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Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

by Mike Jamieson

The term “close encounters of the third kind” was used in a 1972 book by the astronomer and former Air Force consultant for the public UFO program (1948-1969), Dr. J. Allen Hynek.  THE UFO EXPERIENCE: A SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY by Hynek was published 3 years after the Air Force (and government altogether) announced they were ending their UFO program, which Hynek had served under its names “Sign”, “Grudge”, and “Blue Book”.

 In the later years of his involvement with this program, Hynek had become increasingly concerned over its growing debunking emphasis in lieu of carrying out serious investigations.  By the time his consultant role with the government had ended, he felt that the UFO events demanded much more serious attention.

In Chapter 10 of this book, Hynek categorized UFO reports this way (the classification adopted widely in ufology):

Close Encounters of the 1st Kind: Sightings where “objects or very brilliant lights” were “less than 500 feet away”.

Close Encounters of the 2nd Kind: Close UFO sighting entails also the manifestation of a “physical effect on either animate or inanimate matter”.

Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind: Cases ‘in which the presence of animated creatures is reported”.

Ufologists in the early days were generally reluctant to address, or acknowledge, the cases involving close encounters of the 3rd kind.  Fortunately, that was NOT the case with the earliest large UFO organization (founded 1952), APRO, which rapidly developed an international capacity to collect and investigate these (and other types) type of cases through a wide network of field investigators and with panels of scientific consultants available to help analyze.  

Yet the other early UFO giant org, NICAP, was extremely reluctant to take a look at them, or write about them.  The founders of APRO (Coral and Jim Lorenzen) would publish a large number of CE3 cases over the years, whereas, as Jerome Clark (UFO historian) reports (from Vol 1 of The UFO Encyclopedia, p273):  “In 1964, NICAP released a thick book, THE UFO EVIDENCE.  The issue of UFO occupants was left to a terse, unenthusiastic discussion confined to a handful of paragraphs on two of EVIDENCE’s concluding pages…”

Contributing to the taboo against attending to these types of cases was the popularity of bogus UFO contactee cults.  The Lorenzens were very harsh critics of these cults along with everyone else, which involved Savior-like aliens interacting with their chosen prophets.  They were apparently able to discern the difference between grandiose Prophets and ordinary people accidentally encountering, or seeing, alien beings apparently associated with a landed craft.

In the paper referencing the now existing databases of compiled CE3 reports, mention was made of what looks like cases of CE3’s before the beginning of what has been called the modern UFO era (during 1947). These suggestive cases are not to be confused with the folklore throughout the world which relate stories of humans encountering humanoid non-human beings (ranging from little people like fairies and leprechauns to the mythical races of giants and including mankind’s earliest identified pantheon of gods). That will be looked at in the papers on the subject of “ancient aliens”.

Thomas Bullard, ufology’s most noted academic-based folklorist, noted in a 57 page article in the Journal of UFO Studies, “Folkloric Dimensions of the UFO Phenomenon” (1991) that “comparisons of UFOs to other phenomena may be overrated, depending too much on superficial analogies and too little on verifiable homologies”.

[Homologies: in this case, he means that there is too little to go on to assert that say, for example, that the little leprechauns or giant Titans of folklore are the same as the small humanoid beings or giant ones often in UFO occupant cases.]

In the late 1960s, popular writers like Jacques Vallee and John Keel would propose that the reports of modern-day encounters with various types of humanoid non-humans were with the otherworldly beings manifesting to humans in the stories of folklore. They felt that any differences from our contemporary reports, where very sophisticated and advanced technology is employed by the unknown beings, are due to how a cultural framework conditioning human perceptions of things shapes the nature of how these beings may appear and act. In the early 1970s, Dr. J. Allen Hynek (who had a strong interest in occult matters, like Vallee did) also leaned in this conceptual direction and thus was born the main alternative to the extraterrestrial hypothesis and is still to this day the alternative to the still dominant ETH. Basically, they assert the beings in UFO reports are “ultra terrestrials” or beings who manifest to us out of some slightly more subtle energetic realm not normally perceptible to our senses, but right here in our midst, on earth.

Giving ammunition to this “paraphysical” or occult theory are factors ufologists for a long time now have called “High Strangeness” (aliens exhibiting very magic-like capacities) and the “Oz Factor” (witnesses having their state of consciousness altered, often with sense of time affected).

The young branch of science known as “exobiology” has not, as of yet, taken into account the description of the different beings, and their activities, as characterized in CE3 reports. Even though it is a study focused on the nature of life forms on other planets. For now, it is a branch of science that delves deeply in determining how life developed on this planet and, and since our manned space program, how it adapts to near-Earth space conditions. Also, the growing hunt and discovery of exoplanets is revealing planets in the habitable zone and is one source of developing data to aid in speculative efforts; in the near future with our soon-established capacity of analyzing the atmospheric conditions of these far-away planets there may be our first signs of civilizations “out there”. (The upcoming launch and deployment of the James Webb satellite.)

To see more about the focus of this branch of study, the “Exobiology Program” for Nasa is here:

There is a clear verdict coming from the CE3 database on the forms of at least some advanced forms of extraterrestrial life: they are beings exhibiting “bilateral symmetry” in their bodily form in all but the most rarest of cases. And, they are predominately “humanoid” or exhibiting a bilateral symmetry of sense organs (eyes and ears) and limbs (enabling locomotion and creative action).

