Saturday, August 12, 2006

Aliens are among us! (or not)

Okay, I will admit it here. I once believed in alien abduction. Dar’s comment in response to this post brought back memories of my adolescent years, when I spent hours in the local library (the internet was not that big then) devouring every book I could find on accounts of alien abduction, stories of Roswell, and the many newspaper accounts of UFO encounters in South Africa.

Oddly enough, my eventual rejection of Christianity had an impact on other spheres of belief. The skeptical thinking that eventually resulted in my rejection of faith also spilled over onto my beliefs regarding the paranormal. I eventually had to question the whole subject of UFO’s from a skeptical point of view, and I found that evidence was severely lacking. To cut a long story short, I don’t believe any longer that we are being visited by actual alien beings. My disbelief in alien visitations and abductions was further reaffirmed by the following arguments put forward by Carl Sagan in his book, A Demon-Haunted World:

  • It is telling that most alien abductions occur mainly on falling asleep or waking up. This is consistent with sleep paralysis, as well as with experiments done by Canadian scientist Michael Persinger, who can stimulate or stop such hallucinations using chemicals and electrical impulses to the brain (pg 105).

  • Alien abduction stories are mostly local (i.e., they are mostly concentrated in America and Europe). Moreover, different aliens appear in different countries, and they seem to follow our current ‘view’ of what aliens should look like (i.e., alien’s have changed over the decades in line with our culture!) (pg 126).

  • Many abductees claim that aliens provide them with general warnings about man’s destructive use of the earth’s environment. The problem is that many of these warnings are about dangers that we already know about: in the 1960’s aliens warned us about nuclear war. In the 1980’s they warned us about CFC’s. Why not warn us about something in the future we can strive to prevent? It would have been very useful for aliens to have warned us about CFC’s or HIV/AIDS in the 1960’s (pg 95).

  • On government conspiracy: if the truth of UFO’s and aliens are covered up by various governments, hundreds of employees should know about this. Why hasn’t a bona fide whistle blower come forth with sufficient evidence yet?

  • Many American homes have sophisticated burglar alarms and cameras. Of all the millions of alien abductions, why hasn’t there been one authentic video tape of one of these encounters from a burglar or security system (pg 174)?
Maybe the experience of alien abduction tells us more about the human mind than actual extraterrestrial beings from outer space.

    8 comments:

    Jeff said...

    Belief and faith have a funny way of filtering ones perceptions to reality. When one selectively uses 'science', as you have quoting the late Dr. Sagan (the so-called "Pope of Science") to justify faith (that there are no alien abductions), one's persuasive arguments aren't so persuasive anymore.

    I do not claim to know if the abduction phenomenon is perpetrated by "aliens", "demons" or if it is an aspect of the human mind which has amazingly manifested itself into physical reality. I do know, however, that it is occurring to myself and to many others whom I've known for most of my life.

    The problems I have with the bullet points you've pulled from Sagan's "Demon Haunted World" are based upon my own experiences and from the experiences of loved ones. My problems with Sagan's points are this:

    -Many experiences occur while fully awake and occasionally with witnesses to those who are not narcoleptic nor have any sort of mental or physical condition which could account for the experiences. Some experiences can not be explained away by sleep paralysis, lucid dreams, the old hag or hypnogogic/hypnopompic phenomena. I, for one, have sought help in order to find out if I had a mental, emotional or physical condition which could account for the experiences. The very real post-traumatic stress I exhibited in conjuction with physical marks, injuries and conscious memories seemed to indicate that what I recalled did, in fact, occur. I was treated successfully by a qualified therapist to lessen the PTS problems related to the consciously-recalled experieneces.

    -"Alien abduction stories are mostly local"...not so. I would suggest investigating the September 16, 1994 Ruwa Zimbabwe schoolyard close encounter involving 62 schoolchildren who had no prior exposure to 'pop culture' aliens or UFO lore. This is only one case of hundreds, if not thousands that defy Sagan's assertion that these experiences are created by popular cultre.

    -I'm not sure how Sagan, or anyone for that matter, can "prove" what the so-called aliens have communicated or not communuicated to people over the past several decades. The apocalyptic message imparted upon exeperiencers of this phenomenon may be a sort of cautionary tale for future generations. The tales of the 'end times' are not limited to UFO abductees...they are even more prevelant with the evangelical Christians who are raking in the cash by playing off of current world violence and upheaval by promoting the second coming.

