Dec 28, 2012 I Micah Hanks

Changing the Playing Field: How Skeptics Respond to the Unexplained

For most of us, our attitudes toward things like the unexplained seem to go in one of two directions; some of us are skeptical of what seem to be entirely outlandish claims. Alternatively, some of us gravitate instead toward open-mindedness regarding things that may seem unlikely, but still remain possible in our physical universe. 

Quite often, attitudes like these manifest even in the absence of any supporting evidence. For instance, the skeptical debunker often is an individual who believes in nothing with regard to the unexplained, based largely on the lack of physical evidence in a given situation, rather than there being tangible proof to suport a negative stance toward a subject. And of course, in many cases today, "open minded" simply means that an individual is prone to believe anything, and yes, in the complete absence of evidence.

But what happens when, for instance, someone who is inherently skeptical actually does change his or her outlook on live, based on experiences they have had? In other words, when an individual of the more "closed-minded" persuasion is forced to visit the realm where "what ifs?" can happen, how do they react? As we will shortly see, sometimes this reaction can result in literal terror, when one is faced with the possibility that something strange--and unexplainable--is looming right before them.

A fascinating story was recently drawn from the MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) database and covered by Roger Marsh, the astute chronicler of all things ufological. In the report, which took place near the town of New Bern, North Carolina, a man with military experience and an inherently skeptical attitude witnessed two bright orange objects flying in the night sky which, despite his experience with aircraft and other clandestine projects, he nonetheless could not explain.

The witness even managed to photograph the object(s), which can be viewed at Roger's Examiner Page. But amazingly, this man also described the sensation of fear emerging over the days following his encounter. In the report submitted through MUFON, he shared that he, even after serving two tours in Iraq, felt "fearful to sleep" after the strange visitation:

"I am a skeptic, and I do not believe in aliens or extra-terrestrials. I am a former member of the armed forces and worked on military aircraft and civilian aircraft. I have never witnessed this phenomena in the past on any known man-made aircraft. I am also aware of how flares appear, and I confirm this was not an aircraft flare. I basically do not know what to say at this point. My skin is crawling, I have goosebumps. I spent two tours in Iraq and I'm more fearful to sleep now than I ever have been, not knowing what this object was."

Naturally, it seems quite common that humans would fear what they don't understand. So common, in fact, that "strategies" for coping with stresses that stem from post-traumatic fear are often covered at the websites of counseling centers, civic organizations, and even university campuses. To borrow from one of many sites offering such information, according to the counseling center at the University of Illinois it is common for fear to begin to emerge in the aftermath of a terrifying or traumatic event, and in addition to professional assistance, it is recommended that sharing the details of such an experience with others can be helpful:

"Share the fear with others. Meeting with others who are willing/able to listen to your fear or to share their fear reactions with you can be helpful. Even if you do not feel like talking, being with others who are experiencing the same feelings and talking about them can be useful."

Thus, we see that the mere act of reporting something like a UFO sighting to a national organization like MUFON can become not only helpful in terms of the contributions made to the public (and those interested in UFOs), but also to the individual, who may find themselves now coping with the hardships of fear or paranoia. Then again, there are other varieties of fear that one may begin to experience following such things as a UFO encounter. In a letter dated March 13, 1957, the USAF Filter Center received a letter regarding the appearance of an unidentified flying object, in which the witness, the wife of a man who operated a shooting range outside New York City. The woman opened her letter stating that she felt compelled to share her sighting of a flying saucer, "Even at risk of being called hysterical, hallucinated or worse," and concluded her letter to the Center by stating that, despite reluctantly reporting her story to a few friends in the days that followed, she "made no formal report to any authorities, fearing ridicule."

Here, we see a very different kind of fear exemplified: the witness, nonetheless struggling with the appearance of something she could not explain, chooses to abstain from reporting what she saw. She does this on the grounds that the object, whatever it had been, seemed to defy logic altogether; hence, she her fear stemmed primarily from the concern over rejection that might ensue, should she report something so outlandish as a flying saucer.

Whatever the case, it seems to remain standing that as human witnesses perceiving the unexplained, we often succumb to a variety of emotional and psychological issues in terms of coping rationally with the extraordinary. Have you ever experienced this in your own life, perhaps as a result of an extraordinary encounter? In doing so, were you a victim of fear, or even perhaps the fear of ridicule alone? If so, how have you managed to cope with the realization--however terrifying--of what you  may perceive as something out of the ordinary?

Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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