In an online discussion which
turned to space topics, I was asked:
'By the way, don't you find it highly suspicious that we have been monitoring for intelligent signals from deep space for about 30 years now and have not come up with even ONE unambiguous one? Even if you figure the length of time a civilization uses any kind of radio waves to communicate among themselves is very short, given the age of the universe, and given the usual assumptions about how many intelligence's must surely be out there, more than a few should have been passing through this phase at a time we can now pick up. The fact that there have been NONE does not bode well for the multiple intelligence's theory. Have you read the book "Rare Earth"? (I haven't)
These astronomers propose that we may indeed be virtually alone in all this space, no matter how much of a waste of space that may be.... It IS perplexing, this utter silence! Doesn't make sense at all. And then where in hell DO UFO=s come from?'
To which I replied:
We could very well be alone, or virtually alone. Maybe we are the first ones, although this instinctively seems unlikely.. If there's one lesson we have pried from the Universe it is the statistical unliklihood of being at the center or beginning or the end of anything profound. We're just somewhere in the stream of things.
I wonder if our Solar System has
ever been visited by probes over the billions of years. If something
like a self replicating probe can indeed be built at all they
should be practically saturating the galaxy fairly quickly in
terms of geologic time. If one percent of light speed is all they
can muster then you have at least one branch of the 'tree' of
traveling probe paths crossing the Milky Way galaxy in not much
more than 20 million years, even allowing for generous 'regeneration'
times. But how would all this data be collected?
I recall Carl Sagan speaking of scenarios where island natives try to find out if there are other inhabited islands far beyond the horizons by using larger and larger smoke signals and louder drums while all the time radio signals are invisibly passing through them. We may be in the same situation with radio being assumed to be so important everywhere as it is here. One might imagine that if there were many highly advanced civilizations all over the place we would see traces of the equivalent of commerce routes, contrails, city light glows, etc. in many places in the sky.
Perhaps such 'signatures' of manipulation of the environment are all over the place but we will not know until some resolution threshold is reached in future all sky surveys. Dyson spheres (enclosures built around a star to gather most of the radiated energy) should be bright in the Infra-red, but dim otherwise. It might be good to draw up some theoretical constraints on what traces might be manifested by various 'megatechnology' concepts such as Dyson spheres and postulated methods of interstellar propulsion and have a detailed look for them. Perhaps there are no widely traveled civilizations which overwrite their environments on vast scales as we feel free to do in our own surroundings.
I believe that current SETI efforts are valuable and at the moment are the best hope for finding civilizations from beyond. However I suspect only a small fraction of civilizations use anything like radio for deliberate communication, especially between themselves among the stars.
I think most people instinctively believe there is life out there, but a dismayingly large number then step into the 'Flying Saucer' morass, which in a way could be considered the extreme of the 'cosmic zoo' hypothesis, which has us being closely monitored by largely undetected advanced beings following the progress of yet another fledgling civilization. A key to the public mindset regarding UFO's (literally 'Unidentified Flying Objects, but generally used as a euphemism for 'flying saucers') is the opening question to many a discussion on this topic, "Do you believe in UFO's?" This suggests the basis of this inquiry is one about your belief systems, not in what you know or can learn. Cultural factors seem to affect the interpretation and frequency of such sightings. Video cameras can now document many real external events, even rare ones, yet the evidence available from over two decades of the existance of home video is scarcely more satisfying than the many poor quality photos which have been circulated over the dacedes. With the exception of Teheran, Iran UFO reports are conspicuously absent in the Islamic world. Some places are responsible for most of UFO reports and other places seem to be either never visited or their populations don't talk about them. The testing of secret new triangular shaped airships of impressive maneuverability appears to be the best explanations of some of the more plausible modern sightings.
Besides those scenarios assuming honest observations, one has to allow for stories by people who simply crave attention. The number of people claiming to be abducted by UFO crews is well into the thousands, inviting earthly explanations as opposed to swarms of flying saucers constantly ferrying victims to and from rather restricted locations on Earth. the thing to remember about this subject is that it involves contact with superior consciousness, and as such can be considered a scenario where Humanity encounters something that places us within their context, not them within ours. The subsequent events would be in 'hands' far more capable than ours, indeed trying to keep secret contact with a highly more advanced civilization would be like trying to keep secret the Second Coming of Christ!
