October 2, 2006

Unidentified flying idiots

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.

Related reading:

The False Promise of Pseudoscience: Real science offers hope. Mysticism and belief in the paranormal are just plain dangerous

The Cult of Irresponsible Cloning: A wacky religious sect and misguided scientists are giving Transhumanists and other advocates of reproductive choice a bad name


Anonymous said...

You have an interesting view of the subject of Ufology. Perhaps my only comment would be this: From your post you show no education as to the subject, but rather speak against something you obviously have not taken the necessary time to actually investigate thoroughly enough to qualify your position. I, too, am turned off by the "silly" side that seems to follow the subject around. But, I'm astute enough to learn about it enough to be qualified to comment on the subject.

Dustin said...

Let me just start with this...I'm a scientist, and I like Mac Tonnies' blog. Are you going to try and tell me that I'm scientifically illiterate? What degrees to you hold? What, exactly, makes you the certified science overseer for the world?

Anonymous said...

Here is a contradiction of knowledge.


"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."





Brian Dunbar said...

Where do you get off denying ..

No. I'm with you. I want for our species not to be alone in the Universe.

To date it's not looking so good.

Anonymous said...

When I was young I loved science. Not the science that I see memtioned here. But the science that was willing to tackle a phenonomon and explain it no matter where it would take it. Pure science. What I see now is polictical science. A broken science that decides what is worthy of being explored.
It was science and the belief in it that thrilled me that day I saw two flying disks. I didn't go out to see these things. I went out to go to the beach. When they went over close in the daylight I knew I had witnessed something unbelieveable. I knew sciece would solve the delima of no sonic wave when the excellerated faster then sound over the water. That was in 1962. This is today. So you get telling people like us that we are crazy. But it was my love of science that enabled me to understand just the great sigificence of what I had just saw. But now I know it was all a shame. They have already decided what turth is. That is not scienc that is religion.
Joseph Capp
Brooklyn, NY

Anonymous said...

Like all other sceptics you're totally arrogant, pointing fingers at all of us ignorant, illiterate crackpots, right?
I haven't experienced much unexplainable phenomena but then only one is good enough, isn't it?
I have seen shadows move in the corner of my eye but when I focus on it, there is nothing there. Many others have experienced similar phenomena. According to people like you, we have either hallucinated or are outright dumb. Duh!
I have heard "the little people". The noise came from somewhere not of this earth. I frequently have strange and weird dreams. I've had past-life regressions. I have seen mediums who are totally credible.
Listen here, pal, just because you haven't experienced anything unexplained, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. For all I know, you're just some hologram, dude!

Mac said...

A very poor showing, George. I'm as leery of the lunatic fringe as anyone -- probably more so than many people unfamiliar with the UFO inquiry. But the whackos -- and they are legion -- don't define the very real questions posed by UFOs and related phenomena.

Bruce Duensing said...

If we are measuring your emotional intelligence comparing the evidentiary blog against the name calling territoriality of a 12 year old, I suggest your internet crayons be put to a more productive use. God like superintelligences ?
It sounds rather like an infantile ego fantasy drawn from a wellspring like Pinky and The Brain.

Anonymous said...

Hey dude! Now if you're so rational then try to explain this and please don't come dragging qith the same old Venus, crackpot and the oyher commonly skeptic explanations although you all seem to enjoy insulting our intelligence.


Anonymous said...

Personal attacks aside (folks), it shouldn't matter what people think of >H, because it is not a monolithic movement. Some are into UFOlogy and others are interested in plastic surgery. Variety, with a good deal of fantasy thrown in.

Alfred Lehmberg said...

LOL! Portrait of another arrogant mook terrified of what's masked by a grain of sand held at arm's length into a starry night's sky...

I'm scared too, but I'm not going to let it force me into _denial_ of that which makes any rational person fearful.

Again, it's science failing UFOs, not UFOs failing to measure up to niggard science.

I suggest the author's return to the clue queue. Sincerely, develop a sentience before issuing any further proclamations on Sentient Developments.

> www.AlienView.net
>> AVG Blog -- http://alienviewgroup.blogspot.com/
>>> U F O M a g a z i n e -- www.ufomag.com

Anonymous said...

You are right, George. These ufo-believers just don't get it.

Even if there would be some saucer humanoids flying around, they don't get it either. If they would get it, they would show themselves to everybody right now. But they don't show themselves. Which means they don't get it.

The Odd Emperor said...

"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."

They aren’t. If they did get it, most of them wouldn’t be UFOlogest any more.

