UFOs: They Can’t Be, Therefore They Aren’t. Now one of the more famous literary quotes comes from George Orwell’s novel, “Animal Farm”. The relevant quotation goes something along this line: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
I suggest, that in terms of all things lumped together as ‘paranormal’ or the equivalent term ‘pseudoscience’, “All things paranormal are equal, but some paranormal things are more equal than others”.
I’ve come to the conclusion that all things sceptical, all those sceptical quasi-scientific organizations like the ‘CSI: Committee for Sceptical Inquiry’ and equivalents around the world like the Australian Sceptics’ organization, all those self-proclaimed scientific sceptics, seems to me to just lump all things paranormal or pseudoscientific into one great melting pot where all those paranormal ingredients are equal, and equally yucky, and equally non-credible and equally preposterous. But are they? To that I say hogwash! – Hence my paraphrasing of the famous “Animal Farm” quotation.
Now I’d be the first to agree that there’s a hell of a lot of paranormal or pseudoscientific claptrap out there. Astrology is bunk; ditto such concepts as the ‘Mars Effect’; numerology; ESP (extrasensory perception); telepathy; clairvoyance; reincarnation (remembering past lives); communication with the ‘spirit world’; talking to your plants; prayer & prayers answered – the power of prayer; magic; psychic surgery; telekinesis; teleportation; ley lines and mystical energy grids associated with megaliths, monuments, etc.; religious and/or medical miracles: weeping statues, stigmata, Biblical codes, prophecy, and precognition; sightings of elves, fairies, the ‘wee folk’, leprechauns, angels, witches, goblins, demons, nymphs, bogeymen, etc. ghosts, spirits, poltergeist, phantoms, etc.; and associated haunted houses; ghost ships; etc.
However, not all of the paranormal can be confined to the rubbish bin quite so easily. UFOs aside, there’s some credibility for cryptozoology lake and sea serpents; unknown ape-like creatures (Yeti, Bigfoot, etc.); alternative medicines and medical therapies; crop circles having a non-human origin; ball lightning; transient lunar phenomena (TLP); mysterious falls of frogs or fish or ice or other unusual objects from out of a clear blue sky; fire-walking; and spontaneous human combustion.
In “Through the Looking-Glass” it’s stated that it’s possible to believe in six impossible things before breakfast. Science and associated philosophies have had to deal with impossibilities and wildly improbable things, some of which are straight forward, and some of which aren’t perhaps to the point where something possible is in fact impossible and fundamentally wrong. Conversely, something considered impossible might in fact be possible and fundamentally right.
A cautionary note: when it comes to what’s possible or impossible; plausible or implausible; probable or improbable, majority doesn’t rule. Science isn’t a democracy. If a billion people believe nonsense, it’s still nonsense. This however is in contrast to what has been proven beyond a reasonable scientific doubt. If a billion people continue to disbelieve something that has been proved, say Darwinian evolution, then it’s those billion people who are full of nonsense, not the idea.
Time and time again the self-correcting nature of scientific investigation has invalidated the normal status quo of the day, resulting in a paradigm shift. Often the seemingly impossible has proved to be possible, even inevitable. Sometimes what’s been believed to be obviously plausible as proved to be anything but plausible. So, if today’s science says something’s impossible well, maybe. If I say something is impossible the same caveat applies. I tend to argue from common sense logic, which, as any philosopher or historian of science will tell you is no sure pathway to what is, and isn’t.
Okay, the UFO extraterrestrial hypothesis is considered by most serious and therefore rational scientists to be just pseudoscience, and believers in the UFO ETH are therefore pseudo-scientists, only lacking the job description identified with being a bona fide scientist.
When it comes to pseudoscience, once upon a time Galileo Galilei and Nicolaus Copernicus would have been considered pseudo-astronomers; Heinrich Schliemann (of Troy fame) someone who dabbled in pseudo-archaeology; Charles Darwin was a pseudo-naturalist; and Alfred Wegener, obviously put forth a theory (continental drift) that could only be described as pseudo-geology at the time. Even originally Albert Einstein was so far out in left field that his scientific seniors and superiors could easily have described his physics as pseudo-physics. Only time and history will be the judge whether or not the UFO ETH is pseudoscience or real science. The jury IMHO is still out on that issue.
I’ll just list a few once-upon-a-time scientific impossibilities that have proved to be anything but impossibilities; here are some further examples of what some might call an equivalent of the pseudo UFO ETH but under another guise
*It used to be quite obvious that the Sun went around the Earth any other configuration was considered against the acceptable grain.
