|Courtesy Markusram @ Flickr Creative Commons|
I didn't buy all of the stock reasons supporting the push back, but because I have a background in myth, magic, and psychology, I could clearly see that certain mythic structures and symbols were a major part of the phenomena.
I leaned toward Jacques Vallee's conclusion that UFOs are likely 1) real and worthy of serious study, but 2) not of extraterrestrial origin.
I've been rethinking that bias lately, mostly as a result of reading Leslie Kean's excellent book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record.
Toward the end of Kean's book, two political scientists from Ohio State University take a look at the reasons usually given off-the-cuff for the impossibility of the ET hypothesis. Their aim was to shoot these objections down as rational statements and then discover why the taboo against taking UFOs seriously is so strong, both in the scientific community and the US government.
I was persuaded both by Kean's book and the political scientist's paper that it is way too soon to bury the ET hypothesis.
Here is their deconstruction of the deconstruction (with a few addendums of my own):
- If UFOs Are Extraterrestrial, They Would Have Landed on the White House Lawn. But would they, really? If we are doing military reconnaissance in or on territory occupied by an enemy or potential enemy, do we march up to the leader of that nation first to let him or her know we are doing that? Of course not. Another reason ETs might not seek out our leaders is that they may have a policy of noninterference with societies they visit. Last but not least, in a very famous UFO flap that took place over Washington DC in 1952, multiple UFOs were seen over the White House and reported by residents, tracked by radar, and confirmed by pilots. So alarmed was President Harry Truman by the strange event, that he ordered the Air Force to pursue and shoot them down. Later, the mass sightings were chalked off to a 'temperature inversion,' a weather phenomenon causing false blips on radar. To this day the explanation rings false to amateurs and professional aviators.
- We Already Know That We Are Alone in the Universe. This not-very-scientific statement used to be more persuasive, back in the days before the Drake equation and the discovery of numerous habitable planets in nearby solar systems. Today, with the Mars probes still collecting data, we aren't even sure we are alone in our own solar system.
- Even if ETs exist, They couldn't possibly Get Here. This one is based on the assertion that technological limits make traversing the great distances involved in intergalactic space travel impossible. Yet the more we understand about particle physics and the strangeness of the concept of time, the less persuasive this claim becomes. If we have discovered all this in the space of 50 some years, how much more might an alien civilization discover over the course of 3,000 or 30,000 years? We know that wormholes exist and time travel might be possible. Alien technology might make intergalactic or inter-dimensional travel not only possible, but routine.
- If ETs Were Already Here, We Would Know. This is the Bigfoot habeus corpus threshold, AKA 'show me a body and I'll believe it'. When it comes to UFOs, this statement assumes we can look for and find UFOs if we try, then catch and bring one out in public to prove they exist. But visitors to this planet might well have the technology needed to evade observation, should they wish to remain hidden. Our own military has such technology, so why wouldn't alien visitors have the same capacity? Also, we aren't even looking for them anyway. Other nations are responsibly recording chance sightings for future study, but the US is actively pushing back on even taking UFOs seriously.
All of these 'reasons' are irrational. We have nothing resembling enough data to come to any of these conclusions scientifically. The best we can say is that we don't know, and we aren't trying to know. Until we try to know, until we fully investigate the phenomena scientifically, all we can do is maintain an agnostic stance.
What really persuaded me that the ET hypothesis might not be as dead as I'd previously thought, however, was that, after reading Kean's book, a lot of things I was already thinking about UFOs kind of fell into place without negating or contradicting that hypothesis.
In other words, it is possible to combine the ET and the mythic hypotheses into one.
I don't know that anyone has done that yet.
So maybe I will.