Monday, October 06, 2008

Unscientific Flying Object

A couple of days ago, my husband and I went out to dinner with some friends as well as some friends of friends that my husband knew slightly but that I didn't know at all. The conversation inevitably turned to politics, and the evolution of the presidential campaign.

My husband said that he had voted for Edwards in the primary election, but of course that was before we knew about Edwards' ethical problems. I said that I had voted for Kucinich, but of course that was before we knew about his UFO sightings.

The friends-of-friends exchanged glances and one of them said "I've seen a UFO" and the other one said "So have I", and then they launched into their UFO sighting story. Despite the fact that they were living near a major military base at the time of the sighting, they believe that the flying object that hovered over their house was not military-related and that it was most likely extraterrestrial because it hovered, "displayed curiosity", then left quickly. They did not see it, but they saw its lights.

Well, I wasn't about to argue at a social dinner about what they saw or didn't see, but despite having at least one step-relative who has been abducted (and quickly returned) by aliens, the stereotypical scientist in me just can't accept the deduction of hovering-lights-that-display-curiosity = extraterrestrial visitors. Aren't there more simple explanations?

For me, this was more of a conversation-stopper than if the friends-of-friends had revealed that they held violently different political views than my own. I can talk to Republicans.. but can I talk to UFO believers? I decided it would be worse if they had said that dinosaurs and humans had both walked the Earth at the same time but then the flood came to punish sinners and then much later God sent a tsunami and a hurricane to punish more sinners. That would be worse.

So the evening continued, though we did not return to the topic of politics, it somehow having become connected in a strange way to whether or not we each believe that extraterrestrials hover over our homes at night to study us.

If the aliens are studying us, I hope at least that they are collecting systematic data, taking good notes, making interesting graphs, and publishing their results.

18 comments:

finchwench said...

Oh, no. I worked for a guy (who paid me decent salary as "electric engineer" as he called it), who turned out to be a ufologist as well as an alchemist and an electro-gravity enthusiast.

In the interview he mentioned that he believed that his native language (Magyar) was not Ugri-Finnic, rather related to Japanese. That was the first warning sign . . . the rest (e.g. theory of everything papers with no mathematics, etc. . .) came later.

Candid Engineer said...

You should have asked for some of that cheap weed that they'd been smoking.

twirly said...

The last line hoping the aliens....publishing their results made my morning!

CookingWithSolvents said...

"If the aliens are studying us, I hope at least that they are collecting systematic data, taking good notes, making interesting graphs, and publishing their results."

Thank you for the best morning laugh I've had in months! I'm glad that I wasn't drinking tea at the time.

RE UFO's: the F-117 stealth flew over my childhood, area of PA for years and years on some regular basis before the gov't revealed its existence. I never thought it was a *extraterrestrial* UFO, though.

sandy shoes said...

It's probably election fatigue, but I really think I would rather talk to people who've seen UFOs than people who believe taxing health benefits is a good idea.

In the meantime, here's to alien peer review.

Anonymous said...

I am glad to read that some scientists have the basic manners to just change topic instead of going on and on with monologues (which they would later call it a debate) on how ufos do not exist, and how people who believe it are stupid!

But then, the "monologue-type" scientists do not get invited to social dinners (anymore)...

Pagan Topologist said...

FSP, to be fair, lots of scientists harbor misconceptions which take years to straighten out. All of us are susceptible, I think. In the case of UFO's, I am skeptical of both the true believers and the debunkers. Observations that we cannot explain are the cornerstone of scientific progress, and the fact that the person observing them is sometimes strongly convinced of a false explanation does not change this.

aceon said...

I met an official UFO investigator at a dinner once. He said usually there were simple explanations, but not always. I was willing to suspend my disbelief and go along with his impartial investigator status till he told us about his own theory of gravity that we could read about on his website. I do believe we should be open to the possibility of encountering mysteries in the world. I also think we should let them remain that way unless we have more to go on. Why not just let them remain unexplained? A touch of uncertainty is healthy and refreshing.

Pagan Topologist said...

Of course, I also hope that any alien visitors are publishing their results, even if they cannot convince their peers that there are animals that walk upright, in obvious defiance of efficiency in a gravitational well.

Thomas Joseph said...

Do the aliens set up an IRB for when they abduct humans for study?

Theodora said...

Maybe the aliens have figure out what to do about tenure.

Jennie said...

I once told an older man working at a wine and cigar shop that I was an earth scientist. The conversation quickly changed to the fact that I must know about the men that live in the core of the earth, and the aliens this man saw in New Mexico. UFO's are one thing, but people living in the core of the earth, that was a first.

Comrade Physioprof said...

I can talk to Republicans.. but can I talk to UFO believers?

As far as I am concerned, Republicans and UFO believers are equally unmoored from objective reality.

neurowoman said...

Loch Ness monster observer was asked whether it was possible that what he saw was a giant beaver instead of sea monster. He said it was impossible - because he had never seen a beaver that large.

Gingerale said...

I'm with the comment from Pagan Topologist on 10/06/2008 at 10:31am. Unidentified Flying Objects means just that: unidentified. flying. objects.

No need to misidentify. No need to foreclose on identifying. If it turns out to be visual illusions, like a sun pillar or whatever, I'd like to be just as happy as if it turned out to be a lost hang glider. If it turns out to be aliens, let us hope we lived our lives well, because somebody or another will start a fight pretty soon after that. But for now? unidentified. flying. objects.

In my thinking, there's nothing so miraculous as my next breath, and yours.

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of Carl Sagan's book, "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark"

Silver Fox said...

I know a couple close friends who have seen *Unidentified* Flying Objects. They don't know what they were, just that they didn't fit the pattern of anything identifiable. Deciding that something is extra-terrestrial without more data than a visual sighting is jumping to a conclusion, however, IMHO.

Ms.PhD said...

This sounds like maybe these people are just a little bit uneducated. I would have loved to hear you hold forth on why, scientifically speaking, it is unlikely that an alien ship could hover over the ground NEAR A MILITARY BASE without being, uh, shot down.

This is the US, after all. We shoot things first, identify later.

Especially because I think, unlike the monologue types, you could do it succinctly (and with incisive humor).

But personally I think the anti-evolution religulous mumbo-jumbo is WAY scarier. I do believe there is life in outer space; I somehow can't quite picture those life forms as wanting to keep lab notebooks, but who knows.