Written by John Woolley, 2010 June 16
This is the second part of this report. If you have not yet read the first part, you can find it posted here
At the end of the first part, I asked you to think of questions that you would like to ask someone who has just witnessed a UFO event; so now let me anticipate the questions that you might have:
How fast were the UFOs moving?
How big were the they?
How far away were they?
Could you see any details on the UFOs?
What sound did the UFOs make?
Let me answer these questions in reverse order:
There was no sound other than the background hum of the city.
As far as details of the objects go: there really weren’t any. They were all the same and I would simply describe them as being round and uniformly white. I have no real estimate of their brightness. They definitely were not brilliant, but did stand out very well against the black sky
How far away were they? That is impossible to say. We were on a roof top with a clear view of the whole sky. The sky was clear, with not a cloud in sight. So the only thing that I can say about the distance to the objects is to say that they were somewhere between us and the Big Dipper.
How big were they? They were all about the same size, approximately ¼ of a degree in diameter and were separated from each other by about three to five degrees.
How fast were the UFOs moving? The UFOs swept out about 90 degrees of sky in under three seconds.
Were those the sorts of answers that you were expecting? Probably not if you had the image of a typical Larry King Live UFO episode in your mind. When reporting UFOs, most people make the mistake of trying to assign absolute sizes, speeds, and distances to an object that they are unable to identify. Let’s think about the geometry of the situation for a minute and consider the implications for size, distance and speed. If the objects had been fairly close to us, then they would not have been very large and would have been moving with modest speed. However if the objects had been at some middle distance, then they would have been rather large and moving at a high speed. Of course, if the objects were at an extreme distance from us then they would have been absolutely huge and moving with incredible speed.
So back at the roof top observatory, the two of us were intently scanning the sky, looking for UFOs. They did return; four round white UFOs approaching us from the south again. On their first pass, we were taken completely by surprise as the UFOs came and left before we were able to get our wits about us. As they made their second pass, we were staring intently at the objects trying to figure out exactly what we were looking at. As the objects passed overhead, the drama of the incident evaporated in an instant. Both of us made a positive identification and uttered the same word at the same time: “Pigeons!”
In an instant, four UFOs had been replaced by four pigeons flying overhead. So what was going on in our minds to turn pigeons into UFOs? This is a classic case of “Seeing What You Are Believing.” I tend to think of information from our senses as passing through filters —or being assembled onto templates by our brains — as we are trying to make sense of what is happening around us. This means that the same sensory information can be interpreted quite differently by our brains on different occasions, depending on what filters or templates may be in operation at any given moment. In the case of our pigeons, light from the street lamps below was being reflected back to us much better from their round white bellies than from the rest of the pigeon, making the bellies stand out much more against the black sky. Essentially, as soon as we saw the four round white objects, a UFO filter popped up in our brains. It is absolutely amazing how effectively the UFO filter filtered out the rest of the pigeons. On the first pass, there was no hint at all of a pigeon. By the time that the pigeons made their second pass, each of us had managed to set aside the UFO filter and replace it with more of a “OK, what are we really looking at?” filter. As the pigeons approached, those round white bellies were so mesmerizing; it took a lot of concentration to see past the bellies to the rest of the pigeons.
From time to time, pigeons would fly over the roof top observatory, and each time I noticed them, I initially saw round white objects. As with an optical illusion to which I knew the real answer, I initially saw the illusion. Each time I had to concentrate to see past the illusion, to a pigeon.
There is an interesting epilogue to this event. Some time later, during a public viewing session, I was once again standing out on the roof looking up at the sky. Standing near by, was a young fellow, about 14 years old, when a lone pigeon flew overhead. The young fellow turned to me and said “WOW! Did you see that? A UFO just flew across the Big Dipper!” “Yes” I replied, “That happens occasionally up here, and it turns out that they are not UFOs, but pigeons.” I then launched into an explanation of round bellies preferentially reflecting light and filters in brains preferentially selecting data, etc, etc. Even though this event predates the movie ‘Men In Black’ by about 2 decades, I must have been doing a pretty good impersonation of the Will Smith character trying to convince someone that they had not seen what they had just seen, because this young fellow was not having anything that I was telling him. He knew what he saw (well perceived actually) and he certainly did not see any pigeon. It was written all over his face, the absolute disbelief at what he was hearing. As the expression goes, I could almost see the wheels turning in his head, as he was trying to rationalize what I was saying with what he had seen (perceived). The expression on his face gradually changed from disbelief, through comprehension, to Eureka! as he was trying to figure out what was happening. He then took a step backwards, pointed a finger at me, and shouted “YOU’R PART OF THE CONSPIRACY!” I was completely taken aback by this and could not come up with a better response than “NO, NO, honestly, that was a pigeon!” And so he turned and walked away, apparently secure in the knowledge of two things. Firstly, there are Flying Saucers visiting us, and secondly, there is a grand conspiracy afoot to keep this knowledge from the general public. And all of this because he certainly did not perceive any pigeon.