UFOs: The Atlantis Hypothetical

Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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60 Responses

  1. Tod Kelly says:

    The myriad of thoughts I have in response to this, distilled down to just two words:



  2. Kolohe says:

    I’m not saying that Giorgio Tsoukalos would have liked this post…

    …but Giorgio Tsoukalos would have liked this post.Report

    • Jon Rowe in reply to Kolohe says:

      I don’t watch a whole lot of Ancient Aliens (though I love the Internet meme with Giorgio’s pic). I do now and then tune into Joe Rogan’s podcast. I may have listened to the episode the two of them did together a few years ago. But after writing this post I listened or re-listened to it.

      Most if not all of the points I made were anticipated there.Report

  3. greginak says:

    If you haven’t seen the great British sci film from the 60’s Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth) you should. It’s a great film but goes into some the stuff you are talking about. Really, go watch it.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Ubiquitous cameras may settle the other phenomena, but recall that part of the alien visitation mythos is that they have been monitoring humanity’s technological advancement, for reasons unknown. They may simply have switched surveillance tactics (gone long-range, using cloaking devices/camouflage, etc.) to avoid detection now that we all have cameras.

      That said, I am reminded of someone who once QED’d alien visitations out of existence for me thus:

      1.). Aliens have mastered interstellar distances – therefore, they are hella smart.
      2.) They wish for their existence to remain hidden – otherwise, they would have landed on the White House lawn already.
      3.). And yet, when they get here, they are too stupid to turn off their ship’s lights.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Glyph says:

        “Hey Gryxglix, I finally read the manual and guess what? The tip of the sensor wand was supposed to go into the *mouths* of the planet’s fauna”Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Glyph says:

        It’s pretty damn unclear why they would have switched to stealth *now*, after apparently appearing in hundreds of pictures in the last century. As XKCD pointed out a while back, because everyone now has a camera, we have, at this point, pretty conclusively disproved the existence of bigfoot and aliens walking around. (Unidentified flying objects, of course, do exist…but very often, now do get identified.) If they existed, at least if they existed at the statistical amount that they appeared to have existed two decades ago, several thousand people,or more, would have taken pictures of them.

        Also, the big one for me:

        4) Absolutely none of them have decided they don’t like the ‘remain secret’ idea and land in the middle of the Super Bowl.

        The idea of aliens visiting earth are basically like any other conspiracy theory: There’s a bunch of stuff attributed to the conspiracy that cannot *possibly* be the most logical thing for the conspirators to do.

        There seems to be some sort of defect in the human mind that, once they think they have spotted a conspiracy (And let’s actually admit conspiracies do exist.), they then attempt to make every piece of evidence somehow be part of, even when that cannot possibly had advanced the conspiracy. Things people cannot possibly have a motive to do.

        Of course, in the case of space aliens, it’s a little unclear what the hell the conspiracy even is. Sure, they’ve invented motives for the *humans*, but it’s very unclear what, exactly, aliens would be getting out of this. If they went public, at the very least, they’d be able to get different governments to compete for their attention.Report

      • North in reply to Glyph says:

        Space is big. It is too big. If you really try and wrap your brain around it it’s just so fishing ridiculously big. Light is fast but space is bigger and we still haven’t found anything faster than light. Wherever the supposed aliens come from everything we know about physics and reality suggest it’d take them centuries to millennia to reach us.

        Alien theories crumble to ash in my mind whenever I contemplate the crushing incredible vastness of space.Report

  4. Stillwater says:

    I view it as an almost (99.999%) certainty that life exists on other planets. Given that, I have no reason to suppose that those life forms don’t have advanced technologies sufficient to power interstellar space craft at warp speed using something as simple (tho rare!) as dilithium crystals. And given that, I have no reason to reject out of hand the possibility that massive alien ships, have (for example) landed on the Thames River from time to time, whether it wings Big Ben or not. So I have no beef with people who claim to have seen UFOs or whatnot. THe part I do have a problem with is the claim that Alien Life Forms are guiding our intellectual and spiritual development, or are the source of our Being. That just strikes me as another religiously-based form of useless delusion.Report

    • Kim in reply to Stillwater says:

      Yes, you do damn well have reason to suppose that they don’t have advanced technologies.

      We’ve looked, dammit, and there’s no sign that they’re tampering with the stars themselves. None at all, which presents sort of a riddle, as not only is life pretty certain, there’s enough time in our universe to make people smarter than we are.

      Drake’s Law is inconsistent with present observations.Report

  5. Zac says:

    The “UFO hypothesis” has always struck me as a total failure of imagination. We think sapient aliens would fly here in little metal ships, because that’s how we would have done it in the ’40s and the trope stuck. We’ve had the Hubble Telescope for a quarter-century, and it can see things 15 billion light-years away. So what people who believe in UFOs are positing is a race so advanced they could cross the titanic distances between star systems to travel here, yet so stupid it wouldn’t occur to them to just build long-ranged observation devices instead.

