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Archive for January, 2011

About a month ago the UFO Iconoclast blog posted an important essay entitled, “The Myth of Man-Made Flying Saucers.” I’ve said before on this blog that the UFO Iconoclasts put out a lot of material that’s worth your time. This essay is no exception. The essay begins this way:

Many have touted the theory that the anomalous aerial craft seen in our skies are man-made. Authors of such material believe that UFOs are actually “secret US government experiments.” Others maintain that these advanced craft are resultant from hidden “Tesla technologies.” Still others maintain that there are really “WWII German flying saucers” and that we secured their designs. Some even believe that an “Illuminati” – or some closed cabal – controls this secret science.

A long line of researchers has promoted the idea that there has been a “legacy of suppression” of these amazing aerial technologies. They say that UFOs are craft of human construction. But all of these researchers are wrong. And incredibly, the US Government has itself quietly and craftily reinforced this fallacious “man-made UFO” belief over many decades.

The truth is that there are very good reasons that “genuine” UFOs cannot be the creation of man – and very good reasons to dismiss forever the notion that classified or covert human technology of any kind accounts for these strange craft.

Despite the value of this essay (and you will note its value as you read), it has problems in its persuasion. These problems are illustrative of the epistemological conundrum (crisis?) for the alien hypothesis for UFOs. I’m going to respond to sections of the essay (labeled UFOI) over the course of a few posts in an attempt to illustrate what I mean. My replies are indented and marked MSH.

UFOI: There is no doubt that many sightings of UFOs are actually of advanced military aircraft. And there is no doubt that the U.S. military and Intelligence agencies do not mind when these craft are misperceived as “alien spacecraft.” We do indeed have craft that are far ahead of what the public is generally aware. We’ve made circular craft and other craft of even far more novel appearance. And such ultra-high-performance craft are clandestinely test flown at places such as Area 51.

But many of the operational and design characteristics of some UFOs simply defy the limits of current human technology by anyone’s measure – and will for at least many centuries. These characteristics include:

* The ability to “morph” appearance (including shape, density and size) often assuming craft configurations that are not even aerodynamic
* “Changing state” by exhibiting a defined material structure and then appearing as “engineered light” or plasma-like
* Seamlessly “splitting” from one craft into multiple craft – often creating formations
* Appearing in one part of the sky and – in a literal instant – appearing in a completely different part of the horizon
* Hovering silently and then moving at tremendous speed- without leaving a plume or contrail or without emitting a sonic boom
* Dodging advanced fighter jet intercepts and playing “cat and mouse” with the very military that should know of their existence
* Exhibiting flight maneuvers requiring G-forces that surpass the levels of human tolerance and endurance
* Displaying no rivets, bolts, welds, fittings, joints, seams (or intake and exhaust features) that are common and essential to all air and spacecraft in all history

MSH: Some of these items are hardly compelling as proof of alien technology. Let’s take the first four, since many readers would consider them the most difficult:

* The ability to “morph” appearance (including shape, density and size) often assuming craft configurations that are not even aerodynamic.
* “Changing state” by exhibiting a defined material structure and then appearing as “engineered light” or plasma-like
* Seamlessly “splitting” from one craft into multiple craft – often creating formations
* Appearing in one part of the sky and – in a literal instant – appearing in a completely different part of the horizon

First, it should be noted that these observations are anecdotal and nothing more. Readers know I am inclined to accept such anecdotes as honest reports. But that is the best we can presume for them – honesty. They are honest reports of naked eye observation. But that’s all. Their honesty says nothing about the accuracy of one’s interpretation as to the cause of what one has seen. What I mean here is that an object can certainly appear to “morph” but unless there is some scientific measurement for these reports that I don’t know about, it is only perception, a perception that may or may not be accurate in terms of what is physically happening to the object observed. There could be, for instance, something happening to or around or near the object that creates the visual impression of “morphing” to someone miles away. We just don’t know. And so I ask if it is sound thinking to be so certain that the object being observed is not man-made? I think not, since that conclusion is based on visual observation, not scientific testing.

