Alternate Perceptions Magazine, November 2014
A HAPPY-MEDIUM APPROACH TO THE UFO PROBLEM
by: Bill J. Sego
Armand Delsemme, in his book Our Cosmic Origins, writes, “The questions raised by those who feel intuitively that life is a phenomenon too complex to emerge simply by chance no longer stand up…as expressed by [British astrophysicist] Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramashinghe, has proved to be totally misleading. We can in fact readily accept that ‘life’ is a very probable physico-chemical phenomenon that will appear soon after the prerequisite conditions are met.” Though polls vary from one to the next, roughly 65% of Americans believe extraterrestrial life exists somewhere in the Universe, and 35% believe they have visited Earth. Many UFO documentaries and other popular programs, such as Ancient Aliens on the History Channel, have attributed to the steady increase in that number. The Fermi paradox, an argument put forth by nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi in 1950, then begs the question, “If extraterrestrial beings are commonplace, where are they?”
Just 50 years ago, it was widely accepted that no life existed anywhere beyond Earth. Many scientists of the time dismissed any such possibility. However, life only appears to be a rare, extraordinary phenomenon. In the future, biologists will be forced to concede otherwise as better means of locating extrasolar planets are developed. The blueprint of the Universe encourages life and subsequent evolution. There is too much space and too many star systems for there not to be. Evidence of a uniform Universe continues to mount. It is only a matter of time before astronomers discover a multitude of other star systems harbor intelligent life. Life should be the final product of solar-system evolution for most systems, whether basic or complex. While intelligent life might be rare, primitive life will emerge and, over time, propagate.
There are more stars in the visible Universe than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of Earth. To assume Earth harbors the only advanced civilization throughout the cosmos is nothing short of blind egoism. How could anyone infer there are no other intelligent beings anywhere else throughout its vast expanse regardless of the current lack of substantiated evidence? Giving the vast expanse of the Universe the benefit of the doubt is not as presumptuous as the latter. A small number of scientists, evolutionary biologists in particular, argue the probability of life originating on another planet anywhere in the Universe is astronomical, especially intelligent life. Even more improbable, they profess, is that any other life would be humanoid. Their calculations and so-called expertise enable them to make nothing more than an “educated” guess. Their logical approach and deductive reasoning in this instance is flawed, if only based on the sheer number of possibilities out there combined with the blueprint of organized complexity throughout the Universe. There is a controversial viewpoint challenging orthodox biology: complexity can emerge spontaneously through a process of self-organization. Matter and energy have an inbuilt tendency to amplify and channel organized complexity. Life, evolution, and intelligence are a part of the blueprint surrounding this overall “design” throughout the Universe.
Evolutionary biologist Jack Cohen argues a similar pattern of Homo-sapient evolution would never happen again on this planet or any other. The chance, extenuating circumstances, he insists, are too great.
Alternatively, Harvard paleontologist Andrew Knoll points out common repeats in our evolutionary past to argue most life throughout the Universe will indeed harbor similar characteristics. Repeat patterns in the fossil record provide evidence of life’s overall uniformity. Only those planets with similar carbon-based characteristics to our own are to be considered in this particular argument. John Clute, author of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, does not believe alien beings are visiting Earth, nor are they abducting humans for scientific experiments. However, in a 1996 interview that appeared on a TLC documentary, Future Fantastic, he indicates aliens would look something like what Hollywood portrays due to certain laws and patterns of evolution. The typical gray aliens with large heads and bulbous eyes are a potential reflection of future human evolution, perhaps not in all aspects but surely in some. He forgets that Hollywood’s rendition of these depictions was taken from eyewitness testimony and alien abduction accounts throughout history.
Life, like stars and planets, might reflect the overall uniformity of the Universe. If so, most life will be carbon-based and reflect what scientists know carbon-based life forms resemble. Deviations are inevitable from one environment to the next, but the overall appearance of intelligent beings should consist of similar humanoid characteristics.
