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Do Aliens Visit Earth?

Updated on July 4, 2014

Alien Visits

Have Aliens Been Visiting Earth?

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Do Aliens Visit Earth?

The likelihood that extraterrestrial intelligent life exists is considerably high on account of both the vast (indeed, astronomical) numbers of celestial bodies and of the mechanisms which, as we know, generate life and, ultimately, intelligent life. It is not impossible that there is no intelligent life anywhere else in the universe; but it is highly improbable.

If intelligent extraterrestrial life has visited our planet, it is to be inferred that they are significantly more advanced than we are in scientific knowledge and engineering technology. Even at the fast pace at which we are progressing, we still cannot conceive, let alone execute, an intergalactic voyage like the one the aliens can presumably undertake to reach our corner of the universe. It is not to be inferred that the extraterrestrial visitors are morally more advanced than we are: the experience of our own history shows that progress that is even sustained across all areas of endeavor - even in artistic pursuits - does not correlate with moral progress (if moral progress is understood to consist in the greater cultivation, performance and enforcement of other-regarding duties and the showing of benignant respect toward other humans and other life-forms.) Moreover, it is predators who are more intelligent in the evolutionary history that has unfolded on our own planet; less threatening animals, which could presumably pass on more conducive genetic material for benevolent intelligent heirs, usually lag in the qualities that anticipate the final boost that gives rise to human intelligence.

Assuming that moral advancement can depend simply on rationality - a controversial assumption - is still far from reassuring. The rationalist theories of ethics we have at our human disposal run into difficulties. The principle "ought implies can" also works against the case of benevolent alien intelligence: if more intelligent entities tend to evolve from predatory animals, then an ethic (like the Christian one on our planet) which "asks too much" (or, as we say, is supererogatory) is not likely to spread without adapting conveniently. On our own planet, the extremely supererogatory ethic of early Christianity has evolved, as a cultural meme, to embrace qualities that were anathema to the first Christians: tribalism and nationalism, disciplinarian austerity and resentment toward those who have a better life, and self-regarding interests that thrive in the market system (with the Churches dispensing blessings on pursuit of wealth and material success in this world.) It is not to be expected that the aliens, highly intelligent as they must be, are likely to be benevolent or imbued with other-regarding virtues.
Nor is it to be expected that the aliens might have "learned the lesson" of being morally backward because of catastrophes on their own planet: we are not learning any such lessons even as we are moving ever more closely to planetary ecological disaster, spreading immiseration of the poor and widening of socioeconomic inequality, and all this in spite of the lessons learned from a recent catastrophic and genocidal world war. Our futuristic projections about a post-apocalyptic landscape tend to be immersed in dystopia, and for good reason. On the other hand, it more likely that civilizations like ours, which prove unable to rise above parochial and self-regarding interests, tend to destroy themslelves before they have reached the higher peaks of advancement that may make intergalactic traveling possible; from this it can be inferred either that we are actually less likely to have those intelligent visitors or that, as we may well wish, that the intelligent aliens who survived long enough to make it to higher technology have proven capable of overcoming the vices that belleaguer us. Even so, their benign conduct may or may not extend to us whom they would have to regard as morally inferior in the first place. Moreover, their study of human nature and human history may induce a conviction in them that a morally better state of affairs does not include humans who have proven singularly incapable of moral improvement.

