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From angels to aliens: Humankind's ongoing encounters with, and evolving interpretations of, the genuine celestial unknown



Throughout history, people have observed aerial events that appeared extraordinary and anomalous. In earlier eras, these were often interpreted through a lens that invoked special classes of divine beings, such as angels (who, compared with gods, are regarded as more likely to interact with humans). Today, in our ostensibly secular scientific age, there is a tendency to assume such observers were mis�taken, and that with the benefit of modern knowledge, theseevents can be “debunked” and attributed to conventional naturalistic ex�planations. However, recent years have seen a burgeoning interest and even concern over the issue of unidentified aerial phenomena. Through the lens of our “space age,” these are sometimes interpreted using notions such as extraterrestrial agents. Ultimately though, this article suggests that both categories of explanation, from angels to aliens, may be the perennial human quest to render comprehensible, through the prism of prevailing beliefs and traditions, an ongoing encounter with celestial phenomena that remain genuinely unknown but deeply significant.
From Angels to Aliens:
Humankind’s Evolving Encounters with the Genuine Celestial Unknown
Throughout history, people have observed aerial events that appeared extraordinary and anomalous.
In earlier eras, these were often interpreted through a lens that invoked special classes of divine
beings, such as angels (who, compared to gods, are regarded as more likely to interact with humans).
Today, in our ostensibly secular scientific age, there is a tendency to assume such observers were
mistaken, and that with the benefit of modern knowledge, such events can be “debunked” and
attributed to conventional naturalistic explanations. However, recent years have seen a burgeoning
interest and even concern over the issue of unidentified aerial phenomena. Through the lens of our
“space age,” these are sometimes interpreted using notions such as extraterrestrial agents. Ultimately
though, this paper suggests that both categories of explanation, from angels to aliens, may be the
perennial human quest to render comprehensible, through the prism of prevailing beliefs and
traditions, an ongoing encounter with celestial phenomena that remain genuinely unknown but deeply
Key words: philosophy; science; extraterrestrial; ultraterrestrial
Throughout history, people have observed celestial events that appeared extraordinary and anomalous,
challenging their expectations about the nature of aerial phenomena, and even of existence itself. Seen
through the lens of “traditional” religious frameworks, these were liable to be interpreted as events
involving an encounter with a divine being. Today, in our more ostensibly secular scientific age,
academics often assume such observers were mistaken, and that these events can be easily attributed
to conventional naturalistic explanations. However, recent years have seen a burgeoning concern with
unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), previously/also referred to as unidentified flying objects
(UFOs). This consternation is even shared by the US military, which in 2020 established a UAP Task
Force to investigate an accumulating body of incidents involving military personnel that resisted
explanation. In the initial 2021 report, of 144 events studied, in 143 cases it determined we “lack
sufficient information in our dataset to attribute incidents to specific explanations.” Moreover, an
updated report in January 2023 identified a further 366 events, of which 177 similarly eluded
explanation, with the publicly available text noting the phenomena demonstrated unusual flight
characteristics or performance capabilities, and require further analysis. Thus, even with all the
knowledge, data, and technology at the disposal of organizations like the US military, these
phenomena remain genuinely unidentified. Such developments cast earlier historical reports of such
events in a different light, not least because these apparently share significant similarities with modern
UAP encounters. Indeed, scholars like Vallée (1969, 1990, 2008) suggest there is a through-line
between historical and modern events, and in some fundamental sense they may represent the same
phenomenon (or at least share considerable overlap.
This paper explores the continuities and discontinuities between these two classes of
interpretation (angels versus aliens). In terms of continuities, we observe that throughout history
humankind has continually: (1) engaged in scientific activities and analysis, including perhaps
especially regarding the cosmos; (2) interpreted scientific observations through the prism of
prevailing traditions and mythologies; and (3) encountered aerial phenomena which were anomalous
in the context of prevailing scientific theories and knowledge, and more relevantly, might still be
deemed anomalous even in light of current scientific theories and knowledge. However, there are also
seeming discontinuities between the interpretations: earlier ages tended to appraise these anomalous
phenomena through ideas which modern people might regard as explicitly religions, such as angels;
by contrast, in our contemporary “space age,” people are more likely to invoke seemingly secular
notions like extra-terrestrial agents. That said, as scholars like Pasulka (2019) have articulated,
contemporary ostensibly-scientific interest in UAP can take on qualities and functions of a religion for
some people, fitting into a broader phenomenon of myriad “New Religious Movements. So, we do
not wish to imply a division between earlier ages as religious/mythological and the modern age as
scientific/rational. These considerations do not mean the relativistic claim that humans have not
progressed scientifically; knowledge of the cosmos genuinely has increased over time. However, per
points (1) and (2), both science and religion/myth are continua stretching back into history, emerging
and evolving on their own interlinked trajectories.
Nevertheless, we can still note a meaningful distinction in interpretations of unusual aerial
phenomena, shifting in recent decades away from notions like angels and towards those such as
aliens, as for example observed by Thompson (1993) in Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic
Imagination. This is not a revisionist claim that historical accounts of angels are really aliens, or vice
versa in the modern era. Rather, both constitute attempts by humans to grapple as best they can with
the cognitive tools, belief systems and social practices at their disposal with phenomena that
fundamentally elude our comprehension, at least for now. After all, despite advances in knowledge of
the cosmos, our enquiries are really only in their infancy as a civilization, and so much still remains
mysterious, from “known unknowns” (e.g., dark matter) to “unknown unknowns” (i.e., possibilities
currently entirely outside our ken). By definition, activities in this paper fall into the former class
(being technically unidentified). Moreover, the true nature of the phenomena” – whatever being(s) or
process(es) may be really behind these encounters might even fall into the latter: not “merely”
intelligent aliens from other planets (which, even if revolutionary, is within the boundaries of current
scientific understanding and probability), but something we cannot presently begin to comprehend.
We explore these ideas over two sections. The first considers experiences and interpretations of our
forebears, while the second looks at the present day, with the dividing line set somewhat arbitrarily
but also meaningfully as 1947 (for reasons explained below).
Historical Encounters
This first part explores reports of anomalous celestial phenomena that occurred before our
contemporary era. We begin by setting the epistemological context for such reports, namely: earlier
ages developed highly sophisticated astronomical knowledge, which was embedded within
cosmologies that included actions of divine intelligences; however, despite such knowledge,
phenomena occurred that were truly anomalous and hard to explain. We then explore how such
phenomena were often interpreted using a special class of explanations involving ideas like angels.
Astronomy and the Anomalous
Science as a formalized process of knowledge acquisition is usually not viewed as becoming
established until the scientific revolution in the early modern era (i.e., 15th Century onwards).
However, people have engaged in practices we would call scientific carefully observing their
environment, testing theories about how it worked, etc. from as early as the fourth millennia BCE.
