Unidentified Science, Part 1

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.

Science is not about organizing the world into dry piles of lifeless facts and fixed dogmas, but about furthering our exploration into the unknown.  Well verified facts strengthen the foundation, but they are not why we explore, question and try to understand.  We do this because that is what we do – what we are.  We need to stand on the shore, to wonder and imagine what is beyond the horizon, and then to go and see.  We need to – and the only boat sturdy enough to take us there is science.

This is the first installment of Unidentified Science, the segment that will examine two key questions that have not been asked enough: is it possible to study UFOs scientifically, and if so, how?

In each Unidentified Science, I will unravel one thread of this complex problem.  Our goal is to make the best case we can for bringing fresh scientific energy and serious scrutiny to the field.

In 2013, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist and author of what is still my favorite book on astrobiology, “Lonely Planets – The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life”  He agreed that astrobiology has now achieved a modicum of scientific respectability, in spite of the lack of hard evidence of even the most primitive microbial life on other worlds.  So, why are small but highly respected groups of people working and even making a modest living in astrobiology, but the study of UFOs remains the domain of amateurs, and is conducted behind a curtain of ridicule?

It is because the astrobiologists have taken their science seriously, and have based their work on what is already known about Earth life and about the environments on other planets. They work from the known outward to the unknown. They have also been persistent and brave, facing a lot of resistance from their colleagues and others for decades before becoming one of the leading elements of NASA’s research program that they are today.

The lesson for UAP studies is clear – our sharply limited time, energies and funds should be directed toward what we can reasonably hope to understand now, and hypotheses that we can form with the knowledge we have and test with data we can obtain.  No jumping to conclusions or empty speculation, or just making stuff up.  No contamination of the data with personal belief systems.

To begin, I will emphasize the virtues we will have to adopt if there is to be any hope of scientific progress: patience, humility, integrity, and skepticism. I’ll also propose methodologies we can follow to identify and focus down upon those things we can apply a scientific approach to. I will address some of the specific problems we have with our research, and will even speculate on the intriguing possibility that we are attempting to study something smarter than we are.

This is not to say that educated, serious people have never attempted to address the UFO topic methodically or objectively.  They have, but this has never shown any sign of becoming a mature science.  We need a restart, and maybe even a new starting point.

So, let’s start a conversation about where our horizon really is, and ask the next logical set of questions. Can we meaningfully formulate these questions in a way that we can empirically test them?

For the next installment of Unidentified Science, I will address the most common presumptions about the extraterrestrial conjecture, why there is no real ET hypothesis, and how it relates to  scientific UFO investigations and the key value of humility.

 

About Paul Carr

Space systems engineer, podcaster, API investigator, and Dad.
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