The Ragged-Trousered Philosopher


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The Eagle Has Landed

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U.F.O.s : Looking Beyond the Evidence

Forget, for the time being, 'Do they exist?' What would it mean if they do?

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Possibly 90% of those who study UFOs want them to exist and would be nothing less than delighted to find they contained genuine extra-terrestrial visitors. Perhaps that phenomenon even accounts for a significant percentage of the evidence. Anyone with any scientific training, though, is quickly frustrated by the tantalising quality of the evidence available. It is - to date at least - never quite enough to substantiate the UFOs beyond reasonable doubt and yet is often not flimsy enough to dismiss out of hand. In any case, it is not my purpose here to discuss any evidence.

All bar the committed (who probably should be) already accept that it is simply inconclusive. Like so many others, though, I do want the damn things to exist. So I took a break from asking 'do they exist' and started considering what it would mean if they do. In order to do that, first and foremost, I have to rationalise the poor quality of the evidence. That is the main purpose of this essay. I'm going to assume that we don't need to discuss the questions of whether other intelligent species may exist elsewhere in the Universe or how, if they do, they've overcome the minor technicalities of interstellar travel.

My starting point is 'OK, lets say intelligent aliens are flitting about our skies.' That would raise a few questions (!). Like ‘Who are they?'; ‘Where are they from?' and ‘How did they get here?' to mention but a few. For me, though, the more immediately pertinent questions are ‘Why are they here?'; ‘Are they a threat?'; if not, then, ‘Why are they avoiding real contact?' and finally, ‘Could we contact them?'

Lets start by dealing with why they might be here. Despite the widespread consensus, even amongst the professionally sceptical scientific community, that there is intelligent life scattered throughout the Universe, it is almost equally common ground that the chances of any two such species meeting are almost infinitesmal. It is probably the case that unless we conquer the problems of interstellar travel we will die out as a species within a few million years. Without opportunities for continued growth and creativity, we'll probably simply exhaust either our resources or our will to recycle them and gradually lose the will to live. Or we may go the way of the dinosaurs and be wiped out by the next major asteroid strike. A similar fate may be in store for any other intelligent species which stays trapped within its own solar system. So the chances of our few million years racial lifespan coinciding with another intelligent species' period of existence are pretty remote to start with. Then, of course, we've got the trifling problems of interstellar travel to overcome. And after that we have to find each other...

I should imagine you could easily spend a million years looking - even with the advantage of ftl (faster than lightspeed) travel. 

So then, put yourself in the position of a race who have been looking that hard and that long. Eventually they find us. Think they're gonna walk away unannounced? Of course not, they are delighted to find we exist. They're here at least to say 'hello' and to welcome us to the interstellar club - if we want membership. 

Or it may be that the membership of the club is already quite extensive and we have been discovered as a recent and primitive addition to a collection of species which extends back over a billion or more years. Either way, to them, we are a rare and precious find; an inhabited and well evolved diamond on a beach full of lifeless rocks. They would see us - at worst - in much the same way as modern ecologists would greet the discovery of a small pocket of surviving dinosaurs. Something to be nurtured and encouraged. At best we might even be considered suitable for gentle guidance towards whatever interstellar culture already exists.

So much for why they might be here; Now, would they represent a threat? Virtually inconceivable. What could they possibly want from us that they couldn't get elsewhere without threatening any sapient species? This is not to deny that they could threaten us. Just that there's no obvious reason or sensible rationale to explain why they would.

This is what all the xenophobes seem to ignore when writing their alien horror stories. Having mastered interstellar travel, the visitors would clearly have the technological ability to obtain any required resources from anywhere in the universe, or, if they need 'space', they could 'terraform' barren planets to create it. They'd have no conceivable economic interest in our puny resources. And as 'imperialism' is essentially driven by the economic desire for greater wealth, the idea of ‘interstellar imperialists' is patently absurd and belongs buried deep in the morass of scifi horror. They would have neither need nor desire to 'occupy' us. It is just as unlikely that they would they be saddled with any other manifestations of the immature lust for 'power' still prevalent in our own adolescent species.

