Donderi begins four-part lecture on psychology of UFO phenomenon

Last Friday, the Redpath Museum auditorium was filled with students and faculty members attending the first of a four-part lecture series by former McGill professor Don Donderi on the psychology and science behind UFOs and aliens.

During his talk, Donderi laid out his basic thoughts on alien encounters, provided scientific insight into numerous examples of documented “close encounters,” and discussed what he intends to convey over the course of the entire lecture series.

“First, [I want to show] that UFOs are so technically capable that national security is completely compromised and is dependent on their restraint,” said Donderi. “Second, that [UFOs] embody a technology far beyond our modern scientific knowledge, and third, that they are extraterrestrial vehicles.”

According to Donderi, UFO’s are often brushed off as non-science because they are surrounded by a great deal of scepticism and disbelief. Donderi attributes this doubt to Leon Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.

“[Festinger’s theory] explains that people tend to deprecate information that contradicts their beliefs. And in the case of UFOs, the extraterrestrial hypothesis at least contradicts a lot of beliefs,” he said. “As a result, it becomes extremely uncomfortable to acknowledge it. The people most likely to reject it … are, for the large, part natural scientists, because they don’t understand it.”

Donderi’s talks are part of the Freaky Fridays lectures, which solicit McGill scientists to discuss popular misconceptions of science fiction and clarify the factual science behind the myths. After each presentation, there is an audience question-and-answer period followed by a popular film matched to the subject material.

Ingrid Birker, the science outreach coordinator and Freaky Fridays organizer, explained that the lecture series has been popular over the past few years, tackling topics ranging from werewolves and sea monsters to melting glaciers and extreme weather. Birker said that Bruno Tremblay, a McGill professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, did a presentation last year on melting glaciers which the audience found so interesting that Tremblay was barely able to get past his first power-point slide without handling 45 minutes of questions.

During the question-and-answer period following Donderi’s lecture, it appeared that some of the attendees felt that there were holes in his argument that needed clarification. However, Donderi assured his sceptics that these questions would be answered in the remaining three lectures.

Natacia Tamburello, a McGill alumna, said she that found the lecture interesting, but is waiting for more information from the future lectures.

“All [Donderi] really did was set the stage for later lectures,” said Tamburello. “[Concerning my belief in UFOs,] I’m not on either side of the fence.”

Tristan Brand, another McGill alumnus, was also intrigued by the lecture and thought that Donderi’s approach for conveying his information was a good one.

“I don’t see this as much about trying to convince us of anything as it is about saying this is how this information is handled,” said Brand. “That to me is more interesting because if I came here to have somebody convince me that a UFO existed, I don’t think I’d be sitting here watching a presentation about it that would change my mind, one way or the other.”

The 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers followed Donderi’s presentation. Donderi’s remaining three lectures will take place on January 29, February 12 and February 26, all at 5 p.m. in the Redpath Museum auditorium with free admission. The upcoming topics and their corresponding movies are, respectively, “UFO abductions” followed by Communion, “Close Encounters” followed by Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and “Science, Philosophy and UFOs” followed by Contact.

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