THE ART OF NONSENSE – UFOs

This will be the first in a series of posts called “The Art of Nonsense,” a place where my scepticism collides with the pseudo-scientific, or the generally illogical, of modern culture.  I understand the title may seem condescending, and that is definitely not my intention – it’s simply that I perceive such things to be nonsense – if you disagree with me on any of these, I don’t think you are lower or that I have some kind of intellectual high ground – it’s just a matter of my own perception of the specific subjects themselves. The intention is not to be antagonistic, or being the spark of debate (a situation where I’m attempting to clearly state I’m right and you’re wrong).  I hate debate.  Its only function is when a third party is involved – convincing a debate club judge, or vying for political office and trying to convince the public in order to obtain votes.  But when it’s simply a debate without that third element, it’s an ego-centric attempt at arrogantly asserting some kind of condescending intellectual high ground, and virtually never accomplishes changing people’s minds.  I am hoping, however, to inspire discussion – something very different.  Discussion is not about proving yourself right, but rather the opposite.  It is sparking dialogue with the attempt of learning from one another with an open mind rather than proving oneself is correct.  In broadening one’s horizons.  I happen to find pseudo-sciences, what I see as nonsensical in general, and accepted falsehoods to be a part of an illogical and dangerous way of thinking, and I feel this is an important discussion to be had.  As hard as I will try, it’s possible that I may come off as condescending or as if I think I’m “better,” and I apologise in advance – I don’t want to do that.  If you are interested in discussion and not debate, I strongly encourage you to comment.  We could learn a lot from each other.  In short, this could be considered a text version of the theme behind Penn & Teller’s show “Bullshit!,” without the sarcasm and condescension.

And on that, I start with a wildly popular topic – UFOs.

Since The History Channel evolved from being The Hitler Network to the Paranoid Nostradamus Pseudo-Science Network, one topic it has picked up on is UFOs (they even had a show entitled UFO Hunters that ran three seasons).  Seeing as people tend to misuse language in numerous ways, I will say this – by definition, UFOs do exist – because it stands for “Unidentified Flying Object.”  If you see something in the sky, and don’t know what it is, from your perspective it is inherently a UFO.  Something as simple as a bird can be a UFO, if it’s far enough away that you can’t identify it.

The Sun. Or as primitives could have aptly labelled it, a UFO.

However, when most people say “UFO” they mean “alien spacecraft” – something I find both telling and incredibly ironic, considering it is both classified as “unidentified” yet people claim to know exactly what it is.  A whole subculture has been built on this – books, television shows, you name it – there are plenty of “UFO” enthusiasts out there, to the point where it’s an industry.

This is where the pseudo-science comes in – humans have a tendency to “fill in the blanks” when the extremely bizarre occurs, we evolved to have a natural need to understand what it is our senses are intaking.  In cases where “there’s no logical explanation other than an alien spacecraft,” one is filling in the blanks – making a blanket assumption simply out of pure ignorance – I could argue with as much evidence that it’s dinosaurs who live at the core of the Earth flying out to the surface or that we live in a matrix and these “UFOs” are just programming glitches, and I have just as much reason and evidence to believe such things.  These pseudo-scientists aren’t interested in exploring alternative explanations, it simply must be an alien spacecraft.  Of course, they have absolutely no evidence other than pure conjecture – and tend to forget that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  If you watch any expert magician who leaves you completely baffled, it’s clear that things aren’t always as they seem – they aren’t actually reading your mind and using sorcery to put the card with your signature in an unopened deck.  The irony there is – people universally accept they aren’t doing magic, that despite it seeming impossible, there is an alternative explanation and the whole thing is an illusion.  Yet, for whatever reason, they don’t extend this to things they experience in the outside world.

Some reading might think – “Well, if you’ve seen the kind of things I’ve seen!”  I have to be truly honest, I have witnessed extremely bizarre UFOs a numerous times in my life – I just don’t assume it’s alien spacecraft because it “obviously must be.”

