The fear that drives our alien belief

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Aliens have been in the news a lot recently—regardless of whether you think they are, or have ever been, anywhere else.


A group of former Congressmen convened at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to hear impassioned eyewitness testimony on everything from the Roswell “incident” to more recent, unexplained lights in the sky. Vanity Fair this month published a lengthy profile of Harvard psychiatrist John Edward Mack—a man who believed, implausibly, in alien abduction.

Meanwhile, the “world’s first comprehensive” UFO exhibition recently opened in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where organizers promise 200 artifacts ranging from replicas of the Easter Island statues to “authentic video and audio recordings of people reporting alien encounters.

“Myrtle Beach is a hot spot for sightings,” one organizer points out in a not-quite-skeptical account of local sightings on CarolinaLive.com.

What is it about UFOs that drive so many people to believe they exist despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary? According to a 2012 National Geographic poll, 36 percent of Americans believe aliens have visited earth. And yet, as a concerned acquaintance wrote to Harvard’s Mack in 1994, such visitations “contradict virtually all of the basic laws of physics, chemistry and biology on which modern science depends.”

Written By: Caitlin Dewey
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

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    • Jscnet!

      I’ve just spotted a UFP, an Unintelligible Flying Post. What could it mean, where did it come from, is there intelligent life behind it? These are some of the questions we may never have answers to. Maybe “they” don’t want us to!!

      In reply to #1 by Jscnet:

      The author is misinformed.

  1. In short, if it’s real, a weather satellite will spot it first. The “Nation Of Islam” should have ended with the invention of Doppler radar. In other words, since the early 1970s, we’ve known for certain that there’s no “big wheel” or for that matter, anything else, hiding behind the clouds.

  2. What is it about UFOs that drive so many people to believe they exist despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary

    At least there have been sightings and photos. Christians will believe with far less evidence than that. What counts is what your peers believe, not what has evidence.

    A nutty idea has infected man, “Truth is what you wish it to be, what would be most pleasing, what feels good in your gut”. Keats was one of its salesmen “Beauty is Truth”. It has a mathematical underpinning. Simple elegant math has a better chance of representing reality than messy math.

    I once knew a man who was stark raving bonkers. However, he was still able to function in the real world completely successfully. Our world is very forgiving of eccentricity. Water still flows to you. Your apartment still stays heated even if you imagine pixies do it.

    We will really only get in trouble if the drug companies hire only creationists who refuse to believe viruses and bacteria can evolve immunity to their drugs. What lay people think does not matter much.

  3. I would think the odds of us being the only intelligent life in the universe to be astronomically small. Life does not work that way. It is like dandelions. It seeks to fill every possible niche. Physics and chemistry works the same throughout the universe, so why would biochemistry and biology be completely inhibited? What possible mechanism would permit it to function on earth but nowhere else? There is nothing unique about us.

    However, the speed of light puts quite a crimp on interstellar visitation. So the odds of physical intelligent visitors would be quite small. I think most people make no distinction between these two.

    • Paraphrase Feynman,’I am more convinced of the known irrationality of terrestrial beings, than of the unproven rationality of extraterrestrial beings.’

      Why don’t people believe in UFOs? Some people have their reasons based on science and logic, but as the article indicates conservatives are less likely to believe, but this is because the whole of the Universe exists as a backdrop to YHWH’s Zaroastrian theater, and they are fine with Earth being the only speck for life. Many people do not believe because they are irrational and incurious.

      I think this article is a pathetic fail. It’s just smugness wrapped in a thin veneer of supposed intellectual superiority. I don’t know if the writing is just sloppy or if it’s the author’s thinking, but I counted a few formal fallacies. Speaking of fallacies, UFO belief is another area where unfalsifiability is mistaken for possibility. It is true that the government would keep it a secret (which is not a secret), as the assumed technology would allow them to hide if they wanted. If there is a giant wheel in the sky hiding behind clouds, it can also hide from our satellites. Anyway, Conspiracy Roadtrip does an interesting job of exhibiting the flawed psychology behind UFO belief.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ByWCFX4ZQs

      How much time do any of us spend looking at the sky? UFO spotters have a data set (the sky) that most of us ignore. I have a lot of respect just for the act of looking for aliens.

      “Keep. Looking. Up.” -Jack Horkheimer.

  4. UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object. An anaconym coined by the USAF. Of course UFO’s exist – until they are identified. Only hollywood and the media have equated the term UFO with ‘Little Green Men’.

    • In reply to #7 by whiteraven:

      So sorry, small complication: Flying saucers were built by Avro Aircraft Ltd. (Canada) Project Y and Project 1794 under contract to the U.S. Airforce. As a secret project, if there had been any unplanned sightings wouldn’t it be necessary to discredit them? :)

      Why do the photos of these things look so much like hubcaps?