Alfred Lehmberg said...

Good work Mr. Pettingill!

Open mouth, insert foot, and echo internationally while being _especially_ unintelligble... LOL!

> www.AlienView.net
>> AVG Blog -- http://alienviewgroup.blogspot.com/
>>> U F O M a g a z i n e -- www.ufomag.com

Anonymous said...

Oh I know, I'll write something that's bound to get people annoyed, and get more hits, way more hits. Thats why I'm so annoyed that someone dared to use my material and they got the hits, it's just not fair boo hoo.

You quoted a song by Dylan, I'll quote one from Marley "so while you point your finger, someone else is judging you".

Another Randi like attention seeker, worse than the ones you portray in that drivel. You condemn ufologists for selective evidence handling, and you do exactly that in your article, talk about double standards. You attempt to classify a diverse range of people under the same "I want to believe" banner too.

My advice, go join Randi and his followers if you must, but go see a therapist first, you're obsessing over the supposed absoluteness of the familiar and reducing everything to a dead physics. History has shown folk like you to be the fools, heavier than air flight - impossible, stones falling from the skies, ludicrous, and all the other supposed absolutes that were ultimately rejected.

You condemn people for being so open minded that their brain starts to fall out. You're so closed minded it's stopped yours from working.

The Odd Emperor said...

Alfred yammerd…

Open mouth, insert foot, and echo internationally while being _especially_ unintelligble... LOL!

Well I’d say Alfred ol’ chum, you are the expert on being unintelligible! And, as you and Regan Lee say in your oh-so subtle ways. You want to point fingers at people? Do so at your own risk!

BTW, I want to thank both of you for proving my point!

Love and kisses!

Anonymous said...

I think the fallacy with Fermi's Paradox is that extraterrestrial life forms need not be intelligent beings driving flying saucers that would make space look like a California highway. Extraterrestrial life forms could be insects that crawled out of meteorites landing here every hundred years or so, and adding to the biodiversity of our insect population. We might not be alone, and we might be disappointed to find out who has been visiting us. But like the "concept" of god, we can't prove it nor disprove it. So, to be fair, you have faith they don't exist, and ufologists have faith that they do exist. And we all have probably been born too soon to see the conclusion to this sitcom.

The Odd Emperor said...

Anonymous said...
I think the fallacy with Fermi's Paradox is that extraterrestrial life forms need not be intelligent beings driving flying saucers that would make space look like a California highway….

Hey Anon-a-Moose!

Certainly the idea of paspermisa (really exogenesis) is very possible. I think it’s rather likely that life can and sometimes does filter from one planet to the next. If we find microbial life on Mars I’d be willing to bet that it originated on the Earth. If we find that microbial life originated off the Earth there is a very good chance that it originated on another planet in our solar system. The chances that life originated in another solar system are not zero but infinitely more remote.

But all that aside, what you are defining as a valid concept is actually the very definition of something that is unscientific. I don’t have a problem with that, simply I like to call something what it is. Faith is a lousy way to try to prove anything. Using faith and belief as one’s only criteria to determine what’s true is very shallow to my way of thinking. That’s the whole purpose behind science, so that we can have some other way to arbitrate what is factual. Otherwise we are at the mercy of people who – have the most guns or can shout louder than you or I. I find it a pity that many UFOlogest very simply don’t understand this and run round messing up an otherwise interesting field.

Anonymous said...

Even science relies on faith, inasmuch as Einstein said he believed god doesn't play dice with natural laws. Then along came quantum physics and said its not dice but just "chance" that natural laws will repeat itself.
Even those that believe in evolution, as opposed to creationism (or its current version intelligent design), have a faith that pure random chance drives survival of the fittest. Who knows if something is making the mutations, that optimize survival, more prevalent? All this is really beyond my ken, but in a world where there is so much to still understand, I try to remain humble in the face of it all.

Anonymous said...

Well, well, well... Why is it when someone tries to deny the fact our planet has and is being visited by one or in fact many different civilizations, they do not show "evidence" against this matter. Having viewed many videos, pictures, documents and ancient scriptures, I have come to the conclusion that this matter will (when we come to accept it) change our outlook (on everything), our planet and end all the griefs that have plagued man since the dawn of time...

As for the term "ufologist". I hate this word as no one is an "expert" on ufos (unless you happen to pilot one or build them,
you may have read a lot of books and watched countless hours of film but you are not an expert.

