One of the nagging problems that plague those of us who closely follow the field of ufology (at least among those who are willing to admit it) is the underlying fear that we’ve gotten the entire concept of extraterrestrial lifeforms visiting our planet wrong. What if none of this is real? What if all of the reports, sightings and witness accounts of alien visitors in incredible craft were actually completely explainable by unusual but totally terrestrial phenomenon? Could all of the data we’ve gathered thus far really be the result of misidentifications and people who are either lying or confused about what they have witnessed?
I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Arik Kershenbaum, a researcher from Cambridge University who specializes in animal vocal communication and the evolution of language. You may be wondering what that has to do with aliens and UFOs, but Dr. Kershenbaum also has an interest in that subject as well, at least in a hypothetical sense. He recently published a book speculating on whether we would be able to establish communications with a non-human intelligence or if the language barriers would be too great. (You can read the full interview here if the subject interests you.)
As part of our conversation, I asked Dr. Kershenbaum if he found the idea of an extraterrestrial species visiting our planet to be plausible. His answer is what inspired me to write this essay today. Here’s what he had to say in response to my question.
If [the aliens] wanted to remain unknown, we would certainly never know about them at all.Dr. Arik Kershenbaum
“This just seems incredibly unlikely to me. The energy and technology required to travel between the stars is so vast that any civilization capable of visiting us must be hugely more advanced than we are. In that case, if they wanted to remain unknown, we would certainly never know about them at all. If, on the other hand, they wanted to be known, they certainly wouldn’t have anything to fear from us. So they would just walk up to the White House (or, in the much more plausible scenario of Robert Sawyer’s book, “Calculating God,” up to the steps of a really good natural history museum). Given that, I don’t see why alien spaceships should be appearing occasionally and randomly in the skies, as has been suggested. It worries me that, in an age when we are genuinely redoubling our efforts to detect and understand extraterrestrial life, we should be distracted by a set of phenomena that may indeed be unexplained, but are actually far less interesting!”
Let’s pick that answer apart a bit in the interest of furthering our discussion. Many skeptics write off the possibility of alien visitation by saying that the vast gulf of darkness between the stars is too much to overcome. To them I say, it’s too much for human beings to overcome. (For now, at least.) But it might not be as daunting to beings that are thousands or millions of years in advance of us in technological terms. But that’s not what Kershenbaum said. He appears to allow for the possibility of aliens making it to Earth, but suggests that if they did, we would never be able to detect them unless they wished to be detected.
This isn’t really a new concept. In fact, I don’t know if the doctor is a fan of Johns Hopkins University Astronomer Dr. Richard C. Henry, but back in 1977, he proposed something very similar that has become one of my favorite quotes in the field of ufology. He said, “I very much doubt that an intellectually inferior species can study an intellectually far superior species if the superior species chooses not to be studied.”
All of our discussions about the possibility of “crashed UFOs” dating back to Roswell rely on the assumption that the aliens are nearly as flawed and subject to mechanical failures as we are. We rely on a scenario where a non-human species on another world is so incredibly technologically advanced that they can safely navigate the interstellar void, likely traveling at speeds that shatter our concepts of Newtonian physics and Albert Einstein’s theories, only to arrive on Earth and faceplant into the first Walmart parking lot they pass over.
If extraterrestrials want us to know about them, why haven’t they made a dramatic, unmistakable statement on a global level?
In short, returning to Kershenbaum’s proposal, if the aliens truly are visiting us and don’t wish us to know it, why would we be seeing them so often? And if they do want us to know about them, why haven’t they made a dramatic, unmistakable statement on a global level? I consider the answers to those questions unknowable since we would be required to understand the thinking and motivations of beings that may share little to nothing in common with our own. But it’s still food for thought, isn’t it?
The Doctor goes on to suggest that the UAP are almost certainly real, but they might turn out to be something else entirely. Something “far less interesting” than aliens. While that would likely be a very depressing answer for those of us who have invested years or decades studying the topic, at least it would be an answer and we could just get on with our lives.
But despite the fact that Arik Kershenbaum is obviously a brilliant man who has put a great deal of thought into this subject, I’m not sold on this concept. I suspect that even Dr. Kershenbaum could himself be relying on assumptions that we have no way to validate, while simultaneously overlooking a distinct possibility that would solve this riddle. Bear with me here.
Assuming that an alien civilization visiting the Earth must either desire to remain hidden from us or, alternately, desire to make their presence known as a binary choice, once again requires understanding their thoughts and motivations. Perhaps the fact that they are sometimes seen or recorded on radar tracking or other data collection activities and other times are not is something completely normal to how they operate. If we were to truly understand what their motives and intents are, along with how their technology functions, we might find ourselves slapping our own foreheads and exclaiming, “Of course! It’s so obvious!” But we lack that information so we’re still blindly speculating for the most part.
What if there are aliens present on the Earth and they simply don’t care whether we see them or not?
Alternately, perhaps the binary choice of the aliens either wanting to remain hidden or be seen has been flawed from the beginning. What if there are aliens present on the Earth and they simply don’t care whether we see them or not because we are not a factor in their decision-making process? If you go to look at an anthill to satisfy your curiosity, do you really give any thought to whether or not the ants see you looking at them?
In any event, I no longer find the idea of either the existence of other technologically advanced species in our galaxy or their having technology vastly superior to our own to be implausible. We still lack solid, publicly available proof to put the question to rest, but that doesn’t make the search for such evidence a fool’s errand in my opinion. I choose to live in a world of possibilities, including more exotic ones such as this, at least until someone can definitively rule those possibilities out.