First I’d better define exactly what I mean by a UFO. To me, a bona-fide UFO is any UFO that remains a UFO after comprehensive investigation and analysis by qualified experts have failed to identify the object as any known natural or man-made phenomena. The tag ‘unidentified’ means that the conclusion was that it couldn’t have even been a possible or probable natural or man-made phenomena, but what exactly it was remains totally ‘unidentified’ and probably forever unidentifiable. Observational evidence is suggestive that these bona fide UFOs could be extraterrestrial visitations – the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH).
But wait, I hear screams of protest!
One could ague and come to a conclusion that while it is probable aliens would stumble over our humble abode in the cosmos, it’s very improbable that it would happen within our lifetime; with the last couple of generations. It’s vastly more probable a visitation would have happened in ancient times, prehistoric times, maybe millions if not billions of years ago. While there’s something to be said for that, there is the counter argument that having visited once, the ‘tourist attraction’ we call Earth would become ongoing.
UFOs & Extraterrestrial Visitations
There’s more than one sci-fi story published that plots alien scientists charting our newly formed solar system, surveyed Earth of course, about four billions of years ago, left some rubbish behind, and thus spawned the origin of terrestrial life!
Fast forward several billions of years and our alien scientists or explorers (biologists this time) picked up a trilobite or two for their interstellar zoo or museum collection. And I’d bet even aliens might have been fascinated with the dinosaurs! Perhaps in our hypothetical interstellar zoo, terrestrial dinosaurs continue to strut their stuff, having suffered a pre-historical UFO abduction!
Alas, the odds any physical evidence of such vastly ancient prehistoric visitations or surveys or expeditions would be so rare, eroded away or deeply buried, that such musings will probably forever remain just wild speculations. All witnesses are extinct now!
But moving from millions of prehistoric years ago to more recent prehistoric eras, up through and including ancient history, say within the last 100,000 years, then we might start getting some more concrete pictorial evidence (cave art) or other archaeological, anthropological or mythological evidence, which of course brings us to the topic of ‘ancient astronauts’. All I’ll say on that is that most of the popular literature on the subject is bovine fertilizer or pure balderdash. But I’m not going to be so rash as to go on record as saying all of it is.
There’s a song by country-pop singer Shania Twain that goes something like “That don’t impress me much”. Specifically, when watching ‘ancient astronaut’ documentaries, or even reading the popular literature, I’ve never been impressed by the monuments argument that aliens either built them or helped humans to build them, monuments like Stonehenge or the pyramids (Egyptian or Mesoamerican) or the statutes on Easter Island. That’s selling human abilities short. I’m also not impressed with so called ancient technologies, thousands of year old batteries for example that look about as alien as a Model T Ford.
What does impress me are various highly anomalous and alien in appearance historical art works, pictures, cave art, paintings, sculptures, etchings, some of massive size like the Nazca line drawings in Peru so obviously designed to be viewed from a high altitude. Also of interest is mythology and comparative mythology that might be suggestive of ancient astronauts’. These are legitimate and worthy areas for scholarly study, given the importance of the subject.
So, why the sudden surge in UFO activity in recent generations 1947 to date? Well, maybe there hasn’t been a surge that is.
Contrast that with the period 1847 1910; or 1747 – 1810. Look at relevant factors like population levels and distribution; the sorts of terrestrial technology that could be misconstrued as alien spacecraft; the technology that can detect UFOs; communication factors; and social factors.
Relative to those eras, the modern UFO era has a far greater population base; the more people, the more sightings. The modern UFO era, unlike previous eras, has airships and aircraft and artificial satellites and flares and searchlights and all that jazz which can generate sightings. The modern UFO era has cameras (still and motion picture) and radar and other technologies that are subject to electromagnetic effects that help to document UFO activity today that couldn’t have been documented 10 or 200 years ago. The modern UFO era, relative to 100 or 200 years prior, has way more communications, books, magazines, radio, TV, other mass media like newspapers, the Internet, films, and so on. If some UFOs are alien craft, the great unwashed is far more cognisant of it than our counterparts living 100 or 200 years ago. Lastly, 100 years ago, even more so 200 years ago, there wasn’t the sort of outdoor nightlife activity we have today. After dark, you went to sleep; up at the crack of dawn. Yet UFOs are more readily detectable at night. It’s easier to spot a bright light against a dark sky, but only if your outside.