Indeed, from another perspective, humans have engaged in such endeavours for hundreds of
thousands of years, right back to the domestication of fire. Most relevantly, these efforts included
astronomy and cosmology, with evidence of celestial cartography dating back tens of thousands of
years (Wolodtschenko & Forner, 2007). As a result, people in earlier ages developed a highly
sophisticated understanding of celestial dynamics (Magli et al., 2019). To give one example, such was
the quantity and quality of astronomical data available to Eratosthenes in 2nd Century BCE Greece
that he calculated the circumference of the Earth with considerable accuracy as well as the Earth's
axial tilt and creating the first global projection of the world (Nicastro, 2008). In this way, over the
millennia, people across cultures developed the ability to chart and moreover predict movements of
celestial bodies with real accuracy. This knowledge was interpreted as is our understanding today
through prevailing mythologies and traditions. Although these differed considerably across cultures,
at the risk of generalizing, most cosmologies included beings which we in the modern age might call
divine, sacred, or transcendent, given labels such as gods. Given this background, celestial
phenomena tended to be personified as deities; indeed, the planets’ names in our solar system reflect
their origins as polytheistic gods in the classical world.
However, throughout history, humans have also experienced phenomena which did not align
with their expectations, perceived as anomalous or unusual in some fundamental way. The general
perspective of the cosmos would have involved a relatively stable and predictable set of bodies and
processes, from the daily revolutions of the sun and moon to slower moving changes to star patterns.
But amidst this general stability were occasional events that were more unique. We suggest these fell
into two main classes. The first class comprises events which, although they appeared anomalous at
the time to observers, would not to us today, including dramatic occurrences such as comets and
eclipses. From our modern perspective, with our advances in scientific understanding, these have a
mundane natural explanation. By contrast, in earlier ages, such events were often interpreted through
the prevailing divine lens as portents or signs given by the gods. There may be good reasons for such
conclusions; Baillie (2006) suggests comets have hit Earth throughout history with greater frequency
than is appreciated today, and more pertinently tended to precipitate severe environmental and
hence economic and societal downturns and even catastrophes. For such reasons, societies were
keenly attentive to such phenomena. Ancient Chinese astronomy for example excelled in recording
comets with the first confirmed observation in 613 BCE which were generally considered a
disastrous omen, implying something fundamental was awry with society, and frequently influenced
civic decisions (Emperor Ruizong of Tang, for instance, abdicated after a comet in 712 CE) (Sun,
From our modern perspective, we understand comets as natural material phenomena;
scientific advances have rendered them conventional and expected. However, throughout history there
has also been a second class of phenomena: occurrences that were not only unexpected but deeply
strange in some way. After all, even if the appearances of comets were surprising to earlier
generations, their behaviour was not necessarily distinct from other celestial objects, usually
maintaining a standard speed and trajectory rather than these changing in odd ways. By contrast, some
observations were highly peculiar, not merely unexpected. Crucially, accounts suggest these
phenomena might be anomalous even to us, with all our advances in science and technology. The key
point is this: as articulated by Vallée (2008), there may be a continuum of UAP activity throughout
history which has always appeared anomalous and extraordinary. Vallée (pp.22-23) for example
offers several cases from Japanese records, including: three round objects of unusual brilliance
later they joined together (August 3rd, 989 CE); an unusual luminous object described as an
“earthenware vessel” flew from a mountain in the Kii province beyond the northeast mountain of
Fukuhara at midnight. After a while, the object changed course and was lost to sight at the southern
horizon, leaving a luminous trail” (October 27th, 1180); a bright object resembling the full moon was
seen in the sky, and this apparition was followed by “curious signs” in heaven and on earth. People
were “amazed”” (January 2nd, 1458); five stars appeared, circling the moon. They changed color
three times and vanished suddenly” (March 17th, 1458); a dark object, which made a "sound like a
wheel," flew from Mt. Kasuga toward the west” (March 8th, 1468); fireballs were reported
continuously over Kyoto, and one night a whirling ball of fire resembling a red wheel hovered near
the Nijo Castle and was observed by many of the samurai (May 1606); three round objects "like the
moon" appeared and were seen for four days. Such a state of social unrest developed, linked with the
objects, that the government executed riot participants; confusion then became total when people
observed three moonsaligned in the sky and, several days later, two suns”” (January 2, 1749).
Such events were by no means limited to Japan. In Europe, for instance, Vallée quotes Pierre
Boaistuau in 1575, who remarked: The face of heaven has been so often disfigured by bearded, hairy
comets, torches, flames, columns, spears, shields, dragons, duplicate moons, suns, and other similar
things, that if one wanted to tell in an orderly fashion those that have happened since the birth of Jesus
Christ only, and inquire about the causes of their origin, the lifetime of a single man would not be
enough.” The 1594 edition of his book cites the following as occurring near Tübingen, Germany, on
December 5th, 1577: “About the sun many dark clouds appeared, such as we are wont to see during
great storms: and soon afterward have come from the sun other clouds, all fiery and bloody, and
others, yellow as saffron. Out of these clouds have come forth reverberations resembling large, tall
and wide hats, and the earth showed itself yellow and bloody, and seemed to be covered with hats, tall
and wide, which appeared in various colors such as red, blue, green, and most of them black. Such
events are recorded as extraordinary and anomalous, causing great consternation, and are clearly
distinct from other celestial phenomena that, even if novel and unexpected, such as comets, still
behaved in conventional ways (i.e., regular speed and trajectory). Such occurrences were often
similarly interpreted through the prevailing divine lens, though not always, as evident in the quote
above referring in bewilderment simply to “hats. Other such events though did incur divine
explanation, but rather than the deification that often occurred with stars and planets, were often
understood in different spiritual terms, as we consider next.
The Strange or Miraculous
Most religions feature a class of beings known in English as angels (from the Greek angelos, meaning
messenger or envoy), or cherubim (from the Hebrew kĕrūḇīm, or winged angel). From a theological
perspective, their nature has been much debated. Most relevantly here though, they are often regarded
per their etymology as intermediaries between gods and humans. Significantly, it is clear that
many religious texts mean this role literally. In many traditions, God or the gods rarely appear directly
to humans. Instead, these interactions often occur by the mediation of angels (in the Old Testament,
for instance, cf. Gen. 16:7-11; Exod. 3:2, 23:20; Num. 22:22-35; Judg. 2:1, 13:18-20; i.a.). Most
relevantly, many such encounters take the form of anomalous celestial phenomena. From our
standpoint, we cannot know whether the phenomena produced the concept of angels, or whether the
concept predated and was overlaid upon the phenomena. Either way, as charted by Vallée (2008) and
others, throughout history and across religions, the concept and these phenomena are closely
intertwined. On this reading, invoking angels to explain cosmological events constitutes a special case
within the overall divine cosmology of earlier ages. As elucidated above, most cultures interpreted
astronomical observations through a divine lens, such as personifying planets as deities. Despite this
divine interpretation though, most observations were prosaic and predictable, with celestial bodies
generally observing regular patterns of movement. In one sense, these distant deities were as remote
and detached from human affairs as are the stars themselves.
However, some astronomical events were far more unusual and anomalous, jarring with
expectations and knowledge about celestial dynamics. Moreover, these events were usually more
immediate and immanent, with more direct forms of interactions with humans. As such, one finds
interpretations involving angels, given their theological role as divine intermediaries (though to return
to the reports of “hats” above, not all occurrences received a divine interpretation; one gains the
impression that in encountering phenomena so far outside the boundaries of common experience and
understanding, people reached desperately for any existing notion that seemed remotely relevant).
