A UFO by any other name would sound less crazy
May 1, 2021 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Not a UFOlogist, but it's been a long trip since people started seeing things in the sky and wanting to believe they were there for a reason. Recently the U.S. government, after years of denial, has sort-of-centralized reporting on UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena). For Those Who Want To Believe and Those Who Want To Disprove rages on, as the Unidentifed Aerial Phenomena Task Force report, expected in June 2021, will be probably just one more light in the sky to debate about. posted by lon_star (65 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
I Want To Believe But Am Keenly Aware That The Speed Of Light Sucks doesn't really roll off the tongue or fit on a T-shirt sadly.
posted by mhoye at 4:01 PM on May 1 [19 favorites]


I had a UFO sighting in 2001. Was on a balcony with my gf and we were looking at the stars (or what stars you can see from a city balcony). Saw one moving and, by itself, would just look like a plane or maybe a satellite. But then we noticed 4-5 other points of light across the sky doing the same thing, all converging together from different directions. When they came together, they spiralled around each other (think Orion Pictures' logo animation) then shot off in different directions. We both looked at each other, giddy, and asked, "Did you see that?" Definitely an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.

If I'd seen it today, my first thought would be "drones." But in 2001? Small civilian drones weren't really a thing in 2001 - DJI wasn't founded until 2006. Was this a tech firm testing something that wouldn't be publicly released for another half-decade? Government testing? Aliens is really far down my list of suspects, but I'm enough of a plane spotter to know it wasn't an airplane. And the way they interacted means if it was a satellite, I saw something really, really weird going on.
posted by thecjm at 4:17 PM on May 1 [13 favorites]


I think what's striking about this whole recent craze about UFOs is how thin it all is. As this New Yorker article shows, this is how it came about:

*A really looney tunes billionaire named Robert Bigelow leans on a US Senator to get a few dollars appropriated to study his pet projects. Bigelow is someone into bonkers theories about Bigfoot, cattle mutilation, life after death, all sorts of paranormal claptrap.

*The senator, Harry Reid, listens to him. Bigelow is a billionaire, Reid is a politician, so of course he does. So he creates a program for what at the governmental level is pennies.

*At first, those pennies are used to study all manner of absurdities, and releasing the report would be just utterly embarrassing. But a more competent guy named Luis Elizondo takes over and focuses it a bit.

*Elizondo doesn't really get anywhere, though. So he leaks the best evidence to a reporter, who gets it published in the NY Times, and then he leaves government and goes to work for... a rock star from Blink 182 who has long been obsessed with aliens. All to try to push the alien thing farther. He goes on a big media tour, TV interviews, etc., anything to get attention to his pet issue.

*But because of the media attention, the government is backed into a corner and has to get more formal about it. So they do that, and we're currently waiting on the report.

So the question is... what is this evidence that got reported in the NYT? Unfortunately, it's a whole lot of nothing. The New Yorker article briefly mentions Mick West, though doesn't go into details. But West has pretty persuasively debunked the videos that have been the source of the recent UFO craze.

Here's his full playlist breaking down the debunking.

And if you don't have all that time, here are simple videos about each of the three claimed UFOs.

GoFast
Gimbal
Flir

I think what's most interesting is not the aliens but how the "aliens" affect people. The New Yorker article's depiction of Leslie Kean is a good example. Here is a sensible, intelligent, methodical investigator. But she gets interested in the issue, gets hooked in, and now any time there's a UFO "video," she excitedly says "Breaking, huge story!" Buuuuut... the huge story is total nonsense that is debunked by Mick West in five minutes. I think Elizondo is likely the same -- a smart competent person, but this issue is just too juicy, and few people are experts in everything needed to analyze the UFO evidence (camera technology, optics, parallax, digital processing, military equipment, brain sensory perception, memory, psychology, etc.), and their ancient yearning for an existence beyond the here-and-now takes over.
posted by lewedswiver at 4:32 PM on May 1 [51 favorites]


I mean, aliens are out there, but they’re too far away from us for contact to ever happen. Probably, right? And maybe we’re the old, ancient ones? Maybe there’ll be caveman aliens coming out of their extraterrestrial caves in a million years, and we’ll be the ones in the UFOs—if we’re lucky. Right, gang?
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 4:36 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]


hey lewedswiver can you come to all my parties and then ruin them
posted by Bwentman at 4:50 PM on May 1 [22 favorites]


People put too much faith in the idea that the Speed of Light is an insurmountable barrier. That's a human calculation and we don't know if it's absolutely true.

