The “trans-timeline-traveler” hypothesis for UFOs


“If time travel is possible, where are the tourists from the future?” —Stephen Hawking


In 1959, at an Anglican mission in the village of Boianai, on the north coast of the mountainous southeastern prong of New Guinea, there occurred one of the best-known examples of what the UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek would later call a “Close Encounter of the Third Kind.”

The case involved a series of UFO sightings—by mission staff and other locals—of odd lights in the sky and saucer-shaped crafts, over a period of several weeks, culminating in a close encounter in late June. The mission head, William Gill, a 31-year-old Australian named William Gill, had more or less dismissed some of the earlier sightings in a letter written June 26 to a senior colleague based elsewhere in PNG:

I am inclined to believe that probably many UFOs are more likely some form of electric phenomena—or perhaps something brought about by the atom bomb explosions etc.

Having signed himself “Doubting William,” Gill later that day became a UFO believer, as he explained in a follow-up letter to the same colleague on June 27:

Life is strange, isn’t it? Yesterday I wrote you a letter, expressing opinions re the UFOs. Now, less than 24 hours later I have changed my views somewhat.

Last night we at Boianai experienced about 4 hours of UFO activity, and there is no doubt whatsoever that they are handled by beings of some kind. At times it was absolutely breathtaking.

What Gill and his staff and parishioners saw (and more than three dozen later signed a statement affirming the truth of Gill’s account) was a saucer-shaped craft that approached the village closely, and came as low as 100 meters from the ground. It had a deck on top, from which four different beings, human in appearance, observed the people on the ground.

One figure seemed to be standing looking down at us (a group of about a dozen). I stretched my arm above my head and waved. To our surprise the figure did the same. Ananias waved both arms over his head then the two outside figures did the same.

Ananias and myself began waving our arms and all four now seemed to wave back. There seemed to be no doubt that our movements were answered. All mission boys made audible gasps (of either joy or surprise, perhaps both).

As dark was beginning to close in, I sent Eric Kodawara for a torch and directed a series of long dashes towards the UFO. After a minute or two of this, the UFO apparently acknowledged by making several wavering motions back and forth.

Waving by us was repeated and this followed by more flashes of torch, then the UFO began slowly to become bigger, apparently coming in our direction. It ceased after perhaps half a minute and came no further.

After a further two or three minutes the figures apparently lost interest in us for they disappeared ‘below deck.’ At 6.25 pm two figures re-appeared to carry on with whatever they were doing [seemingly setting up equipment on the deck] before the interruption. The blue spotlight [emitted upward at a 45-degree angle from the top of the craft] came on for a few seconds twice in succession.

The craft was accompanied by others in the sky nearby, but none landed, and eventually the sightings—often obscured by cloud cover—petered out, more or less coincident with a series of mysterious, loud explosions in the sky.

Gill later commented that the saucer-like object he had seen at close range “looked a perfectly normal sort of object, an earth-made object. I realised, of course, that some people might think of this as a flying saucer, but I took it to be some kind of hovercraft the Americans or even the Australians had built. The figures inside looked perfectly human.” [italics mine]


The Boianai encounter has long been seen as a classic, high-quality UFO case. How could one convincingly dismiss such a close and well witnessed encounter involving a university-educated priest who was on record as being skeptical about UFOs?

To me, though, the Boianai case is important mainly because it illustrates the weakness of the standard hypothesis about UFOs, which is that they (i.e., the ones with no ordinary explanation) are visitors from other star systems. This “ET hypothesis” is weak for cases like Boianai because visitors from other star systems wouldn’t look human, as the Boianai visitors did, and probably wouldn’t use tech that so closely resembled ours. Like many other UFO cases, the Boianai case seems more consistent with the moderately less woo idea that these visitors are visitors from our own future, or at any rate from “parallel-universe” versions of Earth that resemble our world much more than distant planets would.

