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Imnaha’s UFO Illuminates Town Hall
 By Phil Pennington 

Phil Pennington, physicist and O4R member recently represented Oregonians for Rationality on Town Hall.  The topic was the reported UFO sightings in the small Eastern Oregon town of Imnaha.  What follows are his observations.

UFO believers and skeptics were arranged on opposite sides of the KATU-TV Town Hall set May 9.  Three hundred miles away, in the small Wallowa Mountain town of Imnaha, Oregon, (one store and a few houses) another camera crew taped reactions from residents at the location of multiple LJFO sightings.

     The Imnaha spacecraft, reported local resident Diane Baquette, was like an upside down "cup and saucer ... [with] lights of blue and red, and a white light.  On the underside there were lights shooting down that I feel, perhaps, were a power source."

     In the drawing it looked like a rhinestoned cowboy hat.

     Imnaha residents and UFO believers presented arguments to "prove" the Imnaha sightings were "genuine" UFOs and add the evidence that earth has been contacted by extraterrestrials.

We are not alone...

     "It’s just too hard to believe we're all alone, and if the universe is a quarter as big as they say, we couldn't be."

     "I think it's arrogant to think we're the only life form in existence ... I think we were planted here at one time ... by someone else."

     Unbelievers don't think straight...

     "I honestly believe that people who don't believe in UFOs are either self-centered or they still believe that the world is flat."

I can't explain it...

     "And there's just no way it could be explained.  I know what I saw.  It was odd.  I'm not saying there are aliens.  I don't know if there are.  But this is not an explainable object."

     "Other governments, to wit, Belgium, France, to a degree Germany, have admitted ... their fighters have engaged in combat with objects they cannot explain, which on some occasions, do, and on other occasions, do not show up on radar."

Government is suppressing the truth...

     "I'm convinced of it."

     "The general public, right now, is not ready ... for the truth.  And, I think, it would cause world war or some kind of a disaster in our country if all of a sudden people from outer space started landing in this country."

WE are truthful...

     "Down in Portland when someone says something to you, you can take it with a grain of salt.  You come up here and they say something, you can tell it's the truth."

     In the Colorado mountain country where I was raised, a man's ability to spin tall tales and fool city slickers was an admirable mark of status.  I've run into a bit of such feeling on visits to my wife's parents, who live near Imnaha.  Such tales might even attract a little tourist business to a quiet, remote town.

     Many of us skeptics would have liked to have heard each speaker explain how his or her statement leads to the conclusion that UFOs are extraterrestrial.  The statements present exercises for finding errors in elementary logic - common, natural errors, ones we are all prone to make when we relax our logic.  We might, for example, feel fairly certain life has evolved elsewhere in the universe and still consistently believe physical contact is extremely improbable.  The existence of widespread life in the galaxy does not imply widespread space travel - or even the possibility of space travel - between stars.

     Some arguments are easy to shoot down; others, particularly some presented by Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle, cannot be so easily dismissed.  Davenport suggested we systematically preserve observation data and "keep an open mind."

     Eva Starmach, a therapist seated with the skeptics, expressed serious concerns to the moderator's question, 'Is there any harin in believing in UFOS?' "The only harrn I see is in suppression of information... and ridiculing any human experience...  I believe that anyone who experiences anything is perceiving something, and it is real to them... I think the knowledge we can gain from this could thrust us into the future with unbelievable new knowledge ... There are too many folks in the world who have experienced something that is so similar in nature ... I can't believe these things are not true, because these folks are very intelligent."

     Discoveries of the past three centuries have already "thrust us into the future with unbelievable new knowledge."  But believing is not the issue; understanding is too frequently the serious difficulty.  Even the simplest science often has oddly impenetrable barriers to understanding, leaving our myths, folk tales, fiction, even science fiction, almost entirely within a pre-Newtonian world view.

     Discoveries of the past three centuries reveal that the magnitudes of space and time in the universe make galactic space travel - at least as we think of travel - extremely difficult.  Intergalactic space travel is even less likely.  The Star Trek scriptwriter, writing for an audience they expect sees little difference between galactic and intergalactic distances or among million, billion, and trillion, presents a world of familiar earthlike space travel.  On the other hand, the world of Einstein measures distances in years: Our galaxy is 100,000 years across, the nearest star three years away.  But these three years are the travel time for light.  Material objects would need infinite energy of propulsion to obtain such speeds; people size objects are sure to go speeds that are orders of magnitude slower.  Einstein's world is reality, not fiction, and the Enterprise's warp speed is a plot device, not a real device suggested by modem knowledge.

     The consistency of UFO sightings has arisen, not because observers are observing the same phenomenon, but rather because they are observing different phenomenon through the same ancient understandings of the world - with a little influence from the mass media myth.  Interpretations have developed journalistically, not scientifically.  The Town Hall pictures of the 1947 Roswell spacecraft, one of the earliest widely reported UFOS, resembled a paper airplane.  Mass media, however, soon made "flying saucer" synonymous with "UFO."  That myth remains today, its journalistic roots forgotten.

     What UFOlogy delivers is pictures of the world that science left behind three or four centuries ago - a view filled with misconception and myth.  Skeptics, from discussions in the lobby and parking lot after the taping, were in agreement on one point: The program added nothing to the essentially empty bag of current evidence.

     Carl Sagan, in a taped segment, said of extraterrestrial visits, " My mind is open, but the thing is, the evidence is weak."

     Tom Hanna, Town Hall participant from NASA said, "We need somebody to walk up and say, 'Hi, I'm an alien from next door ... Take a look at my rocket.' so we have something solid to hold on to.  The scientific community won't go for it without it."

     Science has already "thrust us into the future" with no help from extraterrestrials.  And while extraterrestrials might thrust us still further, if they do, the rules of the game discovered by science will still be followed: Logic, avoidance of self-deception, mathematics, and all that powerful but somewhat esoteric, scientific knowledge, already being used today, will still be required.

A checklist for confirming visits from high-tech extraterrestrials:

     1) Did we get anything from the visit we couldn’t have gotten without contact with a differently evolved intelligence?
     2) Did we learn about any unknown, verifiable phenomena?
     3) Did we learn a proof of any mathematical conjecture we had been struggling unsuccessfully to prove?
     4) Did we obtain or learn about any new kind of useful devices, substances, or techniques previously unknown to man?
     5) Did we acquire biological specimens, such as chemicals, enzymes, hairs, scales, tissues or organs, which, using 20th century technologies, can shown not to have evolved on Earth?
     6) Have we seen anything in our world we’ve never seen before – and is it useful:  Does it it help us select from possible alternatives to significantly improve outcomes to our advantage?
     7) Do we think useful, new thoughts?
     8) Did we acquire any of the above things which an encounter should have easily made available to us?

     Or, did we acquire nothing?

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