Sunday, March 18, 2012

Arthur C. Clarke said that he's seen lots of UFOs

Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick during the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey

This post is accompanied by a very short audio clip (only 6 minutes) that features both Arthur C.Clarke and Dr. Leo Sprinkle. What does it mean that Clarke claims to have seen lots of UFOs?

6 minutes long / DOWNLOAD MP3

The video store on my main street is going out of business, and they are selling their entire inventory. That said, I now own a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the special features there is an interview with Arthur C. Clarke who wrote the short story that was the basis for the film and he also worked closely with Kubrick throughout the production as co-screenwriter.

The 16mm movie footage shows Clarke giving a short talk in a bland looking banquet room with a small gathering of people. Then he answers questions from the attendees. This took place in the months before the release of 2001, and Clarke admits he hasn't yet seen the finished film.

One question and answer near the end caught my attention.
Question: Can I be pedestrian and ask about the unidentified flying objects?

Clarke: Well can I be pedestrian and give a brief reply?

One, if you've never seen an unidentified flying object you are very unobservant.

Two, if you've seen as many as I have you won' t believe in them. (awkward laughter from the room)

Three, they have nothing to do with visitors from space.

Four, it is impossible to prove three. (hearty laughter from the room)

When he says: "...if you've seen as many as I have you won' t believe in them," I think he is trying to say he has moved beyond believing and into knowing. To me, this is very interesting.

He is admitting he's seen a lot of UFOs. This is highly unusual, and if someone like Budd Hopkins heard him say this, I am quite certain his eyebrows would raise. Most abduction researchers will jump to the conclusion that anyone with more than a few UFO sightings is quite probably an abductee. Personally, I'm not sure what to think.

The interesting thing is that people who have experienced a UFO abduction will quite often be totally focused on the subject of UFOs and the contact experience, and this seems to neatly define Arthur C. Clarke.

The audio download (linked HERE) also includes Dr. Leo Sprinkle sharing a story about meeting Clarke and having him tell about seeing a flying saucer the very night he and Kubrick agreed to do the movie 2001.

All this said, I actually don't know too much about Clarke (except that I read Rendezvous with Rama in high school) so if anyone can help me out here, I'd be grateful.

Text and video added March 19th 2012:
I found a documentary I remember seeing in 1980. In the opening sequence, Clarke states that he has seen six very clear UFOs in the sky, he adds that he has seen others that weren't as impactful. This film looks into the mysteries surrounding witness reports. He was quite a rational skeptic, being cautious not to jump to extraordinary conclusions. The transcript below starts at the 15:15 time count.
Clarke: (after discussing the challenges of sighting reports) And that of course is the trouble with long range sightings, we can never be absolutely sure what they were, and even if it was a visitor form outer-space, we couldn't prove it.

For this reason I am no longer interested in UFO sightings.

But what does intrigue me, what is very mysterious, are the so called close encounters.
The documentary then goes on to dig into a series of entity experiences. I posted one of the witness reports previously because I was impressed by Mrs. Jesse Roestenburg's credibility (linked HERE), although it's a different interview. And the other story is deeply impressive if only for the witnesses beautiful Scottish accent.


Brizdaz (Darren) said...

You might find this an interesting book Mike...although I haven't read it at this stage...but it is on my "To Do" list.

I've heard that Kubrick was mainly responsible for the film script and Clarke for the book manuscript.
I don't know how true this is,but seems plausible to me.

Michael M. Hughes said...

Interesting, for sure. But it could be interpreted as being a classic debunking stance—i.e., he's seen plenty of things he couldn't identify, but has no belief that any of them were anomalous or extraterrestrial.

Nice find, though. I'm sure there's probably something else in print about his views, since he was so prolific and around for so long.

Lord Jim said...

I think his response is clear enough. He is being clearly ambiguous.

In #1, he is using the term 'unidentified flying object' in its proper sense: lights or objects in the sky that do not appear to be planes, balloons, etc.

By saying, "If you've never seen an unidentified flying object you are very unobservant" he is issuing an indictment of the many people who can't be bothered to look up in the sky -- because there are many things in the sky that aren't immediately identifiable.

So this is a pragmatic response very typical of a scientist or science-minded intellectual (e.g. the world is full of wonder if you would but look).

