Thursday, December 11, 2008


The latest issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER focuses on UFOs. Personally, although as a long-time SF fan I believe other intelligent life probably exists in the universe, I don't believe alleged UFO reports offer any justification for thinking aliens have visited us in the recent past. The alleged sightings of extraterrestrial craft (such as the incidents discussed in this SKEPTICAL INQUIRER issue) have consistently been disproved with much more credible mundane explanations. As for reports of alien abductions, all the accounts I've come across read like mediocre science fiction written by people who don't know much about science fiction. Many of them also sound a lot like tales of incubus and succubus attacks, a similarity suggesting a psychological phenomenon that has existed throughout human history and has been given different names depending on the beliefs current at the time. Writers skeptical of UFOs often ask why aliens would travel all those light years—even assuming the technology to make the trip, which is a stretch in itself according to our present state of knowledge—just to hover around without making contact. And if the abduction stories were true, why would extraterrestrial visitors choose the people typical of supposed abductees rather than contacting scientists or authority figures? If they are studying our species, couldn't they have learned more than enough about us in the past sixty years or so since the first UFO reports?

Although I don't believe UFOs are actually alien spacecraft, as an SF reader I can think of several plausible reasons why aliens might hang around our planet without making high-level contact and yet apparently without taking any great care to conceal themselves. Think of Jane Goodall and the chimpanzees. A researcher of that type wants the subjects to become accustomed to her presence, but she doesn't want to interact with them directly and thereby change their behavior. Maybe that's the strategy of ET anthropologists observing us. Or maybe the alien scientists do want to manipulate us, and the "abductions" are part of a long-term experiment to find out how we'll react to the aliens' apparently irrational behavior pattern. Maybe Earth happens to be located near a wormhole or some other transportation portal undetectable to our present technology, and the ET spaceships are using the portal without caring whether we notice them or not. That hypothesis might account for the erratic sightings of objects that appear and disappear without being susceptible to reliable tracking. Maybe they're mining or harvesting some natural resource unknown to us. Or, to indulge in paranoia, maybe the natural resource they need comprises human life energy or brain waves; maybe they've been feeding on us for eons, a scenario that would explain the horrors of human history. (That idea comes from a pulp-era novel called SINISTER BARRIER, by Eric Frank Russell, in which energy-beings called Vitons have used us as livestock for our entire existence.)

Or maybe they're watching us to determine our worthiness to be admitted to the galactic community; I hope so. The seemingly random sightings and contacts, again, might be specifically designed to test our reactions to aliens among us.

As for the "interstellar distance" argument against ET visitors, aside from the hand-waving assurance that an unimaginably advanced culture will have solved that problem, not every alien spacecraft sighted in Earth's orbit has to have come from another star. They might have a well-established base in the outer reaches of the solar system, as the villains in Robert Heinlein's HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL have a base on Pluto. Their technology would certainly allow such an outpost to evade detection by the few probes we've sent that far.

Other than the familiar clich├ęs of invasion and conquest or peaceful assimilation into a galactic federation, what other motives might aliens have for dropping in on us? Trade? Exploration for the sake of pure knowledge? Tourism?


  1. Hi Margaret!
    Great post. Although I have never personally met any little green men, I have no trouble accepting the premise that there are ETs out there. Forty years ago I saw things that are still not possible in the realm of human airodynamics. GOK how they view us. Makes for interesting speculation in a number of fields, though.

  2. Anonymous3:02 PM EST

    Don't get my rocket scientist hubby started on UFO's. I've had some enlightening conversations with him that I can't divulge due to matters of national security. :)

    I like the idea of Alien tourists though.