Monday, June 16, 2008

Why the ETH supporters probably have it right... and wrong

Of all the non-terrestrial theories that have been offered to explain the UFO phenomenon, the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) has always seemed the most plausible one to me. I don't think it's been proved, but I think it's a better bet than the others on offer when one looks at the evidence, and the science.

The evidence seems to indicate that at least some UFO cases represent a non-human intelligence at work.

The science now tells us that there are almost certainly other intelligent beings in the galaxy, and if they are more advanced than us, there's a reasonably good chance that they could make their way here.

So, you might ask, why am I always so hard on the ETH supporters amongst ufologists?

First, I think it's important to remember that the key letter in ETH is the "H" - it's still just a hypothesis, and anyone who tells you that they can prove that aliens have visited Earth beyond a reasonable doubt, or even on the balance of probabilities, is putting the cart well before the horse.

Beyond that, however, I think the biggest problem with the ETH supporters within ufology is that they're so... "limited" in their outlook.

On the one hand, they are convinced that aliens have visited Earth, and in many cases they are convinced that they are still visiting Earth, and interacting with humans in all sorts of ways, some good and some bad. They are of the "nuts and bolts" school of thought, i.e. Joe Alien made his way to Earth in a flying saucer, in much the same way that Captain Kirk and all of our other science fiction icons make their way about the galaxy.

This is what I call "Keyhoe-ian" ufology, because it is based directly on the way of thinking that Major Donald Keyhoe first put forward in the 1950s. It is out-of-date, and badly out-of-touch with modern science. It presumes that aliens are only a few hundred years or so more advanced than us, which is highly unlikely. It presumes that the aliens are preoccupied with us, and that we are somehow important to them, which is also highly unlikely. In short, it is a point of view that is based on what people who grew up in the pioneering days of sci-fi and the space race expect of their aliens, and not the point-of-view that modern physicists and astrobiologists take.

If aliens are here, it is probable that they are far more advanced than we are, by an order of thousands of years, not hundreds. As Michio Kaku stated in the video I posted here earlier today, we would be to them as ants are to us - beneath their notice. This would explain the inherent weirdness of many UFO sightings - things that appear to us almost as magic, or something that in a different era would have been framed in religious terms. As Kaku noted, there may well be a galactic conversation going on, but in a "language" that we are thousands of years from being able to truly comprehend.

The pro-ETH stance of people like Keyhoe, and his successors, like Stan Friedman, is a relic of a different time and place, which is ironic when one considers that these people often criticize scientists for not being open-minded about the UFO phenomenon, and for being stuck in the past.

The ETH supporters may well have it right about aliens being here... but they are almost certainly wrong when it comes to the how, and why, of that presence. If you doubt that conclusion, ask yourself this question - when it comes time for humanity to travel to the stars (as opposed to the Moon or Mars), many hundreds or thousands of years hence, what will we look like as a species, and how would we view another species that we may find on some distant planet that is at our current level of technology? Does anyone really think we would care, anymore than we care about those ants crawling around in our backyard?

By focusing on the idea that little green / grey men have been coming here in nuts and bolts spaceships, ETH supporters like Keyhoe have done a grave disservice to the search for truth about the UFO phenomenon, and its possible alien origins, in the same way that thousands of years of religious leaders have undermined the search for the true nature of God by force-fitting it into a limited paradigm that simply served to reinforce their own worldview. They have not sought wisdom, nor understanding - they have simply proclaimed an "answer" which has been no answer at all.

If the truth behind the UFO phenomenon is that at least some cases represent an alien intelligence, then like God that truth is probably beyond our comprehension, at least at this time in our development. This makes things more exciting, because it shows us a direction to the future, and a reason for getting there someday.

The reductionist approach that has been adopted by the nuts-and-bolts crowd, on the other hand, which seeks to make potential alien life over unto our own image, lacks vision. It is more concerned with what they see as the destination, and their need to get there now, when what we should really be focusing on is the journey, and the wonders we may discover along the way.

That's the real signal in all of this. Everything else is just noise.

Paul Kimball


Anonymous said...

Well said Paul!

Mac said...

Keep an eye out for my essay in the new "Darklore" anthology.

Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of what you said about the ETH. We obviously must perceive a lot of what goes on in regard to “UFO” and “alien abduction” events through our human psychology, shaped by our particular culture, in the time period that we live in. Therefore, what we see will resemble where we come from psychologically. It does seem very unlikely that we have come close to understanding much about these events at all, partly because we have not even addressed researching it on a society-wide scale, as we have with other more mundane subjects. Even with wholehearted research on a subject, scientists are often just scratching the surface of what there is to know.