It has to be a reasonable assumption that all the major problems of Survival will have been overcome by such travellers - or at least those that preoccupy us at this level of development. The idea of exerting power over lesser intelligent species will be as repugnant to them as it should be to us. It wouldn't even ‘enhance' their own power. Indeed it would lead to a small risk in that potentially violent rebellion against their control could threaten their own personal survival (as opposed to survival of their species which we obviously could not threaten at this stage). And if you're still inclined to believe they must necessarily be hostile, its worth mentioning that, if they were a threat, we probably wouldn't be sitting here talking about it! The possessors of such advanced technology could render us defenceless - should they choose to do so - in minutes.We have neither the technology to reach their sensitive targets nor, in all probability, the weaponry required to breach even their mobile defences.We would be entirely at their mercy.

So, if they pose and intend no threat, Why are they avoiding real contact?

For me, the most reasonable guess is that ‘culture shock' is probably the most important risk they are trying to avoid. Consider. They will be aware that sudden unprepared exposure to a superior species would wreak havoc with the human psyche. For the whole of its existence, Homo Sapiens has been grossly egocentric. We've always assumed that we are at the top of the evolutionary tree and at the centre of a Universe constructed largely for our own benefit. It is difficult to overstate the psychological effects of the revelation that there are others somewhat higher up the tree than ourselves and that far from being at the centre of events, we are a pretty insignificant species circling a pretty insignificant star at the rim of a pretty ordinary galaxy. And on top of that - we're going to have to share the amenities!

If it is potentially so harmful, then why can I and others - perhaps including yourself - so cheerfully contemplate such exposure. In my own case the answer to that is simply that I have never ever believed that Humanity is alone. For me, confirmation of my ‘suspicion' would be an extremely positive and exciting development. Not only would we be about to be introduced to knowledge which would otherwise have taken us millions (if not billions) of years to acquire on our own, but it would make me enormously optimistic about the future of all life. If we (life) are that widespread then our long term survival is much more secure than if it all depends on the success of the inhabitants of this planet alone. Perhaps more significantly, I do not believe in a God as the originator of the Universe and I most certainly do not believe that Human Life exists for ‘his' purposes. In fact, possibly the one thing that could persuade me to drop my passionate atheism would be proof positive that we were indeed the sole inhabited planet in this universe. For me that would be such a bizarre and counter-intuitive revelation that I could then seriously consider God as a potential hypothesis to explain it. 

The mirror image of that argument is, of course, precisely why so many religious fundamentalists categorically (and utterly irrationally in view of the absence of evidence one way or the other) state that there are and can be no intelligent aliens visiting us now, or at any time in the future. For them, proof of ET intelligence (other than divine of course!) - is the one thing that would persuade them that there was no God!

Now whether or not you are sympathetic to their beliefs (which, as you might have spotted, I am not), pause awhile and consider the effect on them - and their religions - when and if it becomes unavoidably and undeniably, blindingly obvious that non divine non terrestrial intelligent non humans have arrived! (Create your own scenario; Saucer landing at Wembley and Aliens climbing out during half time at the Cup Final with a billion people watching on TV strikes me as a good one! Another one hovering over Mecca during Ramadan would be useful, with a third over St Peter's Square during the Pope's easter blessing... all followed up with TV interviews, street walkabouts and chat shows naturally.)

Not only do I disapprove of Theism, I shall consider it a matter of great rejoicing when it disappears from Human culture. But not like that puhlease!! Exposure of this nature would be utterly devastating to whole swathes of the population. Their entire mindset and world view would be shattered. I find the effects of that easiest to imagine if I consider the consequences to my own psyche of learning - irrefutably - that my own fundamental beliefs were completely wrong. I would feel humiliated, deeply vulnerable and virtually unable to function. Just try this mind experiment for yourself. Pick a ‘core belief' - one you would really stake your life on. Now imagine that you are persuaded, publicly and irreversibly that this core belief is completely untenable... no ifs, no buts. You're wrong. Completely, hopelessly and utterly wrong.

Now imagine up to 4 billion people feeling the same way!

