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Can We Handle the Truth?
Congress holds hearings on UFOs. What would we ever do if they found out they were real?
“There's a Starman waiting in the sky, he'd like to come and meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds.” -Ziggy Stardust
A couple of years ago I was working on material that I thought might develop into a podcast about UFOs (or UAPs now). I didn't end up doing the show because, as is so often the case with this subject, the evidence trail disappears at some point and we are all left speculating and going on flights of fancy. I found this unsatisfying (and frankly not that different from most of the other media discussions/portrayals of this subject).
Fast forward to today and we have bi-partisan congressional hearings on the subject going on as I type these words, with experts and witnesses testifying under oath about what they know. There are lots of wild revelations, talk of reverse engineering, suppression of witnesses (even via violence) and contact with “non-human” entities. This seems like it might be extraordinary, a breakthrough moment perhaps. But it's also possible that, like earlier hopeful moments when we assumed something major was going to happen, this might fizzle out and leave things only slightly different than how they were before the hearings.
Let's set the stage a bit with some context. Humans have been seeing strange things in the sky forever. The “aliens from outer space” idea is much more recent. The vast majority of that idea stems from the 20th Century and the vast majority of that century's interest in the phenomenon stems from the era from the Second World War until now. But to be fair, that is also when humans first started flying a lot.
In the Second World War military airmen reported seeing strange lights, often seemingly trailing them that were dubbed “Foo Fighters” in some circles. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foo_fighter . Pilots often thought these were something that originated from Axis adversaries rather than extraterrestrials. Official government statements blamed most of these sightings on natural phenomenon (electrostatic activity for example).
After the war the Flying Saucer phenomenon began in earnest and picked up momentum in terms of the number and frequency of sightings and reports. Photos appeared in books and newspapers and the media started using the sightings as fodder for all manner of scary “men from Mars” style movies, pulp fiction stories, comic books and TV shows. This went hand in hand with a general attitude that people who reported seeing such objects (or worse, having any sort of real contact with them or the potential life forms who may have been piloting them) were either lying, deluded or mistaken. The now much maligned explanations by the authorities of everything from swamp gas to weather balloons to meteorological occurrences often followed such UFO encounters.
By the 1960s though, with human space travel starting, the conversations about UFOs became a bit more serious. After all, if we could go to space why couldn't entities from other worlds do the same? The scope of the universe also began to come into play, with mathematics weighing in on the probability of intelligent life elsewhere. Terms like “The Fermi Paradox” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox) and “The Drake Equation” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation ) began to be thrown around in discussions of the possibility of intelligent life in the universe. The basic idea of all those formulas is that there are so many planets in the universe that the odds of none of them having life-friendly conditions seems impossible. This then leads to other theories that try to understand why, if there are so many worlds capable of supporting life out there we wouldn't be seeing aliens. (see “The Great Filter” for more https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Filter )
The increase in the seriousness with which the idea was being taken since the 1960s changed the media portrayal as well. Entertainment with UFOs as the subject matter began to explore the idea of what contact with real life extraterrestrials (as opposed to those that might want to eat us for dinner) might be like (Close Encounters of the Third Kind for example). Some even suggested that this was “all part of the plan” of getting humanity accustomed to the idea that aliens were real so that we could be eased into the big moment when information that was already known by some of the powerful governments of the world could be revealed to the people of Earth. Which brings us back to today's congressional hearings.
These latest hearings are happening in part because the evidence is beginning to become more real. The majority of evidence in the past has either involved eyewitness accounts or things like photographic evidence. The former are notoriously unreliable (and easily written off by the authorities) and the latter due to their lack of clarity or conclusiveness either fraudulent or easily dismissed as fraudulent by the authorities. But our instruments are getting better, and human beings are all over the skies and we have satellites monitoring the globe...and we are seeing more. And there's more evidence, hard physical evidence (from video to radar to other electronic data) to add to the eyewitness accounts. Pressure is mounting on governments for better explanations than swamp gas or whether balloons.
This pressure comes in part because of an either/or question that has very important ramifications regardless of the answer. It's becoming harder to say that there is nothing out there. So what is it that is being seen? Clearly it involves extremely advanced technology and capabilities. There are four possible answers to what this might be.
It's us (U.S.-built technology)
It's something made by another Earth power
It is Earth-built tech but from sometime in the future (and here via time travel)
It's something from outside Earth
Any one of these possibilities begs for explanation at this point. Numbers two through four involve potentially existential dangers (number two for the United States and its allies, number three for our chronological reality and number four for Earth's security). Once the cat is out of the bag that something real is out there it becomes harder to not have investigations/explanations into what those things are. Even if the governments of the planet don't want this.
According to the whistleblowers they don't.
