Hello! I will be using this section of my home page to keep you updated on current projects, plans, things I’m thinking about, articles, speaking engagements, etc.
“UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry” – the video
Two versions of a presentation on “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry” by Richard Thieme, a contributing author to the work, celebrated for its robust sourcing and scholastic rigor.
The first is for the bsides 2013 Las Vegas parallel conference. The second is for Def Con 21 a few days later where Thieme spoke for the18th year.
A talk skyped as a closing keynote to Hack in the Box Kuala Lumpur 2013 will be online as soon as it is made available.
An op ed in the Crossroads section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (February 16 2013) can be found here and at www.thiemeworks.com.
A new web site – neuralcowboy.com – called “This World, Other Worlds” is coming into being and will focus on UFO phenomena, research, links, articles, speculations, and other anomalies. It is in a larval stage so watch it grow.
An op ed in the crossroads section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Let me put it to you straight. For 35 years I have been exploring and investigating UFOs and UFOlogy (both the serious endeavor and the silly speculative fare that fills popular culture) and … well, UFOs are real: They fly, they evince technologies we don’t understand, and they have been around for years.
Above all, despite voluminous and overwhelming evidence to support those assertions, to raise this subject as worthy of historical and scientific investigation is to invite ridicule, the shaking of pitying heads, derision and hostility, and embarrassed silence.
Still, I persist in believing, as Francis Bacon said in 1620, that if something deserves to exist, it deserves to be known, not rejected out of hand with prejudice. The scientific method, principles of historical analysis, and an open mind ask that much.
No subject has been more marginalized and maligned than this topic. By “unidentified flying objects” I mean not the many things commonly mistaken for them – balloons, Venus, sprites, ball lightning, secret craft, etc.– I mean anomalous vehicles which for decades have been well documented by credible observers (“Credible people have seen incredible things,” said General John Samford, US Air Force Chief of Intelligence, in 1953), to which our government responded with the formulation and execution of policies in light of genuine national security concerns.
I was recently privileged to be included as contributing editor and writer on a team that produced the book, “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry” over five years. The research/writing team was led by Dr. Michael Swords, a professor of Natural Science (ret.) at Western Michigan University and Robert Powell, a nanotechnologist formerly with AMD. The book is regarded as an “exception” to the dreary field by CHOICE, the journal that recommends works for inclusion in university collections. CHOICE suggested that all university libraries should have it (to date, 45 have it in their collections, including 4 in the U-Wisconsin system, as well as many Wisconsin public libraries). The almost-600 page book is well grounded with nearly 1000 citations from government documents and other primary sources so it is “bullet proof.” There is virtually nothing speculative in it. We document the response of governments from the 1940s forward to events they took quite seriously—and which readers, judging on the evidence and data, will take seriously as well.
A short column can not do justice to the complex narrative, but I can state a few facts.
(1) Any other domain of inquiry with hundreds of well-documented events would be considered worthy of scientific and historical investigation.
(2) Well-executed policies carried out with secrecy do not constitute “a conspiracy,” and we are not “conspiracy theorists,” a term used to denigrate investigators of unpopular subjects. Members of the military and intelligence community, from the early 1950s on, decided to learn as much as they could about UFOs – which they decided did not constitute a direct threat to national security – while at the same time playing down and dismissing reports from the public. The reports themselves were considered to be the primary threat by the CIA.
(3) The data illuminates phenomena that is global, persistent, and sufficiently similar in small details to invite taxonomic classification as to vehicle types, the physics of force fields which power the objects and ionize the air around it, producing characteristic colors in relationship to speed and power, and diverse kinds of robotic or sentient beings associated with the objects.
(4) It is an astonishing sociological and psychological event that throughout the twentieth century, reports by credible observers, corroborated on multiple radar sets on the ground and in jets, resulted not in public investigation but in an inability to get our minds around the mere possibility. Instead the subject is literally “unthinkable.”