    Personally, I subscribe to the Calvin & Hobbes theory of extraterrestrial life: “The surest sign of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.”Report

    • greginak in reply to Zac says:

      Similar to that there are those people who think things like the Nazca Lines or Pyramids or other old ruins are markers or landing areas for aliens. Like aliens who navigated hundreds or thousands of light years with super far advanced physics need lines in sand or piles of stones to figure out where to land. Faster than light travel is nothing but basic GPS on a planet is to much for them.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Zac says:

      it can see things 15 billion light-years away.

      Stuff that’s 15 billions year old. A lot has happened in the last 15 billion years.Report

      • Zac in reply to Stillwater says:

        It seems unlikely that a species that has broken the FTL barrier hasn’t also broken that barrier for observation.Report

        • veronica d in reply to Zac says:

          Well, there are pretty hard limits on resolution at such distances, which yes you can overcome these by having a sufficiently wide “objective lens,” whatever that means for their magic space telescope. But still. If they can build a one-light-year wide mirror that we don’t notice, why not just fly a bit closer?Report

          • Zac in reply to veronica d says:

            My assumption is that they’d use something like inflating wormholes out of the quantum foam at a point local to where they’re observing, or quantum entanglement, or perhaps some other physical principle we’re as of yet unaware of.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Zac says:

      so advanced they could cross the titanic distances between star systems to travel here, yet so stupid

      Even though my comment riffs on this same contradiction, to be fair, you and I are committing a different fallacy here; which is to impute to aliens human-like consciousness or intelligence or biology at all (which is why we can see these contradictions from our human POV).

      They could be intelligent without being conscious (like in Blindsight); though this still probably falls victim to the contradiction we’ve both outlined.

      Or, they could be *not intelligent at all* from our POV – perhaps they are a life-form that, like the tardigrade, is hardy enough to survive space, and they travel either not under their own power (in a comet or whatever), OR they have some other means of non-technological travel that they employ without knowing/understanding it, any more than fishes need to take swimming lessons.

      Humans presume that technology is required to solve any hard problem, but biology has been “solving” hard problems that prevent life from spreading evolutionarily for a really long time here on earth; and “intelligence/consciousness” is only one way that it has done so, one small example in a truly breathtaking number of known biological variations of “survive, spread, reproduce”.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Glyph says:

        I had a different rebuttal to the “observation” criticism: it’s that observation, sorta definitionally, requires receiving signals bouncing offa stuff in space which, without the worm hole tech, can’t move faster than the speed of light. So the only way to “observe” the doings of objects 15 billion light years away more contemporaneously with the actual events observed would require … well … unlocking the wormhole technology concealed in Crichton’s brain, really. You’d have to get a measuring device in much closer proximity to the stuff observed as well as be able to transmit the received signal back home faster than the speed of light. Which is the equivalent (+/-) of sending out alien-manned ships (tested first with alien-analogue monkeys of course) to those places. Course, drones are also a possibility, which is consistent with the “actual sighting” side of the equation.Report

        • Glyph in reply to Stillwater says:

          Drones certainly seem like an obvious approach.Report

          • Kim in reply to Glyph says:

            Self-replicating drones are an obvious approach. Exponential behavior, capable of covering large quadrants of space.
            In which case the question isn’t “why aliens?” but “why NO aliens?”Report

            • Glyph in reply to Kim says:

              Any intelligence capable of creating drones with that degree of sophistication, may also be capable of miniaturizing (nano-drones) or otherwise-camouflaging the drones beyond our ability to easily detect them.

              Hunters routinely trick deer with a bottle of scent, some olive-patterned clothes, and a tree stand.

              An intelligence that is as far beyond us as we are beyond deer would have access to far better tricks.Report

              • Kim in reply to Glyph says:

                Hard to miniaturize an antenna. (you’d have to have them work like bees, forming an antenna array. and it would be big enough to detect)Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kim says:

                Sufficient onboard AI means the nanodrones work autonomously. If they need to communicate with one another, they do it via beedance equivalents, or one-to-one narrow-beam transmission.

                Information collected by the ND’s is sent back to the homeworld via…well, we don’t know that, do we?

                But if the transmission/transportation tech is THAT far beyond our ken, I don’t know why we need to posit that it MUST incorporate an antenna.

                Maybe the ND’s were dropped onto the planet via a faux-meteorite, and they get back most of the way into the upper atmosphere by hitching a ride on a volcanic plume (of course they are monitoring tectonic activity also, don’t’cha know).Report

              • Kim in reply to Glyph says:

                Antenna means Light-speed, that’s all. Anything else is slower, and probably a lot slower.