      • In reply to #8 by OHooligan:

        In reply to #7 by whiteraven:

        So sorry, small complication: Flying saucers were built by Avro Aircraft Ltd. (Canada) Project Y and Project 1794 under contract to the U.S. Airforce. As a secret project, if there had been any unplanned sightings wouldn’t it be necessary to discredit them? :)

        Why do…

        Sorry, the answer is compelling; see this.

    • In reply to #7 by whiteraven:

      So sorry, small complication: Flying saucers were built by Avro Aircraft Ltd. (Canada) Project Y and Project 1794 under contract to the U.S. Airforce. As a secret project, if there had been any unplanned sightings wouldn’t it be necessary to discredit them? :)

      “Flying” saucer is a bit generous. Have you ever watched the videos of the Avro craft? It was a joke, more like a hovering saucer.

      • In reply to #19 by wiz220:

        In reply to #7 by whiteraven:

        So sorry, small complication: Flying saucers were built by Avro Aircraft Ltd. (Canada) Project Y and Project 1794 under contract to the U.S. Airforce. As a secret project, if there had been any unplanned sightings wouldn’t it be necessary to discredit them? :)

        “Flying…

        Not til you suggested it. It was a cool idea but they had some work to do before going supersonic, huh? Maybe they were working off of some ideas they found on German drawing boards after WW2. Will iRobot or Dyson will be first to jump on this? VTOL isn’t easy, helicopters are tricky, the Osprey program had real trouble. Flying wing designs, e.g. YB-49, may have been been better suited to more recent control and materials technology. Video is easy to find and fun to watch (hint to Comrade hooligan #8).

  5. What is it about UFOs that drive so many people to believe they exist despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

    Isn’t this unnecessarily taking skepticism a little too far? Perhaps some of those people are secretly hoping that advanced alien beings will be able to cure (yes, cure) the thousands of diseases plaguing us and increase our lifespans significantly. Not to mention solve many other technological (yes, technological and not always behavioral) problems we humans and our planet are facing. In other words, bust us out of the over-publishing, underachieving scientific rut we seem to have been stuck in the last 50 years (and god only knows how much longer).

    • In reply to #9 by joost:

      bust us out of the over-publishing, underachieving scientific rut we seem to have been stuck in the last 50 years (and god only knows how much longer).

      response 1. I think the subtlety of your irony may have been lost on many here

      response 2. put your foil hat back on and be quiet, yeah?

      delete as appropriate

      i’m sure these nut-jobs are secretly hoping for a spaceman to come along and give us technology we have not worked for ourselves. some call that mind-set “praying”

      • In reply to #10 by SaganTheCat:

        hoping for a spaceman to come along and give us technology we have not worked for ourselves. some call that mind-set “praying”

        Like the cargo cults of the Pacific islands overflown by World War II?

    • In reply to #9 by joost:

      What is it about UFOs that drive so many people to believe they exist despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

      Isn’t this unnecessarily taking skepticism a little too far? Perhaps some of those people are secretly hoping that advanced alien beings will be able to cure (yes, cure) the thousand…

      Some people ignore facts even when they have been cooked, plated and served.

    • In reply to #9 by joost:

      Isn’t this unnecessarily taking skepticism a little too far? Perhaps some of those people are secretly hoping that advanced alien beings will be able to cure (yes, cure) the thousands of diseases plaguing us and increase our lifespans significantly. Not to mention solve many other technological (yes, technological and not always behavioral) problems we humans and our planet are facing. In other words, bust us out of the over-publishing, underachieving scientific rut we seem to have been stuck in the last 50 years (and god only knows how much longer).

      Or maybe they would just asset strip our atmosphere and oceans, to provide propellant for the next voyage of their starships?

      • In reply to #18 by Alan4discussion:

        Or maybe they would just asset strip our atmosphere and oceans, to provide propellant for the next voyage of their starships?

        Look, there’s only so much one can jerk off to pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Or by thinking about the Large Hardon Collider. We need aliens to give us a little something extra to feel good and wonder about, especially since we don’t have any supernatural bullshit to fall back on. I think there’s also such a thing as too much rationality and it can’t be all that good for us in our blink-of-an-eye lifespans. At least aliens are plausible.

        • In reply to #24 by joost:

          In reply to #18 by Alan4discussion:

          Or maybe they would just asset strip our atmosphere and oceans, to provide propellant for the next voyage of their starships?

          Look, there’s only so much one can jerk off to pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Or by thinking about the Large Hardon Colli…

          Vicarious astro-erotic voyeurism! How many times does it work? ;)

        • In reply to #24 by joost:

          In reply to #18 by Alan4discussion:

          Or maybe they would just asset strip our atmosphere and oceans, to provide propellant for the next voyage of their starships?

