Saturday, February 28, 2009


Yeah, it's "merely" a speculative design concept. But since when does that matter?

Sinkers, floaters and hunters

Carl Sagan paints a breathtaking portrait of truly alien life eking out an aerial existence in the cloudscape of a Jovian world:

(Thanks to Centauri Dreams.)

The art of Patrick Rochon

More here.

New post

An excerpt:

That the UFOs fail to make open contact indicates an equally stubborn need to remain hidden. Indeed, their home turf appears to be the periphery of human consciousness. All of this suggests an agenda. I don't think "they" are patiently waiting for us to make some gesture of ultimate recognition; rather, I propose that the UFO/contact experience -- whatever its goal -- is well underway.

To read the essay in its entirety, click here.


Campy science fiction book covers galore

Click here to be instantly transported to genre heaven.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Singularity-mongers, take note.

Still waiting for your metaphorical flying car? Author and disciplined futurist Charles Stross wants a few words with you:

Assuming we avoid a systemic collapse, there'll probably be a moon base, by and by. Whether it's American, Chinese, Indian, or Indonesian is anybody's guess, and probably doesn't matter as far as the 99.999% of the human species who will never get off the planet are concerned. There'll probably be a Mars expedition too. But barring fundamental biomedical breakthroughs, or physics/engineering breakthroughs that play hell with the laws of physics as currently understood, canned monkeys aren't going to Jupiter any time soon, never mind colonizing the universe.

Inside the box

Turning Shipping Containers Into Customizable, Affordable Housing

According to assistant professor Caitlyn Dyckman, the containers are generally considered waste because it's more expensive to bring them back to port than to leave them in the Caribbean. But the right redesign approach could turn these large vessels into viable housing.

More than the sum of our parts

Zen Biology Lesson for Enlightenment from Jarett on Vimeo.

I struggle ceaselessly with the aspect of myself that clings to the fragile comfort of words and sentences. Our familiar Western mode of thinking -- purged of intuition and leery of experiences not reproducible in written form -- is like a clear membrane stretched taut around our senses, but no less insidious in its seeming transparency.

Lately, especially, it seems as if my real life unfolds in the narcotic oblivion of sleep; my dream-world, for all of its ominous vistas and intimations of cataclysm, exerts an inexplicably nostalgic allure. For whatever reason, I feel oddly welcome strolling the ruined hotels and depopulated suburbs that have come to dominate my sleep. There appears to be coherent, if tenuous, logic to this silent and jaundiced realm -- arguably more so than what greets me while awake and rational.

I've come to tentatively identify with the role of the shaman. Upon waking, my mind feels ponderous with ideas seeking escape; a portal has been opened, but a portal to where, exactly? And what, if anything, should I do with this freight of unsolicited weirdness?

My dream-world grows less diffuse -- more palpable -- with every visit, recalling the idea that powerfully envisioned thought-forms can assume fleeting physical existence. If such an alchemical process is indeed at work, the repercussions for my "real" existence are troubling. Maybe the only way to break the feedback cycle -- to decisively sever the ouroboros that my psyche's inexorably becoming -- is to opt out of the wide-awake domain of language, syntax and the necessarily diminishing fiction of "either/or."


Amusing coffeeshop sign

I encountered this sign at a coffeeshop in Mountain View, CA.


Joshua S. Fouts writes:

Part of what makes a space truly immersive for me is a story that draws me into its rabbit hole of adventure and intrigue -- like a good novel that you can't set down until you've read. Just. One. More. Page.

While there is no doubt that some people are addicted to video games, the same way they can be addicted [to] anything, the whole "addiction" accusation that is often used to deride the compelling narrative that can unfold in games is no different than calling the inability to put a book down, an "addiction" to the book.

In a similar vein, have you noticed how people interested in subjects not endorsed by mainstream culture are often considered to be "obsessed"? As someone who harbors an innate fascination with the marginal, I've always found it remarkable how a person who can spend days of every week mindlessly channel-surfing can casually inform me that I'm "obsessed" with, say, the search for Earth-like exoplanets, the certain perils of climate change, or attempts to resolve the UFO controversy because I dare to read an occasional book.

And now some silliness I found on YouTube.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Robots Could Prepare Moon Outpost Site

A new type of lunar robots is being designed which could help prepare locations on the Moon for human outposts and landing pads. With supervised autonomy, small robots the size of riding mowers and weighing 300 kg or less could prepare a site in about 6 months, says a new study by Astrobotic Technology Inc. in cooperation with Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute.

The search is (almost) on.

Planet seeking Kepler Spacecraft readies for launch

On March 5, NASA will launch the largest camera ever sent into space in an attempt to find the holy grail of astronomy: an Earth-like planet. The $591 million Kepler craft will orbit the sun for at least 3.5 years, using an unprecedented 0.95-meter diameter Schmidt telescope packing an array of 42 CCDs, each with 2200x1024 pixels, to scan over 100,000 stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the galaxy.

Is the future history?

Lovelock: "We can't save humanity"

James Lovelock was on BBC's Radio 4 this morning, promoting his new book The Vanishing Face of Gaia. It was a great to hear him, even if what he said wasn't the most uplifting of messages.

Lovelock explained his belief that humanity as we know is a goner. Earth cannot feed 6 going on 7 billion people, he said.

Pressed by the interviewer he took a punt and suggested there could be just 1 billion of us left in 100 years time.

Lovelock's point seemed to be that we should give up on trying to save the planet and the entirety of the human species by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and focus instead on equipping "lifeboat nations" with the necessary infrastructure (schools, roads, houses) to support swarms of climate refugees.

(Via Futurismic.)

Triptych #3


Arcology-like sculpture


Wind turbines and the robots who love them

Robots to Tend Wind Farms

To climb, the robot pulls itself up a rope, and a specially designed carrier system guides the robot along the surface of the rotor blades. The robot is equipped with several advanced sensor systems, including an infrared radiator, a high-res thermal camera, and an ultrasonic system, all of which detect hairline cracks and flaws in the blades. These features enable RIWEA to detect damage that might be hidden to the human eye.

The robotic system is adaptable to a variety of wind turbines, including those on land and off-shore.

But is it capable of defending against UFO attacks?

Our Cronenbergian future

impress - flexible display from Sillenet on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A bad day for climate science

CO2 monitoring satellite fails to reach orbit

In bad news for NASA (and the planet in general), the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) satellite did not reach orbit yesterday. According to a launch contingency briefing from NASA, the Taurus XL from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base at 4:55 a.m. EST proceeded normally, with only typical "minor issues" reported as the rocket approached lift-off, but preliminary indications are that the fairing on the Taurus XL launch vehicle failed to separate as planned.