(5) One reason it is“unthinkable” is the effective use of ridicule, the mocking of people who made reports or took the subject seriously, and a long silence from official authoritative voices in the face of credible testimony. When I delivered a speech and served on a panel recently at the NSA, I was reminded by a veteran analyst that “the three legs of cover and deception are illusion, misdirection, and ridicule. But the greatest of these is ridicule”—which discredits the person, not the testimony, and the testimony I have heard has come from military and civilian pilots, astronauts, even the intelligence head of a foreign military force. “This is what I saw, and I know what I saw” is what I am told, corroborating the statement in 1947 by Lt. Gen. Nathan Twining that “The phenomena is something real and not visionary or fictitious.”
(6) My personal exploration began in 1978 when, as a recently ordained Episcopal clergyman in a parish on the edge of an Air Force base, a parishioner, a decorated fighter pilot with all the “right stuff” who retired as a Colonel, told me, “We chase them and we can’t catch them.”
(7) “UFOs and Government” includes quotations from generals, senior intelligence personnel, and professionals like Hermann Oberth, the father of German rocketry, that affirm the exotic characteristics of the technology that no earthly power could then achieve. As Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell told me, “Richard, if we could do what they can do, they wouldn’t have sent me to the moon in a tin lizzie.”
(8) We increasingly accept through our own scientific explorations that many earth-like planets likely to harbor life fill our galaxy and galaxies beyond. When we hear that from authoritative voices, we accept it as a probability, but when we examine the evidence of decades of visitation by real explorers, we find it difficult to think in a concrete way that we are not alone, not the top of the food chain, and that others may have been voyaging for thousands of years—as if we are the gold standard of scientific knowledge and our current understanding of physics is the end of all physics.
So I’m out of the closet on a subject. As an older man with a solid track record of delivering insights into likely futures that have pretty much worked out over the years, a man who has spoken for security conferences all over the world (including NSA, the FBI, the Secret Service, the US Department of the Treasury, the Pentagon, etc.), discussing the impact of new technologies, I can say without embarrassment that documented data supports the contention that many historical reports show exactly what they seem to show –anomalous vehicular traffic demonstrating aerodynamic capabilities and propulsion systems beyond the range of our own technology.
So … why do well-intentioned people who know more than I do persist in the pretense that nothing unusual has been going on? That’s a more speculative exploration, one for another time.
Richard Thieme is a Fox Point writer and professional speaker (www.thiemeworks.com). In addition to “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry,” he has written “Islands in the Clickstream (2004)” and “Mind Games (2010)” and contributed chapters to several books.
Richard Thieme will discuss “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry” at these events:
St. Francis Library – April 8, 2014
Thotcon Security Con – Chicago IL – April 24, 2014 – 10:00 a.m.
Irvin L. Young Memorial Library – Whitewater WI – May 1, 2014 6:30 p.m.
Infragard Three-state “Sperconference” on Security – The Dells, WI – May 14-15, 2014
Madison WI Public Library (TBA 2014)
Pauline Haass (Sussex) Library – spring 2014
Cedarburg Library (post construction – autumn 2014)
Grafton – Nov 12, 2012
Waterford – Dec 5, 2012
Butler – Jan 15 2013 6:30 p.m. – 6
Random Lake – Feb. 4, 2013
Racine– Thursday March 7, 2013
Wauwatosa – Tuesday March 19, 2013
Elm Grove – Wednesday March 27, 2013
Milwaukee Public Library (downtown) Saturday, April 27, 2013
Mequon – Thursday May 2, 2013
West Bend Library – Saturday May 18, 2013
North Shore Library – Saturday May 25 2013
Kenosha Southwest Library – Tuesday June 4, 2013
Delafield Library – Wednesday June 5, 2013
Burlington – Saturday June 29, 2013
Burlington Sci-Fi Café Saturday June 29. 2013
Waukesha Library – Wednesday July 10, 2013
Def Con 21, BSides Las Vegas, and Def Con Kidz (Rootz Asylum) – August 2013
Port Washington – Saturday August 17, 2013
New Berlin – Thursday September 12, 2013
Muskego Public Library – September 17 2013
Ryerson Astronomical Society of the University of Chicago – October 10 2013
General Meeting of the Chicago Astronomical Society – October 11, 2013 at the Adler Planetarium
Hack in the Box – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, via skype – October 17, 2013
Crystal Lake (Illinois) Public Library – October 21, 2013
Pewaukee Public Library – October 22, 2013
Ripon Library – October 29 2013
Mead Library Sheboygan – November 7, 2013
Beloit Public Library – November 12, 2013
San Antonio Public Library, Igo Branch – November 18, 2013
ISSA Meeting – San Antonio TX – November 19, 2013
Whitefish Bay Library – November 21, 2013
Box 31335, Chicago, IL 60631
The Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) is an international group of scientists, academics, investigators, and volunteers dedicated to the continuing examination and analysis of the UFO phenomenon. Our purpose is to promote serious scientific interest in UFOs and to serve as an archive for reports, documents, and publications about the UFO phenomenon.