There are many such encounters in the Old Testament for example. Consider the most well-known
account of the 6th Century prophet Ezekiel who had numerous such visionary experiences as
recounted in his eponymous book (1:4-25, New International Version): “I looked, and I saw a
windstorm coming out of the northan immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by
brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like
four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four
wingsThe appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire
moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of itAs I looked
at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four facesThis
was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike.
Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheelTheir rims were high and awesome,
and all four rims were full of eyes all aroundWhen the living creatures moved, the wheels beside
them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also roseWherever
the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of
the living creatures was in the wheelsWhen the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings,
like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army.
What to make of such accounts? From a conventional modern perspective, these are often
reductively disparaged as imagined in some way, either (more benevolently) a misperception, or
(more pejoratively) a hallucination or even a form of psychosis (Cook, 2021). Some sceptics even
doubt such events actually occurred at all, with his testimony perhaps more like a teaching device, “an
imaginative rendition and re-creation of reality in terms of a religious (i.e., ideological) worldview
(Apóstolo, 2008, p.3). Adding to these concerns are issues such as Ezekiel apparently being the only
witness to this event, and its method of “reporting” being so foreign to modern concepts of what
constitutes reliable data, which for some people mean we cannot draw meaningful conclusions from
such accounts. However, an emerging strand of scholarship has questioned whether we should be so
quick to dismiss these accounts (Halperin, 2021). This openness partly stems from the similarities
between such accounts and modern-day UAP observations, at least insofar as the phenomena
themselves are concerned (e.g., patterns of moving lights), if not the resulting interpretations. It also
stems from the fact that, in the modern era, we still have accounts of events that have likewise been
interpreted as angelic visitations, but which do not suffer the same concerns raised with Ezekiel’s.
Perhaps the most well-documented and analysed is the sequence of events in Fatima,
Portugal, the last of which was witnessed by some 70,000 people. As copiously detailed in
Documentação Crítica de Fátima: Seleção de documentos (1917-1930) (Sampaio Barbossa et al.,
and summarized in Vallée (2008), these events centred on Lúcia de Jesus Rosa dos Santos, a
girl from a rural family. They began in April 1915, when Lúcia was eight; while reciting the rosary,
she saw a “transparent white cloud and a human form.” The visitation occurred twice again that year,
and three times in 1916, when Lúcia was accompanied by two friends, and was interpreted by the
children as an angel, in part because the vision announced itself as such. In the first 1916 visitation,
the children are described as playing near a cave when “they heard the rumble of a powerful wind
and a white light appeared. It was gliding through the valley above the tree tops. In the light was a
youth of admirable beauty who came close to them and said, “I am the angel of peace.” He taught the
children a prayer and disappeared” (Vallée, 2008, p.234). Then, in 1917 began a different sequence of
encounters that would draw increasing crowds, in part due to elements of prophecy and prediction
involved. On May 13th the three children were watching sheep when (as Lúcia reported to her parish
priest), we saw a lightning-flash.” Turning to flee in terror [com medo], they “saw a woman atop an
oak tree,” clothed in white and gold, who asked them “to come [here] every month for the next six
months” (Sampaio Barbossa et al., 2013, p.32). They returned as promised, accompanied by some 50
people on June 13th, and by 4,500 on July 13th , whereupon at this third apparition, the crowd
according to an eyewitness quoted shortly thereafter in a sceptical, unsigned report in the secular daily
In what follows, translations from this text are our own, while quotes attributed to Vallée’s text are taken
directly in English from his book.
O Século heard “a noise like the peal of a trumpet,” but did not have “the privilege of hearing and
seeing the saint,” which was reserved for Lúcia alone.
On August 13th, even though the children had been temporarily jailed by a local official of the
aggressively anti-clerical First Portuguese Republic, 18,000 came and watched as a cloud descended
onto the oak tree” and “powdered the air, which seemed snowy.” Then, “in the sky, next to the sun,
new clouds turned successively bright red (the color of blood), pink, and yellow” (Sampaio Barbossa
et al., 2013, p.63). By September 13th the audience had risen to 30,000, culminating in 70,000 for the
final apparition on 13th October. The reported events in October are remarkable for many reasons. To
begin with, they feature phenomena that bear resemblance to Ezekiel’s account, including
extraordinary colours and lights, unpredictable patterns and movements, some kind of moving object,
and a being interpreted as an angel. The account of eyewitness Manuel Pereira da Silva, written in a
letter posted on October 14th, is representative: “The sun suddenly appeared with a well-defined
circumference. It drew near, almost to the height of the clouds, and began spinning around
vertiginously, like a wheel of condensed fire. It did so, with some interruptions, for more than eight
minutes. Everything remained somewhat dark, and the features of each person were yellowed.
Everyone knelt in the mud” (Sampaio Barbossa et al., 2013, p.70). The hitherto dubious O Seculo had
a reporter at the scene, who wrote a stunned account, which converges with da Silva’s and others, of
a singular spectacle, unbelievable for anyone who did not witness it.” “The star,” he wrote,
“reminded me of a polished, frosted silver plate, and it was possible to stare directly at it without the
least effort… The sun now trembled, it undertook unheard-of, brusque movements, beyond all cosmic
laws the sun ‘danced’, according to the typical expression of the peasants” (Sampaio Barbossa et al.,
2013, pp.75-76).
Of particular significance with this event are, (a) the sheer number of people involved, (b) that
it was predicted in advance, and (c) that because of (a) and (b) there is some actual empirical
photographic evidence (albeit of poor quality). In combination, these factors neutralize criticisms
normally levelled at such events. To begin with, (a) means it is harder, and indeed arguably
illegitimate, to attribute observations to misperception or hallucination. Although the notion of “mass
hysteria” appears to have a genuine basis (e.g., shared emotions due to network effects), the idea of
mass hallucination has not been substantiated, and most analysts of the event even ardent sceptics
believe some strange celestial phenomena genuinely occurred. The latter point is supported by (c),
given that analyses of surviving photographs do indicate some unusual data. Dalleur (2021) for
instance suggest “the shadows and reflections reveal two soft light sources emerging from a rather
dark background: one seen as a “pale sun”, and another overhead, fuzzy and as softly bright. The
latter, likely being caused by a clear cloud, blurred the shadows of the weak “sun. This warm source,
uncannily moonlike, was also able to cast distinct shadows on sloping surfaces and under objects.
Eventually, these shadows help us to estimate the height of the “sun” at ~30°, lower than the
expected 42°. Therefore, the directly observed source could not have been the sun.”
Even if unusual celestial phenomena are granted though, some modern scholars have sought
to play the “debunker,” singularly determined to arrive at naturalistic explanations, apparently
unconcerned that their reductive theorizing does not account for the totality of the evidence. Campbell
(1989) for example confidently asserted In fact there is a meteorological explanation; all the
phenomena reported are known to be produced by fine dust in the atmosphere,” specifically “a fine
cloud of dust travelling in the upper air stream” (p.335), possibly caused by a volcanic explosion.