The question for now is: Whether these are actual UFOs or not, why are they now telling us about them?
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:32 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]


Mick West is an absolute treasure.
posted by jjwiseman at 5:33 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]





I think what's striking about this whole recent craze about UFOs is how thin it all is..
So the question is... what is this evidence that got reported in the NYT? Unfortunately, it's a whole lot of nothing.


What about all the eye witness stuff? Also nothing?
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:43 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]


lets stay here!
posted by robbyrobs at 5:45 PM on May 1




*A really looney tunes billionaire named Robert Bigelow leans on a US Senator to get a few dollars appropriated to study his pet projects. Bigelow is someone into bonkers theories about Bigfoot, cattle mutilation, life after death, all sorts of paranormal claptrap.

he creates a program for what at the governmental level is pennies.

*At first, those pennies are used to study all manner of absurdities, and releasing the report would be just utterly embarrassing.
That's how all of the best paranormal investigation agencies get their start
posted by Apocryphon at 5:57 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


The universe is vast and old. It is improbable that we are the only intelligent civilization there is. Yes, speed of light is a real barrier. But we have theorized about wormholes, warp drives and the like that side step these barriers allowing for inter galactic travel without violating laws of physics. The fact that we haven't yet been able to harness the energy required to actualize these don't mean that no one else can. And even this is just based on the physics we have discovered so far.
posted by asra at 6:02 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


>What about all the eye witness stuff? Also nothing?

One of the most frustrating things for believers to hear is that "you can't believe your eyes." Unfortunately, it's the case. I hope to hell that everyone who ever serves on a jury puts the most minimal amount of faith in eyewitness testimony, because countless people have had their lives destroyed because of it. The eye sees one thing, the brain processes it, the mind interprets it, and the memory distorts it.

If we actually look at the eyewitness testimony of the Nimitz event, it's all over the place. Very basic details like when it happened, where it happened, and what the object did are mutually contradictory.

It probably sounds a bit absurd that a major expert like a military pilot would radically misinterpret things as basic as his own equipment or eyes, when that's literally what he's a professional in. But it's certainly possible. In 2014 the Chilean military released a video of a UFO, claiming that after detailed study they couldn't figure out what it was. But within a few days, the internet figured out not just that the video was of a plane -- but they found the specific flight path that lined up with the plane.

Sometimes people's eyes deceive them. Sometimes people just want to believe.
posted by lewedswiver at 6:11 PM on May 1 [20 favorites]


What's the point about getting excited about weird vague stuff you saw in the sky and can't really tell what it was? I will probably not believe any alien sightings until one actually lands its spaceship in front of humans and someone films it.

(Though I continue to be grateful that if aliens exist, they didn't out themselves during the Trump administration.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:16 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]


I just need to pop in and remind everyone what UFO stands for. If a light in the sky were definitively identified as an extraterrestrial vessel it would no long be a UFO because, like, it would have been identified.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:25 PM on May 1 [14 favorites]


Here's a wonderful example of just how unreliable the human eyes (and brain) can be.
posted by PhineasGage at 6:51 PM on May 1 [6 favorites]


hey lewedswiver can you come to all my parties and then ruin them

Let me do lewedswiver one better: Did you notice how the moment decent cameras found their way into cellphones we stopped hearing about alien abductions and started learning a lot more about police brutality?
posted by mhoye at 7:03 PM on May 1 [67 favorites]


> But we have theorized about wormholes, warp drives and the like that side step these barriers allowing for inter galactic travel without violating laws of physics.

Yup, but even if it's theoretically possible this kind of travel would emit HUGE amounts of energy. A jet plane might seem like magic to uncontacted forest dwelling indigenous people, but it still makes a lot of noise. And we're not hearing any. Yeah, the aliens might have cloaking tech, but at that point we're just going further and further away from Occam's razor.
posted by Tom-B at 7:43 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


If a light in the sky were definitively identified as an extraterrestrial vessel it would no long be a UFO because, like, it would have been identified.