This essay was published in the first Journal of UFO Studies in 1989 and still addresses the subject reasonably. Dr. Swords has written extensively on UFO phenomena, most recently as the main author of “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry. He recently retired as a professor of natural science from Western Michigan University.
JOURNAL OF UFO
New Series, Vol. 1 1989
THE J . ALLEN HYNEK CENTER FOR UFO STUDIES
THE J . ALLEN HYNEK
CENTER FOR UFO STUDIES
2457 W. Peterson Avenue, Chicago, IL 60659, U.S.A.
Scientific Director: Mark Rodeghier
Treasurer: John Timmerman
Secretary/Archivist: George M. Eberhart
Editor, International UFO Reporter: Jerome Clark
Investigations Coordinator: Robert D. Boyd
Director of Special Investigations: Don Schmitt
The Center for UFO Studies is an international group of scientists, academics,
investigators, and volunteers dedicated to the continuing examination and analysis of the UFO
phenomenon. The purpose of CUFOS is to be a clearinghouse for the two-way exchange of
information—where UFO experiences can be reported, and where UFO experiences can be
CUFOS maintains one of the world’s largest repositories of data about the UFO
phenomenon. The material is available for study, research or examination by any qualiHed
individual or organization. CUFOS currently has more than 50,000 cases of UFO sightings
and experiences on file, and a hbrary of more than 5,000 books and magazine volumes on all
aspects of the UFO phenomenon.
The mission of the Center for UFO Studies is the scientific collection, evaluation, and
dissemination of information about the UFO phenomenon. CUFOS maintains an international
network of field investigators to interview witnesses of sightings, examine physical evidence,
and gather any other information relevant to a case.
CUFOS promotes a general public understanding of the UFO phenomenon through
various activities and projects. The International UFO Reporter, published bimonthly, reports
on current news and sightings and includes articles on UFO topics. The Journal of UFO
Studies presents scholarly papers and issues forums on ufological matters.
The Center was founded in 1973 by Dr. J. Allen Hynek (1910-1986), who became
involved with UFOs as scientific consultant to the U.S. Air Force from 1948 to 1968. He was
the first speaker to present testimony at the 1968 hearing on UFOs held by the House
Committee on Science and Astronautics and later appeared before the United Nations to
support the proposed establishment of an agency to conduct and coordinate research into
UFOs and related phenomena. In the early 1970s, Hynek coined the phrase “close encounters
of the third kind,” and acted as technical adviser to director Steven Spielberg on the movie of
the same name. He was scientific director of CUFOS until his death.
CUFOS is a non-profit organization supported solely by contributions. All contributions
are tax-deductible and enable CUFOS to continue its work. A $25 contribution entitles you to
become an associate of CUFOS and receive the International UFO Reporter for one year.
Journal of UFO Studies, n.i. 1. 1989,67-102
© 1989 J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies
SCIENCE AND THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL HYPOTHESIS
MICHAEL D. SWORDS
College of General Studies, Science, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, U.S.A.
ABSTRACT: The literature relating to extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) is
surveyed to provide a basis for judging the extratenestrial hypothesis to be an
acceptable alternative concept for use in analyzing UFO phenomena. Other
common issues facing ufology, ranging from the general argument about its
scientificness to concerns about specific and puzzling characteristics of some
reports are addressed.