*Once upon a time, our Universe couldn’t’ be static It was neither expanding nor contracting. Albert Einstein however knew our Universe should be contracting because of the pulling force of gravity. To counter that, and keep the static Universe he and the scientists of the times believed in, he invented his ‘cosmological constant’, a repulsive force to exactly counter gravity’s attractive force. He later considered that his greatest scientific blunder. However, that ‘cosmological constant’ has resurfaced in the form of ‘dark energy’, a sort of antigravity, so Einstein might have been right after all!
*Black Holes, while existing theoretically on paper according to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, could not exist in real reality – in real reality, they were quite the impossible object.
*No one pre-Darwin (even often post-Darwin) would in their right mind consider the possibility that it was possible for mankind to have had any actual evolutionary relationship with ‘lower’ life forms, most noticeable being the primates.
*For a very long time the notion that matter actually consisted of tiny undevidable bits called atoms well that atomic theory was obviously pure nonsense.
*That ‘island universes’ were actually independent conglomerations of stars, what well call today galaxies, and not nebulous conglomerations that formed part of our own Milky Way Galaxy was deemed at best improbable if not downright impossible by astronomy’s experts.
*Catastrophism in physical geology was considered a no-no for much of the time since it began as a legit part of earth science. All geology (especially landforms) could be explained as a gradual softly-softly, slowly-slowly, process. Violent events need not apply to explain things. Tell that to the dinosaurs! Of course we know better today. Catastrophism has taken its place and role playing in the geologic scheme of things.
*Speaking of physical geology, the idea that continents could drift around the globe was considered preposterous. How dare a meteorologist (Alfred Wegener in 1912) tell geologists what should have been bleeding obvious based on cartography! Geologists of course countered that there were no plausible physical mechanisms that could push the continents around. Well, there was such a mechanism as it turned out, only we may no longer call it ‘continental drift’ but rather plate tectonics. So, the meteorologist caught the geologists flatfooted after all.Â
*Once upon a time, the concept of atomic energy was pie in the sky. It was a subject no serious physicist would take at all seriously.
*Prior to its initial detonation, there were ‘experts in explosives’ who said that the atomic bomb could never work.
*Energy-powered airflight was once considered absolutely impossible hot-air balloons were the only feasible means of air travel, and even they were a bit suss.
*Rocket travel Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon style was utter bilge given that there was nothing in outer space for their rocket exhaust to push against.
*It was near impossible for the human body to survive any velocities faster than the speed of a horseless carriage, or a horse for that matter, without suffering fatal anatomical consequences. However, the iron horse soon put the lie to that belief.
*The sound barrier could never be broken; to claim otherwise was to disgrace your scientific kudos in aerodynamics.Â
*It was once upon a time considered utterly impossible for rocks to fall from the sky; any witnesses to the contrary are damned. We now somewhat incorrectly call them ‘shooting stars’; more correctly meteors, and when then hit the ground, meteorites.
*The “RMS Titanic” was absolutely ‘unsinkable’; everyone and their grandmother knew that God himself couldn’t sink that ship!
*The city ofTroyin Homer’s “Illiad” was pure mythology. There was no such place in reality until such time as amateur pseudo-archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann foundTroybased on information in, Homer’s “Illiad”.
Now let’s look at some current commonly accepted notions by scientists that they consider impossible or wildly improbable, but which, in IMHO are ultimately flawed concepts, as per the above examples, they have ‘ flawed to the point where I suggest these scientist’s ‘impossibilities or implausibility’s’ range from an actual near certainty to only somewhat implausible.
As per the point of this essay, the UFO ETH (extraterrestrial hypothesis) immediately comes to mind, as well as that closely related concept, the ‘ancient astronauts’ (the UFO ETH and associated subject ‘ancient astronauts’ are really two fraternal twins). Why? The answer is twofold. Firstly, there is the ‘Fermi Paradox’ (“where is everybody?”) issue; that’s the theoretical argument that underpins the two. Secondly, there is much observational, mythological and archaeological evidence supporting both. Considering each in turn.