#2 simply reinforces this. By saying he doesn't "believe" in them, he acknowledges that he has seen so many things in the sky that he cannot immediately identify with full certainty, they can't possibly all be UFOs in the sense of flying saucers. Therefore he doesn't "believe" in UFOs on the basis of his sightings of things in the sky. (If he believes in them ultimately, broadly as a phenomenon, it would have to be on the basis of something other than his own sightings, which he is in effect debunking).

#3 is a blanket statement, and an almost ironic assertion of faith, intended to set up the punchline at #4: which is the properly scientific attitude to something unexplained or ambiguous is one of agnosticism. Science cannot make statements on subjects about which nothing is known.

Tristan Eldritch said...

However much we might like him to have been more open-minded on the subject, Arthur C Clarke was, or at least became, deeply skeptical about the subject of ufos. He started to really sour on the subject in the 80s, and wrote the following in 86:

“Nowadays, anyone who considers that alien supercivilisations may exist has to contend not with skepticism but with something much worse – credulity. Although the subject now effects me with uncontrollable fits of yawning, I would be failing in my duty if I did not say something on UFOs.

“So here, as briefly as possible, are the conclusions I’ve come to after more than fifty years of study:

“1. There may be strange and surprising meteorological, electrical, or astronomical phenomena still unknown to science, which may account for the very few UFOs that are both genuine and unexplained.

“2. There is no hard evidence that Earth has ever been visited from space.

“3. If that does happen, there are at least three independent global radar networks that will know within a matter of minutes. And in the unlikely event that the US, [Russian] and Chinese authorities instantly cooperate to suppress the news, they’ll succeed for a maximum of forty-eight hours. How long do you imagine such a secret could be kept? Remember how quickly Watergate unravelled.

“Having written thousands of words on the subject (and read millions) I refuse to go into further details. If anyone wants to argue, I’ll merely quote one of my favourite book titles: ‘Shut up, he explained.’”

Kandinsky said...

Clarke had a viewpoint on UFOs that was complicated and particularly so if UFO is taken to mean classically extraterrestrial.

In the late '50s he was able to state that alien civilisations had probably visited Earth many times. In the same breath he went on to add that the (then) modern waves of sightings weren't ET and that they were typical misidentifications of prosaic origins.

From where he drew his certainty, for either position, is anyone's guess. His argument that 'space is very big' holds for the latter position and not the former.

In that light, he was as guilty of a 'will-to-believe' as any of the 'UFO believers' he doubted.

Where he points out that anyone who hasn't seen a UFO isn't looking...I agree entirely and think it's a statement that should be taken at face value. It's a simple observation of fact that, sooner or later, we should all see something in the sky that we can't identify.

His default position was that *all* UFOs had a terrestrial explanation. By extension, the ETH couldn't apply (in his thinking) to encounter reports. In modern terms, I think Clarke would have gone for the psycho-social hypothesis.

The interview I'm referring to is an old Long John Nebel show. It's available at Steve Kaeser's site >

P.S. After reading your post last year, I posted a thread on ATS about Jesse Roestenberg and linked your site. Thanks again.

Lord Jim said...

@Kandinsky: I don't see what you're passing off as statements of fact on Clarke's views reflected here in this audio clip. In particular, what you're calling his "default" view: that modern sightings were all misidentifications of mundane phenomena. In this clip, Clarke seems to go out of his way (appropriately) to say that what UFOs are cannot presently be proved one way or the other. Do you have any links?

Red Pill Junkie said...

Very good comments.

I agree that Clarke's view on UFOs was skeptical, and the skepticism might have become more radical by the end of his life.

Being open to the possibility of ancient contact was also the stance of Carl Sagan at the beginning of his career. Mac Tonnies pointed it out in The Cryptoterrestrials.

It's also true that Clarke was more open to weird phenomena like PSI in his younger years, as can be attested with his novel Childhood's End, where he makes use of a Ouija board as a plot element made to suggest the pointer's movement is not the result of communication with spectral entities, but in fact ESP triggered by the unconscious mind of a sensitive individual.

But, in 2010:Odyssey 2, Clarke shows a great deal of contempt toward UFOs and people claiming to have contact with their occupants.

In closing, we should also be mindful that during the war he was a radar operator. Makes you wonder if he never heard of radar tracking of anomalous objects by the RAF, just like it was the case with Nick Redfern's dad. I also find it odd how he mentions the movie Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, but seems to neglect the fact that in that movie, the contact was kept completely confidential by the military --maybe he just assumed that by the end of the movie, Spielberg didn't add how the very next day the whole world would be shocked by the news of out first official contact with the ETs... yeah right ;)

Kandinsky said...

