UFOs are aerial objects, sighted by visual or electronic means, which fail to identify themselves, and which remain unexplained after review of the evidence by competent personnel with scientific training. (In popular usage, UFO includes any aerial object or optical phenomenon which the observer cannot explain). Inexplicable aerial objects with erratic movements at high velocities are believed to have caused fatal air accidents; and have resulted in ground and air sighter panic, and a considerable expenditure of money and time in governmental investigations. They disrupt air traffic control procedures and may be interpreted as hostile attacks on radar screens, thus leading to the danger of accidental military over-reaction. They arouse concern in the public mind, especially on the basis of reports of abductions and other phenomena dangerous to human life. The phenomena and reports of them have a dubious effect on human culture at the mythic and spiritual levels.
Despite world wide reports of UFOs, the central problem remains whether in fact they exist and what in fact they are. Consideration of the problem is complicated by the large number of reports which prove to result from misidentification of aircraft, celestial objects, balloons, birds, and meteorological phenomena, as well as deliberate falsification of evidence by hoaxers. There is therefore a marked reluctance on the part of witnesses to report such objects, for fear of the official ridicule with which honest reports of genuinely puzzling phenomena have been received in the past. It is further complicated by psychological studies attributing such sightings to individual or collective hallucinations and people who, consciously or unconsciously, seek recognition.
UFOs have been seen throughout history and have been described according to the culture within which they were observed, whether as gods, magicians, or as interplanetary travellers. UFO reports have been made in almost every country of the world. More than 20,000 sightings have been catalogued, of which more than 1,500 concern objects described in detail from a short distance. Such reports bear a certain similarity to one another. In the USA, it has been estimated that about half the population believes in the existence of flying saucers and about one person in 20 claims to have seen one. SEPRA, the space study unit in France, has documented 2,300 cases in the period 1979-1993, some of which were hoaxes, some capable of rational explanation, but more than 40% could not be easily explained. A Belgian unit has logged 1,500 sightings based on reports to the gendarmerie.
The phenomena called unidentified flying objects are neither objects nor flying. Reliable photographs indicate that they can dematerialize and can violate the laws of motion as currently known. The UFO phenomenon does not give evidence of being extraterrestrial at all. Instead it appears to be inter-dimensional and to manipulate physical realities outside the space-time continuum recognized by humans. There are two reasons the scientific community has been unable to address the phenomenon sensibly. Firstly, because it is so elusive that it cannot be readily studied, and trained observers are loathe to commit themselves publicly for fear of ridicule by their peers. Secondly, because of fear in that any explanation of what is now a frequently documented phenomenon would constitute a profound challenge to cherished theories about the nature of the human understanding of the cosmos. If the reality behind the UFO phenomenon is both physical and psychic in nature, and if it manipulates space and time in ways that current scientific concepts are inadequate to describe, it is to be expected that its effects would not be limited to any particular period of history or geographical area. The UFO phenomenon is shielded from direct study by the persistent, misguided official denial of its very existence. It is made more confusing by the reactions and fears of witnesses. It is further protected from ultimate discovery by its own nature.
Proponents of the alien space-craft theory cite stories in which government secrecy concerning contact with aliens plays the principal role. Those versed in Atlantean and hollow-earth lore have identified them as the vehicles of a subterranean race. Other groups have indicated their nature as apocalyptic signs, or intrusion of hyper-space objects, or holographic projections from a deep-space based civilization, or equally, robotic specimen collectors for an inter-galactic zoo. Despite the overly-enthusiastic and imaginative conjectures UFO research is a serious and important area of activity that is concerned inter-alia, with exobiology, propulsion energy systems, high-energy physics, and a number of other subjects which make it a prototype of inter-disciplinary research. The existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos may yet be proven through UFO sightings, with unprecedent consequences for the human race. It is possible to make large sections of any population believe in the existence of supernatural races, in the possibility of flying machines, in the plurality of inhabited worlds, by exposing them to a few carefully engineered scenes the details of which are adapted to the culture and symbols of a particular time and place.