Current trends in flying saucer lore feature conspiracy and cover-up scenarios, which project the fears we have of helplessness and being kept in ignorance. The religious aspect of this subject is reflected in the great faith implied in the abilities of secret organizations to keep a lid on such a thing. A modern parallel can be drawn with the ancient place of the 'Priest Class' as selected channels to contact with God. There is also a trend in thought about possible historic contacts with extraterrestrials to assign them god like credit for some great achievements of Humanity. In the early 1970's a series of books and derivative television programs discussed the Peruvian Nazca lines, Egyptian and other pyramids, and some ancient legends in light of alien related scenarios. To this day there are claims made that our most advanced inventions are due to technology transfer in secret dealings between our governments and aliens. Underlying these claims is the notion that humanity is not as clever as it appears or aspires to be, that some 'higher power' is really doling out the technical means to manifest our greatest works. I see this as a contemporary aspect of the kind of thinking that used to sustain religions in centuries past.
'UFO's' are to me a manifestation of our capacity to define reality and it's limits within the cultural and metaphysical frameworks of the times. They are the writing of our inner yearnings concerning the Ultimate upon the 'noise in the observations'. The cultural place of religion has largely been replaced by technology, old excitement about miracles is now sustained through invoking advanced beings able to help bring about great things who ride ships of metal and light. The concepts of the 'Ultimate Holiness' find some avenue of apparent manifestation through 'visions' and perhaps a poorly understood natural intermittent phenomenon which promotes visions. It may be that some kind of natural externally or internally triggered electrical stimulation takes place which can touch a 'religious experience center' of your brain, perhaps involving the natural DMT producing mechanisms we all have. The resulting 'vision' would be shaped into something your mind could 'read' as often seems to happen in dreams. An intriguing example of this possibility is seen in the story of the 'lady of Fatima' events in Portugal. In 1917 some Portuguese peasant girls claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary, and they were told to return to the spot at specified times until the last visit was announced which thousands attended. It is said that those further away saw a bright light descend and float just above the countryside, those near it more consistently claimed to see the Virgin Mary, as if the 'influence' of whatever was providing the vision was more intense nearby.
Perhaps smaller scale events of this type occur relatively often, such as do small earthquakes. In this theory one or more people nearby almost reflexively seize upon their concept of 'the Ultimate' and overlay it upon some kind of extraordinary alteration of consciousness of an intermittent and unknown nature. This would be due to natural events and would thus have happened through out human history. In the days when people really believed in religions, people overwhelmed by such an episode saw angels, before that various spirits. Now people regard advanced aliens as the bearers of ultimate wisdom and the visions take on that form. Some kind of outlet for our need to have access to some 'higher power' will appear as required.
A nagging inner flame of something extraordinary seemingly flickers deep within the pile of trash, but perhaps this is merely my own overlay over the noise. If there are any real extrordinary external events buried somewhere beneath the mountain of poor observations, delusions, and outright fraud in the 'UFO' field... I suspect the real cause, to paraphrase the Bard, also lies not with the stars, but with ourselves...or, more properly, what we will one day be.
Perhaps our future selves will be able to peer into or even virtually visit the past, with the traces of the observers or something about the observation itself making some kind of impression on our reality. Such an 'intrusion' into our time might appear to defy laws of physics due to our inability to perceive it completely in our own 'time dimension'.
This would actually help explain why 'UFO's' can avoid being well documented. Having access to the historical record, they can shy away from places they know they can be too well recorded. So, if you really want to have a chance to see such a thing, according to this theory it would be advisable to keep quiet about one's efforts to do so as well as with the results obtained no matter how spectacular!
P.S.-A fascinating article circulating across the WWW on the publishing origins of the 'UFO' phenomena can be seen here.