It is possible that the moral thinking of the aliens would be consequentialist: this term means that moral evaluation of conduct is based on appropriately calibrated assignments of weighed values to possible outcomes; the action or policy to be pursued is that which results in the outcome that maximizes the weighed values. The most well-known of such theories is Utilitarianism, which prescribes as morally right the course of action that maximizes the greatest welfare of the greatest number. Sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and pleaure, are included in the utilitarian calculus. In its simplest form, this may be a felicific calculus, which processes expected pains (as negatives) and pleasures (as positives) in seeking the pleasure-maximizing outcome to pursue. It is possible, however, that an alien consequentialist theory may be maximizing some other value in implementing policies and actions. An unpopular theory among us - unpopular because there seem to be insuperable objections to it - is Aesthetic Perfectionism, according to which the values that ought to be maximized are aesthetic. The "ought" is moral, not pragmatic or efficacy-oriented or strategic. In other words, this theory prescribes that the morally right thing to do is to maximize aesthetic values by any means necessary. What counts as aesthetically good depends on a separate theory. The morally right thing, for this theory, is anything (even including slaughter or pain inflicted on people or animals) that is needed for promotion of the relevant aesthetic values. We don't think that this theory passes muster but there may be better arguments which we have not come up with -- but the aliens have. Perhaps more likely, within this unfortunate counterfactual category, is that the aliens would have a consequentialist moral theory that counts as the value to be maximized accumulation of knowledge as a good that is both instrumental to further progress and also good-in-itself. We have difficulty grasping this last point today - although it is abundantly defended in the Greek and Roman classics - but it is a view that we should perhaps expect highly intelligent and contemplative beings to have. There have been cultures in our history - the ancient Athenians of the classical era - who were able actually to derive pleasure from highly elaborate and complex debates. We would be in hard luck if the aliens had a knowledge-maximizing consequentialist view; many alleged alien abduction tales report that the aliens are particularly interested in experimental study of human biophysiology.

If the aliens have superior scientific knowledge and technology, as they must, they ought to have figured out how to travel over forbiddingly vast distances. One intriguing possibility is that they are able to exploit additional spatial dimensions - assuming that the spatial manifold has higher degree than two-dimensionality. A favorite old book, Flatland, makes a clear case for the possibilities that are created for those who descend from a higher dimension. We can grasp this analogically: considering the advantages created for three-dimensional agents like us with respect to exposed entities that are two-dimensional or flat, we can analogize to parallel advantages that aliens would have relative to us if they were moving against us from a higher dimension. Taking advantage of a higher dimension affords advantages in observation, movement and exertion of force. It appear to intelligent entities who are intruded upon in this way that the laws of nature are violated - a miracle is taking place - but this is not the case; these possibilities are not only consistent with geometrical knowledge but also with physical laws. Interestingly enough, popular lore about alien visitations contains many elements (like sudden appearances and disappearances, an impression that observation had been taking place already, and space-skipping transport methods) that can best be explained by invoking this inter-dimensionality theory. On the other hand, however, this theme has been, as we saw, raised within the domain of science fiction for a long time. An element that is tainted with common usage in popular culture before it has arisen in alleged descriptions of alien sightings ought to be considered as suspect.

Let us understand what the modus operandi is for analyzing claims. We are dealing with inductive reasoning. The conclusions that are advanced are liable to be more or less probable on the basis of premises that are accepted as true. The premises themselves may well be conclusions of other inductive arguments. An inductive argument can only be more or less strong, or more or less weak, as a matter of the degree of probabilistic support of the conclusion on the basis of the premises. We have no rigorous formal method for assessing the strength or weakness of an inductive argument. We do have an arsenal of informal fallacies or flaws, which are critical tools as they push an inductive argument away. The burden of showing that the argument suffers from a defect or flaw - that it commits a fallacy - falls upon the critic.

Inductive arguments can be strengthened or weakened by addition or subtraction of appropriate premises. Analogies are usually inductive in nature. Criteria for assessing inductive arguments include the following: the sufficiency and representativeness of the sample on the basis of which some extrapolation or generalization was made to present a conclusion; relevant connection between premises and conclusions; use of words and phrases with consistent meaning throughout the argument; use of perspicuous and ambiguity-free grammatical construction; absence of vagueness when claims are made which support a conclusion when they are more precise; absence of presumptions (unwarranted premises); absence of suppression of premises; absence of certain probabilistic fallacies; absence of causal fallacies; and, of course, the presumed argument ought to be a genuine argument rather than a string of sentences that can fool us into accepting them as arguments. The untrained average person is handicapped when it comes to assessing such matters.

