UAP rationale thread (updates pertaining to standards & abstract matters of the UFO preoccupation)


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UFOs – has the narrative shifted?

INTRO (Steven Novella): In an interview for Newsweek, Michio Kaku was asked about UFOs. Here’s his response:

Well, first of all, I think that there’s been a game changer. In the old days, the burden of proof was on the true believers to prove that what they saw last night was a flying saucer of some sort. Now the burden of proof has shifted. Now it’s the military, the military has to prove that these aren’t extraterrestrial objects.

He goes on to say that there are now multiple lines of evidence that need to be explained, and that this is the “gold standard” in science. It’s a good example of the fact that scientists and science communicators are not necessarily good scientific skeptics who know how to deal with fringe claims. There is an entirely different skill set and knowledge base necessary to deal with the UFO question than to explain physics to a lay audience. To illustrate, I am going to outline why I strongly disagree with Michio.

Let me start with two premises that I think should be noncontroversial... (MORE - details)
I don't agree that the burden of the govt is to disprove alien visitation. I think we should approach the UAP phenomenon with a minimum amount of assumptions and an open readiness to learn. It is real and it is extraordinary and it is unknown. That is the spirit of true science, rooted in the ground of evidence while yet reaching for the galaxies.
UFOs: Boundary fuzziness between science and pseudoscience

EXCERPT: Boundary work has also been evident in policing the how and what of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). When SETI takes the form of astronomers using telescopes to seek evidence of intelligent radio signals and mechanical objects in outer space, it is accepted as a mainstream (though, admittedly, underfunded) academic pursuit. The study of UFOs, on the other hand, is brushed off as pseudoscience. UFO investigation has, consequently, been largely privately funded and conducted by committed individuals in their free time. This stark divide did not happen overnight, and its roots lie in the postwar decades, in a series of events... (MORE - missing details)

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This abstract from 2016 likewise isn't something recent in terms of general discourse about the subject occurring out there, but touches upon some philosophical issues. Paper itself unfortunately requires registration.

A Historical Perspective on the Ontological Status of UFOs

EXCERPTS (Kate Dorsch): . . . In his report-cum-expos of early Air Force investigative efforts, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (1956), former Project Blue Book director Captain Edward J. Ruppelt writes, “The hassle over the word proof’ boils down to one question: What constitutes proof?... There are certain definite facts that can be gleaned from [a report]; the pilot did see something and he did shoot at something, but no matter how thoroughly you investigate the incident that something can never be positively identified.”

Some sightings might be psychological, as with hallucinations; but surely, Ruppelt argues, not all of them are. Likewise, in a set of anonymous survey interviews conducted by astronomer J. Allen Hynek in 1952, Astronomer R argues that as late as 1800 meteorites were thought impossible and that it would be folly to suggest that “a century and a half later all the physical phenomena that exist have been discovered.”

Status report after status report supports the position that reported observations, in a gross majority of cases, are being generated by real phenomena. (And the reports in which this is not the case are easily identifiable, based on the character of the witness.) Historians of science are often quick to suggest ways in which their case studies and methodologies can be better applied to critical issues in the philosophy of science. But here, I attempt to work in the other direction, demonstrating how philosophical questions about the ontological status of scientific objects shapes methods of scientific inquiry and assumptions about observers and witnessing...

[...] I will demonstrate how philosophical concerns about theoretical and un-seeable’ objects do not pertain only to the problems of the microscopic world. Furthermore, I will discuss how understanding these central philosophical questions on real versus immaterial objects is crucial to understanding, in this case, the UFO problem more broadly. The UFO case study allows us to see philosophy of science in action. It is a case of applied philosophy of science...
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Can we have an intelligent discussion about UFO phenomena?

EXCERPTS: . . . In all of our experiences, we see what our knowledge tells us we see, and by “knowledge” I mean the dynamic combination of our past experiences and current expectations. A concept in philosophy I like is “semantic resources” — that we need to learn concepts and words to understand our experiences and speak about them. I think this concept is especially useful in helping untangle UFOs.