Of course, not all life-harboring planets will have a similar atmosphere nor be at the ideal distance from their sun to permit the appearance of life forms like those found on Earth. But characteristics of the humanoid model may be typical of intelligent life in general. The few scientists who predict intelligent life will look humanoid have more of a concrete model to base their assumptions on than do some exobiologists. Let us permit them and other astrobiologists to concoct ridiculous renditions of extraterrestrial beings if they prefer since, after all, it is good entertainment. Some of the depictions look like monsters out of some cheesy horror flick.
Theoretical mathematicians proclaim the possibility of another planet enduring a similar evolutionary process to that of Earth is highly improbable. Those same mathematicians use similar logic to argue against our own implausible existence, yet here we are. Perhaps they need to devise a more indicative set of mathematical criteria. Just because x is not equal to y does not mean the initial premise was relevant in the first place. What they intend to calculate formulates initial biases and adversely influences results. Scientists call this fudging the data.
Just because some biologists refuse to incorporate depictions of small gray aliens with big heads and large eyes into their models does not mean it is an invalid rendition. Had cases of alien abduction not arose with such frequency over the past 30 years, those same biologists may have provided depictions of future human evolution that resemble the standard “gray” model since a handful of exobiologists predict we shall evolve into something similar. Why must validation or proof of the extra-terrestrial hypothesis be established a posteriori? Is the quest for the truth not at the heart of scientific investigation? Reliable eyewitness accounts and unexplained footage of UFOs are pieces of evidence to be analyzed. Most will have a mundane explanation, however a small percentage will not. Completely dismissing such evidence offhand because of personal career implications or the giggle factor is nothing short of making an uneducated excuse and turning a blind eye. Aside from hoaxes that are now easy to establish, there remains a significant body of unexplained video evidence. This leaves one with the conclusion that some of these objects are either top-secret, military dream machines or of extraterrestrial origin. There remains no other explanation for some of the evidence out there to account for the maneuvers of some of these objects.
Senior SETI astronomer Seth Shostak argues if aliens ever do visit, they will resemble artificial intelligence in the form of Von Neumann machines and “not some soft, squishy, little gray guy with big eyeballs.” His logic may be a little skewed here. If we were advanced enough to dispatch artificial beings to other star systems, would they not resemble human beings? If an advanced civilization had to utilize artificial beings to traverse the stars, is it not plausible to assume they would resemble their manufacturers?
The biggest problem with SETI is its avoidance of viable subject matter, such as ufology, that presents a conflict of interest to its own field of study. Why look for extraterrestrial radio signals if the aliens are here already? Because of this, SETI proponents avoid the topic of UFOs as if it were a plague. Is such a position fair to the public or even scientific?
John Ball, author of Zoo Hypothesis, feels it is possible extraterrestrial beings are here observing life on Earth without making their presence known. Zoo hypothesis claims we have a difficult time proving extraterrestrials are here since they would make every effort to remain anonymous. This allows for a natural development to our evolution and technological development. The concept is similar to the Prime Directive on Star Trek.
Any government with access to physical extraterrestrial evidence would keep that information from the public. Not only would they do it to avoid panic and mass hysteria, there would be obvious military applications for reverse engineering their technology. Proof of the ETH would shake the very foundation of life on the planet.
If warp-drive technology does exist somewhere in the Universe, what would motivate aliens to come here in the first place if we are not the result of directed panspermia? One could argue that question is valid only if there is no such technology. Otherwise, they would have more time than not to visit every star system in the Galaxy and beyond. Upon detection of humanity’s rise in technology, they might want to ensure our responsible use of it without making their presence known. Aliens might find it imperative to keep an eye on us if only to protect their own interests.
Two things would happen if we established direct, physical contact with an alien civilization. UFO buffs would feel vindicated, and skeptics would find a nice, quiet place to hide from the media. The liberation of scientific possibilities would abound. Religious fanatics would avoid discrimination for their initial skepticism by declaring these beings are either angels or demons, perhaps sent by God or Satan.