Armchair space exploration

I sincerely hope I'm wrong, but I have have a sinking feeling this might be the closest thing NASA presently has to a viable plan for manned Mars exploration.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Earth: The Pale Blue Dot"

EARTH: The Pale Blue Dot from Michael Marantz on Vimeo.

(Found at Sentient Developments.)

It kills trees dead.

Jesus. And we thought the destruction of the rainforests was proceeding at a galloping pace now.

(Found at LiLeLa.)

Headband computer interface

(Thanks: Fashioning Technology.)

Triptych #2

Taking flight


Sheltered parking


Admit it -- you secretly wanted to see the tiles mess up and send the human toppling to the floor.

Wise counsel

Jim Kunstler writes:

Dear Mr. President, you are presiding over an epochal contraction, not a pause in the growth epic. Your assignment is to manage that contraction in a way that does not lead to world war, civil disorder or both. Among other things, contraction means that all the activities of everyday life need to be downscaled including standards of living, ranges of commerce, and levels of governance. "Consumerism" is dead.

[. . .]

No good, in fact, will come of a campaign to sustain the unsustainable, which is exactly what the Obama program is starting to look like. In the folder marked "unsustainable" you can file most of the artifacts, usufructs, habits, and expectations of recent American life: suburban living, credit-card spending, Happy Motoring, vacations in Las Vegas, college education for the masses, and cheap food among them. All these things are over.

[. . .]

It's not too late for President Obama to start uttering these truths so that we can avoid a turn to fascism and get on with the real business of America's next phase of history -- living locally, working hard at things that matter, and preserving civilized culture. What a lot of us can see now staring out of the abyss is a new dark age.


Get the full story here.

The "dead alien" meme

Monday, February 23, 2009

Just up the road

This isn't CGI viral marketing for some soon-to-be-forgotten doomsday flick; it's an actual dust-storm.

Compare to this orbital view of Mars:

"The Caryatids"

Attention cyberpunks: Bruce Sterling has a new novel out.

Bracewell probes: part three

As we enter an era of molecular manufacturing and ubiquitous computing, it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine what form an extraterrestrial presence might take. I'm personally convinced that the UFO phenomenon, bizarre as it initially seems, conforms to at least some of the "acceptable" criteria for a Bracewell-type probe. If I'm right, then the electromagnetic bias evidenced by our radio searches takes an abrupt and unwelcome backseat to something far stranger.

If our solar system is host to an ET intelligence, argue transhumanist pundits, it's unlikely we'll meet flesh-and-blood aliens. Metallic interstellar spaceships with biological passengers made sense to pre-computer audiences, but the reality-bending potential of the Silicon Age has cautioned theorists from expecting anything so blatant as the arrival of a "mothership." It's more likely that our first meeting with ETI will involve a novel form of artificial intelligence -- perhaps even the encoded persona of the ETs themselves. (It's worth noting the possibility that the fabled signal awaited by SETI researchers may turn out to be a practical blueprint instead of a mere greeting. In Carl Sagan's "Contact," the blueprint provides humanity with a transportation device, but perhaps it's just as reasonable to expect instructions for building an "alien-making machine": certainly an elegant solution to crossing the void in a messy, energy-intensive spacecraft.)

If we're dealing with an interstellar AI, its capabilities could be quite "indistinguishable from magic" -- and its motives substantially weirder than expected by mainstream scientists intent on marketing ETI as a readily comprehensible "product."

A sufficiently ancient ET presence could easily predate humanity and could even have played a role in guiding our evolution (a la Arthur C. Clarke's enigmatic black Monolith in "2001"). If so, there's no reason it should simply vanish upon our achieving what Sagan aptly called "technological adolescence." Indeed, an abiding alien intelligence might consider our continued existence imperative, offering the prospect that we've been subjected to some elusive form of psychosocial engineering lest we exterminate ourselves through warfare or environmental abuse.

Granted that a "neo-Bracewellian" presence could appear much how it wanted to, bound only by the laws of physics, might the UFO phenomenon shed light on our seeming cosmic isolation?

This piece originally appeared at


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bracewell probes: part two

Assuming that aliens have dispatched Bracewell probes to distant planetary systems, it's reasonable to expect marvelously sophisticated devises. I'd be genuinely surprised, for instance, to discover a relatively nearby alien artifact "merely" eavesdropping on terrestrial transmissions and notifying its creators. Such a craft smacks of human engineering, not of the ancient galactic civilizations we may be forced to confront if SETI is to shed its cozy anthropomorphic chauvinism. Given speculative breakthroughs in fields as seemingly diverse as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, I think it's more likely to expect Bracewell probes to exhibit behavior in keeping with the recently popularized "law of accelerating returns"; in other words, machines engineered by ETs should be truly intelligent, not simple telerobotic puppets limited to radio transmission.

Instead, Bracewell probes could very well outsmart their own makers and transform themselves into machines quite unlike the quaint transponders imagined in "The Galactic Club." Once the potential of nanotechnology and self-replication are accounted for, the potential for visiting ET craft appears nearly limitless. Not only could such emissaries engage an emerging technical civilization in an excruciatingly patient dialogue before alerting others, they could choose to remain chameleon-like, perhaps operating in the background like stealthy computer viruses. We might never even suspect they're here (neatly accounting for the so-called "Fermi Paradox"). Conversely, we could have been deliberately inoculated to their presence long ago, never seeing their machinations for what they are.

Supposing, for sake of argument, that a Bracewell device resides in our solar neighborhood, what might it be doing? More pertinently, why would it elect to remain hidden when we Earthlings have developed an unmistakably "intelligent" electromagnetic signature?

Both questions force us to reconsider Bracewell's legacy in ways I'll explore in my next post.

This piece originally appeared at

"Supernatural Investigator" trailer on YouTube

Someone's posted the trailer for "Supernatural Investigator" on YouTube. As I have yet to see the actual show, I can only hope additional footage is forthcoming.

Note: The woman at the end of the clip is astrobiologist Margaret Turnbull. The "research" she refers to is the search for exoplanetary biospheres.

"High probability"

Fortean researcher Greg Bishop laments the popular assumption that "real" UFOs must be extraterrestrial spacecraft:

The problem with the "high probability" line of reasoning is that it uses an assumption as a proof (or near as one can get.) It requires a leap of faith to assume that other theories (tulpas, cryptoterrestrials, time travelers, etc) are less valid than the ET hypothesis, with no more going for it than our present belief structures. In this sense it shares equal weight with these other ideas, but it is nearly always presented as the only theory worthy of consideration.