No advanced species could have ventured far into space without formulating a 'Code of Contact' for dealing with emerging species like our own and the potential damage such revealing exposure could wreak. The keystone of this code has to be 'Extreme Caution'. In our case, this policy must have been strongly reinforced by the reams of evidence regarding our own Xenophobia - continuously broadcast on all electronic media and thus completely accessible to anyone within monitoring distance. The problem, for them, is how to make contact with an inferior species (technologically and socially at least, probably vastly so intellectually) without provoking an immediate and traumatic racial inferiority complex.

My guess is that they would have a strategy along the following lines: The overall plan would be to promote, slowly and gently, an increasing awareness of their existence in four stages. First just get us to accept the 'possibility' of their existence. Then the 'probability'. Next the 'implications' of their existence and finally the 'actuality'. 

My hypothesis is that the vast quantity of low quality evidence may have been designed to achieve the first target - to make us aware of the ‘possibility' of their existence without causing distress.The methods being those we are familiar with: to appear in so many different places to so many different people - while taking care never to appear ‘conclusively' (for example by avoiding anything as blatant as the sort of public televised events I mentioned above) - that it becomes a commonplace to hear about sightings - and serious discussions begin to take place as to whether this is all invention or reality.

That is where we seem to be at the moment, and a few years back I felt that this phase was near enough complete. I have revised that opinion. I now suspect that the visitors would wish to apply - to any new species - a stringent test as to our readiness to accept them as a concept without severe egotrauma. This might, for example, entail a determination of whether our individual and social intellects are dominated by rational philosophies which determine truth by critical examination of the evidence, or by superstition and ignorance where the truth is often suppressed because it contradicts the ‘orthodoxy'. On this basis, it wouldn't take long to reach a conclusion in regard to Planet Earth at the time of writing. 

The widespread acceptance of religion is a pretty clear sign. Even our secular societies, though, frequently cannot deal with ‘evidence' which contradicts their establishment prejudices. For religious examples we might cite the persecution of Galileo for suggesting that the Earth might not be the centre of the Universe. Or more recently, the Pope damaging the prospects of millions with his indefensible religious based proscription of contraception. 

For secular examples we can observe the way the totalitarian regimes of the USSR and China rewrote history to hide some uncomfortable truths, or more topically, how the Tobacco companies flatly denied the evidence against their product. Or look at the kneejerk reaction of most Western Governments against the use of Cannabis on grounds which ought - if they are considered at all rational - to exclude the consumption of Alcohol and Tobacco long before the consumption of Marijuana. Or, if you like, consider how long the airlines would remain in business if they killed as many people as the motor car - yet the car is permitted to continue its murderous mayhem unabated (and yes I'm an addict myself, averaging 18,000 miles a year). 

As long as this global public irrationality remains the norm, my guess is that the visitors would judge that our species is not yet capable of surviving the encounter with our collective psyche intact. So, personally, I wouldn't expect to see more convincing evidence of the existence of ET intelligence until religion and other irrational public behaviour is very much less prominent in the affairs of man than it is today (1997 ‘in the year of our Lord'). It doesn't, I think, require the complete extinction of religion; just that it needs to become the practice among a tiny minority of the population rather than the apparent 60 or 70% of the world who harbour some degree of theistic beliefs today. And it must not be ‘driven' out in the way imperialists have traditionally killed local customs and languages. It must never be ‘oppressed'. It must die a natural death - like belief in a flat Earth. No one had to be forced to ‘recant' their belief in the Flat Earth (in contrast to the fate of those who first proposed the spherical truth). It just became an untenable and visibly irrational belief in the light of the increasingly available opposing evidence. Yes I know there are still a few believers today! But thats just the point. There are only a few. In terms of human progress and welfare, they simply don't matter. 

More and more humans must consciously reject the fairy story approach to reality. When that is seen to happen and religion has become a "flat earth" scale fringe activity, then, and only then will the visitors feel it is safe to introduce themselves. (I am assuming that as we turn away from religion there is a parallel development in the political decision making process towards genuinely rational analysis as opposed to the protection of vested interest or preservation of prejudice which passes for politics today). My own view is that we won't reach that stage for between 2 and 5 centuries.