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS AND THE GROWING INTEREST IN E T I
The idea that extraterrestrial intelligence could be behind some elements of the
great mixture of experiences lumped together under the term “UFO phenomena”
has rarely been seriously discussed by the scientific community (Sagan and Page
1972; Hynek 1972; Condon 1969). It is natural that this silence has been taken by
other academics and the educated public as an indication that the position is not
worth taking seriously. Given the tenor of our debates upon extraterrestrial
intelligence elsewhere in the galaxy, this is a peculiar and certainly inappropriate
state of affau-s. This paper will attempt an overview of the status quo of facts and
hypotheses which are most relevant to the subject of ETI and the odds on life
elsewhere visiting nearby space. It will try to place ufology and its extraterrestrial
hypothesis into this context.
Since the 1960s, a growing group of scientists has directed a significant amount
of thought and writing to the question of ETI. They have debated the odds of the
existence of such beings, the possibility of then- travelling between the stars, and the
means of contact between them and ourselves. Carl Sagan and Frank Drake have
become the leading proponents of the belief that our galaxy is teeming with
intelligent life and technologically advanced civilizations (MacGowan and Ordway
1966; Shklovskii and Sagan 1966; Sagan 1973; Drake 1976).
Despite the intelligence and prestige of many of the leaders of this optimistic
view, the vision had an air of complexity yet lack of concreteness which made it easy
to disregard as unfocused speculation. Many conservative scientists felt that the field
of study was not a field at all. The major tool which has swung the atmosphere of
opinion has been the “Drake Equation,” constructed as a heuristic device by Frank
68 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDffiS
Drake, and which has served well in generating discussion about specific issues
where data of some sorts are available.
The Drake Equation is a mathematically simple string of multiplicative factors, as
N = R*fpn,f,fif,L
The definitions of the factors are:
N : the number of currently extant hi-tech galactic civilizations;
R,: the rate of galactic star formation;
fp: the fraction of stars which have planets;
: the number of earth-like planets per system;
fi: the fraction of earths which will form life;
fj: the fraction of ecologies which will evolve intelligences;
fg: the fraction of ETI which will develop civilizations;
L : the mean lifetime of an advanced civilization.
This mathematical “outline” has allowed discussants to split up the complex
problem into more discrete bits upon which current science may have a say.
Tfentative conclusions from the last decade’s debates are sometimes surprising in
their concreteness and always interesting in their scientific, sociological, and
When one peruses the ETI literature, the following major discussions stand out:
a) the Drake Equation factors n^, fj, and L;
b) interstellar travel and “colonization waves”;
c) time scales and exu-emely advanced societies;
d) ETI motivations and behaviors towards ourselves.
Taken as a piece, the literature tends toward the following vision: ETI occurs in great
numbers of locations in our galaxy, and probably has the means and even the
motivation for some degree of exploration and/or communication. A minority
opinion holds that ETI is disinterested, paranoiac, rare, or non-existent. What
follows is a review of the major facts and points of issue in this dialogue.
It is intriguing when placed against the backdrop of the UFO phenomenon.
THE GALAXY AND THE STARS-THAT-ARE-SUNS
Everyone agrees that the universe is vast and old and loaded with galaxies and
stars. Almost nothmg in science is more obvious. And because of this, and the
foundation stone faith of science in the “Uniformity of Nature,” almost no intuition
is stronger than that the universe is filled with life. There are many people for whom
all that is required to settle that question is one good look at the night sky. The
methods and attitudes of science are more slow afoot, however, yet perhaps more
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 69
sure. The factor in the Drake Equation which takes “one good look at the night sky”
R., the rate of star formation in our galaxy, seems a straightforward matter, and in
fact there is very Uttle debate. If we have a reasonable understanding of starbirth, we
can look to likely galactic locations and make a direct estimate. Or, if we have a
reasonaDle history/timescale of the galaxy and a good starcount, we can divide stars
by time and get another estimate. Both approaches have been taken and the results
are given with an aura of confidence: our galaxy has averaged about 25 starbirths per
year, and has perhaps slowed down to between 1 and 10 starbirths per year in its
current mature stage of development.
