This morning I thought of a rather strong presumptive reason not to believe that UFOs are really visiting Earth: The total lack of radio communication between alleged alien spaceships. You would think that aliens, like humans, would communicate over radio frequencies, so why aren’t they?
Am I missing something here?
It does no good to say that the aliens might not have ears to hear things, for presumably they would still at least need to send images and textual messages between them, right?
Isn’t it the presumption of SETI (for example) that alien civilizations, however advanced, will presumably send at least some of their communication signals via radio waves (as we do)? In other words, why don’t we intercept the alien Internet and observe them on their alien cell phones Twittering and texting? I mean, if they’ve got spacecraft, and hands for steering them, and fingers for pushing spacecraft console buttons (like we do), why don’t they have cellphones?
I’m not trying to be flippant. I recognize that alien abductees claim that the aliens they encounter seem to communicate to them via some sort of mental telepathy, but does this then mean that, to be a believer in UFOs, one must logically couple that belief with the belief that aliens are communicating with one another via channels that are telepathic? Isn’t that a rather large leap of faith? That would add a whole new level of difficulty to believing the ET hypothesis. In other words, without the added telepathy hypothesis, it would seem that our solar system should be buzzing with local extraterrestrial radio communications. Afterall, if ETs need giant lights on their spaceships and big eyes to look around and interpret light waves, why don’t they need to interpret audio waves, or to send radio signals (at least some of the time) to communicate information among themselves? I’m just not sure that telepathy is an adequate retort to this question. It would seem to be an ad hoc rationalization after the fact—a dubious explanation to salvage an already fantastic hypothesis.
And this raises a larger issue. For me, one of the most serious problems of the extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFO phenomena is what it does to science. To believe the standard UFO narrative would seem to have to hypothesize a civilization so far in advance of our own that it can do things that would seem to us, based on our current knowledge, to be not just wildly improbable, but perhaps even physically impossible:
- Aliens can span the stars and perhaps even galaxies via time travel
- They can move in and out of dimensions
- They can communicate mind to mind without voice or radio waves
- Effortlessly and silently, they can levitate and hover
Isn’t this another way of saying that they might just as well be fairies, angels, or demons? I admit that it is not logically impossible that some far-advanced civilization has figured out how to be magical or occult to us even as they are, in fact, obeying the physical laws of the universe. It may be that the aliens are to us as we would appear to, say, ancient Romans: a horrifically magical and occultic group of beings. Of course, we know about ourselves that we never actually violate any physical laws, but we could certainly perplex ancient Romans with our technology. Romans would certainly see us as possessing occult knowledge, and the aliens may seem this way to us also, without the least violation of the highest science.
But it’s hard to embrace the alien hypothesis without throwing out everything you think science knows about how the universe works. It’s a complete paradigm shatterer of a great deal of slow gathered and hard won scientific knowledge. And so it becomes self-referential and circular to fully embrace it, for it’s hard to imagine, once you believe it, how you would disconfirm it. It’s not, to put it politely, a conservative hypothesis. Instead, it’s more akin to a religious leap, an all-encompassing worldview that, in its explanatory framework, appears to embrace evidence, science, technology, and human reason. But in reality, it makes all four of these things highly problematic.
UFOlogy makes sense in parts, and seemingly has inspirational views of science and the human future, but it has enormous difficulties as an intellectual whole. And so those parts that do make sense—for example, the often compelling eyewitness testimony of UFOs—have to be balanced, by any sensible person, with the glaring difficulties of sense that UFO belief draws you into.
Like Freudianism, conservative Christianity, or any other self-referential and closed intellectual system, you’ve got to, in certain crucial ways, believe in UFOs a priori and then make the world fit your belief. In other words, you have to find the explanation so intuitively compelling and pleasing that you simply embrace it whole and abandon what the conventionally secular scientific and legal world would embrace as sound avenues of reasoning and proper evidence. The UFO hypothesis is not a conservative or falsifiable hypothesis, and it is not a simple “Occam’s razor” type of explanation. It is only superficially simple: “People think that they’re seeing alien spacecraft because they are.” In fact, the more I think about it, the more I have come to feel that it begs as many questions as it answers.
Still, I’d like to believe that we’re being visited by aliens. If true, how cool is that? But the reality is that the extraterrestrial hypothesis has enormous problems with coherence. And unless a UFO unmistakably and very publicly manifests itself to humanity, and the aliens in it explain themselves to us, it appears to me that UFOlogy will continue to have difficulty breaking into the realms of respectable university-level discourse, especially among scientists, who are an especially skeptical and unforgiving lot. It is true that government scientists, in a very classified program, may know more about UFOs than the rest of us, but this is positing another level of speculation, and what they might know, they ain’t talking about. In the civilian realm, whatever bits and pieces of eyewitness testimony and brief and spectral sightings UFOlogists document, reasonable people will still have to have strong doubts concerning the “ET saucers” hypothesis.
In short, the ET hypothesis is such an enormous paradigm shift that the evidence for it must be, for reasonable people, overwhelming and compelling. Otherwise, there is little warrant for such a shift. Short of a very public UFO crash, a monolith discovered on the moon ala Kubrick’s 2001, or some other similarly spectacular and mind-boggling event, it is unlikely that UFOlogy is going to have all that many highly educated adherents. How can it? The UFO movement precedes the historical discontinuity that would fully justify it. Roswell may be the metaphorical voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way for a paradigm shift!” And some might believe early the voice of those preaching about what happened in the New Mexico wilderness. But the Big Event, the clear discontinuity obvious to everyone, has not yet come. A saucer must be lifted up.