Okay so what’s up with the whole UAP/UFO thing? While the most recent wave of reports and commentaries appears to have ebbed - for now - I’ve mostly held back in order to distill… not answers, but badly-needed questions.
Indeed, I've explored notions of the "alien" all my life, in both fiction and science. I helped write the "SETI Protocols" and have been deeply involved in debates over METI or "messaging" extraterrestrials*… and my novel Existence** takes on the most likely kind of visitors to our solar system: long-lived observation probes, robots which might even now 'lurk' in corners like the Asteroid Belt. Indeed, I give a small chance that the much discussed "UAP" phenomena could - conceivably - be expendable drones or beam spots sent by such lurkers. Make that a VERY small chance... and none at all that these phenomena are "ships" bearing organic interstellar travelers who behave stupidly and with stunning rudeness, while flitting about in violation of every law of physics. (A notion I rant about here in my short story Those Eyes.)
Sure, a majority have already been explained by careful analyses of receding jet engine exhausts or balloons etc., viewed by rapidly swinging optics. Still, there remain a fair number of mysterious dots and “tic-tacs” and wildly-rapidly moving ball-thingies. And so, let’s see if we can bypass the execrably dumb and myopic ‘discussion,’ so far, by first stepping back to ask some really fundamental questions, like:
a) Why do UFO images keep getting fuzzier, when there are about a million times as many cameras than in the 1950s? (And legendary science pundit John Gribbin asks how many of these claims involve observers viewing from multiple directions?)
b) A whole lot depends on whether these sighted 'UAPs' are actually opaque physical objects that affect their surroundings and block passage of light from behind them! Or else, are they glowing spots of excited air that pass through light from the background behind them (translucent)? I have not seen this question even posed by any of the sides in this topic and it is crucial! In fact, is there any verification that these ‘objects’ are actually 'objects' at all, and not simply balls of moving energetic phenomena? There’s a huge difference! Moreover, image analysis ought to answer this crucial question.
That one question would help settle whether they actually possess their own continuous mass and solidity and inertia for the supposed magical propulsion systems to miraculously overcome. If not, then we have an explanation for how they can behave in apparently non-newtonian, non-inertial and even non-einsteinian ways, which is permissible to 'objects' that have no mass. (We'll come back to this.)
c) Heck, while we are listing observable traits that have neither been reported on nor asked about by any of the pundits or experts I have seen: …. are these glowing patches, blobs or “tic-tacs” radiating in just one or two colors?
d) There are other traits one never sees either described or even posed as questions, except by just one of my blogmunity members: “I've never seen shock waves or ionization trails coming off them. Space aliens may have fancy tech, but the atmosphere has basic physics to abide. If physical devices, they should be leaving ionized tails of superheated air while zipping around like meteors. Same with those flying dots that seem to hurtle mere meters over the surface of the ocean. There should be huge plumes of water from the shock waves. I don’t care what kind of magic tech shields the ‘ship’ itself has. It’s still displacing a whole lot of air, vastly quicker than the speed of sound. What? No acoustic booms? No cloaking system can mask the shoving aside of air by sudden, massive forces.”
e) Why do the vast majority of recent sightings appear to happen at US military training areas? (See an exceptionally good piece speculating cogently on why the Pentagon is now encouraging service members to file UAP sightings… in order to get practical, useful error reports on electronic warfare gear! Which is of course consistent with my long-hinted theory about the real source of all these sightings. )
f) Getting back to fundamentals of motive and behavior: Why should we pay the slightest attention to "visitors" who behave like rude jerks? (Again, I say snub-em!)
Now, polymath Prof. Robin Hanson proposes they might have a reason for behaving this way. "To induce our cooperation, their plan is put themselves at the top of our status ladder. After all, social animals consistently have status ladders, with low status animals tending to emulate the higher. So if these aliens hang out close to us for a long time, show us their very impressive abilities, but don’t act overtly hostile, then we may well come to see them as very high status members of our tribe. Not powerful hostile outsiders."
I deem that to be pretty hard a stretch, since our natural response to nasty tricks is with hostility and determination to get smarter/stronger, fast. Anyway, it’s clear from the history of colonialism on Earth that Robin’s proposed method was never, even once, used to dazzle and cow native peoples. The Portuguese did not conquer Indonesia by coating their ships in glitter and sailing quickly by, while shouting “ooga booga!” for 80 years without making actual contact. Instead, the classic approach used by conquerers back to Chinese and Persian and African dynasties - and especially European colonizers - was to co-opt and suborn the local tribe or nation's top, leadership clade. Use power and wealth and blackmail and targeted assassinations to install your puppets and help them overcome local rivals. Superior aliens? No need for stunts if you have sufficient computational ability to learn our language and do those same things. And one can argue that recent US history is… well… compatible. (Especially the blackmail part!)
