Bob Dylan once sang, “We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it.” While this might have been a reference to God, Dylan’s lyric often gets me thinking about how utterly abandoned we are here on Earth – and it’s not just by some illusory God. We haven’t heard so much as boo or moo from anyone, namely extraterrestrial intelligences (ETIs).
Now, many people will read that last paragraph and nod their heads in agreement. Trouble is, however, a significant and burgeoning segment of society doesn’t believe this to be true – the so-called UFOlogists. You know, the folks who talk about flying saucers, little green men (or is that grey men?), crop circles – the whole X-Files bit. Today, an entire sub-culture exists devoted to these topics as if they were matter of fact.
Closer to home, I’ve known for some time that UFO aficionados frequent my blog. I often get nasty letters from them complaining about my UFO denial and my fixation with such empirical anomalies as the Fermi Paradox. At the same time however, I have to assume that UFOlogists read my blog and integrate my reports on science and philosophy with their own beliefs in extraterrestrial visitations.
For example, last week I blogged about the search for artificial objects in the cosmos. A quick Googling for that post shows that the article was referenced by the UFO site, Virtually Strange and distributed on their newsletter (much to my chagrin and without my permission). My hit counter revealed similar referencing links.
I am also aware that Raelians frequently visit Sentient Developments; I’ve even had the opportunity to meet some of them in person – but once the conversation turns to a discussion of how to quantify the varying energy content of crop circles, I tend to lose it and start to rant. I don’t have many friends among the Raelians, but I don’t have very many Seventh Day Adventists and Scientologists as friends either.
And I also know that Mac Tonnies over at Posthuman Blues links to my articles from time-to-time. Posthuman Blues often deals with transhumanist and other future issues, but Tonnies’s legitimate content is offset by his misguided focus on UFOlogy. As a result, the transhumanist movement may have a harder time gaining public acceptance and support with this kind of negative association.
I’m sorry, folks, but you can’t have your cake and eat it to. You can’t choose and pick the science that appeals to you and then attempt to tie it in with bogus and unfounded speculations. It's like Fox Mulder in the X-Files who has a poster on his wall which reads, "I want to believe." Well, I also want to belive in UFOs. I also want to belive in Jesus and the tooth fairly, but wanting to believe in those things ain't gonna make it so.
Part of the problem here, aside from wishful thinking, is the rampant scientific illiteracy that now pervades much of Western society, particularly in parts of the United States. Many people these days are unable to determine which claims have scientific credence and which do not. Popular culture does little to remedy this, with shows like the X-Files and Coast to Coast perpetuating the idea that it’s okay to discuss UFOs and other pseudoscientific claims in the context of legitimate science.
Let’s take my blog entry on the search for artificial objects in space. Many UFOlogists, I’m sure, took that article as further proof that there are aliens in our midst. Wrong! It’s actually telling us the opposite. The work that Luc Arnold is doing is important from the perspective that we have devised yet another way of detecting signs of ETIs. Given the sheer simplicity and elegance of Arnold’s theorized calling-card technique, the cosmos should be screaming with signs of ETIs. I fully suspect that work by astronomers over the next several decades will reveal none of these calling cards. The search for artificial objects, like SETI’s impossible search for radio signals, will provide further proof that there’s nobody out there zipping around in spaceships.
I am already imagining the comments and emails I’m going to receive in response to this post. I’m going to read about how UFOlogy is in fact a legitimate scientific endeavor and that I’m being both unfair and closed minded. I’m going to be asked where I get off denying all the sightings and testimonials and how I can account for these things. Bla, bla, bla.
While I’m loathe to engage in these conversations, there is one point that I wish to make in hopes that I can influence the thinking of those UFOlogists who visit my blog, particularly those with an interest in such things as posthumanism and the Singularity.
My message is this: STOP THINKING SO SMALL!
This whole UFO thing reminds me of something Carl Sagan once said about religion: “How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”
Indeed, the advanced space-faring species of the UFOlogist is a little UFO. He zooms around in his flying saucer annoying us with his crop circles, all the while looking to inflict his anal probe on some poor unsuspecting trailer trash. And of course he’s a frail and little creature, clammy grey skin, big head and all.
Give me a break. What kind of pathetic vision of advanced intelligence is this?
Meanwhile, transhumanists are discussing the radical potential for god-like artificial superintelligences, megascale computational projects like matrioshka and Jupiter brains, uploaded societies, metaconsciousness, Kardashev scale civilizations, existential paradigm shifts, universe re-engineering and immortality.
Given these potentials, the UFO vision is an absurdity of the highest order. The fact that our civilization hasn’t been uplifted by an advanced ETI is a blatant indication that something strange and different is going on out there in the depths of space. That’s where the Fermi Paradox comes in, and it’s in that discussion that we can meaningfully discuss topics as they pertain to astrobiology, astrosociobiology, cosmology, and computer science. It will also give us an indication as to where we ourselves may be headed as a species.
One final note to the UFOlogists, you’re obviously welcome to keep visiting my blog, but it’s apparent to me that you’re just not getting it.
The False Promise of Pseudoscience: Real science offers hope. Mysticism and belief in the paranormal are just plain dangerous
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