Friday, March 21, 2008

Paul Kimball has written a fine post about the argument presented in my latest SETI column:

UFOs: Too Weird to be Extraterrestrials?

But that weirdness is not a reason for rejecting the ETH, unless one is viewing possible alien life and through the prism of human understanding. By doing so, both Tonnies and Vallee evince a very 1950s / 1960s sci-fi outlook of what alien life would be like. In short when they state that the weird behaviour of some UFO cases seems to rule out ET as the cause, they are assuming that aliens will more or less act like us, or at least in ways that we can understand.

Although I think Paul's reasoning is sound enough, I don't think it addresses the sort of weirdness I had in mind. (Or, more likely, I simply didn't make myself clear.) Rather than seeking an alternative to the conventional version of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis because I find UFO behavior too weird, I feel compelled to seek out alternatives because I find UFOs too normal (in the sense that many credible sightings conform to Space Age pop mythology of the 1950s and 60s).

More to the point, I wouldn't expect alien visitation to be readily understood as such. Like Carl Sagan, I expect contact to be lavishly strange (and can't refrain from noting that, in an interesting twist of logic, the UFO phenomenon has been dismissed by many Sagan disciples precisely because it's strange).

But if we're dealing with an extraterrestrial presence of the sort generally espoused by ufology's old guard, the fact that UFO behavior seems at least partly comprehensible veritably shouts at researchers to address the phenomenon anew. Hence my recent speculation about interstellar AI: certainly a more exotic prospect than "mere" aliens in fancy spaceships, and one more in keeping with contemporary technological futurism.

Elliptically enough, Paul's critique would seem to compliment my own musings. (I think.) In any case, it appears I potentially have a welcome dialogue on my hands.


mr. intense said...

cross-posted from Paul Kimball's blog:

There are several issues here:

It seems to me that, at present, the ufo/uap phenomenon is not understood.

We really just do NOT know what is occurring. As a result, in the effort to try to grasp what might be going on, whatever conclusions one reaches as to what the phenomenon means or is caused by (and I would argue that we should use the plural term, phenomena, as I suspect several things may be involved, originating from both very rare prosaic natural phenomena, the physiological and mental effects an encounter with such phenomena create in the mind of the percipient, and other, possibly "artificial" "displays," originating from both covert human and non-human intelligence of some kind and/or sources), that the normal or usual human tendency, (especially among those who have not researched the history and patterns and both differences and similarities between the best cases over time) is to try to come up with some logical answer, which leads to speculation and theorization, and the either conscious or unconscious process of "defining" or trying to fit the various ufo/uap phenomena into some discrete category, or box.

In other words, the human mind has great difficulty with something witnessed or experienced that is truly anomalous, and in the effort to try to come to terms or understand such an encounter, our minds can't help but try to figure it out, even in lieu of any provable, concrete facts about said phenomena. We are pattern recognition machines, in a way, and our minds, when encountering the unknown, or "high strangeness," that our minds initially either reject on some level or are perplexed and confused by, a process usually unfolds in the mind to somehow try to come up with answers, categorization, or ways and means of pigeon-holing or better defining the nature of the phenomena witnessed or encountered.

Considering the overlay of culture, myth, and how we develop from infancy learning how to interact with the world and reality, many human-originated belief or intellectual processes are then triggered, if for no other reason than the need of the mind to come to terms with such experiences.

I suspect this human mental process, when encountering and attempting to understand the unknown, especially that which involves "weirdness" or "high strangeness," that can trigger fear or an inability to rationally cope with, causes the mind to create or confabulate answers, even if they are not true or accurate. I think this process has been going on for tens of thousands of years, and is in large part one of the primary sources for the origins of religion and other belief systems. In that sense, in a way, uap research is both a kind of intellectual and spiritual quest to know.

So, the question at hand not only involves what the various uap phenomena might be, but also the kind of mind and orientation of that mind or minds and how uap phenomena affect perception, recall, and how individuals, after the encounter, define or understand their experience.

It's shades of gray, not black and white. Not binary. And Vallee's statements about the possible non-ETH source of the uap phenomena do not hinge on a single arguement. For reference, his more nuanced arguements about possible non-ETH sources can be found at:
("Five Arguments Against the Extraterrestrial Origin of Unidentified Flying Objects," SSE, Volume 4: Number 1)

This article, which is from 1990, should also not be considered as a definitive statement of Vallee's current understanding and interpretation of uap phenomena--his views on the issues have evolved considerably over time, and I would say his current understanding has evolved beyond his "Five Arguements..." paper over the past 18 years since it was published.

Vallee's real importance and value in the matter of ufo/uap phenomena is in the sense that he's really saying we need to keep an agnostic approach, not fall into any one definition, or even series of theories, in lieu of evidence and scientific proof. Many times, when asked, he has been quite honest in saying he does not know what the ufo/uap phenomena constitutes, other than that it is real, and deserves high-level scientific and other forms of interpretive processes to be applied in order to attempt to gain more insight and evidence into the matter.

I agree completely with Paul that "it is important to look for patterns, and see what that may lead to, as opposed to looking at each case individually," as we are dealing with, and I suspect interacting with, a variety of phenomena and sources of experience. An agnostic approach is critical, and also learning more about understanding how the human mind deals with the unknown is equally crucial.

Sorry for the length of this comment, Paul, but trying to even discuss this very complex matter is such that I wanted to make more than just a brief comment. I think you have touched on one of the core issues of uap phenomena and both our capability and process of trying to deal with truly unknown anomalous phenomena.

In conclusion, returning to the post topic, "UFOs: Too Weird to be Extraterrestrials?"--I have to say too weird for whom or what? If uap phenomena, in some small part, involve interactions with a non-human intelligence or consciousness of some sort, and that may be able to affect or influence our experience of it in an interactive manner, nothing is "too weird" to rule out the ETH or any other realistic theory, whether it's the EDH, CT, time travel, or stochastic, embedded, "many worlds" theories. Or, some combination of the above. Or something completely different and possibly incomprehensible.

Again, it's frustrating and perplexing to say this, but we just do not know yet, and we may never be _able_ to know at our current evolutionary level of consciousness. But it's definitely worth contemplating and researching as best we can.

Mac said...

Mr. Intense--

I just read your comment on PK's blog. I agree totally and suspect that Paul does as well.

Paul Kimball said...

I would "dialogue" more, but I've been hit with the flu. When I'm feeling better, though... ;-)

Mac said...


I would "dialogue" more, but I've been hit with the flu.

Oh, the "flu." Right.