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Becoming Fantastic: Why Some People Embellish Their Already Accomplished Lives with Incredible Tales

Conspiracy Theories and Incredible Tales

Eric Wojciechowski

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 41.6, November/December 2017

“There is no shortage of stories from impressive people attesting to the reality of UFO technology or extraterrestrial bodies held in secret at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, or near Area 51 or elsewhere” (Dolan 2014, 152).

It started with a simple question: Why would otherwise successful, professional people with long, prosperous careers tell wild tales? Why would someone of good reputation, education, and a gainful career embellish their record with incredible adventures? Why would, say, a retired lieutenant colonel with numerous high-level accomplishments in his career, awarded numerous medals and praises from superior officers, why would he upon retirement, start telling people he was part of a team that analyzed the wreckage of a crashed UFO? And why go through the elaboration with painted-in details, citing documents and naming others who were involved? Why would he do this if it were not true?

It seems to me that as someone gains credibility, status, and a reputation, he or she would become less inclined to puff themselves up with fantastic tales. Why risk losing it all by going off the reservation and telling incredible narratives? Why would someone do that?

Philip J. Corso, in my opinion, is someone who had an impressive resume. According to his DA Form 66, he was a U.S. Army battalion commander for a time and Chief of the Foreign Technology Division. He was granted numerous awards and decorations and served in World War II and Korea. He then retired March 1, 1963 (“Phillip J. Corso” 2016). But in 1997, he published The Day After Roswell where he claimed that when he worked with the Foreign Technology Division, not only did he divvy up Russian and German tech to private companies for back engineering, but he also sent out parts of the UFO Roswell crash as well.

Why would a man of his prestige say such a thing if it were not true?

Philip J. Klass has already taken Corso to task on the book, noting several glaring errors such as Corso’s claim that the U2 flights over Russia were, in part, to see if they could fire on us by provoking them and to see if Russia had obtained UFO technology. But most important, he challenged Corso on his claim that the Roswell wreckage sat unattended for fourteen years until he was allegedly put in charge by General Trudeau. Klass notes:

(Choosing) Corso for this task is surprising because Corso did not have even a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering. (He had majored in Industrial Arts at a teachers college prior to being drafted in 1942.) One would expect Trudeau, or one of his predecessors, to have thought of turning the Roswell debris over to some of the many very competent scientists with Top Secret clearances then employed in Army research and development laboratories. (Klass 1998)

Is Corso a guy who sought secret clearances, secret projects, and late-night phone calls like Neo received from Morpheus in the movie The Matrix, only to have never received them? Did he put in his time only to come to believe he was never quite rewarded as he felt justified? In other words, did he embellish his career wildly years after retirement to compensate for twenty-one-years of “normal” service? Are there some people that regardless of their accomplishments never seem to see themselves as accomplished unless it’s truly fantastic?

Robert O. Dean is another person with a quality resume. He had a career in the United States Army, starting in 1950 and retiring in1976. He was in the wars of Korea and Vietnam and highly decorated for his service. He was at NATO headquarters from 1963 to 1976 with a rank of master sergeant (Klass 1997).

Watching Robert Dean “evolve” over the decades has been quite an adventure in itself. During his first appearances, he claimed that while at NATO he was an intelligence analyst and that one evening when he was tired and could not stay awake, a senior officer tossed him a thick manual and said this would keep him awake. Said manual supposedly documented a three-year study by NATO on UFOs and extraterrestrials. He said it was called “an assessment,” which concluded that there were several races of extraterrestrials flying around and landing and making face-to-face contact with people. The aliens were, however, not a threat (Nintzel and Acuna 1995).

Of course, Dean never produced this report for inspection. Philip Klass found no such study had ever been undertaken by NATO and that Dean’s record showed nothing of intelligence training, but that he was a Chief Clerk in the Language Service Branch (Klass 1997). Again, as in the case of Corso, it is doubtful a person with Dean’s actual rank and status would be so casually tossed the most important “Cosmic Top Secret” (which he called it) report just to keep him awake when a cup of coffee would do.