Second, what if there was such testing available, or that had been conducted? Naturally, we’d want to see it and have it peer-reviewed and reproduced for validity (a little thing we like to call the scientific method). Then the question changes to: Does the anomalous behavior of this object or metal prove alien, as opposed to human, origin? The answer is, honestly, “No, although it might.” What would we need to reach an accurate conclusion on the matter? Here’s a minimalist list:

a. Proof that intelligent aliens exist. One cannot logically say “well, the amazing technology is the proof” because that would be the logical fallacy of assuming what one is trying to prove. No dice there.
b. If “a” is proven, then we need proof that these intelligent aliens are visiting earth.
c. That what the above observations describe are in fact alien craft.

I’ve grouped “b” and “c” here for a reason. They are distinct propositions, for one thing. The truth of “b” does not constitute the validity of “c” unless the aliens in “b” tell us that is the case (presuming they are trustworthy, of course, which is another factor). But this also means that “b” could be true and proven *without* “c”. In other words, if the technology behind these observations turns out to be human, that doesn’t mean that alien visitation is disproven (or that “a” – alien existence – is disproven). In short, it’s a good thing for ETH proponents that these ideas are not dominoes.

Here are some questions and possible alternative hypotheses with respect to this list of four:

a. In reports of “changing state” — is there testing I don’t know about that can tell us this is what is happening? Do we know that the object is plasma? Do we know that any compositional change at all is what is behind the observation? No, no, and no — but again, maybe.

b. On the seamless splitting… This is actually an effect (if it is only an effect – I don’t know) that is easily produced — at night anyway, and especially with a hovering craft. If there were, say, four objects in the sky but only one visible, as soon as the others became visible, it would look like the result of splitting. And if those objects moved in tandem away from a central object, the effect could be even more dramatic. If visibility was turned off and on while moving, the effect of speed in the splitting would also be achieved. Same thing for “re-assembly” – we don’t know if there is real splitting and joining since visibility and non-visibility can produce those effects.

c. The appearance in one part of the sky and then in “a literal instant” appearing in another is also something easily achieved through light and darkness at night. If anyone has seen the wonderful movie, The Prestige, this is easily illustrated. How did the Christian Bale character instantaneously go into one door and appear from another across the stage? Because he had a twin. If two objects were in the sky at the same time and they each alternated visibility and darkness in tandem, the effect would be instantaneous movement — while no movement occurred at all.

d. This list is also susceptible to something discussed in a few pages of Mirage Men — I speak here of “radar ghosting” — certain techniques used by “mirage men” to fool radar technicians into thinking they had UFOs on the screen of incredible speed and maneuverability. But it was fake.

e. Morphing appearance could be explained by a failure of the human eye to tell what’s really happening at these distances. Is the object *actually* changing composition and shape, or are we led to think that by light that is pulsating, flickering, or going off-and-on in such a way as to create a shape-changing appearance?

f. Could the object be expanding or contracting, or producing appendages that create the morphing impression? How would we know if the shape-changing was not mechanical (i.e., the UFOI presumes that something is happening *compositionally* to whatever the object is made of, but we don’t actually know that.

Generally, I have to wonder how many of these four anecdotal observations / descriptions (a) were observed during the day time and (b) are not radar-related. For me, a day-time observation of the types listed above that was made with the naked eye and not purely on the basis of radar would be much more compelling. But the fact that I’d be awed (as would the viewer, no doubt) doesn’t say diddly about what the object was or who made it. That’s just the cold, logical fact of the matter. Awe does not translate to factual knowledge about what awed you and who or what was behind it.

So where does this leave us? Back where we started. And that is the epistemological problem for UFOs. How do you really know what it is you claim to know? Or, in the spirit of the UFOI essay, how can you discern one myth from another? For me, I’m not going to call the man-made idea a myth unless science can tell me that the observational language coincides with what is actually happening with what is being observed — and that its origina is extraterrestrial. By calling the man-made option a myth (as opposed to an alternative hypothesis), one is claiming that the ETH is the truth. It cannot be given that accolade when it is inadequate on epistemological and logical grounds (at least right now).

