Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Are "They" Friendly?: Hawking says Watch Out!

You've probably read the hoopla about the Discovery Channel program wherein Stephen Hawking warns us that sending out powerful signals about where we are might not be a smart idea. Afterall, Hawking says, why would we want to attract aggressive and highly-advanced technologists from deep space? The idea is not a foolish thought. Carl Jung warned us about even a benign superior civilization putting the brakes on our enthusiasms and our imaginations, and reminded us that Earth cultures have been [even unintentionally] stunted by contact that they were not ready for. The Brookings Institution did a famous study for the government in the 1960s [I think...might have even been the late 1950s] which had the same conclusions. In a NASA sponsored debate on the subject in the 1970s, although Carl Sagan and Philip Morrison expressed blue-sky optimism, two other panelists had the exact opposite view of "alien contact". Over in Great Britain, astronomers like Zdenek Kopal were saying things like "they could exterminate us", and "If the phone rings, hang up!". ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Back in 1960, a naive young radioastronomer named Frank Drake was in charge of certain programs at the national radio telescope at Green Bank, West Virginia. [that's the old Green Bank telescope at the left, and the guy with it is radioastronomy legend, Grote Reber]. My memory is that there was a senior astronomer in charge of the whole show there, but he relented and let Drake and a few others decide not only to "listen in" for signals from a few stars but to actually send a signal out. [once again:apologies for the lack of my files]. Now this is where the rumors come in: when certain military people heard that an unauthorized broadcast [which was much more powerful and more concentrated in direction than ambient radio signals that we always make] had been beamed at two nearby stars, the Pentagon went through the roof. Allegedly, many naive astronomers got a talking to, which included protocols not only forbidding such transmissions without military "advisement" regarding security issues, but protocols for reporting and responding to incoming signals. I don't know whether all that happened or not, but it is information that I read and heard a long time ago in the 1970s. One reason that adds to my suspicion that this is true is that when Drake was cleared to send another signal many years later, he set the mighty Arecibo telescope to a globular cluster populated with many stars [yes] but only with stars of low metallicity [i.e. having no chances of having planets around them.] This latter fact is always conveniently not mentioned when persons like Sagan or Shostak regale their gap-mouthed audiences with this great reaching out to Space. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the 1980s when I was in my heyday of filling my head with frontier information about the sciences, I was privileged to attend many symposia at American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings. There I was able to hear nearly every conceivable expert in every field speak, and ask questions if I wanted. It was a learning paradise. One symposium was particularly disturbing and relevant to this topic. It was about deep space exploration and possible consequences of contact. One of the experts [and expert they were] was a technologist who, among other things consulted for the government. The panel had discussed deep space travel technologies. He took a different angle. Accepting the possibility of very high velocity ships [ships which could approach significant percentages of the speed of light], he noted that at that stage of development any highly advanced society would suddenly become uncomfortable with us. This is because we not only would have produced a "relativistic rocket", but that device would gain tremendous mass due to the relativity effects of the Special Theory. At that time we would have acquired a "Planet Cracker", a weapon of such mass that it could blast away anyone's home world. He referred to it as the "Gun Which Makes Everybody Equal". He even went so far as to muse that Aliens could be monitoring us right now to assess whether they can afford to allow us to make that last technological step, or to snuff the dangerous vermin out before they break out into space as destroyers. So you see, not everyone has the same sorts of thoughts in their minds.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Guys like Drake [above] and Sagan and the SETIans consistently want to believe that all the folks out there are good guys, and that we could never threaten them in any serious enough way to bring retribution upon us. And we'd all like to believe that. But we should also admit two other things at least: 1). we have no idea what we're talking about; and 2). such behavior on the parts of Drake, Sagan et al shows that they [and we?] are emotion-driven risk-takers. Sure, everyone in such discussions is emotion-driven. But emotion-driven and risk-taking is different from emotion-driven and not. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
All of us interested in Space, ET, and UFOlogy want there to be extraterrestrials, and all of us would like them to be friendly [and tolerant]. None of us know that. In fact, the only chance that we have of trying to know that is to study UFO incidents. One might assume that the security-minded modern Pentagon types are not studying that data too hard, and the modern SETIans sarcastically reject it as well. So the major players in the issue remain stone-dead ignorant of the only source of information which might cast a little light on this. ..... except for Drake himself. Frank Drake never stopped being a closet UFOlogist. Maybe that's why he thinks that they might be friendly enough not to bring in the Extraterrestrial Terminix Man.