[...] A sincere investigation is needed with a neutral attitude between dismissive skepticism and the assumption of aliens. If we take on a collective effort of open-minded inquiry into UFO phenomena, we can build a set of semantic resources to understand whatever is behind the sightings and the many reactions to them. We don’t know what we will find. Worth finding out!

[...] This leads back to my original point about anthropomorphism. The assumption that UFOs/UAPs must be the ships of extraterrestrials is more mythology than anything else. It is a human projection to assume that UFOs are spacecraft containing or directed by beings like humans only a different size and color.

UFOs could be … well, anything. To name just a few possibilities:
  • Weather or energy phenomena
  • Biological organisms
  • Extra/ultra/alternative/multi-dimensional phenomena/beings, indigenous to existent natural systems of which we are a part but that we can only perceive to a limited extent
  • Consciousness-manipulating phenomena that can make us see what we expect to see
  • Phenomena we can’t yet even imagine
[Add to that list common technology that is simply misperceived, classified technology, the undocumented technology of developing projects in private enterprise, and the eccentric endeavors of hobbyists with deep pockets.]
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When SETI takes the form of astronomers using telescopes to seek evidence of intelligent radio signals and mechanical objects in outer space, it is accepted as a mainstream (though, admittedly, underfunded) academic pursuit. The study of UFOs, on the other hand, is brushed off as pseudoscience.

It is a faulty analogy on several points:

Notice the difference in goals, reflected in terminology:
SETI: "seek evidence"
UFOlogy: "study"

SETI seeks evidence of ETI but has found none.
UFOlogy has not found any UFOs so it can't be studying them.

SETI's claims have not outstripped their data.
UFOlogists's claims have outstripped their data.

They didn't actually called SETI 's work science per se; they called it an academic pursuit.

So this is a bad analogy. Any further exposition that relies on this (faulty) analogy is likewise faulty.
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[...] 2. They didn't actually called SETI 's work science per se; they called it an academic pursuit. [...]

I think use of "academic pursuit" was just straying off into synonym country by referring to a hypernym that "science" is subsumed by. Since SETI is largely regarded as an [interdisciplinary] scientific endeavor, at least as much as a soft science like psychology (whose past struggles to be accepted were also mentioned). This is not to say, however, that there are no philosophers of science who would quibble about its status -- there seems to always be a PoS nitpicking about something. ;)

Steven Novella: "Frequently the opponents of science try to limit what counts as science in order to deny legitimate science [...] So, yes, SETI is legitimate science. It is searching for evidence that directly tests a very interesting hypothesis. The fact that it can never prove a negative version of that hypothesis (there are no intelligence radio sources in the universe) is irrelevant."

"The detection of life beyond Earth is an ongoing scientific pursuit, with profound implications. One approach, known as the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)..." ...

As a historian of science aware of the tendency of social and work-enterprise patterns to repeat, Eghigian somewhat pessimistically reflects at the end:

"And so here we are a quarter century later, and we are again hearing some rumblings from within the scientific community. Some scientists involved with SETI have publicly called for the interdisciplinary study of UFOs. And now Loeb (another Harvard professor) has announced the Galileo Project. [...] Many of Loeb’s colleagues are skeptical about the prospect. If history is any guide, it’s questionable a project like this will succeed in persuading diehard believers and skeptics to rethink their positions."​
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Visits to and from extraterrestrials: Why they never occurred, and probably never will

INTRO (Morton Tavel): The public has long been, largely since religious visitations have seemed less believable, enamored by outer space as exemplified by the popularity of science fiction programs such as Star Trek, Star Wars, E.T., and the like. The recent unmanned excursions to Earth’s Moon and nearby planets have further whetted the public’s appetite.

That may also explain the recent increased interest in the possibility of aliens from distant worlds traveling in UAPs. Much of our attention, however, has focused on our chasing “weird” aerial phenomena rather than exploring the basic physical and biological limitations that prevent either aliens or us from meeting each other or reaching distant planets far from home.