Similarly, Wirowski (2012) attributed them to sunlight passing through a cloud of “vibrating charged
ice crystals” (p.282), generating a shimmering halo of light known as a “sundog.” However, while
such explanations could explain some of the phenomena, they do not account for the totality of
observations. For example, sundogs are stationary, and observers at Fatima report the “disk” moving,
often in dramatic ways, including when it seemingly “plunged downwards in zig-zag fashion towards
the earth and the horrified spectators” (Vallée, 2008, p.232). As such, such explanations are at best
incomplete, and seemingly represent efforts of scientists who have decided a priori the event must
have conventional meteorological explanations. Indeed, this epistemological assumption is admitted
by Kulczyk (2019), who advances various unlikely scenarios, including the surreptitious use of lasers
by unknown people. However, he acknowledges, in a very question-begging way, I have to admit
that some aspects of these events cannot be explained by contemporary science, but this is caused by
the limitation of our knowledge rather than any supernatural character of the observed eventsFor
the purpose of this analysis, I made an assumption that whatever happened there had to be subjected
to the laws of nature” (p.120).
These attitudes are common among those who seek to debunk such events: to deny anything
extraordinary happened at all, and explain whatever did occur by natural factors. For example,
Radford (2013) dismissively writes, “We can start by noting that we know for certain what did not
happen: The sun did not really dance in the sky.” He then offers various mundane simplistic
explanations, from sundogs to mass suggestion. However, these sceptical accounts fail to account for
the complexities of Fatima, not least the crucial fact the events were foretold. In Campbell's (1989)
explanation of a “cloud of dust,” he notes that such phenomena are relatively rare. The very last line
of the paper then states: “It was the most remarkable co-incidence that the cloud passed over Fatima at
the very time a miracle was predicted” (p.337-338). That is quite the understatement, and indeed
would be a miraculous coincidence, in every sense of the word. That said, perhaps that this was the
concluding sentence of the paper implies Campbell was aware of how unlikely this was, and perhaps
was even subtly undercutting his own debunking attempts. As such, rather than simply dismissing
events like Fatima, even some skeptics may admit that such occurances may represent genuine
anomalous phenomena that humans even now struggle to understand. Indeed, people continue to have
such experiences, even if their interpreative lens is less likely to be overtly divine, as our second main
part explores.
Modern Encounters
Far from unexplained celestial events being relics of earlier ages, they have continued into the present.
However, rather than the divine angelic mythology of earlier epochs, are more likely to receive a
science-oriented explanation. In particular, befitting the dawning space age, we see a burgeoning
interest in UFOs/UAPs, with attendant speculation that these may represent craft from extraterrestrial
civilizations. After setting the scene by introducing this new age, we consider recent attention
surrounding UFOs/UAPs, and review two of the main “non-ordinary” explanations for such
phenomena; extraterrestrial and ultraterrestrial hypotheses. Essentially, both are ideas one might
expect in the space age, imbued with its avowedly scientifically-inflected ideas. Indeed, some suggest
these constitute new forms of mythology and religion that are uniquely modern (Pasulka, 2019):
earlier eras postulated angels; we hypothesise aliens. Ultimately though, the phenomena these
hypotheses wrestle with remain fundamentally extraordinary and beyond our current comprehension.
The Space Age
Although humans have long sought the secrets of flight like Leonardo Da Vinci’s (1452-1519)
research into aerodynamic principles these endeavours remained theoretical until 1849, when British
engineer George Cayley built the world’s first genuinely successful human-carrying glider. The
Wright Brothers made further strides, with their first controlled and successful flight of a motor-
powered heavier-than-air plane on December 17th 1903. Aviation developed exponentially over
subsequent decades, driven especially by military efforts in the World Wars. The space age then
began in earnest in 1947, with US Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager the first person to break the
sound barrier (flying over 662 miles per hour at 45,000 ft). Soon enough were efforts to travel beyond
Earth’s atmosphere, driven by the Cold War superpowers, and by July 1969 the USA attained the era-
defining breakthrough of landing humans on the moon and moreover bringing them home safely.
Strikingly, as these developments were unfolding, a new era of encounter also took shape: the
very same year Yeager broke the sound barrier saw the birth of the modern UFO phenomenon. This is
often dated to June 24th 1947, when pilot Kenneth Arnold saw what he famously called nine saucer-
like things... flying like geese in a diagonal chainlike line at speeds exceeding 1,000 mph. near
Mount Rainier in Washington State (cited in, Roos, 2020). That said, arguments have been made for
pushing the timeframe back to 1945, bolstered by the fact that the 2022 National Defense
Authorization Act requires the department to review historical documents related to UAPs starting
from this earlier year. Seemingly this is because a few weeks after the world’s first atomic bomb was
detonated in July 1945 in an area of New Mexico desert known as the Trinity Site, an “avocado”
shaped craft reportedly crashed into a communication tower at this very site (and indeed, there have
been numerous linkages made between UAP sightings and nuclear activity and installations) (Tumin,
2023). Nevertheless, this earlier event notwithstanding, Arnold’s sighting in 1947 was the catalyst for
the wider UFO “movement.” Within weeks, similar sightings of “flying saucers” were reported in 40
other states. Understandably, given the national security implications, the US Air Force established a
program in 1948 to investigate the sightings called Project SIGN (originally Project SAUCER)
(Haines, 1999). The initial report concluded these could generally be explained by three conventional
causes: hysteria and hallucination; hoax; or misinterpretation of known objects. Nevertheless, it
recommended military intelligence continue to control any such investigations, and did not rule out
extraterrestrial phenomena. However, amidst concerns about public anxiety regarding UFOs, in 1949
Project GRUDGE was launched to quell such fears, persuading the public that the sightings had
mundane explanations, from balloons to optical illusions. However, the project formally closed later
that very year, in part because it was thought the very fact of official Air Force interest would
encourage people to believe in UFOs and contribute to the war hysteria (already a concern, given
Cold War tensions).
However, sightings continued, culminating in a “UFO mania” in the summer of 1952 (Roos,
2020). Earlier that year, sightings reported to the Air Force increased more than sixfold from 23 in
March to 148 in June, possibly encouraged by an article in TIME (1952) with the front page headline:
“There is a Case for Interplanetary Saucers. Then, late July saw a surge of sightings in Washington
D.C. so dramatic they generated headlines like “Saucers Swarm Over Capital. Just before midnight
on July 19th, an air-traffic controller noticed seven slow-moving objects on his radar screen far from
any known flight paths. At the same time, two more controllers saw a strange bright light hovering in
the distance that suddenly accelerated away at incredible speed. Nearby at Andrews Air Force Base,
radar operators were seeing the same unidentified blips, initially slow and clustered then veering away
at speeds apparently exceeding 7,000 mph. Observing from the tower window, one saw an “orange
ball of fire trailing a tail.” With operators initially joking about “flying saucers,” after the objects
buzzed the White House and Capitol, alarms were raised and two F-94 interceptor jets scrambled, but
as they approached the locations on the radar screens, the mysterious blips disappeared. One week
later, similar events occurred.
