A few moments from Posthuman Blues' sixth year:
Sometime in 2007 I realized I was sick of hearing about "ufology."
The politics, the incessant clashes with an apathetic mainstream media, the endless discussion about inventing a research paradigm that actually works . . . not to say those aren't worthy subjects and noble goals, but they're not necessarily my goals.
To some, Strieber's online sensationalism negates his testimony as an "abductee." But in our rush to pigeonhole "Communion's" author as a metaphysical huckster (thus erasing the bothersome -- if tantalizing -- specter of the "visitors" in a single stroke), we miss out on a potentially rich understanding of how the UFO phenomenon interacts with us on an individual level.
Strieber himself has emphasized the emphatically personal nature of the contact experience, suggesting that its operative intelligence has chosen to bypass bureaucratic authority in favor of a deeper, more pervasive dialogue with our species. Even if Strieber is wrong about everything else, I suspect he's struck a vitally important vein -- with or without the assistance of the diminutive humanoids that populate his books.
If it's easy to underestimate the success that greeted "Communion" in 1987, it's even more difficult to appreciate its multiplex impact on our culture. The cover painting alone almost single-handedly defined the "alien" to many thousands of readers. Strieber even devotes a section of the book to a hologram-like mental image that allowed him to describe the cover's iconic alien to artist Ted Jacobs, offering the possibility that "they" were complicit in the portrait's creation. (Even if their abductions are clumsy, the visitors seem to be consummate self-promoters.)
I've always maintained that the content of a bona-fide SETI signal will dictate whether it's deemed fit for public dissemination. A series of prime numbers might be acceptable for relatively immediate disclosure, but what about plans for a super-weapon? Are we to accept that the SETI Institute (a privately funded enterprise) possesses the jurisdiction to divulge any and all potential ET transmissions with impunity?
On perceptual conditioning:
And so we remain inoculated to the presence of the truly mysterious. The recent "Martian" found in a 2004 rover image has garnered surprisingly intense (if generally dismissive) attention from both independent bloggers and a condescending mainstream media. Meanwhile, the enigmas in Cydonia go conspicuously unremarked, dismissed as the stuff of wishful thinking or the stalwart dreams of conspiracy-mongers.
On interior landscapes:
Recurring dreams of strange vehicles, inexplicably depopulated suburbs, labyrinthine interiors, forgotten monuments, amnesiac voyages between transitory cities, exquisite squalor, the bittersweet promise of decay.
I've sometimes found myself in the preposterous position of "defending" my desire to live, if not forever, then as long as scientifically possible.
So, why do I want to live forever?
Easy -- for the same reason that I want to wake up tomorrow. There's nothing especially disturbing about negligible senescence unless one approaches the idea with at least some degree of emotional bias. And to be fair, we've been forced to grow used to the seeming inevitability of death in much the same way that our ancestors were forced to accommodate plagues instigated by an inability to understand germs.
We scoff at Mr. Spock's clinical mind-set; passion, we argue, is vital to our humanity. But who said "humanity" is the standard upon which we must judge our future selves?
I want to keep gazing into the void even if doing so invites the void to gaze back. Indeed, provoking a rapport with the emptiness may prove to be part of our duty as a species.
On extraterrestrial visitation:
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.
On the will to believe:
There's a tired quip that those interested in UFOs draw their enthusiasm from an unacknowledged need to experience the numinous without the antiquated baggage of conventional religion. To be sure, it would be amazing to learn that we're being visited by beings from elsewhere; then again, the Cosmos is certainly awe-inspiring enough without the need for interlopers, regardless how sophisticated.
And we're not necessarily blind to the brick wall bearing down on us; on the contrary, I think we see it all too well. The gestures and symbols are intended to be useless in precisely the same way that last month's cellphones are intended to be thrown out when the fake chrome starts to chip.
I'm especially troubled by the assumption that depression is necessarily a disease to be "treated" with barrages of pharmaceuticals. Is it conceivable that melancholy offers the experiencer a window on reality just as valid as those embraced by the mainstream?
I've never considered civilization anything more than a passing phase. It seems essential because it's all we know, but when we look at it squarely we find at least as many inherent flaws as benefits. I say it's time to venture out of the womb and look around.
On the Fermi Paradox:
Bostrom's argument is tantalizing and, on first glance, impressive. But it hinges on so many anthropocentric conceits that it reduces itself from a legitimate "either/or" to a merely interesting philosophical conjecture.
[. . .]
But none of this bothers me nearly so much as the fatalism at the core of Bostrom's thesis, which purports to reveal the role of intelligence in the universe but delivers little more than litany of uncertainties dressed in racy new clothes.
Could Gaia be sentient in some unrecognized sense? If so, how might it communicate (assuming it wanted to)? In David Brin's "Earth," Gaia achieves self-awareness via the electronic nervous system we call the Internet, but perhaps it doesn't need anything so fragile or human-friendly. A global consciousness might manifest in the planet's ambient EM field, in its chemicals, in the molecular architecture of its organisms.
Ultimately, do we really need a God to inject our existence with meaning? Even if humanity eventually discards the vengeful, anthropomorphic deities that haunt our religious texts, we might never give up asserting our desire to seek reassurance in the "divine," blinded by the rash, unspoken certainty that the Cosmos must yield to human conceptions of fairness and justice.
But the universe gives every indication of being truly unforgiving -- unless, of course, spacetime was "tuned" to allow life and sentience, a scenario that implies that our presence was, in some unknown fashion, anticipated. I personally lean to the distinctly less flattering notion that all outcomes are realized somewhere in the quantum abyss, rendering our existence (and that of hypothetical ETs) inevitable.
I know certain readers won't believe this, but I don't especially care what happened. To me, Roswell has never been a matter of "wanting to believe" that aliens are visiting us in fallible metal ships -- because when you really stop to consider it, the idea that we're presumably at the mercy of secretive creatures in fantastical craft comes burdened with its share of existential disquiet.
Certainly it would be nice to know we're not alone in the interstellar dark. But if Roswell was an extraterrestrial event, it leaves the ET motive murky at best. Perhaps, as argued by Stan Friedman, the aliens were busily monitoring our military installations at the dawn of the Cold War in order to assess any threat we might pose. Friedman's scenario is fundamentally peaceable; his alien visitors -- as opposed to the meddling Grays of Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs -- are likable enough, even if they're content to remain encapsulated in their iconic saucers instead of approaching us as openly.
The UFO phenomenon seems to deliberately engage us in a dialogue of images culled from memories both personal and collective. What's to prevent it from recasting alien invaders from a "B" movie if it furthers its attempts to communicate with us, if that is indeed its ultimate goal?