I grew up in a world filled with monsters.
Hairy, primitive beasts roamed the bush. Enormous prehistoric creatures inhabited the seas. And the skies? They brimmed with alien spacecraft.
How I wanted to believe. I was obsessed with the strange and the unknown. I had scrapbooks filled with clippings about the Loch Ness monster, the Yowie and its Himalayan cousin, the Yeti.
I devoured books about ancient civilisations that had been mentored by advanced extra-terrestrial beings.
At the age of 12 I was founder and president of the Aerial Phenomena Investigation Bureau – an Australia-wide society with more than 60 members dedicated to proving the existence of UFOs in our skies.
Unfortunately, it was forced to close.
Sinister government interference?
No, something far more down to earth. The money I earned from my newspaper delivery round couldn’t meet the cost of the monthly newsletter.
And then I grew up. I threw away my tin foil hat – the one that had successfully been blocking the government’s ability to read my thoughts from its secretive tracking base at Pine Gap.
Cold, hard reason replaced that mysterious world of my childhood and science and logic became the slayer of all those dragons and demons.
But maybe I was on to something…
For the first time in history the US Navy last month acknowledged that three videos of strange objects filmed by its pilots between 2004 and 2015 were of “unidentified” phenomena.
The US Navy videos, published by The New York Times, show objects reaching hypersonic speeds along the east coast of the United States.
In other reported cases they swerved and made instantaneous stops in mid-air, defying the physical laws that constrain current aircraft.
Watch the US Navy footage below:
A Pentagon spokeswoman also confirmed the phenomena was being treated as “unidentified” and was just a part “of a larger issue of an increased number of training range incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena in recent years.”
The videos and the unprecedented statements by US military officials have created a predictable wave of controversy around the world, capping off an extraordinary year for conspiracy theorists and a lucrative one for manufacturers of tin foil hats.
The world, it seems, wants to believe. The more certain our universe becomes through science and technological innovation, the more we search for the unexplainable.
A Facebook post earlier this year that jokingly called on people to storm the secretive US air force base in Nevada known as Area 51 – long suspected of harbouring the wreckage of crashed UFOs and alien bodies – drew more than two million responses and forced the US government to increase security around its perimeter.
And in the year in which we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo XI moon landing, more people on the planet than ever before believe it was all just a hoax, insisting NASA’s astronauts only travelled as far as a Los Angeles film studio.
So what’s going on?
Plenty of academic studies have produced compelling evidence showing that in uncertain times, when people feel increasingly helpless with little control over their lives, they are willing to suspend common sense and logic and look for answers in the far-fetched.
We saw this in the US when the 9/11 attacks sparked widespread claims of government involvement.
We saw this when Barak Obama’s elevation to the presidency resulted in claims he was not a US citizen, spawning the right-wing “Birther” movement.
We saw this in the allegations of Hillary Clinton masterminding a global child-trafficking ring from a rear booth in a Washington pizza joint.
We saw it in the UK when Princess Diana’s death in a car accident triggered speculation of secret service involvement.
And we have seen it in Australia with ongoing lunatic conspiracy theories around the Port Arthur massacre and whether there was a second shooter.
This is an age when science has explained – and proven – how the universe emerged a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.
We have mapped the human genome, sent craft hurtling beyond the limits of our solar system and even, earlier this year, captured the first image of a black hole.
But the more explanations we are given and the more our universe shrinks and becomes less mysterious, the more people cling to outlandish theories as a way of coping with their rapidly changing and out-of-control lives.
Those UFO videos? I have no idea what those objects are.
But I’m certain they cannot be alien spacecraft.
It makes no sense. Why travel the vast distances of intergalactic space in your souped-up, technologically advanced ship, only to arrive on Earth and play hide and seek with navy aircraft?
But most of all, in an era when almost everyone on the planet has a smartphone and an excellent in-built, automatically focusing camera, why do UFOs only ever appear in front of people who don’t know how to properly use one?
Time for scepticism
So for now, let’s retain a healthy dose of scepticism.
The world we live in contains more than enough mystery already.
Let’s first solve some of those elusive Australian enigmas like why so many drivers insist on picking their noses while waiting for the traffic lights to change, and why other people insist on ending sentences with the word “but”.
Figure that out, people, and then it might be time to reach for the tin foil hats.
Garry Linnell was director of News and Current Affairs for the Nine network in the mid-2000s. He has also been editorial director for Fairfax and is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Bulletin magazine