Which of course leads us back to listing and comparing alien-probe scenarios, as I did in Existence. And yes, I still say, let’s get mighty and scientific and get OUT there… and if the lurkers do exist, corner and grill em… but till then, if they are pulling “UFO” crap, snub em!
Back to questions I’ve not seen elsewhere:
g) Why haven’t successive U.S. administrations who hated each other used "the truth" as a political weapon against the other party? (You think ‘mature consensus’ explains it?) Or else tell us why 80 years of our BEST scientists and engineers would have studied this stuff - thousands of our best - and not one first-rater has ever offered a scintilla of tangible or useful proof. Or why we’ve seen no great tech leaps to explode out of such research?
Sure, there may be reasons for secrecy so compelling that all of the tens of thousands of humans who are in-the-know agree to keep silent. (As portrayed in my story “Senses, Three and Six.”) But in that case, who are YOU to over-rule such a consensus by tens of thousands of our best, who know vastly more than you do? What stunningly conceited, self-indulgent arrogance!
h) Above all, I never cease wondering why so many of our neighbors obsess on so-called "events" and UFO scenarios that are so infuriatingly unimaginative, ill-informed and just plain DULL, when the actual universe that is unfolding before science is so much more interesting… and the cogent speculations of higher-order science fiction are even better, still! ;-)
== Cat lasers ==
My own hypothesis for what’s going on? Well, it needs to be consistent with all of the above, while also offering a reason why the US defense establishment is suddenly so complacent about allowing UFO speculation to go wild, with smiles and shrugs and even encouragement! And yes, all of that combines with the following.
First, wanna make a bright dot zip around at unbelievably high “gee” accelerations and even faster than light? Get a very strong laser pointer. Go somewhere you can clearly see a wall many miles away. Like the Grand Canyon. Swipe left or right. If your wrist-flick was quick enough, that dot moved faster than the speed of light! (Better yet, flick your beam across the visible face of the Moon; you’ll need a strong laser! You may not see it, but calculate the arc and clearly you can exceed “c’ with that dot, without even flicking hard!)
Now zigzag it around across that wall. If it were physical, your laser dot'd be accelerating at some ridiculous crush, say 900gees. Work it out.
How can such a ‘cat laser,’ (messing with our heads the way we do with our pets) move faster than the speed of light, and zigging with impossible accelerations? See the answer below. But first, is it even possible that aliens - or giggling humans - could make ‘cat laser’ dots or tic-tacs or balls appear in mid-air, rather than merely against a wall?
Well, start with military laser systems for ionizing streaks of air and painting fake objects in the sky to serve as decoys. Here's an excellent article. And what's described is is impressively close! But it’s still missing the actual secret sauce.
All right, we’re almost there, and all based on unclassified material. Yeah, but suppose you want the exciting beams to be entirely INVISIBLE? Necessary if you want to maintain the illusion of a discrete object. Well, you might have them excite infrared shell states that add up to the one you want to glow…. which brings us back to my first few questions, above, hm?
Some of you have put it all together by now. How the simplest hypothesis for these ‘sightings’ does not have to be the one calling for magical tech used by nasty, illogical aliens.
== Final thought on cat-teasers ==
Okay, back to that last question: how does that cat-laser dot move at incredible gee accelerations and possibly exceed light-speed? After all that I said up to this point, you may be surprised to learn it's not because the light beam has no mass! No, the reason is entirely different.
It is because each individual, momentary spot that makes up that streak on the other side of the Grand Canyon or the face of the Moon - or your nearby, cat-clawed couch - departed from your hand laser separately. (If you are having trouble visualizing, try this with a garden hose; the droplets or splooshes are distinct. The wet streak on the fence only appears to be a connected thing.)
Each very-brief dot your laser made on that wall - or the moon - was a separate phenomenon, adding together to offer the illusion of a continuing object. In fact, each transitory dot has nothing to do with the spots that came before or after, each of which traveled from your pointer to the wall at the speed of light (in air.)
This is very well-known. Astronomers can point at countless phenomena in space that seem to move faster than light. Phenomena - like the Searchlight Effect - can do that. Physical objects cannot.
== Aliens or not, stop falling for this malarkey ==
And yes, my biggest complaint about UFO nuttery is not that I am sure it’s not aliens!
I am not certain of that! Though I know the range of possibilities about the alien as well as any living human. Heck, I’ll speculate about aliens at the drop of a molecule!
No, my complaint, again, is that UFO nuttery is boring! Leaping to clutch the dumbest, most stereotypical and mystically primitive ‘theory,’ slathering on a voluptuous splatter of "I'm such a rebel" anti-authority pretentiousness, and then smacking in happy smugness like those French castle guards in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Whether these are dumb distracto-theories or actual space-jerks messing with us, both are just lazy farts sent in our general direction.
Ask questions and do better.
* “Shouting At the Cosmos” – about METI “messaging” to aliens
** The lively fun video trailer for Existence