So, why not? The anecdotal evidence from whistleblowers suggest that this is the biggest governmental secret of them all. So secret our elected representatives are even prevented from knowing about it. So WHY is it so jealously guarded? Let's start with the famous Roswell Incident ( Roswell )
In 1947 something allegedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. Over the years the story has grown to become one of the best known cases where allegations have been made that the remains of a downed spacecraft (and some allegations say the remains of extraterrestrials) were found and impounded by the U.S. Government. Whether this actually happened or not is impossible to say. But it isn't the only example of a report of downed extraterrestrial vehicles being found and confiscated.
If an Earth government recovered the remains of an alien craft that had crashed, what might it do with it? There have been persistent rumors that this has happened and in this week's hearings there was testimony that alien craft had crashed on Earth and components had been recovered (and biological remains too maybe?) as early as the 1930s. What could scientists learn if they had extraterrestrial craft to study and experiment with? This is where the concept of Reverse Engineering comes into play ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_engineering ). Some have suggested that the extraordinary speed of 20th century innovation is due to things learned by reverse engineering material recovered from alien spacecraft that had crashed on Earth. A congressional whistleblower is testifying under oath as I write this that this is exactly what is going on https://www.newsweek.com/read-ufo-whistleblower-statement-congress-david-grusch-1815486
So, what are we to make of all this? The first thing to recall is the line in Shakespeare's Hamlet “There are more things in Heaven and Earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. So much of the evidence used to argue that extraterrestrials couldn't be here is based on our current understanding of reality. “The distances are too far” is one often used. But because we look at such barriers through what we can envision capabilities to be, we inherently overlook the fact that beings from outside our planet could have capabilities and understandings that we simply cannot grasp or factor into our assessments. In fact, it would be ridiculous to assume otherwise. One account I read once suggested that extraterrestrials possessed elements we do not have on our periodic element tables. If true, this alone shows how limited our assessments of extraterrestrial capabilities might be. We are assessing their limits using our own limits. They very well (likely?) may have ways around any barriers we assume exist.
The problem with talking about this subject is separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of evidence, accounts, sources and publications. Even within publications there can be very credible information mixed in with material that lacks the same level of credulity.It can be hard to parse the data.
When I was considering a show on this topic I had just finished reading UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On The Record by Leslie KeanI enjoyed the book, but felt that I had the same wheat vs chaff problem I usually encountered when dealing with this subject matter. As usual, the vast majority of evidence came from eyewitness accounts. Even if these are credible, they are still easily written off by those who wish to deny them. Usually the august credentials of the eyewitnesses are used as evidence that their reports should be taken more seriously than, say, the farmer who sees the flying saucer over his cornfield. But in terms of deniability it is just too easy for a government (for example) to cite the possibility of human error or fraudulent intent.
But Kean's book has some really interesting material worth pondering. I found her diving into the idea of defensible rationales a government might have for keeping info about the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe secret/classified particularly thought provoking. In order to get into the proper mindset to consider questions like these we have to ask ourselves under what conditions, and for what reasons would we think it was a good idea for our governments to keep secret from the global population the fact that we are not alone in the universe and that our planet is regularly visited by entities from other worlds. The first is obvious: lots of people might die.
There are lots of ways mass death might accompany the revelation that UFOs (or UAPs) were confirmed as genuine extraterrestrial craft. Panic is the easiest to predict (and among UFO “buffs” this is an oft jeered-at reason for keeping a momentous revelation like the existence of extraterrestrial life a secret). But it isn't hard to imagine chaos in the wake of such a disclosure by world governments. Orson Welles' famous 1938 radio production of The War of the Worlds created some level of panic among listeners that the whole affair was a real news report and not a dramatized fictional storyBut Kean's book dives into far more destabilizing aspects to any governmental acknowledgement about the existence of extraterrestrial visitors. Perhaps the three most important are:
The authority of Earth's governments
The impact on religious beliefs and believers
The effect on science and scientific understanding
The authority of Earth's governments
This covers a wide range of things. For example: Reports have existed for many decades of UFOs doing things like deactivating/cutting power to nuclear missiles. To not just theorize about an outside entity rendering our most powerful weapons useless, but to have it confirmed as having happened is a frightening, destabilizing and for governments an emasculating occurrence. The threat to national (or planetary) security is obvious. Humans are panicky creatures anyway. Finding out that there are aliens out there who visit Earth will panic some of us. Finding out that we are defenseless against them will make it all more acute. As Kean writes:
“Clearly if some other civilization has the ability to visit Earth, then it has vastly superior technology to human beings, which raises the possibility of colonization or even extermination. As such, the UFO calls into question the state's ability to protect its citizens from such an invasion.” (p.276)
She also points out that a perceived threat from outside Earth would put immense pressure on our planet's governments to form some sort of global governing body and leadership, which would be anathema to many governments, and many of their citizens. She adds an interesting aspect that we don't often consider when she writes:
“The extraterrestrial possibility calls into question what we call the anthropocentric nature of modern sovereignty. By this we mean that, in the modern world, political organization everywhere is based on the assumption that only human beings have the ability or authority to govern and determine our collective fate. Nature might throw us a curveball in the form of a pandemic or global warming, but when it comes to deciding how to deal with such a crisis, the choice is ours alone.” (p.276)
She questions whether modern states could continue to demand the loyalty and resources from their citizenry if their authority seemed undermined by a greater power.