This author prefers to alter the meaning of R, to remove some of the confusion
which enters later factor-analyses in the Drake Equation. Because some stars are
never suitable for life-formation, and others become unsuitable as their life histories
progress, it seems appropriate to settle the “star question” all at once at the
beginning, and to eUminate unsuitable categories of stars now. This amounts to
changing the concept R« to R^, the rate of “sun-formation” in the galaxy. “Sun” is
here defined in its hmited sense as a star possessing the proper lifespan, metallicity,
and force-environment (re: Luminosity; stability; companion stars) such that a
Ufe-advancing timescale and planet-formation were at least possible.
How many proper stars or suns are bom in the galaxy per year? The question is
less difficult than it may seem. In fact there is also little debate about it in the
literature. The key assumptions are regarded as conservative:
a) Life in advanced forms needs a long time to evolve, perhaps 2 to 6
billion years. Any proper star should have a lifetime at least that long;
b) Life in advanced forms needs a planet to develop upon. Any proper
star should have arisen from a molecular cloud rich in heavy elements
so as to make planet formation at least possible;
c) Life in any form needs a hospitable energy environment, not
involving wild energy swings and radiation biu-sts. Any proper star
should allow stable orbits for rotating planets and planets beyond
radiation flare zones.
Assumption “a” eliminates all fast-and-hot burning blue giant stars of the so-called
O, B, A, and upper-F classes. Assumption “b” eliminates all so-called first
generation stars, stars arising early in the history of the galaxy from the only
available elements of that era: hydrogen and helium. Forming as they did before the
building and dispersal (by supernovas) of the heavy elements, there was no heavy
material to initiate planetary cores, ergo no planets, no base upon which to evolve
Assumption “c” eliminates several categories of stars. No stars close to the
galactic center are candidates due to extreme violent energy environments
throughout the nucleus area. In fact it has been postulated that the nucleus
70 : JOURNAL OF UFO STUDIES
occasionally erupts violently in extreme forms of radiation outbursts, the waves of
which would scour at least the near-nuclear systems of life (Clarke 1981). Such
outbursts could be violent enough to destroy ecologies galaxy-wide unless their
systems were shielded in the galactic arms when the “killer wave” passed by. On
the other hand such shock waves could be the impetus for new star-system
condensation and be ultimately a “biogenic” wave instead. Either way, the concept
of the Milky Way as an occasionally explosive Seyfert galaxy brings an unknown
but potentially time-synchronizing element into the discussion about the level of
advancement of galactic ecologies.
Other stars are eliminated by assumption ” c ” as well. No small cool red-dwarf
stars of so-called M and Lower-K classes are proper suns. Their relatively dim heat
sources require planets so close as to be at risk from solar flaring and to be
gravitationally locked (one face always roasting while the other freezes). A third
category, multiple star systems, might be eliminated due to the planetary formation
and orbital destabilization problems caused by the gravitational dynamics between
the close stars. Many multiple star systems have been shown to allow stable close-in
planetary orbits, however, and the estimates of acceptable multistar systems vary
from 10 to 90% (KsanfomaUty 1986; Gillette 1984; Dole 1964; Harrington 1977).
When we take our “good look at the night sky” with these restrictions in mind,
we find that our galaxy has about 250 billion stars. Eliminating the mass at the
nucleus and the non-heavy-metaled star systems of the halo, we are left with about
100 billion disk stars. Getting rid of the few large bright stars and the many small
dim ones, and about half of the remainder which exist in multiple systems (keeping
the other 50% of the sun-like multiple partners), we are graced with a total of about
6 to 15 billion “proper stars,” or suns.
These are the later generation stars of the lower F, G, and upper K classes, most
single but some in permissible double-star arrangements, and all in the galactic disk.
