Non-UFO Local Alien Clues

[US] Department of Defense formally released three Navy videos that contain ‘unidentified aerial phenomena.’ … When the videos were published in 2017 and 2018 by The New York Times …, they gave new hope to those looking for signs of extraterrestrial life. … ‘it’s time that we make progress to understand the extraordinary technology being observed during these events.’ (More)

Still, when you run all the arguments through your mind, is it not possible to come away with an estimate of at least a one-in-a-thousand chance that alien visitations are a real thing? Even such a small chance would be worthy of more discussion. (More)

Alexander Wendt, a professor of international relations at Ohio State University. Wendt is a giant in his field of IR theory, but in the past 15 years or so, he’s become an amateur ufologist. … ‘It’s possible they’ve been here all along. … They could just be intergalactic tourists. Maybe they’re looking for certain minerals. It could just be scientific curiosity. It could be that they’re extracting our DNA. I mean, who knows? I have no idea. All I know is that if they are here, they seem to be peaceful.’ (More)

In the above, two social scientists, economist Tyler Cowen and political scientist Alexander Wendt, say to take UFOs-as-aliens more seriously. But in a quick search I can’t find any serious social analysis of this hypothesis. I see studies of why humans might want to believe in aliens, or why they might have a taboo against considering aliens. But not an analysis of alien social behavior, to help us evaluate the UFOs-as-aliens hypothesis. What I find is mostly like the above, “who knows?” So let me try.

To do Bayesian inference well, we need a set of not-crazy scenarios describing what might really be going on, we need a prior describing our beliefs about which of these scenarios seems how likely using our background knowledge, we need some more specific data to consider, and we need likelihood functions that say how likely each piece of specific data would be given each scenario.

Note: to study priors and likliehoods, I’ll need to make some assumptions, and see where they lead. That doesn’t mean I actually believe them.

While many UFO reports can be easily dismissed, a remnant of reports seems harder to dismiss, apparently showing artificial physical objects in the sky with amazing velocities and accelerations, but without the usual physical effects on nearby things.

Regarding these puzzling UFOs, I see three key explanation categories:

  • Measurement Error – What look like artificial objects with crazy extreme abilities are actually natural stuff looked at wrong. Perhaps due to intentional fakery. This is widely and probably correctly judged to be the most likely scenario. Nevertheless, we can’t be very confident of that without considering its alternatives in more detail.
  • Secret Societies – There really are artificial objects with amazing abilities, though perhaps somewhat overestimated via partially misleading observations. These are created and managed by hidden groups in our world, substantially tied to us. Secret local military research groups, distant secret militaries, non-state Bond-villains, time-travelers from our near future, dinosaur civilizations deep in the Earth’s crust, etc.
  • Aliens – Again these objects really do have amazing abilities, and are created by hidden groups. But in this case the relevant groups are much less integrated with and correlated with our societies and history. Little green men, their super-robot descendants, universe-sim admins, gods, etc. If these groups had a common origin with, competed with, or were much influenced by the groups that we know of, such things mostly happened long ago, and probably far away.

These three alternatives don’t obviously exhaust all options, but then again I can’t really think of much else.

Assuming that third scenario, hidden groups whose history and features are not much integrated with ours, we can confidently conclude that they most likely arose long ago and far away. Otherwise their space-time correlation with us would be an unlikely coincidence. Perhaps we and they arose from stars in the same stellar nursery, or Earth life was seeded by them, but that still leaves huge relevant durations and distances. And these pretty strongly support their having spectacular technologies and capacities. They have progressed and innovated for many millions and perhaps billions of years more than we. So they can travel very long distances, and survive very long durations.

Now it isn’t at all crazy to expect that many alien powers might arise over the scope and history of the universe. Our prior there has to start out high. But it is a bit more surprising that over billions of years this hasn’t resulted in visible changes to the universe we see. Somehow, all these advanced aliens have not widely rearranged galaxies, deconstructed stars, and so on. Once we condition on the “great filter” fact that we don’t see aliens out there, it become much less clear how likely we should consider aliens to be, especially aliens capable of and inclined to come near us. But that scenario also isn’t obviously impossible, so let us continue.

To consider UFOs-as-aliens, we must consider ancient aliens who were once very far away long ago, had spectacular tech and capacities, did not visibly change the universe, eventually traveled to here now, and are doing stuff around here now. The most likely scenarios consistent with that description tend to have those aliens be clearly visible around here. They’d be living near, building things, using local resources, dumping trash, fighting with each other, etc. But they are not clearly visible. So we must downgrade our prior again, perhaps a lot, to consider scenarios where active local aliens are clearly visible neither on cosmic scales nor on local scales.

For example, perhaps these aliens have found other attractive resources somewhere else hard-to-see nearby, perhaps dark matter or another dimension, resources so much more attractive than ours that they see no point in using the stuff we see. (But then why do their UFOs come here and interact with our matter?) Or perhaps they’ve coordinated to make our region into a nature preserve, not to be used much. Or perhaps they want to observe Earth and human evolution untouched and uninfluenced. Not crazy scenarios, but also not obviously the most likely ones consistent with our prior knowledge.

We have so far had to cut down our aliens prior to account for the lack of clear alien visibility at both cosmic and local scales. But we still have at least one more puzzling data point to integrate into our analysis: these aliens are sometimes somewhat visible as UFOs. Surely such advanced aliens are well aware of our existence, and can figure out roughly what we can see and infer about them. So either they are purposely allowing us to see glimpses of them in this way, or they are failing to prevent such glimpses.

