20 August 2020

What are aliens, really?

As I said here, one reason I reject alien-abduction stories is that the aliens they describe -- "greys" and suchlike -- are just unimaginative modifications of the human form.  It's very unlikely that evolution on another planet would produce anything so closely resembling us or any other Earthly species.  Aliens with a technological civilization would probably have sophisticated sense organs and organs of manipulation (like hands or tentacles), but that's all we can assume.

Such visions are clearly products of the human mind.  But why do human minds even come up with such fantasies at all?  Does the fact that reports of alien encounters are limited to the last eighty or so years mean anything?

During the Dark Ages, reports of personal encounters with angels and demons were very common.  If angels and demons actually existed -- and people at that time certainly believed they did -- then there's no reason to think that such encounters would be any less common today than back then.  Yet such reports are pretty rare today, and generally heard only from people with intensely-religious backgrounds.

Humans seem to have an occasional tendency to hallucinate vivid encounters with human-like but often grotesquely distorted beings, who may be either benevolent or menacing.  It could be a sporadic survival into adulthood of the "imaginary friend" phenomenon seen in children.  Such hallucinated entities are interpreted according to (and perhaps derive their visual form from) the library of concepts and images available to the person having the hallucination.  In a time and place where most people's thinking was dominated by Christianity, they manifested themselves as angels and demons.  Since rocketry and space travel got going, and beings from other worlds using such technology to visit Earth became a common theme of science fiction, they've manifested themselves as aliens.

In both cases, the encounters often include sexual elements (succubi and incubi, alien "probing" and even impregnation), and sometimes feature the superior beings delivering statements which are received as profound wisdom, but in fact are usually just trite platitudes drawn from the trash culture of the day.

It also seems that aliens are taking on some of the functions humans formerly assigned to gods.  There are claims that aliens created the human race (by interbreeding with apes, or something equally silly) or that they will be coming here soon to save humanity, or some favored subset thereof, from the various intractable problems we've created for ourselves.  The quasi-religious quality of such ideas is obvious, and given time and more coherent "doctrines", such ideas could even evolve into religions.  Scientology already involves ancient aliens in roles similar to those given to gods or devils in other religions.

In case you were wondering, by the way, there is no substance to such claims.  The human genome and that of our closest relative, the chimpanzee, have been exhaustively mapped -- since the differences are of obvious interest to anthropology.  None of those differences (which are surprisingly small) look like anything other than ordinary results of mutation and natural selection.

There's a more niche cult which oddly parallels the "God of the gaps" concept -- the argument that if there's no obvious explanation for some phenomenon seen in nature, God must have done it.  I'm referring to the "ancient astronauts" cult fomented by writers like Erich von Däniken, which claims that various pre-modern structures like the Egyptian pyramids or the fortifications of pre-Columbian Peru could not have been built by people at the time, therefore aliens must have helped.  As with scientifically-unexplained natural phenomena, the sensible response -- that we simply don't yet know the explanation -- is ignored to promote a favored claim.

And, as with the natural phenomena, in most cases there is actually no mystery.  It's pretty well understood how the pyramids were built, for example.  The Egyptians of 2600 BC were not grunting primitives -- they had a literate civilization with agriculture, cities, and a total population of about four million.  The pyramids could have been built by a few tens of thousands of workers in a couple of decades using ordinary techniques known to have been available at the time.  Ancient Egypt was an absolute monarchy, so the pharaoh could easily have assembled a workforce that size for a project he considered important.

James Randi and others have done a thorough job of documenting the idiocy and dishonesty of von Däniken's claims -- he even found it amazing that early Peruvians knew what human skeletons looked like when they didn't have X-rays, for example.  And no archaeological site anywhere on Earth has ever yielded any unambiguous trace of the advanced technology aliens would have had and were supposedly using to help build these structures -- not one dropped screw or wire or discarded food wrapper or anything showing signs of precision manufacture or made of a material unavailable to people at the time.  There's also an odd element of racism involved.  No one has ever claimed that aliens must have helped build the Parthenon or the Köln cathedral -- because those were built by Europeans, who were presumptively smart enough to have done it themselves.  It's only non-Europeans who must have needed alien help to build great works.  Sorry, no -- early humans were surprisingly ingenious, all over the world.