Although we have sought diligently over most of the past century to identify aerial phenomena and link them to distant worlds, all these attempts have resulted in abject failure. Such alleged “discoveries” can be explained by earth-bound phenomena, such as mylar balloons, drones, foreign aircraft, space trash, distorted photos of flying insects and other objects, e.g., artillery shells.

Although some of these phenomena remain unexplained, no substantive evidence of alien life or extraterrestrial vehicles has been uncovered. Because of facts to be noted, I contend that they never will. Why? Let’s explore this issue from a purely scientific, biological perspective and begin by posing two questions... (MORE - details)
Not to be confused with the later NASA meeting.

(April 19. 2023) Here are the major takeaways from the recent senate hearing on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena


AARO Has No “Credible Evidence” That UAP Represents Extraterrestrial Activity

In his opening remarks, Dr. Kirkpatrick addressed the proverbial elephant in the room. “I should also state clearly for the record that in our research, AARO has found no credible evidence thus far of extraterrestrial activity, off-world technology, or objects that defy the known laws of physics,” said Dr. Kirkpatrick.

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Shots Fired At UFO Hobbyists and Skeptics

In his remarks, Kirkpatrick took what could be considered a shot across the bow at avocational UAP investigators, skeptics, critics, commentators, or vocal enthusiasts.

“For those few cases that have been leaked to the public previously and subsequently commented on by the U.S. Government, I encourage those who hold alternative theories or views to submit your research to credible peer-reviewed scientific journals,” said Kirkpatrick. “AARO is working to do the same. That is how science works, not by blog or social media.”

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AARO Shares Trend Data That Was Formerly Withheld

In the first surprise of the hearing, Kirkpatrick presented a slide showing the “UAP Reporting Trends” from 1996-2023. To date, this was the most information the Pentagon has ever shared on some of the statistical patterns of UAP reports.

Most of the data provided wasn’t particularly surprising. For example, 89% of reported UAP altitudes were 10,000 to 35,000 feet. These are the altitudes that the vast majority of aircraft fly, so it makes sense to have more reports in the most traveled airspace regions.

[...] As Kirkpatrick pointed out in his testimony, it’s no surprise that these areas produce the most UAP reports because they represent the areas where the U.S. military operates the most airborne collection platforms.

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The DoD Is Willing To Share UAP Info, Provided It Leaks First

The Pentagon normally takes the unauthorized leak of privileged DoD information extremely seriously. However, when it comes to leaks involving UAP, curiously, the DoD seems to become more forthcoming and willing to share.

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What Happened To The Complaints of AARO Being Underfunded?

During last week’s hearing, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) asked Kirkpatrick to explain what made AARO unique to other existing DoD offices. There was a hint of political theater in Sen. Ernst’s question, perhaps suggesting that the DoD may have tried to dispel lawmakers’ concerns about funding by saying that AARO was replicating work already being done by the DoD.

Aside from this brief exchange, AARO’s budget or apparent need for more funding did not come up. Any budget concerns were likely discussed during the closed-door hearing Senators had with Kirkpatrick just before the public hearing.

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AARO Is Using The Standard Intelligence Community Model Of Analysis

In describing AARO’s analysis process, Kirkpatrick described the standard five-step intelligence cycle, the gold-standard analysis model used by the U.S. Intelligence Community.

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Ok, But What Happens Next?

Kirkpatrick hinted at what the next intelligence cycle of UAP might resemble by mentioning that AARO was “looking at applying a lot of things, new tools, analytic tools, like natural language processing.”

[...] This means that AARO will likely carefully analyze its unknown cases or, as Kirkpatrick put it, the “very small percentage of UAP reports display signatures that could reasonably be described as anomalous.”

The next step will likely involve putting together a collection plan, allowing AARO to gather its own UAP data instead of relying on reports given to them. [...] As far as what’s publicly known, the U.S. Government has never engaged in a collection mission specifically targeting UAP. Should things progress this far, it would be unprecedented.
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Physicist who found spherical meteor fragments claims they may come from an alien spaceship – here’s what to make of it

EXCERPTS: Avi Loeb’s evidence for an extraterrestrial source for the material – never mind an interstellar origin – is rather shaky. He has found metallic spherules.