If these stars formed at a somewhat regular rate across galactic history, there would
have been about one per year. Because we are interested in the formation rate far
back into the past (5 billion years ago when our solar system was being bom) so as
to estimate civilizations of our level of advancement or greater, perhaps this would
be the most accurate figure to accept. Our system formed about halfway into the
current lifespan of the galaxy. The use of = 1 is, if anything, conservative, as
there was certainly an initial period in galactic history when no high-metallicity stars
formed whatever, and so the proper stars we count are probably more bunched
toward our own time frame. But, R^ = I is an acceptable starting point…and 6 to 15
billion sun-like environments.
Such a beginning springboard of the imagination could lead a prominent scientist
such as Philip Morrison of MIT to state “it is both timely and feasible to begin a
serious search for extraterrestrial intelligence,” while almost simultaneously
declaring about ufology: “I have now, after a couple years of fairly systematic
listening and reading, no sympathy left for the extraterrestrial hypothesis” (quoted
in Ridpath 1975).
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 71
As this is on the surface of things an extremely puzzling dichotomy of positions,
and yet one which seems to accurately reflect establishment scientific thinking, we
must proceed on in search of some explanation.
Whereas there is almost no confusion about the vast numbers of proper stars, there
is an apparent disagreement about planetary systems around them. This “debate”
evaporates into a near uniformity of opinion once it is unraveled, however. Planet
theorists and observational astronomers are arguing about whether clear evidence
exists as yet for an extra-solar planetary system, leading some listeners, perhaps, to
conclude that scientists think that planets are rare. Actually, astronomers are nearly
universal in their belief that although planets are extremely difficult to detect with
our current tools, they are commonplace, almost ubiquitous in the galactic disk.
David Black, one of the most eminent planetary researchers, has stated that “Current
planetary theories suggest that planets should be the rule rather than the exception”
(Black 1987). In fact he asserts that if, once our technology improves, we cannot find
large numbers of other planetary systems, we will have to revise our whole theory of
Confidence in numerous planetary systems is based upon more than pure theory.
Several lines of research have indicated the overwhehning likelihood of such
systems. They include:
a) Since, in terms of the mechanism of formation, stars and planets
differ from one another only in the amount of mass originally
involved in their condensation, the formation of a second star orbiting
about a primary is essentially no different than the formation of a big ,
planet. Multiple stars are, therefore, planetary systems wherein at
least one “planet” condensed from a lump of the cloud which was so
large that it allowed nuclear fusion in the core, and the “planet”
became self-luminous, a second star. We can see and count such
“planetary systems” quite easily. About one half of our disk stars
seem to be in such systems, and on that observation alone the
phenomenon of a larger mass with smaller masses allied to it must be
common. Unless there is something unforeseenly unique about
stellar-sized objects which favors their formation while blocking that
of slightly smaller planet-sized objects, planetary systems must be at
least as common as double stars.
b) Our own solar system provides several, not one, examples of such
systems. Not only do we have our system at large, but also several
mini-systems in the moons of the Jovian planets. Large rotating
centers-of-mass seem to naturally acquire secondary bodies revolving
about them. An intriguing added fact that the elemental composition
72 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDffiS
of our solar system almost precisely matches the composition of the
galactic disk leads to a further intuition as to the normalcy of our
situation. Given similar basic materials and forces, what took place
here should have taken place elsewhere in the galaxy as standard
practice. Leading planetologists John Lewis and Ronald Prinn say:
“It is widely, but not universally, accepted that stars form from
moderately dense nebulae comprising gases and dust with overall
elemental abundances essentially identical to those in the Sun and in
other normal (Main Sequence) hydrogen-burning stars “(Lewis and
c) Several physical measurements have indicated the probable existence
of planets around specific nearby stars. These measurements include
gravitational tugs or wobbles caused by the pull of large unseeable
objects on the stars, or infrared indications of circumstellar dust disks
(expected accompaniments of planet-formation), or the slow rotational
movements of stars (as if they had transferred some of their
rotary motion to other bodies which now revolve about them) (Hobbs
1986; Hecht 1987; Gatewood 1987). Recent Doppler shift work by
Campbell seems to confirm our positive expectations on the common
occurrence of planets around nearby stars (Waltrop 1987).