Yeah obviously. But how would it be determined to be extraterrestrial?
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:45 PM on May 1


Yup, but even if it's theoretically possible this kind of travel would emit HUGE amounts of energy. A jet plane might seem like magic to uncontacted forest dwelling indigenous people, but it still makes a lot of noise. And we're not hearing any. Yeah, the aliens might have cloaking tech, but at that point we're just going further and further away from Occam's razor.

Once again, that's a human way of thinking, which is based on earthly ideas. And yes we're humans so that's how we have to think ...but we may be wrong.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:50 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]


Also, is this the thread where we tell our UFO stories? I was driving on a deserted two lane road one night with a friend, when we saw 3 vertically aligned lights in the sky, but CLOSE, and slowly descending. At one point, the middle light split in two, moving horizontally to make a perfect rhombus.

I pulled over, super excited, we got out like WHOA, this is really happening. We'd waited all our lives to see something like that, and now it was happening!!!

With the headlights off, we could make out a dark mass in the middle of the rhombus. It was the Goodyear blimp landing in the outskirts of the city. Not at an airport though. It had lights on the top, bottom, front and back. We had seen it straight on, and it later turned as it was landing. The UFO became an IFO, but it took a long time for the adrenaline to wear off!
posted by Tom-B at 7:57 PM on May 1 [26 favorites]


Also, is this the thread where we tell our UFO stories

YES please
posted by Ahmad Khani at 8:06 PM on May 1 [10 favorites]


> Once again, that's a human way of thinking, which is based on earthly ideas. And yes we're humans so that's how we have to think ...but we may be wrong.

I hear you man, I want to believe too.
posted by Tom-B at 8:38 PM on May 1


I never saw any UFO's, experienced missing time, or had any contact with mysterious messenger owls; however, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claims Lockheed Martin has pieces of alien wreckage the Pentagon won't let him look at: Harry Reid.

Is he BSing to help his military contractor buddies grift off a program he set up? Is he telling the truth? Is there classification beyond which even the President doesn't have access?

My browser crashed just before making this post, but I recreated it just for all of you. Because I love you all. The truth is out there.
posted by eagles123 at 8:54 PM on May 1 [5 favorites]


Yes, speed of light is a real barrier. But we have theorized about wormholes, warp drives and the like that side step these barriers allowing for inter galactic travel without violating laws of physics. The fact that we haven't yet been able to harness the energy required to actualize these don't mean that no one else can. And even this is just based on the physics we have discovered so far.

God (or perhaps gods) is/are so fucking far ahead of us on all of this. Even if you don't believe. I mean, I don't believe in superheroes but they keep making movies.
posted by philip-random at 10:12 PM on May 1


Also, is this the thread where we tell our UFO stories
YES please


i do not tell these stories, though i have playfully referred to an occasion (or two) of seeing something ludicrous in a report of suspicious activity penned upon first spying the homeland security blimp um securing the homeland (?), and have doodled impressions of that and of something else encountered on another occasion. there is little to tell: i saw something driving alone on the highway once, just before passing under an overpass related to an exit i had just passed at an inadvisable speed, and did not (further) endanger myself or any other motorists (much) by trying to suddenly stop, go back and get a better look. on the other occasion another party was present; to this day that party declines, with some hostility, to discuss it. not certain that either could be properly, confidently, described either as an object or as flying: both appeared to be things; both appeared to be in the air. best explanation of the latter case, some sort of drone though moving very oddly. (best explanation of the former: something incomprehensible -- or merely uncomprehended -- was there and my mind replaced it with a recognizable simulacrum of the unknown, as it had been conditioned to do by decades of watching movies?)

i wouldn't mind if there were space to discuss things seen and not comprehended without the, so far, unnecessary and unwarranted association of the question(s) of aliens.
posted by 20 year lurk at 10:29 PM on May 1


I haven’t had straight-up visual hallucinations without the aid of chemicals, but I have auditory hallucinations fairly regularly, to the point that I’ve been able to reproduce them and witness my brain overfitting ambiguous inputs into a coherent (but fabricated) reality.