So far, everything I’ve said I’ve heard before from others. Now come my original points, which I haven’t heard from elsewhere, though I wouldn’t be surprised if others have said them. (Far more is written on this than I have time to survey, as I lack good quality filters in this area.) Under either of these scenarios, purposeful or accidental revelation, it isn’t obvious that UFOs would be the only or main channel of such revelations to us about aliens.

If UFOs are shown to us on purpose, to influence our society in some way via a weak suspicion of local aliens, surely such capable aliens would also have a great many other way to influence us. And it is hard to imagine a purpose, or ability package, which would limit their influence to letting us see UFOs. They could edit our DNA, start pandemics or earthquakes, whisper hints to key leaders or innovators, kill off opponents, etc. And while they might be able to do all these things in ways that remain quite hidden, they could also work less hard to hide, and let some of us sometimes get glimpses of their influence.

Perhaps the fact that we see strange UFO behavior is due to accidental failures to sufficiently monitor or incentivize local alien actors who would otherwise want to influence us. Their abilities to prevent such failures would be quite good, but not quite perfect. But if so, similar failures could also allow local aliens to influence us in other ways. On our end, perhaps editing DNA, whispering hits, etc. On their end, they must at some points collect materials and energy sources, stay at home locations, and discard trash.

So under both types of scenarios, if UFOs are due to aliens we should also expect to sometimes see rare but striking alien influences in many other domains. Thus we should be able to get data to confirm or refute this UFOs-as-aliens theory by looking at many other areas of life, not just at strange objects in the sky. (Or in sea, caves, forests, and other sparse places.)

Sure, it is logically possible that aliens intend for us to see them only via strange sky objects. But our prior doesn’t at all favor that, even after modification to condition on low visibility at cosmic and local scales. So a lack of apparent alien influence in many other areas of life must count as evidence against the UFOs-as-aliens scenarios, both the purposeful-but-weak and the barely-accidental versions. Conversely, UFOs-as-aliens would be confirmed by a consistent pattern of rare but striking hard-to-explain influences in other areas of life, influences that aliens might plausibly want to cause.

I am somewhat of a polymath, pursuing a wider range of areas and topics than do most intellectuals or social scientists. So I consider myself to be more qualified than most to consider the possibility of strange influences on human behavior. And while I have in fact seen many strange things, for almost none does alien influence seem especially helpful in explaining what we see.

Now you might argue that aliens want to limit their purposeful revelations to one main most-effective area, or that due to varying costs of coordination and enforcement, one main area will end up being the hardest to control, and thus the area where the most accidental revelations occur. So why couldn’t strange stuff in the sky be that main area in either case?

Yes, that’s not crazy. But assume then that aliens are trying hard to just barely weakly reveal themselves in only one area, or that they are trying hard to prevent us from seeing them but just failing a bit in one worse area. Neither of these scenarios offer much encouragement for more careful analysis of this UFOs-as-aliens theory. In both cases, aliens are controlling how much we see, and so can plausibly quickly adjust their efforts to hide better if we surprise them with being more perceptive than expected. And if we are less perceptive than expected, they can relax their efforts a bit, to make it easier for us to see.

This is somewhat like the problem of inferring that we live in a sim via errors in the sim. If we lived in a sim, and the people running it could see us noticing errors, then they cold stop the sim at that point, back it up, and restart after putting more effort into cutting errors. So we’d only remember errors if they wanted us to remember them. In this scenario, if we just barely sometimes notice errors that we are not very sure are errors, our putting more effort into studying possible sim errors would only be rewarded by stronger efforts on their parts to hide their errors.

That is, if there really are gods around who don’t want us to easily see them, but who sometimes reveal themselves to some of us, we can’t gain much by trying to together better analyze our shared data, to see if they exist. They can control what we see, and control us more directly, in enough ways that we will only know and see what they want us to know and see. Yes, okay, maybe they intend to reward us by revealing themselves to us, but only after we do a good enough collective analysis of our data. But really, given all the other plausible motives and priorities that they might have, our prior has to count that as a quite unlikely scenario. Most likely, when they want us to see them, we’ll see them, but not before.

Yes, aliens might just happen to be at the edge of detectability to us, but not due to efforts on their part to prevent or encourage detection. Yet if that edge region in detectability space is narrow, then it seems that our relative prior on that scenario should be low. The fact that UFOs have remained near our edge of detectability for 80 years of improving sensor tech and increasing sensor density also weakly suggests that more than coincidence is at work here. However, an increasing taboo against UFO-as-aliens may be an adequate explanation for this, and the edge region of detectability space may not in fact be narrow.

Of course even more likely, perhaps, no nearby aliens cause UFOs. But if they do, the best hypothesis, for its combo of likelihood and productivity, seems to be aliens who can travel very far in space and time, who sometimes travel near us, but who care little about us or the types of resources that we can see or use. They do visit here sometimes, where we sometimes meet them accidentally. The rest of us only hear of such meetings when our taboo against reporting them happens to be especially weak. Weirder than I expected, but then the universe has been weirder than we’ve expected before.

Added 5a: A creative scenario is humans finding & using ancient alien tech. Alas, the prior chances seem quite low that alien tech would be abandoned near us, found, still functional after this long, functional outside supporting resources of their civilization, useable by us, and still kept hidden.

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