    -Many former government employees have come forth with information and documentation proving the government's intense interest in the UFO phenomenon. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin has just recently admitted to the UFO sighting the Apollo 11 crew had on their flight to the moon. I would suggest investigating the Disclosure Project at http://www.disclosureproject.org and related movements to investigate whether or not government insiders are ready to blow the whistle. Do realize that many government officials can't speak about UFOs because information and documentation are classified "Top Secret" or "Above Top Secret" and to speak about it would be going against their national security oaths.

    -There have been many UFOs caught on security and monitoring devices. Most notably, the camera which is fixed on the volcano Popocatepetl outside of Mexico City, has caught many UFOs. Sagan, if he truly understood the UFO phenomenon, would realize that this phenomenon has an EM effect upon electronics. Vehicles and electronic equiptment sometimes will fail when a UFO is nearby. Abduction experiences often are preceded by the electronic malfunctioning of security equiptment, such as what occurred to Whitley Streiber preceding his abduction which we wrote about in Communion.

    A major study was undertaken approximately ten years ago by The Mutual UFO Network, Center for UFO Studies among other organizations. This study put an electronic monitoring device into the homes of alleged abductees to measure EM levels, temperature changes, etc. I was approached by MUFON to volunteer for this six to twelve month long study. Several friends did, in fact, have the box in their homes. The box was hooked up to a phone jack and collected data was fed to a computer by the authors of this scientific study. Results have yet to be published by MUFON or CUFOS. I have a feeling that Sagan wouldn't have even entertained the idea of actually attempting to do science of this nature, i.e. predetermined belief shaping scientific inquiry.

    The alien abduction phenomenon is a rather interesting phenomenon from a sociological perspective...especially considering the cottage industry that the debunkers, skeptics, magicians, religious zealots and their ilk have created in their attempts to try to prove their 'negative' hypothesis that UFOs and abductions are bunk. With no doubt, the phenomenon has struck a chord with society at large as it plays off of our fears and hopes of higher technology, consciousness and faith. Regardless of the vehement viscousness and the holier-than-thou stances of the detractors and skeptics...this phenomenon isn't disappearing from the lives of people like myself who have to endure it's oftentimes painful, frightening, ego-shattering intrusions. Also not disappearing are the debunkers and skeptics and their oftentimes degrading and belittling comments towards people like myself.

    Kevin Parry said...

    Hi Jeff

    Welcome. And thank you for the well articulated response. I just to respond to a few of your points, if I may. I understand that you have had personal experiences that have affected you deeply, and I’m not here to belittle those. The following points are not directed at you personally, but are the result of my mind trying to grapple with this subject.

    1) I think that Sagan based his sleep paralysis argument on the elements of alien abduction that are commonly reported by abductees. I fully admit that some abduction cases occur when the abductee is fully awake and aware. However, the majority or reports, as far as I understand, consist of elements that are strikingly similar to those encountered during sleep paralysis. Although this fact does not entirely disprove the alien explanation for abduction experiences, it does make one a little suspicious of the actual cause of most abduction stories.

    2) Although alien abduction is experienced by normal, psychologically healthy people, in some severe cases alien abduction experiences are related to epilepsy. In these cases alien abduction experiences have actually been ‘cured’ by appropriate medication.

    3) Although there have been many whistle-blowers regarding government conspiracy, I’m not aware of any who have brought forward convincing physical evidence. I had a look at the discloserproject site and I don’t know if I didn’t look hard enough, but all I could find is eye-witness testimony. There is no mention of physical evidence. It would be great if one of the whistle-blowers unveiled an actual spaceship or working anti-gravity machine for the world to see.

    4) The most convincing argument for me that alien encounters are more than likely not related to actual extraterrestrials is the cultural aspect of many of the encounters. In Europe, most aliens are perceived as being Nordic in nature, while most aliens encountered in North America are the grey variety. In ancient times ‘aliens’ looked like ugly demons or quaint fairies; now they look like smooth skinned hominids. In the early 1890s, UFO’s were reported as looking exactly like airships; now they look like saucers. I understand that these are generalisations and there are some cases that don’t match these patterns (like the Zimbabwean case). But the very fact that there are general patterns is cause for us to take a more skeptical approach to UFOs in general.

    5) In the wider context, one would – based on what we know about evolution – expect aliens to be so different to humans that we would not even recognise them or communicate with them. Strangely, most aliens are hominid in nature, with two legs, two arms, two eyes, a head, etc. If aliens are in fact real, one has to wonder why most creatures in the universe follow a hominid body plan. Or is this just an indication of the limited scope of human imagination?