Given such events, together with escalating Cold War tensions, authorities stepped up their
attention to the phenomenon. The Air Force established Project Blue Book in 1952 to investigate
sightings, which ran until 1969. Similarly, the CIA formed a special study group to review the
situation. However, simultaneously there were ongoing efforts to downplay the phenomena to the
public. Regarding the Washington D.C. sightings, for example, before any in-depth investigation, the
Air Force convened a press conference in which these were attributed to a mundane “temperature
inversion” (when a layer of warm air forms in the low atmosphere, trapping cooler air beneath, with
radar signals bouncing off this layer to errantly show near-ground objects as being in the sky).
Similarly, although the CIA concluded that since there is a remote possibility that they may be
interplanetary aircraft, it is necessary to investigate each sighting,” it recommended it conceal its
interest from the public and the media “in view of their probable alarmist tendencies(Haines, 1999).
This obfuscation and denial set the tone for the next 70 years, with reports ever since of secretive
programs run or funded by US authorities (Dolan, 2002). These include for instance the Advanced
Aerospace Weapons System Applications Program (AAWSAP) from 2008-2010 sometimes also
known as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), an acronym also used for
separate investigations beyond 2012 run by the Pentagon which purportedly received $22 million
from the Defense Intelligence Agency (Lacatski et al., 2021). However, these programs remained
highly secretive, and until very recently the authorities denied any interest in UFO activity. This
began to change in 2017 however, when we entered what could be called the UAP era.
The UAP Era
The past few years have seen a distinct change in tone regarding the phenomena in this paper. This is
even reflected in terminology, when in place of UFOs with all the speculative baggage this label had
accrued authorities began to refer to UAPs. This usually means Unidentified Aerial Phenomena
(since not all such occurrences may be objects per se), but more recently has alternatively signified
Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (reflecting a realization that some UAP appear to have
“transmedium” capabilities, including travelling underwater, and are not only aerial). A key year was
2017, when footage of three apparent encounters by US military pilots was obtained and published
online. Prior to that, sightings had continued to accumulate; indeed, the Mutual UFO Network has
reportedly received over 200,000 since its founding in 1969 (Mellon, 2022). However, these have not
generally been taken seriously by authorities, from government and the military to academia and the
media. Whether some have in private is another matter, given the alleged secretive programs noted
above. At the very least, authorities have maintained lack of interest publicly, with UAP reports by the
public usually dismissed. In some cases, this means doubting the phenomenon occurred at all, with
explanations including hallucination, delusion, and fraud (Mohr & Pfeifer, 2009). In other cases, the
event per se may be granted, but the interpretation is disregarded as misperception or
misunderstanding; the phenomenon may be unidentified for that observer, but would not be for others
with the requisite technology or knowledge, who could “debunk” it as merely a prosaic airborne event
(Jacobs, 1998). However, the videos released in 2017, and their associated reports, were harder to
dismiss. For a start, these involved observers who excelled in occupations requiring great skill and
training in visual perception such as fighter pilots meaning they are higher quality witnesses than
the average observer. More importantly, their testimony is often triangulated with other evidence,
including video and other information sources (e.g., radar).
Consequently, the topic began to garner wider public attention, exemplified by a 2019
Washington Post article: “UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact” (Drezner, 2019),
subtitled “UFOs are not the same thing as extraterrestrial life. But we should start thinking about that
possibility.” At that point, the government was still not commenting publicly, but in April 2020 the
Department of Defense confirmed the footage was genuine, prompting a New York Times article in
July 2020: “No Longer in Shadows, Pentagon’s U.F.O. Unit Will Make Some Findings Public”
(Blumenthal & Kean, 2020). The next month the US established a UAP Task Force to investigate
these incidents, and Congress passed the 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act, stipulating a
preliminary assessment report be released in 2021. It focused on 144 incidents deemed especially
notable, and strikingly, in 143 cases, determined we “lack sufficient information in our dataset to
attribute incidents to specific explanations.” Moreover, an updated report in January 2023 identified a
further 366 events, of which 177 similarly eluded explanation, with the publicly available text noting
the phenomena demonstrated unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities, and require
further analysis.” Such comments do not mean these incidents were positively identified as extra-
terrestrial; as the 2021 report put it, there are “no clear indications that there is any non-terrestrial
explanation.” But significantly, it could/did not rule out such explanations. Indeed, while much of
these reports are still classified, comments from key figures indicate an extraterrestrial hypothesis is
being taken seriously. John Ratcliffe, for example, former Director of National Intelligence, said “we
are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by
satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard
to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for” (cited in Lewis-Kraus, 2021). Similarly, Barack
Obama said, “There’s footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what
they are. We can’t explain how they moved, their trajectory. They did not have an easily explainable
pattern” (cited in Rennenkampff, 2021).
Subsequently, efforts have accelerated to investigate the topic, as has public openness among
the authorities. In 2021, President Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act, establishing
a successor to the UAP task force: the Airborne Object Identification and Management
Synchronization Group (AOIMSG). As announced by the Department of Defense in November 2021,
this would synchronize efforts across the Department and the broader U.S. government to detect,
identify and attribute objects of interests in Special Use Airspace (SUA), and to assess and mitigate
any associated threats to safety of flight and national security.” The importance of this task was
illustrated in a hearing in Congress on May 17th 2022, which began with André Carson, head of the
hearing, stating: “Unidentified aerial phenomena are a potential national security threat, and they need
to be treated that way. For too long the stigma associated with UAPs has gotten in the way of good
intelligence analysis Today, we know better UAPs are unexplained. It’s true, but they are real. They
need to be investigated and many threats they pose need to be mitigated.” Fielding questions, Scott W.
Bray (deputy director of US Naval Intelligence) added, “I would simply say that there are a number of
other events in which we do not have an explanation in which there are a small handful in which there
are flight characteristics or signature management that we can’t explain with the data that we have.”
Bray would not speculate, but noted they are “open to all hypotheses” and that “we’ll go wherever the
data leads us.” This is a quintessentially modern approach to the phenomena in this paper, capturing
the spirit of genuine scientific enquiry. That said, one hypothesis unlikely to be on the table is angels,
such beings having widely been dismissed as relics of earlier ages. Instead, the main speculation is
one befitting the space age: the possibility of extraterrestrial civilisations.
Extraterrestrial Explanations
While Bray was reluctant to speculate on the nature of UAP, one hypothesis being seriously
considered is extraterrestrial agents. Former CIA director John Brennon, for example, said it was
“presumptuous and arrogant for us to believe that there’s no other form of life anywhere in the entire
universe,” adding cryptically, “I think some of the phenomena we’re going to be seeing continues to
be unexplained and might, in fact, be some type of phenomenon that is the result of something that we
don’t yet understand and that could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a
different form of life.” Similarly, Bill Nelson, head of NASA, said “My personal opinion is that the
universe is so big, and now, there are even theories that there might be other universes. If that’s the
case, who am I to say that planet Earth is the only location of a life form that is civilized and
organized like ours?” (cited in Todd, 2021). In that regard, such hypothesising intersects with an
emergent literature on the likelihood and nature of any such possibility, which has focused on three
interrelated questions the probability of: (a) extraterrestrial life; (b) intelligent extraterrestrial life;
and (c) intelligent extraterrestrial life engaging with Earth. Crucially, while these are regarded as
decreasingly probable by orders of magnitude, all are still within the realms of possibility as currently
envisaged and understood.