Politics, the economy, morality, religious beliefs, and much more would be adversely affected as a result of such an encounter. Many aspects of daily life would be altered on a global scale. News broadcasts, documentaries, and day-to-day conversations would revolve around this momentous event for years to come. It would be the most historic, influential event in human history, short of a catastrophic global disaster.
Humanity would be forced to redefine its basic moral principles to encompass not only human perspective but that of all potential life throughout the entire Universe. A restructuring of any belief system, including many scientific concepts once thought of as fringe, would become imperative, especially if the beings share some of their technology. Such an event would appear surreal to most people. Our entire existence would be altered, forever. If aliens are here, they are aware of how official contact would affect society on a global scale. Just watching the evening news any given night is enough to convince many we are nowhere near prepared to receive such a revelation. Perhaps they avoid contact on purpose and skeptics are not giving them enough credit. Any government agency would spare no expense to ensure we were unaware of their presence.
The true motives of any advanced civilization would be well beyond human comprehension and any attempt to pinpoint them highly presumptuous. Their minds would be so evolved we could not begin to imagine what they might want with us, if anything. While there is nothing wrong with speculating, claiming certainty is not something anyone has the right to assert.
Today, claims of UFO sightings and alien abductions are too numerous to record. Videos of alleged extraterrestrial spacecraft plague the internet. Cases of purported alien abduction surface almost daily. A certain level of gullibility clouds the judgment of many who accept such cases at face value. At the same time, the public should not discount reports that incorporate valid evidence or credible eyewitness testimony without further scientific analysis. Do scientists ignore evidence of UFO accounts on purpose, in particular those which cannot be explained by conventional means? It is easy for them to cry no evidence while ignoring any at the same time. Perhaps giving it a shred of attention would influence their credibility or reputation among their peers and present a conflict of interest. There exists no direct proof of alien visitation, so why should they waste their time and resources? Meanwhile, other scientists postulate wild claims of parallel universes, wormholes, and time machines, ideas that make sense on paper, but ones having less of a potential to authenticate. Alien visitation, on the other hand, does since it is a direct, physical phenomenon. Based on those comparisons, one could argue their methodology is flawed. This suggests the ETH is more plausible than claims of a multiverse by theoretical physicists. Lack of funding for serious UFO research is nonexistent, so perhaps that is the primary motive for not doing so.
Many scientists find comfort in denial when it comes to the existence or interstellar mobility of advanced extraterrestrial beings due to the negative impact it might have on their reputation or career. Intellectual cries of no physical evidence are fair arguments though if ever established to the contrary could be self-defeating. Many would demand to know why it was a topic they never took seriously.
Seth Shostak wants to know why thousands of university researchers are not busy studying UFOs, if only in their spare time, if such reports appear authentic. One answer is because of the embarrassment among their scientific peers surrounding the topic. Whether Dr. Shostak admits as much, he knows any professional researcher would jeopardize their career if they studied any aspect of potential alien visitation, spare time or not. Because science lacks the technology or information to explain the phenomenon, it leaves room for wisecracks and plausible deniability. For most scientists, it is not in their best interest to study something of which they might never make sense. Does this mean the best 10% to 20% of unexplained sightings is, beyond any reasonable doubt, not of extraterrestrial origin? How can they justify such an argument without taking a legitimate closer look? Using that same logic, are the 0% of sightings by physicists and cosmologists of other dimensions, dark matter, multiple universes, time machines, and wormholes equally as baseless to study?
Perhaps not believing the ETH is possible is as much of an illegitimate approach as believing wholeheartedly. Leaving the question open based on the viable evidence that does exist is a reasonable approach since concrete evidence could surface in our lifetime. Why should the burden of proof be on the believer if, backed by enough evidence, the possibility remains?