All i can say to you is to take a nice brick, and smash it against your skull until you realise your living a lie, choosing to dismiss the greatest thing ever. All the "skeptics" and non believers will (when the time comes) find out that they were wrong, and probably will not be able to deal with finding out we were never alone, and may kill themselves which will not help matters at all.

Ye are the fool who is deaf to the truth,

Ye are the fool who is blind to the proof

Anonymous said...

A "Transhumanist" ranking on interests in UFOs. That's rich.

Anonymous said...

"Everyone is ignorant, only on differing subjects.' -Will Rogers

I have been fascinated by the UFO phenomena since I was a child. The one thing I can be sure of is that this subject presents an opportunity for our ego-centric species to perform some much needed internal reflection.

In the fringe world of Ufology, there is legitimate scientific research. The problem is that such work must also fight the new-age/cult-like BS that shadows it. So you tell me, who is winning the war and why? Just consider the state of our media, why some topics are chosen to be broadcast and why others are simply ignored.

A quick research of the US military/government involvement with the UFO problem will reveal that there is a huge gap between what is stated toward the public, mainly that there is nothing to the phenomena, vs. the continuing indulgement of serect research and interests.

The standard skepticism of the majority of the scientific community is expected and even necessary. However, this is not how the community is treating this subject, nor those individuals who are dedicating their life to it's research.

I for one am also sick of the ignoring of material and subsequent use of such ignoring to then justify the non-existance of said phenomena. Case in point; The Fermi Paradox.

I am likewise disgusted by the percieved identity behind the UFO phenomena. We cannot say at this time if we are truly dealing with an extraterrestrial presence, only that there is evidence that a level of technology currently unreached by humanity is being displayed on earth, and has been for some time. (It is of my opinion that an advanced form of 'Strong General A.I.' may be involved, wether or not it be of extraterrestrial origin.)

With regard to proving the legitimacy of this phenomena, may I suggest so-called 'debunkers' and skeptics alike meet to determine/agree on just what is the definition of proof needed to legitimize the subject? To date the rules are being changed on a daily basis. We are currently living in an age where no form of proof is or ever will be acceptable. How convenient! (Thinking of a case in which an unidentified target was picked up on radar simmultaneously from multiple stations. Of course skeptics didn't even bat an eye, yet why is it that radar technicians are trained to believe that if a target is tracked by multiple stations that it is most definitely a solid return?)

In conclusion, I ask that each and every person evaluate any pre-existing prejudices or biases prior to forming a conclusion on the validity of a subject. It is of my opinion that you have personaly failed in this regard. What a shame, especialy as it is evident in your writing that you possess a keen intelligence. As Will Rogers stated in the quote above, we are all ignorant in differing subjects. Hopefuly we will acquire the insight to identify such subjects and our ignorance of such subjects, which is a very hard thing to accomplish.

-Jason Gammon

Anonymous said...

A Prime Example Of A UFO CoverUp:

US Department Of Energy Secretly Held UFO Video Tape Until Informant Blew Whistle

Due to the work of an informant, The US Department of Energy relased a recording of a UFO that it had kept secret for three years!

The UFO was caught on a security camera on November 23, 1994. The US department of Energy witheld the existance of the tape until an informant broke the news in 1997.

The incident took place at Fluor-Daniel Fernard, a former uranium enrichment facility located in Cincinnati, OH.

The UFO was described as a "large sphere with bright lights".

The object was seen by several witnesses and was taped by at least two different security cameras. A security guard has claimed that the object was, at one point, chasing his patrol car.

The Hamilton County Sheriff Department was notified of the sighting. Two deputies were sent to investigate and also witnessed the strange object.

No indication that the UFO was filmed was ever relased to the public until an informant came forward in 1997 claiming the facility, as well as the US Department of Energy, were attempting a coverup.

[Note: This is a troublesome incident specificly because of the location in which the UFO was sighted. If one studies the phenomena of UFOs, one will recognize that locations involved with Nuclear capablilities are often a target of encounters. This fact has troubling implications as to the nature and motives of UFOs.]

1994 Fernald UFO Incident (UFO Resource TV Spots, Fifth One Down)


[I might add that based upon this and other accusations of government coverups, FOIA requests were filed immediately after the news that a silent 'metalic disk' was sighted by 12 United Airlines Employees, many of them pilots, at Chicago O'Hare back in November. Interestingly, the object was sighted in an area known to be 'radar-blind' and predictably did not register on radar. Because cameras are literaly everywhere at the airport, Ufologist feel it is far likely the incident was videotaped and that such footage should be made available to the public a.s.a.p. before it can convienently dissappear.]

