"[T]here are things seen in the sky which are unidentified--that's what an unidentified flying object is, it means we don't know what it is. It doesn't mean it's a space vehicle from somewhere else. And there ought to be things in the sky that we don't understand--the sky is very rich in phenomena--astronomical, meteorological, optical and man-made phenomena. And therefore only a very reliable sighting of an extremely exotic object ought to be considered in any way relevant to our problem of life elsewhere. And to the best of my knowledge, there are lots of exotic reports, but none of those exotic reports are reliable."note 1Sagan was speaking 40 years before the release of military images by the five-year-long Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, that excited many people who have a fervent need to believe in extraterrestrial intelligence. But I'm absolutely sure that those images would not have changed Sagan's opinion one iota. He believed that mysterious things are seen in the skies but that there's no valid reason to jump to the conclusion that they are intelligently-guided spaceships. And I agree (of course.)
So what should we say about those people—millions of them—who really do maintain that at least some of the woo-woo in the sky is ET observing us? Are they all crazy, or what?
The light years
I was led to this question because on my reading list last week was Chris Rush's memoir The Light Yearsnote 2. Rush, now an aging and respected mainstream artist, abandoned his well-heeled New Jersey family while still a teenager and dropped into the drug culture of the '60s. BIG TIME. Publisher's Weekly wrote:
"Rush’s storytelling shines as he travels across the country and back again, searching for truth, love, UFOs in New Mexico, peace, something that feels like God, and a place to call home."I have no qualifications in psychiatry but I'm as sure as I can be that Rush really was crazy at that time. He took every recreational drug that was around, feminized himself to the point of absurdity, and wandered the Arizona mountains and deserts with no plan other than to "find God." And he really was a UFO believer in the full sense. He writes:
"I saw a flying saucer this summer. They're all over the place now. I think maybe this is also part of the story, you know—the Space People and how they want us to change. I'm confident they'll be here soon. I hear that if we all visualize the ships, that'll encourage them to come even sooner."Rush was so convinced of the importance of the UFO phenomenon that he contacted, and eventually visited, the one-time write-in Presidential candidate Gabriel Green, founder of the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America Inc. I have no hesitation in declaring that Green (1924-2001) was a nutcase. He declared that he had met the crew of a flying saucer, and that they came from the planet Korendor, a satellite of Alpha Centauri. A modern equivalent would be Corey Goode, who claims many such face-to-face meetings. Neither of them has any credibility whatever.
The Heaven's Gate "away team" were all crazy, but what about Courtney Brown? It was he who through so-called "remote viewing" told the world that there was an alien spaceship accompanying comet Hale-Bopp, and it was precisely that IFO that the Heaven's Gate loonies believed they could get aboard by means of suicide. I doubt if Brown is really crazy, more likely just misinformed and arrogant.
"Misinformed and arrogant" would apply also to Robert Morningstar, editor of UFO Digest, who gets castigated a lot in this blog because of his wildly erroneous declarations—a perfect example from last September would be this. He's an educated and reasonably intelligent man, but when it comes to the UFO phenomenon he loses all analytical skills, and peddles trash like this. The one thing that Morningstar will never, ever, do is admit that he was mistaken.
A business decision
There's money to be made in the UFO business—serious money. Many people are so thirsty for updates that the market for books, magazines, videos and conferences on the topic has never been brisker. The quintessential exploiter of this market is Tom Delonge's To The Stars Academy, launched in 2014. TTSA was chosen as the conduit for the US Government's release of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification data, and Delonge recruited Luis Elizondo from that project once he retired from the Pentagon, plus several other former federal officials. I don't think any of those people are mad in the slightest—they just see a business opportunity and want to be part of it. They may be right, although a fairly recent article in Motherboard casts some doubt on TTSA's financial prospects. It's perfectly possible that Delonge and his collaborator Hal Puthoff don't themselves believe UFOs are IFOs—perhaps they're just very keen to promote themselves and their "research" to those who do.
So in contemplating all this, I find no answer to my own question. Clearly, you don't have to be bonkers to be a believer, but it certainly helps.
 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 1977
 Farrar, Straus and Giroux (April 2, 2019) ISBN: 0374294410