  1. What an interesting blog post Professor, thanks!

    I would love to be able to hear those 70s AAAS meetings ...

    Regarding the news about Steven Hawkings warnings, this might be interesting to some people: On TED, i heard him say
    {5:00} "I am discounting reports of UFOs. Why would they appear only to cranks and weirdos?"

    And he goes on: "If there is a government conspiracy to suppress the reports and keep for itself the scientific knowledge the aliens bring, it seems to have been a singularly ineffective policy so far."

    To me it looks like Hawking is uninformed about the topic of UFOs. Otherwise he wouldn't say such things. UFOs have been and are seen by anyone, through all social classes. What he is pointing out is a classical cliché which is not true.

  2. Hello, Prof.

    I am not convinced that technological advances automatically lead a culture to a liberal, friendly mind-set. The optimism of Sagan et al regarding alien contact may prove to be wildly misplaced.

  3. I would be stunned to learn that Hawking was in any way knowledgeable about the UFO phenomenon. Almost all scientists have their scientific lives which dominate their time like most of us would not conceive. They literally have no time for it [and we know how much time it takes to sift signal from noise, or worse]. Because of that, and because there is no positive reinforcement whatever to showing interest in the subject [Menzel and Sagan saw to that], these otherwise mindful people repeat the chatter of the tribe mindlessly---even when simple logic would deduce that they should at least shut up and listen. It is thus that the near-entirety of science academe becomes an error-ridden cliche. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------As to friendly or not ETs: we have all the info to easily see that even well-immersed UFOlogists [ex. Hopkins vs. Mack] can come to diametrically opposed conclusions on that. I don't believe that either Budd or John had the correct model for what's going on, but that just adds to the assessment problem in the field.

  4. To the guy above who said that Hawking is engaging in a 'classical cliche' - Most cliches are such BECAUSE they are true. Have ET's made themselves clearely and unambiguously visible to EVERYBODY? No, they have not. Why? They don't exist. If you want to believe the moon is made of green cheese then go right on ahead. It's a whole lot of nonsense.

  5. To Jim Donegan, if you have nothing intellectual to say about the topics we present, I'll remind you that this is not Talk Radio but rather "my home' which civilized persons are welcome into and empty-headed ravers are not. Skepticism is welcome if congenial, objective and substantive. Since you apparently have nothing to say which has any depth of research behind it, please do the rest of us a favor and leave my house. If you ever actually do any study which is responsible [and respectful] feel free to return. I wonder if you even realize that you are engaged in nothing but emotional name-calling, and yet think that this is acceptable behavior.

  6. I was startin' to worry 'bout you there, Prof - by your standards you're almost late!

  7. Prof viz the way you handled Jim Donegan.

    Ooh, you're so masterful!

  8. Hello Professor,

    The point you make about Dr. Hawking not having time at all for even considering the UFO evidence is a good one. I watched the Discovery Channel special over the weekend, and was amused right away that he apparently had done little to no research of the subject beyond what mainstream science thinkers might have parroted. Then a thought came to me. It seems to me that for most of his career, Dr. Hawking has avoided the ET Hypothesis like the plague. I'm guessing he only now comes forward with this "Evil-ET" idea with a mind towards ratings. Discovery Networks at least knows that talk of ET = a ratings bonanza. Where is the line drawn between a logical cautionary stance and outright paranoia, between reaching out and isolationism in the search for ET? Surely, Dr. Hawking's appeal to fear is not the best option.

  9. Hi Mike,

    When I went off to Cambridge to do a film for the CBC in 1984 about Dr. Hawking I was amazed to discover a man of little tolerance for the Great Mystery of the Universe. I almost turned around and went home, but decided instead to stay and turn the style of the film from impressionist to expressionist. I was glad that I did. Stephen was a gracious host and the film was a success (viewable on my site). Nevertheless, like most of the high priests of science he can't stop making pronouncements on areas he knows little or nothing about.

    Thanks for this blog, Mike. May you live long and prosper.


  10. Actually, Prof, your observation to the effect Hawking probably hasn't had the time to consider the UFO matter seriously may well be the clue to this story.

    I don't know if you remember how a while back Hawking came to the conclusion, in black holes, EVERYTHING's destroyed - including INFORMATION.