This isn’t to dismiss anyone’s experience or the possibility of things beyond the mundane, but there really is a huge amount of stuff going on between what your senses take in and what your brain perceives.
posted by bjrubble at 10:53 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]


Speculating about future/alien physics which would allow for overcoming the speed of light does not make the existence of aliens visiting us more plausible. It makes them less plausible by revealing the wishful thinking underpinning them, because they ever only go in one direction. Here, I too can speculate: perhaps our earthly, limited, human way of thinking makes us unaware that maybe all wormholes will immediately collapse when we enter them, the warp speed will drive will instantly annihilate us, the fabric of the universe itself prevents the covering of long distances, etc. Maybe the future/alien physicists know that there are actually many more blocks to interstellar travel than just the speed of light. Why would this speculation about magic physics which prevents space travel be inherently more speculative than speculation about of magic physics which allows for it?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:46 PM on May 1 [8 favorites]


People put too much faith in the idea that the Speed of Light is an insurmountable barrier. That's a human calculation and we don't know if it's absolutely true.

That belief is founded on reams of physical evidence and observations of astrophysical phenomena at essentially all energy scales, not just some human calculation.

That said, the speed of light isn't terribly limiting if you just want to go somewhere and can build a ship that can sustain constant acceleration for years at a time. You can get to essentially anywhere in the observable universe within a human lifetime, as long as you don't mind that time will be passing a lot faster for the rest of the universe than it will be for you.
posted by wierdo at 1:15 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


People put too much faith in the idea that the Speed of Light is an insurmountable barrier. That's a human calculation and we don't know if it's absolutely true.

This is true. Also true is that I might win the lotto jackpot. Not true is that I will make paintings like (insert paradigm of painterly skill/emotion here) or play harmonica like (again, but for musicians).

Yes, empirically, light is a constant - and a fundamental building block of our understanding of physics. But our brains/way of cognition is not necessarily the only one. And, it could well be that for a different way of cognition, C is not constant. That said, it's what we've got to work with right now, so, you know - it'd be dumb to pretend it isn't, unless you've got a better idea and can prove it.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:00 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


I like to think there are other intelligent civilizations that existed....millions or billions of years ago. Or that there will be, millions or billions of years from now. The probability of us connecting with them or them with us is impossible because of time, as well as distance. Perhaps after humans are gone, someone will visit this planet. The timing of them visiting Earth when we're not here is far more likely than when we are here.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:40 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claims Lockheed Martin has pieces of alien wreckage the Pentagon won't let him look at

Occam's Razor says it's more likely that Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works has wreckage from one of their many top secret experimental military projects that the Pentagon won't let him look at.
posted by kersplunk at 5:40 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]


I find this explanation a LOT more plausible, especially given the Trump administration’s efforts to decimate our intelligence communities:

The U.S. military seems aloof to the fact that it's being toyed with by a terrestrial adversary and key capabilities may be compromised as a result.
posted by chinese_fashion at 5:44 AM on May 2 [9 favorites]


From chinese_fashion's linked article:
And that brings us to one of the biggest problems with this topic, as a whole—people expect one blanket and grand explanation for the entire UFO mystery to one day emerge. This is flawed thinking at its core.
Not sure there's much more that could usefully be added to that.
posted by flabdablet at 5:58 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]


I wonder if the “UFOs = aliens = anal probes = crackpot delusions” meme originated entirely organically, or whether it will emerge in a few years that the seeds were the product of a specific KGB operation to provide a memetic cloak for intelligence-gathering operations, a cloak that outlasted the KGB and the USSR. Perhaps they came up with the folklore (MJ-12/Operation Majority, Greys/Reptoids/the aliens that look creepily like Aryan Supermen, Zeta Reticuli identified as the aliens' home world, tie-ins to nefarious programmes that look sufficiently like publicly-known MKULTRA details to be plausible, and so on) and laundered it through groups identified as Wanting To Believe?
posted by acb at 6:54 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


i'm not saying it's russians
posted by flabdablet at 7:21 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Also from chinese_fashion's linked article:
… a very terrestrial adversary is toying with us in our own backyard using relatively simple technologies—drones and balloons—and making off with what could be the biggest intelligence haul of a generation.
I'm tempted to say that turnabout is fair play.
posted by scruss at 7:28 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]



I wonder if the “UFOs = aliens = anal probes = crackpot delusions” meme originated entirely organically, or whether it will emerge in a few years that the seeds were the product of a specific KGB operation to provide a memetic cloak for intelligence-gathering operations,


