Friday, 5 August 2011

Little Grey Men

I believe in UFO’s. I have seen them – twice.

OK, now I have got that startling admission out of the way, let me elucidate.

When I say I believe in Unidentified Flying Objects, that’s exactly what that means.

Back when I was a teenager, I was standing outside one summer night when I suddenly saw a strange thing in the sky. It was for all the world just like a bright red tadpole, wriggling a long tail behind it, and it crossed from one part of the sky to another and vanished over the horizon.

The other time was when I was in Lucknow, and I watched this glowing light climb into the sky, silently and slowly, like some kind of levitating lantern. I watched it for a long time, and I couldn’t decide just what it was – not then.

So those were both UFOs. Unfortunately or otherwise they did not stay “unidentified” for long.

A little analysis showed both for what they were. The first one was a red meteor (the fact that it was an unusually bright meteor, combined with the fact that I’d never seen a meteor before – I’ve seen hundreds since – combined to disguise its nature temporarily from me). As for the second, I actually came across its like a few days later. It was an unmanned hot air balloon flying at night.

There – that’s my definition of UFOs. Objects seen flying, and awaiting identification. That’s all they mean to me.

So, what about the flying saucers that have been seen? What about Roswell, and the Tunguska explosion, and all the other times the people in power have hidden the truth from our eyes? Where are the aliens who are keeping an eye on us?


Now, let me explain that I do not deny the existence of life elsewhere in the Cosmos. Not only do I admit the probability of such life, I’d go so far as to say that if there’s a chance of life existing, no matter how remote, you are going to find life there. It may be, of course, that such life won’t bear much resemblance to what we call life. But it will be there.

What it won’t be doing is zooming around this planet watching us and doing not very much else.

Why not?

Let’s take a look at the laws of physics. Nothing – and that means nothing – can travel faster than light. It’s the absolute speed limit of the Universe. Now, we can be fairly certain that there is no advanced civilisation in this solar system; we’d have noticed the electronic emissions at the least. Therefore, putative aliens come from outside. How do they get here?

Even if they travel at close to the speed of light, they’d still be travelling years to decades (and possibly centuries) to get to this planet. To do what, exactly? Appear tantalisingly above cities or on lonely roads, flip in and out of radar screens, and play an occasional game of hide and seek? Don’t these aliens have any concept of returns for invested effort? No?

In one of his books, the late Carl Sagan recounts an experience he had where people in a restaurant pointed out a UFO in the sky. Sagan demonstrated, using a pair of binoculars, that it was only an aeroplane – a NASA weather flight, as it happened – but the people were merely bitterly disappointed. They had wanted to believe.

So, why do we have this desire to believe?

I think there are several reasons, all intimately connected to human psychology.

In the first place, UFOs are reassuring in a fundamental way.

First, they give us a hope that, yes, we aren’t necessarily doomed; there are other civilisations who’ve conquered space and gone out into the Cosmos, so we can as well. However, they also reassure us that those civilisations are weaker than us.

As I said, why do these aliens seem so shy about showing themselves unambiguously? Why do they play hide and seek?

Does it, in fact, almost look as though these aliens don’t really want to show themselves because they might be afraid of us?

Some of us might remember those old Cold War era science fiction tales by people like Michael Shaara and AE van Vogt, in which (very American) humans invariably reigned supreme over aliens, who were either evil or were utterly overawed by humans’ capabilities. Those were reassuring tales during the height of the Cold War and the Flying Saucer craze – aliens weren’t really a threat, they were actually frightened of us.

The same impulse holds today, doesn’t it, in popular conception? The aliens play hide and seek; and the fact is that when they do appear, they are small and grey, like human children with big black eyes and no hair. Almost cute.

Also, since there are these aliens keeping a watch over us, doesn’t that mean that we’re special? Doesn’t that make us feel good about ourselves?

