My UFO Story

This was submitted as a SWIFT article but I guess it didn’t make the cut.

When I was little I dreamed of becoming an astronomer and my favorite class of my first semester of college was Astronomy 101 which consisted mainly of memorizing constellations, stars, and all the various things you can see in the night sky. At the time I could name just about anything you could see with the naked eye and some things you couldn’t.

Well, things rarely go according to plan and a few years later I found myself stationed at a base in England working the nightshift. This would have no significance to the story except the base in question was RAF Bentwaters and the time was a year or two after a UFO supposedly touched down and scared some airmen.

This particular night it was dark and clear and I found myself sitting on a forklift hiding from the people who were actually doing all the work and staring at the stars. I was trying to remember all the constellations and stars I had learned in college and noticed three bright stars that formed a perfect equilateral triangle almost directly overhead. I searched my brain for the constellation and found none and had already accounted for the planets and other things so I was stumped. I even held my arm out and measured 4 fingers between each corner, trying to remember why I did that in Astronomy 101. I also tried to remember my brightness scale and realized these were three of the brightest stars in the sky, again it didn’t make any sense to me.

I sat there for about half an hour going back and forth from just ignoring them to being darned if I could ignore them because they just didn’t belong there. I knew I still had my star chart at home and tried to memorize where these were so I could look them up and even made a mental note to bring it with me the next night so I could compare directly.

Then the only thing in my entire life that I have never been able to explain to myself happened.

The three stars started to move. They moved in a slow circle around what would have been the center of the triangle. I could see stars between them so I knew it wasn’t a solid object, they were just three mere specks of lights, bright stars.

At first I frantically searched my mind for any kind of satellite anyone would have that could be stationary then move like that and of course could think of none. I couldn’t think of, well, any explanation for it. I was absolutely stunned. But then the next thing happened.

All three stars shot out in opposite directions. I followed one until it was lost in the glare of lights on the horizon then quickly darted to another and caught a brief glimpse of it disappearing over the horizon as well. All three lights were gone. I don’t even know how long I sat there staring at the sky trying to figure what I just saw.

I don’t believe aliens visit our planet. I don’t believe “earth lights” appear before an earthquake or that orbs float around at night. (Indeed, orbs hadn’t been “invented” yet.) I did ask around to see if anyone else saw anything unusual that night but being RAF Bentwaters it just started a new round of jokes about the secret UFO hangers that are supposed to be everywhere.

Even though I have no explanation whatsoever of what I saw I still don’t believe aliens visit our planet. I have even had nightmares about that night, but mostly I have an intense feeling that I simply saw something that will never, ever be explained and I just have to accept that. It hasn’t shaken my belief in science, it strengthened it.

It also helped me realize that just because someone saw something they can’t explain doesn’t mean that they either lying or loony. They simply saw something they can’t explain. It may shake their beliefs, it may spark legends, it may rock their world, it may give them religion, it may do anything they let it do them, but I simply chose to file it away in the “Yeah, Oooookay” section of my brain and let it just stay the wonder that it was.

Personally, I think everyone should see something like this at least once in their lives. How boring would life be if we didn’t see something truly amazing from time to time?

And yes, to this day I still look for equilateral triangles in the sky at night, but often get distracted by the stars themselves, which are truly amazing all on their own.

Apophenia and Pareidolia

I wrote a while back for a treasure hunt, but the subject seems to crop up where ever I go. So, I’m posting it again….

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I wrote this for my blog but since only like two people saw it I thought I’d post it here as well as it seems to be pertinent to the hunt at the moment. It’s just friendly advice I give to anyone picking up an armchair treasure hunt book.

In many of the treasure hunts I’ve seen, pictures were a big part of the solve. Because of this, it may be helpful to just point out that not everything is a code. Pareidolia is the process by which the human brain picks out patterns in seemingly random elements. The best example of this are the people who see the letter “S” in trees. Okay, so there is an outside chance that there may be a coded message in a tree but when you draw something that squiggles you are bound to get a dozen “S” shaped things. And “C”, after all, that’s the top part of an “S”. One has to be careful because if you look deep enough you can probably pick out the entire alphabet in one tree picture. You may also see the Virgin Mary or the face of Jesus or just about anything else that people claim they see in water spots, rust stains, and burnt french toast. This is also the same process by which clouds look like bunnies and doughnuts.

Keep in mind this is normal. Any animal, and humans are animals, that evolved in an environment where there are predators will see patterns in random elements. It’s how we can see a tiger in the shadows or a snake slithering through the grass even though they are camouflaged. It’s how we recognize our parents or children in a crowd. It’s basically a survival instinct. But it does spill over into our imaginations, and in paintings and drawings even more so. Especially in treasure hunts where you are actually looking for a pattern. So remember that anything that squiggles will eventually look like an “S” and anything that curves will eventually look like a “C” and so on. Three dots and a line will always look like a face. Again, these patterns are programmed into our brains.

Apophenia is very similar, it’s the finding of patterns in random elements. It’s different from pareidolia in that the elements can be a string of numbers, a row of dots, or line art. Take the following string of numbers:

789348092348793247898809723423463567467978356234

A person who stared at that long enough will surely find a pattern there. They may even decipher it into a legible message. They may ascertain what my star sign is or what my future may hold. When in reality all I did was hit the numbers on my keyboard at random for a second or two. Tarot card readers and numerologists are very good at this, even though it’s all made up. They help you spot a pattern that isn’t there to bring meaning to randomly drawn cards or your birthday. Just like on January 2, 2003 some numerologists claimed this was a significant day because the date was 1/2/03, but didn’t say if it was significant in Europe where it would be written 2/1/03 or if it would be significant if written properly as 01/02/2003 or if it would be significant to people who don’t even use our calander. They simply saw a string of numbers and assigned significance to them because they seemed to form a pattern.

Again, in code breaking this can be a problem. After all, we need to see patterns, it’s how we read even though a message can be in 1000 different fonts. It’s how we spot code in the first place. But sometimes a random group of letters and/or numbers can be just a random group of letters and/or numbers. In fact, someone who doesn’t want their message to be read will often put random letters or numbers in so code breakers will spend lots of time on them so that by the time they realize it’s not important, it’s too late. These are called Nulls, and they need to be distinguished from the real code. When you do a word search, you are putting this principle to use to find words in an otherwise jumble of letters.

So, beware of apophenia and pareidolia. They don’t even count as red herrings as they were never meant to be part of anything. A red herring is intentional, and is meant to stall and waste time and the author is aware of them but seeing patterns where none were ever supposed to be is just your brain playing tricks on you. The trick is knowing when it’s really code and when it’s just a squiggle in the branches. It happens to us all. With the bent bumper on the front of my VW bug and it’s droopy hood and big headlights I can’t help thinking that car has a smiley face every time I look at it. It’s just my brain picking up on a pattern.

I’m only posting this as friendly advice, it’s just something we need to be aware of as we stare at these pictures for week after week. The longer you stare, the more you will see. Yes, it can be part of the code but just be aware that it could be nothing more than random patterns.

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