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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Variety of UFO Possibilities Undermines the Arguments Against UFOs

Those who do not believe in UFOs attempt to explain UFO sightings by evoking a smorgasbord of explanations such as sightings of the planet Venus, mistaken sightings of aircraft, sightings of meteors, fraud, and so forth. This approach doesn't work very well, because there is such a huge variety of dramatic UFO sightings seen by multiple witnesses. It's a little hard to make a “you only saw Venus” or “you only saw a plane” argument work when multiple witnesses report seeing something like a 50-meter long disk.

So rather than just relying on attempts to naturally explain UFOs, UFO skeptics also sometimes try to reason that UFOs are impossible – that they simply can't exist. Here are some of the main arguments used.
  1. Interstellar travel is impossible.” It is sometimes argued that UFOs cannot exist because it just isn't possible to travel from one solar system to another.
  2. If they were here, we would see their mother ship.” This argument was made by Arthur C. Clarke, who said that if we really were being visited by UFOs, they could no more hide their main spaceship than you could hide a giant Apollo rocket in Manhattan. The idea is that interstellar travel would require some huge spaceship, and astronomers would be able to see such a spaceship with their telescopes.
  3. If they were here, they would land on the White House lawn.” This is the argument that if we were being visited by extraterrestrials, they would surely have made their presence known, by some dramatic gesture such as landing on the White House lawn or hovering for hours over the UN building.

Even if we confine ourselves to the most common concept of UFO's (that they are spaceships from another planet), we still should not regard any of these arguments as convincing reasons for rejecting sightings of UFOs. Let's start with the first argument – the claim that interstellar travel is impossible. The reasoning is that the distance between stars is so great that travel between stars would require a voyage much longer than a lifetime. But there are 4 reasons why this reasoning is not sound.
  1. Extraterrestrials might be able to build multi-generation spaceships that take centuries to travel from one star to the next. Such a spaceship might be large enough to comfortably house a community that might last for numerous generations. One generation might leave the home planet on such an interstellar voyage, and by the end of the voyage between solar systems, the passengers might be the grandchildren of the grandchildren of the grandchildren of the original passengers. (To read an interesting story I wrote about such a possibility, read this short story.)
  2. An extraterrestrial race thousands or millions of years more advanced than ours might consist of individuals with lifetimes lasting hundreds or thousands of years.
  3. Extraterrestrials might be able to use some type of space warp technology or wormhole technology allowing them to travel fairly rapidly from one star to another.
  4. UFOs may be automated spaceships manned by robots. Such robots would be able to handle an interstellar trip lasting many centuries.

What about the “if they were here, we would see their mother ship” argument – the reasoning that if UFOs were here, our astronomers would have detected the large main ship of their interstellar expedition? The argument is not sound, because it completely ignores the fact that extraterrestrial visitors might have designed their main spaceship in a way that minimizes their chance of being detected – something that would be a prudent defensive precaution. One simple way to do that would be to create a black-colored spaceship with no exterior lights. Once the main engine had been turned off, it might be hard for earthly astronomers to detect such a spaceship. Another way to do that would be to design a spaceship so that it resembled a rocky asteroid (or to hollow out an asteroid and build a spaceship inside it). Such a spaceship (resembling an asteroid) would be hard to detect. A third way for visiting extraterrestrials to keep a low profile would be for them to use some type of fancy “cloaking” technology. This could be done using not-too-advanced technology in which the outer surfaces of a spaceship are like TV screens projecting whatever is behind the spaceship. Such a spaceship might be extremely hard for earthly astronomers to detect.

What about the “if they were here, they would land on the White House lawn” argument? The argument is not very convincing, because it assumes that we can predict how extraterrestrial visitors would behave if they traveled to our planet. We cannot do any such thing, largely because they may have minds and motives vastly different than ours. For one thing, it may well be that they regard us like puny little bugs, worthy of study, but not worthy of communication. They may have no more interest in communicating with us than we would be interested in communicating with mice scurrying around in the forest.

Besides these reasons, there is a gigantic reason why the “UFOs cannot exist” arguments are invalid: the simple reason that UFOs might well be things other than spaceships from other planets. Here are some of the possibilities.
  1. UFOs may be objects dropping in from some other dimension or higher plane of reality. There may be some way to directly travel from such a dimension or plane of reality, without an interstellar voyage.
  2. UFOs may be some type of strange life-form that exists in the high atmosphere. Such a life form may be a distant descendant of some life form that once existed on the surface of our planet.
  3. UFOs may be time-travelers coming from the future.
  4. UFOs may be manifestations of some spiritual beings such as angels or beings existing in some heavenly afterlife realm. Such beings may send out UFOs rather like a land dweller might occasionally toss stones into a lake.
  5. Eons ago extraterrestrials may have evolved into beings of pure energy. Some of them may have traveled to other planets just by traveling out like a beam of light. Such beings may be hanging around our planet.
  6. Millions of years ago, an advanced civilization could have evolved on our planet. It might have been mostly wiped out, and its remnants covered up by geological activity. But some remnant of such a civilization may still exist – perhaps living deep underground, perhaps living deep in the ocean, or perhaps living in some base somewhere in the solar system. UFO's may be a manifestation of such a reality.
  7. UFOs may be some kind of “mind over energy” phenomenon produced by the human mind, in a manner similar to the strange results documented by the Global Consciousness Project (which has documented anomalous human influences on random number generators). UFOs may result from some kind of paranormal human influence similar to psychokinesis (a possibility not as exciting as extraterrestrial visitors, but pretty interesting nonetheless, as it would indicate a dramatic psychic reality).
These possibilities further undermine the main arguments against UFOs. Such arguments depend on the assumption that if UFOs exist, they are spaceships from another planet. But as the list above shows, there are lots of ways in which UFOs might exist without being spaceships from another planet.

Why do the members of scientific academia have such a strong tendency to dismiss all reports of UFOs? It's largely because UFO's have become a tribal taboo within this small subculture, in which sociological influences have enormous effects.

Seen last night -- UFOs or something else?