(This post is more of an essay, intended to be especially widely accessible.)
Long ago, my physics teachers taught me to arrogantly dismiss the “paranormal”, like ghosts or telepathy. Or UFOs. Yes, we once saw meteorites as paranormal, but not today. Yes, we now accept ball lightning, even though evidence for it is weaker than for UFOs, but we have plausible theories there.
However, when the topic of distant “aliens” came up recently in my research on the origin of life and the future of the universe, I browsed UFO evidence and found it to be much stronger than stuff on ghosts or telepathy. And now a U.S. military report says that intelligently controlled UFOs with amazing abilities seem real to them, even if they don’t know their cause.
Hence my and perhaps your titular reaction, “What the Hell?” How can this make any sense?
Turns out, my prior research prepared me to address this very question, once I gave it some thought. Not on the evidence for UFOs, where others are more expert than I. But on how to fit this idea of strange objects with amazing abilities under intelligent control into your scientific world view. (Note that I’m not claiming this as fact; I’m saying it isn’t crazy.)
While there are many possibilities here, it suffices for me to show just one. And yes, it involves aliens.
We can easily believe that aliens are very advanced, and thus have amazing abilities. But two questions remain:
In a vast universe that looks dead everywhere, how is it that advanced aliens happen to be right here right now?
Even if aliens did travel to be here now, why would they act as UFOs do: mute and elusive, yet still noticeable?
First, note that our standard best scientific theories predict aliens. That is, they predict that life sometimes arises from simple dead matter, and can eventually evolve to make intelligent creatures like us. And this could happen most anywhere.
Yes, the universe looks completely dead; we see no signs of life outside Earth, even though over millions of years advanced aliens could have made some big visible changes. Some possible explanations:
Aliens arise so rarely that the nearest ones are too far to see, or to have travelled to here,
Aliens are common but simply can’t travel between stars or make big visible changes,
Aliens are common and travel everywhere, but enforce rules against visible changes, or
Aliens arise rarely, but in small clumps; the first in clump to appear can control the others.
Of these, only the last two can put aliens here now, and #3 seems too much a conspiracy (i.e., coordinate to hide) theory for my tastes. But scenario #4 works, and could plausibly result from “panspermia.”
That is, simple life might have arisen on a planet Eden long ago, via a very rare event. (My research suggests this happens only once per million galaxies.) After life evolved at Eden for billions of years, a rock hit Eden, kicking up another rock that drifted for millions of years carrying life to seed our Sun’s stellar nursery. A nursery that held thousands of new stars packed close with many rocks flying around, allowing life to spread quickly to them all.
Our sun’s siblings then drifted apart, while life evolved on each planet for billions of years. The first sibling planet to develop civilization did so millions of years ago, and it wasn’t Earth. These aliens then sought out their sibling stars and traveled to them to watch civilization maybe evolve there.
Now, to explain the fact that these aliens have not visibly changed our shared galaxy, even though they can travel to here, we must postulate that they enforce a rule against making big visible changes, probably enforced by a strong central government. A rule against mass aggressive expansion, colonization, and disassembling of planets, stars, etc. Maybe due to environmentalist values, maybe to enable regulation, or maybe just to protect central control and status. Yes, this is something of a conspiracy theory, but being smaller, it seems easier to swallow.
Okay, that is a not-crazy answer to the first question, on why aliens are here now in a dead universe. What about the second question, on why UFOs act so weird and coy?
To answer this, I postulate two features of sibling alien preferences: 1) they want to get us to comply with their rule against making big visible changes to the universe, and 2) they are reluctant to just kill, crush, enslave, or dominate us to get this outcome (or they’d have already done one of these). Aliens somehow value something about us independent of their influence, and thus prefer us to organically and voluntary comply with their rule.
To induce our voluntary min-change compliance, their plan is put themselves gently at the top of our status ladder. After all, social animals consistently have status ladders, with low status animals tending to emulate the higher. So if these aliens hang out close to us for a long time, show us their very impressive abilities, but don’t act overtly hostile, then we may well come to see them as very high status members of our tribe. (Not powerful hostile outsiders.)
If we are smart enough to figure out that they have a rule against big visible changes, enforced via a “world” government, we may naturally emulate those policies. We may even come to treat UFO aliens as ancient humans treated their gods and top leaders, with respect, deference, and obedience. After all, most ancient people knew little about their gods and leaders beyond their impressive wealth and abilities, but that was usually enough.
But why not just land on the White House lawn, meet with our leaders, and explain their agenda? Because once they start talking to us, we will have a lot of questions. Such as on their nature, practices, history, and future plans. And many of us would surely hate some of their answers. They are complete aliens after all, and we are often offended by humans from slightly different cultures. They reasonably guess that we are just not as open-minded as we like to think.
Sure, maybe if they understood us really well they could just say “no comment” when a discussion got near something likely to offend us. But we’d then reasonably infer that they were hiding bad news near there, make a guess at what it is, and get somewhat offended at that. Far simpler and more robust to not talk at all, except in dire emergencies.
That’s a plan that could be approved long in advance by a far away central power wary of allowing much improvisation and discretion by their local representatives. Especially if their very old and stable centralized civilization has atrophied and lost much of its prior generality and flexibility. Or if they worry that such representatives may “go native” and be persuaded by us to go grabby.
This strategy works best if they carefully limit what they show us. Just give us brief simple impressive glimpses that don’t let us figure out their tech, or even the locations of their local bases. The package of simple geometric shapes, crazy accelerations, no sounds or other local side effects, clear intelligent intent, and avoiding harms to us seems to do the trick.
And that’s my story. How UFOs as aliens can make sense. Not an inspiring story, but a plausible one. They could be our panspermia siblings, here to get us to voluntarily obey their rule against aggressive expansion, hopefully via our emulating them because they sit at the top of our status ladder. Not to say that this is obviously true, just to say that it isn’t crazy. Yes, there are other possible scenarios. But UFOs as aliens, that’s no crazier than ball lighting.
Added 4July: The many comments on this post are mostly the result of this mention at Instapundit.
If you have self replicating robots, you can scorch the surface off every planet in the galaxy.
I think the falling birthrates are a temporary cultural blip, and depend on many details of our socioeconomic particulars. I don't expect them to apply universally. " We're not looking at spreading to everywhere in the galaxy" Give it 100,000 years and we will. Firstly, with advanced nanotech means a population that can be practically immortal if they want. Growth requires very low birth rates if there is no death. Then selection. If there is some cult of fertility, they will slowly outbreed the rest. Then automation, parenting may be much more attractive when a nappy changing robot is developed. Maybe a few of the aliens are total utilitarians. Stopping population growth would require strong coordination without good reason.