Meanwhile, Nick Redfern takes a break from his typically grueling chupacabra-hunting schedule to chat about zombie movies.

If we don't look maybe it will go away.

Climate warming gases rising faster than expected

Carbon emissions have been growing at 3.5% per year since 2000, up sharply from the 0.9% per year in the 1990s, Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"It is now outside the entire envelope of possibilities" considered in the 2007 report of the International Panel on Climate Change, he said. The IPCC and former vice president Al Gore received the Nobel Prize for drawing attention to the dangers of climate change.

Mass migrations and war: Dire climate scenario

If we don't deal with climate change decisively, "what we're talking about then is extended world war," the eminent economist said.

His audience Saturday, small and elite, had been stranded here by bad weather and were talking climate. They couldn't do much about the one, but the other was squarely in their hands. And so, Lord Nicholas Stern was telling them, was the potential for mass migrations setting off mass conflict.

"Somehow we have to explain to people just how worrying that is," the British economic thinker said.

Climate change: 'Feedback' triggers could amplify peril

CO2 and methane account for the lion's share of the gases that have driven global temperatures inexorably higher over the last century.

Nitrous oxide, or N2O, is far less plentiful in volume, but 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. It accounts for about six percent of total global warming, mainly due to a shift toward chemical-intensive agriculture.

In experiments near the Russian city of Vorkuta, Pertti Martikainen of the University of Kuopio in Finland and colleagues found that N2O leaked as a result of cryoturbation, a process that occurs when frozen soil is thawed and then refreezes.

Aliens in the closet

Not exactly an original concept, but not without a strange appeal:

Arizona Scientist: We Could All Be Martians

As long as we’re still pondering human origins, we may as well entertain the idea that our ancestor microbes came from Mars.

And Jay Melosh, a planetary scientist from the University of Arizona in Tucson, is ready with a geologically plausible explanation.


"Biological exchange between the planets of our solar system seem not only possible, but inevitable," because of meteorite exchanges between the planets, Melosh said. "Life could have originated on the planet Mars and then traveled to Earth."

Bracewell probes: part one

Lately much speculation has trended away from the "classic" SETI paradigm and into the domain of hypothetical ET devices such as self-replicating spacecraft and automated communications platforms (an idea proposed by astronomer Ronald Bracewell in his book "The Galactic Club").

Both concepts come as invigorating alternatives to the original SETI paradigm championed by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan. On the other hand, they leave us faced with the unnerving prospect of a galaxy bereft of intelligent life. If deep-space is impregnated by the robotic emissaries of far-flung galactic intelligences intent on achieving long-range contact, we have yet to receive an irrefutable signal. No sign of the telltale prime numbers celebrated in Sagan's "Contact." No invitations to subscribe to the "Encyclopedia Galactica," however hard we might wish to mingle with our elders in the local stellar neighborhood.

Or so it might seem.

SETI pundits tend to assume that contact with an alien device would unfold basically along the lines as direct contact with an actual civilization. Even Bracewell, an adventurous thinker in many respects, assumed that his eponymous probes would be little more than advanced versions of our own far-flung exploratory spacecraft; he envisioned Earth-based radio astronomers striking up a rudimentary dialogue with a probe dispatched to monitor the potential emergence of intelligence in our sector of the galaxy. After learning of our technological capacity (specifically, our ability to communicate via radio transmissions), the probe would then alert its makers, who might then choose to communicate in "person."

If this scenario sounds cumbersome, that's because it's inherently limited by the speed of light. Any ET civilization capable of wafting its cybernetic spore into the galaxy might very well have achieved effective immortality, but prospects for our own world are less certain; we could self-destruct or succumb to environmental catastrophe many thousands of years before achieving a meaningful long-distance relationship. Knowing we're not alone may come with a certain existential comfort, but, by itself, would be of no specific practical value.

And although SETI advocates almost invariably expect that ET societies will want to communicate with us, we shouldn't dismiss the unflattering possibility that we're subject to some form of quarantine. Perhaps we're being watched by "intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic," if not as war-like as H.G. Wells' imperious Martians.

Does the apparent absence of Bracewell probes prove that we have yet to be visited? Hardly. Maybe we're just not looking hard enough. Maybe we need to think like an alien.

This piece originally appeared at

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Exterminate all rational thought.

(Thanks: The Teleomorph.)

Rethinking ET "civilizations"

When scientists address the possibility of contacting extraterrestrial intelligence, they generally use terms in keeping with our own (necessarily limited) experience. Consequently, we're treated to expansive speculation about the agendas of ET civilizations. But why the typical assumption than ETI will necessarily take a readily comprehensible form? After all, the galaxy might be governed by novel forms of intelligence that challenge conventional definitions of government, economics, and even personhood.

To be sure, terms denoting some form of alien "civilization" make speculating about the nature of ETs easier -- usually by implying that even the most technically savvy aliens, despite cultural differences, will be fundamentally comprehensible to present-day humans. But it's a big universe. If we achieve contact -- whether through the discovery of artifacts in our solar system or by happening across a telltale signal -- there's no promise the senders will hail from any sort of familiar social structure. Indeed, it's not unlikely that an alien intelligence "merely" a few thousand years ahead of us would completely defy comparison to terrestrial institutions.

I've always been frustrated by the prevailing assumption that aliens will eschew interstellar travel in favor of radio transmission due to the presumed cost of space travel. While aliens might suffer from constraints posed by limited access to resources, the notion of "cost" is rooted in our own brief, limited experience as social primates. We humans might bemoan the seemingly prohibitive price of manned spaceflight, but a more far-sighted intelligence might possess vastly different priorities. Spared the hurdle of terrestrial economic imperatives, I would expect aliens to prove surprisingly resourceful.

Contemporary discussion about a "post-scarcity" economy predicated on molecular manufacturing begs theorists to re-evaluate the likelihood that ET intelligences will conform to the models conceived by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan. For instance, instead of communicating with groups of like-minded beings, we may find ourselves in the midst of solitary god-like beings with only tenuous ties to their biological forebears. Allegiance to a community might turn out to be a uniquely human trait.

If galactic civilizations are indeed exceptional rather than the norm, much of SETI's operative wisdom will demand reinvention. For example, we may have to dispense with realistic hopes of happening across Sagan's "Encyclopedia Galactica." Likewise, we may never be invited to "join the club" -- not because we're not deserving, but simply because there's no club to join in the first place.

Ultimately, I'm haunted by a vision of a Cosmos inhabited by forever-roaming AIs who have long since jettisoned the quirks and baggage forged during their ancestors' brief tenure as biological beings. Some of these wandering minds might be quite indifferent to the antics of emerging technological civilizations such as our own. Others, possessed of infinite patience, might choose to observe.