Given that analysis, the second (i.e. ‘probability') phase may not even start for another 100 years, so it is unlikely that I will live to see anything more conclusive than we have seen to date (but it would be wonderful to be proved pessimistic on this of all points!). If and when it does start, we may expect to see some item of harder evidence - to nudge us towards the next stage, accepting the probability of their existence. To have the desired effect the 'evidence' is going to have to be something which will be scientifically convincing but not publicly alarming. Perhaps part of the drive mechanism of a 'saucer'. Something quite undramatic to masses and media but of tremendous significance to scientists who could quickly establish its non terrestrial origins. In any case, whenever it appears, the emergence of such a piece of evidence would raise a storm of scientific claim and counterclaim - which would be enough to confuse the general population into maintaining a healthy 'protective' scepticism at this stage. Eventually the scientific community - possibly with the aid of one or two other 'accidental' pieces of evidence - would reach a clear consensus about the validity of the extra-terrestrial nature of the artifact/s and then we would see the start of the third phase - serious discussion of the implications.

As to what else might determine this point in their timetable, I hardly think its going to be a matter of urgency on their part. If they exist at all, then they have probably been aware of us for millenia, if not millions of years. Throughout that time, they may have been delicately monitoring and perhaps even guiding our existence. Having to wait a few hundred years more, is, for them, a trivial matter. They may, for example, want to see if we can actually solve our main survival threats ourselves - particularly our ecological destruction of the planet. Perhaps that is another test you have to pass as a species before you are invited to join the 'club' - that you have learnt to take care of your own world before you can be let loose on others. 

During the probability phase, I would expect sufficient further evidence to surface to quell any lingering scientific doubts and to help the scientists persuade the politicians and wider population to take the issue seriously. Eventually, the 'masses' will accept the existence of the visitors as fact, without, perhaps, full comprehension of its significance but more important, without fear. You might argue that this is not enough. Informed rather than ignorant acceptance might be required. The population as a whole might need to be seen to understand and accept this sort of reasoning before the visitors could be sure of minimum trauma. In other words, if my analysis is at all close to the truth, one obvious further test could be ‘have they figured it out for themselves?' The mere fact that I've written this is, of itself, nowhere near sufficient evidence that humanity, as a whole, is capable of adopting such conclusions. Others will have to adopt, adapt and improve upon this scenario until it became evident that a healthy majority of the population agreed with the basic principles I've begun to outline.

There is, of course, a huge danger in all of this, which is that we could spark a ‘movement' which will merely become a substitute for the religions as they continue to die out. An alternative fairy tale to keep us warm at night. Something else to ‘believe' in. Just have ‘faith' and they will come. Just look at all the ‘New Age' bandwagons already rolling. Its as though humans have this desperate need to ‘know' that something ‘better', something ‘magical' lies just beyond our range of understanding. Bollocks! That is not the point at all. All we can justify, at this stage, is opening our minds to a possibility; not even a probability and most certainly not a ‘belief'. 

That possility is certainly all I feel as I write. I do not have an overwhelming conviction that aliens are watching us as we speak. I do have an overwhelming conviction (which is not entirely irrational but I'll justify it elsewhere if I may) that there have been, are and will be other intelligent species scattered throughout the cosmos in both space and time. Many will far exceed our achievements. We probably have the potential to equal them, but only in what now looks like our far distant future. I am yet to be convinced, however, that any of them has already solved the distance problem, though I am beginning to perceive how it may come to be broken, perhaps even without the need to travel faster than light or to rotate through a fifth dimension or whatever. (Imagine, for instance, how you would view such distances if your lifespan was routinely measured in tens of millions of years... Travelling from the Andromeda Galaxy to the Milky Way might be the equivalent of a boat trip from London to Sydney, even at sub light speeds. And think too of the lofty view such beings would take of us!)

