Monday, April 29, 2013

Citizen Hearing on Disclosure - for those of you interested in this sort of thing

UFOs are a tough subject for a scientifically minded person to be interested in. If you're a Carl Sagan you can speculate with ease because hey, you're Carl Sagan. The problem for most people is that there's a lot of crazy stuff out there, a lot of doctored events, and a lot that we simply can't verify.

And the unverifiability is part of the point, of course. I'm sure everyone has heard the refrain "that's what the 'U' stands for!". Some people think they have a better grasp of what's behind that 'U' than others.

One thing that's probably fairly certain is that the government has good information on UFOs no matter what they are. If they are nothing substantive, than the government is no better off than we are pretty much by definition (there's not much to know). If UFOs are extraterrestrial or extradimensional or simply a black budget project (or some combination of the above) the government almost certainly knows more than we do. That is the point of the Citizen Hearing on Disclosure, which starts today. Like similar earlier events at the National Press Club, the nice thing about this citizen hearing is that it tries very hard to separate out the level-headed witnesses and researchers from the tin-foil crowd. Emphasis in these things is always on mass-sightings and the observations made by the military, by pilots, and by astronauts. I can't speak for this event - it hasn't happened yet! - but usually efforts like this are extremely careful not to be speculative.

My view is that it's a subject worthy of taking an interest in but unworthy of firm conclusions at this point. I take a casual/amateurish interest in it myself. A few things seem clear:
1. There is a very high probability that the galaxy and the universe is full of life.

2. We are at the very cusp of our own space-faring age and relatively rudimentary in our technology (we burn old dinosaur bones and peat moss for God's sake - that's just a step above burning dung).

3. There are a lot of UFO sightings (1,210 reported [not necessarily occurring] in 2013 to date by one record keeper), of course of varying quality. Of course there are a lot of reported abductions too but that's a touchier area. Let's stick with sightings.

4. Governments around the world are clearly keeping files on these events - it is something they are interested in for whatever reason, and

5. There are a few very high profile events - particularly Roswell, New Mexico - with a considerably richer eye-witness record.
None of this is clear cut, but to me it adds up to something that a rational person can be reasonably intrigued by.

If you agree, you might be interested in checking in on the Citizen Hearing this week.


  1. The key unexplained fact about the universe is its silence. Why aren't we picking up alien satellite tv channels?

    1. Because there is a lot of noise out there and, well, signal degradation generally? As much as I like it, the movie _Contact_ doesn't accurately represent what happens to radio signals in space.

      Anyway, it is questionable whether one should be enthusiastic about contact with advanced ETs.

    2. I think there are a couple responses to this - some of which are very reasonable and some are more just-so stories that are more questionable.

      LSB has a reasonable one - there's a great deal of noise out there. Along the same lines it's not entirely clear we'd be able to pull out the signal from the noise - that we would know what to listen for.

      Another very common point is that extradimensional entities are as reasonable to be thinking about as extra-terrestrial and we might not be able to pick up their signals with conventional means.

      A less defensible position that you hear is that there's some kind of deliberate attempt to shield their identity from us. I file this under "just-so stories".

  2. Part of what you are talking about here is called demarcation in the philosophy of science - what is science and what is something else (pseudoscience, etc.). UFOology (or whatever what one wants to term it) is not science IMO but I'd argue that is the case mostly because most scientists don't recognize it as science, not because I have some theoretical framework that would neatly divide the two. In sum, no one has really ever come up with an iron-clad standard for such (and some philosophers of science argue that it is a pointless exercise) - not Popper, not Kuhn, etc.

    The main problem with UFOs has to do with physics ... that is it seems very unlikely that another species of intelligent beings could build star hopping spacecraft to visit our planet with. Then of course there is the issue of interest. A standard trope in sci-fi films, etc. is that they'd be after our water, but it turns out that water is pretty common amongst the various celestial bodies out there, and would be a lot easier to seize from a bunch of floating rocks as opposed to an inhabited planet.