    This, of course, was taken as the greatest heresy, because it implied so many things such as the laws of physics and, worse, Mathematics were only transitory, not eternal and immutable.

    It also implied the possibility our scientific explanations might be missing crucial facts, now forever lost courtesy of black holes.

    It's as a direct result of trying to discredit Hawking's assertion we now 'know' not only are black holes everywhere, rather than rare, but contrary to destroying information they hold galaxies, universes, EVERYTHING together.

    In fact black holes're so informationally nutritious, they're the real reason our toilets' flush; they're what our nostrils and bumholes're made from; they're the little black bits you sometimes find on cornflakes; even electrons're black holes.

    But while we were learning all this, poor Hawking himself was being increasingly marginalised if not downright ostracised until the only work he could get was on The Simpsons.

    However, ever since he repudiated himself - Galileo style - in 2004, he's been gradually assimilated back into decent scientific society, just so long as he avoids any dangerous ramblings about black holes.

    This latest development, though, I suggest, is his attempt to pull a covert Johnny Rotten style two-finger - one-finger, in your case - salute, by seeming to ally himself with the dregs and scum of scientific society: UFO boys like yourself.

    I still love y' though y' scientific scum, Prof - but then I really AM scum!

  11. To David, hello my friend. Your UFO documentary stands as the absolute unchallenged finest piece of its kind and everyone that I have shown it to loves it. Hope that you have the stamina to do many more, even on different subjects. As you say, both you and I have ploughed through the UFO literature and faced the howling winds of the overinflated tribe, "and we're still standing". Live long and prosper back at you. By the way, I don't usually "push" anything on the blog, but your film is a legitimate exception. If you want to post the way that people could get a copy of it, I will happily approve.

  12. Professor,

    Thanks for the kind words, AND for the interview that contributes so much to making the the film as good as it may be. My web site's sales part is turned off right now as I'm at a retreat centre in Thailand filming a three part documentary on Buddhism's transition to the West. It'll be back up in August.

    Interestingly ALL the US networks have passed on picking up the film. I'm guessing that from their point of view it's not dumbed down or sensationalistic enough to put enough eyeballs in front of enough commercials. And people wonder why, if we're being visited,they don't stop by and say hello. Well, maybe it's because they've watched our TV (all wonderful exceptions noted and excluded from the preceding comment!)

  13. If we're to believe our lying eyes and the breathless narratives of a few of the people uploading videos to YouTube, it appears that we are being visited and also greeted, even though the light phenomena in the videos seem disinclined to "set a spell" for a nice long neighborly chat.

    In certain instances, the flicking of a cigarette lighter or a carefully directed beam from a handheld laser device appears to elicit a response in the form of a distinct flare-up of these glowing objects as they pass overhead.

    It does seem ironic that the SETI folks have turned such a blind eye to what increasing numbers of people throughout the world are filming, not only nightly, but in daylight as well.

  14. To David: agreed on all. To the readers: David's site is allinonefilms.com/ but as he says don't try to buy anything yet [until August] . ---------------------------------------------------------------------To anonymous: asking SETI researchers to pay attention to You-Tube videos is asking too much. Modern filming technology makes everything too easy to fake and can almost never approach the status of evidence, or even a data-richness which allows analysis---this is why even UFO organizations cannot do convincing analyses on these sorts of things , despite being the one group motivated to do so. Even though there seem to be a lot of possible video events, it's still an awfully big planet out there and there is no place to go set up your scientific instruments with any assurance that something of true high strangeness will float by. The Bigelow ranch site harvested a few very high strangeness events, but even those had their "incompletenesses" and refused to divulge that they were anything more discernible than strange anomalies. Places like Hessdalen afford hard-won photos of something undeniably real, but what is it? And, until greater motivation sets in, scientists, including SETIans, will find easier things to make a living at than freezing their bums off in upper Norway. All cheers by the way to Erling Strand for being a hero and willing to do so.

  15. Thanks for the linkage to David's documentaries. The fact that his work hasn't been seen in the US market links back to my previous comment. Discovery Channel knows that sensationalism sells. Most, if not all, of TV programming regarding the UFO phenomenon is pretty dumbed down, as David mentioned.

  16. I agree wholeheartedly, Professor. Erling Strand and his fellow researchers at Ostfold University College deserve high praise for their long-term conduct of Project Hessdalen. However, activity there has gradually declined to around two dozen observations a year, and only two incidents have been reported so far in 2010. I have no wish to argue, but it does seem that there are locations in our own country that are much "hotter" now than Hessdalen has been in recent years, places where a variety of strange airborne things cross overhead reliably, night after night after night. And, yes, analyzing videos is a useless endeavor, but are we to assume that all of them are faked?

