The best (?) of Posthuman Blues (2007):
On cosmic philanthropy:
Nick Redfern hates aliens. Specifically, he deplores the disturbingly widespread belief that extraterrestrials are here to save us from ourselves in a gesture of galactic philanthropy.
And it would certainly seem he's backed by the evidence -- or, rather, the lack of it. Despite the persistent presence of unusual objects in our skies, we have yet to receive an ultimatum a la "The Day the Earth Stood Still." While UFOs have displayed apparent interest in military and nuclear facilities, a mass landing doesn't appear forthcoming. Whoever "they" might be, they're not the altruists we might wish they were.
"Ufonauts" are often described as behaving in a military or insect-like manner, even moving in lockstep. Maybe they're interested in us because we're aware in a way they aren't, and they're determined to acquire our capacity for self-reflective thought in order to communicate with us. In essence, our interaction with the UFO intelligence could be a dialogue with a complex but myopic machine. Maybe "they" have never encountered a species like us and are genuinely baffled -- insofar as a distributed computer can be "baffled."
Ardent Singularitarians will doubtlessly point out that our brains are effectively distributed computers, in which case the aliens, if they're here, should possess sentience even if mechanical. But a sophisticated intelligence doesn't necessarily need to be aware of itself to perform a task. If we're observing beings created by someone or something else, sentience might have been deliberately excluded from their repertoire for fear of losing control of a useful tool.
On the semiotics of environmental collapse:
The 20th century image of the astronaut is quickly being replaced with that of the anonymous haz-mat worker. Not only are we on the brink of massive planetary dieback, we're on the cusp of a new mythology with its own rites and symbols.
On psychedelic states and nonhuman intelligence:
The psychedelic realm has the visual flexibility of a multimedia installation or high-bandwidth website, forcing me to consider that it's actually designed as a communications system: a sort of neurochemically derived "chatroom" populated by all manner of colorful "avatars."
It's conceivable that "trippers" can access this interzone, even if inadvertently. The beings seen -- described similarly in UFO and drug narratives -- might be the equivalent of neuropharmacologists and system operators. (Online environments like Second Life, while fanciful, abide by many of the conceits and laws that govern the real world, if only for the sake of convenience. It's likely that an alien intelligence versed in nonlocal communication would apply similar reasoning when constructing a virtual environment.)
On "bulldozing the collective unconscious":
If mythology functions as a social utility, the sterile milieu of contemporary "stripmall culture" heralds a new relationship between ourselves and all things "imaginal." We could be losing -- or at the very least suppressing -- some vital archetypal dialogue, effectively bulldozing the collective unconscious in favor of more Starbucks drive-thrus and Home Depots.
World folklore is inundated by accounts of nonhuman intelligences whose machinations penetrate and underscore our own. Recklessly driving such beings to virtual extinction might leave irreparable scars on the psychic landscape. Or it may give them reason to fight back.
The future is not a PowerPoint graph. It doesn't abide by Moore's Law. The future is a thicket of variables, many with the capacity to change us in ways we choose not to think about for fear of shattering the edifice that transhumanism has become.
On UFO occupants:
UFO researchers like their aliens to abide by 20th century preconceptions of what alien beings should look like; entities like those observed in Hopkinsville comprise a kind of viral assault on conformist ufology by insinuating themselves into reigning conceits and quietly subverting ETH dogma. Ultimately, their existence is marginalized and becomes less ufological than "fortean." We're asked, in effect, to consider the Hopkinsville visitors and their like as somehow separate and distinct from "hardcore" case-files that more readily suggest extraterrestrial visitation. We do so at our peril.
On "alien" technology:
Our own technological trajectory suggests that a full-scale planetary reconnaissance could be achieved using incredibly small devices. A nanotech "smart dust," for instance, could infiltrate and reap a vast real-time harvest of information -- all without our knowing. As we prepare to use such technologies to study our own planet (and its inhabitants) in ever-increasing detail, we're forced to question prevailing ufological assumptions. While scintillating "spaceships" and irradiated landing sites are certainly cause for wonder and scientific concern, they appear suspiciously mired in the science fantasies of the previous century.
On climate change:
We deride Holocaust deniers. We poke merciless fun at Creationists. Yet we tolerate those who flaunt the depths of their incomprehension by claiming that anthropogenic climate change is some sort of fiction fabricated by political extremists.
Perhaps some of us can afford to be be loftily contrarian, a stance to which Michael Crichton aspired with "State of Fear." Or maybe some of us are just utterly and contemptibly stupid.
On paranormal ontology:
For the most part, the ufological landscape remains a sparring ground for entrenched notions of dispassionate ET visitors and equally tenacious claims of popular delusion. Consequently, we've gone about attempting to "debunk" a phenomenon that continues to defy definition. While many -- if not most -- well-known abduction narratives are indeed fallible, disquieting findings from emerging (or suppressed) disciplines promise to reframe the debate.
I suspect the truth, if we can find it, will be considerably weirder than "mere" extraterrestrial visitors or sociologically induced fantasy.
On J.G. Ballard:
Fifty years from now, as we examine the cancerous folly of the early 21st century from the perspective of wary temporal colonists, we'll see Ballard as the very embodiment of prescience.
On the American Nightmare:
The American Dream doesn't run itself; it needs to be vigilantly enforced every step of the way -- and we're perfectly willing to risk the health of the planet in doing so.
On environmental priorities:
Regarding our potential ability to restore the planet's climate by curbing greenhouse emissions (which won't, by itself, be nearly enough), Griffin offers us this bit of delirium: "I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take."
I'll have to remember that the next time I'm crossing a busy street. Who am I to want to get out of the way of that truck? How unspeakably arrogant of me.
