History is often concerned with heritage and origins. The question applies as much to UFOs as any other subject. For example, where in time do genuine UFOs begin? Was 1947 the beginning or a turning point in UFO history, as opposed to human perceptions of the phenomenon? We all know that anomalous aerial phenomena have always been with us, as the portents and prodigies of primeval and medieval times, the Fortean anomalies of the scientific age, the phantom airships, ghost fliers, foo fighters and ghost rockets that predate Kenneth Arnold. But is there a genuine continuity in the phenomenon?
Folklorist Thomas Bullard affirms,
"UFOs as the experiential phenomenon and UFOs as the popular cultural myth entangle in a knot of confusion. I suspect that this entanglement stands as one of the greatest impediments to understanding the nature of UFOs, and scientific acceptance of UFOs as a subject worthy of serious attention. A historical perspective offers a grip on the end of the string, a chance to untangle the mess to some degree."
Behind this perplexing UFO history is a whole history, or mythology of modern science, less well known, stretching back to the sixteenth century. What Karl Guthke terms "a heritage of Copernicanism; the modern myth, or the myth, of the modern era, [without which] the image of man since the Copernican revolution would be decidedly poorer." The fact is, the question of extraterrestrial life, rather than having arisen in the twentieth century, has been accepted by the majority of educated persons since, at least, the Scientific Revolution, and in many instances was employed to formulate philosophical and religious positions in relation to it. As William Whewell observed, in his 1853 treatise, Of A Plurality of Worlds: An Essay, popular ideas about a multiplicity of inhabited worlds "are generally diffused in our time and country, are common to all classes of readers, and as we may venture to express it, are popular views of persons of any degree of intellectual culture, who have, directly or derivatively, accepted the doctrines of modern science." So as Professor Michael Crowe put it, “even if no UFOs hover in the heavens, belief in extraterrestrial beings has hovered in human consciousness for dozens of decades."
UFOs, and, the experiential aspects of UFO history are, seemingly, inextricably entangled in the myth of the modern era.
This then, is simply an attempt to grab hold of the end of the string.
Thomas Tulien - 1999