During the cold war both sides used the UFO phenomenon as a cover for their secret planes and spy programs, and to keep people watching the skies for the enemy planes. The US and Russia both knew there was a genuine unexplained UFO phenomenon happening which neither of them understood, but didn't mind exploiting to explain their own secret test flights of aircraft. Meanwhile denying that the UFO was real in the first place. I don't know how much of that is still in play today, but it seems the actual phenomenon remains real regardless of whether these videos are.
Check out the book Mirage Men if you're interested in this.
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:33 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


> for a different way of cognition, C is not constant

That's not how physics works. The speed of light is not an opinion.
posted by Tom-B at 12:27 PM on May 2 [12 favorites]


I maintain that "unidentified" might simply mean, "Correct, we are not identifying them for you." The skunkworks for branch A of the military isn't showing their cards to the skunkworks for branch B of the military.
posted by emelenjr at 2:24 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


(Though I continue to be grateful that if aliens exist, they didn't out themselves during the Trump administration.)

Apart from cloaked Shoggoth Trump, that is...
posted by y2karl at 2:32 PM on May 2


The New Yorker article briefly mentions Mick West

Isn't the piece more generous to West then that? He gets several paragraphs of biography, and this observation: "West is a thoughtful, intelligent man. His e-mails feature numbered and lettered lists and light math. Everything he told me was perfectly persuasive..."

Lewis-Kraus' only criticism of him is for taking the fun out of things, or for not understanding why people might not appreciate having their odd ideas debunked. That strikes me as a fair and humane critique, while also leaving West's work still standing.

In contrast, the article devotes more pixels to Dean, mostly positive... except when it comes to West, and there Dean can't rebut his charges. Again, she finds him to be a spoilersport:
"'If Mick were really interested in this stuff, he wouldn’t debunk every single video,' she said, almost pityingly. 'He would admit that at least some of them are genuinely weird.'”

I don't know Lewis-Kraus or his other writing, but in this article he sets up West and Dean as balanced foils.
posted by doctornemo at 2:38 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


it could well be that for a different way of cognition, C is not constant.

. . . what?
posted by Think_Long at 2:39 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


(Sorry, that's Leslie Kean, not Dean.)
posted by doctornemo at 2:55 PM on May 2


I remember in the 90's, at work, I met a woman who was promoting this beautiful, expensive hardcover book, with lots of color photographs, on cattle mutilations. For the coffee table I suppose. Rather, for the serious student of the phenomenon; a few years before the Internet was common, probably an important resource, in fact. I wonder how many sold?
posted by thelonius at 3:22 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Yes, speed of light is a real barrier. But we have theorized about wormholes, warp drives and the like that side step these barriers allowing for inter galactic travel without violating laws of physics

The speed of light isn't an insurmountable spoiler to interstellar travel. It just looks that way to an impatient relatively short lived species like humans.

If Greenland sharks were the dominant species on theis planet and were at our technological level they could spend 400 years in transit to the nearest stars and still have a century to mess around at the destination.

A species capable of true indeterminate hibernation might be able to send themselves on ten thousand year journeys to neighbouring systems and have a full life time at the destination. Nothing interested at the destination? Launch your slow boat again and try the next system.

Even humans, if we treated it like a cathedral project, could be sending probes to local stars. If the results weren't known for a thousand years? *shrug*.

Not to say I think any of the UFOs are aliens. And I've seen a UFO in the technical sense.
posted by Mitheral at 3:31 PM on May 2 [3 favorites]


This weekend I listened to NPR On The Media, usually good, give a long uncritical interview to a physicist named Avi Loeb who claims ‘Oumuamua (the elongated object that passed through our solar system) is aliens. Not like anything we’ve seen , something something lightsail, twiddle twaddle math, therefore aliens. He has a nice glossy book about it. Which just shows that very intelligent people can be full of shit because they want to believe so badly.
posted by freecellwizard at 3:33 PM on May 2 [3 favorites]


Did you notice how the moment decent cameras found their way into cellphones we stopped hearing about alien abductions and started learning a lot more about police brutality?

