Throughout history and across cultures, people have looked to the sky in search for life. Even though response has been weak at best, man still keeps hope that there may be life outside of the Earth. Unidentified Flying Objects, also known as UFOs, are even a part of pop culture, being a central part of many films and folk tales. When confronted with an unknown, human beings try to make sense of the situation at all costs. UFOs are a part of Western culture, especially that of the United States of America, so the minimal misunderstood perception could be mistaken for one of these hovering crafts. Finally, as faith in religion has died down, this has become one of the easiest forms of explaining that which comes from above.
One of the most important phenomena in human perception is apophenia, which makes them seek sense in random patterns. “Apophenia is the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena” (Carroll). Therefore, humans constantly construct sense when they do not know what is happening. This may often be seen when looking at clouds, in phenomena like the man on the moon, or the ancient denominations of constellations. An important disclaimer that must be made is that not all UFOs are extraterrestrial in nature. While many make a direct relationship between the word UFO and aliens from outer space, what it really implies is that the source or nature of the craft has not been identified successfully. Therefore, one may see that, by definition, UFOs imply not being able to make sense of something and, as has been examined, this directly leads humans to try to fill this hole.
Unidentified Flying Objects are readily available from culture to try to fill in these gaps that lack in sense. These crafts are found in many cultural forms such as paintings, folk tales, movies, radio shows, novels, etc. They have come to form part of culture and may be considered as one of its staples. UFOs have been sighted since 214 BCE in Rome: “phantom ships had been seen gleaming in the sky” (Livius). An important part of this cultural motif have been Hollywood films, with many of them dealing with these crafts. Usually, they are extraterrestrial in nature, as in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Independence Day, all films that are still very popular. As a result, the gap in sense and knowledge that UFOs leave may be easily mended by cultural elements, which usually attribute these ships to extraterrestrials.
Finally, the diminishment of faith in religion has caused humans to look elsewhere to find meaning in what they observe in the skies. Throughout most of the history of humankind, religions have taught men to look to the skies for answers and higher beings. Thus, if a person were to see something that did not make sense for him or her in the sky, he or she would probably explain this through the use of religion. For example, “The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel” (King James Version Bible, Ezek. 1.16). In this passage, Ezekiel reports objects of unknown origin in the sky, but, as may be read later in the chapter, for him they are due to God, not to extraterrestrials. As belief in religion has been waning, that explanation of what happens in the sky also dwindles, giving path to aliens.
In conclusion, the human tendency to make sense out of randomness along with cultural parameters, help explain why people see and believe in Unidentified Flying Objects and extraterrestrials. Apophenia makes people construct sense from that which is unknown. The cultural prominence of UFOs in relation to extraterrestrials helps give sense to what is not known in the skies. Furthermore, the diminishment of faith has relegated the religious explanation for the sightings of these airborne objects, giving way for the surge of the extraterrestrial one. As one can see, sometimes a rational, science-based explanation may be as interesting as the unsupported one.
Carroll, Robert T. “Apophenia”. The Skeptic’s Dictionary. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.
Livius, Titus. The History of Rome. Perseus Digital Library. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.
King James Bible. Ed. Bible Gateway. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.