Should Our Scientists Take UFOs and Ghosts More Seriously?
Article by John Horgan May 18, 2020 (scientificamerican.com)
• Leslie Kean (pictured above) is a co-author of the 2017 New York Times front-page article on Pentagon investigations of UFOs. (see ExoArticle here “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program”). She is also the author of the 2010 bestseller UFOs: Generals, Pilots, And Government Officials Go On The Record and also her 2017 book Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for an Afterlife. John Horgan, who has a hard time believing in ghosts and alien visitations, interviewed her to ask about UFOs and the paranormal.
• Kean tells Horgan that she wasn’t interested in UFOs and the paranormal until she reached adulthood. When she was a child, she believed in the “supernormal magic” of Santa Clause because he took a bite from the Christmas cookies she left out which proved he was real. When she learned that Santa didn’t exist, she felt betrayed by “the authorities” – her parents – for lying to her. “Something precious had been taken away”” says Kean. “Maybe at some unconscious level this led me to want to find out what’s real and to prove the so-called authorities wrong.”
• When Kean was a freelance writer in 1999, she came across a 90-page ‘COMETA Report’ by retired French generals, police, scientists and an admiral. (see COMETA reports Part 1 here and Part 2 here) The group had spent three years documenting official military and aviation UFO cases. Their conclusion was that the “extraterrestrial hypothesis” was the most valid and logical one to explain the data. Their report proposed that pilots be trained on how to respond to UFOs to avoid future mishaps or even dangerous accidents. Given the stature and credibility of the group, Kean published a lengthy article based on the COMETA Report for the Boston Globe in May, 2000.
• Whether UFOs might be piloted by aliens, “I …will not rule it out,” says Kean. “There are many possibilities on the table. I have made the point over and over that we do not know what these objects are, and that’s where things stand.” “My book concluded that (the UFO) phenomenon exists, without question. …It’s physical, and well documented, even by our government. But what these objects are is another question…. (which) has led to all kinds of speculation. These flying machines, whatever they are, might not even have any drivers at all, for all we know.”
• The best evidence we have that UFOs have an extraterrestrial origin is the “extremely advanced technology that the objects have displayed since the 1950’s. They demonstrate tremendous speed and accelerations, the ability to make sharp right-angle turns, stand still in midair, zoom off and disappear in the blink of an eye, and operate under water. They appear to defy the laws of aviation as we know it, since they have no wings or visible means of propulsion. The documentation goes back more than 60 years, when no one on this planet had technology like this.”
• Kean says she doesn’t know what to make of alien abduction experiences. “I know sane, intelligent people who report such events, and some even have physical evidence of them. Their lives have been turned upside down by these experiences. … It points to the greater complexity of this issue which goes beyond any simple hypothesis.”
• What does Kean say about journalists like Keith Kloor who accused Kean’s NYTimes article as “thinly-sourced and slanted”? “I simply don’t agree with Kloor’s statement,” says Kean. “[I was] one of three people writing the Times stories, which include scrutiny by fact-checkers and multiple editors.” “[I] will continue to cover the (UFO) topic whenever we can.”
• Astrophysicist Katie Mack, said in Scientific American, that she doesn’t take alien spaceships seriously enough to debunk them. Kean says that she understands Mack’s position, as UFOs might not be “alien spaceships” at all. “[A]ny question about alien spaceships misses the point,” says Kean. “These are unknowns, plain and simple. But they are physically real. They interact with military pilots and commercial aircraft. Therefore, they deserve investigation.”
• “During the ten years I was investigating UFOs, I had been intrigued by the question of the possible survival of consciousness when we die,” says Kean. “I had poked around into some of the research, especially the work of Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia studying young children with verified past life memories. …This was another big mystery facing human beings: what happens when we die?” So Kean wrote the book: Surviving Death. “Most of my “paranormal” experiences occurred during the time I was involved in the (book’s) research, which began in 2012,” says Kean. “The experiences I had were beyond my imagination. They were life-changing. …So writing Surviving Death was a journey of discovery which unfolded while I was writing it.”
• In Surviving Death, Kean didn’t make any “claims about life after death” that she felt could discredit her as a writer. “I invited others to write their own chapters, and they said things that I didn’t say. My conclusion was that the evidence was suggestive (of life existing after death), but not definitive.” Kean received what appeared to be after-death communications from [her] brother, saw an apparition, and experienced genuine physical mediumship. “I think my narrative would have remained one-dimensional and abstract without this personal element. …It would have been dishonest to omit them, because they impacted my thinking and my effort to come to terms with many remarkable phenomena” while remaining analytical and discriminating with everything else. “The tricky aspect lies in the interpretation of the extraordinary events, not in their reporting.”
• “Paranormal phenomena exist,” insists Kean. “They seem to operate outside the limits of the current materialistic framework adapted by most scientists, while at the same time, nobody can explain what consciousness actually is. …I find it astonishing that there are still some scientists who adapt the position that ‘it can’t be, therefore it isn’t.’ …I have witnessed many paranormal phenomena myself, and I know they exist. Those who don’t want to believe these things will dismiss them no matter what they read.”
• “Cases of very young children who report accurate details of a past life, complete with nightmares about the previous death and knowledge from the previous career, are compelling when the memories can be verified and the previous person is identified,” says Kean. “Cases of responsive apparitions are also interesting – these “forms” demonstrate intelligence by reacting to multiple human observers, and sometimes provide information through telepathy about their lives on earth which are verified to be true.” “There is a wealth of literature on all of this,” says Kean. “[In] the words of William James: “If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, you mustn’t seek to show that all crows are black; it is enough if you prove one single crow to be white.”