[...] We know meteors from our Solar System contain iron and nickel, echoing the relative abundances of these metals in the Sun. But the spherules apparently contain “negligible” amounts of nickel - thus indicating that they are almost certainly not from meteors within the Solar System.

This does not, however, prove they are interstellar - it merely makes it more likely that they’re terrestrial pollutants.

The most convincing evidence would be to measure an age for the spherules greater than that of the Sun - which would identify them as interstellar. And that would be amazing, but it would not necessarily identify them as having an artificial [alien], rather than natural origin...
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The David Grusch thought-virus continues its pandemic-like spread through levels of government and society. No viable vaccine on the horizon yet, but skeptic treatment centers strive to help patients with traditional therapeutic aid.
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UFO Suspicions High as Ex-Intelligence Officer’s Claims To Be Investigated

EXCERPT: . . . When asked whether they believed the U.S. government possesses "non-human original technical vehicles," 34 percent of those asked in the polling for Newsweek responded affirmatively, with 30 percent disagreeing with this statement. And 36 percent did not know.

Just under three out of five respondents in the poll said the U.S. government would be able to hide evidence of the existence of aliens, should they have it, whereas 21 percent responded the government would not be able to do so, Another 21 percent said they did not know.

When asked about the House Oversight Committee's investigation, 40 percent of those asked supported or strongly supported lawmakers looking into Grusch's claims. A further 35 percent did not support nor oppose the investigation, and 10 percent opposed or strongly opposed the scrutiny. And 16 percent said they did not know. The poll was conducted among 1,500 eligible voters in the U.S.

In late June, Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri accused the U.S. government of covering up a "huge" number of unidentified aerial phenomena. "The number of these is apparently huge, huge," Hawley told NewsNation. "And that is something that the government has, the best I can say about it, downplayed, if not kept from the public, for a long, long time." (MORE - missing details)
Why people tend to believe UFOs are extraterrestrial

EXCERPT: Anyone, including pilots and intelligence officers, can be socially influenced to see things that aren’t there. Research shows that hearing from others who claim to have seen something extraordinary is enough to induce similar judgments. The effect is heightened when the influencers are numerous or higher in status. Even recognized experts aren’t immune from misjudging unfamiliar images obtained under unusual conditions... (MORE - missing details)
Jill Tarter and Douglas Vakoch interview

Where are all those aliens?

VIDEO EXCERPT: The Fermi Paradox has a robust structure of a paradox only if you can say they aren't here. And then you can conclude that there cannot have been any technological civilizations at any other time in any other place -- we're the first. But can we say they're not here?

I actually think that we've so poorly explored even our own little corner of the universe that there could be many forms of intelligent technologies -- alien colonizers here. But they're nanoscale, or they are not the model that we think of -- the big wet, fat biology. That might not be what visitation by an alien advanced technology actually means...

(link) Where are all those aliens?
The Fermi Paradox has a robust structure of a paradox only if you can say they aren't here.
The other obvious possibility is "you can't get there from here". IOW if large scale interstellar travel is not possible then of course there should be no ETs here.

It seems rather obvious at this point that interstellar travel is just not feasible.
The other obvious possibility is "you can't get there from here". IOW if large scale interstellar travel is not possible then of course there should be no ETs here.

It seems rather obvious at this point that interstellar travel is just not feasible.

I wouldn't expect anything "alive" in a natural origin context to be incrementally, lethargically migrating across the immense distances over thousands and millions of years, anyway. Though some of the quasi-immortal, self-replicating machines might carry starter material or "blueprints" for reconstructing their original, passé creators (if they ever encountered a suitable planet).

Albeit the likely reason for the absence of alien technosignatures, IMO, is just that evolution and accompanying "lucky" planetary histories have no predilection for developing toward even complex life, much less an intelligent variety with non-stop technological progress tendencies.