Theoretical Underpinnings: I’d like to think that Planet Earth would be among the cosmic real estate of some interest to any advanced technological species of extraterrestrial being, especially since the Cambrian Explosion over 500 million years ago when complex (multi-cellular) life forms became noticeable. Like the Star Trek mantra says, “to seek out new lifeâ€¦”
Now in terms of galactic or interstellar real estate, comets and asteroids are pretty common. That equally applies to airless rocky worlds. Gas giants (like Jupiter and Saturn) seem to be dime-a-dozen based on discoveries of extra-solar planets, but planetary real estate that has an atmosphere, a hydrosphere, a lithosphere, and a biosphere aren’t exactly your everyday dime-a-dozen celestial bodies. So, when one such abode is detected on an extraterrestrial’s ‘radar’, either through personal or robotically ‘boldly going’, or via at a distance remote sensing (for example our oxygen rich atmosphere is an obvious giveaway that just screams out as something that should be singled out for extra attention), well, that’s us! We have a biosphere. We have life. Well, that’s interesting.
Of course for most of our biosphere’s existence, we’ve been interesting in the same way that an ant hill is interesting to an entomologist or a bacterium is interesting to a microbiologist. Just like it doesn’t take all that much effort for an entomologist to seek out an ant hill or a microbiologist to find a microbe, so, in the cosmic scheme of things, it doesn’t take all that much effort for an alien technological civilization to reach us. Many might dispute that statement, but the fact is, going from point A in our galaxy, to point B in our galaxy, violates no known laws or principles of physics. Once they have the desire and the ways and means of ‘boldly going’, the rest are mere technical details. And Planet Earth can no more hide from exploring alien eyes than an ant hill can hide from an inquisitive entomologist! Now you take local A, somewhere in our galaxy, home to an alien civilization. Now take place B Planet Earth. What’s the distance between the two? It doesn’t matter. If the civilization can achieve 1% to 10% light speed interstellar travel no violation of physics in that calculate how long it would take them to get from A to B. Now, compare that with the overall age of our galaxy! You’ll find the ratio is somewhere in the same ballpark as how long it took humans to migrate, explore and colonize Planet Earth!
Observational Evidence: Well, for starters, regarding UFOs (as extraterrestrial vehicles), how about over six decades on, hundreds of thousands of sightings in all countries of the globe, by all walks of life – male & female; rich & poor; professional & illiterate; the young and the elderly, all religions; all races; all nationalities; no category has been left out. Then how about witnesses, passing lie detector exams all the while insisting “I know what I saw”? Then how about the fact that there are those experts in aerial phenomena who should be able to, but can’t explain all the sightings the usual unexplained residue being between 5% and 10% – the hardcore, bona-fide UFOs. Now throw in multiple and independent witness accounts! You don’t care for eyewitness testimony? Too unreliable you say? Well, chuck in a pot-full of unexplained photographic and motion pictures, lots of unexplainable radar returns, ground traces, and all manner of other bits and pieces that instrumentation has detected or can do analysis on no human brain entered into, just iron and silicon. Also, you have the undisputed fact that many countries have undertaken official investigations into the UFO issue that in itself suggests that the issue has been taken seriously at the highest levels, unlike say, ghosts, astrology or stigmata!
Ancient astronauts are a slightly murkier kettle-of-fish because of the massive separation in time between when the polytheistic ‘gods’ ruled and now. Its way easier to come to terms with what’s been happening over the past 60 year’s vis-a-vis 6000 years ago. Still, I’d maintain that there exists a reasonable amount of artistic and literary remnants from those long ago and far away cultures that are suggestive of otherworldly influences. For example, nearly every civilization has a mythology of legends if you will of ‘sky beings’ who obviously, in most cases at least, were considered some sort of ‘gods’, but ‘gods’ that were in reality, far beyond their comprehension, and thus really extraterrestrials. Since nobody in our more modern sophisticated age actually believes in supernatural deities; that leaves the pigeonholes of human imagination or aliens as being those ‘sky beings’.
When it comes to mythology, my basic premise is that anytime you have near universal themes between wildly dispersed in space and/or time cultures, ethnic groups, nationalities, whatever, then you sit up and take notice that something more than just human imagination is at work.
Now, is all of that super-ultra hardcore proof? No it isn’t! Is all of that real hardcore evidence? Yes it is! It’s the sort of evidence that’s lacking in most of the other paranormal/supernatural/pseudoscience bits and pieces that the sceptics love to collectively debunk and rubbish. But, that evidence makes my assertion that some paranormal claims are more equal than other paranormal claims more credible.
In conclusion, I note that it is very interesting that for each and every anti-UFO ETH argument, there’s an equal and opposite pro-UFO ETH argument. After six plus decades, the debate is still finely balanced. That in itself is a pro-UFO ETH observation, because if the ‘can’t be, therefore it isn’t’ observation were so compelling, the interest in the UFO ETH would have dried up decades ago.
Science librarian; retired.