The thing I respond to most strongly in these posts is the passion with which the issue is regarded on all sides. Whether we come down for or against counting UFO stories as credible evidence (of something), whether we hear about aberrant lights in the night sky and think “atmospheric phenomena” or “psychological phenomena” or “cosmic phenomena,” few of us are flat-out indifferent. The...
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The thing I respond to most strongly in these
posts is the passion with which the issue is regarded on all sides. Whether we come down for or against counting UFO stories as credible evidence (of something), whether we hear about aberrant lights in the night sky and think “atmospheric phenomena” or “psychological phenomena” or “cosmic phenomena,” few of us are flat-out indifferent. The answer matters. People care.
And so we should! Foundational questions are the heart and substance of the human quest to understand, a quest common to every member of our species. As Max Tegmark said in an interview for Science and Spirit
(written up last year by a talented freelancer whose name escapes me), many scientists went into their fields because of a personal desire to ask Big Questions. We don’t wind up working on those questions often; too easily are we distracted by the minutiae of specialization, committee work, the tenure process. These obstacles, or their equivalent, exist in any profession—I can attest to their calcifying effects in the humanities—and with similar perils. But the Big Questions are still “out there,” so to speak, waiting for someone to take them seriously.
The other thing I noted was a certain degree of commonality among responses, both on and off-line. Among the recurrent themes were: 1.) Eyewitnesses accounts may be faulty, but what about radar data, such as that released by the Mexican Air Force
in 2004? (Short answer: leaving radar bogies aside, solid radar images are indeed evidence of something in the air, but the leap from there to “aliens” is unjustified.) 2. If the Stephenville
sighting wasn’t a spacecraft, what was it? (I don’t know; but there is no obligation to present a competing interpretation. The onus of providing credible evidence for a novel claim falls on those promoting the claim.) 3. You can’t prove it wasn’t an alien ship. (That’s true. But inability to disprove a claim does not constitute support for that claim: “You can’t prove the sighting wasn’t a hovering time machine,” “You can’t prove it wasn’t an Air Force prototype.”)
Without a doubt, however, the most interesting question posed was: Are you saying alien visitations are impossible?
There the answer is no. While, for my research dollar, such a thing is extremely unlikely, it is indeed possible. That’s exactly why it’s interesting.
Nobody really knows how plausible the Drake Equation
is, and even if it’s air-tight, you can make the case that it’s essentially a long strong of unknowns, any of which could sink the outcome to zero. (Rather than just ponder the issue abstractly, astronomer Frank Drake
proposed a formalized equation meant to predict how many other technological, potentially discoverable civilizations currently exist in the Milky Way. Solutions to his equation range from thousands to none, depending on how you fill in the blanks.) Certainly the farther we go down the line of figures -- N = R* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L -- the more we must admit we are involved in guesswork. Fi, for example, represents the subset of life-bearing-planets where intelligent life evolves, and we simply don’t have any good idea what that number may be.
But the question is still a rational one—worth asking--still waiting, along with many others, for someone to take it seriously.
To say it another way, people hold a whole host of strange ideas
about the world, from Atlantis to Astral Bodies, which we already know can’t pay off. (No pro-Atlantis arguments, please.) Such claims aren’t worth taking seriously because they are without compelling evidence or are contradicted by the evidence as it has been painstakingly established over the past few centuries. They are Big Questions that nevertheless aren’t worth our time.
Strange to say, aliens don’t go in that category. Nothing about the claim that intelligent species from extrasolar planets have crossed the light years or light centuries to Earth violates what science has established about how nature does and does not operate. While Special Relativity makes it extremely unlikely that anyone could get from here to there in a workable amount of time, that doesn’t mean it isn’t ever done. Michio Kaku
likes to point out that if we are positing a civilization
a million years in advance of ours—which we must at least consider—energy limitations as we currently conceive them are unlikely to apply. Harnessing an entire star with a Dyson sphere
? How about an entire galaxy? Could that kind of energy stabilize a traversable wormhole
? We can’t say no.
That’s just why I want complete scientific credibility to accompany any claim about alien life or, wonder of wonders, alien intelligence. As with cold fusion
, as with human cloning
, scrutiny of the claim must be unflinching--exactly because it does fit within the purview of modern science. There is a correct answer to the question of extrasolar life. One of these days, we may find it.
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|image: Todd Huffman|