Saturday, August 6, 2011

UFOs--- We May Be Asking All the Wrong Questions


1. The Facts: Background Information

In many countries, UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) have become part of the national culture. Ask almost anybody, and they will report having at least heard the term. Many hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, report having seen them. Asked what “UFOs” are, many people will say such things as flying saucers, alien spacecraft from other planets, or little green men. All of this, and much more, has worked its way into the very fabric of our national (and international) psyche.

The idea that technological civilizations probably exist on other planets is in fact, well accepted at all levels of society, from the janitor to the astrophysicist. Indeed, even more than a century ago, the idea was taken seriously by educated people. There is nothing inherently strange about the thought. Nor is it considered unreasonable to propose that such civilizations could travel across space and arrive at our planet. And that possibility gives rise to the foremost theories put forward to explain UFO sightings.

But when serious investigations into the many UFO phenomena are conducted, researchers come away almost empty handed. Most of the reports are explainable in ordinary terms, or as hoaxes. But even when ordinary explanations are ruled out, even when it is glaringly clear that something very extraordinary has happened, even then, the researchers cannot convincingly say what the UFOs are. Even after decades of research and mounting evidence, we have not removed the “U” from UFO. They remain as unidentified now as they were in 1947, when the term “flying saucer” first came into the popular lexicon.

Oh, to be sure the researchers have lots of strong evidence: photographs, videos, corroborated eyewitness reports from credible people, coordinated radar detection, and in some cases physical evidence such as burn marks on grass (even on some people!). This large body of evidence has decisively refuted the often ridiculed “swamp gas” explanation for these sightings.

But there is no smoking gun, no conclusive proof of what in fact, the UFOs really are.

What's more, the most credible observations that we do have are inconsistent with each other. In some cases, the UFO apparently attempts to evade detection. In other cases, it seems either unaware of, or unconcerned with, the fact that it is being seen. If one attempts to piece together all the most credible sightings, to put together the jigsaw puzzle, he finds that the pieces do not fit. And the box does not have a picture to show us what the final solution should look like.

No matter, in the minds of many people, including many serious investigators with impeccable reputations for honesty and objectivity, UFOs are assumed to be spacecraft from another planet (or planets), or less commonly, secret experiments of some kind, probably by the US government.

Maybe it’s time to clear the air and look at the UFO issue from a different angle.

After all, if there is even a slight possibility that we have been looking in the wrong place for the wrong thing, shouldn’t we at least consider stepping back and reevaluating our facts and logic, and perhaps exploring a different conclusion?

2. The Logic

The reason why UFO evidence to date has not produced the irrefutable proof that researchers so ardently seek, is that no incontrovertible physical evidence has been publicly produced.

In other words, suppose, hypothetically, that an alien spaceship were to explode, scattering thousands of pieces across square miles of populated area. People would gather so many of the pieces, that no cover-up could conceal the fact of what happened. We would have the irrefutable proof we seek to find. People would have in their hands the physical proof that the UFO had not been a natural phenomenon, and also, that it was not the product of any earthly technology.

But we do not have anything approaching that situation.

On the other hand, when meteors or comets have exploded in the earth’s atmosphere, or crashed into the ground, they have left behind the irrefutable proof of a natural phenomenon. You can hold in your hand the fragment of a meteor, or visit for yourself the meteor impact crater one mile wide in Arizona. No informed person doubts that “meteors are real.”

But many informed people do have doubts that UFOs are real.

More precisely, they have doubts that the UFOs are actually spacecraft from other planets, or secret government projects. Even if they cannot propose a more logical explanation, they contend that it’s better to wait and see.

In fact, there are a lot of good reasons to question the most popular conceptions about what UFOs might really be. Let’s look at those reasons.

Let’s begin by putting forward the hypothesis that UFOs might be spacecraft from another planet. How well does that hypothesis explain the few facts that we do know about UFOs?

In particular, how well does that hypothesis explain the observed UFO behaviors? In other words, why are UFOs so rarely seen? Why are the conditions under which they are seen such that we cannot get irrefutable photographic evidence? Why can’t we get high resolution, highly detailed video footage?

There are three possible explanations that come to mind. Let’s consider each one.

First, the UFOs do not wish to be seen. Is that a reasonable explanation? No. Why not? Because, if the UFOs have the technology to cross interstellar space, then they surely have stealth capabilities that are far beyond our abilities to detect them. If they truly do not wish to be seen, we have no possible way of detecting them. By comparison with them, we must be very primitive indeed. Yet, even we have produced stealth aircraft that are difficult to detect, even by a determined enemy who is carefully searching for us. We are even in the process of developing “invisibility” technology that in the future may make it almost impossible to visually see an aircraft. Surely, alien technologies could easily remain unseen if they wished to do so. The very fact that we do see (and photograph) UFOs rules out the theory that UFOs do not wish to be seen.