Over the years, Dean has given several lectures and interviews that, thankfully for us researchers, have been uploaded to YouTube. The preservation of this material is invaluable. Over the years, we can see how Dean expands his story and adds extraordinary pieces. And of course, all claims come with no way to verify them.

In one interview, he claimed he now has personal contact with extraterrestrials, to have been “taken off world” where they gave him “encouragement” and showed him the future. (Project Camelot 2016). In a 2010 lecture, he reported he was now remote viewing (Vimanaboy 2016). In another interview, he claimed a Navy Seal team was dispatched to the “Ararat Anomaly,” which was a large boat, and after several days of exploration, the team was extracted via helicopter with several “anomalous artifacts that have never been described or named” (Project Camelot 2008). All of these incredible claims are provided without a shred of evidence.

How about a nonmilitary person with impressive accomplishments? What of Dr. Steven M. Greer? He earned a medical license in 1989, had a career as an emergency room doctor, and held the position of chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Caldwell Memorial Hospital in Lenoir, North Carolina. He gave it all up in 1998 to pursue his UFO Disclosure Project (Greer 2010), headquartered in Crozet, Virginia.

Telling his origin story in 2006, Greer says that in October 1973, he was at the top of Rich Mountain, 5,000 feet above the town of Boone, North Carolina. Before he meditated, he witnessed an extraterrestrial’s vehicle that was like one he saw at the age of nine. He then meditated so hard he entered into a state of consciousness similar to a near-death experience he had years earlier. When he started to walk down the mountain, he was greeted by an extraterrestrial. He and the ET went aboard a craft that was out in space and translucent, allowing him to see space all around him. Greer claimed the extraterrestrials wanted to communicate with someone who could meditate like he does, and they were concerned for a peaceful human race and were looking for ambassadors, which Greer agreed to become (Greer 2006, 23–24). He was then returned to Earth and descended the mountain at steps of “leaps of 20 to 30 feet at once” and his physical body actually was light! (Greer 2006, 26).

None of this was revealed in Greer’s early UFO days when he appeared on Larry King Live in 1994. When King asked him, “How did you get into (UFOs)?” He said he had an uncle who worked on a project for an Apollo mission, was himself interested in space, and that he had a UFO sighting himself (StevenGreerArchive 2013). He makes no mention of multiple sightings, no mention of being taken up in space, and no springing down the mountaintop in a body of light. Furthermore, when King asked him if he’s made any contact, he said, “We have had limited exchange by light signaling and graphic signaling . . .” (StevenGreerArchive 2013). Then, after explaining the signaling, he says, “there have been reports of more advanced communication but . . . any craft capable of getting here from another star system is not gonna have technology that would be used by AT&T so we have to keep an open mind about what modalities of communication might be out there” (StevenGreerArchive 2013).

Wouldn’t this have been the place for Greer to have told King what he tells us in the 2006 book? When King asks him how he knows extraterrestrials have no hostile intentions and wish to establish a liaison with them, instead of telling King what he tells us in his 2006 book, Greer answers that he knows this because he’s “. . . personally been within a few hundred feet of these craft …” and then the talk about signaling. Finally, King takes a caller from Petoskey, Michigan, who asks if there is proof of alien abductions where people are taken and returned. Greer says, “I think it is extremely rare that anyone is taken onboard (UFOs) . . . It is much rarer than what UFO followers would have you think” (StevenGreerArchive 2013). Another missed opportunity to have discussed his own as told in 2006, I guess.

Greer claimed he had the opportunity to “brief” CIA director James Woolsey on the subject during a dinner party, but Woolsey, along with three other signatories to a letter on the matter, explained that Greer took polite conversation and questions as affirmation of his view when in fact, it was not (Letter to Greer 1999). Why would a CIA director need Greer’s briefing anyway? But that’s not all: He told podcaster Joe Rogan that he was asked by “someone senior involved with (President Obama’s) team (to provide a UFO briefing)” (PowerfulJRE 2013).