Bilateral symmetry entails a dividing midline (through the torso, aligned with the vetebrae or spinal line) for left and right sides which mirror each other. There are a large number of cases where the beings are even very human-like, but with clear differences: in cranium size, eye shape and size variations, both very small and exaggerated signs of ears and nose, height variations of beings from 3 feet to 8 feet or more, muscoskeletal variations, and more.

Living organisms on earth are categorized most generally as plants, animals, and micro organisms. Ninety-nine percent of “animals” (which includes the class of beings identified as mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and insects) are structured with bilateral symmetry.

The popular science Magazine, Discover, had a SETI Institute scientist (aligned also with NASA Astrobiology Institute projects) ponder the question of what aliens would likely look like. From “What Are Alien Species Like? Symmetrical, Solid, and Seeing (Probably)”, June 19, 2009, Discover, Rocco Mancinelli of SETI answered this question by Discover’s Amos Zeeberg:

‘What is the most likely form an alien would take? Life’s architecture is difficult to predict because it depends on many factors involving the interaction of the environment and life through evolution and natural selection. We can, however, make some generalizations based on the vast number of morphological forms that life takes on earth.

Life on earth ranges from microscopic spheres and rods to macroscopic creatures exhibiting wide variations in their morphologies (e.g., spiders to humans). Nevertheless, nearly all life (everything except sponges) exhibits symmetry—either bilateral or radial symmetry. In bilateral symmetry (also called plane symmetry), only one plane, called the sagittal plane, will divide an organism into roughly mirror image halves. An organism with radial symmetry has no left or right sides, only a top and a bottom (dorsal and ventral surface). An alien life form, therefore, would most likely be symmetrical. The type of symmetry would be influenced on the environment in which it lived. From our basic knowledge of survival of macroscopic organisms whether they be aquatic or terrestrial it seems that bilateral symmetry dominates.”

Signs of the variances that may exist between the conditions of our planet and conditions on planets that may be home for the UFO occupants, might be discernible from some of the things CE3 witnesses report.

For example, a few things I have picked up on from decades of reading these cases:

—Some beings are seen wearing helmets, usually with face visible, and attached gear seemingly related to respiration needs. Suggesting different atmospheric gas mixtures existing on their planet?

—Beings are frequently observed wearing tight and form-fitting one-piece suits of clothes. A sign of different atmospheric pressure on their planet?

—Beings have been observed wearing very large and dark goggles. Signs of a different type of sun radiating a different intensity of light?

—Beings have been observed having difficulty in ambulating or moving about; others have been observed prancing about with the greatest of ease. A sign of different planetary gravity?

In his CE3 article for the 2018 edition of The UFO Encyclopedia, Jerome Clark notes what is apparent after absorbing a reading of cases (p.279, vol 1):

“In four out of five CE3 reports, the aliens are described as humanoid or even humanlike. (A surprising number of accounts involve beings of strikingly human appearance.) But under the broad heading of ‘humanoids’ we find a variety of beings.”

Or, as I said previously here (leading into discussion of bilateral symmetry in organisms): “There are a large number of cases where the beings are even very human-like, but with clear differences: in cranium size, eye shape and size variations, both very small and exaggerated signs of ears and nose, height variations of beings from 3 feet to 8 feet or more, muscoskeletal variations, and more.”

The observations of the activities and apparent focus of the beings associated with landed craft indicate an interest in resources and our infrastructure. There appears to be a focus on our planet's rich biological resources for apparent projects.

What may be most difficult to address, or for us to face, are the high strangeness elements and the Oz factor.

High Strangeness elements include unusual capacities exhibited by many of these entities, such as telepathy, the ability to cloak, and the ability to penetrate solid surfaces. The Oz Factor refers to the beings affecting human perceptions and states of awateness. These factors are often noted as the activities of non-human intelligences often reported are described.

On the other hand, what is less discomforting are the appearances of most of the wide variety of beings consistently reported in alleged close encounter incidents are not so radically different from ours.

Near the end of 2021, articles appeared based on an interview of a Cambridge University scientist by the BBC’s Science FOCUS magazine that gives an explanatory basis for why we appear to see so many humanoid beings in these close encounter reports.

While most cases reveal beings who are human-like, there are notable variations in the biological features from the homo sapiens appearance. These variations can be understood to be due to different types of suns, atmospheric pressure, atmospheric content, gravity and other planetary conditions.

Simon Conway Morris, an evolutionary paleobiologist in the Cambridge Department of Earth Sciences, asserted with confidence that evolution in other settings around the universe has led to the rising of human-like beings. The theory underlying this proposition is called “convergent evolution”. An online definition: “In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is defined as the process whereby distantly related organisms independently evolve similar traits to adapt to similar necessities.”.

Another Cambridge scientist (a zoologist) named Arik Kershenbaum also has addressed the question of evolution on other planets and came to the same viewpoint, as he is quoted here in a Quanta magazine article from early 2021: “Because evolution is the explanatory mechanism for life everywhere, then the principles we uncover on Earth should be applicable in the rest of the universe.”

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