Our psychological response to the unfamiliar holds the real threat.

I knew an intelligence officer who, decades ago, returned from the field with strong evidence that an adversary might be employing extremely unorthodox techniques to mask their activities. When he presented his suspicions to superiors, the response was: “Keep your theories to yourself. That’s so bizarre, the giggle factor will destroy your reputation.”

This “giggle factor” applied to any topic such as UFOs, ESP, or far-out theories that were so far removed from normal experience that serious intelligence professionals would snicker at both the idea and whoever advanced the idea.

Psychological Roots of the Giggle Factor

A present-day example of the giggle factor surrounds the US Defense Department’s (DOD’s) investigation into UFOs, now called unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs). Despite establishing a formal office to investigate UAPs and encouraging DOD employees to report sightings without fear of the consequences, the reality is that many officials working in national security privately (or not so privately) snicker at the possibility that UFOs are “real,” viewing anyone who takes the topic seriously as part of the “tinfoil hat brigade.”

I learned this from conversations with current and former officials familiar with the Pentagon’s UFO investigations while researching my new book, co-authored with Chris Gilbert, MD, Ph.D.: The New Science of UFOs: New Insights Into an Old Mystery.

One individual told me, “Yeah, the Pentagon set up the UAP investigation group, but it was all window dressing to get members of Congress who want answers about UFOs off their backs.”

Lue Elizondo, who led the Pentagon UAP investigations until 2017 said that he wanted to alert Secretary of Defense Mattis to flight safety and potential military hazards of UAPs, but the “Praetorian guard” around the Secretary wouldn’t allow it. In frustration, Elizondo resigned to continue his investigations outside the government.

Elizondo and others who took UFOs seriously were not victims of a sinister coverup or conspiracy but a fundamental psychological need to believe we have control of our lives in the present and to predict what will happen to us in the future.

Research on the roots of emotional stress demonstrates that feeling out of control in the present and uncertain about the future are two of the biggest drivers of chronic stress.1,2

As a result, we unconsciously adjust our perception of events to remain inside a low-stress comfort zone where we have at least the illusion of control and predictability of our fates.3,4

Thus, when presented evidence of uncontrollable or unpredictable changes to our lives, we tend to discount (and even giggle at) looming disruptions like climate change, COVID-19, UFOs, and other circumstances far outside our normal experience.5

In this light, the Pentagon’s persistent UFO “giggle factor” is simply the deep-seated desire most of us have to remain inside our comfort zone. And social pressure reinforces our tendency to discount improbable looming events, as no one wants to be labeled the Boy Who Cried Wolf or Chicken Little.

Military Dangers of the Giggle Factor

Although UFOs may all turn out to be misidentifications of benign human activity (errant party balloons or drones), natural phenomena (e.g., ball lightning), or perceptual errors (optical illusions), credible reports, video, and radar information captured by the US Navy in 2004 and 20153 suggest that something more exotic and unexplained is behind a few of the reports.

“Something exotic” does not necessarily mean ETs but could indicate that a foreign adversary has leapfrogged the United States in aerospace technology, which has occurred before when Russia surprised us with the first satellite (Sputnik) and both China and Russia fielded hypersonic missiles long before we did. If some UFO sightings are indeed foreign actors surveilling us or testing our responses and military capabilities (UFOs are frequently reported around U.S. military ranges and nuclear areas), then UFOs merit more than a giggle from defense officials.

But the long-standing association of UFOs with aliens will continue to cause potentially real, nonalien threats to national security from UFOs to be the “baby that is thrown out with the bathwater” and continue to be discounted. If a foreign actor surprised us in a future conflict using leapfrog technology, it’s hard to say what would happen on the battlefield, but one thing is certain: No one in the Pentagon would be giggling anymore.

The Larger Danger of the Giggle Factor

The UFO giggle factor raises a far bigger issue than the origins of mysterious flying objects that may or may not pose a threat.

Unconsciously adjusting our perceptions to reduce stress associated with potentially disruptive phenomena is normal, and even healthy under most circumstances, because stress is a big driver of both physical and mental illness.6

But the pace of change from technology, globalization, demographic shifts, and other factors is accelerating, so that unfamiliar and uncomfortable disruptions to our jobs, our relationships, and our well-being are likely to come at us at an ever-increasing rate.

Ridiculing the prospect of the most extreme of these looming disruptions will keep us in our comfort zones for a while but, sooner or later, leave us ill-prepared for the next 9/11, pandemic, war, or capitol riot.

Yes, we should not overreact to the prospect of low-probability/high-impact disruptions, but neither should we giggle, lest someone else enjoy the last laugh.

Por Ovnis

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