Finding UFOs Inward (Not Upward) - Carolina Country
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Finding UFOs Inward (Not Upward)

A personal journey led retired professor David Halperin to study UFOs

By Donna Campbell Smith

Video courtesy of UNC-TV/PMNC

North Carolina ranks tenth in the top ten states for sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) — more than 2,000 have been spotted since the 1950s. What is the source of these mysterious objects? Well, 36 percent of Americans believe extraterrestrials have visited Earth, according to a survey commissioned by the National Geographic Channel. But don’t count David J. Halperin, author of the novel “Journal of a UFO Investigator,” among them.

David Halperin

David Halperin

David came to live in North Carolina 42 years ago to teach religion at UNC-Chapel Hill. But his journey into Ufology (the study of UFOs) did not begin in North Carolina. He was living in Levittown, Pennsylvania, working on a research paper in the fall of 1960—at the age of “12 going on 13”—when he read the book “They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers” by Gray Barker. He was fascinated with Barker’s accounts of flying saucers and men in black who came to scare the people who’d seen the flying saucers into keeping quiet. This story inspired the 1997 movie “Men in Black.”

Young David was convinced the stories were true and the men in black were real.

“I believed in UFOs because I believed in the men in black, and I believed in the men in black because I knew them from personal experience. Not literally, of course. But in my own home—my snug little suburban home in Levittown, Pennsylvania—there was a terrible secret that my entire family knew, but none of us would talk about. Namely, that my mother was not just a ‘semi-invalid,’ as we’d agreed to call her, but was slowly dying from a diseased heart.”

To David, her disease symbolized an invader, and by solving the UFO mystery, he felt he could ward off her death.

“Of course, I couldn’t,” he says. “My mother died when I was 16, less than four years after I started in with the UFOs. Everything followed from that.”

“It’s all in our heads … and it’s absolutely real.”

The closest he has come to seeing a UFO was in Durham, when he and his wife were out for a walk and saw lights circling overhead. Turns out it was a flock of birds caught in the light reflecting from a building.

David now believes that UFOs, space aliens and other scary things that go bump in the night are figments of our imaginations. He says he doesn’t mean this in any belittling or dismissive sense. He believes in psychic realities, although in a different way.

“That’s what drives my current interest in UFOs: the quest to understand what this different kind of reality is.”

At one point in his novel, “Journal of a UFO Investigator,” the teenage protagonist Danny Shapiro is talking with his friend, mentor, and lover Rochelle Perlmann, who’s helping him to understand the strange things that have been happening to him. “But, Rochelle,” he protests, “It’s only a myth.” She answers: “Myths are real. That’s what I’ve been trying to explain. They have to be real. Otherwise they wouldn’t stay around for centuries. They’d vanish like last year’s top tunes.”

“So, yes, it’s all in our heads,” David says, “As a dream is, or one of those collective dreams that we call myths. And it’s absolutely real.”

David says he was first a Ufologist, then a scholar of religion. “When I went to college, I put UFOs behind me—and found myself attracted to religious phenomena like heavenly ascensions, otherworldly journeys, and the wheels of the prophet Ezekiel. In other words, UFOs; only in more conventionally respectable guises.”

It took 10 or 20 years before he was able to turn around and face his teenage study of UFOs and explore what it meant to him. “‘Journal of a UFO Investigator’ came out of this process of self-exploration,” David explains.

David is currently working on a nonfiction book on UFOs, “Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO,” which is scheduled to be published by Stanford University Press in 2020.

Leaving us scratching our heads, questioning whether there really have been visitations to Earth from outer space, the retired professor writes on his blog (on davidhalperin.net): “Inside our minds, our souls, there’s enough alienness to fill a universe.”

About the Author

Donna Campbell Smith is a Carolina Country contributing writer who lives in Franklin County.

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