If somebody were to ask, “What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve ever seen,” I’d tell them the following (very true) story: When I was about nineteen I was walking down my father’s driveway in the middle of winter.  I glanced to my right, seeing an incredibly bright light.  For a moment, I assumed it was coming from a house in the distance, but with little movement on my own part, it quickly became evident that this light was actually hovering in the air, stationary, in my father’s yard.  Yes, about fifteen feet off to my right, slightly above my head height, a ball of bright light the size of a softball was just… sitting there.

I did what most reasonable people would do and froze in terror nearly soiling myself, and after five or so seconds it zipped forward (the direction in which I was walking) in a flash of light and disappeared.  At the time, I did what most people who think pseudo-scientifically would do – I came up with quick explanations because it “just had to be” one of these cases: An angel, a ghost, or a tiny alien spacecraft (who’s to say intelligent life in space isn’t much smaller than us?).  Most people who think that way would hang on to that, use their testimony as “evidence” of what they want it to be (also known as confirmation bias: Using data to suit one’s desired belief while rejecting alternate explanations).  I, ultimately, stopped thinking much about it, and as I grew older and thought more critically, simply assumed it was either in my mind or some weird atmospheric phenomenon.

Years later I would tell that story, and the person I told it to recommended I look up “ball lightning.”  Based on my research at that point, and the description of what I witnessed as compared to this extremely rare electromagnetic phenomenon (which scientists still have very little grasp on), I can only conclude that what I witnessed that night was, in fact, ball lightning – and, if it wasn’t, knowing that such phenomena exist, the only logical assumption I can come to is that if it wasn’t ball lightning, it was something similar and atmospheric, and has a completely sound scientific explanation.  While ball lightning typically occurs with thunderstorms, the fact that I saw it in winter (where lightning still can strike, yet it is exceedingly rare) makes it that much more amazing.  Very, very few people who ever have or will live will have or have had the same experience I had under those conditions.  I suspect I probably have a better chance of winning the lottery twice before witnessing ball lightning on a calm winter night. This, to me, is far more exciting and exhilarating than it being aliens or a ghost – and I have sound reason to believe it is what I presume it to be (and if it were ever proved otherwise, I would be equally if not more exited just to know for certain what it was).  I’m more interested in the truth rather than blanket assumption, and it would be silly of me to believe it was an angel, ghost, or spacecraft based on… nothing.  That’s the difference between science and pseudo-science – science seeks the truth no matter what it may be, pseudo-science uses confirmation bias with its “evidence” to support a desired outcome as opposed to simply knowing the truth, regardless of what the truth is.

I witnessed it again two years ago, in the summer, during a thunderstorm – albeit at a further distance, and it simply appeared, immediately zig-zagged, and disappeared.  I’m not sure what the odds of these two things both occurring in my experience are, but I have to assume it’s insanely low – but given enough people existing with enough time, it’s practically inevitable that someone would experience the phenomenon as I have.  I just happened to be the lucky one to witness such a wonder of nature twice, and once in winter.

Unfortunately, my lack of mana rendered my experiences useless.

I feel blessed to have a sceptical mind – there are many who would create pseudo-scientific theorems, and claim that as solid evidence of aliens visiting Earth (or whatever else).  Considering the rare natural phenomenon I witnessed, how many other possibilities are there for highly unusual things such as ball lightning to occur?  I have no idea – but knowing such things occur, and can be quite rare, lend credence to the idea that there is much much more reason to assume a bizarre UFO is something scientifically explainable on Earth, despite how rare or weird, as opposed to an alien spacecraft – which has absolutely no evidence, nor anything indicating it is the case.

Along these lines, many UFO enthusiasts see Roswell, New Mexico as a sort of Mecca.  What we factually know is this – in early summer 1947, something crashed there.  It was reported initially as a “flying disc” and over time the government suspiciously claimed it was a weather balloon, despite witness testimony of the wreckage saying that simply couldn’t be the case.  A farmer even reported seeing parts of the craft up close, with a form of writing he’d never seen before on it.  Years later, a mortician would claim being part of an alien autopsy from the crash.  So it must be an alien spacecraft… right?