• The ‘life after death’ question centers “around the nature of human consciousness and its manifestations that appear to transcend the limitations of the brain. …Who are we really? Biological robots, or something else?” asks Kean. “I think all aspects of “superhuman” functioning – precognition, clairvoyance, telepathy, psychokinesis, and energy healing – should be taken seriously. They have been well documented. Where is the curiosity among scientists about the mysteries of the unknown?”
• Keans says that at first she was “skeptical about claims of alien visitations as being the simplistic answer to the UFO question. I was a skeptic about the afterlife when I began my work on that topic. It was my personal experiences that opened my eyes.” “Some ‘parapsychologists’ and other scientific investigators are doing brilliant work on all of this, but they are hampered by the mainstream scientific community’s irrational disrespect. Someday that dam will break.”
Like many long-time readers of The New York Times, I was shocked when the staid old paper published, in 2017, a front-page article on Pentagon investigations of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. This article, plus a shorter sidebar and a 2019 follow-up, heartened those who believe that extraterrestrials have visited us and annoyed skeptics like my friend journalist Keith Kloor. Last December, I met journalist Leslie Kean, a co-author of the Times articles and sole author of the 2010 bestseller UFOs: Generals, Pilots, And Government Officials Go On The Record, at a week-long symposium on challenges to conventional scientific materialism, about which I wrote here. At the meeting, which took place at the Esalen Institute in California, Kean talked about the possibility of life after death, a topic she explores in her 2017 book Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for an Afterlife (which includes chapters from other contributors). Kean and I hit it off. I told her that, although I have a hard time believing in ghosts and alien visitations, I admire the courage and professionalism with which she investigates these topics. I also enjoy talking to smart people whose views diverge from mine, like renegade biologists Rupert Sheldrake and Stuart Kauffman. So last week, after the Times published yet another UFO story by Kean and her collaborator Ralph Blumenthal—which triggered more pushback from Kloor–I emailed Kean a few questions. – John Horgan
Horgan: When I was a kid, I was obsessed with UFOs and the paranormal. Were you like that too?
Kean: No, not until I was an adult. Although I do remember having mystical feelings about Santa Claus as a young child. It happened when I saw that my cookies, carefully placed next to the Christmas tree, had been nibbled on by Santa during his visitation into my world the previous Christmas Eve. It was solid evidence that something magic, something “supernormal” had actually occurred. This fantastical being who could be everywhere at once had been in my living room and left behind a physical bite mark to prove his existence. The authorities of the day, my parents, confirmed it. I felt momentarily transported, expanded, into a new level of connection to something big and mysterious. That may sound silly, but it was true. When I found out the truth about Santa later, I felt betrayed. Something precious had been taken away. My parents weren’t trustworthy because they lied to me. Maybe at some unconscious level this led me to want to find out what’s real and to prove the so-called authorities wrong. I’m not totally serious, but I suppose it’s possible.
Horgan: When and why did you first decide to write about UFOs? Was there any particular triggering event?
Kean: My serious interest in UFOs as a journalist began in 1999 when I was working as an on-air host and producer for public radio and publishing as a freelancer. I unexpectedly received an explosive 90-page report titled UFOs and Defense: What Should We Prepare For? by retired French generals, police, scientists and an admiral. The report intended to “strip the UFO phenomenon of its irrational layer”. The group had spent three years documenting official military and aviation UFO cases. Most stunning was their conclusion: that the “extraterrestrial hypothesis” was the most valid and logical one to explain the data. Of course there was no proof, only an hypothesis. The authors were concerned about the national security implications of the phenomenon and proposed that pilots be trained on how to respond to UFOs to avoid future mishaps or even dangerous accidents. Given the stature and credibility of the group, I thought this was a huge story. I published a lengthy article based on the report, known as the COMETA Report, for the Boston Globe in May, 2000, which required overcoming the reservations of a very nervous editor. [See links to the COMETA Report here and here.] That’s what set me on this path, and there was no turning back. And two decades later, I can hardly believe how things have changed. [See this Times story by Ralph Blumenthal for more background on Kean’s UFO coverage.]
Horgan: One admirer of your book UFOs describes you as an “agnostic” on whether UFOs are actually piloted by aliens. When I met you at Esalen, you struck me as a believer, not an agnostic. Am I wrong?
Kean: Piloted by aliens? I have an open mind, but no, I don’t believe that and have never said that. But I also will not rule it out. There are many possibilities on the table. I have made the point over and over that we do not know what these objects are, and that’s where things stand. My book concluded that a phenomenon exists, without question, named “unidentified flying objects” by the US Air Force in the 1950’s. It’s physical, and well documented, even by our government. But what these objects are is another question. That’s what everyone wants to know, and that desire has led to all kinds of speculation. On that question my 2010 book was agnostic, and it was recognized as such. These flying machines, whatever they are, might not even have any drivers at all for all we know.
Horgan: What is the best single piece of evidence that UFOs have an extraterrestrial origin?
Kean: The extremely advanced technology that the objects have displayed since the 1950’s. They demonstrate tremendous speed and accelerations, the ability to make sharp right-angle turns, stand still in midair, zoom off and disappear in the blink of an eye, and operate under water. They appear to defy the laws of aviation as we know it, since they have no wings or visible means of propulsion. The documentation goes back more than 60 years, when no one on this planet had technology like this. In some cases, experts, such as officials from the French Space Agency, had enough data to rule out all conventional explanations (meaning it wasn’t something natural or man-made). These cases represent only a small fraction of those reported, but they are the ones that matter. So, what are we left with?
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alien abduction, biological robots, Boston Globe, COMETA reports, Consciousness, Ian Stevenson, John Horgan, Katie Mack, Keith Kloor, Leslie Kean, New York Times, paranormal phenomena, Santa Clause, Scientific American, UFOs