However, I do think that the “nuts and bolts” ideas might have some merit. If you think about it, there is a certain uniformity throughout the universe that we know about. There are galaxies – all different, but also similar. There are stars. It seems like there are probably planets. There does seem to be at least an indication that life may exist in microbial form in space. If life exists on our planet, going by the uniformity of the known universe, it is possible that it exists throughout the universe. Although it would probably be in different forms, it is also possible that there is a certain uniformity to it, as there are with many aspects of the known universe.

One of the features of life as we know it is that it evolves to adapt to particular ecological niches. The chemical make-up of DNA is one aspect of it. However, the essential aspect for it to survive is its evolutionary adaptation. It is not beyond the bounds of reason to consider that life may exist throughout the universe, and that its inherent evolutionary qualities allow it to survive in a myriad of environments – different, but also similar in some ways.

If this is the case, and if some life evolves to the point where it can engage in intelligently controlled interstellar travel, then it is quite possible that the issues of the evolutionary adaptation of DNA to various locations could be very important. Nothing in the universe seems to last forever. Stars die. Planets die. If a species is to survive in the long term, they have to be able to move between solar systems at the least, and between galaxies in the longer term. They would have to be on the lookout for developing niches to move to over time.

If a species were to consider moving to other planets, it would probably be desirable for them to have DNA that was suited to the planet concerned. There are a huge number of variables that go into the evolution of DNA over long periods of time. The most precious, and most valuable DNA would could well be that which has evolved within a planet for an extended period of time, particularly if it has developed to a level where the species concerned is making forays off the planet. As humans, we have naturally evolved DNA suited to this planet, that has taken eons to develop, and we are a species that may well be going to be doing space travel in the future ( if we don’t destroy our planetary ecological niche in the short term.) Our DNA could actually be a valuable commodity to other species for this reason. If they wanted to come to our planet, or to similar planets to ours, then our naturally evolved DNA could be the part of our planet that is of most interest to them. It is life in a valuable form.

You could bet your bottom dollar that if we ever decided to go somewhere else for any reason, and we found evolved DNA based life there, that we would be looking pretty closely at that DNA as a resource to help us make use of that planet’s ecological niches. Perhaps this is what is happening in regard to Earth? Perhaps we are not worthless ants beneath consideration. Perhaps this explains why many “alien abductees” have strange memories that involve reproduction and the taking of sperm and ova.

People sometimes point to the fact that “aliens” could take a lot of DNA from a lab, and they would not need to keep abducting people and taking their DNA. However, if they took a sample from a lab, they would just have a static sample of DNA from a snapshot of time in space. The most important ingredient would not be there – DNA evolving naturally over time across varied environments. Could this explain the “secrecy” of “UFO” and “alien abduction” phenomena? If the “aliens” landed on the white house lawn and took us over, it would mean that their level of development would dominate over ours, and we might not continue to evolve naturally. Perhaps “aliens” have been around us for eons, taking our DNA at various times, or helping to foster it so that they can make use of it when it reaches a level of development that is useful to them. Or perhaps at a time when THEY want to come here for whatever reason.

I agree that this might not be going on at all. But, it could also be exactly what IS going on. The uniformity of the universe, and the possibility of DNA based life throughout the universe, could give some credence to the “nuts and bolts” way of thinking about it.


Anonymous said...

Since the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis still remains a open question, why are proponents of the ETH being labelled outdated and narrow minded in their belief?
Whose to say those of us who support this theory believe that any possible Extraterrestrial intelligent lifeforms are only a few hundred years in advance of our own evolution.
they maybe thousands of years advanced, or their evolution might only be measured in milliseconds and whose timescale are we talking about anyway? UFO's by definition are not identified and those who support this hypothesis are certainly more open minded as to their (ETH) origin in place and time than the current line of thinking here suggests. Our understanding of the Universe is far from complete and in many respects may never be, much in the same way our understanding of UFO's may also never be.
The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis might not be the popular line of thought it once was, but it remains the most commercially viable one.

Anonymous said...

We are right now thousands of years more "advanced" than the Egyptians who built the pyramids, and yet are we much different than they were? Well, our technology has certainly enabled us to be much more efficient killers of our fellow humans, but we haven't much changed as people. If anything, we are much better today at doing really bad stuff than they possibly could do.

In addition, there's lots of different kinds of people. We are not all one monolithic entity. Thus, to ask if aliens would be concerned with us any more than we would be with ants is a question that entomologists the world over would answer a little differently than Paul Kimball.

Mike B said...

Paul should go easier on Stanton Friedman, who clearly states in all his articles, lectures and books that SOME (meaning NOT ALL) UFOs are alien spacecraft. The ETH may seem deceptively simple, but everyone would agree that it is only part of a larger picture.
Keyhoe and Friedman didn't dream up the ETH for no reason. Many UFOs look like manufactured objects, they reflect radar and leave marks on the ground. These things are what you might expect of spacecraft. Is it any wonder that the ETH is still viewed by most as the most plausible explanation?
Paul, if you have something beter, let's hear it. And don't tell me that aliens come from under the Earth or an invisible dimension that shares our space.

