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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Occam’s Razor and Little Green Men

Warning: this will be a long post.

We’ve all heard the stories. They tend to go something like this:
I left late that night; the drive was very dark and lonely. Suddenly, I saw a strange light in the sky through my rearview mirror that kept following me.

Or this:
I was camping out in the desert when I saw some strange things flying in a V formation in the distance. They were heading south, toward that military base. The creepy thing is, they were silent, unlike a jet or a plane.

Or this:
I woke from sleep unable to move. I felt a weight pressing against my chest, yet weightless at the same time. My room lights were off, yet everything was illuminated. I couldn’t breathe or call out for help. I don’t know how long that lasted, but everything became normal again after a while.

Now, I will probably piss a lot of people off with my opinion, but here it goes: There is no reasonable, scientific proof (so far) to suggest that we have been visited by intelligent beings from space. Shocking, I know. The issue here is reasonable, scientific, proof. Exceptional claims require exceptional proof, and the burden of proof is on the shoulders of the one who makes the claim. Before we go any further, let me say that I am not completely against the idea of life “out there,” I just don’t think the green creature that supposedly kidnapped the meth-head down the street counts.  

Most UFO/Alien stories are based on eyewitness accounts. Unfortunately, first-hand accounts do not count for much in science. Memories can be manipulated, distorted, misunderstood, etc. Plus, some people just make crap up. Even when a person honestly believes their own story, they are probably interpreting the situation incorrectly. As astrophysicist Dr. Philip Plait says in his book, Bad Astronomy, “A need for wonder, and an all-too-easy ability to be fooled account for the vast majority of UFO sightings.”  It is human nature to try to find an explanation for things we see. Many of these explanations are simply wrong. Plait goes on to say, “A lot of people claim to see strange things in the sky – moving lights, changing colors, objects that follow them. But…how many people are really familiar with the sky? I have found that there are things that happen in the sky about which people are completely unaware. Many have no idea you can see planets and satellites with the naked eye…If someone is not familiar with things that are in the sky all the time, how can they be sure they are seeing something unusual?” The sky appears to do strange things, that doesn’t mean those things are beyond the realm of rational explanation. It is also interesting to note that no (to my knowledge) astronomers ever mention alien spacecraft sightings. I mean, these people are always looking at the sky, logically they should be the ones reporting flying saucers, but they don’t. They must not be looking hard enough.

It is now time to bring up that pesky little rule called Occam’s Razor. According to Merriam-Webster, Occam’s Razor is: a scientific and philosophic rule that entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily which is interpreted as requiring that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex or that explanations of unknown phenomena be sought first in terms of known quantities.

So how does Occam’s shaving device work in the context of supposed alien spacecraft? Exceedingly well! Let’s take the story of the person being followed by a light in the sky. Seems creepy, right? I mean, I don’t like anything trying to follow me around at night, let alone an illuminated thing. But consider this: the planet Venus is visible at night and often appears to be “following” the viewer. Venus is the third brightest thing in the sky after the sun and the moon, so it makes an impact. If is often low on the horizon and seems to change color due to earth’s atmosphere. What is a more reasonable explanation; aliens traversed the vacuum of space with super-duper cool technology and are now slowly following your car just to mess with you, or you are mistaking the planet Venus for a spacecraft? Aliens aren’t stalking you, Venus is...and so am I.

What about those things in a V formation flying silently toward a military base? Is it alien technology that the government is hiding from us? Maybe, or it could be a flock of birds seen at a strange angle. Birds usually don’t make too much noise when they fly, at least not when they are far away. And they are going towards the military base because it is south. Birds often fly in that direction, especially before winter.  A funny yet familiar story happened to the abovementioned astrophysicist while watching a shuttle launch. He saw a strange flying V formation coming towards him and couldn’t tell that it was birds until they were very close. If birds can confuse an astrophysicist, they can confuse you.

A special note on Roswell: I really don’t understand the big hoopla over the Roswell cover-up. I mean, an experimental military balloon project mishap is going to be covered up. Duh. Things get classified for good reasons, like keeping important information about advances from the enemy. It has nothing to do with aliens. In fact, the military would probably rather people focused on aliens – that way the real, important information gets overlooked. You know, when I was interning in Port Townsend, WA, I went to the walk-in clinic about some random (most likely hippie-bourn) illness. The nurse there proceeded to tell me about how she saw strange lights in the sky above the local state park. Now, Port Townsend is close to an active military base (it is also full of crazy people who don’t believe the moon landing was real). Could it be that those lights had something to do with that? Or could they have been related to the active shipping lines of the Strait of Juan de Fuca? No. It MUST have been aliens…and this woman has been trained in the sciences. We are all doomed.