@ Lord Jim - I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. Focusing on Clarke's own words demonstrates his belief that UFOs are not ET. He says as much in Mike's audio and in the link I provided. Added to those are the quotes from Tristan.

The comments I referred to begin at 11:00 into the first segment of the LBJ show. Clarke entertains the idea that ETI had visited Earth 'scores of times' in the past. He then considers some Fortean reports from the previous century as candidates for ET visits before dismissing the idea that anything in the 20th Century was ETI.

In my opinion, neither of these positions do justice to his credibility as a visionary thinker. My opinion hardly matters though because he was undoubtedly a great visionary thinker and entitled to err as we all are.

Jaxx said...

I didn't get the impression that Clarke was saying that "he had passed from believing into knowing."

It seemed to me that he was basically saying that there are any number of things in the sky that can be classified as unidentifiable and while it might be fun to speculate it is ultimately a purely ambiguous situation-- there's simply no way to confirm one way or another so ideas like "belief" become redundant.

Red Pill Junkie said...

Quite simply, Clarke believed that if UFOs were of extraterrestrial origin, then it wouldn't remain as 'unidentified'. There would be regarded the same way as the vessels who brought the first Europeans to the Americas; and it would be the most monumental event in human history.

Since none of this has happened, I guess he concluded there had to be another explanation for UFOs.

Mike Clelland! said...

My original inspiration for writing this was the nagging question: WAS CLARKE A UFO ABDUCTEE?

It started with that comment he made about UFOs: "If you've seen as many as I have..."

He starts the youtube video clip almost the same way. Just vague enough to leave me perplexed.

That and the Leo Sprinkle story (in the audio file) leaves me even more confused.

I realize there is no way to answer the question, but I wonder.

Mike Clelland! said...

My original inspiration for writing this was the nagging question: WAS CLARKE A UFO ABDUCTEE?

It started with that comment he made about UFOs: "If you've seen as many as I have..."

He starts the youtube video clip almost the same way. Just vague enough to leave me perplexed.

That and the Leo Sprinkle story (in the audio file) leaves me even more confused.

I realize there is no way to answer the question, but I wonder.

Red Pill Junkie said...

I do wonder also about that sighting with Kubrick. Might it have been mentioned by the legendary director in some obscure and forgotten interview?

Lord Jim said...

@Kandinsky - I've looked at the quotes from Tristan above, though I haven't gone hunting for the audio clip you linked to.

My point of view on Clarke can be summed up this way: Clarke wasn't a debunker. We can see this even in the language quoted by Tristan: "There *may* be ... *may* account ... There is no *hard* evidence..." All of this language is careful, qualified language, despite the way he prefaces his theses above with the colorful rhetoric involving yawns, credulity, etc.

Even the third point, the naive "people can't keep a secret" proposition, is really just a supposition, and he couldn't help being aware of that.

The bottom line is this: Clarke always seems to frame his remarks with arrogant dismissal, but when it comes to giving his "points" (a device common to both Mike's clip and the quotes above) he is appropriately agnostic and scientific.

While Clarke certainly had his own opinion, all of his remarks indicate that he was not wedded to it as a belief in the way debunkers are, or people who "know" the answer with certainty. This probably seems foreign to many in the UFO ghetto who think there are only two ways to be: believer and debunker. Let's not forget that Clarke was also the one who was inclined to believe that the crystalline forms on Mars spotted in photographs were evidence of life.

Red Pill Junkie said...

Kudos to Lord Jim for mentioning Clarke's Martian forest fetishism ;)

Kandinsky said...

I found one of his final videos where he further reiterates that ET haven't been visiting in his '3 birthday wishes:'

'If I may be allowed just three wishes ... I would like to see some evidence of extraterrestrial life. I've always believed that we're not alone in the universe, but we're still waiting for E.T. to call us or give us some kind of sign...'

Red Pill Junkie said...

He asked for 3 birthday wishes, and the clip lasted 9 minutes 3 seconds --lots of 3s there ;)

Trish said...

The guy was an enigma. He wrote some of the best science fiction books and yet, seemed ambiguous about whether UFOs even existed. He'd seen them - but. What the hell were they? In this way, he's like carl sagan - who was skeptical, yet wrote Contact, which became a movie, and probably made him zillions.

Why do people deny or denigrate their own experiences?

Whitley Strieber is unusual in this regard. He has struggled all his life to understand what he experienced.