And doesn’t the official refusal to admit the existence of alien spaceships feed our paranoia about our governments? Isn’t it just like those slimy bastards, be they democratic or communistic, to keep all of us ignorant? Aren’t they hiding wreckage from shot down and crashed spacecraft in secret hangars and refusing to let anybody know?

I suggest to you that it's natural to believe that they are.

There’s of course, the basic human need to believe in myths. The actual universe is a big, cold place, with humanity a race of apes crawling on the surface of a tiny ball of mud and water revolving around an undistinguished, middle-aged yellow star. How much more pleasant to believe that there are space guardians looking out for us, or keeping watch over us – perhaps to rescue us from our excesses, but at the same time afraid of what we could do to them?

There are also the Ancient Astronaut myths, so popularised by Erich von Däniken; myths that serve to tell us that these UFOs are benign guardians, without whom we wouldn’t have been here. They tell us that we’re just going through a painful adolescence, and afterwards they’ll help us find our true space in the galactic scheme of things, like less theological gods.

Doesn’t it seem significant to you that nobody has yet been able to produce an actually irrefutable bit of evidence for the existence of UFOs as alien spacecraft? With virtually everyone carrying cell-phones these days, and virtually all but the most basic cell-phones being equipped with cameras, why aren’t we seeing at least multiple pictures and videos of UFOs showing some evidence that they are what they are purported to be, alien spaceships? Why don’t a few meet with actual, verifiable accidents where we can recover wreckage?

Why, in fact, do we keep seeing videos like this passed off as “evidence” of the existence of these mysterious aliens?

Let's analyse it objectively (without considering the superfluous commentary). What do we see?

A white dot appears above a globe, and suddenly reverses itself and races away at high speed, while a streak appears and crosses its approximate earlier position. That's, literally, all you see, and it lasts all of ten seconds.

Let's assume that the globe is the earth, the white dot some kind of alien spaceship, and the streak a missile. Where does that get us?

1. We have an alien spaceship which can, apparently (and against Newton's First Law of Motion), reverse its arc of movement like a rubber ball bouncing off a wall. This (quite apart from the impressive acceleration) shows that said alien spacecraft can ignore the laws of physics (especially since it doesn't seem to be leaving any exhaust trail as it zooms off - what is it pushing against?) but can't even evade or disable a primitive surface to air missile without abandoning its course (something most modern military aircraft are equipped to do). Or else this means that the video is either fabricated or shows something else that has been deliberately or accidentally misrepresented.

2. We have some kind of surface to air missile that operates at heights that would put it in space. I'm fairly knowledgeable about military technology, and if such a missile exists I don't know about it. In fact the more I look at it the whole thing resembles a video played in reverse - a meteor burning out in upper earth orbit, with something else (the white dot) being superimposed.

3. Why would any military in its right mind fire off a SAM against an alien spacecraft? How would it even know that was an alien spacecraft without a closer look, and not say a Chinese or Russian (or American) secret space flight? Can you imagine the hell to pay if one nation shot down another's manned space exploration probe?

4. Assuming that everything did occur as claimed, the military concerned must have had SAMs and orders to use them all ready. There would not be time to report to higher authority. Where? Why hasn't anyone reported the missiles being launched?

5. There are far too many admitted fraud videos floating around (like the Alien Autopsy fake video, of which you may have heard) and there is absolutely no reason to believe that this one is genuine without independent corroboration.

(And, while I’m on the subject, anecdotal “evidence” is not evidence. No amount of talk of close encounters is valid without verifiable physical evidence, even if the witnesses pass polygraph tests. None. Science doesn't work like law. In science, it's for the person making the claim to prove it.)

If we remove the misidentifications and the hoaxes, as Sagan said, there remains nothing more to discuss.

The only real flying saucers are Frisbees. But if we’d rather believe they contained intelligent ants from the Andromeda galaxy, we’ll believe that, come what may.

I think I see a light in the sky through this window…

Aah! They’re here!

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