    1. As you might guess by my past posting I'm not too big on demarcating scientific problems so much as identifying what method is a "scientific" method for answering a particular problem. But aside from that relatively nuance argument, I think you're right. It's not really the subject matter so much as how it's been done that poses the problem for UFOs.

      There's feedback here, of course. A lot of the inquiry is relatively worthless precisely because it's unscientific and it stays relatively unscientific because people observe that a lot of the inquiry is relatively worthless. I think progress is only going to be made in one of three ways (1.) some kind of government disclosure, (2.) some kind of undeniable mass visitation event, or (3.) the astrobiological route with the discovery of life on Mars and people getting more acclimated to the idea. I don't think the study of UFOs as it's currently conducted is going to offer any kind of progress except something interesting to tune into until one of those three options occur (if any of them ever occur of course - which they may not).

      On your second paragraph, I'm not convince by either point. The major constraint seems to me to be energy, not physics. We can conceive of the physics of interstellar travel right now we just don't have the energy or the technology to achieve such a thing. Energy and technology just take time to develop. And this is given what we know about physics. Presumably there's stuff we don't know too.

      As for water - I don't think we'll expand to find water. I think we'll expand for the sake of exploration and expansion. I'd be willing to assume the same on the part of ETs.

  3. There are also lots of sightings of Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster, and various other pseudo-scientific phenomenon; the sightings take away from the credence of such claims if they go on long enough without say a body or other physical evidence to demonstrate the claim being made.

    As for Roswell, that part's a joke, right? OMNI magazine (amongst others) blew hell out of claims about Roswell back in the 1990s.

    1. I think you might benefit from rereading my post on what I think we can and cannot say with sightings.

      There is a lot of fraud around Roswell if that's all you're referring to - and OMNI has been instrumental in ferreting that out. Again, I'm not sure you're quite managing to grasp what I'm claiming about these events and the sightings. Roswell, Phoenix lights, Belgium, etc. I think just deserve notation aside from the individual sightings. They may be, like the individual sightings, bogus or completely conventional. Certainly there are elements of these that are bogus (OMNI's work on that, again). Or maybe it's not bogus and it's terrestrial in origin. But these events and the voluminous list of individual sightings are different in character and worth highlighting separately - that's my only point.

  4. All of this reminds me of my favorite X-Files episode ever - "Jose Chung's From Outer Space":

    Liminal is the word that always comes to mind when I think about the episode.

  5. So Mr. Kuehn, speaking of extraterrestial beings and the like...why didn't you have anything to say on this comment I made a month back? :-P

  6. If there were a lot of starfaring civilizations out there, with some of them visiting us and contemporary governments aware of the fact, you'd think most governments would have the attitude that "The Future's In Space" and would be pressing the development of spaceflight as rapidly as possible.

    The reality, of course, is quite different. Granted, increasing capabilties in computers and materials have led to some increased performance in satellites and unmanned spacecraft, but by and large space programs around the world have advanced at very slow paces. Modern rocket engines for launch vehicles are very little different from those developed 50 years ago, for example.

    This suggests rather strongly that UFOs are NOT alien spacecraft, or at least that government policy is not driven by that hypothesis.

    1. It's not a sound argument, much as I like mike's points normally. It assumes that the inference that "our future is in space" would dramatically change if aliens had visited or not. If I knew more powerful aliens were visiting I wouldn't try to develop a space program - I'd shore up Earth's defenses.

      This all assumes government has our best interests at heart - if they don't then it's not clear that that would be the reaction to aliens in any case.

      You have a censoring problem with the logic of that second paragraph, LSB. You have no idea what secrets the government has managed to keep. One thing we know for a fact they have information on that they are not releasing, after all, is UFOs! There are UFO files held by the government. They are not being released. Now are they aliens? We have no idea about that. But whether it's aliens or something else the whole point is there are files on incidents and on debris that's been collected - whatever it is - that the government still refuses to release. That's the whole point of disclosure, whether it's aliens or not.

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