The Nightshirt Sightings, Portents, Forebodings, Suspicions

Daddy’s Forbidden Closet of Mystery: UFOs and the Holographic Hypothesis


[Note (3/13/10): In the first version of this post, I began by proposing–I thought somewhat originally–that UFOs were like the laser pointers used to entertain cats. A reader pointed out, however, that that the UFOs-as-laser-pointer idea was offered a couple years ago by Mac Tonnies on his blog Posthuman Blues (September 29, 2006). I had not been aware of Tonnies’ post when I wrote mine, but he surely deserves credit for coming up with the analogy first. I have now edited and shortened my post to its more essential argument on holography, to reflect this.]

“I believe that UFOs are physically real. They represent a fantastic technology controlled by an unknown form of consciousness. But I also believe that it would be dangerous to jump to premature conclusions about their origin and nature, because the phenomenon serves as the vehicle for images that can be manipulated to promote belief systems tending to the long-term transformation of human society.” –Jacques Vallee.

“People love to think. We are all detectives. We love to observe, we love to deduce. It is great to pay attention. We have a lot of fun this way.” –David Lynch

“The aim of [contradictory] commands from the viewpoint of a control system is to limit and confine. All control units employ such commands.” –William S. Burroughs.

I have argued in this blog, rather unoriginally and, I now realize, based on prevailing cultural assumptions, in favor of a variant of the extraterrestrial hypothesis or ETH, originally put forward in the 1950s by Daniel Keyhoe: the notion that UFO sightings and encounters represent the presence either of alien visitors or, perhaps, visitation by automated and self-replicating constructs (von Neumann probes) created by far-advanced civilizations. But after reading more on the history of UFO sightings and UFO research, including the bombshell volumes I and II of UFOs and the National Security State by historian Richard Dolan and classic works by Jacques Vallee such as Messengers of Deception, I am coming around to the view that the UFO picture can’t be fully explained by the ETH, but may represent technology and intentions that are much closer to home. The suspiciously hominid appearance of “ETs,” their theatrical and often B-movie behavior, and their travel in clumsy and large ships that seem to crash with great frequency suggest a phenomenon simultaneously more bizarre and more mundane than visitation by super-advanced beings.

The main popular alternative to the ETH has always been that UFOs represent advanced aerospace technology, kept “above top secret” by their creators, likely the US government or some secret group within the government. But critics of such a view sensibly point out that the behavior of UFOs, their incredible maneuverability and speed, their ability to change shape, defy gravity, even become physically insubstantial, just renders an explanation of advanced military propulsion technology too farfetched. The idea that such technology may be reverse-engineered from captured extraterrestrial craft, or given to us by ETs, only begs the question, and brings us back to the ETH as the ultimate explanation for UFO sightings and encounters.

But there’s another possibility that I find quite intriguing. In his blog, Posthuman Blues, Mac Tonnies likened UFOs to the laser pointers that are one of the ultimate toys for entertaining cats and their owners. Like the moving red dot that cats find so irresistible, UFOs tantalize us and fascinate us and, just as we seem on the verge of catching them, they zip out of our reach. And I find that, besides the pure play factor, laser pointers also are a good tool for “social control.” I use mine to distract my cats from mischief, or to lure them out of closets I don’t want them to be in. You could say that a $9.95 laser pointer is a highly useful (and cost-effective) tool for deceiving and manipulating members of a less-advanced civilization. What if some UFOs represent an advanced laser technology designed for deceiving and controlling humans, holograms deployed to “lure us out of the closet.”

Whatever the state of research into “antigravity” propulsion seemingly used by “flying saucers,” holographic technology has been around just about as long as the new breed of UFOs—the illuminated boomerangs and triangles, the shape-shifting vessels, and the alternating solid/insubstantial light formations that now seem to dominate the UFO literature. The real-world holograms most of us have seen in museums and on credit cards are actually illusions of depth on a two-dimensional solid surface; the far cooler kind, volumetric holography—that is, three-dimensional projections of images in thin air, like R2D2’s projection of Princess Leia in Star Wars—has been only a matter of science fiction until recently—or so Wikipedia would have us believe. But various means of producing volumetric simulations of three dimensions have already been developed and demonstrated on a small scale. It is not at all farfetched to think that such technologies have already been developed and tested on a larger scale, in secret, by the military or by defense contractors.