But the ones who want to play are the ones that interest me most of all.

This piece originally appeared at

SETI is for chumps (and other reasons why we have yet to hear from aliens)

As I've illustrated in previous postings, I'm not convinced the "Fermi Paradox" is quite the insoluble puzzle it's generally made out to be. On the contrary, I think there's ample reason to think the human species could be interacting with a fantastically novel (and secretive) form of ETI, although I realize that proving my hunch is another matter altogether.

Nevertheless, it's worth examining some of the reasons we have yet to receive the popularly conceived extraterrestrial signal currently sought by mainstream SETI researchers. If nothing else, a breakdown of the options casts our own brief legacy as a technological species in a sobering glow.

1.) Maybe some intelligent ETs forego radio transmission in favor of crewed exploration. Although unwieldy by human standards, there are innumerable reasons why spacecraft might be deemed preferable to manning radio telescopes. Put less gently, perhaps SETI is for chumps.

2.) Forget exploration; maybe aliens lose interest in such arduous ventures as soon as they develop technologies that enable them to inhabit custom-engineered realities. Imagine a future incarnation of Second Life; would users voluntarily leave worlds (and bodies) of their own creation if their needs were provided for?

3.) Maybe the situation's grimmer than we like to admit and ET civilizations almost inevitably self-destruct. We've only narrowly avoided nuclear Armageddon here on Earth, and we're still far from reaching a sustainable geopolitical milieu. Why should ETs necessarily be any different?

4.) Of course, there's the "quarantine" hypothesis, which maintains that while at least one ET presence in aware of us, it elects to remain unseen -- at least until we reach some arbitrary level of sophistication or enlightenment. In one version of this scenario we're being actively (if clandestinely) groomed for eventual contact, which might explain aspects of the UFO phenomenon.

5.) Perhaps aliens do rely on radio, but only briefly, inevitably graduating to vastly improved modes of communication (some possibly beyond the scope of modern physics). In this case there's a chance we could eavesdrop on a stray transmission, but it would be so old that it would tell us very little about what the originating civilization was up to now . . . or if it even still existed in recognizable form.

6.) We could be the first. After all, someone has to be. But the sheer number of stars in our galaxy -- to say nothing of the discovery of ubiquitous exoplanets -- argues that we aren't. (Perhaps it's equally likely that we're the last, and that other intelligences have long since abandoned long-distance radio communication in favor of hedonistic virtual worlds or a "postbiological" existence antithetical to scientific curiosity. Having ensured their survival, advanced aliens might be a curiously unimaginative lot.)

7.) On a more ominous note, maybe detectable civilizations arise regularly but are quickly snuffed out by a galaxy-spanning intelligence that's adopted the role of cosmic exterminator. Interstellar warfare would seem to be the stuff of pulp science fiction, but the survival imperative is rooted in basic Darwinism. We can't rationally exclude the possibility, however slim, that candidate civilizations invariably fall victim to vengeful self-made gods.

8.) Encrypted transmissions could be so complex -- or so excruciatingly simple -- that we simply don't recognize them as the work of intelligence. Although we take great pains to envision "the alien," our objectivity could be hobbled by our innate tendency to assume ETs will resemble ourselves in at least basic respects.

9.) Some scientists insist that while primitive ET life is relatively common, ET intelligence is effectively impossible in light of the myriad variables that spawned complex life on Earth. Proponents of the "Rare Earth" hypothesis aren't afraid to argue that we could be the only intelligent species in the galaxy, if not the entire universe.

10.) Finally, returning to the scenario outlined in my previous post: Maybe we have intercepted a signal, recognized it as such, and kept it a secret for fear of its potential to destabilize entrenched social structures.

This piece originally appeared at

Friday, February 20, 2009

"I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris"

I bought Morrissey's new album today; it's every bit as good as any of his solo work.


Doomsday seed vault's stores are growing

"These resources stand between us and catastrophic starvation," Fowler said. "You can't imagine a solution to climate change without crop diversity."

That's because the crops currently being used by farmers will not be able to evolve quickly enough on their own to adjust to predicted drought, rising temperatures and new pests and diseases, he said.

One recent study found that corn yields in Africa will fall by 30 percent by 2030 unless heat-resistant varieties are developed, Fowler noted.

Achieving orbit in style

Skylon Rocket/Jet Hybrid Is, Scientifically Speaking, Super Cool

The Skylon reusable space plane takes off from an airport runway, burns atmospheric oxygen, switching to liquid oxygen and hydrogen to hit escape velocity and attain orbit. At least, it will in 10 years.

The plane will be designed to carry 12 tons of payload into orbit and return safely, without having wasted $100 million worth of throwaway rocket. The company behind this hybrid shuttle is Reaction Engines, which just got a million euros in funding to prove that its "air breathing" Sabre engine can work.

The persistent myth of UFO "disclosure"

The so-called UFO "community" is continually aroused by specious claims that the governments of the world are preparing for a monumental disclosure of UFO evidence. For once and for all, we're assured, the truth will be revealed -- and our identity as a species forever redefined by the knowledge that our planet is routinely visited by extraterrestrial spacecraft.

Although this theme (characterized by vague, if tantalizing, comments by insiders both real and imaginary) has been repeatedly enacted over the last sixty years, many UFO commentators remain oddly unfazed, content to await the next revelation in a disturbingly Kafkaesque pageant.

But while disclosure of alien visitation is eagerly awaited -- even expected -- by many, folklore advises us not to get too excited. It's always been like this, with Fortean forces hovering at the fringes of our perception. I don't think UFOs -- whatever they are – expect or desire official acknowledgment. I suspect that when we observe them flitting across a city skyline, virtually unnoted, we're seeing them in their natural habitat. They appear to thrive on remaining essentially liminal, the subject of endless controversy. Longtime UFO researcher Jacques Vallee thinks we're being manipulated. Even author Whitley Strieber, who claims personal contact with apparent ETs, has conceded that we may never meet them openly.

Perhaps the phenomenon's raison d'etre is to challenge us. Early witnesses described fanciful airships and "ghost rockets." Now we hear descriptions of futuristic spacecraft and diminutive occupants who seem to have stepped out of our own speculation on transhuman evolution and genetic engineering. I think the UFO enigma is both trickster and trigger -- indisputably real, but real in a way that transcends conventional use of the word.

Perhaps if we wait and watch, the phenomenon itself will provide us with the psychological vocabulary with which to understand it. Or maybe it won't, content to let us project our own unspoken cosmic desires.