"If aliens are here, it is probable that they are far more advanced than we are, by an order of thousands of years, not hundreds." These assumptions are not bad, but they are assumptions nonetheless, and much like the ones so dear to SETI. Why should we be so surprised if aliens prove to be "only" a few hundred years ahead of us? Maybe a few centuries will be all that it takes for us to make such a technological breakthrough.

Paul Kimball said...

I'll be easier on Stan when he can show one piece of irrefutable evidence for his contention that some UFOs are alien spacecraft. Just one that would prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt, which, given the nature of his claim, is the standard of proof that he should be required to meet before he goes about asserting that it's a proven fact that some UFOs are alien spacecraft.

I'll also be a little easier on Stan when he stops using the phoney MJ-12 documents to buttress his claims of alien spacecraft and government cover-ups.

Don't hold your breath.

Paul Kimball said...

P.S. Even if the aliens are only a few hundred years ahead of us, or even only ten, if they have developed the technology to get here from there (and "there" is an awful long way away, no matter what Stan wants you to believe), then surely they would have developed more advanced stealth technology? You say we could expect our radar signals to "ping" off of them? I say that we should expect the exact opposite from anyone who could travel to Earth from another solar system. The fact that we can detect them at all points away from the ETH, not towards it - particularly as we were detecting them with our relatively limited 1950s technology.

But I've long since stopped expecting that people who want to believe - including Stan - will ever be swayede by common sense, for the same reason that talking science and common sense with religious fundamentalists isn't going to change their minds.

Mike B said...

"I'll be easier on Stan when he can show one piece of irrefutable evidence for his contention that some UFOs are alien spacecraft. Just one that would prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt, which, given the nature of his claim, is the standard of proof that he should be required to meet before he goes about asserting that it's a proven fact that some UFOs are alien spacecraft."

I don't see the problem with "some UFOs are alien spacecraft." Serious researchers like Friedman, after exhausting all other conventional explanations for UFOs, should be allowed to hedge their bets in this fashion without getting any grief from you.

Don't tell us that ETH is "out of touch with modern science" when you know damn well that science has dropped the ball when it comes to UFOs.

Paul Kimball said...

Serious researchers like Friedman, after exhausting all other conventional explanations for UFOs, should be allowed to hedge their bets in this fashion without getting any grief from you.

Wow, if that's what passes for logical reasoning in the pro-ET camp, you're in worse trouble than I thought.

SO, we should just cut Friedman et al some slack, and accept their proclamations (made without definitive evidence), because... they've been at it so long; it's the best that they could do; we want to believe?

No thanks.

I've written here - and you folks should really read what I write before taking me to task for it - that of all the non-prosaic explanations on offer, I personally find the ETH the most likely. The difference between Friedman and myself, or you and me, is that I don't pretend that this is a proven fact when it isn't.

As for science dropping the ball, I would say the exact same - and worse - to the ET supporters, who have built a house of cards based on nothing more than the will to believe, and, as the years have worn on, the laziness or intellectual inability (or both) to keep an open mind to other possibilities.

Everytime an ETH as ETFact supporter spreads that gospel to the general public, they move the study of the UFO phenomenon further and further from anything remotely approaching a serious scientific or historical inquiry. They should take a long look at themselves in the mirror, because they are as much as part of the problem as as someone like Edward Condon was.

Mike B said...

"Everytime an ETH as ETFact supporter spreads that gospel to the general public, they move the study of the UFO phenomenon further and further from anything remotely approaching a serious scientific or historical inquiry."

Oh, fiddle-de-dee! That's just rhetoric, sir. If there's an absence of serious and well-funded UFO studies, please assign responsibility to those who deserve it most--our government, the major media, our scientific institutions, academia and other usual suspects.

As for a serious historical inquiry into UFOs, I thought that angle was being well-covered by Richard Dolan. If you have any objections to HIS work, well, I'm sure we'll hear about it sooner or later.

Paul Kimball said...

It's not rhetoric... the rhetoric has been coming from the ETH as ETFact side for decades now. And to blame the government and the media is getting pretty stale, especially when it comes from the folks who have made ufology a laughing stock in most polite circles. But it sells books, and keeps the converted happy, so why mess with a good thing I suppose?

As for Rich Dolan, I've made my views about his work known some time ago. Ironically, I was pounded by some of the pro-ETFacter Fans for doing so. What they didn't realize - and still don't - is that guys like Friedman were far more critical of Dolan's work, but wouldn't say it in public.