          At least aliens are plausible.

          They maybe somewhere in a galaxy, but not at present on Earth!
          >

          We need aliens to give us a little something extra to feel good and wonder about, especially since we don’t have any supernatural bullshit to fall back on. I think there’s also such a thing as too much rationality and it can’t be all that good for us in our blink-of-an-eye lifespans.

          Those who want to ditch rationality can suspend disbelief, and venture into science fiction.

  6. I think we are being quite unrealistic to expect large numbers of people not to believe in aliens. The fact that senior catholic bishops predict the appointment of a new pope based on a vision and are proud of it …and their followers believe it is nothing compared to the amount of imagination in the dozens of sci fi movies on the circuit. Modern visual media makes it extremely difficult to separate fact from imagination and most of the time what one is watching is far from reality. The confusion between illusion and reality is likely to get worse not better so education needs to focus on helping people understand the difference.

  7. And yet, as a concerned acquaintance wrote to Harvard’s Mack in 1994, such visitations “contradict virtually all of the basic laws of physics, chemistry and biology on which modern science depends.”

    I don’t believe aliens have visited us. But I see this said a lot and I think its wrong. There is nothing about aliens visiting us that contradict virtually all of the basic laws of physics. It would require technology that is far beyond what we have and perhaps technology that by any standard isn’t feasible to build but it doesn’t contradict any laws of physics or any other science.

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  9. A good idea for an article but very poorly executed. There does seem to be a “need for belief” in human psychology, this can lead to religion, new agey stuff or conspiracy theories. You have to watch out for it even in yourself.
    I for example have been optimistic about the success over the last twenty years of I) the Washington Redskins ii) the England cricket team despite decades of evidence to the contrary. This seems to be a safe outlet for this part of myself.

  10. “What is it about UFOs that drive so many people to believe they exist despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?”

    “contradict virtually all of the basic laws of physics, chemistry and biology on which modern science depends.”

    Could you be a bit more specific about this overwhelming evidence? Proving negatives, by its nature is usually impossible. That’s especially true where there is so much evidence which supports the notion.

    I am particularly interested in exactly how the presence of extraterrestrials would violate the laws of physics, chemistry and biology.

    In France, the govt. recruited top notch scientists to research alleged UFO sightings. After thousands of case studies, they concluded that 28% of the sightings could not be explained as natural phenomena. The head of the organization stated that he believed the extraterrestrial explanation was correct. Unlike most scientists, these men actually did the research and their conclusions were much different from those who did not.

    Undoubtedly, there have been ridiculous reports that clearly were hoaxes or an old lady seeing the planet Venus. But to debunk this concept, you need to take on the toughest cases – not the weakest. The Phoenix sightings, confirmed by thousands including numerous police officers and the governor of Arizona would be a good place to start.

    And then there are countless other cases confirmed by commercial and military pilots, including a few astronauts which were often corroborated by radar. How many of those have you looked into? How did you manage to debunk them?

    There are probably more than a trillion planets in this galaxy. If intelligent life, capable of high technology appeared on just one in say, 10 million of them, then there would have been more than 100,000. On some planets there might have been more than one, over the millions and billions of years.

    Why is it so outrageous to think that one or more of them might have found us interesting enough to study, as we might study a newly discovered tribe in Africa or the rain forest?

    Whether it is true or not, the possibility of us being visited by extraterrestrials is not at all ridiculous or impossible. It is not woo. It is in fact, quite reasonable based on what little knowledge we know of this universe. There is no reason why this question should not be treated objectively and seriously researched.

    • In reply to #31 by RobertHarris:

      “What is it about UFOs that drive so many people to believe they exist despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?”

      “contradict virtually all of the basic laws of physics, chemistry and biology on which modern science depends.”

      Could you be a bit more specific about this overwhelming evidence?…

      Robert, it’s a little like other controversial areas – ghosts, Near Death Experiences, reincarnation – whatever – the UFO thing has a lot – a LOT – of rubbish and mistaken sightings and all the rest of it within it, but sometimes there is maybe something which makes you think ‘ok, that’s not quite so daft’. I do think, though, that if another civilisation were watching us, they would never fly about in weird things almost hitting passenger jets, lol.

      • In reply to #32 by TanyaK:
        “Robert, it’s a little like other controversial areas – ghosts, Near Death Experiences, reincarnation – whatever – the UFO thing has a lot – a LOT – of rubbish and mistaken sightings and all the rest of it within it, but sometimes there is maybe something which makes you think ‘ok, that’s not quite so daft’. I do think, though, that if another civilisation were watching us, they would never fly about in weird things almost hitting passenger jets, lol.”