For all those reasons, it might be the case that UFO activity hasn’t really changed over historical periods. Then again, maybe it has.
Now if it ultimately turns out that 100% of UFOs have zilch to do with extraterrestrial intelligence; that there never has been ancient astronauts; that no alien picnickers left behind their garbage billions of years ago; that we never were on the receiving end of a cosmic Johnny Appleseed, if Planet Earth is not in any cosmic database, then maybe we are the proverbial be-all-and-end-all. We are the first intelligence to arise in the Universe, the first, maybe the only. However, that assumption runs counter to the Copernican Principle or the Principle of Mediocrity that in the overall cosmic scheme of things, we are just the average run-of-the-mill. So, let’s not start off violating these cherished cosmological principles, rather go back to the assumption that some UFOs actually reinforce those principles.
Of course it is not sufficient enough for visiting aliens and their interstellar craft (UFOs if you will) to theoretically exist, there’s got to be some kind of actual evidence, and it exists in spades.
There exists a phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”‘. I’ve seen that in numerous books, and I understand it originates from the late and great Carl Sagan. Were Dr. Sagan alive today I’d take the comments to him, but seeing as how he’s no longer available.
Claims require evidence. That’s not in dispute. However, the word ‘extraordinary’ is in the mind of the beholder. What might be an extraordinary claim to you might not be an extraordinary, claim to me, and vice versa. Murder is a more extraordinary crime than jaywalking, yet the same evidence (say a security camera film) will convict in both cases. You don’t need twice the amount of evidence in a murder trial vis-a-vis being convicted of jaywalking. So, claims, of any kind, require enough evidence to convince anyone with an open mind – no more; no less.
If I, one of the great unwashed, were to make a claim that the double slit experiment provides evidence for the existence of parallel universes, or that a positron was actually nothing more than an electron going backwards in time, that would be extraordinary. If a professional scientist, a physicist, were to make the same claims, it’s not extraordinary presumably because physicists know what they are talking about. Yet it’s the same set of claims. They can’t be both extraordinary and ordinary at the same time!
Many of the greatest and now accepted parts of science started out as an extraordinary claim – like quantum mechanics or relativity theory or the fact that the Earth goes around the Sun. But did these claims, really need extraordinary (like double the experimental) evidence vis-a-vis other claims that are now equally parts of the accepted, science we find in the textbooks? For open-minded people, especially scientists, such claims probably did not require extraordinary evidence.
Few scientists now dispute the (initially extraordinary) claim of the reality of ball lightning, yet not only is it far rarer than UFO sightings, it has less of a theoretical underpinning than the proposal that some UFOs have an extraterrestrial intelligence behind them. Ball lightning hasn’t been put under a laboratory microscope any more than UFOs have. There are lots of parallels between ball lightning and UFOs for the sociologists of science to ponder. Yet one has credibility, one doesn’t. Why? It makes relatively little sense.
It is said, and there is truth in this, that science and scientists do not have the time and resources to investigate every claim ever made about the natural world. There must be some ways and means of distinguishing reasonable from unreasonable (i.e. extraordinary) claims. While I don’t have an easy answer to that, though I’ll give one immediately below, I’ll just initially observe that there’s been a lot of seemingly reasonable claims that are now only footnotes in the history of science, and a fair few unreasonable claims that are now part of the bedrock on which our sciences, technology and civilization rests.
However, instead of ordinary vs. extraordinary distinctions, I’d suggest important vs. relatively unimportant claims. Lots of claims, whether proven or unproven, aren’t going to set the world on fire. Others have the potential to make for paradigm shifts in our understanding of the world and the cosmos. The equation UFOs = evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence is such an example. The claim needs to be investigated, yet not requiring massive more investigations than any other sort of scientific puzzle would require.
So, we desire evidence for the extraterrestrial nature of UFOs, not extraordinary evidence.
Sceptics would argue that the burden of proof that extraterrestrials are behind (at least some of) the UFO phenomena lies with the believers, those who claim such is the case. And that’s true. But there’s another side to that coin. Sceptics need to look at what evidence is presented and not have a mind-in-a-closet attitude.
Science librarian; retired.