The simplest method of volumetric display projects lasers onto a physical substrate, sort of like the way the beam from a flashlight is only visible in fog or smoke. According to Wikipedia, “Several static-volume volumetric 3-D displays use laser light to encourage visible radiation in a solid, liquid, or gas. For example, some researchers have relied on two-step upconversion within a rare earth-doped material when illuminated by intersecting infrared laser beams of the appropriate frequencies.” I don’t know what “two-step upconversion” means, but “rare-earth-doped material” in the form of an airborn gas or powder does call to my mind some of the physical traces, like mysterious radioactive powder, found in the aftermath of UFO landings.

The latest approach to volumetric display doesn’t need a substrate at all. Wiki goes on to say (and please bear with me) that “Another technique uses a focused pulsed infrared laser (about 100 pulses per second; each lasting a nanosecond) to create balls of glowing plasma at the focal point in normal air. The focal point is directed by two moving mirrors and a sliding lens, allowing it to draw shapes in the air. Each pulse creates a popping sound, so the device crackles as it runs.” The interesting part is this: “Currently it can generate dots anywhere within a cubic metre. It is thought that the device could be scaled up to any size, allowing for 3D images to be generated in the sky.” (My emphasis.)

Check out a cool picture of this thin-air holography–albeit on a small scale–here.

The theoretical ease of using ground-based or, who knows, dirigible- or balloon-based laser arrays to produce believable images of solid or semisolid, astonishingly fast and even mutable aerial vehicles suggests holograms as a possible explanation for many UFO sightings. Some of the descriptions and photographic evidence produced both by the Arizona Lights event and the recent wave of sightings in Stephenville, Texas, for example, seem like they could be consistent with volumetric holography.

The purpose could be testing: They could be tests of laser projection systems ultimately meant to be used in warfare. One can imagine that projecting believably menacing holograms of nonexistent bomber squadrons, for example, could be useful for subduing an enemy in a war zone. Or projected UFOs may be used to create an ET cover story for more mundane, secret projects—who knows, perhaps involving abducting people and mutilating cattle. After all, the black helicopters are never far behind. It could be a combination of both of these things.

The uncertainty itself opens the door to the social control and manipulation Vallee warned of in his books. Like my cats chasing a laser dot, we may be watching and chasing laser projections, simultaneously thrilling to their mystery, the exotic possibility that they may be actual visitations by beings from distant stars, and also suspecting that there’s an all-too-human hand responsible for the spectacle. Is the Wizard real or is he just an Air Force engineer behind a curtain?

Police Chief Wiggam chides his nosy son in one Simpsons episode: “What IS your fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery??” Part of the fun in any mystery is holding multiple interpretations simultaneously in mind; it’s also what tends to immobilize us or keep us glued to our seats as passive audience members. The same way cats can’t resist chasing a moving object, humans can’t resist playing detective. We love mysteries, so the contradiction between the two plausible interpretations of UFOs (they are real/they are fake) may be the strongest tool of our manipulation. It puts us in a double bind, and the result could be a heightened receptivity to social control.

The long history of tantalizing information and disinformation propogated by government agencies suggests not merely a “coverup” but, rather, an interest in perpetuating the ambiguity of UFOs, keeping both possibilities alive in the public consciousness by burying the signal in noise.


I am a science writer and armchair Fortean based in Washington, DC. Write to me at eric.wargo [at]

2 Responses to “Daddy’s Forbidden Closet of Mystery: UFOs and the Holographic Hypothesis”

  • I find it quite curious that your writing above about using a laser pointer to entertain and exercise cats is a nearly mirror copy of what Mac Tonnies, on his site said on Sept. 29, 2006 (do a search on “laser pointer” to bring up the post on Mac’s blog), and that you reference Tonnies within this post—did you derive your version of the “laser pointer to play with cats” content you note here from Mac’s site? If so, it would seem appropriate accreditation to Mac is due.

  • Holy crap, you’re absolutely right! I assure you, I had not seen that post at all. Very weird. But you’re right, Tonnies absolutely deserves credit for coming up with this idea first, and I’ll amend my post to state that. Thank you for pointing it out.