Moving on, let’s tackle that abduction case. I know we have all heard that supposed cases of abduction are probably due to sleep paralysis, that’s probably because nearly all of those abduction cases are due to sleep paralysis. Either that, or drugs, alcohol, active dreams, or some combination of the four. Sleep paralysis isn’t really that rare. It isn’t even new. And, it’s completely natural! Hooray. It usually happens just before or just after sleep. It causes temporary paralysis (duh), often making it hard to breathe (almost like something pressing on your chest!), and can cause hallucinations. This happens to perfectly sane people who don’t normally hallucinate. I even have a friend who suffers from this from time to time. He knows what it is, but it is still very terrifying because calling for help is very difficult.

Another strange thing about abductions is the people that the supposed aliens take. I mean, they never take the President or the Pope or some other logical figure. Heck, they don’t even take Vice President Biden, even though nobody would mind (Democrats and Republicans both agree on this).

So, eyewitness testimony to UFO sightings is not scientific or reliable. What else do people use to “prove” the visits of aliens? Photos, videos, crop circles, implants, etc.

Let’s start with photos and videos. An amateur photographer or videographer tends to get things wrong. Things like shaking the camera (which makes objects appear to move) or mistaking a piece of flint exaggerated by a nearby light source as a spacecraft. Many photos and videos can also be doctored. I don’t know of a single piece of photo or taped footage that has been scientifically evaluated by credentialed, unbiased, professionals that has been determined to be an alien spacecraft. Things may be unidentified, but there is no proof that they are extraterrestrial in origin. If something is unidentified in a photo, its origin is probably mundane. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. A weird smudge in a photo is not extraordinary.

Crop circles are easily made. No joke, I could do some with you if you know of a suitable field that doesn’t belong to a farmer with a gun. Or, if you want to make it a surprise, this site should help you out: http://www.circlemakers.org/guide.html. The point is; there is nothing supernatural about crop circles. Occam’s Razor would favor the human-made explanation rather than the “aliens did it to communicate with us” one. Why don’t they just send a message to the President about their arrival on earth? Or even a senator? If I can send my senator hate mail, so can aliens.

Implants are tricky, because I don’t really care that much about them. I don’t know what it is. I mean…somebody finds some random crap jammed up their nose. So? It happens to toddlers all the time. Maybe it’s a tumor, or that piece of pencil led you never removed as a kid. It isn’t either of those? Then why don’t you go to a doctor, have it removed, and then give it to a (credible and unbiased) scientist to examine? Oh wait, that would ruin the whole UFO story. Anyone know of any credible scientist or doctor who has come forth publically claiming to have found an alien implant? Neither have I. Have any major (again, reputable) science or medical publications presented articles about finding an alien tracking device? No. I will acknowledge that doctors probably find strange and maybe even unidentifiable things in people’s bodies all the time. That does not give credit to the theory of alien implantation. The human body can be full of foreign objects (more so if the person is especially kinky); bullets, knife tips, toys, parts of pencils or pens, shrapnel, other people’s body parts, plastic, bags of cocaine, marble, strange metals, etc. None of these things are unexplainable; they are just weird (and possibly illegal).

So let’s calm down, shall we?  Maybe we will find aliens some day! When/if that happens, cool (or uncool, depending on the aliens)! Until then, let’s not kick our brains out the door. 


  1. I don't know about this one.

    I kind of believe in aliens, but I sincerely doubt that they visit earth to torment people or flatten some grass. The chances of aliens visiting earth is next to zero. It's just not likely. Scientists have been searching for 40 years, up to 40,000 lightyears away. So far, they have not found anything (at least, not that they are telling us lol).

    Optimistically, there could be 150 planets in our galaxy that can accomodate life. That makes the probability of us finding them (or them finding us) unlikely.

    So, I very much doubt that aliens visit earth. However, I think that it is possible that there are aliens. I just don't see why they would bother coming to a place like earth. Aside from the fact that them finding us is unlikely, if they CAN find us, but we can't find them they would be a more advanced civilization. So why bother coming here at all?

    Sorry for the long comment, I find this kind of thing very interesting.

  2. I agree, I think there is a chance that life exists somewhere else. But I don't think it will necessarily be anything like us or come to earth to abduct coke-heads.