This piece originally appeared at

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Lost in a Moment"

lost in a moment from dennis wheatley on Vimeo.

I found this short film amazingly poignant. (Be sure to watch it in full-screen mode.)

Humanity (reloaded)

Juan Enriquez looks past the tumult of the present to an imminent evolutionary reboot:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

DIY reality

Consensual hallucinations just keep getting better (and easier):

Future Blogger has more.

The Roswell controversy

To newcomers to ufology, the alleged Roswell UFO crash of 1947 would seem to be the best case on record. If popular wisdom is to be trusted, the Roswell case incorporates everything an investigator might need to conclusively establish an extraterrestrial origin for UFOs: exotic hardware and alien bodies -- hardly the sort of evidence one might expect from even the most ambitious of hoaxes. And the government's schizophrenic stance on the reality of the event positively begs speculation about some form of high-level cover-up -- what nuclear physicist turned UFO researcher Stanton Friedman has repeatedly described as a "Cosmic Watergate."

The events at Roswell in the summer of 1947 -- dawn of the modern era of UFO sightings -- constitute a daunting mystery that has come to adopt the trappings of myth. While some evidence suggests a nonhuman presence in the New Mexico desert, alternative hypotheses abound. Nick Redfern's "Body Snatchers in the Desert," a disturbing book that re-examines the case in light of the military secrecy prevalent at the time of the crash, posits that the supposed "alien" bodies were in fact those of unwitting Japanese test subjects who perished in an aerospace mishap. Although subjected to much criticism (mostly from within the UFO community), Redfern's hypothesis has yet to evaporate. Even if it ultimately fails to explain the eponymous "Roswell incident," it might lead to a broadened understanding of the military's role in the American Southwest at the beginning of the Cold War.

Perhaps the best skeptical study of the case to date is Karl Pflock's "Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe." On the other side of the fence, Kevin Randle's "Roswell Revisited" and "The Roswell Encyclopedia" emphasize the credible witness testimony favoring an ET explanation. For those bothered by the notion of humanoid ETs at the controls of fallible flying saucers, it's worth considering the military's vested interest in the "alien" meme's potential as disinformation, a subject explored in Greg Bishop's revealing "Project Beta."

After grappling with the Roswell case for years, I'm honestly at a loss to explain it to my own satisfaction. We could be dealing with a legitimate UFO crash, a cover story to mask a dark chapter in military history or even a combination of the two. That something unusual happened seems certain, but by itself Roswell is far from the evidential bedrock many assume it is. Like most enduring controversies, the Roswell incident has become inordinately polarized by the credulous and the close-minded. In the face of insufficient data, the arguments advanced by spokesmen from both camps have become little more than embittered rhetoric.

Fortunately for ufology, Roswell is one case among hundreds of others with the capacity to teach us more about the phenomenon's origins.

This piece originally appeared at

A SETI taxonomy?

If our galaxy is home to advanced ET civilizations, it would be helpful if we knew what we were looking for. For instance, how do we define "advanced" -- and might a civilization's level of development make it easier (or harder) to detect?

In 1964, astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed that ET societies fall into three fundamental categories, each based on environmental resourcefulness. A hypothetical "Type I" civilization, for example, effectively conquers all available resources on its home planet (and, just as importantly, fails to destroy itself in the process). A "Type II" civilization is more robust, utilizing the resources of its solar system. Even more daunting, a "Type III" civilization is characterized by its ability to harvest energy on a galactic scale.

If a Type I or Type II civilization seems godlike to our own relatively primitive "Type O" civilization, it's worth remembering that even a solar system-spanning intelligence is far from immortal. But destroying a Type III civilization would prove considerably more difficult. Having inundated space and assumed control of millions of stars, a Type III civilization would be able to anticipate celestial mishaps and perhaps even prevent them.

The "Kardashev Scale" has become a mainstay among futurists seeking to plot humanity's own future. But while not without its usefulness, Kardashev's model remains speculative. There's no guarantee that a high-technology ET civilization will abide by his template, however sensible it might seem. The Kardashev Scale assumes, for instance, that aliens will share our own imperialistic sensibility. In truth, they might be far less aggressive, requiring less energy than we might expect; there's no readily apparent reason why even the most resplendent of civilizations would require the resources of an entire galaxy.

One can think of any number of activities that might engage ET societies; our evident failure to observe Type III civilizations is hardly proof that ETs don't exist. Ultimately, the Kardashev Scale serves as an engaging speculative exercise. Unfortunately, like the Fermi Paradox, it's evolved into a sort of cosmic doctrine, eagerly defended by pundits who seem genuinely incapable of realizing its anthropocentric limitations.

This piece originally appeared at

The fear

How are you coping with collapse-anxiety? (Cory Doctorow)

How do you keep your spirits up? I wrote before Christmas that this is the best time in history to have a worst time -- the time at which our capacity to do things in a way that's outside of traditional economics is at its highest. It's never been easier to come together to have fun, to make stuff, to change things.

I keep reminding myself of that, but it's not easy.


First liquid water may have been spotted on Mars

Phoenix lander may have captured the first images of liquid water on Mars - droplets that apparently splashed onto the spacecraft's leg during landing, according to some members of the Phoenix team.

Even better than the real thing?

The Immaculate designer prosthesis

Immaculate is a neurological prosthetic that will be connected to a user's central nervous system. The exterior of the prosthetic is textile clad in Corian plates which, in principle, will allow embedded technology to be seamlessly integrated. This material will also give the prosthetic a clear graphical identity. In addition, each joint is a globe joint, allowing a larger freedom of movement than a normal human arm.

Imagine a future where prosthetics are so advanced -- so immanently fashionable -- that consumers voluntarily dispense with their natural limbs to take advantage of the latest model.

I'm not entirely sure I like that image; it implies a society driven by commercially mandated obsessions not unlike our own current infatuation with iPhones and ever-smaller laptop computers.

And just what happens to all those severed arms, anyway?

The "Great Filter"

Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom recently wrote an article for "Technology Review" championing the concept of a "Great Filter" -- a sort of existential black hole assumed to either preclude the emergence of complex life or else destroy advanced civilizations (thus SETI's failure to detect intelligent signals). Bostrom posits that we should hope to find our own solar system devoid of primitive life, since such a discovery would indicate that the Great Filter lies in our future instead of our past, thereby effectively condemning humanity to extinction before we're able to announce our presence to the galaxy (assuming we'd want to).

