involve visitations from other “realities” or “dimensions” which coexist separately alongside our own. The IDH also holds UFOs are a modern manifestation of a phenomenon that has occurred throughout recorded human history, which in prior ages were ascribed to mythological or supernatural creatures.

Although ETH has remained the predominant explanation for UFOs by UFOlogists,[5] some ufologists have abandoned it in favor of IDH. Paranormal researcher Brad Steiger wrote that “we are dealing with a multidimensional paraphysical phenomenon that is largely indigenous to planet Earth”. Commenting on the disparity between the ETH and the accounts that people have made of UFO encounters, Ankerberg and Weldon wrote “the UFO phenomenon simply does not behave like extraterrestrial visitors.”

The development of IDH as an alternative to ETH increased in the 1970s and 1980s with the publication of books by Vallée and J. Allen Hynek. In 1975, they advocated the hypothesis in The Edge of Reality: A Progress Report on Unidentified Flying Objects and further, in Vallée’s 1979 book Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts and Cults.

The apparent ability of UFOs to manipulate space and time suggests radically different and richer alternatives.


UFOs and the Interdimensional Hypothesis by Scott Corrales (2008)


Related Hypotheses:

Intraterrestrial Hypothesis (AKA Hollow Earth Hypothesis) – UFOs originate from somewhere on or within Earth.
Extraterrestrial Energyzoa Hypothesis (ETZH) – UFOs are some kind of biological lifeforms.
Geophysical Hypothesis – UFOs are the result of unknown natural phenomena.

Ultraterrestrial (UTH) Hypothesis

UFO’s originate from a form of superior, non-human entities of natural or supernatural origin.

The concept of ‘ultraterrestrials’ was a invented by John A. Keel, author of The Mothman Prophecies (1975), to describe an elusive type of beings he associated with paranormal phenomena. He equated UTs to ‘cosmic tricksters’ who would take any variety of supernatural forms, such as demons, ghosts, or UFOs, who likely fed off humans energetically.

When David Clarke interviewed Keel for his book, How UFOs Conquered the World: The History of a Modern Myth (2015), Keel admitted “the idea of ‘ultraterrestrials’ is a literary device. It wasn’t a theory as such.” Keel even later admitted he didn’t believe his own hypothesis, stating “we are the intelligence which controls the UFO phenomenon”. Although, it isn’t entirely clear what Keel meant by this.

The concept of UTs is often jumbled with ETs, but fits more appropriately within the scope of the Interdimensional Hypothesis. It is notable more based on Keel’s popularity, rather than as an established hypothesis.


Ultraterrestrials by Terence Hines (2017)

Related Hypotheses:

Parallel Universe Hypothesis – UFOs are visitors from parallel universes.
Time Travel Hypothesis – UFOs are time travelers or time machines.

Control-System Hypothesis (CSH)

UFOs and related phenomena are the result of attempts to inflict social change and manipulate humanity’s collective beliefs.

The CSH was developed by researcher Jacques Vallée and largely expounded upon in his books The Invisible College (1975) and Messengers of Deception (1979), as the potential effects of the growing contactee movements were becoming more visible. From Messengers of Deception:

“I differ from [most scientists] in believing that these contactees are being used in a dangerous way, and that the symbolism they propagate will make a deep impact on our lives. The new belief is completely lacking in logic. That is the key to its power. It serves to keep scientists away. The more absurd the statement, the stronger its effect. When the Establishment is rational, absurdity is dynamite. Through the contactees, the Manipulators are undermining both religion and science.”

Vallée outlined the notion further within the same book:

“When I speak of a control system for planet earth, I do not want my words to be misunderstood: I do not mean that some higher order of beings has locked us inside the constraints of a space-bound jail, closely monitored by psychic entities we might call angels or demons. I do not propose to redefine God. What I do mean is that mythology rules at a level of our social reality over which normal political and intellectual action has no power….”

Vallée stated in The Invisible College (1975) a “characteristic feature is a constant factor of absurdity that leads to a rejection of the story by the upper layers of the target society and an absorption at a deep unconscious level of the symbols conveyed by the encounter.” He proposed people were being exposed to the by unknown forces to inexplicable phenomena to produce specific reactions, modify our beliefs and collective mythology, and gradually establish a new normal. The ultimate goal is still unknown, as he suggests “we can recognize it for what it is – the result of a shifting of our mythological structure, the human learning curve bending toward a new cosmic behavior. When this irreversible learning is achieved, the UFO phenomenon may go away entirely. Or it may assume some suitable representation on a human scale. The angels may land downtown.”

Vallée discussed the origins of the CSH in a 1978 interview with researcher Jerome Clark: 

Vallée: I’ve always been unhappy with the argument between those who believe UFOs are nonsense and those who believe they are extraterrestrial visitors. I don’t think I belong in either camp. I’ve tried to place myself between those two extremes because there’s no proof that either proposition is correct. I’ve come up with the control system concept because it is an idea which can be tested. In that sense it’s much closer to a scientific hypotheses than the others. It may turn out that there is a control system which is operated by extraterrestrials. But that’s only one possibility.