I'm not a believer in UFOs (or, rather, I should say I am, because there are plenty of unidentified flying objects, but I'm not a believer in space aliens/dimensional beings...yet). But this cell phone argument I hear constantly these days is lazy and rather silly. IF these spacecraft exist*, one characteristic common to just about all of them is that they are a) far away from the observer, probably by many, many miles, b) they move extremely fast, and c) they often appear at night.

Take out your cell phone and go outside and look for the next airplane that flies by. Or a bird. Take a video. Put that video on your computer and see what the quality is like. Not great, right? Your phone likely has a wide-angle lens with a focal point set to infinity. Zoom in and it's shaky and unwatchable. Hell, just try to get a picture of a bird standing perfectly still in a tree; it's no accident that nature photographers have massive zoom lenses and tripods. How about the speed of UFOs? Again, your cell phone isn't going to get that clearly with no zoom and no tripod. And all of that in low or zero light?

Maybe, maybe within the last five years or so, cell phone cameras have upped their game, but in general a cell phone just isn't equipped for this kind of thing.

*I am playing devil's advocate here; this is all based on the assumption that at least some UFOs are craft of some kind, which I don't have evidence for and don't believe.
posted by zardoz at 3:54 PM on May 2 [5 favorites]


Ironically, all my "UFO" experiences have done is convince me that people are very susceptible to optical illusions, especially at night when viewing objects at a great distance with no frame of reference as to the actual size or distance of the object.
posted by wierdo at 4:42 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Even humans, if we treated it like a cathedral project, could be sending probes to local stars. If the results weren't known for a thousand years? *shrug*.

Well...no, we haven't worked out the oxygen/food kinks for a journey THAT long but I hear you that we haven't put all our money in that project yet.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:26 PM on May 2


My favorite UFO/UAP story is the black triangle that was spotted in Southern Illinois. 7 separate eyewitnesses, including 4 LEOs across 4 jurisdictions, all saw a giant hovering triangle that was completely silent and just floated on its way. Art Bell played the 911 dispatcher calls on at least one of his shows.

I want to believe.

That we have silent hovercraft drones.
posted by ryoshu at 6:28 PM on May 2


we haven't worked out the oxygen/food kinks for a journey THAT long

I was thinking more of robots/automated probes.
posted by Mitheral at 7:03 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


I think the biggest barrier to the aliens visiting us is that we just aren’t as interesting to them as we think we are.
posted by azpenguin at 7:27 PM on May 2


it could well be that for a different way of cognition, C is not constant.

. . . what?
posted by Think_Long at 2:39 PM on May 2 [2 favorites +] [!]


I know, I know. I mean it as a thought experiment: What is the equivalent of 'C' for an octopus? How about for a slime-mold? To assume that the way we understand the universe is the definitive model is ... naive. Isn't it? (insert reference to Diamond's anecdote about Atahualpa's first encounter with Cortes' cavalry and guns here.)

That said, I don't imagine FTL space travel is something we just have to bend our minds around to understand. If there's some way 'around' it, and not hibernation - I mean like Alubierre Drive, science (where C is constant) will get us there.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:44 AM on May 3


I think the failure of imagination is more the idea that aliens capable of crossing interstellar distances would manifest in the form of material, human-scale craft zipping around in our atmosphere.

It’s certainly possible but even the current level of our own technology — which can’t even conceive of a viable way to cross the stars — is already near the point where it’s not only possible but easier to perform terrestrial exploration via invisibly small or undetectably remote mechanisms.

Parsimony would suggest that Atlanteans or Moon Nazis (which is really what Cortez was) long before ET.
posted by bjrubble at 8:25 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


Moon Nazis are totally a thing.
posted by flabdablet at 8:42 AM on May 3


That's not how physics works. The speed of light is not an opinion.

Generally, I agree - hence the "quiet / empty universe". Of course - there are other arguments - typically in speculative science fiction. Are we in the real universe, or a simulation?

Or... some schools of thought entertain that the way that we prove/think about our physical laws may actually be limiting the choices because of our quantum observation and general/species-level agreement on observed results. (Greg Egan - Quarantine) Possibly even collapsing states between multiverses by making choices (Neal Stephenson - Anathem)

Any of those could *in-theory* provide some level of explanation of the silence - but this is more of a "I want to believe", whereas the cold hard reality is that our society and everything in it is built on our understanding and exploitation of physical/universal laws as we currently understand them.
posted by rozcakj at 10:25 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


If the speed of light was not a fundamental law of physics - we wouldn't be able to experiment with it.