    I look at the whole subject of UFOs and I wonder: what is more likely? Are we being visited by actual alien beings who (a) don’t leave any convincing physical evidence; (b) constantly change their looks and spacecraft to match our cultural perceptions, (c) are in some cases somehow scared off by epileptic medication; and (d) visit us in a way that is mostly consistent with sleep paralysis? Or, is it more likely that the alien abduction phenomenon is a result of the complex interaction between the influences of culture, psychology, and the wonder of the human mind?

    At this present time, I go for the latter explanation. I’m not saying that extraterrestrial life doesn’t exist, or that we are not been visited by alien beings. I’m just arguing that there are good reasons to question the claim that actual aliens are responsible for the common, standard alien abduction experiences that we hear so much about.

    marc said...

    crop circles a porving fact that guys design and do them and have been for amny, many years.

    And yet people still think they are made by aliens...maybe people will just believe what they want?

    Lui said...

    I was once a bit of an X-Files nut but I "grew out of it" and am now much more sceptical of the whole UFO thing. (I'm not calling you an X-Files nut, Jeff! I'm just providing some background about where I've come from so I can contrast it to where I am now) That's not to say that I find the idea of ET life silly; far from it, in fact. I would LOVE for there to be life out there in the universe, and even more so for this life to eventually make contact with us. (or vice-versa) It's just that these days I can sympathise more with what those mean old party-pooper sceptics (who I used to view, strangely enough for me, much as I view creationist preachers today, so sure was I that the pyramids of Giza HAD to have been built by aliens and that greys were engineering human-alien hybrids) were going on about in those documentaries I so loved to watch. I would also not rule out the possibility that ET can visit us, if it had a sufficiently advanced technology. (from what I've read at least, that's a big if, apparently)
    Now, if I may get a bit side-tracked for a moment. Kevin raised the point that aliens may well be so different to us that we would probably not recognise them. However, I think that I might actually be a bit surprised if they were all that different to us. I don't know if anyone has seen this, but some time ago some clever fellow speculated about what life might have been like if the K/T event hadn't occurred - that is, if the meteor that slammed into the earth and supposedly finished off the dinosaurs hadn't done what it did. Might brainy species of therapod dinosaurs have evolved into intelligent, hominid-like beings? Might we, if we were those "dinopeople", be here talking instead about the possibility of mammals (God forbid) evolving into intelligent beings, and would it have seemed any more astonishing to contemplate that? Extrapolating a bit (!) it may well be that, on the one hand, life on other planets is in many ways fundamentally different to our own, but as a starting point, I think it's reasonable to assume that in this universe, such life would have evolved via a process of natural selection not unlike that on our planet. This could just be one of things that necessarily have to operating be in order for the phenomena in question to even exist. Organisms are vastly improbable contraptions - the chances of something so complex coming into existence merely by chance is meant to be ten to the power of something stupidly large, more than the number of atoms in the universe or something. Such complexity can only arise via a process whereby that stupdenous improbabilty is smeared our, working over eons, tinkering and improving so that some entity - a replicator - is being tested out against other versions of itself, competing for the "rights" to reproduce and carry on its progeny into the next generation. This is essentially what organisms are: machines "designed" by natural selection to preserve the genes that reside within them. Perhaps there are features about intelligent life that require certain things of it regardless of where in the universe it is found. A powerful cognitive processing faculty would be an important one, and to maintain this apparatus the life form would need to supply it with enough energy to function well and to "justify its cost". (costly extravagances are unlikely to prosper for very long, and tend to get weeded out of the population) It could well be that whatever has such a brain could only have attained it when at least some of its appendages are freed from the task of locomotion, as are our arms. Such structures may have been "exapted": taken over for another task from that for which it originally evolved. (evolution is a relentless opportunist, using whatever is at hand instead of starting over, which would be far too expensive) Perhaps, then, bipedality is universal among intelligent beings. Such life forms would likely also need a good sense of vision to capture vast quantities of information and make use of it in a dynamic environment. These are the types of things that, perhaps, convergently evolved throughout the universe and are necessary features of anything approaching our level of intelligence. They are things that, given that something is intelligent, you would need to even get that far. These patterns, the argument goes, would be repeated universally simply because they work; they present evolution with the path of least resistance, and are henceforth adopted and act as the basis for further cumulative refinement. Here on earth, convergent evolution has produced some remarkable similarities in unrelated organisms. (though the relevance of this is controversial as the taxa in question will still share a vast amount of history and therefore developmental potential. Placental mammals may be distantly related to marsupials, but they still have vastly more similarities than differences, both genetically and morphologically, and the issue of relatedness will be even more significant when we get down to lower taxonomic groups) I'm heavily influenced by Richard Dawkins and Daniel C. Dennett. (though I will need to temper that by reading more Gould and Lewontin) Some books I recommend if anyone would like to see these speculations more fully and properly explored are "River Our Of Eden" and "Darwin's Dangerous Idea".
    Convergent universal evolution is just speculation (however well reasoned) and I offer it only as a possibility. (albeit one that I have a soft spot for, though that could be due more to my ignorance of competing views than its intrinsic merits) I'm sure that a good - perhaps better - counter-argument could be made. Perhaps there are many ways for intelligence to evolve, but that because of the conditions that prevailed on this planet, we overlook them. (maybe it’s hard to even conceive of them in the first place, as they've never, as far as we know, presented themselves to scrutiny) We'll have to wait and see.

