Course Correction: on Limina’s Inaugural Symposium

The Inaugural Symposium for Limina, The Journal of UAP Studies was held virtually Friday 2 February through Sunday 4 February, a momentous occasion for the study of Unidentified Aerial (or Aerospace (or Anomalous)) Phenomena (UAP), not only as a very preliminary step for ufology’s moving from a nascent (if not pseudo) science to its becoming a legitimate field of investigation (and even “field” and “legitimacy”—of “ufology” or of any science—were at stake in the proceedings…) but perhaps even moreso as an opportunity for some fifty researchers, academic and otherwise, from a wide range of disciplines and specialties, to approach the question of UAP from many angles.

My own perspective on the event (as regular readers here will well imagine) is complex. In the first place, I was one of those participants, moderating with Michael Zimmerman a panel on the intersection of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the humanities, and UAP. Moreover, I am, along with all the other participants, engaged with the question or problem of UAP (or “the phenomenon”) in general. Finally, as a poet-philosopher, the event of the symposium as such is an object for reflection, apart from the content of any of its presentations.

I organize this post according to these three perspectives. First, as a participant, I seek to share my experience of the symposium and outline its structure and map the talks give over its three days. Then, I engage with some of those presentations that prompt response. Finally, I offer some final, preliminary reflections on the significance of the event, itself.

As my report on the symposium is a long one, I have opted to break it into parts that will be posted as they are composed. Here, you can read the first main division, my report as a participant. You can skip ahead to the first of my engagements, with historian Greg Eghigian’s opening keynote address, here.

Part I: A long weekend at a virtual conference…

I had never attended a virtual conference, so Limina’s Inaugural Symposium was an experience in this regard in its own right. For readers like me, let me describe that experience a little…

On logging in, one was greeted by the view of a virtual convention hall, a large rotating sign on its roof, “Limina” on one side and “Society for UAP Studies” on the other, signs arrayed along the front of the building advertising the journal, the society, and one of the conference’s main sponsors, Enigma labs, and virtual attendees milling and wandering about the front steps.

Upon zooming through the front doors of the hall, one entered a large mezzanine, the site’s virtual “lobby”, a front end for the conference’s website, from where one could enter the auditorium where the lectures and panels were held, the conversation lounges, or the exhibitors’ hall, whose dozen virtual booths were also accessible via this front end. Across the top of the browser window, a navigation panel enabled participants other means of access to the virtual booths via the Exhibit Hall, as well as to the Auditorium. One could navigate to a welcome video, a schedule of events (“What’s Happening?”), and even a virtual Information Desk along with some other features I remark below.

In the Exhibit Hall, one could access virtual booths for a range of international UAP research organizations, each of which, when entered, included a short introduction to the group and further access to materials, the organization’s website, and a chat room to meet representatives or other attendees. The groups represented were Enigma Labs, the GermanGesellschaft zur Erforschung des UFO-Phänomens (Society for the Study of the UFO Phenomenon), the John E. Mack Institute, the National UFO Historical Records Center, Project Hessdalen, The Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies, The STELLAR Project – International Observatory of Anomalous Phenomena (Portugal), The UAP Tracker Citizen Science Project, UAPx, UFODAP (The UFO Data Acquisition Project), and UFODATA. One could, as well, access the more than twenty videos each of these booths presented in the Video Vault, their print materials (“Resources”) (nearly two-dozen documents), and stash those one wanted to keep in a virtual “Swag Bag”.

Finally, apart from interacting with participants and attendees in the lectures and panels (generally very well-attended, often with over 100 virtual attendees), each accompanied by a chat stream and more formal commentary and Q&A, one could interact in various virtual “Lounges”, whether in the more “General Jam” lounge or those dedicated to more specific topics:  Interdisciplinary Dialogues; Government v. Civilian Research & Investigation of the Phenomenon; Evidence, Methods, Explanation and Anomaly; UAP and the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH); and UAP and Extraterrestrial Intelligence (ETI). For my part, I only once poked my sole head into the General Jam lounge, and was just too shy to visit any of the others. Each were open until 11:00 p.m. each day of the conference to facilitate even further commiseration.

The only flaw in this otherwise impressive and (I found) very user-friendly interface was the inability to easily access the schedule of the weekend’s proceedings, which, as far as I found, were available only through the main conference website before one logged in. I describe this virtual dimension of the symposium in such detail to underline the industry and professionalism that underwrote the polished, user-friendly experience it was.

As to the three days’ program of talks: interested parties can refer to the symposium’s “Agenda“, which also allows access to the talks’ abstracts. However, as I am unsure how long the symposium’s site will remain up, I will briefly rehearse each day’s program before digging in to those presentations I attended and am moved to remark.