There are different kinds of control systems – open ones and closed ones – and there are tests you can apply to them to find out what kind of control system you’re inside. That leads to a number of experiments you can do with the UFO phenomenon, whereas the other interpretations don’t lead you to anything. If you’re convinced that UFOs are extraterrestrial, then about the only thing you can do is to climb to a hilltop with a flashlight and send a message in Morse code. People have tried that, I know, but it doesn’t seem to work very well!

The control system concept can be tested by a small group of people – you don’t need a large organization or a lot of equipment – and you can start thinking about active intervention in the phenomenon.

Clark: How could I prove to my satisfaction that there is a control system in operations?

Vallée: If you think you’re inside a control system, the first thing you have to look for is what is being controlled and try to change it to see what happens. My friend Bill Powers proposes the following analogy:

Suppose you’re walking through the desert and you see a stone that looks as though it was painted white. A thousand yards later you see another stone of similar appearance. You stop and consider the matter. Either you can forget it or – if you’re like me – you can pick up the stone and move it a few feet. If suddenly a bearded character steps out from behind a rock and demands to know why you moved his marker, then you know you’ve found a control system.

My point is that you can’t be sure until you do something. Then you realize that what you were seeing, the thing that looked absurd and incongruous, was really a marker for a boundary that was invisible to everybody else until you discovered it because you looked for a pattern. I think that’s exactly what we have to do with UFOs. We have to do something that will cause them to react. And I don’t mean building landing strips in the desert and waiting out there to welcome the space brothers.

Clark: But what do you mean?

Vallée: I hesitate to be too specific. I’m speaking, as I’m sure you understand, of the attempted manipulation of UFO manifestations. It’s a pretty tall order. We’re assuming that there is a feedback mechanism involved in the operations of the control system; if you change the information that’s carried back to that system, you might be able to infiltrate it through its own feedback.

Clark: How does one go about investigating UFOs, taking into consideration the possible existence of a control system?

Vallée: You should work outside any organized UFO group. Also you must be very careful about the types of instruments you use for your analysis. For example, I have become increasingly skeptical of the use of computers in UFO research. We’re losing a great many data because of a certain situation that is developing: The field researcher will spend a lot of time and money investigating a case. Typically he will write it up in an excellent 10-to-20-page report; then he’ll send it to his superiors in the organization, assuming that they are going to put it on the computer and that in this way it’s going to add to some great body of knowledge.

But it doesn’t. Investigators should understand that their reports go absolutely nowhere. They end up in a drawer somewhere, they are never published, and they’re quickly forgotten. All that’s left in the computer is a bunch of codes and letters and numbers on magnetic tape somewhere and that’s the end of that.

For another thing you don’t want to go around chasing every UFO that’s reported. If a sighting gets a lot of publicity, you should stay the hell away from it. Instead you should go after cases that you select yourself, ones that have received very little publicity and you’ve heard about through personal channels. There are plenty of those and they are surprisingly rich in content. You should take your time investigating them. Get involved with the people as human beings. And then you have to become part of the scene, getting as close as you can to what’s happening especially if it continues to happen.


Jacques Vallée Discusses UFO Control System with Jerome Clark (1978)

A Specific Rationale for Vallee’s UFO Control System by William Treurniet (2015)


Breakaway Civilization

A secretive group within a nation or society which furthers a hidden agenda involving technological advancements which lead to resource independence from the parent community.

Researcher Richard Dolan coined this term to describe a separately evolving, covert, technically advanced community of people with significant resources siphoned off from a host society. This very autocratic, even fascist elite society would use any means necessary to remain invisible to its host society, repress public technology, and maintain the status quo of the energy industry. Its resources would include but are not limited to, financial, social, or material demands which would be transcended as a result of an agenda’s success.

This is not a hypothesis relating directly to UFOs as much as the other here, but has become a notable concept within the realm of speculation. It is also generally synonymous with the notions of a ‘deep state’ or ‘illuminati’, but is more literal and focused on the implications and origins of such a group which could potentially play a key role within the UFO phenomenon.

Dolan asserts that by now, the classified world has moved far beyond the reach of the public world. Given the mixture of an unparalleled military budget and private connections, he purposes the likelihood exists there is a clandestine group that possesses:

  • Technology that is vastly superior to that of the “mainstream” world.
  • The ability to explore areas of our world and surroundings presently unavailable to the rest of us.
  • Scientific and cosmological understandings that give them greater insights into the nature of our world
  • A significant “built off the grid” infrastructure, partially underground, that affords them a high degree of secrecy and independence of action

This might well qualify them as a separate civilization – one that has broken away from our own, in effect, a breakaway civilization. Still interacting with our own, its members probably move back and forth between the official reality of what we are supposed to believe, and the other reality which encompasses new truths and challenges.


Richard Dolan’s lecture at the Secret Space Program Conference (2014)