Actually, there’s a far more logical explanation that fits within the logical realms of what we already know.  I don’t deny that the government was acting shifty, and don’t think it’s silly to assume that they did lie about what they knew.  However, this was during the Cold War – and both America and the Soviet Union were testing and using different aircraft to spy on one another.  It’s more reasonable to assume, then, that what crashed was probably an (by today’s standards) unimpressive Soviet spy craft.  The weird writing?  If you lived in the middle of New Mexico and had never seen anything written in Russian… it would certainly appear as a quite odd form of writing.  As a matter of national security, naturally the government wouldn’t admit what it actually was, and would use a “weather balloon” as a cover-up.  The autopsy?  By the time this was claimed, over forty years later when the mythology of the crash had gained much more popularity, such a claim would certainly give a person their 15 seconds of fame, and it seems much more likely that it’s all the claim was – a lie to get in the spotlight.  What I’ve presented here is well within the realms of probability – so what’s more likely, this, or the explanation that it was an extra-terrestrial spacecraft… based on nothing other than wanting it to be the case?

Monkey children from SPAAAAAACE!!!!!

I fully understand the exciting prospect of civilised life elsewhere in the universe, and how someone could become attached to such an idea.  Life can be mundane, and I think at some point everyone wants there to be something more spectacular and interesting that’s just beyond our grasp, but is waiting there to be discovered.  I even believe, given what we know about how life forms, it’s virtually inevitable that there is intelligent life elsewhere.  But there is absolutely no viable evidence that indicates such life has visited us.  And, logically, it would be safe to assume that if they had come – they would have either made contact, or hidden that they were here… and I suspect travelling trillions of miles in the vacuum of space is far more difficult than cloaking technology (a technology we have already begun working on).  Not to mention, if these really are hovering aircraft – wouldn’t it be safer to assume it was secret government testing of experimental craft?  There’s so many barriers to it being alien, that actually believing such makes absolutely no logical sense.

If you see a UFO, remember what the “U” stands for – unidentified.  Don’t use that intrigue to label it as “well it seems so,” but do whatever you can to gather from what facts we know to come up with a hypothesis backed by something (such as I eventually did with ball lightning) – or simply accept that you’ve witnessed something that you cannot currently explain using science.  But never simply assume – that only leads down a path to uncritical thinking in general, and therefore, strong suggestibility – something that is immensely dangerous.

Slammin’ down on this rusty ol’ shack.

Like some kind of funky delirious priest!

The God hypothesis

(I would like to note the following: While I believe in God, I would like to ask that no one try and debate me on the subject.  I was a staunch atheist for four years, I’m very familiar with Dawkins, Hitchens and the like, and could probably argue atheism better than the majority of atheists if I wanted to.  I simply don’t want to debate not out of fear that you’ll “convert” me, but because I find this to be one of the most useless debates in modern society – neither of us will convince each other of anything, and it’s rather pointless.  It will only store up frustrated energy on both sides.  Unless a third party to be convinced is involved – like judges at a debate competition or a political debate trying to convince voters, I see debate as an ego-inflating, useless activity.  I share this for others to gain whatever kind of personal insight that might come of this, and to gain understanding of where I’ll be coming from in future posts – not to start an argument)

Before I explore this weblog any further, I feel it is crucial I explain my perspective regarding God.

The great irony in this post is that I consider myself a sceptic – something which will become evident when I explore different topics in future posts.  I don’t buy into the “God of the gaps” way of thinking, nor do I think it is necessary for  a deity to exist in order for existence itself, and life, to be here (and both life appearing and the big bang, according to what we know scientifically, could have occurred just as easily without a God).  I just happen – based on personal experience – to believe in God.  And I fully admit that everything I’ve ever experienced certainly could have happened absent a God, but with no concrete evidence either way, I am only left to hypothesise.  I happen to be convinced that my hypothesis is accurate.

