I think the answer is "no" on both counts. The data suggests an enigma of enduring complexity and bewildering scope. While possibly ET, there's no clear link; more often than not, credible reports of "ufonauts" indicate beings with all-too-human mannerisms and motives. If the UFO phenomenon has a purpose, perhaps it's to challenge entrenched ideas about our role as sentient observers. The ever-colorful "space visitors" encountered since 1947 could be the vanguards of an unknown manifestation of consciousness. (Far from invalidating the UFO inquiry, such a discovery would likely propel a new era of scientific understanding. If so, would our collective unconscious adopt some new disguise and cease to provide us with novel visitors and resplendent "craft"?)
Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack once described alien abductions as an example of "reified metaphor." While he believed his patients' accounts of sexually charged encounters with apparent aliens were sincere, he was reluctant to accept them literally. In "Passport to the Cosmos," he mused that activities endured during "abductions" might herald a sort of cosmic wake-up call -- real enough, but only as real as scenes in a stage play. Like self-professed abductee Whitley Strieber, Mack seemed intrigued by the idea that the mind, subjected to a sufficiently foreign stimulus, could produce imagery culled from myth or even pop culture. (Extraterrestrials, big-headed and bug-eyed, seem like suitable candidates for a population weaned on science fiction.)
Of course, that begs the question of where the archetypal "Gray" originated in the first place. British researcher Albert Budden, a strident critic of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), suggests that the minimal physique ascribed to the Grays of abduction infamy might have a basis in neuro-anatomy. If he's right, that still leaves us to sort out cases with physical effects (J. Allen Hynek's "close encounters of the second kind").
Some will doubtlessly argue that I'm over-thinking the controversy. Maybe the ETH will triumph by virtue of its simplicity; after all, aliens from space -- strange as they might be -- are consistent with known physics. Speculating about the role of consciousness and the very nature of "real," on the other hand, might seem abstruse or even like an effort to apologize on behalf of the phenomenon itself.
But our understanding of the Cosmos is still in its infancy; indeed, there's no consensus on what consciousness itself is, let alone its implications in a universe governed by quantum physics. Mathematician Roger Penrose, for example, has argued that a genuine "Theory of Everything" will necessarily incorporate the role of awareness and that current approaches are doomed to failure.
Likewise, I'm hesitant to invoke ETs as a solution to the UFO puzzle until we come to a more mature grasp of the physical basis for human intelligence. If "reality" is more malleable than we think (or admit), we might be delighted to find that our universe is inundated with intelligence. UFOs could be emissaries from a parallel world acting in tandem with our minds. By taunting us, they could be subtly directing us toward new models of reality in which the very concept of "alien spaceships" is almost embarrassingly quaint.
This piece originally appeared at aboutSETI.com.