The impact on religious beliefs and believers
Disagreements within and between different religions has killed untold numbers of people in history. Questions that seem inconsequential to non-believers have resulted in heresies being proclaimed that lead to wars, persecutions and mass economic upheaval. This is dwarfed by the destruction caused by violence between different faiths. How would the deeply religious react to the sudden admission of the existence of aliens from other planets?
It's about much more than visitors from outer space of course. It is about what this would represent. The UFOs and aliens are confirmation that all sorts of things exist outside of Earth that make such life forms, and their travel here possible. The existence of another civilizational architecture if you will (and one that the extraterrestrials may consider we Earthlings to actually be a part of). What do the aliens think or know about the existence of any Supreme Being? Or what happens to us after we die? Would they confirm any of the beliefs of Earth's religious believers? (and if so, which ones?) or would they blow the entire idea of humanity's concept of “religion” right out of the water? Imagine telling every religious person on Earth, at the same time, that everything they believe in terms of religion is wrong. When lots of people can die simply over a question as small as to whether Jesus Christ is a manifestation of God or is instead the Son of God what would a bombshell like “There is no God” (or there IS a God, but he/she/it is nothing like humans imagine) do to us? To call this destabilizing might be the understatement of all time. If it would cause mass death, destruction and economic and moral upheaval, would governments be justified in keeping this information from the citizens of Earth? As Kean writes: “The UFO creates a deep, unconscious insecurity in which certain possibilities are unthinkable because of their inherent danger.” (p.277)
The effect on science and scientific understanding
Kean writes: “Scientists have their own reasons to be fearful. UFOs demonstrate characteristics appearing to contradict the fundamental laws of physics on which our understanding of the universe is based; if scientists did make a concerted effort to identify them, is it possible that they might find the phenomenon somehow “unknowable” through our current methodologies?” (p 282).
This is the “there are more things in heaven and earth Horatio” dilemma writ large. By human standards, what scientists have discovered about the universe is amazing, enlightening and let's not leave out proven in many cases. Space flight to the moon doesn't happen unless modern science is right about a lot of things. But what scientists don't know is clearly a far larger piece of the puzzle than what they do know. If we find that our understanding of the universe compared to what those who built the UFOs know is akin to an ant's understanding of the world around it compared to a human being, how do we process that? I am sure we'd like to assume that we would get a copy of an alien's equivalent of a science manual and start learning what we don't know (this is the idea behind the reverse engineering concept a bit). But how much would that help the equivalent of an ant to understand our world?
Scientists, of course, are well aware of this potential reality. I would imagine many might even be hopeful about it. If we had aliens giving us knowledge, might we have a much easier shortcut available to help us deal with some of the most intractable problems we and the planet face? Clean energy? Curing disease? War? Poverty? But it won't be easy to go from being some of the smartest minds in the Earth classroom to the equivalent of a kindergartner dropped into the space alien version of Harvard's Phd program.
For me, I have my own pet hope if the big alien reveal happens in my lifetime. If extraterrestrial life is real, and if it has indeed been visiting our planet for a very long time, they likely are going to know more about our history than we do. They might have the equivalent of photos, or hi-definition videos of major planetary events. Their “History of the Earth” files would answer questions about our past that we didn't even know to ask. They might even have the capabilities that would allow us to travel back and see the long-gone people and events from centuries or millennia ago. Of course this sounds like the most ridiculous, crazy science fiction fantasy imaginable. Which is why it might blow our minds if in the near future it wasn't science fiction anymore.
Which begs the question: if any governments around the world are sitting on explosive information like this, and know they can't keep it secret forever, what's the best, most responsible way to release it to the public? All at once? Or dribble it out little by little? As Kean point out in her book, if even just one UFO sighting from all the countless ones reported over the ages turned out to be an extraterrestrial spacecraft, the implications are incalculable. It would be, she says, one of the most important events in human history “...making it rational to investigate even a remote possibility.” I'm reminded of the tag line for the TV show The X-Files “The Truth is out there”. But, as the Marine Colonel played by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men screamed “You can't handle the truth!”. Well...can we?
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This is even cited as an actual government tactic to discredit credible claims...to throw incredible ones into the general discussion thereby polluting the entire information pool
Later studies have demonstrated that the panic at the time was far less impactful than media reports made it out to be. Welles dealt with the media after the fallout https://abcnews.go.com/US/video/1938-orson-welles-responds-war-worlds-20494434