Stochastic Scribbles
Random musings in a variety of subjects, from science to religion.

Have you seen a UFO?

Have you ever seen a UFO?

UFO is an abbreviation for “unidentified flying object”, so anything you see in flying through the sky that you can’t identify is technically a UFO. However, from the very beginning when Project Blue Book leader Edward Ruppelt presumably coined the term, it was associated with supposed extraterrestrials being seen visiting our planet. It is sort of ironic since it was meant to replace the term “flying saucers” for being too closely associated with extraterrestrial visitations, although there is also the additional factor that not all UFOs looked like saucers.

An unidentified flying object; from Wikimedia Commons

Given both meanings of “UFO” as an abbreviation for an unidentified flying object and as a sighting of an alien spacecraft, how should one answer when asked whether one has seen a UFO? If you have never noticed anything in the sky you couldn’t identify, then the answer is an easy “no”. But what if you did notice something in the sky you couldn’t identify? And what if you’re also a skeptic who doesn’t leap to the conclusion that it’s an alien spacecraft or something else just as fantastical?

Do you worry about the strong associations that the term “UFO” has with supposed sightings of extraterrestrial visitations and answer “no”? You could be misleading the questioner into thinking that you have never noticed anything in the sky you couldn’t identify. The questioner could be further confused when you’re asked if you have never seen anything in the sky you couldn’t identify and you answer that you actually have seen something like that. This could prompt the questioner to repeat the question: “So that means you actually have seen a UFO, an unidentified flying object, does it not?” Do you still insist that you have never seen a UFO and continue to confuse anyone who considers it just to mean an unidentified flying object, no more, no less? Or do you grudgingly admit that you have seen one?

Do you just consider the technical meaning of the term and answer “yes” and risk ridicule for having a fringe belief? It might not even help to clarify that it just means you just noticed something you couldn’t identify. Dennis Kucinich received widespread ridicule for saying that he did see a UFO in a presidential debate despite stressing that he only meant it in the sense that he couldn’t identify it. And it doesn’t stop UFO nuts from piling on former president Jimmy Carter’s claim that he saw a UFO, even when making clear that he didn’t think it was an alien spacecraft and that he received no information that UFOs were anything other than unidentified sightings that may as well be due to mundane phenomena while he was president, although his sighting may have been Venus as seen through a rare atmospheric optical effect that could confuse someone who is otherwise familiar with what the planet looks like.

My own answer would be thus: “Yes, I have. I am pretty certain that I have never seen an alien spacecraft or something equally fantastical, but I have noticed things in the sky that I could not identify.” I have seen unrecognizable lights in the night sky a few times, and although I can make a good guess of what some of them were, they remain unidentified. And now that I barely remember the details of what I saw, it’s even more unlikely that anyone would be able to identify them. But I never did have the belief that any of them were alien spacecraft: they never did look like anything that would make me think they were of artificial extraterrestrial origin as opposed to any number of mundane phenomenon that I’m not aware of, which is why they didn’t make a strong enough impression for me to remember the details clearly. But would this answer still get me branded as a crazy kook?

What would your answer be?