March 7, 2021

Occam’s razor and the extraterrestrial hypothesis

While we await the next big whistleblower to fill in another piece of the UAP puzzle, I wanted to share a bit of admittedly speculative pondering as to what the eventual nature of the phenomenon might be, assuming we’re ever to learn it. This train of thought (hopefully not a train wreck of thought) was prompted this week by a tweet from Ryan Robbins, a.k.a. UFO Jesus, who tweets from Post Disclosure World.

I responded to this commentary by saying that I agreed, but with one caveat: “The other proposed non-off planet explanations break Occam’s razor because they require even more assumptions about alternate dimensions, time travel, etc. Not impossible, but requiring more assumptions.”

This led to some interesting feedback in my inbox to say the least. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to dig into this a bit deeper, starting with the various interpretations I see of Occam’s Razor. This ancient principle of science is frequently subject to abuse, particularly on social media, but it can still be very useful in such speculative discussions.

What Friar William of Ockham actually said back in the 1300s, at least according to most of the reliable sources was, “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” That’s a bit unwieldy when it’s translated to modern English, so a few, competing updated versions have cropped up over the years.

One of the more popular versions I frequently see, particularly in ufology discussions, runs along the lines of, “The simplest explanation for some phenomenon is more likely to be accurate.” But that’s a rather lazy way to interpret it which could somewhat uncharitably be translated to mean, “This is the explanation that makes the most sense to me but I’m too lazy to do the work and prove it.”

That some UFOs originate from other planetary systems is speculation. That UFOs exist, are of unknown origin, and perform flight characteristics not known to originate from any military inventory in the world is fact (or close to fact). That’s how I see it.

Ryan Robbins

A far more salutary and widely accepted reading is something closer to: “The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct.” We can modify that a bit to also accept that some assumptions are far easier to swallow than others. With that in mind, let’s try to apply this to the most commonly heralded theories as to what the origins of UFOs might be. A non-inclusive list of the top five would be:

  1. Top-Secret craft created by the United States or some other terrestrial nation here on Earth.
  2. A hypothetical “breakaway civilization” of humans here on Earth, perhaps living in some vast, underground space.
  3. Extraterrestrials visiting the Earth from some other star system or even another galaxy.
  4. Visitors from another, perhaps parallel dimension we can’t sense but who can travel back and forth at will.
  5. Time traveling humans from the future coming back to see where everything went so wrong.

Tackling these in reverse order, time travel may turn out to be possible, but the number of assumptions required is staggering. Some interpretations of Einstein’s original theories suggest that time travel could, or perhaps even should be possible. But aside from minuscule changes in the flow of time when something travels very fast or perhaps, eventually, some sort of time-shifting at the quantum level, we don’t really have a provable clue as to how to build Doc Brown’s Delorean, so this candidate remains in the purely speculative if not fictional category unless someone shows up and explains it to us.

The parallel dimension theory is in a similar category. Plenty of scientists have proposed multidimensional spaces and I’m far from educated enough to gainsay them. But no one to my knowledge has figured out a way to detect other dimensions, to say nothing of travel back and forth to them.

I would argue that a top secret terrestrial program producing the vehicles that have been observed would require considerably more and “bigger” assumptions than the extraterrestrial hypothesis.

Breakaway civilizations living in Lemuria under Mount Shasta? If you insist, but they’d have to be even greater champions at hide and seek than Bigfoot. My apologies if that’s your favorite, but I simply can’t buy it.

That leaves us with the Big Two, as I like to think of them. The UAP either came out of a beyond-top-secret, black budget lab in the United States, Russia or China. Alternately, they came from… out there somewhere.

The materialists in this discussion who remain convinced that extraterrestrial visitation is essentially impossible insist that we humans are pretty clever monkeys, so we probably cooked this technology up. I would beg to differ and, returning to the question of Occam’s Razor, I would argue that a top secret terrestrial program producing the vehicles that have been observed would require considerably more and “bigger” assumptions than the extraterrestrial hypothesis.

What would we have to assume to believe that a non-human intelligence from another star system was visiting our planet? We know there are literally billions of other stars just in our galaxy. We can see them. And we can detect, if not yet visually observe, planets orbiting almost all of them. Some of those planets are not all that unlike our own.

Life arose here. Is it really such a stretch to think that life arose elsewhere? And given enough time (the universe is roughly 14 billion years old) might not a technologically advanced race have arisen?

Aha!” I hear you saying. “But how would they get here? We can’t do that.”

Well, that’s true. We can’t do that… yet. But we’re working on it. You’d just have to be able to go really fast. We already know how to go quite fast. (Apologies to Vladimir Putin if that brings up ugly memories of that little incident from last year.) If someone had a head start of thousands or even millions of years, they could have come up with a way to go Really, Really Fast, right?

Now let’s compare that to the human origin theory. We’re no longer talking about assumptions involving a hypothetical race with a vast head start on us. We’re talking about 21st century human beings. The movements of the UAP have involved not only hypersonic speeds and transmedium travel, but what clearly appears to be an ability to attenuate gravity and cancel out inertia.

Who on Earth (literally) built that? I’ve yet to hear a serious scientist claim that we’re even close, though some novel theories have been posited. And if someone had made such a mind-bending series of breakthrough discoveries, how did that only happen once without any other scientists on the planet coming up with it? Nearly every paradigm shifting invention in our technological history has been developed in short order by multiple geniuses. (Radio, television, radar…)

On top of that, we would have to believe that it was some secret government laboratory that made these breakthroughs. The government doesn’t generally have the kind of towering mental giants needed for such miracles. Nobody is sending a human resources representative down to the motor pool to ask a collection of G-16 federal employees if any of them have a hot lead on how to make gravity ignore us. They shop that sort of thing out to Skunkworks or the employers of other notable eggheads. And those things don’t tend to stay secret for long. Somebody else would have cracked the code by now.

No, I would argue that the assumptions required to believe that the UAP were built out at Area 52 (because Area 51 is just so tediously yesterday at this point) are significantly both more numerous and larger than the assumptions required to believe the ETH to be the most likely explanation.