To my knowledge, none of the people I have discussed here started out with tall tales. None of them, to the best of my knowledge, fibbed on their resumes to get into the military or medical school. We’re talking about people who already had impressive resumes who seemingly needed to embellish their work and life afterward. Why? Since no proof has been provided to substantiate the above-noted claims, our answers will have to be sought elsewhere.

There are many reasons people lie: to avoid punishments, wish fulfillment, as acts of aggression, to gain favor, to feel powerful, to put one over on others, to not hurt others’ feelings, and so forth. What I’d like to focus on that appears the most relevant to this study is what is called “pseudologica fantastica,” otherwise known as pathological lying.

This has been defined as

the repeated utterance of untruths; the lies are often repeated over a period of years, with the lies eventually becoming a lifestyle; material reward or social advantage does not appear to be the primary motivating force but the lying is an end in itself; an inner dynamic rather than an external reason drives the lies, but when an external reason is suspected, the lies are far in excess of the suspected external reason; the lies are often woven into complex narratives. (Dike et al. 2005)

There may or may not be a neurological defect behind why someone would engage in this behavior (Ford 1999, 136; Dike et al. 2005). In other words, perfectly “normal” people, even those with true and proven accomplishments, may engage in this behavior.

As an example, witness Judge Patrick Couwenberg who in 2001 was investigated by the State of California Commission on Judicial Performance for constant lies during the course of his duties and for outright lying to the Commission, claiming he was employed by the CIA, taking part in operations in Southeast Asia and Africa and that he had a master’s degree in psychology. None of this was true (Dike et al 2005).

Also witness another judge, Judge Jack Montgomery, in the State of Alabama. Through an FBI investigation in 1992 and subsequent trial for taking bribes, he was found to have told some outlandish lies. He claimed to have been the first herpetologist at the Birmingham Zoo and to have been a tortured prisoner of war in China in the Korean War. None of this was true (Ford 1999, 134).

Some people do embellish their already impressive careers and lives with fantastic adventures and accomplishments, and they seem to do so for no other reason than for the sake of telling the lie itself. So, when you hear that a wild story must be true because the person is not out to seek financial rewards or might actually risk a social standing, those factors aren’t a part of the equation.

So why would anyone embellish their lives with UFOs? It works great for those making up a unique life. It accomplishes at least two things: first, it’s pretty cool (to this author) and second, the vaguer and more unverifiable the claim, the less likely it is to be proven a fraud. It’s the same game played by televangelists. Someone who claims to have been in contact with aliens or to be speaking to God holds all the cards. You can’t ever with 100 percent satisfaction conclude a fakery, unlike someone who may fib research results in a lab that can be easily duplicated and retested by other scientists. Making claims that you were once allowed to review secret dossiers and reports of contact with aliens, claiming you handled UFO wreckage but couldn’t keep any—all of these are difficult to prove conclusively one way or the other. Plus, in regard to UFOs, the mythology of a military/government cover up has been in place since the beginning of the modern UFO era—1947. All one has to do is plug their narrative into it. It already has an audience.

Are Phillip J. Corso, Robert O. Dean, and Stephen M. Greer engaging in make-believe as described above? I don’t know. Either they are telling something truthful or they are not. It’s quite possible all three truly believe what they are saying and not consciously lying. But in any case, it is up to them to bring forth the evidence, which they have not. If their extraordinary claims are false (and they appear to be), then the only explanation appears to be a psychological one speculated here, a need to embellish a rather “normal” career, a need to make their lives more exciting than they actually are perceived to be (by them), a wish fulfilled.

I remember my time in college, bright-eyed, out to change the world. I imagine lots of young people have the same world outlook. College or military or none-of-the-above, we all want great things for ourselves when we journey into adulthood. Is it possible that once we move into the real world and most of us feel like we’ve led “normal” or otherwise “uneventful” lives we start making stuff up? If we take financial gain out of the equation, the only other solution as to why this happens is that the person is making up for a perceived failure to be part of something greater.

To answer my question that started all of this: yes, sometimes otherwise accomplished people will invent tall tales for any number of reasons. Some choose great war stories; others choose to embellish their personal narratives with great adventures with UFOs.