Are We Alone in the Universe?

“The Mars rover Curiosity has sent back images of some odd things on the surface of Mars, and some people think they could be UFOs. Here’s my question. If we’re on the surface of Mars, aren’t we the UFO?”  Jay Leno

Are we alone in the universe?  A large portion of the world’s population would tell you NO despite the fact that not a shred of evidence has ever been found to support their belief.   Do UFOs exist?  A large portion of the world’s population would tell you YES, despite the fact that there is not a single shred of evidence to back it up.  So what gives?

In his book Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld,  Patrick Harpur writes of Lake monsters, Yetis, UFOs, crop circles, guardian angels and visions of the Virgin Mary all of which he says can be described as apparitions of Western culture.   

His starting point is that vast numbers of responsible everyday people persist in reporting vivid encounters with denizens of the otherworld which today are most likely to be aliens from outer space who bear an uncanny resemblance to the age-old encounters with fairies, spirits and leprechauns.  The standard response to all this he argues is that in all of us there is either this persistent pattern of hallucination or madness or the projection of archetypal patterns onto reality.  What is at stake, he suggests, is the nature of reality itself.

Harpur proposes the existence of an intermediate reality between the invisible and the material realm linked to our shared human consciousness which causes us, from time to time, to see semi-physical manifestations.   While they look real to us they are not real in the same sense as other physical things are real.  In other words, they do not have an existential reality apart from our human collective consciousness, the same realm from which our dreams originate.

You could say they are “figments of our imagination” except they are more than that. Something might be captured on camera. A footprint might remain. There could be scorch marks on the earth where the UFO landed. The person may have wounds on the body where the alien operated on them.  But you’re never going to capture Big Foot or an alien any more than you can shoot down a UFO or put a ghost in a bottle.  They’re real, but they’re not real like that.

Hopefully you will take Harpur’s explanation of UFOs for what it is – one man’s entertaining explanation of a phenomena that defies logic. 

Barnard College Psychology professor, Rob Brotherton, author of Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, writes that theories about UFOs are pretty widespread and they have a  psychological appeal that goes against the stereotype of weirdos wearing tinfoil hats.  “Conspiracy theories make for great stories, they’re tantalizing, mysteries not yet fully solved.  Your brain is like, ‘What’s up with that?’  It’s not satisfied until it knows if these things are related.”   According to professor Brotherton, “we are all conspiracy theorists.  Some of us just hide it better than others.”

So, if UFOs are real, how is it that Astronomers spend large parts of their lives looking at the skies and never see one?  It only seems to be those who never study the skies and know nothing about what is up there, which occasionally look up and then miraculously see a UFO.

Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at MIT who studies exoplanets, says that “there is absolutely no solid evidence that meets any standards of scientific ‘proof’ that UFOs exist…. To some, in the end, evidence doesn’t matter.  I am not a UFO supporter in any way. It’s just like why do people believe in God? There’s no way to scientifically prove the existence of any God or gods. People just want to believe.”

William Borucki, the principal investigator of NASA’s Kelpler mission said that he is very surprised at the lack of evidence of extraterrestrial life, given his work discovering habitable planets outside our solar system.  “Up till now, it was just an intellectual question – it isn’t anymore.  There could be 10 billion civilizations or none.  The evidence says no one’s out there.”

But those that believe are going believe and there is always someone out there ready to take advantage.  A Florida company, the St. Lawrence Agency, is selling Alien Abduction Insurance.  For only $19.95 you can protect yourself against ET encounters with a $10 million policy.   For an additional $5 you can get a paper certificate as evidence of purchase.  But, if you are expecting to cash in be sure to read the fine print – “in case of abduction, the ten million pays out at a rate of $1 per year over the next 10 million years.”

All kidding aside, the success behind St. Lawrence’s alien policy is very real. He says he’s sold nearly 6,000 plans since first launching his company in 1987.  Grip, a British company also claims to have sold more than 37,000 alien abduction policies.  Another British broker, Goodfellow Rebecca Ingram Pearson briefly offered abduction insurance in the 1990s but later discontinued the plan after the UFO religious cult Heaven’s Gate purchased a number of policies for its members.  Neither St. Lawrence nor the others have said if they offer a double indemnity rider for anal probing!

So the next time someone asks you if UFOs are real – tell them yes – anything you see flying that you can’t identify is a UFO.  However, I draw the line at little gray men that love to probe humans.  

“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans…. We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”  Stephen Hawking

Are UFO’s Real?  Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Patheos;  You’re Not Crazy if You Believe in UFOs: Let’s Discuss in Scientific Terms by Alexandra Ossola

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