If Bostrom's right, then he's managed to neatly encapsulate the Fermi Paradox within a cautionary philosophical framework -- no mean feat. But his argument is boundlessly porous, imposing anthropocentric logic on extraterrestrials about which we know nothing. As I've argued in a previous post, there's little reason to suggest that Enrico Fermi's famous "paradox" is anything of the sort. Unfortunately, Bostrom's acceptance of the Fermi Paradox as a cosmic directive, rather than an engaging scientific challenge, constitutes a glaring failure of imagination.

It probably goes without saying that Bostrom ignores the UFO controversy and its implications for ETI. But one doesn't need to accept UFOs as evidence of visitation to discern grave problems in Bostrom's notional "Great Filter." The most daunting problem lies in his presumption that technologically inclined ETs will necessarily make themselves known, whether through electromagnetic pollution or works of astro-engineering. Of course, Bostrom's conjecture only makes sense if the aliens are essentially like us, driven by a form of galactic colonialism. He all-but ignores the possibility that advanced ET societies might possess vastly different imperatives, perhaps eschewing the harsh realities of deep space for other, no less-aspiring ventures.

Galaxy-conquering civilizations might set the stage for science fiction novels (Isaac Asimov's enduring, if dated, "Foundation" series springs to mind), but in light of our failure to readily detect their broadcasts they seem more than a little like quaint extrapolations of our own technology-fixated era. Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence; in his haste to praise the merits of the Great Filter, Bostrom presents a scenario that seems almost deliberately contrived to engage academics at the expense of genuine inquiry.

Which isn't to say we needn't fear the very real threats facing our species. If ET civilizations are common, it beggars belief to assume that all of them survive indefinitely. On the other hand, perhaps some of them manage to reach a technological "island of stablity" in which their social structures exist in relative harmony with their technological potency. For example, astronomer Milan Ćirković has argued in favor of ET "city-states" that, aside from harboring sustainable civilizations, would fail to be easily detected -- an idea that makes at least as much sense of the Fermi Paradox as Bostrom's fatalism.

This piece originally appeared at

I know the feeling.

Thrill to the weird worlds of Brian McCarty!

UFOs, aliens and consciousness

While I'm agnostic as to the ultimate nature of UFOs, I'm comfortable asserting that the phenomenon is both physically real and under intelligent control. Too brash a deductive leap? Given the available evidence, I don't think so. Indeed, my position isn't nearly as hard-set as that of most speculators among the loosely knit UFO "community." So what are we dealing with? Does intelligence imply an extraterrestrial origin? And is my agnosticism simply a mask with which to deter meandering conspiracy theories and hoary notions of human-ET treaties?

I think the answer is "no" on both counts. The data suggests an enigma of enduring complexity and bewildering scope. While possibly ET, there's no clear link; more often than not, credible reports of "ufonauts" indicate beings with all-too-human mannerisms and motives. If the UFO phenomenon has a purpose, perhaps it's to challenge entrenched ideas about our role as sentient observers. The ever-colorful "space visitors" encountered since 1947 could be the vanguards of an unknown manifestation of consciousness. (Far from invalidating the UFO inquiry, such a discovery would likely propel a new era of scientific understanding. If so, would our collective unconscious adopt some new disguise and cease to provide us with novel visitors and resplendent "craft"?)

Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack once described alien abductions as an example of "reified metaphor." While he believed his patients' accounts of sexually charged encounters with apparent aliens were sincere, he was reluctant to accept them literally. In "Passport to the Cosmos," he mused that activities endured during "abductions" might herald a sort of cosmic wake-up call -- real enough, but only as real as scenes in a stage play. Like self-professed abductee Whitley Strieber, Mack seemed intrigued by the idea that the mind, subjected to a sufficiently foreign stimulus, could produce imagery culled from myth or even pop culture. (Extraterrestrials, big-headed and bug-eyed, seem like suitable candidates for a population weaned on science fiction.)

Of course, that begs the question of where the archetypal "Gray" originated in the first place. British researcher Albert Budden, a strident critic of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), suggests that the minimal physique ascribed to the Grays of abduction infamy might have a basis in neuro-anatomy. If he's right, that still leaves us to sort out cases with physical effects (J. Allen Hynek's "close encounters of the second kind").

Some will doubtlessly argue that I'm over-thinking the controversy. Maybe the ETH will triumph by virtue of its simplicity; after all, aliens from space -- strange as they might be -- are consistent with known physics. Speculating about the role of consciousness and the very nature of "real," on the other hand, might seem abstruse or even like an effort to apologize on behalf of the phenomenon itself.

But our understanding of the Cosmos is still in its infancy; indeed, there's no consensus on what consciousness itself is, let alone its implications in a universe governed by quantum physics. Mathematician Roger Penrose, for example, has argued that a genuine "Theory of Everything" will necessarily incorporate the role of awareness and that current approaches are doomed to failure.

Likewise, I'm hesitant to invoke ETs as a solution to the UFO puzzle until we come to a more mature grasp of the physical basis for human intelligence. If "reality" is more malleable than we think (or admit), we might be delighted to find that our universe is inundated with intelligence. UFOs could be emissaries from a parallel world acting in tandem with our minds. By taunting us, they could be subtly directing us toward new models of reality in which the very concept of "alien spaceships" is almost embarrassingly quaint.

This piece originally appeared at

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

And to think I find American woman intimidating.

Tribe of Ukrainian Fighting Women (Pics)

French photojournalist Guillaume Herbaut spent some time with an unusual and tough group of 150 Ukrainian women who call themselves "Asgarda." These women live in the Carpathian Mountains and follow a rigorous routine of fighting and boxing, often with medieval weaponry.

The art of Ronald D. Isom

I find the work of Ronald D. Isom both playful and contemplative -- and I'm hard-pressed to think of a better combination.

Are we a simulation?

In my last post I listed five off-the-cuff reasons that might help explain why aliens haven't made formal contact (in the event they're visiting us in the flesh -- or its alien equivalent). But there's another possibility that begs consideration: That our universe is a simulation with finite boundaries. Maybe we have yet to achieve contact with aliens because the universe we observe is a computational artifact and there are no aliens . . . except, possibly, for the ones responsible for the simulation in the first place.

It's a lavishly paranoid idea, but not without a perverse philosophical appeal. Achieving mainstream popularity in 1998 when "The Matrix" hit theaters, the concept isn't as new as it might seem. Science fiction author Philip K. Dick pioneered the sort of solipsistic dream-or-reality fiction that would later find renewed urgency in the cyberpunk novels of the 1980s. The idea's staying power is arguably due to the fact that there doesn't seem to be a convincing technical reason why our world (if not the Cosmos itself) couldn't be an incredibly rich software program operating according to set parameters (which we might interpret as physical laws and constants such as Einsteinian relativity and the counterintuitive domain of quantum uncertainty).

