The Sol Foundation Conference: A Great Success and a Greater Issue to Face

Whitley Strieber, the bestselling author of more than forty books, says we need more than just government officials, scientists, and academics involved in the UAP dialogue: the experiencer community, and the broader culture, also need to have voices.

I was among the many in attendance at the recent Sol Foundation Conference, held on the campus of Stanford University over the weekend of November 17-18. The conference was in part devoted to the scientific and governmental response to Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP), and in part to the approaches of the academic and religious communities.

While there were many close encounter witnesses at the conference, and we were treated with courtesy and respect, we had no voice on the podium. Initially, I wondered about this and considered asking Garry Nolan, one of the event’s organizers, why we weren’t included. However, when I saw how the conference was structured, as well as the speakers who were invited, I realized that there really wasn’t a place for us and, specifically, despite the fact that I am the author of nine books on the subject, including the seminal text Communion, for me. The reasons, I think, were twofold: the first was that I have no conventional credentials, and the second was that, as I learned by talking with several of the speakers, at least some of the other presenters and attendees would have been uncomfortable to see me on the program and might not have attended.

I do think that I, and the whole experiencer cohort, should be part of the contact dialog. In addition to my own, there is a wealth of thoughtful writing and thinking in the close encounter community, and we deserve a place in any colloquy about contact. And what was going on at the Sol Foundation’s first annual conference was just that: a discussion about how to respond to, and think about, the phenomenon.

It was centered around physical objects and materials, with some academic participation that involved the possible nature of the phenomenon and the religious response, but nothing about the close encounter experience.

I am not complaining here. Far from it. Sol was a very valuable event. I would count it as quite probably the most important UFO conference ever held, and I cannot thank Garry Nolan and Peter Skafish and all the presenters enough for what they have done.

However, at the next such conference, whether held by the Sol Foundation or another one, I feel that it is time to include the close encounter phenomenon, and not only from the point of view of researchers, but also from that of the witnesses themselves.

The experiencer community and the broader culture need to have voices. What is happening here is contact with another intelligence presence, and the human side of the experience needs to be addressed as well as issues relating to science and technology and cultural issues. There is no point in trying to reserve control of the narrative to just one or two elements, not if we expect to genuinely advance understanding.

On both days, there were panels during which questions from the audience were solicited, and I used these to inject mine into the dialogue. To the scientific panel, I asked when science will apply its available tools toward exploration of the close encounter narrative and those who are reporting such experiences, adding that we have not so far even tried to determine whether there is an actual, physical experience involved, let alone whether or not it is related to the UAP phenomenon.

Now, I realize that my choice in raising this point at the event will sound amazing to many people (especially experiencers like me). Still, the truth is that we don’t have any definite, incontrovertible evidence either that the witnesses are describing what happened to them accurately, or that the entities they have encountered are involved with the unidentified flying objects that are ghosting around in our world.

Science does have the tools—if not to finally resolve this question—then certainly to dimensionalize it more clearly. One example could entail dividing an experiencer’s narrative into a series of questions, and then asking the witness those questions while observing their brain function during a functional MRI scanning session. Under such circumstances, it may be possible to tell something about the degree to which they are remembering physical events. Functional MRI can reveal whether or not a given memory was, at least in part, derived from sensory input. If enough people were studied, and a consistency of some kind observed, progress in helping to determine the degree to which the close encounter is a physical experience could perhaps be made.

Additionally, there are many different tools available to the social sciences, anthropology, and medicine that can be applied to the experiencer cohort. Medical and psychological testing, as well as genetic analysis, could be done. A database can be developed that shows the relationship—if any—between close encounters and UAP reports.

Much can also be done by the academic community, which has its own opportunities to provide focus. On the second day of the event, the question I posed was this: Is it possible for the academy to make an in-depth assessment of whether or not there is reason to believe that past encounters with mysterious beings, from angels to ghosts and gods, are foundational to the current close encounter phenomenon, or if there is reason to see it as a new development in human culture?

This is a challenging question. However, there are many ways to approach it, some of which have never been tried before. Among these are relating things like images of large-eyed figures, which abound in human culture from neolithic times up to the early historical period, to conterminous cultural artifacts such as are represented in religious practices and literature.

What were the people who created these “eye gods” thinking about? Were there any specific references that might explain why the images were made to appear as they did? In the Renaissance, many have observed that some paintings have objects in the sky that don’t appear to belong there. Why? Did any artist leave a diary or notes that might explain this, and is there anything hidden in the literature of the period that might offer some insight about why, in this particular era, this sort of thing was done?

Beyond such specific questions, there is a vast body of human experience that is being intentionally ignored by the academy because it doesn’t fit our modern post-enlightenment model of how the world is supposed to work. The actual narrative of human experience, collected in the huge body of literature and art that now stretches back thousands of years, does not present a secular vision of reality at all. Rather, it is a literature of the numinous, the wonderful, the magical, and the unexplained. Instead of attempting to re-vision it as something it isn’t, the academy could address it as what it is, which is a chronicle of the mystery of the human mind, and the way it engages reality. It is in that fraught, shifting (and shifty!) borderland that we will begin to find some new insights into who we have been, who we are, and who, given the eerie concretization of the numinous that defines the modern UAP and close encounter experiences, we are becoming.

To conclude, I would like to draw from the rich literature of the close encounter, specifically from a book I was given at the conference by its author, Trevor Shikaze, called Terrible, Glorious & Useful, which contains these crucially important words: “The alien is your option to invent a better welcome.”

That is worth identifying as the core aim of us all.

Whitley Strieber is the author of over forty works of fiction and nonfiction. Several of his titles, including The Wolfen, The Hunger, Communion, and The Coming Global Superstorm, have all been made into feature films. For two decades, Whitley has produced the Dreamland podcast, and regularly posts updates on his website,