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A Column by Charles Miller
From The Anomalist: 8, Spring 2000
I'm not a hardened, dogmatic skeptic--not at this moment, anyway. Over the years, I've gone through several stages in considering the UFO and extraterrestrial intelligence controversies, beginning as an ignoramus, then graduating to a believer, then to a foamer (more in a moment), then to a cautious believer, then to a hardened skeptic, then to a cautious skeptic, and finally to an intermediatist.
Borrowing from Charles Fort, an "intermediatist" is one who accepts that the universe is in a perpetual state of metamorphosis, such that no extreme identity can stand for very long without evolving to another extreme. In the intermediate universe, there are no eternal truths; at best, what we accept as "fact" is actually an ongoing transition of fact-to-falsehood-to-fantasy-to-fact, ad infinitum. In the intermediate universe, the most iron-clad scientific facts of yesterday may (and usually do) topple into the trash-bin of scientific naivete, while the scientific heresies of today may (and usually do) evolve into the iron-clad science facts of tomorrow. The "intermediatist" observes this peculiar evolution and comments upon it.
I must admit that the term "foamers," as used earlier, is a derogatory expression. Essentially, the term refers to those UFO enthusiasts who make a leap of reasoning, from observing an unidentifiable apparition (UFO) in Earthly skies to concluding that its origin is from another planet, another stellar system or another universe. These "Foamers" (or "UFOamers") defend their logic with vehemence, foaming at the mouth as they concoct all grand manner of fantasy and conspiracy theory to support their positions. Regardless of the evidence (or lack thereof), foamers will invariably argue that UFOs are an "extraterrestrial presence."
However, if we accept that fantasy is a mere transitional state of fact, I wonder seriously if UFOamers realize that their fantasies may contribute to the creation of religions of far-flung future centuries? Imagine all of the sensational documentation of 20th Century UFOs distilled and reinterpreted over two or five or ten centuries, metamorphosing into the next book of Holy Scriptures--replete with flaming chariots on high, devils, angels and messiahs--dispensing reward for the "believers" and punishment for the "disbelievers." At present, as regards the UFO phenomenon, just the opposite situation exists: Believers are often punished with damaged reputations, while disbelievers are rewarded with more credibility (and perhaps a little more job security). But, again, this being an intermediate universe, how long will it be before the system switches polarity?
It all comes down to how we humans instinctively try to interpret the things we can't explain. In the distant past, and according to the understanding of the time, phenomenal events were attributed to gods and angels and demons. Today it's "UFOs" and "Aliens." Tomorrow? Who knows? This is one reason why I think we need more psychologists and philosophers studying the UFO and ET phenomena, rather than relegating the task to physical evidence and hard-science groups. Technical definitions of "evidence" and "science" change regularly in the intermediate universe. The only apparent constant is our human capacity for interpreting (and misinterpreting) the available data, making UFOs and ETs purely human anomalies.
UFOs, by definition, certainly exist, and no amount of opinion can change that. I'm fairly certain, judging from incidents in my own experience, that a very small number of UFOs fall into a category outside of the more mundane explanations (black-ops, hoaxes, meteorological anomalies, intoxication, etc.). This is why, for many years now, I've referred to the truly unexplainable UFOs as "ultra-mundane apparitions." This, however, is not suggesting that the craft are from "beyond Earth." The craft I have seen are simply unidentified and unexplainable by me, in my experience. That doesn't mean they don't have a rational and possibly even a terrestrial explanation.
Having addressed myself to the topic, I would be remiss for not attempting a firm answer to the question, "Are the few truly unexplainable UFOs extraterrestrial spacecraft?" I think it's up to smarter future generations to make that precise determination--we just can't say for sure with today's limited technology and understanding--but I think it's a safe bet for now to conjecture that these "ultra-mundane" entities originate from right here on Earth.
This may indeed go against the grain. On the one hand, it's enticing to believe that the universe is teeming with life and intelligence; such a discovery might shatter more than a few burdensome Earth-centric beliefs, and humanity might subsequently enjoy new and unbounded intellectual freedom. But it's a double-edged sword: If "they" actually are "out there," there's no guarantee that "they" have respect for life or intellectual freedom. And so we might trade the comparatively minor burden of Earth-centric ignorance for the awesome burden of interstellar fear. This would probably have a detrimental effect on humanity, as some would scramble to make themselves militarily prepared, while others would isolate themselves to await "rescue." After all, at present we're not even in a position to defend ourselves from rocks falling out of the sky, never mind invading alien forces.
In the supremely confounding intermediate universe, perhaps we could better spend our time exploring the possibility that this is the only planet with intelligent life. If a "most advanced" intelligence exists or ever existed in this universe, it had to begin somewhere--why not here? Why is this such an astonishing concept, and why is it greeted with such a negative public reaction? We may actually be alone, and we humans may be a "freak" of nature with no recognizable intelligence more advanced than our own. Or perhaps a very advanced intelligence does exist, perhaps it originated on this planet, and--guess what?--perhaps it's not human.
Here's the modern evidence: To date, UFOs are only seen in the vicinity of the Earth. They appear in the skies, sometimes they land on the surface, sometimes they slip beneath the waves--but they are all witnessed in the vicinity of the Earth. In the popular reportage, their "occupants" are hominid, they apparently have little trouble negotiating Earth's gravity, and they seem comfortable with our atmospheric gases at the same pressures we enjoy (by mcsweeney). This and other anecdotal evidence indicate to me that the "Others," if they actually exist, are probably Terrestrial in origin--not a product of our "advanced" technology, but perhaps of a civilization that coexists with us on Earth.
Part of my argument with the foamers includes this metaphor: The kingdom of the insects on Earth dwarfs our human population to insignificance. Although we share the same surface area, insects are barely aware of human presence unless we swat them, cropdust, step on an ant mound, or examine them under our microscopes. As far as the vast insect world is concerned, contact with humans is a rare and usually traumatic occurrence. Such is the narrow focus of insects.
Likewise, perhaps a species of greater intelligence, greater technology, and much smaller population coexists with us on Earth, living who-knows-where, and only infrequently do they step on our "nests" of humanity, or examine us under their microscopes. Perhaps we cannot even recognize the presence of the "Others" unless it's a case of deliberate interference on their part, a rare and traumatic occurrence. Such is the narrow focus of humans.
Indeed, it may be a hateful thought for Believers, Skeptics, and Humanity in general, that the "Others" regard us as insects or less, biologically and intellectually, and that we pose no real threat to them. Our survivalist predisposition is to cast "aliens" as recognizable anthropoids, reacting logically and emotionally as humans do; and, ultimately, we love to think that human ingenuity will either render them our "friends" or blast them into oblivion. One of the most hateful thoughts for humans is that our input is not necessary in the greater scheme of things, and that the "Others" are blissfully unaware or our puny intellectual gymnastics.
Frankly, whether or not intermediate theories or UFOamer fantasies are correct, our collective obsession with the phenomenon may be a detriment to our progress as a family of creatures. What if ants, for example, started obsessing with the "possible existence" of humans, and thus compromised their insectoid duties, in anticipation (pun intended) of humans either exterminating them or coming to their rescue? Ant civilization might turn chaotic, dividing into ant "Believers" and ant "Skeptics," some ants fleeing their colonies, other ants committing mass suicide, and still other ants listening intently for humans transmitting ant-like signals. Would we humans even notice the controversy raging beneath our feet?
Copyright 1999 by The Anomalist