There certainly might be other technological civilizations elsewhere in the universe, perhaps even within this galaxy.  My own assessment is that there probably are not, but we just know far too little right now to come to firm conclusions one way or the other.  But the tales of aliens, UFOs, ancient astronauts, and the like which entertain credulous modern people have nothing to do with any such possibility.  They're just new manifestations of the same old visions, scams, and errors of logic which have plagued us in various forms for thousands of years.


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

This is fascinating.
But I agree, mankind has always tried to explain what it is not understood by means of the paranormal or by magic. The little gray/green men theory makes no sense to me, either.
I've never heard of the "God of the Gaps". The more your browse...


20 August, 2020 05:13  
Blogger Mildred Ratched said...

Interesting concept, but as long as when they beam me up, Scotty I don't end up in Donald Trump's penthouse on some distant world then I'm okay with whatever lurks out in the universe.

20 August, 2020 07:26  
Blogger The New York Crank said...


You mean to stand there and tell me with a straight face that the so-called "Stonhenge" is actually NOT a deconstruction of several extra-worldly valises brought to this planet by arriving (and very large and strong) God-like creatures from another galaxy and arranged so that, on the appropriate night, with the appropriately powerful telescope, peering through the upright stones at just the right angle, one can faintly see the star around which their planet circles? Have they so ruinously manipulated our genes when they interbred with us that most of humanity can no longer recognize the truth, even when the fillings in our teeth receive radio messages from the paternal planet?

The public needs to be educated! I will write a book called Lost Luggage of the Gods (soon to be a major motion picture) to set the world and the record straight.

Yours very crankily,
The New York Crank

20 August, 2020 07:58  
Blogger Mike said...

Ever since cell phones (cameras) came along, sightings of UFOs have practically dropped off the map.

20 August, 2020 08:05  
Blogger jono said...

Much as I would like to meet some aliens (I am a Trekkie) I must sadly agree that there is no evidence that they exist.

20 August, 2020 09:28  
Blogger Ami said...

My husband and I have a running joke.
See someone who's just a big jerk... treating store employees like crap or driving like a complete obliviot? He was probably probed.

One of us messes up by forgetting something we were supposed to do?
It's 'cause of the recent probing.

We both have family members who are so far right that they're almost invisible from where we stand. Has to be due to the abduction and subsequent probing that occurred.

Of course the fact that we giggle at low humor probably means we were abducted, too.

20 August, 2020 10:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: It's roughly the same as the "argument from personal incredulity" -- I personally can't figure this out therefore God must have done it.

Mildred: If the aliens are led by their own version of Trump, they probably don't have a working space program. He'd just keep putting toadies in charge and telling them to use junk science, and everything would blow up on the launch pad. So they'll never make it here.

Crank: That's some epic crankery, right there. Just hold off on the movie, though. If the QAnon types get hold of all that, they'll take it as gospel.

Mike: Funny how that happens.

Jono: Well, if it means there are no Vulcans, it also means there are no Cardassians.

Ami: Wow, those aliens have a lot to answer for. I do wonder what happened to Trump to make him the way he is, though. That must have been one hell of a probing.

20 August, 2020 10:52  
Blogger bluzdude said...

There ARE Cardassians.. they're a vain race with huge eyes and hindquarters. They spell it with a "K" now though.

20 August, 2020 12:55  
Blogger Lady M said...

The supernatural can be good fun as in witchcraft, aliens, ghosts, goblins, and monsters. I like all those concepts. However, I can tell the difference between what's reality and what's fantasy. It is to bad so many folks cannot. Must be some funky wiring in their brains.

20 August, 2020 12:58  
Anonymous Ole Phat Stu said...

It is amusing to read about the Angels in Ezekiel for example.

The lower Angels are heirarchically , the closer they look semi-human.

But the Archangels? Wheels within wheels within wheels, all with eyes around the rims etc.

Go read Ezekial and have a good laugh :-)

20 August, 2020 13:03  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Bluzdude: I should have thought of that one :-)

Lady M: Absolutely. It's all about keeping your awareness that it's just for fun and not for real.

Stu: I've seen that description. They must have had some pretty good drugs back then.