Indeed, there is growing recognition of (a) being not only likely but almost certain, given the
infinite scale of the universe. An analysis of potentially “habitable” planets using data from the Kepler
Space Telescope estimated 300 million such planets in our galaxy alone (Bryson et al., 2020), while
Kunimoto and Matthews (2020) put it as potentially high as 6 billion. Considering that NASA
estimates that the observable universe contains at least 2 trillion galaxies, the chance of Earth being
the only planet to host abiogenesis (emergence of organic life) is vanishingly small. However, the
possibility of intelligent life is another question entirely. Snyder-Beattie et al. (2021) suggest that on
Earth it required a “series of evolutionary transitions” – abiogenesis, eukaryogenesis, sexual
reproduction, multicellularity, and intelligence itself which may be “extraordinarily improbable,
even in conducive environments” (p.265). That said, they conclude intelligent life elsewhere is “rare”
not non-existent which is still a momentous judgment. Given the cosmological statistics though,
this is reasonable. Although estimates vary wildly, depending on assumptions of the researchers, the
scientific consensus appears to have shifted to acknowledging it does exist, indeed probably in our
own galaxy; Westby and Conselice (2020) for example estimated the number of “Communicating
Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent” civilizations in the Milky Way according to various assumptions, and
even under the strictest criteria suggest there may be dozens.
However, the possibility of such life actually engaging with Earth hence being responsible
for UAP is far more unlikely, mainly given the vast distances involved. Yet scientists do suggest it
is still feasible. Consider that our nearest stars, Alpha Centauri A and B, are 4.35 light years away.
Our current fastest means of travel is Gravity Assist: using another planet as a gravitational
“slingshot” (the method by which the Voyager 1 probe used Saturn and Jupiter to attain its current
velocity of 60,000 km/hr). At this rate, it would take 76,000 years (over 2,500 generations) to reach
these stars (Williams, 2016). However, work is already underway on far faster methods, like laser
sails (ultrathin mirrors driven by focused energy beams), with Project Starshot planning to send a
small sensory package to Alpha Centauri at 1/5 the speed of light, meaning it may arrive within 30
years (Parkin, 2018). Moreover, even if such technologies are beyond our capacity, one cannot
assume they would be beyond other intelligent beings, especially those more advanced. So, an
extraterrestrial explanation is plausible, and indeed is precisely the hypothesis one might expect in our
space age. However, it is not the only hypothesis on the table; so strange is the phenomena that some
scientists have begun opening to ideas taking us back into divine territory, yet with a distinctly
modern scientific gloss.
Ultraterrestrial Explanations
As modern science engages with the UAP issue, most thinking involves two main classes of
explanation: a conventional terrestrial origin, or an extraterrestrial origin. However, there is a third
minority class of explanation: an unconventional terrestrial origin. This is sometimes called the
ultraterrestrial or interdimensional hypothesis: the highly speculative notion that UAP may reflect
activities of non-human intelligences which relate to observable spacetime differently than we do,
whether by entering it from other dimensions, or (if this is in fact a different thesis) from a “spiritual”
realm. Hence ultra-terrestrial: such beings may already be present in Earth’s environment in some
sense, just not in ways we can conventionally understand. Among the earliest modern proponents of
this idea was ufologist Meade Layne (1950), who argued UAPs were piloted by beings from a parallel
dimension he called Etheria, whose “ether ships” were usually invisible but could be seen when their
atomic motion became slow enough. The notion was developed by Vallée (1969, 2008) and Keel
(1970, 1976), the latter coining “ultraterrestrials” to describe such beings, describing them as entities
potentially “composed of energy, inhabiting a spectrum (wavelength) of energy which we can neither
observe or even presently detect.” Or as Vallée (2008) expressed it, “I believe the UFO phenomenon
represents evidence for other dimensions beyond spacetime; the UFOs may not come from ordinary
space, but from a multiverse which is all around us, and of which we have stubbornly refused to
consider the disturbing reality in spite of the evidence available to us for centuries” (p.325, italics in
While such possibilities may sound far-fetched to modern ears, many UAP scholars allude to
such possibilities, even if they do not use “ultraterrestrial” per se. This openness was exemplified by
Senator Harry Reid a driving force behind efforts towards greater openness to UAP among US
authorities in a forward to a book by Lacatski et al. (2021) recounting the AAWSAP initiative
mentioned above: “The UAP taskforce report proves what I have been saying all along: this is a
matter of science, national security, and technological advancement. From whatever hypothesis you
begin with UAPs being technological leaps from foreign adversaries, natural occurrences distorting
visual perception, visitations from other dimensions, or technology from otherworldly sources the
key point is we need to engage the best minds in science to explore the data we know exists” (loc 184;
our italics). As the portion in italics shows, serious scientists are truly contemplating the possibility
that UAP may involve beings materialising from another “dimension” in some way. This openness
seems related principally to the sheer “high strangeness of UAP activity itself (Vallée & Davis,
2004), which is often labelled as “paranormal” (i.e., outside or beyond what is usually considered
The starting point for such explanations is authorities essentially struggling to make sense of
the phenomenon within their conventional frames of reference. Consider pilot Chad Underwood, who
filmed one of the UAP videos that brought the topic to widespread attention in 2017: “It was just
behaving in ways that aren’t physically normal. That’s what caught my eye. Because, aircraft,
whether they’re manned or unmanned, still have to obey the laws of physics… It was going from like
50,000 feet to, you know, a hundred feet in like seconds, which is not possible” (cited in Mellon,
2022). Consequently, people are beginning to question whether UAP are necessarily physical craft at
all, as we would understand these terms. With the extraterrestrial hypothesis, thinking often remains
tethered to conventional understanding of physics and technology (i.e., physical objects moving
through spacetime), except one imagines these civilizations as exponentially farther advanced.
However, one finds scientists wondering whether that frame is adequate, even if they also recognize
that abandoning it sounds outlandish. For instance, Garry Nolan, renowned immunologist at Stanford,
has for the past decade been involved in research connected to UAP. In a recent interview (7Spotlight,
2022), Ross Coulthart asked, “You believe, on the evidence, that there is a non-human intelligence, of
advanced technology, on this planet?” Nolan replied: “Advanced capabilities. No, I don’t know
whether it’s a technology per se, because I’m leaving open the idea that it’s some form of
consciousness that is non-material. And I know, say to my colleagues out there, this sounds absolutely
crazy. But if you’ve seen the things that I’ve seen, you would only be able to come to a similar
Such suggestions invoking ideas like non-material forms of consciousness are not
uncommon among UAP researchers, where one encounters a blurry line between “classical” UAP
reports (e.g., objects in the sky) and other anomalous phenomena broadly interpreted as paranormal.