    SuperSkeptic said...

    It's possible that there is some overgeneralization happening here. There is no doubt in my mind that many reported UFO sightings/crop circles/alien autopsies are either hoaxes, dreams, delusions, or mistakes (e.g., sleep paralysis being mistaken for an alien experience). However, that does not rule out the possibility of alien experience. I will need to research this further, but the experiences and reports that Jeff speaks of generally do not fall into the categories Sagan mentions. Because there are a lot of people who want to believe in aliens, we should expect there to be hoaxes/delusions/mistakes whether or not aliens have visited.

    Of course, I view any statements about alien interaction from a skeptical perspective (I am SuperSkeptic, after all), but I'm equally skeptical of dismissing all claims of alien interaction out of hand.

    Kevin Parry said...

    Hi Lui

    This is a well articulated argument. As I was reading your comment, I realised that I’ve read this before somewhere. I can’t exactly remember where. I could be wrong, but I might have read it from something Richard Dawkins wrote. Do you perhaps know who originally came up with this idea?

    I can relate to your comment that you were once an X-Files nut. As I mentioned in the post, I was also one once. I still have an intense wonder about the mysterious and the unexplained. However, I always struggle between trying to decide between two extremes – believe everything that paranormal advocates say, or adopt unreasonable skepticism and throw the whole field out as absolutely untrue. I guess the aim would be to keep a balance: keep my mind open to new ideas, but at the same time prevent myself from being too gullible.

    With regards to the whole field of UFOs in general: although I have an intense interest in the possibly of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, my main problem with the current study of UFOs is that the field seems – as SuperSkeptic mentioned above – to be replete with frauds, faulty arguments and conspiracy theories. There might be some small grain of truth in there somewhere, but getting to it through all the noise is, in my opinion, almost impossible.

    Lui said...

    This is from Wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinosauroid#Scientific_speculation
    "In a thought experiment conducted in 1982, paleontologist Dale Russell, curator of vertebrate fossils at the National Museum of Canada in Ottawa, conjectured that, had the Chicxulub meteorite not exterminated the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, bipedal predators which existed at that time, such as Troodon, would have evolved into a humanoid intelligent form not unlike our own. Troodontids had manipulative fingers and binocular vision. Like most dinosaurs of the Troodont family, this creature, the Dinosauroid, would have had large eyes and three fingers on each hand, one of which would have been partially opposed. As with most modern reptiles (and birds), its genitalia would have been invisible. Russell speculated that it would have required a navel, as a placenta aids the development of a large brain case, however it would not have possesed mammary glands, and would have fed its young, as birds do, on regurgitated food. Its language would have sounded somewhat like bird song."

    The main article is about reptilians in religious myths and some nonsense claims about reptilians controlling humanity and such, but this part was worth reproducing here. Here is an image of what the intelligent dinosauroid might have looked like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinosauroid. Ever since seeing it for the first time about 10 years ago or so, I've been fascinated by the idea.

    Someone said...

    In relation to your point that "aliens have changed over the decades in line with our culture", did you know that people get drunk differently in different cultures? :-) Apparently in Asiatic countries, drunk people become mellow, while in Western countries such as the UK, they become violent. Both are generalizations, but the impact of culture on inebriation is also interesting.