Second, the UFOs are indifferent as to whether we see them or not. Is that a reasonable explanation? No. Why not? Because if they do not “care” whether we see them, then they would take no evasive action. The best sightings and photos would not all occur in remote areas, or at night, or under conditions that do not lend themselves to high resolution photography. After 64 years of publicized UFO sightings, we should have had at least one of them under conditions which would leave no doubt whatsoever that either an alien spacecraft, or a government project, had been observed. The fact that we have indeed observed and recorded spectacular meteors streaking across the sky makes it obvious that over a period of time, even unusual phenomena can leave conclusive evidence. And meteors are so to speak, indifferent as to whether we see them or not.

Third, the UFOs do wish to be seen, but wish to leave no conclusive evidence of their having been seen. As irrational as this explanation is, it is, ironically, the one which best fits the observed facts. But it is indeed irrational. So we cannot seriously entertain the notion that we are the targets of cosmic pranks.

Other explanations can be proposed, but none of them is satisfactory. We might say that the UFOs are hiding from us, but that every once in a while, they make a mistake, and get seen. But if that is the answer, then the UFOs are making an awful lot of mistakes. Could they be that incompetent and yet have space travel? And why are none of the mistakes in conditions that would yield incontrovertible proof of what they are? There seems to be no explanation that fits all the observations. In the end, we have a paradox, a set of all possible explanations, with not one of them being reasonable.

Is there a solution?

If we are to resolve the paradox, we must first ask ourselves, have we made any false assumptions? Have we presupposed what UFOs are, and then tried to interpret the observations in terms of what we expect to find?

For example, in the old science fiction movies of the 1930 to 1960 era, a great many false assumptions were made concerning space travel. In those movies, space ships were only fancy versions of airplanes and ships, but versions that traveled beyond our planet.

We know now that those assumptions were wrong. Space travel will not be like that. For one, all of our space probes beyond the moon have been unmanned. We know that, when and if we finally do send manned probes, their crews will not be autonomous. The pilots will rarely if ever be called upon to do their own navigation. Ground control from earth, and onboard control by computer, will make any humans on board little more than passengers and technicians. And for example, plans to send men to Mars include preliminary unmanned “cargo” ships that will pre-position food, water, shelter, and scientific instruments, in preparation for the arrival of the space travelers, so that when they get there, they will have a safe place to stay, a sort of Martian Motel Six.

The idea of sending men to explore a planet is not at all like the idea of sending Lewis and Clark to explore America.

Likewise, when we try to guess what the UFOs are doing in our skies, we begin with assumptions that may very well be entirely misleading.

But from where do we get our false assumptions?

When we look up in the sky and see something, we tend to automatically draw a conclusion as to what it is that we see. There are three possibilities that we quickly consider. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, or it’s superman. Just kidding about that third one.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, or it’s some natural phenomenon such as a star, a meteor, etc.

When it becomes clear to us that it is not a bird or a star, then it must be some sort of airplane. And if it is some sort of airplane, it must have a pilot and be under intelligent control. We assume that.

In the era of drone aircraft, there may be no pilot on board, but even so, the aircraft is under intelligent control. That control may come from radio contact with a pilot on the ground, or it may come from pre-programmed instructions in a computer, but we assume intelligent control.

But are these valid assumptions? Are they helpful when we try to understand the observed behavior of UFOs? Or are there other explanations, more logical ones, that better explain what we see? What might be some of these explanations?

3. Thinking Outside the Box

Very well, we have decided to consider other options. We have decided to lay aside our most obvious assumptions, and to examine some less obvious ones.

a) UFOs might be some version of drone spacecraft. They might be unmanned (or un-aliened) probes designed to explore other planets, and to report back to a home base.

b) UFOs might not be the product of any technology at all. They might be cosmic natural phenomena. They might even be some form of living space creature.

c) The UFOs might be the product of a technology so advanced that it is pointless for us to even attempt to interpret their observed actions.

It gives me no joy to draw the conclusion that the third option is the most likely. But there are, I feel, some very strong reasons for it.

First, we have to recognize something about technology. Its advances can be very, very abrupt. Consider that humankind has a recorded history of about six thousand years. Then consider that only 200 years ago, say 1811, we had not yet developed any aircraft beyond balloons, but that in the following 160 years after that, we had put men on the moon. In one lifetime, we went from Kitty Hawk to the moon. In the grand six thousand year recorded history of humankind, that is very abrupt indeed.