This was cited by Keel (1970) as the reason he “abandoned the extraterrestrial hypothesis in 1967
when my own field investigations disclosed an astonishing overlap between psychic phenomena and
UFOs... The objects and apparitions do not necessarily originate on another planet and may not even
exist as permanent constructions of matter.” The question of paranormal phenomena and their
scientific investigation is a complex topic in its own right, so we shall limit ourselves to discussion of
such phenomena in relation to UAP specifically. In that respect though, recent decades have seen
considerable scientific attention to this intersection, some involving the government-funded projects
noted above. A prominent publicly reported example is AAWSAP, involving a company formed by
Robert Bigelow (Bigelow Advanced Aerospace Space Studies) run by James Lacatski (a DIA
intelligence officer). The program was based at a 500-acre property in Utah owned at that point by
Bigelow called “Skinwalker Ranch” – a name derived from a Navajo legend concerning vengeful
shamans with a long history of apparent paranormal activity, as reported in a New York Times
article on the project, Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O.
Program (Cooper et al., 2017). Hence also the title of the book by Lacatski et al. (2021) detailing the
program, entitled “Skinwalkers at the Pentagon,” which notably was cleared for publication by the
While the UAP task force focused narrowly on UAP flight behaviour, AAWSAP was
intended to have “as broad a scope as possible” (Lacatski et al., 2021, loc. 239). In addition to
“scrutinizing the core UAP technology itself” (i.e., flight behaviour), equal weight was placed on
researching “paranormal phenomena that co-locate with UAPs and to examine psychic effects in UAP
witnesses.” Hence the significance of Skinwalker Ranch, upon which Lacatski et al. report various
“extraordinary phenomena have been witnessed by scores of independent visitors to the ranch almost
continuously between 1994 and 2021,” including “flying orbs of varying colours, otherworldly
creatures, discarnate voices, poltergeist, electromagnetic anomalies, and orange “portals”” (loc 298).
For instance, Lacatski himself experienced an unusual phenomenon on the ranch: “Abruptly, Lacatski
was transfixed by something… an unearthly technological device had suddenly and silently appeared
out of nowhere in the adjacent kitchen. It looked to be a complex semi-opaque, yellowish, tubular
structure. Lacatski said nothing, but stared at the object. He looked away, looked back, and there it
still was. It remained visible to Lacatski for no more than 30 seconds before vanishing on the spot”
(loc 828). The book contains many examples of such experiences that might be called “paranormal.”
A key point here though is not the paranormal activity per se, but that such events are intertwined with
phenomena classed as UAPs. The even more significant point is that such phenomena appear to re-
open the door to explanations associated with the earlier theological age, namely beings from other
“dimensions, perhaps as captured in accounts like Bledsoe’s (2023) UFO of God – bringing us full
Throughout history, people have observed celestial events that appeared extraordinary and anomalous.
Historically, humans have tended to interpret these through a divine mythological lens as encounters
with a spiritual being, and often angels specifically. In the modern era, the scientific mindset of the
space age has led instead to concern with extraterrestrial agents in the form of aliens. However, the
sheer strangeness of the phenomena has also meant people are turning once again to notions of beings
in other ontological realms, bringing us back to conceptual territory associated with earlier ages. The
mythology itself may have changed: in place of more traditional theological notions like angels, we
find ideas such as ultraterrestrials and the interdimensional hypothesis. However, these may be the
way we moderns are liable to interpret the celestial unknown that continues to baffle us. Indeed, while
interpretations of such events have changed over the centuries, one constant is that witnesses have
always been fundamentally mystified by these, struggling to make sense of them with the beliefs
available (Lepselter, 2016). There are even speculations that “the phenomena” may be actively
shaping the interpretations generated, possibly taking on specific forms or communicating with
experiencers/observers in particular ways to achieve some desired effect. Whatever the nature of the
encounter though, explanations generated invariably fail to exhaust or even capture the mystery and
profundity of the experience. Ultimately, all human accounts may be attempts to render
comprehensible what thus far remains incomprehensible, but which nevertheless may be among the
most significant aspects of human existence, with the potential to revolutionize our understanding and
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... 8 The first paper (Lomas, 2022) explored the possibility of various non-human forms of consciousness, including extraterrestrial beings (with an updated summary of this discussion included below in endnote 14). The second paper (Lomas & Case, 2023) then considered the continuities and discontinuities between historical accounts of angels and modern UAP reports. 9 Openness to an interdimensional hypothesis among the UAP Task Force is shown in remarks by one of its members, Dr ...
... Indeed, accounts of UAP go back centuries. Crucially, as addressed in my previous article (Lomas & Case, 2023), such events are recorded as extraordinary and anomalous, and are clearly distinct from more conventional celestial phenomena that, even if novel and unexpected, such as comets, still behave in conventional ways (i.e., regular speed and trajectory). For instance, Vallée (2008) quotes from a 1594 edition of a book by Pierre Boaistuau, which cites the following as occurring near Tübingen, Germany, on December 5th, 1577 (pp. ...
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Recent years have seen increasing public attention regarding unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP). Hypotheses for such phenomena tend to fall into two classes: a conventional terrestrial explanation (e.g., human-made drones), or an extraterrestrial explanation (i.e., advanced civilizations from elsewhere in the cosmos). However, there is also a third minority class of hypothesis: an unconventional terrestrial explanation, outside the prevailing consensus view of life and the universe. This is the “ultraterrestrial” hypothesis, which includes – but is not limited to – the “interdimensional” hypothesis, namely the highly speculative notion that UAP may reflect activities of beings from other dimensions that coexist alongside our own. Such hypotheses may rightly be regarded with scepticism by most scientists. However, this article suggests they nevertheless should not be ruled out, and deserve serious consideration in a spirit of epistemic humility and openness.
... The last two decades have seen a rise in reports of "paranormal" events (Kambhampaty, 2021;Lomas & Case, 2023), and the Jersey Devil is no exception. Figures 8 and 9 graph the most well-known Jersey Devil sightings by year since 1800. ...
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Although psychology has tended to focus on the individual, paradigms have emerged looking at people in context, such as social psychology. More recently, these have included fields attending to humans’ ecological context, such as ecopsychology. However, little has been conducted on spatial orientation, on how humankind has understood itself in relation to the Earth (“psychogeography”) or the universe (“psychocosmology”). To address this lacuna, this paper presents a historical narrative of psychogeography and psychocosmology, identifying four main perspectives that emerged over time. First, stretching into pre-history, belief in a flat Earth and a layered cosmos. Second, beginning around the 6th Century BCE, a spherical Earth and a geocentric cosmos. Third, from the 15th Century onwards, an expanded Earth and a heliocentric cosmos. Finally, in the 20th Century, an unstable Earth and an acentric cosmos. The paper illuminates the evolving way humans have understood their world and place in the wider universe, and highlights the psychological impact of these developments.