In this view, the UFOs coming from our own near future, or from parallel universe Earths close to our own timeline, would have occupants that look very much like us, and tech that resembles ours—whereas UFOs from our distant future or “distant” parallel Earths would seem much more “alien,” while remaining humanoid.


But let me back up. I have never been a UFO researcher or “enthusiast.” I was once a journalist, and as such, in bygone days, I did spend a small slice of my life thinking and researching and writing about UFOs, and becoming acquainted with the lore.

I met, among others, senior current/former government/contractor types who told me they thought it was all real—UFOs, crash retrievals, the whole nine yards—though they couldn’t get access to verify anything. One or two of them wanted me to dig into it.

I did that eventually, in a small way, with the backing of a prominent media organization (as in “yes, feel free to tell them you’re working on a story for us—and let us know if you find anything interesting.”) I spoke to former government officials and contractors (e.g., metals experts) who should have known something, if there was something to know. Whether I approached them directly or obliquely, they all genially professed ignorance about anything that would indicate the existence of a crashed-UFO exploitation program. Eventually I ran out of leads to pursue, and went back to writing about more ordinary stuff.

I felt some relief at that. The idea of a supersecret government UFO program was unsettling. I also felt to some extent that if it existed, it probably should be kept a secret. Moreover, the whole UFO field by then had become, to me, a hall of mirrors in which fact and rumor, fact-finding and UFO evangelism, were almost impossible to tell apart. I was never comfortable there.

I still found the UFO literature compelling, not in its entirety, of course, but in key cases involving multiple independent witnesses, some with radar backup and so on. I retained a sort of middle-of-the-road view of UFOs, reasoning that we’re in a big universe, we’re unlikely to be alone, and so probably some UFOs are extraterrestrial in origin.

I also came to the conclusion, not then but eventually, that the ability of contemporary humans to learn about visitors from advanced ET civilizations is probably very, very limited, so that ufology (in the usual sense, aimed at ET-UFOs) is likely a mug’s game, whether conducted privately or with taxpayer funds.

Had I not walked away from UFOs, I might even have ended up being the journalist the government-connected enthusiasts used to break that big story in the New York Times in 2017. In any case, thanks to those enthusiasts, and to the journalist they chose, Leslie Kean—above all, thanks to the late Senator Harry Reid who got a small UFO program funded from 2008-2016 or so—UFOs in the last few years have become almost a mainstream thing again. New government programs have been set up, and the “expert” panels for these include government-employed individuals who are very enthusiastic about the subject.

Maybe in some cases they are too enthusiastic. One or two of them heard a story like the one I heard, about a UFO recovery/exploitation program, and in recent months have been trying to use their positions on these panels to act as “whistleblowers” and rip the lid off the whole thing.

Good reasons to keep it a secret, if it exists:

    • Harmful psychosocial effects could follow the exposure of such a program—which would disrupt most of the “realities” and moral orders humans have constructed for themselves. Just being forced to acknowledge the existence of beings with superior technology could, on its own, have a seriously demoralizing effect.
    • If any of the material can be exploited technologically, then it is better for the US to do that, and to keep it secret, than to “share it with the world,” including the world’s bad actors such as China and Russia.
    • The knowledge that the US has such material, and the possibility that the US and its allies can exploit it, might be enough to dissuade some of those bad actors from doing seriously bad things, such as using nuclear weapons. (More than two decades ago, I started but never finished writing a novel, loosely based on my journalistic experiences, in which the whole “UFO crash retrieval” story turned out to be a psy-op against the Chinese in the run-up to their planned Taiwan invasion.)

For the same reasons, I find it hard to take at face value the claims by the so-called whistleblowers (who may have been making large sums off their fame/notoriety even before their claims are verified) that they are selflessly doing humanity a favor by forcing disclosure of this alleged secret program.

But to return to my main point: If these claims about recovered vehicles or fragments are true (and there are quite a few such cases in the UFO literature, even if none is very convincing), then they suggest, once again, that “alien” visitations involve a surprisingly low and error-prone level of tech. Why would star-faring ET civilizations that are millions or billions of years ahead of us in development send such failure-prone craft into our skies? It just doesn’t make sense.