My opinion on the silence of the universe is similar to how we are progressing with our own telecommunications.
When radio was first invented - we used it extremely inefficiently at high energy cost. As our technology progressed (thanks Hedy Lamarr for spread-spectrum) we started to use radio at lower power, split across a wide-range of frequencies - and then even further with data encoding. Listening to these essentially sounds like noise to outside observers - and they don't travel that far. Any high-technology alien civilizations would also likely be using technology that sounds like noise. Or even using lasers/optical encoding for communications means that you have know exactly where the endpoints are, and that over a sufficiently large distance, that also becomes light-noise.

Next - if we ever crack quantum communications, then those would become essentially undetectable.

Given our own propensity for looking ever inwards, why would alien civilizations be any different? In that MeFi link, I think Ver's comment link sums that up quite well. (Looking at you MeFi's own cstross with Accelerando without the actual links to others...)
posted by rozcakj at 10:44 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


Somewhat related to the navel-gazing speculation, there's a case to be made that we're unlikely to avoid self-annihilation without essentially hacking ourselves, addressing our own biological proclivities toward those sorts of outcomes.

But the relentless drive toward expansion that underlies the basic logic of the Fermi Paradox is also a biological proclivity, and arguably one of the major ones that would need taming in order to avoid us all killing each other.

In that sense, complaining about civilization "disappearing up its own brainstem" is not just provincially blinkered but in fact exactly wrong in terms of long-term survival of the species*.

* Which itself is a goal that seems pretty rooted in our nature as carriers of selfish genes; can you really say that a species going extinct because they genuinely accomplished everything they wanted is a failure?
posted by bjrubble at 2:24 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


>>Also, is this the thread where we tell our UFO stories

>YES please


If you insist.

This is the one I remember and I classify it as UFO, since it was Unidentified TO ME.

We lived out in the middle of nowhere Colorado for most of my teen years. The closest grocery store was an hour away. We had zero light pollution. In fact, I finally understood why it was called the Milky Way now that I could see the arms of the galaxy.

Anyway, all of this is to point out that sibling and I were driving to $Town after dark when we saw something go straight from our left peripheral vision to directly in front of us AND STOP. And, then shot straight up. We had seen enough satellites, planes, etc. that we could typically figure out what was happening by the lights on the machine. This was completely different.

We lived close enough to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs (and had very low population... think double digits) where they did training exercises near us. It was not uncommon to see them just barely skirt the electric poles.

I am guessing it was something AFA related. Yet... never saw anything like that again in the almost decade I lived there.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 6:27 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


>>Also, is this the thread where we tell our UFO stories

Well - this was told to me by a friend - it was a dark night, in the middle of the country - rural Ontario Canada - no airforce bases or airports anywhere close by. Her and her mother were driving home from an event in town. Their vehicle started encountering electrical problems, and shutdown coasting to a stop. Then, flying overhead, shining directly onto them was an extremely bright light - illuminating the entire vehicle and plenty of road. After a minute or so, it turned off. They were then able to start the car and drive home with no more issues.

She loved to tell that story as: "the night my mother and I were rejected by aliens". (Circa late-80's, early 90's)
posted by rozcakj at 5:13 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


mashed potatoes are back on the menu, boys
posted by thelonius at 5:14 AM on May 4 [4 favorites]


The thing is, the DoD has admitted that previous UFO flaps were disinformation campaigns. And now even with this information, when the DoD says "Look! UFOs!”, people are STILL jumping at the bait.

It's no wonder we had so much trouble with anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers. PT Barnum was a fucking optimist.
posted by happyroach at 2:08 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


I wonder if the “UFOs = aliens = anal probes = crackpot delusions” meme originated entirely organically, or whether it will emerge in a few years that the seeds were the product of a specific KGB operation to provide a memetic cloak for intelligence-gathering operations,

Wrong secret agency.

Betty and Barney Hill never saw any UFOs, but can you guess which agency had a vested interest in discrediting an interracial couple working for colored rights, and the same agency also have been caught dosing innocent people with LSD?
posted by ymgve at 7:15 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


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