Stay tuned.

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The Magonia Blog posted a review today on an important new book by Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck entitled, Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times, and Their Impact on Human Culture, History and Belief (Tarcher/Penguin, 2010). You can read the review here. Two paragraphs of note:

Of course these accounts are not without interest, and the portions relating to strange lights in the sky may well contain material of interest to astronomers and meteorologists. This is particularly true of the material from the nineteenth century. For example some of the observations of dark objects crossing the sun might be early accounts of near-earth asteroids.

Though the second section entitled ‘Myths, Legends and Chariots of the Gods’ is supposed to be the one in which more mythical or even fictional material is presented, once it moves out of modern hoaxes, the differences between the two sections become rather academic. Again, it seems to invoke the sort of arguments which plagued projects like INTCAT, trying to separate out the ‘genuine’ from ‘spurious’ cases, often on the basis of personal belief and boggle factor. Again if we cannot make easy judgements about events in our own time, how can we possibly make them about events and experiences centuries ago?

I’m reading the book now, and will no doubt have similar sentiments, though I’ll probably be harsher. To this point, while this book will be valuable as a reference source, it is a parade example of over-promising and under-delivering. Stay tuned to find out why.

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Nick has an interesting post today about possible links to the Collins Elite group, featured in his book Final Events (reviewed here by yours truly). In a nutshell, the update concerns advances in “memory metal” that may be linkable to a memo Nick cited in Final Events that had NASA being able to achieve a “manifestation” of certain materials in a laboratory that utilized the “Parsons Technique.” My take on this is that Parson was of course doing alchemical experiments. But alchemy is what is now called chemistry and materials science. I’m not surprised in the least that a rocket scientist like Parsons would have an advanced knowledge of chemistry and/or materials science. You wouldn’t need to connect to demons (or aliens) for that. Occam’s razor would suggest that Parsons might simply deserve credit for thinking outside the chemical / materials science box, ahead of his time. Any connection with Roswell would be interesting, of course, but would not point to aliens 9for that one would need to know that whatever was produced in the lab was of alien intellectual origin — and we’d first need to know there are aliens for that one — or was not achievable with earthly materials. The latter is basically ruled out by Nick’s update (palladium does exist on earth), so the former is the issue.

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Those of you who frequent this blog know that, on more than one occasion, I’ve wondered why anyone takes Paul Davies seriously when he writes anything pertaining to religion. Perhaps this is a sign of the impending apocalypse, but he’s finally produced something that doesn’t make me cringe. Davies wrote recently that “in light of modern physics discoveries, materialism is not the most viable philosophy.” No kidding.

Davies flash of religious coherence appears in his contribution to a new Cambridge title, Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press 2010). For some commentary on how Davies’ admission is inconsistent with the way intelligent design theorists are often treated, see this from Uncommon Descent.

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Periodically on this blog I make note of theoretical physics and its implications for theism (better, it’s support for theism). In that light, I want to draw your attention to two recent posts responding to a recent case made for how current views of cosmology purportedly rule out a need for a creator-God. The most recent example was that of Stephen Hawking, critiques of which (by physicists and mathematicians) I’ve posted here before. Today, though, I want to highlight some responses to a 2006 piece that is apparently getting new attention on the web.

The 2006 essay was by Keith Parsons, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston-Clear-Lake. Parsons outlined his reasons for rejecting the case for a Divine Creator in an essay entitled, No Creator Need Apply: A Reply to Roy Abraham Varghese. The essay was rebutted recently by Paul Herrick in his piece, Job Opening: Creator of the Universe A Reply to Keith Parsons (2009). Even more recently, two posts over at Uncommon Descent caught my interest. You can read them here and here.

This discussion over cosmology and theism illustrates why arguments for and against ET life are *not* the same as arguments for and against God. Apples and oranges. That’s something I’ll come back to.

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