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Using photographs and testimonials, we will analyze details of the “miracle of the spinning sun” on October 13, 1917, at solar noon near Fatima. The phenomenon predicted ahead of time, occurred as the clouds cleared on what began as a rainy day. Various explanations have been presented but do not stand up to a comparative analysis of eyewitnesses (up to 35 km away), weather data, and photographs. This article aims at bringing clarity to this event through the analysis of certified photographs and testimonies compared with official meteorological and astronomical data. Our study confirms key points of the testimonials while focusing on objective data. The shadows and reflections reveal two soft light sources emerging from a rather dark background: one seen as a “pale sun”, and another overhead, fuzzy and as softly bright. The latter, likely being caused by a clear cloud, blurred the shadows of the weak “sun”. Strangely, the portions of clothing exposed to this “sun” dried quickly. This warm source, uncannily moonlike, was also able to cast distinct shadows on sloping surfaces and under objects. Eventually, these shadows will help us to estimate the height of the “sun” at ~30°, lower than the expected 42°. Therefore, the directly observed source could not have been the sun, and most probably not any physiological, psychological, or meteorological effect. Keywords: apparition; miracle; skepticism; illusion; photography; parhelia. Full text freely available at: and downloadable at: Mathematical and geometrical analysis to determine the elevation of a distant light source's elevation and azimuth relative to the camera:
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It is unknown how abundant extraterrestrial life is, or whether such life might be complex or intelligent. On Earth, the emergence of complex intelligent life required a preceding series of evolutionary transitions such as abiogenesis, eukaryogenesis, and the evolution of sexual reproduction, multicellularity, and intelligence itself. Some of these transitions could have been extraordinarily improbable, even in conducive environments. The emergence of intelligent life late in Earth's lifetime is thought to be evidence for a handful of rare evolutionary transitions, but the timing of other evolutionary transitions in the fossil record is yet to be analyzed in a similar framework. Using a simplified Bayesian model that combines uninformative priors and the timing of evolutionary transitions, we demonstrate that expected evolutionary transition times likely exceed the lifetime of Earth, perhaps by many orders of magnitude. Our results corroborate the original argument suggested by Brandon Carter that intelligent life in the Universe is exceptionally rare, assuming that intelligent life elsewhere requires analogous evolutionary transitions. Arriving at the opposite conclusion would require exceptionally conservative priors, evidence for much earlier transitions, multiple instances of transitions, or an alternative model that can explain why evolutionary transitions took hundreds of millions of years without appealing to rare chance events. Although the model is simple, it provides an initial basis for evaluating how varying biological assumptions and fossil record data impact the probability of evolving intelligent life, and also provides a number of testable predictions, such as that some biological paradoxes will remain unresolved and that planets orbiting M dwarf stars are uninhabitable.
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We present occurrence rates for rocky planets in the habitable zones (HZ) of main-sequence dwarf stars based on the Kepler DR25 planet candidate catalog and Gaia-based stellar properties. We provide the first analysis in terms of star-dependent instellation flux, which allows us to track HZ planets. We define η⊕ as the HZ occurrence of planets with radius between 0.5 and 1.5 R⊕ orbiting stars with effective temperatures between 4800 K and 6300 K. We find that η⊕ for the conservative HZ is between 0.37^(+0.48)_(−0.21) (errors reflect 68% credible intervals) and 0.60^(+0.90)_(−0.36) planets per star, while the optimistic HZ occurrence is between 0.58^(+0.73)_(−0.33) and 0.88^(+1.28)_(−0.51) planets per star. These bounds reflect two extreme assumptions about the extrapolation of completeness beyond orbital periods where DR25 completeness data are available. The large uncertainties are due to the small number of detected small HZ planets. We find similar occurrence rates using both a Poisson likelihood Bayesian analysis and Approximate Bayesian Computation. Our results are corrected for catalog completeness and reliability. Both completeness and the planet occurrence rate are dependent on stellar effective temperature. We also present occurrence rates for various stellar populations and planet size ranges. We estimate with 95% confidence that, on average, the nearest HZ planet around G and K dwarfs is about 6 pc away, and there are about 4 HZ rocky planets around G and K dwarfs within 10 pc of the Sun.
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SUMMARY Delusions and hallucinations with religious content have been a subject of interest in psychiatry over the last two hundred years. The prevalence of these psychotic symptoms displays great variations across periods and cultural areas. Hallucinations and delusions with religious content are not restricted to schizophrenia. They can also be found in patients with mood disorders, that is, those presenting with depressive or manic states. In some studies, religious delusions have been associated with a poorer prognosis. We discuss psychological explanations of delusions and hallucinations to point out that religion and psychopathologymay interact in complex ways. In order to disentangle the two, we (1) critique the category of religious delusion, that is, it is not a valid theoretical category, it is a stigmatizing category for patients and a confusing category for clinicians; (2) provide guidelines to differentiate between functional or dysfunctional roles of religion to disentangle religion from psychopathology; (3) examine implications for the clinicians in the assessment of hallucinations and delusions with religious content; and (4) discuss treatment issues. DESCRIPTION OF THE PHENOMENA No area of psychopathology draws such public attention and morbid fascination as religious delusions. The discrepancy between grandiose revelations and disorganized behavior, between holy words and unholy demeanor, between mystical experiences and offensive conduct causes pitiful rejection at best and religious unrest at worst.
Psychotic symptoms and spiritual phenomena may either be understood as being on a continuum or else as being discontinuous, categorically separate phenomena. Christian scripture and tradition may be interpreted within either model, but in either case, there is a need for discernment in diagnosis and pastoral care. Hearing the voice of God and belief in demon possession are particularly complex phenomena, being both a part of normal Christian life in many churches worldwide and also potentially symptoms of psychosis for some. For those who are suffering from psychosis, the relationship between faith and illness needs to be treated with sensitivity and respect. Christian spirituality has a significant part to play in recovery. A spiritual assessment and integration of spirituality/faith in treatment will be important. Much more mutual understanding and collaborative work are needed between clergy and clinicians to achieve optimum pastoral and clinical care.
Breakthrough Starshot is an initiative to prove ultra-fast light-driven nanocrafts, and lay the foundations for a first launch to Alpha Centauri within the next generation. Along the way, the project could generate important supplementary benefits to solar system exploration. A number of hard engineering challenges remain to be solved before these missions can become a reality. A system model has been formulated as part of the Starshot systems engineering work. This paper presents the model and describes how it computes cost-optimal point designs. Three point designs are computed: A 0.2 c mission to Alpha Centauri, a 0.01 c solar system precursor mission, and a ground-based test facility based on a vacuum tunnel. All assume that the photon pressure from a 1.06 μm wavelength beam accelerates a circular dielectric sail. The 0.2 c point design assumes $0.01/W lasers, $500/m² optics, and $50/kWh energy storage to achieve $8.0B capital cost for the ground-based beam director. In contrast, the energy needed to accelerate each sail costs $6M. Beam director capital cost is minimized by a 4.1 m diameter sail that is accelerated for 9 min. The 0.01 c point design assumes $1/W lasers, $10k/m² optics, and $100/kWh energy storage to achieve $517M capital cost for the beam director and $8k energy cost to accelerate each 19 cm diameter sail. The ground-based test facility assumes $100/W lasers, $1M/m² optics, $500/kWh energy storage, and $10k/m vacuum tunnel. To reach 20 km s⁻¹, fast enough to escape the solar system from Earth, takes 0.4 km of vacuum tunnel, 22 kW of lasers, and a 0.6 m diameter telescope, all of which costs $5M. The system model predicts that, ultimately, Starshot can scale to propel probes faster than 0.9 c.