In any case, should the probability phase be embarked upon, its success will be measured by the extent to which these softly softly tactics have ensured that most people are, if anything, slightly bored by the subject. That - at least for today's human race - would be the safe time at which to confront such a reality. ‘Yeah, so what?!' is a much healthier attitude than ‘O-MY-GOD-WE'RE-ALL-DOOMED!!' or ‘I worship thee oh wise ones!' And the last thing the visitors want is mass suicides by a bunch of imbeciles who have collectively hypnotised themselves into believing that they (the visitors) have come to take them (the suicides) all off to Heaven in another Universe. With such behaviour triggered so recently by such distant and mundane causes as the Hale Bopp comet (the "Heaven's Gate Cult"), can you imagine what would happen if premature exposure of the real thing took place??!!

So - in my judgement - only after Aliens have become about as interesting and "matter of fact" as the weather forecast, will the Human Race be judged capable of surviving contact. How best to make that contact? Haven't thought too much about that angle yet, though it does seem to me that one obvious way would be for them to announce their presence here in Cyberspace, where no Governments can control access and where they could avoid the diplomatic problem of having to exercise any kind of overt ‘favouritism' by making their first ‘official' landing in any particular country. This needs to be the subject of another debate altogether. 

However, having achieved formal contact, I would expect the visitors to maintain a low profile indefinitely. The Web is a wonderful place to do that! Before we even meet them, for instance, they can give us photos and videos of themselves, together with their racial biographies, till we become acclimatised to their images. Initially, for example, if they have a choice, they might choose representatives with sufficiently different physical characteristics to be identified as "alien" but not so different as to "frighten small kids". "Spock" would be a good ambassador! Daleks and Vogons would not! Their best tactics in this initial period might be a monotonous series of bland press conferences or web pages featuring continual references to 'Peace and Universal Brotherhood' until the media and public lost its hyper-fascination. After which could begin the period of true cultural interchange and learning. We could start to grow up!

And now - is there any way we can accelerate the process? Could we, perhaps, contact them?...with a view to bringing forward the "probability" phase? Well... if they are anywhere within the confines of our Solar System, then they can and almost certainly do monitor our every transmission. This almost certainly gives them access to the Internet and all that is going on in here, so they can read this at their leisure and, almost certainly, have search and monitoring software that would make good ole "Alta Vista" look qaintly primitive. So we can contact them quite easily. In fact, if they exist at all, then I just have! The very act of publishing this essay on the Web would, in my view, be enough to capture their attention. The first question is, would we get any response? And the second question is "Should we try?" I doubt it - is my answer to both. Not yet anyway. My instincts are to trust their judgement rather than ours. I do not think the Human Race is quite ready for exposure. I suspect this low key approach is vital and that over-enthusiasm on either side could be disastrous. But maybe - just maybe - if this essay were to be read and more and more widely accepted as a reasonable analysis, it might encourage at least the presentation of the first piece of "unequivocal" evidence just to confirm that we're thinking along the right lines and to nudge the process forward.

And the implications?... if they do exist?...

Mind blowing!

A Universe full of intelligent life. A Universe apparently optimised for intelligent life. Taking our place in that is a matter of greater consequence to the human race than anything since the emergence of the first strand of DNA - wherever that first happened!

The effects of that on our "world" view will be utterly profound. ALL our present preoccupations pale into insignificance alongside such a revelation. Amongst other things, if we haven't already achieved it under our own steam (which may be another test!)  what we will learn will essentially cancel all conflict between ourselves. Like when the kids are finally rescued in "Lord of the Flies", we will find ourselves in the presence of "adults". And like those kids, we should, I hope, not feel inferior to those adults because we should be able to see that there, but for the passage of time, go we. It wouldn't hurt, however, if we do feel a little ashamed of our behaviour up to that point... 

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed by Harry Stottle (1996-2005) under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.  

T H E    B O O K
Why Bother?
So, What is It?
Do We Exist?
Meaning, Truth...
How Did We Get Here?
A Theory of Behaviour
Survival,Ethics & Democracy
Part 1- From Neolithic to Neocon

Part 2-Leadership
Abortion and Human Rights
Crime and Punishment
War-Part 1-Morality
War-Part 2-Reasons To Be Fearful
War - On Drugs
The 'Rule of Law'