Steven J. Dick, in his book Life on Other Worlds, sums up the position French astronomer Jacques Vallee held regarding the subject of UFOs. According to Dick, after Vallee met J. Allen Hynek, “Vallee took up the subject of UFOs and in 1965 offered his own appraisal of the subject in ‘Anatomy of a Phenomenon.’ Vallee challenged the scientific method of [Donald] Menzel and [other scientists], finding the prevailing attitude too limited, the data sample too small, and the techniques too narrow. Vallee believed one should ‘not invoke a new natural phenomenon to explain UFOs if the extraterrestrial hypothesis was plausible…’” Dick makes reference to the statement made in 1967 by atmospheric physicist and member of the National Academy of Sciences James McDonald that “[UFOs are] the greatest scientific problem of our times.” He, like Vallee, believed the ETH was the best, most logical explanation for UFOs.
Dick indicates even the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), made up of 25,000 professional scientists and engineers, turned its back on Condon’s conclusions. They determined it was “difficult to ignore the small residue of well-documented but unexplainable cases which form the hard core of the UFO controversy.” AIAA asked, “Are we justified to extrapolate from 0.99 to 1.00, implying that if 99% of all observations can be explained, the remaining 1% could also be explained; or do we face a severe problem of signal-to-noise ratio…?”
Even Carl Sagan admitted the ETH was possible, however improbable. But just because the UFO phenomenon is surrounded by clutter does not mean the ETH is an implausible explanation. Perhaps if scientists devoted legitimate time to the study, they might help cut down on some of the aforementioned clutter. Another possible reason for denial is some scientists would feel threatened, perhaps devastated by proof of super-intelligent beings, particularly if they are unable to comprehend most aspects of their technology.
Gregory Benford poses some interesting ideas about visits from alien beings. In First Contact, he writes, “I think it is worth the time to seriously, dispassionately look into the possibility that intelligent beings may have visited Earth, or ventured into the Solar System at some time in the distant past…After all, any extraterrestrials who visited Earth possessed technology (and perhaps wisdom) far beyond our own. We should be properly humble about what such beings could do. This demands mental flexibility, to say the least.” Benford is not suggesting Earth was or is being visited by aliens, just that scientists need to keep an open mind and consider the possibilities.
SETI astronomers deny any possibility of alien visitation. Three main arguments are endorsed in their defense. First, distances between star systems are too vast for an occupant to make such a trip within any being’s lifetime. Second, to date, no evidence of alien visitation has been verified. (Those points do have merit and are valid arguments.) Third, if SETI admitted visitation by aliens were possible, financial support for their research would dwindle. Why look for signs of life out there if the suggestion they might already be here remains a possibility?
Three basic elements outline the various positions people adopt with regard to the question of alien visitation: skepticism, gullibility, and rational open-mindedness based on a happy-medium approach. There is a misleading tendency for some to embrace an extreme viewpoint be it for or against the ETH. Taking the high road or not committing to one position or the other appears to be the safest bet.
Skepticism is at the heart of science, for better or worse. It is a healthy method of observing the Universe, but too much of it can get in the way of valid science. The skeptical effect can have negative consequences for anyone expressing excessive criticism toward a valid, conceivable phenomenon. A scientist must consider the negative repercussions this approach might procure when making absolute claims to the contrary of a taboo subject matter. If not, he risks embarrassment and ridicule, much worse than what he may receive from his peers for at first considering the topic. It could be detrimental for a prestigious scientist to find himself on the wrong side of history. A forced about-face might harm his credibility since reporters and the general public would put him on the spot and demand a statement. Concerning the ETH, it would give UFO fanatics reasons to criticize the scientific community in general and take advantage of such premature assessments to support their own agenda. After all, if aliens are here and they ever make their presence known, the ETH would skip an ETT (extraterrestrial theory) post haste and become the ETL (extraterrestrial law), which, technically, would be more concrete than the theory of evolution.
Acceptance of a phenomenon based on wanton belief is another presumptuous approach and a sign of naiveté. The gullibility effect results from the consequences of adopting the opposite extreme to a phenomenon that might turn out to be a hoax. While it is okay to believe in something you feel adamant about, accepting a case at face value without considering alternative possibilities can have equally negative consequences. Staunch believers receive significant criticism as it is. Adhering to a particular sighting that turns out to be a hoax or have a mundane explanation could be as embarrassing as what a skeptic might face in the previous example. Not only that, but some fanatics give the subject of ufology a bad name.