Ancient astronaut-looking image - not bearing any resemblances to today's presumed archetypal alien species.
Ancient astronaut-looking image - not bearing any resemblances to today's presumed archetypal alien species. | Source
The ancient Sumerian god Anu does not have the features typically ascribed to visiting aliens today.
The ancient Sumerian god Anu does not have the features typically ascribed to visiting aliens today. | Source

Reports on Alien Visitations

If aliens do indeed visit us, it is more likely that this has been happening for a long period of time. Although progress, as we know from our case, takes a while, we also see in our own history that certain breakthroughs (like the discovery of the differential calculus, the formulation of Relativistic theory, the widespread application of evolutionary theory, or the unpacking of the genome) bring about advancement that accelerates at an exponential pace. So, if the aliens figured out the right tricks - as they must have had - they would have taken less, not more, time in making it to the development of convenient space technologies. If the aliens have been visiting for a while - as a popular view has it - it is tempting to attribute to their influence scientific, religious and other breakthroughs on our planet. This, however, is not a good surmise: If this is a likely cause of progress, then it would be likely that the aliens themselves would have taken their cues from other visiting aliens; and so on ad infinitum, triggering an infinite regress that messes up our explanatory hypothesis. Moreover, the secret of having alien influence on the great thinkers and inventors of our planet could hardly have been preserved so successfully; thinking inductively again, this is unlikely when we see that secrets are usually spilled sooner or later in history (notwithstanding paranoid-conspiratorial views whose popularity can better be explained by our genetic predispositions than by claiming that "there must be something to it.")

There is a view, once popularized by Erich von Daniken but now "viral" on the internet, that there are visual traces of alien visitors and their technology in ancient artifacts. The point is that the human creators of those artifacts could not have envisioned technological gadgets, including what seem to be flying vehicles, so far beyond their wildest anticipations and knowledge at that time. Nevertheless, there are observations to make, which weaken the argument that concludes that aliens must have been depicted in those artifacts. It is more likely than not that the aliens visiting back then would be like, not unlike, those visiting today: yet, the ancient, and later, depictions do not show the alien features that have become standard in our times. There may be exceptions - depictions of monstrous creatures - and this would actually strengthen the argument for alien visitations. The projected pilots of the flying objects in old drawings and paintings are usually depicted as human. A more likely explanation, then, is that the imagery is a psychological projection: human language allows for this as "birds fly" ought to be available as a semantic unit of meaning in virtually any language and "we could fly, although we can" is meaningful in a language - there are two different meanings of "can" in this sentence, mind you, but human languages contain a variety of modals and, indeed, primitive languages have a richer relationship to modalization as linguists have discovered.

Other stereotypical features of the aliens today are also missing from the experiences of antiquity that are presumed to invite an "alien visit" explanation. For instance, the standard depiction today is that the aliens do not communicate the way humans do. This is actually quite likely. Communication by the use of vocal cord vibration is what evolutionary biophysiology calls a "parochial" feature; communication itself must be universal (most likely as a selected feature and one that has evolved many times independently on our own planet), but vocal communication is parochial even on earth (with ecolocation, chemical interaction, wing vibration, etc., as available communication strategies for many species.) Yet, ancient experiences - revelatory events in religions, for instance - lack this feature of direct communication. This weakens the argument for alien visitation. It is also remarkable that our view of aliens today show clearly our own more sophisticated understanding of biophysiology in our times; this points to the origins of alien stories among us rather than to actual outside events. Exceptions may be found. Mystics, for instance, have always claimed access to direct, usually visual communication. This may strengthen the argument again, but the argument is, once more, weakened by certain autobiographical facts reported by those same mystics (no depictions of the alien creatures we hear about today) - although it may be strengthened by other such reports (sudden appearances out of nowhere and illuminescent figures). Overall, entities like angels and even someone like Jesus are depicted in human form and this also weakens the case for ancient alien visitation because it is more likely than not that the behavior of the ancient aliens, who are likely to be of the same type as today's visitors, was different: they did not show themselves as they do today! More generally, alternative explanations (self-deception, delusion, hallucination, deception of others by doctoring evidence, etc.) gain proportionately when we consider that each era reported oddities stereotypically: when angels, who were supposed to look a certain way, were expected to visit, the claims about visitation always fit the characteristic angelic features - even if those features were absurdly like those, for instance, of Northern instead of Southern Europeans. And, today, again, the established pattern of events and visitor features is stereotypical and duly reported by those who have had the right kind of experience. Language has a lot to do with this. It has been questioned whether someone whose language has no word for "pink" can ever actually have the experience speakers have in liniguistic communities that have such a word. On the other hand, availability of narratives and of terms such narratives establish in linguistic usage (compare today "grays" for aliens) may well induce actual first-person experiences for users of the language.

© 2014 Odysseus Makridis


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