3 February 2009

"The UFO Experience" by J. Allen Hynek

The history of the UFO phenomenon is (or at least should) be built on witness reports and physical evidence. But when dealing with a subject as baffling and almost unintelligible as this one, the investigator himself becomes a central piece in attributing credibility to the study and its subsequent results. Sadly enough, science as a whole has cast the UFO enigma outside its gates, allowing gross misappropriations by the show-prone media and unprepared self-styled specialists. Only a handful of brave academics have emerged from the ivory tower of universities and laboratories to apply their knowledge on this matter. Among them the astronomer J. Allen Hynek is both a pioneer and an unforgettable reference.

Curiously enough, he came into the UFO field by accident, after an invitation presented by the United States Air Force to serve as a consultant to the newly created Blue Book Project. His work would put him in contact with thousands of sightings reports and take him around North-America to interview witnesses and supervise the collecting of evidence. His initial reluctance to accept the reality of the phenomenon was well in tone with the military authorities’ wishes. Later, his contact with other investigators like Jacques Vallée and Aimé Michel (also members of the mythical “Invisible College”) would contribute to a dramatic shift in his conviction, towards a realisation that such a quantity of strange events was urging for a major organized scientific study. More than that, the inquiry’s results should be made available to the public, an idea that went against his employer’s secretive (and manipulative) objectives.

“The UFO Experience” was published for the first time in 1972, when Hynek had already spent 25 years in the field. The Condon Report was published just 3 years before and its conclusions were peremptory: there's no scientific validity or interest to the study of UFOs. Obviously J. Allen Hynek disagreed, but was followed only by a small group of scientists who remained interested in the phenomenon (some publicly, others privately). His book was, firstly, a wake up call against the fallacious results brought to light by Edward Condon and his committee. For that purpose he presents evidence that the investigation was biased and scientifically inept, a fact also supported by former members of its board who voluntarily resigned in protest. Hynek underlines that in spite of the laughter of science the phenomenon continues to manifest itself, generating a crowd of people from all walks of life who have experienced something they can’t explain and that doesn’t fit the prevailing notions established about our world - that alone is worthy of scientific scrutiny.

On the other hand, the main and more perennial contribution of this book to the study of UFOs would be the classification method for sightings, ranging from distant observations (nocturnal lights, daylight discs and radar-visual reports) to the more fascinating close encounters of the first, second and third kind. To illustrate the different categories, Hynek picked several cases, including some from the Blue Book Files, and divided them according to strangeness and probability indexes. The proximity of the observed object and, eventually, the physical effects and traces left behind are the main vectors to consider in his classification method. Remarkably, it’s fairly noticeable that the close encounters of the third kind (which involve descriptions of beings associated with the UFO itself, usually denominated as humanoids) provoked a reaction of extreme caution in the author. They were attached to reports of such high strangeness that J. Allen Hynek was visibly contained in his appreciation, presenting only a handful of well documented cases.

In the end, “The UFO Experience” remains as one of the essential reads for anyone with an interest in this phenomenon. It’s a truly scientific, methodical and passionate analysis directed both to academic circles and the general public, a balance that few authors can claim to have achieved.

Further information about J. Allen Hynek is available on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allen_Hynek). For contextual purposes we also suggest the article about the Condon Committee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condon_Committee).


  1. This book is the classic, the original. Was there any scientific study concerning UFOs before this one?

  2. Thank you for your comment.

    The only scientifically framed studies published before this one were the Condon Report, under the title "Scientific study of unidentified flying objects" and the first two books by Jacques Vallée "Challenge to Science - The UFO enigma" and "Anatomy of a phenomenon". These three tomes will be futurely reviewed in this blog, for they are included in my personal collection.

  3. Just how big is your book library? Thank you very much! I'll be looking forward to it.

  4. This blog is only dedicated to my collection of books that deal with paranormal issues. I haven't counted but, right now, it comprises around 60 books. But it's an always growing library, because every month I try to add at least 1 new tome to it.

  5. I did pick this book once while I was at the library: normally I'd never even think about getting it off the shelf, but it was in a pile of books people had consulted that day. I started to read convinced I was going to forfeit soon after. In fact I stayed to read it almost through - skipped a few chapters, I know, cheated! I remember leaving the library late at night scared to death I couldn't sleep until it was broad daylight. It's supposed to be science, and it is, but it also works as a contemporary horror novel.

    Years ago you'd scare people with the holy bible, then with the great fictional works of horror. Nowadays, it has to be scientific and factual for people to feel that sort of fear they can't control. Since you have a library on this / these subjects, which one do you think will keep me from sleeping several nights? I seem to take this matter very seriously, not as an scholar, but as someone who's out there looking for expensive thrills.

    P.S. - It's a blog about books, so it's always great and noble ;) keep posting!

  6. If you're looking for thrills in non-fiction books about the paranormal I can reccommend John Keel's "Mothman Prophecies" (read it carefuly and I assure you it's in par with any H.P. Lovecraft novel). Jacques Vallée's "Confrontations" is quite spine tingling, specially when he reports the Brazilian cases where the UFO encounters seemed to provoque the death of the witnesses. "Revelations", also by Vallée, is also one of the more sinister books on the subject, mentioning mysterious UFO cults and bizarre deaths associated with the study of the phenomenon.