-Jason Gammon

Artoo45 said...


Show. Me. ANY. Evidence.

Any at all.

That's all I ask. A body. A spaceship. Hell, just a part of a spaceship. A radio signal. Anything . . . . (insert chirping cricket shound)

I thought so.


Anonymous said...

To RebelMacaque:

Tonight on the History Channel is a documentary on trace evidence found at sightings. You should watch it, as you must play an active role in your education on this subject. No one is going to walk up to you and present you with all the evidence we have on a silver platter.

(One of the cases involves a police officer's car colliding with an unknown glowing object. Trace evidence, pictures, and the actual car were preserved. The officer suffered from 'welder's blindness', or retina damage from the intensity of the object. Analysis of the windshield showed that whatever crashed into it actualy pulled itself back out, causing the glass to first bend inward, then outward.)

The key here is this: There is currently no evidence that extraterrestrials are involved with the phenomena. However, the phenomena is itself very real and not one which lends to a natural explanation. There is much evidence that we are witnessing a level of technology currently unreached by humanity. Who the fuck cares about it's origin, only that it isn't 'ours.'

Now please grow up becuase the implications of this knowledge, assuming your mind can handle it, are very troubling.


Anonymous said...

The definition of Beautiful: Knowing that you've touched a nerve in a whole bunch of people. While I personally am interested in the 0,000001% of UFO sightings that aren't over the top brainless wishful thinking, I do definitley agree with you that UFOs/crop circle jerks and other such things are mostly wishful thinking by the needy of spirit, which explains the close relationship of the whole business with buttfuck strange sects like scientology and the raelians.

Anonymous said...

You're calling people names like a 10 year old!?

As a result, the transhumanist movement may have a harder time gaining public acceptance and support with this kind of negative association.

Anonymous said...

If UFO flying aliens were real you'd think that there would be some undisputable evidence of them to show for it all.
Because there isn't,some people postulate a cover up. I think its like a child hanging onto his/her belief in Santa Claus when confronted by the evidence that Santa is a fictional entity.

UFO alien believers give us one undisputable piece of evidence for your greys.
Alien cells or an antigravity belt will do nicely.Either that or get real. The greys are merely updated fairytales.

Steve Bowers said...

Good work, George!
Someone has to stick their neck out and say it. There are no aliens flying about in the skies of Earth.
The Universe may well be full of extraterrestrials, but they almost certainly haven't found their way here yet.

pauljs75 said...

Other than the fact that UFOs could be a contrived phenomena (either fabricated to intentionally confuse people or just made up by supposed witnesses), there might be one good way to explain how the UFO phenomena fits in directly with the seemingly contradictory Fermi Paradox:

The Zoo Hypothesis. It's the only other plausible explanation of how these two contractory phenomena can co-exist.

Let's take a look at how we do wildlife management and preservation research ourselves. Do we go out of our way to have a meaningful dialog with species being monitored? No. Why? We want to observe the animals behavior as close as it is to the natural state. Same goes for feeding them or protecting them from harm. We don't want to have the animals come looking for food, changing natural migration patterns, etc. What else do we do to animals being studied? We also take a subset of that population and use it to gather sample data. Thus you tranquilize an animal, measure its weight, take blood and/or tissue samples, tag it, and perhaps put a tracking device on it to study its movement patterns over time, etc.

Looking at it that way, if interstellar ETs are real, it seems they're mostly coming here on a scientific research basis. They don't want to upset the status quo in order to facilitate observation of humanity in its natural state. Thus the strong adversion to obvious or direct communication or contact. Ditto for any information that could provide "enlightenment". They don't want humanity looking for any handouts. The abduction phenomena parallels tag and release. They get a sample of the population, and perform a detailed study of it. Also it's not like they're going to consult us on methods of taking tissue samples, etc. so there might be some truth to the unpleasantness of related probing. (Especially if their physiology is different enough from earth mammals. They may not comprehend just how bad it is. And even then, how do we take an animal's temperature?) And the implants aren't really that far from tags and tracking collars, the aliens simply use those because us humans wouldn't take long to go about removing anything that was easy to get at. (And even then a few people have claimed to recover such implants.)

So it's either a subset of the population is off-kilter for some reason or another to make up wild stories, or aliens are doing surveys to see how the human preserve is holding up. If the second one is true, then we just happen to be hearing about it because some people lack the social conventions that would keep them from telling about such unusual experiences.

It's not like there's any current way to validate such hypothesis. It's simply something fun to ponder the possibility of.

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