DAY ONE: Friday 2 February was devoted to the more humanistic dimension of inquiry into UAP. Dr. Michael C. Cifone Editor-In-Chief of Limina: The Journal of UAP Studies, Founder and President of the Society for UAP Studies, opened the proceedings with some introductory remarks that emphasized the foundational moment and intent of the symposium, its tentative, provisional, reflective, initial surveying of possible grounds for eventual foundations for “scientific” (perhaps, more properly, wissenschaftlich) research into the phenomenon. Cifone was followed by historian Prof. Greg Eghigian who delivered a bracing keynote address, “The Flying Saucer Chronicles: Reflections on the History of Our Fascination with UFOs and Alien Contact”. Prof. Gabriel G. de la Torre followed, exploring the psychological dimension of UAP research, with his talk “Obsessed With UAPs: Psychological Aspects of the Phenomena” (I have posted on de la Torre’s earlier, not unrelated but less developed research, here). Then, Prof. Jeffrey Kripal addressed the matter from the perspective of religious studies and the “superhumanities” in his presentation, “Why We Will Never Explain the UFO: The History of Apophatic Mystical Literature as Guide”. The second session for the day was opened by Prof. Tim Murithi, who brought political science and law into play, with his talk (which I missed), “UAP, Truth Embargo and Amnesty Provisions: The Prospects for a Transitional Justice Approach”. Murithi was followed by Prof. Babette Babich, who brought the philosophy of science to bear, in her lecture “Towards A Philosophy of Science of Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena”. Jinwoo Yu and Prof. Sunglyul Maeng opened the day’s third session with their presentation on Carl Sagan and Korean ufology, “A Silver Lining to Conservatism Towards Ufology” (which I unfortunately missed). The first day was crowned by my and Michael Zimmerman‘s panel, peopled by Prof. Babette Babich, Dr. Jacob Haqq-Misra, Assoc. Prof. Stephen Finley, and Prof. Kevin H. Knuth.

DAY TWO: The symposium’s second day focussed on “hard” scientific approaches to the phenomenon. Prof. Dr. Hakan Kayal opened the proceedings, describing “UAP research at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität of Würzburg”. He was followed by Philippe R. C. Ailleris, who spoke on “Studying Anomalous Aerospace Phenomena in the Field: The History, Lessons and Future Prospects of Instrumented Projects”. Dr. Beatriz Villarroel described the efforts of the VASCO project in her presentation, “Searching for ET Probes with Vanishing & Appearing Sources (VASCO) During ‘A Century of Observations’ Project”. The day’s second session was opened by a report from STELLAR – International Observatory of Anomalous Phenomena by Prof. Joaquim Fernandes, Francisco Mourão Corrêa, and Prof. Raul Berenguel, with focus on their research into the Fatima event. Prof. Matthew Szydagis reported on “The Preliminary/Initial Results from The First Expedition of UAPx” and Prof. Wesley Watters on “The Galileo Project’s Investigation of UAP using Ground-based Observatories and Satellite Data”. The third session of the day began with Dr. Jacob Haqq-Misra returning to the topic of Carl Sagan, speaking on how “Popular Conceptions of Unidentified Flying Objects Can Undermine Scientific Inquiry”. Finally, Dr. Silvano Colombano explained “A Machine Learning Methodology for Filtering and Classifying Unformatted Natural Language Reports”.

DAY THREE focussed on research into particular cases. Prof. Daniel Coumbe (author of the recently published Anomaly: A Scientific Exploration of the UFO Phenomenon (reviewed here and here)) gave the day’s keynote address, “Anomaly: Searching for a Black Swan Event”. He was followed Mick West (“Extracting Lines of Sight and Reconstructing Object Motion from Noisy Video Data”) and Robert M. Powell who both examined the case named in the title of Powell’s talk “An Analysis of the April 25, 2013 Aguadilla, Puerto Rico IR Video”. After a break, the second session of the day shifted the conversation to speculations concerning the nature of UAP themselves, with Prof. Dr. Karl Svozil posing the question “Is Revising Inertia The Key to Zigzag Motion and ‘Anti-Gravity’?” and Dr. Massimo Teodorani‘s “Testing the Possible Propulsion Mechanism of UAPs [sic]”. The day ended with a third session, with Prof. Kevin H. Knuth probing “Evidence Suggesting that Some UAPs are Advanced Non-Human Craft” and a conversation between journalists Leslie Kean, Ralph Blumenthal, Andreas Müller, Ross Coulthart, and George Knapp capping the weekend’s proceedings.

The first part of the second main division is readable here.

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