One of the self-described whistleblowers, David Grusch, has indicated that pilot bodies were recovered in one or more of these cases. Why flesh-and-blood pilots, for a journey across light-years? And why are the “aliens” in UFO cases always described as humanoid bipeds?

It also doesn’t make sense that the technology left behind by these supposedly super-advanced visitors would invite the prospect of reverse-engineering by ourselves. For us to reverse-engineer a crashed saucer from a millions-of-years-ahead civilization would be like Australopithecus ape-men reverse-engineering a crashed F-35.

Again, these crash/recovery stories, along with Boianai and many other cases in the lore, would make much more sense (to the extent we need to take them seriously) if the visitors in question were not from other star systems, but from somewhere much “closer.”


Tourists from the future is a catchy phrase, but isn’t precisely what I am hypothesizing here.

Classical physics, and even early (“Copenhagen Interpretation”) quantum physics, did not offer much hope for those wishing to develop time-travel technology. A paradox always stood in the way. For example, if you were to depart in your time machine, in Hollywood time-travel fashion, and land in your own backyard the day before, greeting yourself and your wide-eyed wife and children, then you would be changing your own past—you would stop being you—and that just seemed impossible. To put it another way: the traditional conception of time implied a single timeline on which the entire universe exists and unfolds, with no apparent allowance for jumps backward and forward.

The now-dominant Relative State Formulation (a.k.a. the Many Worlds Interpretation, or MWI) of quantum theory is, in principle, more accommodating. It implies—to simplify—that reality comprises an infinitude of ever-branching universes or timelines. Thus, apart from other physical considerations, you could travel “backwards in time,” though the timeline on which you alighted would be distinct (possibly differentiating at the moment you arrive) from your timeline of origin. This means that if you traveled a day backward in time, the people you met in that “destination timeline,” including your “self,” would be merely different versions of those populating your departure timeline. You’d be in a “parallel universe” version of the universe you’d left, and nothing you did there would alter your original timeline—your personal “past.”

In principle, if you could jump from one timeline to another, you also could jump to more distant, parallel timelines to visit more different versions of Earth, whether in the present, past, or future. In this sense, you would be traveling not just along the dimension of time, but across it—across timelines, or “across the multiverse.” I’m not sure what this kind of travel should be called. Perhaps “trans-timeline travel” or “frame shifting” or something like that.

How you would jump between timelines—or travel back along your own and alight somewhere, forcing the branching-off of a new timeline—is of course the hard problem here. Possibly there would be a conservation-of-energy issue, so that major amounts of energy would have to be released or subtracted with each jump. The explosions reported at Boianai, and in other cases, call that issue to mind (although a straight conservation-of-energy calculation implies at least gigaton yields). Though it seems that most reported UFOs depart by moving rapidly upward into the sky, it is conceivable—this is all extremely speculative anyway—that any necessary energy exchanges take place high in the atmosphere where they are less noticeable, and might even be taken for bolide explosions when they involve energy release.

Why would “trans-timeline-travelers” use flying machines, instead of just materializing on the ground, as in time-travel movies? Perhaps because “arriving” at coordinates corresponding to solid matter, inside a mountain for example, would spell instant death for the travelers—and thus a high-atmosphere or outer-space entry, in suitably equipped craft, would be a standard safety measure.

The general idea that some UFOs may be time-travel vehicles, not ET vehicles, has been suggested in various forms over the years. There is also a somewhat more vague idea, put forward by Jacques Vallee many decades ago, that UFOs may represent non-human visitors from other dimensions but not other star systems. Replace dimensions with “timelines” (or “universes,” per MWI) and you arrive at something similar to what I am suggesting. Anyhow, again, this is all highly speculative—and it is very possible that the UFO-crash-retrieval/exploitation story will soon be debunked and discredited. But even if that happens, the wider UFO phenomenon, with solid cases like Boianai, retains its potential to blow our minds.