    Perhaps SETI-type scientists are simply more rigid in their concept of what constitutes "alien" life than are those of us who live in fly-over country. Paul Davies' colleagues and the Goddard group are concentrating on locating microbial life in extreme environments here on earth, in hope of gaining a better perspective on the evolution of biochemical systems under the inhospitable circumstances that seem to prevail elsewhere in the universe.

    It may also be that the very puzzling and somewhat lifelike phenomena ordinary folks claim to be recording can never be properly understood, no matter what resources are marshaled to study them.

  17. To anonymous: well, nobody here assumes that they are all fakes, but if one realizes that there is little hope of using them to gain any step forward in evidence then they are of no more use than if they were---so one doesn't claim anything for them, and one doesn't waste one's time. Scientists who go to Antarctica to study microbial life under harsh conditions do so because they can; they know that when they get there they will have something to study. They have no reason to believe that they can set up shop anywhere on our planet and, in any reasonable amount of time, have a UFO to study. Their concept of "alienness" has nothing to do with their choice of lab work. They have lives in science to live and short years to do so---these situations which demand publishing of results [not theories] require practical decision-making as to what one spends ones short life upon. I assume that everyone knows this, but we tend too often to project our own desires upon "the other guys" and they are leading lives bounded by far different conditions. Even Dick Hall told Condon, in the heat of the mid-60s wave, that NICAP could not expect to get to a UFO incident in progress more than about 5 times per year, and then later admitted privately that he had overestimated severely. The USAF project wanted early in the game to get a spot to UFO-watch and only the New Mexico area during the Green Fireballs era seemed possibly worth the effort---and even this was unfunded by the Pentagon. When you add to this the other things that this blog has talked about ["We Know Where You Live" and the apparently deliberate refusal to support robust patterns], this difficulty in casting a net around an undeniable UFO does not surprise me, however much it discourages me.

  18. Are you suggesting that we not try to convince those scientists (who have other fish to fry and their own lives to lead) that these phenomena are real? I guess what I'm asking is, is it enough to just do the research ourselves and present our findings hoping that the weight of the evidence will speak for itself? I hope for the day when the "hidden event" becomes mainstream knowledge.

  19. The "sociology" which rose up around this field presents an astoundingly robust and flexible set of barriers to allowing open discussion of data and reasoned theory about it. Anyone who takes as their main activity the breeching of the academic wall of instant rejection will be in for continual surprise and disappointment, if not anger and depression. What one CAN do is to do good work and build a powerful demonstration of the phenomenological and sociological truths in our field, and let that work do its slow corrosive work, convincing persons one-by-one until the walls are seen by people generally as the hypocrisy and manipulative tools that they are. Anyone is welcome to bow to their impatience or naivete and storm the academic castle, but not me. I've been there. There's no magic tunnel in. Mindless brutes guard every approach. Only by building our own impregnable fortress [founded on truth and idealistic honesty] will the other structure come to the end it deserves. Keyhoe wanted the big wall-breaker--he didn't come close. NICAP wanted it out of Colorado---not close either. Hynek thought that surely he could sway science---not hardly. Right-to-Know, Roswell GAO, Disclosure---most of these things become first entertainment and then, usually, laughingstocks [we're talking about academe]. As Aristotle would have said: There is no Royal Road to UFOlogy. ----and as Mountain William would remind us: you first have to bake the bread if you expect to gather the gravy.

  20. Thank you for your patient responses, Professor, and your subtle reminder. It's both enjoyable and rewarding to go back through the archives and re-read early posts in the light of recent discussions.

  21. I wish that I had the Magic Key to the other castle, but I don't. I sit in the nearby field, with my hands in the straw and the mud, and make a few bricks to build another one. Hall, Bloecher, Hynek, Ruppelt, Greenwood, Vallee, Michel, Poher, Phillips, Rodeghier, ... and so many more ... have sat here. Some still do, and are in smiling and hailing distance. Their "bricks" are stacked all over the ground. The outlines of the building are there for most minds to see. In our minds it is a Great House; on the ground of the World, it is still a figment of our imagination. So, still I sit in the mud. But I have great company. ... and a feeling of honest work.



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