                It’s true though that they could put the antenna on the far side of pluto…Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kim says:

                they could put the antenna on the far side of pluto…

                Yeah, that is kind of what I was getting at, the “transmission” system could be via a complex relay of different transmission modes.

                We tend to envision the “E.T.” mode, where a ship with a live crew is here, and phones directly home; but once you are thinking drones/automated data-collection, you can start to think of other ways the data could be collected and passed.

                But to your point (and Still’s above) yes, at some point the data transmitted still needs to start getting to lightspeed, to be of much use to E.T.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Glyph says:

                Assume no new physics, so 0.1c or so top-end velocity. If you’re willing to wait that long for the probe to get wherever it’s going, why not just wait a bit longer for it (or a copy, if you like the self-replicating, spreading variety) to return to the home system?Report

              • Kim in reply to Michael Cain says:

                some people like early warning.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Michael Cain says:

                Impatience is a universal constant. Humans can’t even wait for the DVD release of the new season of Game of Thrones.Report

    • Kim in reply to Zac says:

      they don’t need to try and contact us for us to find them. All it takes is monkeying with a star or two, and that’s relatively easy — doesn’t even take traveling to build a dyson sphere.Report

  6. LWA says:

    Or as others have pointed out, alien technology always seems to be a 10 year extrapolation of our technology.
    Painful probes to detect pregnancy on Betty Hill, coincidently referencing the then-novel amniocenteses procedure; Streamlined rocketships in the 1950s that were remarkably similar to the X-1 jet plane, that then morphed into rectilinear non-aerodynamic craft in the 1970s, after the Apollo program demonstrated that there are no aerodynamics in a vacuum.

    I also hold that the existence of alien life is pretty good, and would be thrilled to see it. But to add to the above lists, I can’t imagine any plausible explanation for why they seem so clever as to escape detection, except when leaving massive crop circles. Or littering the countryside with sliced up cow carcasses.Report

    • aarondavid in reply to LWA says:

      I would say to the idea of alien tech always being 10 years a head, of course. Those people who believe in the idea of aliens coming need to something to explain how they got here and do what they do. They can only extrapolate from what we have and know now. If they could pin down exactly what the visitors where doing/know, our tech development would be going in a totally different direction. They cannot conceive of the ideas that would be truly alien, as they aren’t things that we have even thought of. They substitute known ideas and move them forward a bit to explain things they otherwise cannot explain. Edgar Rice Burroughs fancied that Barsoom would have colors that we could not imagine here on earth, so he didn’t try to describe them, as no earthly words would work.

      Simple really.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to aarondavid says:

        The flip side is that alien tech has to conform to our understanding of physical laws (otherwise it’s magic!) and that alien life forms originated from processes consistent with biological laws similar to those governing evolution and natural selection (otherwise magic!) in a closed system with gravity (cuz magic!), so the presumption that aliens aren’t entirely dissimilar to us is just about the only way to go about hypothesizing their existence.

        Unless magic!Report

  7. Jaybird says:

    Imagine an American Culture in 2015. Ask them to look at the climate, temperature, dominant vegetation, etc, of a region in Southeast Asia.

    Then ask them to guess as to the vernacular greetings spoken by the people in that region based on nothing more than the fact that those people originated in the same place that we did 80,000 years ago only they went East from the starting point rather than North or West.

    Now do that for another planet except drop the assumption that they originated in the same place as we did.

    If we happen to figure out the motivations for aliens before the fact (assuming aliens) it will require a Democritus-level stroke of luck and insight.Report

  8. Stillwater says:

    Whitley Strieber wrote a very interesting book a while ago, which, if you take the premise seriously (lots of people reporting being messed with by aliens without perceiving the passage any time), offers a couple-few accounts of how such an experience might make sense. One was the existence of aliens, of course. I think a gummint psyops scenario was offered as well. A third was that the reports were more mysterious and unaccounted for than by either of the other two and perhaps required delving deeply into the psychological stuff people carry around with them. The assumption for the third being that if so many people are reporting such very similar experiences then they aren’t the result of lying or temporary delusion, but something more systematic.Report

    • Matty in reply to Stillwater says:

      I have what must be a fake memory of finding a book by Whitley Striber that included the conversation.

      “You’re not the man I married”
      “No I’m a space alien who replaced your husband ten years ago”Report

  9. Burt Likko says:

    I’ll run with the core idea: the preservers of ancient praxis would be seen by all the others as wizards, to be feared and respected. The wizards would cultivate a mythology to reinforce the imperative that they be left alone. Until they didn’t anymore, for reasons of their own. And then they’d have to integrate their knowledge and abilities into whatever less-technological civilization was going on when they a) ran out of an essential resource, b) felt a humanitarian impulse to better the lives of the non-wizards, c) believed enough of their own mythology to think some destiny had reached advent, d) just plain got lonely, e) suffered a schism, f) who knows what else.Report