As I promised at the end of Unidentified Science 3, this time I’m going to take a little break this time from talking about virtuous scientific work. Such work is hard, slow and often reaches a Great Divide where no progress seems possible, but we have gone too far to quit.
So, it’s good to have a little fun once and awhile and indulge in speculation. As long as you clearly label speculation as just that, there is no harm in it, and these little imaginative expeditions can often stimulate really useful new ideas. After all, that’s one thing science fiction is good for. Like good science fiction, we want our speculations to be informed by the best science we have, admitting that there are leaps across the gap of our ignorance that are simply made up for the amusement of thinking about it.
I started off this series by talking about four virtues I think we are going to have to live by if the study of UFOs is ever going to be accepted as a science: humility, patience, integrity and skepticism. This one is a little bit about skepticism, but mostly about patience.
There is a big problem in Unidentified Aerial Phenomena research that needs to be addressed before we can make any claim of being a scientific enterprise. We are going to need a lot of patience to solve it. The problem is that much, in fact nearly all of our database is eyewitness testimony.
While our research has keep pretty much the same approach as always, science has marched on, and this includes the studies of human perception and memory.
This first appeared on API Case Files in audio form in 2014. It has been edited a bit to make it more suitable for a text post.
In the first installment of Unidentified Science, I said I was going to emphasize four important virtues: humility, patience, integrity, and skepticism. Of these, I think the first – humility – has been the most neglected in the UFO field. The kind of humility I am talking about here is “epistemic” humility: being honest with ourselves and each other about how little we reliably know, and how much what we know is overwhelmed by what we don’t know, understand, or have even imagined.
An example of one type of failure of humility – epistemic arrogance, let us call it – is the wide range of conjectures about non-human intelligence, and our eagerness to assign anomalous experiences to their activity.
I want to state plainly that it is not a stupid question to ask whether there are other intelligences than humans in the universe -beings like us in some ways – and whether we have ever been in direct contact with them. The arrogance comes in with connecting this naive but reasonable question with any claimed evidence or absence of evidence of alien visitation. It is overreaching to think we should somehow know what an alien visitation would look like, how they and their technology would behave, what the purposes of their visits would be, and what sort of phenomena we would detect should they be present.
Not only are we safe in saying that we simply don’t know these things, but just as likely in my view, ET intelligence – if it exists – is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine – to paraphrase the famous pronouncement know as “Haldane’s Law”. We just have no idea what to look for, except that it’s unlikely to be what we expect.
I will call the notion that an ET intelligence is responsible for some UFO events the “Extraterrestrial Conjecture” , and I’d like to explain why I don’t call it the “Extraterrestrial Hypothesis.”
This is the script of Unidentified Science 1, which was first presented in audio form on API Case Files, Episode 1. It has been edited a little to make it more suitable for a text post.
We’re here because we sense that the universe can present itself to us in ways that no one entirely understands, but we live in hope for that moment when the light comes on, and we see further into the unknown, and recognize the wonder it holds for us. That moment will never come unless we prepare, explore, search, question and fail many times.
The light will stay off forever unless we work together with a set of tried and true processes and tools that help us harvest meaningful knowledge from our experience. We call this careful and reasoned way of failing better each time science – and without science we are almost certainly going to spend our lives stumbling backwards in the dark.