The field of ufology suffers from a related problem, the toxic assumption that UFOs and other elements of forteana must necessarily yield to a single consciously derived explanation -- whether the hallowed Extraterrestrial Hypothesis or something else.
But if we're dealing with a truly alien intelligence there's no promise that its thinking will be linear. Indeed, its inherent weirdness might serve as an appeal to an aspect of the psyche we've allowed to atrophy. It might be trying to rouse us from our stupor, in which case it's tempting to wonder if the supposed ETs are literally us in some arcane sense.
In Shermer's world, the universe abides by the proclamation of a self-appointed "skeptical" elite, inconvenient facts summarily brushed aside with the help of a few condescending remarks and semantic misrepresentations. Fortunately for the rest of us, the universe doesn't seem to care what Shermer thinks. Instead, we're confronted with phenomena that challenge our assumptions and force us to expand our epistemological frontiers, all the while utterly indifferent to the preconceptions of committed believers and debunkers alike.
Shostak seems to assume that if Roswell was the crash of an ET vehicle, we should have been able to figure it out by now -- despite his well-made point about ancient Rome's certain inability to make sense of laptop computers. He forces himself into an evidential cul-de-sac: we should know all about Roswell because of the event's importance, he complains, but that very importance is rooted in an assumed alien technology we don't have a chance of understanding. Ironically, Shostak's case against Roswell as an ET event actually winds up complimenting the idea that an alien craft was recovered and duly covered up by an understandably concerned military.
Regarding the Roswell crash's technosocial impact being "too subtle" for Shostak's taste, it's worth noting that technological forecasters such as Ray Kurzweil argue that technology even a few centuries ahead of our own will likely underscore Arthur C. Clarke's maxim that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" -- in which case classified laboratories could still be attempting to make sense of the Roswell debris in order to reproduce it for military or industrial applications.
On molecular manufacturing:
If the ET intent is to test our reactions to its presence (or something more profound, as the phenomenon's impact on our mythology might indicate), quickly assembling "ships" and even "aliens" from raw materials would enable the disparity of forms seen in the sky. The flexibility of nanotech construction would allow the UFO intelligence to respond to our preconceptions in "real time," thereby ensuring a permanent foothold in the collective unconscious while maintaining plausible deniability -- at least among those tasked with policing potentially subversive memes.
On extraterrestrial surveillance:
The abduction mythos suggests that "they" are here for our DNA, in which case we constitute a valuable natural resource. Of course, this forces us to wonder why an extrasolar species would have any interest in a molecule that many scientists consider unique to this planet. Initially, at least, it seems implausible that ETs would have any practical use for human genetic material. Then again, given the sheer novelty of our biological heritage, is it excessively arrogant to consider ourselves worthy of prolonged ET scrutiny?
What do you do when you discover that the love you remember so fondly is so much computational static? Or, in human terms, how do you react to the prospect that "love" itself is a cunning delusion forged by millions of years of hominid evolution?
Most of us are at least partially willing to entertain the idea that something better is just around the corner, even knowing the psychological risks. We're wired for optimism because, ultimately, defeatism tends to pass along fewer genes. DNA is a uniquely tyrannical molecule. It lulls us with the lusty murmur of sirens until we find ourselves stranded on uncharted shores.
No, this isn't "steampunk" -- this decrepit automaton harpist is the real thing. No batteries. No optical sensors or force-feedback units. Not a single chip hidden away inside the delicate porcelain skull. The irony is that its movements, limited as they are, are noticeably more "natural" than those of recent androids.
If the UFO phenomenon is generated by Earth itself, perhaps it uses the human nervous system as a kind of operating system. Its enduring physicality argues that it can manipulate consciousness in such a way that individuals can function as unwitting projectors. If so, the study of UFOs might eventually lead to a new understanding of the role of awareness. One day, through careful back-engineering of our own minds, we might employ UFO-like abilities through thought alone -- in which case the UFO phenomenon risks becoming obsolete.
On UFO "disclosure":
So while I obviously can't speak on behalf of the rest of the planet, I'm up for the proverbial White House lawn landing. Daniel Pinchbeck and others speak of a deep need to catalyze global consciousness. To me, irrefutable evidence that we share the Cosmos with at least one other intelligent species could be the very catalyst we're looking for -- short-term consequences be damned.
Evolution has never been easy; birth is seldom without potential dangers.
On virtual hedonism:
Ultimately, will the leisure class choose the digital hedonism of Second Life circa 2020 or brave the unwelcome reality of a disintegrating environment? I can imagine visiting the "real" world becoming something of a rebel act; users will log-in after extended stays in the non-simulated world with exotic tales to tell . . . but will we bring ourselves to believe them?
Is the intelligence behind the close-encounter experience using SF devices as a way of interacting with us, much how a primatologist "communicates" with an orphaned monkey via hand-puppet? If so, how to account for descriptions of bug-like entities from populations who haven't been primed to know what an alien "should" look like? Maybe the "mantis" identity is simply a costume that works, in which case one can't help but yearn for a glimpse of next year's fashions . . .
Yet as we watch night erode the familiar highways and stadiums and ever-encroaching suburbs, our confidence falters. Already, technological forecasters envision a near-future populated by our artificially intelligent offspring. Perhaps as our most cherished certainties crumble in the glow of a new century -- full of danger, portent and enigma -- it's become relatively easy to contemplate the presence of the Other: not an other new to our planet, but one predating our own genetic regime. Something unspoken and ancient yet nevertheless amenable to science . . . an intelligence with an almost-human face, until recently content to abide by the shadows of our complacency.
Wishing you a weird 2008!