Questioning the ‘Real’ Phenomenon

Claude Maugé
Magonia 13, 1983

This paper is a longer version of my intervention at the Anglo/French UFO meeting in Boulogne (19-20 February 1983). I quote particularly French-speaking authors, partly to make them better known, partly because I don’t know very much about the enormous English literature. I thank Jacques Scornaux and Dominique Behar for their aid with the translation, but only I am responsible for all the mistakes!

I use the following definitions (see 6):
  • pre UFO (in French: pré-OVNI) = any ‘observation’, real or not, which the ‘witness’ or any person calls ‘UFO’; it can be for example a real flying saucer, a misinterpretation of the moon, or a case invented by a journalist. All the pre UFO cases build up the UFO phenomenon in the broad sense.
  • A pre UFO case can be unexplainable or can become explained — it is also an IFO (French: OVI = objet volant identifié) – or can be not explained – it is also a near UFO (French: quasi-OVNI) = any ‘observation’ which remains unexplained by competent experts (?). All the near UFO cases build up the UFO phenomenon in the limited sense.
  • A near UFO case can later become explained because of the progress of the investigations or the evolution of science, or can be a true UFO (French: vrai-OVNI), the whole of which is the UFO phenomenon in the strict sense.
All these terms may be improvable.


Pierre Guérin (3) wrote in 1977 that the existence of a fundamentaly original UFO phenomenon was proved by the conjunction of three arguments:

Apparently this argument is still sound, even if the number of such cases is much lower than many ufologists said (or still say), such as Aimé Michel (12) who said 22 million or Claude Poher (l6) 90 million! Eighty or ninety per cent at least of the cases in many catalogues don’t seem to be true UFOs or near UFOs (6). because today they are well explained, doubtful, or it is impossible to evaluate their credibility and/or probability of being or not being really original phenomena’(cf. news clippings).

For example, the computer printout of traces cases from UFOCAT (11) includes 29 traces cases in September-October 1954 in France: 13 are well explained, 6 are doubtful, 10 cases remain, but only one (Chabeuil, 26 September 1954) or perhaps two (Chabeuil and Poncey-sur-L’Ignon, 4 October) (4) is (are) sound (6). Better (or worse!), the same listing includes 16 Belgian cases with traces; only one is sound (Bouffioulx, 16 May 1953) but the attribution of the ‘traces’ to the UFO is absolutely not justified, and the only case with a trace rightly attributed to the ‘UFO’ is well explained! (1, 6) In fact, it is perhaps possible to estimate the number of sound cases (a priori non-suspect witnesses, good observing conditions, content of observations really extraordinary and not reducible to known phenomena, and good investigation) to be some thousands, or even fewer!

But this argument is reduced to nothing by the UFO/IFO ‘indistinguishability’ (see 2.1).

But what is the value of this analysis if 80 or 90% at least of the catalogued cases are identified or doubtful? The consistency which seems to emerge is only an artefact like orthoteny (see, for example, 20)

How good are the other pro arguments?

I take here the example of the extraterrestrial hypothesis: it is true that the ETH is not only a pure ufological construction and is built on exobiological arguments which are very speculative but which we cannot purely and simply ignore; it is also true that the researches of J McCampbell, J P Petit or M de San (and others) bring possible solutions to the propulsion problem or that some theoretical impossibilities’ might have technological solutions. But the problem of cosmic distances, the ‘anthropo-psycho- logical’ component of the UFO phenomenon, etc., are very embarrassing for the ETH. Above all, what is the reliability of so many researches which are based on so many doubtful cases (cf. McCampbell using Vall4e’s catalogue)? Therefore, the apparent (reinforced by the ET myth) consistency of the ETH is not necessarily an argument for validity. Moreover, the nonreducing models have epistemological disadvantages: they change the paradigms completely and are less economical; they are not falsifiable. (15)

But no alleged pieces of UFOs seem to be extraordinary, and the ‘proofs’ by L Stringfield of crashed UFOs and the existence of humanoids’ bodies show above all the absence of critical thinking by Stringfield. Really interesting photographs and other records are extremely rare and are not definitive proofs, and the controversies about radar cases do not allow us to draw definite conclusions from cases such as Lakenheath or Haneda (for a discussion of such evidence see reference.