Novelists and philosophers alike have devised myriad reasons why an advanced intelligence might create a simulated world. Arbitrarily capable scientists might want to tinker with physics, recreating the "real" world while incorporating experimental content: an endeavor to which our own scientific community aspires, often aided by advanced computational models. Or maybe we're an anthropological experiment set loose in an agar of code; somewhere, overseers could be watching our plight with keen interest.

Metaphysicians typically refute the idea that consciousness can be reproduced through purely mechanical means, in which case the argument for our existing within a simulation (with or without simulated aliens) can be summarily forgotten. But if self-awareness is indeed epiphenomenal -- the inevitable outcome of physical processes within the brain -- then the possibilities become effectively endless. For example, we may not only be a simulation, but a simulation within a simulation. Or, more demeaning yet, a simulation within a simulation within a simulation.

If so, the question of whether or not we're alone in the Cosmos is faced with some unexpected variables, none so vexing as our potential inability to determine whether there really is an "out there" or if we're merely staring at the bars of a cosmic jail cell.

This piece originally appeared at

Fermi's legacy

"Where is everybody?"

--Enrico Fermi, 1950

If we subscribe to the conventional interpretation of the Fermi Paradox (a thought experiment that forces us to struggle with the prospect of a Cosmos largely devoid of intelligent life), it would seem we're indeed alone, at least insofar as we have any hope of making contact with interstellar neighbors. But what exactly is the Fermi Paradox? And does it necessarily imply that we're a freak of stellar and biological evolution, potentially the only intelligent species in the universe?

Physicist Enrico Fermi's vaunted "paradox" began as an off-the-cuff thought experiment. If the galaxy is suited for the emergence of life and intelligence, Fermi asked, then why do we fail to readily detect the handiwork of extraterrestrial species? After all, according to the wisdom of his era, expansion into space seemed near-inevitable. And if humans were poised to become a multi-planet species, then certainly aliens had accomplished the same feat long before we arrived on the stage, perhaps transcending their home solar systems in favor of interstellar colonization and mind-boggling feats of "astro-engineering." (Fermi would probably have been hard-pressed to imagine an early 21st century bereft of Mars colonization, let alone the demise of the Apollo program.)

Today, Fermi's query has attained the status of a cosmic statute, especially among theorists convinced that intelligent life is witheringly rare. Proponents of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle, for instance, believe the universe shows unmistakable evidence of existential "fine tuning," presumably to allow the existence of human life. (An engaging alternative is that the universe is as we perceive it because, if it were otherwise, its history would have precluded our evolution and we simply wouldn't be here. More recently, cosmologists have speculated that we might inhabit a "multiverse" comprised of an infinite number of universes, all governed by variations of the laws of physics as we know them. If such is the case, we shouldn't be especially surprised to find that physical laws seem "fine-tuned" for our existence, as our universe would be one of many: a cosmic jackpot well within the realm of probability.)

Despite the emphasis routinely placed on Fermi's famed quip, there's no evidence that Fermi himself ever intended it to be anything more than a useful thought experiment. He wasn't condemning the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence so much as speculating on the form alien intelligence might take -- and challenging his colleagues to devise ways in which potential civilizations might be detected.

In many important respects, Fermi's challenge has been neglected by science; we have yet to rise to the task of envisioning truly alien aliens. Too often, the extraterrestrials envisioned by SETI researchers are little more than simple extrapolations of ourselves, encumbered by human priorities, human psychology and even human economics.

But even Fermi's hunch that intelligent species will in some way make themselves visible to us is necessarily anthropomorphic; in reality, extraterrestrials might have better things to do, even if they're very much aware of our presence. (As argued in prior posts, revealing themselves -- whether to us or to the galaxy at large--might prove incredibly silly or even fatal.)

In part, we long for hard evidence that we're not alone not because we want to know that our own civilization can endure the long, hard centuries to come. The evident silence that greets our radio telescopes, far from proof that our universe is unreasonably hostile to life or that aliens succumb to disasters of their own making, is a mute challenge. Fermi's question remains relevant -- just not in the way some experts would have us believe.

This piece originally appeared at



Monday, February 16, 2009

Farmers in the sky

Spiraling Skyscraper Farms for a Future Manhattan

As the world's population continues to skyrocket and cities strain under the increased demand for resources, skyscraper farms offer an inspired approach towards creating sustainable vertical density. One of three finalists in this year's Evolo Skyscraper Competition Eric Vergne's Dystopian Farm project envisions a future New York City interspersed with elegantly spiraling biomorphic structures that will harness cutting-edge technology to provide the city with its own self-sustaining food source.

Alien shores

Galaxy has 'billions of Earths'

"Not only are they probably habitable but they probably are also going to be inhabited," Dr Boss told BBC News. "But I think that most likely the nearby 'Earths' are going to be inhabited with things which are perhaps more common to what Earth was like three or four billion years ago."

Contact: Would we know if it happened?

Forgive my cynicism, but I have to ask: If we received an irrefutable ET signal, would the public ever know?

Suppose it happened tomorrow: Radio astronomers detect an intelligently crafted burst of data lurking in the interstellar noise. According to international SETI protocol, the receipt of such a signal, once verified, would be disseminated among the astronomical community and made public. Indeed, international cooperation might be necessary in order to distinguish a legitimate alien signal from any number of phenomena capable of generating false alarms.

SETI's disclosure scenario only makes sense if the signal in question is of no strategic importance. But, in reality, we have no way of anticipating what an alien intelligence might choose to send us. While many scientists find the prospects of interstellar hate mail slim, we can't immediately rule out the existence of malevolent ETs or cosmic "spam."

A transmitting civilization wouldn't even have to be hostile to pose grave threats to SETI's promise of prompt dissemination. For example, a radio-frequency communiqué might contain data pertaining to a relatively near-term celestial threat such as an impending supernova. In effect, our first signal might prove to be a warning from a galactic emergency broadcast system. While the motive behind the message might be perfectly benign, the effect on our society could prove debilitating.

Which begs the question: How do we distinguish between the sort of lofty, abstract dialogue immortalized by Carl Sagan and less palatable alternatives? More pressingly, how do we make such a determination within a reasonable time-frame?

The arrival of an extraterrestrial signal would almost certainly be fraught with some degree of bureaucratic interference, and it would be the height of naïveté to expect the national security establishment to content itself with idle observation of the proceedings. At some point during the decryption of a candidate signal someone is bound to intervene. If the message seems at all intriguing, I can't help but envision the discovery going underground . . . at least until sufficiently analyzed. (One naturally wonders if the public announcement of an ET transmission would represent the whole signal or a "sanitized" remix.)