Even the boring, rural outskirts of a galaxy that Earth swings along isn't devoid of disastrous events. It may take beyond even billions of blanks fired in terms of dead worlds and short-lived hospitable environments to statistically make possible just one rare planet with as ridiculously a long string of fortuitous occurrences, dodges, recoveries, and unlikely convergences as this one has enjoyed (extended to the favorable breaks that life in general and human ancestors received -- and even developing tribes/societies stumbling upon the right combination of methods after scores of millennia).

Rare Earth Hypothesis

I wouldn't expect anything "alive" in a natural origin context to be incrementally, lethargically migrating across the immense distances over thousands and millions of years, anyway. Though some of the quasi-immortal, self-replicating machines might carry starter material or "blueprints" for reconstructing their original, passé creators (if they ever encountered a suitable planet).
I agree that interstellar space travel by machines is MUCH more likely to occur than biological beings.
The Fascinating Psychology Behind Alien Abduction Reports

KEY POINTS: In some cases, paranormal reports may stem from false memories, which are surprisingly easy to implant. Dream–reality confusion is common among persons with sleep disorders, which can lead to "dream delusions." Sexual masochists are especially susceptible to false memories and dream–reality confusion involving aliens.
Are UFO phenomena primarily a USA fixation?
Are the number of UFO sightings in the 50's due to paranoid citizens looking to the skies for incoming nuke missiles from the USSR and because there was no bang, claimed them to be UFO's instead.
It is interesting to note, IMO, that the attitude and fear of aliens since the cold war ended (1992) has some what mollified, demonstrated in popular sci fi story telling media.

To me the movie E.T. (1982) stands out, along with Close Encounters of the third kind (1977).
The degree of paranoia associated has diminished considerably since the 50's leading to the opening of minds to possibility vs probability question and so on...
Are UFO phenomena primarily a USA fixation? [...]

Unusual sights go back to ancient times, but I think North America just capitalized on them better, starting in the 19th-century. They took a subject that had formerly been feral and unfocused, and packaged it into a carnival attraction for the publishing media.

For instance, the Aurora, Texas incident dates back to 1897. And seems as unlikely a place as possible for rural folk to be interested in or even be aware of "spacecraft".

But thanks to all the mystery airship accounts circulating to newspapers around the country via yellow journalism (the predecessor to tabloids), the locals of fading towns recognized that reports about sightings and crashes might bring attention to their communities.

The popular "airship stories" written by Frank Reade, Luis Senarens, and Robert Duncan Milne provided a new template for yellow journalism to borrow for recasting the supernatural "sky phenomena" of old as the sci-tech projects of mad or adventurous inventors.

The fabled canals of Mars along with H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" triggered the gradual transition from Earthly inventors to outer space ones.

As some countries became less information oppressive in the latter half of the 20th-century, along with the advent of digital technology, the "UFOs are aliens" obsession or thought-virus began to spread everywhere.
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List of reported UFO sightings worldwide

Interest in UFOs is not just an American phenomenon, experts say

EXCERPT: Russia, Mexico and China – all reaching at least 60% – had the highest rates of belief in intelligent life on other planets. Thirteen countries, including Canada and Italy, had higher percentages than the U.S., which came in at 45%, according to Glocalities' research. The Netherlands (28%), Indonesia (34%), Turkey (36%) and South Africa (36%) all had the lowest rates among countries surveyed.

[...] Argentina – not included in the survey – has hosted a festival in recent years in its city of Capilla del Monte to honor a reported sighting there from 1986, according to The Associated Press.

[...] "There's certainly interest in Europe – in France, for example," says Edward Guinan, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University. "France is really big into UFOs. I think it's a universal thing."

[...] One country that might appear lower on the list when it comes to UFO interest is Australia. The country – where 44% of respondents believe in alien civilizations, according to Glocalities – has had sightings reported in the past with similar circumstances, but the numbers do "not come anywhere close to what is reported in the U.S."