Either position is misleading, dishonest, and, to some extent, unscientific. Both methods are evasive to the real answer. Whatever happened to a neutral position for both skeptic and believer, instead adhering to a happy-medium approach? If one refrains from making absolute convictions for or against a particular viewpoint and remains open to either, real progress might become possible. It seems both scientist and believer sometimes dismiss logic, reason, and common sense in exchange for extreme empirical skepticism or gullibility.
It is just as easy for a UFO believer to state, “This unexplained video footage provides proof for the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial beings,” as it is for a skeptic to say, “But where is the concrete evidence?” Both answers, essentially, are right and wrong. One, the believer cannot provide validating evidence said object is no doubt of extraterrestrial origin and two, the skeptic cannot explain what the object might be to the contrary. If a video of a UFO is not a hoax and appears to defy physics as we understand it, should a scientist feel obligated to develop a case-by-case theory or hypothesis based on the available evidence instead of lumping them all together?
Many scientists argue there is no physical evidence to back up any claim of the ETH, even when extensive analysis of a video showing a purported alien spacecraft allows for no other logical conclusion. First, one must establish a clear definition of what physical evidence is. Second, one must establish a fair and reasonable approach to an unsubstantiated claim that might merit some credibility.
An example of irrefutable physical evidence regarding alien visitation would be if their spacecraft landed in New York City tomorrow, and the beings walked out for an interview with Scott Pelley. This standard of irrefutable evidence is the only kind to which a skeptic would concede. Any other form of physical evidence will remain suspect no matter the eyewitness testimony, video or photographic depictions, or other physical evidence provided. Artifacts from an alien spacecraft and proven by experts as not of this Earth would still not be considered irrefutable physical evidence of alien visitation due to the implications it would have on society. Since it would have such an everlasting effect, skeptics argue, established proof must be unquestionable. Therefore, the ETH demands more evidence than would, for example, the idea of string theory, or else it is dismissed as a possibility altogether. Scientists who adhere to the status quo adopt a similar approach with theoretical physicists, and they argue how unfair it is. Does a ufologist have the right to feel the same way?
A multitude of video evidence exists in support of such unexplained phenomena. Some images depict objects that cannot be explained by conventional science following extensive analysis. The maneuvers of these objects make it difficult to claim they are of this Earth. If so, there remains one other possible explanation: they are top-secret, remote-controlled, super aircraft utilizing a technology most scientists have only dreamed of. Since there is little possibility any secret government agency harbored comparable technology prior to the 1970s or 1980s, only post-modern videos should be considered as a possibility for this potential explanation.
Documented eyewitness testimony from reliable sources is another standard that should be counted as a type of evidence, though not as significant as a video or photograph. Such evidence is not irrefutable but could stand up in a court of law were the general public not biased in their beliefs or pressured by social acceptability. Instances of unexplained phenomena are not to be believed or not believed, but presented and deduced to a judgment of whether or not, in all likelihood, they are what they appear to be. Mistakes do occur in the judicial system, and its method of deducing the truth is not an exact science, but it remains a standard nonetheless.
Looking at all the evidence from an unbiased position and making a logical determination of whether said sighting is or is not of terrestrial origin is the remaining viable option. Incredible claims do require incredible evidence, but evidence that appears incredible should gain some credibility, at the very least viewed as a possibility for interstellar mobility.
One might suspect there are some scientists out there that do believe in the extraterrestrial hypothesis but refrain from making that belief public. How many are hypocritical enough to believe in the existence of an unverifiable God while denying any possibility of a verifiable ETH?
Though most of this article is based on logical speculation, humanity owes it to itself to remain open to the possibility of alien visitation should incontrovertible evidence present itself in the near future. Both scientist and believer should refrain from making absolute convictions either way, because these facts remain—we do not know if extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth and nobody can say, with any certainty, they have not.