For example:
■‘The attitude in official circles proves that there is something in the UFO phenomenon.’ This attitude is often ambiguous, but it proves only that official circles don’t really understand the phenomenon.
■‘Debunkers are backward anthropocentrists.’ Perhaps, but on the other hand believers might also feel the need for Somebody or Somethihg who transcends them…
■‘Debunkers are not aware of recent scientific discoveries.’ It is often true but, more often (at least in France) believers also are not aware of these discoveries.
■ ’If there was nothing in the UFO phenomenon we should have a convincing socio-psychological model.’ Precisely. Such a model is seriously beginning to emerge.
■In fact, the only pro argument which seems reliable to me is the apparent existence of some thousands (?) of reliable abnormal cases. But to me the con arguments seem to be increasingly sound.


It would seem that the UFO cases and the IFO cases are a priori indistinguishable.
They correspond to the same stories, they contain the same details, and the range of data does not become smaller when the explained cases are removed. (13, 21) In particular, many cases which, we were assured, ‘totally reliable and totally unexplainable’ were later well explained. But this indistinguishability is far from being proved, and it is not by itself a definitive argument against the reality of a fundamentally original UFO phenomenon.

Besides many dubious people or groups, most ufologists seem to be intelligent and honest. But they often have very sketchy scientific knowledge (for example, of geophysics or psychology) and their critical attitude is very often unsatisfactory: see for example Stanton Friedman, Pierre Guerin and his analysis of the Warminster photographs, Aimé Michel and his paleolithic UFOs, Leo Sprinkle and his ‘cosmic citizens’, Leonard Stringfield and many others… See also the (very) low standard of almost all the UFO papers and books; and also the mixture of UFOs with ‘hollow earth’, Bermuda mystery, Loch Ness monster, animal mutilations, ‘ET in history’, Charroux’s and Daniken’s theories, and so on (there are perhaps relationships between some of these data and UFOs, but evidence of such relationships is very flimsy).
■ The residue postulate (cf. Oberg (14)), that is the equivalence – unexplained case = unexplainable case = true UFO (= ET – The Zorro syndrome of J Scornaux (21): the ufologist who studies a case and seems to explain it in a conventional manner, but ‘proves’ (in reality, claims) that some small detail shows that the proposed explanation cannot be correct, therefore the case is necessarily a true UFO.
■ The case unity postulate: in several reports it is the ufologist (or the witness) who builds the unity of the case in combining independent details.
■ The objective causes postulate, or the reliability of testimony postulate: if the ufologist hasn’t an objective reason to decide if the anomalies of the case are due to the witness or to the object, he postulates that the cause is always the object.
■ The UFO/IFO independence postulate: there is no interaction between the 11F0 phenomenon and the IFO phenomenon, apart from very marginally, therefore IFO studies are useless for obtaining knowledge about UFOs. In fact, many ufologists seem to be trapped in a system of belief where everything reinforces everythinq, and in which the power of the ET myth plays a fundamental role – whatever the reality may be about FT visits to Earth.

The consequence of the combination of the UFO/IFO indistinguishability and of the freguent lack of reliability of the ufologists seems to be that almost all the UFO literature since 1947 (case studies and theoretical studies) has almost no value. This combination obliges us, then, to formulate the crucial question: are today’s unexplained cases as explainable as the others?

which is based on (among other things):
■ the numerous convergences between the UFO phenomenon and various productions of our brains and the at least structural analogies with similar phenomena: science fiction (9), folklore, NDE, many religious apparitions such as Marian apparitians or the 1905 Welsh revival (7), ASC, for example with hallucinogens, shamanism, sorcery (10), historical filiation of the ET myth (19) and so on.
■ a beginning of a study of the perceptual and cognitive processes which transform a more or less ordinary stimulus into a UFO. After the ‘pioneers’ such as Jaques Meerloo (8) or Michel Monnerie (13), the most important researches are those from M. Jimenez of GEPAN (4), based on the perception model of J Bruner, and Paolo Toselli (23); Toselli takes several factors into account, among which are the social and cultural influences on perception, and distinguishes three ‘transposition’ levels. ‘misinterpretation’ (the witness describes objectively the ‘banal’ stimulus but calls it a ‘UFO’); ‘projective transformation’ (the witness projects his more or less conscious knowledge of the UFO phenomenon into the stimulus); and ‘projective elaboration’ (with production of a complex story).
■ a beginning of analysis of the different steps of the transmission chain of information: witness (see above, the data of A_Keul_T5j, etc.), ufologists, official circles, mass media, general public. We know, for example, the extent of the beliefs in UFOs which several polls show, or the role of release events in several UFO waves (17), which might be compared with some episodes of ‘collective delirium’. (22)
■ some indications of the meaning of UFOs, many of which derive from the ideas of C G Jung: see for example J. Meerloo (8), J. B. Renard (18) and the ‘cargo cult of the west’, or P. Geste who thinks that the hard UFO experience (contact, abduction…) can protect the subject from psychosis.