That being said, I submit the hypothesis that God does in fact exist.  While I consider myself a Buddhist (which has nothing to do with exploring ideas of the supernatural – only with how I interpret the world and interact with it), I am also a Roman Catholic (I have plenty to say on the church, that’s for another post).  I am unique in my spirituality, however, seeing as being Christian I’m actually not a monotheist, but rather, a panentheist of sorts.  People tend to project God in our image – a conscious being like ourselves whom happens to be the creator and has infinite power.  I do not subscribe to that line of thinking.

I see God as being like a tesseract.  A two dimensional square is just that – a square.  In three dimensions, keeping all right angles, it is a cube.  In four dimensions, it is a tesseract.  Seeing as we only experience reality in three spatial dimensions, it is impossible for the human mind to comprehend what a tesseract actually looks like, let alone visually represent four spatial dimensions as they exist.  I tend to think the same is true of God – He (and I only use that pronoun as it is what I am familiar with, I don’t believe God is literally male, or female, for that matter) is so beyond comprehension as something that exists that, to even try and fathom what God actually is happens to be beyond our comprehension.  So, God is like a drawing of a cube – a three dimensional object represented in two dimensions.  In this case, a metaphorical “four dimensional” entity that we can only project in the dimensions we can understand – which is why we personify God.  It’s the best representation our minds can fathom – even panentheism falls under this.

As far as Christ is concerned – I am not oblivious to the fact that life formed quite easily on this planet given the conditions, and that there are more stars in the known universe than grains of sand on Earth… it would be incredibly naive of me to think we are the only intelligent life in the universe.  In reality, it’s probably far more abundant than we can begin to comprehend.

Considering that, the role of Christ is shifted.  I’m not sure exactly how He fits, as a human being, within the context of all of this – and really, I don’t find it a relevant question to ask at this point in time.  I do believe he was holy, the Son of God, and of great purpose, but I don’t have the current tools to begin to explore how He would fit into a universe with countless intelligent species besides humans, and until I do, it simply does not concern me (this is not to say we should just stop at that and accept things without continuing to understand the universe the best we can).  Though I think the answers – which I assume science could one day provide – are probably far more spectacular and interesting than I could comprehend.  Again, probably another “tesseract” kind of situation – but, like a tesseract, I think we can come to know the answer without being able to comprehend what that fully means.

I understand this post may have been particularly dry to some of you, but my future posts depend on knowing this – especially when I start analysing things like astrology or “UFOs” and talk about things like confirmation bias.

And if you don’t believe in God, I respect that – I have no intentions of trying to convert you, nor do I believe in Heaven and Hell in any kind of conventional sense (so no, I don’t think you’re on a one way track to a lake of fire) – my only concern would be that you’re a good person, and I know atheists who are wonderful people, so your theistic perspective has no bearing on that as far as I’m concerned.

 

No matter how hard you try, you have a slight to moderate chance of stopping me now!

I think.  A lot.  In fact, I spend most of my conscious time having thoughts.  I think some of them are interesting and worth sharing, hence, this weblog.  I’m hoping to form a group of subscribers and turn it into a suicidal cult (We ponder it, but decide life is actually worth living despite the pain.  And drink regular Cool Aid.  The purple kind.).

To use an analogy (which are like people who use analogies – fucking awesome), most of these are much like a television programme.  They have one direct point, one direct focus.  Whether it be humor, politics, or lolcats, they don’t deviate – it’s the same thing.  Well, I’m about to blow your fucking mind.

This one is more like a television network.  That is to say, I have political musings, so some posts will be serious and political.  Some may be spiritual.  Some will be merely sarcastic at a failed attempt to be humorous.  And yes, I may even post memes now and again.  Essentially, you’ll never know what you’re going to get, and this thing really has no thesis.  It just is.  Much like Bieber Fever.

So, I hope you subscribe by e-mail on the left, or right, or bottom depending on what theme I’m using when you read this.

Take the red pill and witness the Codex.  Because the blue one is a suppository.