Saturday, October 23, 2010


I often think that those who pit SETI against ufology are setting up a false dichotomy.  The whole debate seems to be more a clash of egos than a serious argument between irreconcilable views.  Both ufologists and SETI scientists zealously defend their turf, not acknowledging how much they actually have in common.  SETI scientists, while otherwise astute, seem glibly dismissive of the vast body of UFO evidence.  At the same time, ufologists wedded to ETH seem equally dismissive, as if SETI scientists were harnassing the Arecibo telescope to search for prairie dogs in Wyoming.  Yet, so long the extraterrestrial origins of the strange disks that ply our skies eludes us, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence elsewhere in the universe seems like a noble calling.

Nonetheless, there are compelling scientific arguments against the probable success of a program like SETI.  Recent observers have pointed out that with the advent of the digital age, the old analogue signals of the past are going silent.  Even Frank Drake, founder of the SETI project, has sounded a note of pessimism here.  “If we are the model for the universe, that is bad news.”

A more powerful argument against SETI points to the rapid decay of broadband signals, namely radio and television signals leaking from Earth.  In other words, in spite of its brilliantly creative evocation in the film, Contact, the broadcast of Hitler’s opening declaration at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is not making its way to Vega.  In fact, only directed, narrowband signals would be detectable by even the world’s largest radio telescopes.  In other words, in order for a program like SETI to be successful, ET would have to phoning Earth.  

(Photo by Bradford Evans, Hat Creek Radio Telescopes )

I tend to think of dreams as portraying psychological realities, reflecting the preoccupations, conflicts and unlived aspirations of the dreamer.  However, occasionally a dream will arise that seems to carry an objective message.  (Many examples of this have been reported in the biographies of scientists and artists, such chemist Friedrich August KekulĂ©’s dream of a snake biting its own tale, which suggested the structure of the Benzene molecule.)  Consider the following segment from a recent dream of mine.  A secret scientific group is altering and enhancing the mind of one of its star subjects so that she can better detect alien intelligence.  As I pondered the meaning of this image, I thought about the debate between ufology and SETI.

Both sides of the SETI vs. ufology debate share in common a belief in the physical nature of extraterrestrial reality.  When extraterrestrials aren’t busy darting around the sky in exotically powered craft, they are beaming out signals with terra-watt transmitters.  According to this narrative, when we finally meet them face to face — either on Vega or on the White House Lawn — all our science will change and the encounter will usher in a new age of free energy and easy space travel or perhaps utter subjugation.  

However, for a moment, let’s strip away the material superstructure of this shared utopian/dystopian vision and pose the provocative question:  what is the most sensitive detector we have?  The answer that came to me after the dream was — the human mind.  With its hundred billion neurons and hundred trillion synapses, the human brain is both the most complex system in the known universe and an apparent vehicle for glimpsing alien realities.  If UFO denizens are not flesh and blood creatures from Vega (or elsewhere), then perhaps our best shot at understanding them is to harness and, indeed, enhance this magnificent and mysterious instrument called the human mind.  If we follow this logic further, then perhaps the most sensitive and eloquent abduction experiencers provide our best window into the alien reality.

On the other hand, maybe unlocking the mystery will require both technology and the fully enabled human imagination and perception — both hard-headed scientists of the SETI and ufology kind to detect extraterrestrials tinkering with warp drive fields and narrowband transmitters — and psychonauts, with enhanced mental capabilities, to uncover the stratagems of metaphysical John and Jane Does, identities unknown, riding the rails of interdimensional space.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Aliens Among Us

Last week, as I watched the premiere of NBC’s foray into science fiction, The Event, I found myself squirming at some of the improbabilities — like the president and Secret Service pausing to watch a jet about to slam into the executive party.  Yet, the elements of mystery and intrigue drew me in, as well as the online chatter relating the new series to UFO disclosure.

I do not know what direction the story will take.  However, one scenario that readily suggests itself is that human-alien hybrids are being held in a top secret Alaska base. Understandably, some Americans, including those within the secret government, alarmed at the prospect of alien invasion, will go to any length to prevent the hybrids’ release — even flying a commercial jet into the president, with a nod toward the current heated debate around protecting our borders.

The idea that powerful aliens are walking among us is not a new one.  In Greek mythology, the gods would sometimes show up in human form to test the hospitality and allegiance of their human hosts.  Long before the James Cameron film, Hindu Avatars — incarnations of deities, (most notably, Vishnu) — descended from heaven to Earth, often to smite the wicked and assist the good.  In the Book of Enoch, we have the Watchers — angels dispatched to watch over humans, who succumb to their lust for the daughters of men.  Even the modern idea of the human-alien hybrids is foreshadowed by the Nephilim the offspring of the Watchers and human beings.

This theological background would seem to beg the question:  are human-alien hybrids good or evil?  (The Event seems to be steering toward both sides of this dichotomy.)  In other words, are hybrids here to help us or perhaps to wrest away control of planet Earth, while their pure-bred alien masters enslave or annihilate the human race?  Before we can plunge into that hedge of thorns, a more fundamental question asserts itself.  Are human-alien hybrids even feasible?

I recently asked a Stanford geneticist about the possibility of creating a human-alien hybrid.  He responded that it would be enormously complex, requiring not only a complete mapping of the respective DNA but a complete understanding of the human and alien genome.  Part of the complexity is that traits are the result of many genes, and genes are not neatly organized along the DNA molecules.  One might ask, how would alien DNA be combined with human DNA without giving birth to monsters?  Furthermore, we cannot assume that aliens would even have DNA — unless we embrace the notion that DNA is a universal code for life,  perhaps hitching a ride through the galaxy in bacteria that inhabit interstellar comets or intentionally distributed by an alien race (aka: directed panspermia).

Having cast doubt on the feasibility of human-alien hybrids, now we may step off the diving board of scientific opinion into highly speculative waters.  Hybrids, if they are real, must exist for a reason.  If we follow David Jacobs and others down the path of paranoia (I use the term here descriptively, not diagnostically) then the reason appears to be a quite sinister one.  “The hybrids or the aliens themselves integrate into society and assume control."  (David Jacobs, The THREAT: Revealing the Secret Alien Agenda)

On the other hand, if we take a more optimistic — some would say, pollyannish — view, then a human-alien hybridization program may be preparing us for the next stage of human evolution.  After a century of mass slaughter under the shadow of nuclear Armageddon, one could argue that ETs might be doing us a favor by bioengineering into us greater intelligence and psychic abilities and weeding out aggression.  In fact, some would say that the current program is only the most recent phase of a millions of years old project that started when our hominid ancestors’ brains began their phenomenal growth spurt.  (The prospect of early alien intervention in the human genetic story pushes back in time but does not render moot some of the scientific objections to blending human and alien DNA.)

If an alien race tampered with our DNA in ancient prehistory, then perhaps we are all hybrids, part familiar, part stranger.  Part human, part something we can scarcely imagine.  A being who is alien and mysterious to herself and yet whose future lies clearly in the stars.