20 August, 2020 15:34  
Blogger Mary said...

People are impatient. So they make up fantasies; religious and otherwise, when they don’t understand how science and the world works, rather than wait for the answers and evidence to slowly come. And once the irrational beliefs have attached to the neural synapses, they see to be stuck like glue, especially if they are not prone to critical thinking and are simply lazy in thought.

21 August, 2020 05:52  
Anonymous Rocky D said...

I keep coming to this blog for the common sense. Such a balm. Thank you Infidel.

21 August, 2020 06:09  
Anonymous Zeno said...

"It's only non-Europeans who must have needed alien help to build great works."

Like the non-Europeans who created Stonehenge, the Carnac stones, and Delphi, all of which have been mentioned in connection with "ancient aliens." While it's technically in Asia, the Romans who built the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek were also non-Europeans who needed help, according to the "ancient alien" gang.

Some space truthers also claim that the (apparently non-European) Nazis used alien help to create their weapons.

Von Daniken was definitely racist, but many of these people could find evidence for aliens anywhere.


21 August, 2020 07:23  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

You cover quite a bit here, because I have heard much of these beliefs, concepts, and theories over so many years. I think it's fun to think these things ... but it's also good to have some straight grasp on the reality around us, and try to understand why we may think this ... in other words ... questioning everything is importante. I told you once, years ago, that my buddy and I with our 2 girlfriends, were driving through the night (mid 1970s, from Miami to Daytona Beach, to go to the Daytona 500 race and the week long beach boardwalk festival ... actually I got to play some music there at one of the venues) stopped like 1am in some orange groves outside of Titusville Florida, to grab some oranges (actually stealing them, because it was private property {:-), and we seen a UFO. Not aliens or anything, but what we seen, was what looked like a tube, I can only describe as a long fluorescent light bulb you see in a office ceiling, for example, really far off, but clearly visible. No sound, even when it took off, it was entirely still at first, we were staring and wondering what it was, being it was so dark out where we were (not like in the city), it stood still when we first seen it, after about a long 30 seconds or so, it went up into the skiy, very fast on an angle (I mean, this was quick moving), as it passed a few thin clouds, you could see the flash of light reflection on them, but this really moved very fast, and the angle it moved on, was like if you look at a map, and go from southwest to northeast. It certainly didn't look like any plane or jet, or the usual ... puzzled the shit out of us. We went to some all night truck stop diner to grab a burger/ fries right after, in the nearest town ... we told some people what we seen in there, people looked at us weird, we were young and dressed young, compared to the country type trucker folks in there, I'm sure they thought we were on acid or something (we were not). Puzzled me for years what we seen that night, and still to this day. When I told you of this years ago, you sent me actual UFO files that was public info (much redacted), I still have them, and again, Thank You. But, being so skeptical, I exhausted trying to wonder what in Hell we seen. So my guess, in skepticism ... was that, there was probably some kind of experiments going on, either private or government, that are not publicized, for maybe national defense or whatever ... and these may be projects for advanced aviation models that are being worked on, and kept under heavy classified info. I mean, if we were building new tech air transport or defense ... you sure as Hell don't want folks like Russians or China to be aware of what you're working on ... and you would want to keep it in your backyard while testing. I have no idea, really ... but the post made some good points.

21 August, 2020 07:36  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Also, for the record, I really am not much into alien flix, books or any of that. The last movie I enjoyed that I can remember watching of this nature, would have been "Contact" with Jodie Foster and the McConaughey guy. I don't do all the Trek stuff or the rest, never could really get into that stuff, and never had UFO fantasies or interests as a kid either.

21 August, 2020 07:42  
Blogger Tommykey said...

There has been an alternate explanation to aliens brewing for a few years now, championed by the likes of Graham Hancock, that tens of thousands of years ago there was an advanced global civilization that built complex structures all over the world, such as the Sphinx, Gebekli Tepe in Turkey, the so-called Yonaguni Monument in southern Japan, etc. Hancock claims we can't find the cities of this ancient civilization because it was located in North America and was wiped out by a catacalysm and the rising seas after the end of the Ice Age.

21 August, 2020 08:26  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary: That does seem to be the case, in a lot of areas. At least people don't fight holy wars or burn heretics on behalf of their alien fantasies.

Rocky: Thank you, I really appreciate it.