The next hundred years may well see technological advances proceed even faster than in the preceding two hundred years. And there are all sorts of areas in which technology can advance, with each area contributing to advancing all the others. There is a multiplying effect.

For example, discoveries about the atom are helping scientists and engineers develop radical new forms of computers called quantum computers. If there is a sudden breakthrough in this field, one small quantum computer will, in about twenty to a hundred years, be able to do more computing than all the computers presently in existence. Furthermore, quantum computers might be a million times as fast (or even faster) than present day computers.

Such a dramatic advance in technology will make possible even more dramatic advances in other fields. We mentioned stealth technology already. But there are more in various stages of development or already being seriously predicted by scientific experts.

--Materials that are lighter than aluminum but stronger than steel are possible.
--Bio-medical technology might make it possible to breed super humans, that is, people whose intelligence exceeds that of any person who has ever lived, and physically capable of enormous strength.
--This technology will include computer chips implanted in human brains.
--Life spans will exceed a thousand years.
--Human-animal hybrids will become possible.
--Nanotechnology will affect all other technologies, including communications and surveillance. Privacy will have become impossible.
--Robots will perform almost all the tasks presently done by human beings.
--Physics will become so advanced that we will have mastered forces of the universe that we presently can only speculate upon. For example, anti-gravity already exists in the form of so-called dark energy.
--Endless "cosmic" energy might be available from such discoveries.
--Properties of space-time will have been discovered that can make teleportation (instantaneous travel) to other planets possible.
--Transmutation of any material into any other will have become routine.

If technologists can intelligently discuss the possibility that such dramatic advances are already foreseeable in the next hundred years or so, then try to imagine how far technology may have advanced on a planet where a technological civilization has a thousand year head start on us. A million.

We cannot imagine it.

Vernor Vinge, among others, has predicted that within the next few years, we are likely to have produced a runaway technology, something called a technological singularity. The term, singularity, refers to a condition in which all the previous rules have been changed. The new rules are so radically different that we cannot imagine what they will be.

Furthermore, there is reason to believe that among all technological civilizations, it is universally inevitable—let’s emphasize the word inevitable--- that such a runaway technology must occur. Why? Because computers are necessary to any highly advanced technology, and computers have the inherent capacity to exceed certain aspects of human intelligence. They perform tasks at high speed that no human can perform, nor even (after a certain level of advancement) understand. Eventually, it becomes unfeasible to simply turn off the computers. To do so, one would have to turn off the very infrastructure upon which the society will have come to depend for its survival.

The computers will not have to "revolt" to take over. We will have relinquished all decisionmaking to them, of necessity.

In such an advanced state, humans will no longer be really human. Our ways of thinking will have changed (especially with pre-programmed computer chips in our brains). We will no longer have the same desires, the same drives, the same interests, as those which now dominate human activity. We may no longer be territorial. Even our very instinct for survival may give way to the quest for knowledge.

In the ultimate extreme, a civilization advanced a million years beyond ours may no longer be material. Its inhabitants may have learned to assume other forms, forms of energy, forms occupying many dimensions of spacetime--- or forms that are unimaginable to us.

4. Final Conclusions

In the end, all our present theories about what UFOs might be, could well resemble what primitive man thought lightning was. Ancient man saw lightning, yet had no clue as to its real nature. He tried to explain it in terms that were familiar to him, terms of gods and goddesses.

Lightning’s flash and thunder resembled human anger and human violence, so therefore, lightning was interpreted as supernatural anger and violence.

No amount of research, no amount of data that he could possibly have gathered would have illuminated him. The idea of electricity, electrons and charges, would have been meaningless gibberish to him. Yet today, our understanding of lightning is precisely in those terms.

We are a technologically primitive society, a pre-singularity civilization. UFOs are to us, as lightning was to the ancient Greeks. All of our assumptions about UFOs may be completely wrong. And we may be utterly without the intellectual equipment to even ask the correct questions about them.

For all we know, and this is mere speculation, UFOs might be the accidental byproducts of extra-terrestrial civilizations, castoffs, rejects that somehow wound up as space debris, and began acting according to some flawed algorithm embedded in their quantized computer systems. Perhaps they have no mission. Perhaps they are incapable of behaving rationally. Perhaps they were once toys, or experiments, now abandoned, forgotten by their makers.

We don’t know.

And by the time we have the technology to find out, we may not care. We may have more compelling interests. We may have become ourselves whatever the UFOs are.

If you can think of an explanation that more convincingly fits the observed facts, let me know.

1 comment:

  1. Robert, I do have some thoughts to share on this subject, but I must digest your post more thoroughly beforehand. There's much to think about here.-mjb