        I don’t think it is at all like ghosts, reincarnation, etc. I think we all agree that those things are not possible. Intelligent life on other planets is almost a certainty, however. And anyone who thinks that sightings should be measured by the degree of daftness is simply unaware of the details of the various cases.

        Some things (like ghosts and gods) seem ridiculous because they contradict science and rationality. Other things seem ridiculous only because they are outside of our realm of experience. If you cannot think of a logical reason to reject something like this then you might want to at least consider the possibility that it is worth investigating. The GEPAN/SEPRA program, established by the French government might be a good place to start. It was conducted by high level scientists who investigated literally thousands of cases in France, often taking soil samples where UFO’s were alleged to have landed. As I mentioned before, scientists who actually study the cases usually arrive at much different conclusions from those who don’t.

        Amidst all the crap on Youtube, you can also find some excellent documentaries and reports by CNN, the Discovery Channel, the BBC etc. Hey! I’m not saying this is an absolute fact. My only suggestion is – get informed and be objective. Until you do that, don’t buy into the sweeping generalization that all sightings are by lunatics or people who don’t know that they are looking at the planet Venus.

        • In reply to #33 by RobertHarris:

          In reply to #32 by TanyaK:
          “Robert, it’s a little like other controversial areas – ghosts, Near Death Experiences, reincarnation – whatever – the UFO thing has a lot – a LOT – of rubbish and mistaken sightings and all the rest of it within it, but sometimes there is maybe something which makes you t…

          “I don’t think it is at all like ghosts, reincarnation, etc. I think we all agree that those things are not possible.”

          Only people who haven’t spent a week staying in one of the most haunted houses in Wiltshire will doubt the existence of ghosts, lol.

          “scientists who actually study the cases usually arrive at much different conclusions from those who don’t.”

          Quite – and the other areas have been researched also. Take reincarnation, for instance, which you have dismissed – even Carl Sagan stated that the cases regarding memories of young children who appear to recall details of ‘past lives’ which are later verified is a subject worthy of further study, after being aware of the work of Ian Stevenson.

          There is far more nonsense peddled under the UFO umbrella than in other areas. The concept of a civilisation advanced enough to get here from ‘A Galaxy Far Far Away’ which then wastes time flying around scaring people in planes and mutilating cattle, etc, is all a little bizarre, frankly. Surely they’d just quietly observe? Otherwise, they seem extraordinarily incompetent.

          One of the silliest things linked to the UFO scene was Crop Circles – some people still think they are made by aliens – yet when I was staying at my friend’s estate down in Wiltshire during the summer holidays we met some of the people who go out and make them, lol.

          • In reply to #34 by TanyaK:

            Tanya, I’m trying to understand you here. Are you suggesting that we should not study the UFO issue objectively, because Carl Sagan said something which implied that reincarnation might be possible?

            Let’s try it this way – what are the three worst things that might happen if one remains open minded and looks into the details of some of the most significant cases?

            Or would you suggest that it is preferable to remain ignorant of the details and form conclusions based on unjustified generalizations?

            “the UFO thing has a lot – a LOT – of rubbish and mistaken sightings and all the rest of it within it”

            Did you come to that conclusion based on a thorough study of a significant number of cases, Tanya? If not, then how DID you come to that belief?

          • In reply to #35 by RobertHarris:

            In reply to #34 by TanyaK:

            Tanya, I’m trying to understand you here. Are you suggesting that we should not study the UFO issue objectively, because Carl Sagan said something which implied that reincarnation might be possible?

            No, lol – I mean that all these contentious areas contain much that is either error or deliberately fraudulent, etc, but all have a core of evidence which is not nonsense and which requires a closer look. None of these things can be dismissed ‘out of hand’.

            “Did you come to that conclusion based on a thorough study of a significant number of cases, Tanya? If not, then how DID you come to that belief?”

            My point is that, unlike the nature of the other subject areas mentioned, the UFO phenomenon is more rooted in the concept of behaviour of a society – in this case of course potentially an alien one. I have read something of the material on the topic, yes, and have seen quite a few of the more recent reports in the press. I merely wonder why would they be so shy? A recurrent theme in most such reports is of almost a teasing behaviour – why would such a civilisation waste its time with this?

          • In reply to #34 by TanyaK:

            I merely wonder why would they be so shy?

            Think, “prime directive” :-)

            Trying to understand the motives of beings who would probably be millions of years ahead of us, might be a difficult undertaking. But it’s not hard to imagine that they would expect no benefit from sitting down and chatting with us.

            My simple speculation is that they might be interested in studying us as we study everything from insects to dolphins. Reports of animal mutilations and abductions would be consistent with that theory. In both cases they were claimed to have performed surgical procedures that could have been for research of some kind.

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