IT’S nothing short of a miracle that this issue has made it to the mailbox. For the last six months the family, including our cat and retired cattle dog, have been living in a small housetruck. (Just as well we farmed out the rabbits, mice and fish). The reason for our spartan existence is we are in the middle of building a rammed earth house. Not only do we fill buckets with the best of the builders, we, or should I say I, also feed them. (Nothing is too good for our boys.)

In the meantime, here we are, old hippy truck complete with magic mushroom woodcuts on the side. People are always mistaking me for a New Ager, can’t think why… We cook on two gas rings (feeding 10 hungry builders is a buzz), enjoy romantic candlelit dinners and have the best of outdoor plumbing — a longdrop and old bath, heated by wood cunningly laid underneath it. What more could a soul want?

Electricity would be good, as would be a filing cabinet, with an office in which to put it. How I miss the simple pleasures of high technological life. But the other evening, as we sat outside (the housetruck is too small to remain inside too long, not being a Tardis) we took particular delight in the evening sky, lit up, it seemed, for us alone.

Gary, a friend who is helping us with our earth moving project, sipped his coffee and proceeded to tell us about the three or four times he’s seen UFOs flitting about of a night. (Having just made our acquaintance, he was not aware of our position on these matters and certainly didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition, but then who does? Actually, we were gentle with him, plenty of time to reel him in later.) It was the standard fare — bright lights in the sky, moving fast and performing natty tricks at the same time.

Having read Robert Bartholomew’s excellent article, “The Great Zeppelin Scare of 1909”, I could have referred to the autokinetic effect, an illusion discovered way back when UFOs were not trendy. Simply, in a dark environment (being outside at night qualifies) a single point of light can appear to move about, when in fact it’s nailed to its perch, as it were. There are also issues of cultural and personal expectation to take into account as well.

I experienced this effect myself years ago, when for some reason I was staring at a blob of paint on a wall with my brother, who agreed with me that the blob was moving. With the same brother, on a night-time trip from Auckland to Gisborne, we stopped and watched a UFO doing loop-the-loops before zapping off to battle some Klingons. My brother being 10 years older than myself, and therefore one would expect, the wiser, was utterly convinced it was an alien spacecraft. But then he was smoking a lot of hooch back then; this was before he became a lawyer.

Not being unkind, what we have here is good, old-fashioned, lazy thinking. It’s a case of grabbing the first, wobbly, seriously dodgy explanation one can cobble (“a ghost must have made me drop it”) and running with it. People do this so often, and convince themselves so thoroughly, that it can be quite frustrating to the earnest skeptic. Gary had done this, my brother excelled at it and countless others as well. It hurts to use your brain. It’s tedious to search for alternative, more plausible answers.

In the meantime, we’re still in our little housetruck and trying to maintain a totally open mind about when our house is to be ready. Who knows, we might have a filing cabinet and flushing toilet by the winter solstice. And manage to get out another issue of the Skeptic.

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