In fact, despite the existence of thousands (?) of reliable cases which are rather embarrassing for the sociopsychological hypothesis, and despite some other problems (such as the genesis of UFO phenomena), this hypothesis – plus certainly natural physical phenomena, some of which might directly affect our brains (cf. Persinger) – seems to me to have a solid consistency and seems to me today to be the most fruitful working hypothesis. But we must not forget that this hypothesis is perhaps like the ETH, a system of belief.

  1. BOITTE, Franck and SCORNAUX, Jacques, Personal communications. See 6.
  2. GREENWELL, J. Richard, Evidence for UFOs, types of, in STORY, R., The Encyclopedia of UFOs. Doubleday/New English
  3. Library, 1980, pp 112-113.
  4. GUERIN, Pierre, Le probleme de la preuve en ufologie, in BOURRET, J.C., Le nouveau défi des OVNI. Ed. France Empire, 1977, pp 267-315, or Ed. Presses-Pocket, 1978, pp 274-324.
  5. JIMENEZ, Manual, Les phénoménes aérospatiaux non-identifiés et la psychologie de la perception. Note Technique No. 10, GEPAN, 1981.
  6. KEUL, Alexander, Personlichkeitsvariable und Realitatsprufung von ungewohnlichen Zeugenaussagen. Wien, 1980.
  7. MAUGE, Claude, OVNI-OVI: sur un certain état de la question. To appear in Inforespace.
  8. McCLURE, Kevin and McCLURE, Sue, Stars and Rumours of Stars.
  9. MEERLOO, Jost A.M., Le syndrome des soucoupes volantes – Un modele pour l’étude des erreurs optiques et des illusions psychiques. Médecine et Hygiéne (Geneve), 27 September 1967, Vol. 25, No. 794, pp 992-996. The flying saucer syndrome and the need for miracles, JAMA, 18 March 1968, Vol. 203, No. 12, p. 1074.
  10. MÉHEUST, Bertrand, Science-fiction et soucoupes volantes. Mercure de France, 1978.
  11. MÉHEUST, Bertrand, La transe apatride. Mercure de France, to be published 1983.
  12. MERRITT, Fred, Physical traces of UFO sightings – a computer printout CUFOS, 2nd ed., 1980.
  13. MICHEL, Aims, Sur la nature réelle de 1′observation rapprochée. Lumiéres dans la nuit, January 1976, No. 151. pp. 3-5.
  14. MONNERIE, Michel, Et si les OVNIs n’existaient pas? Les humanoides associés, 1977.
  15. OBERG, James, The failure of the ‘science’ of ufology. New Scientist, 11 October 1979, Vol. 84, No. 1176, pp 102-105.
  16. PINVIDIC, Thierry, Quelques reflexions sur les priorities de la recherche. Inforespace, No. 6 hors-serie, December 1982
  17. POHER, Claude, Etudes et reflexions a propos du phenomene ‘OVNI’. L’Aeronautique et l’Astronautique, 1975, No. 52, pp 69-77, 79. This paper was also published in Lumiéres dans la nuit, February 1976, No. 152, pp 3-7 and in BOURRET, J.C., Le nouveau défi des OVNI, ed. France-Empire 1977, pp 226-258 or ed: Presses-Pocket, 1978, pp 231-265.
  18. REDON, I., MORAND, M. and GAUDEAU, C., Modelisation du principe de l’emergence – applications biologiques et sociopsychologiques. To appear in Revue de bio-mathématique.
  19. RENARD, Jean-Bruno, Le ‘cargo-cult’ de l’Occident. Le Monde, 19-20 March, 1978, p. 9.
  20. SCHMITT, Alain, Le leitmotiv extraterrestre dans l’ufologie. To appear in Les chroniques de la CLEU.
  21. SCORNAUX, Jacques, L’orthoténie: un grand espoir decu?. Inforespace, from No. 23, October 1975 to No. 27, May 1976.
  22. SCORNAUX, Jacques, Du ‘monnerisme’ et de son bon usage. INFO-OVNI, 1981, No. 7/8, (74 pp).
  23. SHIBUTANI, Tamutsu, Improvised a sociological study of rumor, Bobbs Merrill, 1966.
  24. TOSELLI, Paolo, Examining the IFO cases – the human factor. Paper presented at the First International UPIAR Colloquium on Human Sciences and UFO Phenomena. To be published in URIP.