Lest my concerns seem like so much "X-Files" paranoia, it's worth considering some of the reasons an ET intelligence might send us a message in the first place. Perhaps, as noted, we're due to experience an unforeseen "existential threat" via gamma radiation or the close approach of an uncharted black hole. Or we may be in the line of fire of someone else's war. More extravagantly, we might discover that our section of the galaxy is scheduled for demolition in order to make room for an astro-engineering project -- in which case our stellar landlords could be sending out a most unwelcome eviction notice (albeit one we can postpone heeding for a few thousand years).

The threats above may seem reassuringly distant to citizens of the West, but the governments of less-developed regions might see things quite differently. While our ET neighbors might be able to take a long-range view, we can scarcely say the same for our own species.

Ultimately, would nation states elect to gamble with their respective economies and socio-political agendas for the sake of imparting knowledge of no apparent practical consequence?

I think the answer is no.

This piece originally appeared at

Terence McKenna: Communication via fungi?

The late psychedelic philosopher Terence McKenna isn't typically associated with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence; he mostly concerned himself with the actualization of intelligence here on Earth, taking a welcome cosmic perspective that revealed our species' failings and latent potential. But he introduced at least one new idea to the SETI controversy that deserves consideration, especially in light of recent discoveries.

McKenna suggested that the surreal hallucinatory states experienced by "trippers" might constitute a form of extraterrestrial contact, vastly more intimate than the radio signals anticipated by his mainstream counterparts.

Ludicrous? Perhaps not. Hallucinogenic mushrooms are dispersed as hardy spores capable of traveling incredible distances. McKenna wondered if such spores could have been deliberately wafted to Earth in the remote past, inviting the proposition that many planets conducive to life might have been likewise seeded.

Boldly venturing away from conventional evolutionary narratives, McKenna speculated that homo sapiens might owe its unique cognitive abilities to exposure to psilocybin, a mushroom-derived substance with pronounced neurochemical effects. In McKenna's scenario, the medium is the message: the bizarre worlds encountered by people under the influence of psilocybin are components of an "invisible landscape" with which we share a profound and unacknowledged symbiosis. (McKenna credited the advent of language, among other phenomena, to chemically altered states.)

That our brains harbor receptor sites to specific botanical chemicals indicates a relationship of some complexity, regardless whether the originating organisms are indigenous to Earth or hail from space. If our planet was indeed seeded with fungi, psychedelic experiences might comprise an authentic message, albeit one we have yet to decipher. (Alternatively, McKenna offered the fascinating possibility that hallucinogenic mushrooms themselves could be intelligent in an unrecognized sense, challenging our very definition of the word.)

Recent experiments demonstrate that spores are surprisingly well-suited to the rigors of the interstellar vacuum, vindicating at least a portion of McKenna's proposition. If he was right, then the "aliens" could have already arrived -- a revolutionary notion that pales only when one considers the role they may have played in the development of human consciousness.

This piece originally appeared at

UFOs: Why no "open contact"?

Assuming that UFOs represent extraterrestrial visitors (whether humanoid aliens in spacecraft or something stranger), there's no denying the secretive way in which the phenomenon has unfolded since the dawn of the "modern" UFO era in 1947. Strident debunkers have seized on the "ufonauts'" seeming desire to remain unseen as evidence that they don't exist -- and maintain that studying evidence that might suggest the contrary can only be a waste of resources. Although I think the debunking argument is steeped in anthropocentric baggage, it's a fair enough question, at least in principle: Why would aliens go to the trouble of crossing interstellar distances if they possessed no interest in revealing themselves?

There are several possible answers, none of them particularly comforting.

1.) We're being observed as part of some long-term anthropological study. In this scenario, occasional run-ins with UFOs and their occupants are purely accidental. The aliens rely on a screen of plausible deniability, lurking where least expected in order to further their scientific aims and taking considerable effort to leave the human population unsuspecting.

2.) We're being prepared, however patiently, for contact at some later time. Maybe the aliens are engaged in a psychosocial campaign designed to inoculate us to the presence of "others," thus ensuring we make for interesting company when we're eventually deemed ready for open dialogue.

3.) On the other hand, perhaps we're being harvested like so many unsuspecting cattle. Much of the "abduction" literature is concerned with the alleged taking of reproductive material and the creation of human-alien "hybrid" offspring. Author David Jacobs, for one, sees a distinctly malevolent agenda afoot. In his book "The Threat," he describes what amounts to an impending takeover by aliens who've been stealthily acclimating themselves to our planet. In my opinion, Jacobs' perspective is severely limited; nevertheless, it provides an engagingly paranoid synthesis that deserves attention if only to be intelligently refuted.

4.) The aliens are here for purposes that have little or nothing to do with us. Earth could be a way-station or even a vacation spot. Similarly, the aliens could be avoiding open contact for much the same reason humans avoid "open contact" with chimpanzees: we have nothing of value to gain that can't be deduced from passive observation.

5.) In the same spirit as number two (above), the aliens might desire contact but consider our social paradigms too fragile to accommodate a meaningful exchange of ideas. If our own history is any indication, abrupt encounters between cultures of differing technological prowess end in disaster; the aliens could be entirely aware of such a risk, deciding to monitor our social evolution until we're up for the challenge.

The problem with the above scenarios is the unwelcome (and often deliberately ignored) complexity of the UFO phenomenon. We seem to be dealing with an intelligence every bit as "paranormal" as it is "technological" -- but then again, isn't that what we might realistically expect from beings thousands or perhaps millions of years more advanced than us?

Discerning UFO researchers have noted the failure of "nuts and bolts" hypotheses to adequately address the weirdness that accompanies so many UFO-related events, calling the conventional interpretation of UFOs as spacecraft into serious question. Sizing up the phenomenon from the early 21st century, it would seem that visiting ETs could do a much better job at concealing their presence if they truly desired. Far from constituting a paradox, this begs us to reconsider the motives of a truly alien intelligence, even is that means casting away much of the ufological conventional wisdom (to say nothing of SETI dogma) in the process.

This piece originally appeared at

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Glorious implausibility

JetBike is an awesome way to get around

You know, a lot of concept designs pretend like they're based in some kind of reality, using plausible-sounding technology to make them seem practical when in fact they're based purely in fantasy. That's why I like the JetBike concept: it doesn't even try to pretend to be realistic. It's a JetBike!

Judging by that nozzle jutting out the back, I'm betting it leaves one hell of a carbon footprint.

Recent photos