Zeno: Interesting, I hadn't heard of those claims. Not that I spend a lot of time on this kind of nonsense. If there are aliens out there who would help the Nazis, I don't want anything to do with them.

Ranch: Most people have see a UFO or two in the course of their lives, I think. But always remember that that stands for unidentified flying object, which doesn't mean "identified as an alien spacecraft". If you couldn't figure out what it was, all that means is that you couldn't figure out what it was, not that it was aliens.

Tommykey: Well, a prehistoric advanced human civilization is at least somewhat more reasonable -- humans did exist tens of thousands of years ago. But there's the same problem of total lack of evidence. Even if such a civilization was confined to a small area (and in reality civilizations tend to spread), if they were traveling to other areas to the extent necessary to build those various structures, by now we would have found a few advanced artifacts like tools, discarded plastic containers, etc. from those sites. And we have an abundance of remains from the actual human stone-age cultures of ten of thousands of years ago. If an advanced civilization had existed at the same time, even if it was mostly in areas that are under water now, it's just not plausible that we would never have found a single unmistakable trace of it.

Also, of course, the Sphinx and Göbekli Tepe are thousands of years old, not tens of thousands (yes, I know about the oddballs who think they know better than the consensus of professional archaeologists).

21 August, 2020 11:55  
Blogger Tommykey said...

Exactly. We actually have a template for what we would expect to see if there was a civilization that was capable of sailing to all the lands of the Earth. We can look at what happened following the European exploration and colonization of the Americas. There was a transfer of animals and plants from one part of the globe to the other. We see European domesticated animals transferred to the Americas, and American crop plants such as tomatoes and potatoes being grown in Europe. If some Atlantean type civilization existed 20,000 years ago that projected itself around the world, we would see non-native animals and plants suddenly popping up in different parts of the world. But we don't see that.

And if it was a maritime civilization, there are plenty of unpopulated island chains where they could have reconstituted themselves, such as the Azores, which are geographically isolated but have ideal climates. I know this from personal experience, having been to the Azores two years ago. Absolutely gorgeous place. But no trace of any civilization living there thousands of years ago.

21 August, 2020 13:05  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Excellent point about the transfer of animal and plant species to new habitats. That's another way we could tell if there had been an advanced civilization in the distant past, and we definitely don't see such evidence.

21 August, 2020 14:56  
Blogger Geo. said...

Well-presented, cogent essay. To the uncertain, I can only introduce myself as sharing 97% of my DNA with mice but, by the more general calculus of genetics, I am half banana. The terminology --and the science-- has a ways to go yet.

21 August, 2020 19:17  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

You're doing pretty well. Most of us are more than half bananas these days.

22 August, 2020 10:53  
Blogger Tommykey said...

As for life on other planets elsewhere in the universe, lately I have leaned towards thinking that it would be quite similar to life on Earth. Their oceans would have marine life that looked recognizably like fish, jellyfish, cephalopods, etc. Life on land would have plants that would not be that dissimilar to our plants. Of course, what they end up with would depend on geological conditions, climate and the like, so that life on other worlds would not be carbon copies of organisms here, but I wouldn't expect intelligent beings on other planets to be reptilian or insectoid looking. Of course, we will never know until we can identify and visit a planet that has life.

22 August, 2020 21:00  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

You're probably right that ocean environments would favor things that look very roughly like fish, to the extent that, say, dolphins or ichthyosaurs resemble them. But no, I wouldn't expect intelligent beings on other planets to be "reptilian or insectoid" looking either, because again, reptiles and insects are Earthly categories of life and there's no reason to think evolution on another planet would produce anything closely resembling such categories. Other planets won't have insects, reptiles, mammals, etc. or particularly close equivalents.

Most of the big land animals on Earth have a similar body plan, but that's just because they evolved from a common ancestor which had it. There's no reason to think the big land animals on another planet would all be four-limbed, for example. They could just as easily be six-limbed or eight-limbed, depending on what the common ancestor of land life had been like. No reason to expect only two eyes or two ears, either -- nor any really close equivalent of our division of every species into two genders. Those things are all basically arbitrary features that evolved once and then were inherited by all the descendant species.

23 August, 2020 03:26  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

I live in a town of aliens

24 August, 2020 19:07  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Call Trump. Maybe he'll deport them.

25 August, 2020 03:20  

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