The subsequent conclusions of ahnost all planetary theorists and astronomers are
optimistic and eminently reasonable:
1. Planets are a natural ordinary feature of the cosmos;
2. Only our inadequate technology prevents us from directly settling the question.
To this position, the current author would add the following corollary, which is the
view of almost everyone interested in ETI:
3. Probably all the sun-like stars in the galactic disk, as defined above, will have
planetary systems. In the terms of the Drake Equation, the fraction of “suns” which
are accompanied by planets is very close to unity (fp = 1). There are perhaps 6 to 15
billion sun-like disk stars with associated planetary systems.
Earths are defined here as rocky terrestrial planets which stably orbit their suns for
long periods of time at a distance which allows a proper temperature/radiation input
so as to keep the solvent-of-life, water, in its liquid state.
The frequency of occurrence of these objects has been the point of a quite intense
debate, which is not totally resolved. The core material initiating the debate was
provided by Michael Hart, who felt that certain facts and models indicated that our
Earth was a very lucky, exceptional place, perhaps even unique (Hart 1978, 1979).
The majority of the “pessimistic” commentators, however, seem merely to repeat
Hart’s conclusions, or, at best, build slightly off his basic model. The motivations of
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 73
this school of thought seem to range from a need to explain the “absence” of ETI
visiting our solar system (a position which not only assumes the absence of evidence
in the UFO phenomenon, but also ignores the obvious fact that we have not explored
most likely locations in our system for evidence of present and past ETI), to
apparently emotional concerns about humanity’s place and future role in the
universe. The most vocal of this school are enthusiasts for either human interstellar
migration via advanced spaceships or for the “anthropic principle” as seen as
“proof that the universe has been designed particularly to evolve human
intelligence as some sort of climactic pinnacle (Bond and Martin 1980; Martin and
Bond 1983; Tipler 1980, 1981). If we scrape away the irrelevancies, the argument,
as regards “earths,” is still based on essentially one thing: Michael Hart’s
conceptualization of what he called the “Continuously Habitable Zone” (CHZ) for
To critique this issue we should begin with the standard version of what planetary
theorists think would go on in the formation of a system around a sun. When a
sunlike star condenses by gravity out of a heavy molecular cloud (a hydrogen/helium
cloud littered with substantial amounts of heavier elements), other grains and lumps
and centers of attraction also form. Such meteoritic or cometary lumps aggregate and
condense into the cores of planets surrounded by the hydrogen-rich gas of the cloud.
The cloud condenses, spins, flattens until there is a disk-like system with the
proto-sun at the center and the proto-planets revolving in a flattened plane about it.
An early super-bright phase of star-formation then blows the primaeval light gas of
the original cloud from the rocky cores of the planets-to-be which are nearest the
star. The cores continue to condense and heat-up as heavy elements engage in
radioactive decay. Solids melt and metals sink to the center, while a lighter crust
forms and floats. The crust fractures and gases escape to reform an atmosphere (more
hydrogen and helium, but, more importantly, carbon dioxide, water vapor, nitrogen,
and a few other components). The solar wind has now abated, and this new
atmosphere becomes the true primordial atmosphere of our earth-like planets
(Torbett et al. 1982; Lewis and Prinn 1984).
Now the planet cools. This is the critical phase. Will the planet cool enough to rain
out its vaporous oceans-to-be? If the planet is too near the sun, it will not. Instead,
insufficient liquid water will be present to dissolve the carbon dioxide. COj will pack
the atmosphere as continued venting of gases occurs in the crust. This “greenhouse
gas,” COj, will trap more and more heat until the atmosphere and surface
temperatures are at a level unsuited for even elementary life. Such was the fate of
Venus. Thus, some promising planets will be too near their star.
They can also be too far. On such a planet the rains will be complete and the COj
will be dissolved. The processes leading to life may well begin. But as the primordial
heat of the planet, insufficiently augmented by the incoming radiation of its star,
continues to drop, liquid water freezes and glaciation begins. Such an early potential
life-generating planet will die. This was probably the fate of Mars (Pollack et al.
1987). Even better placed life-generators may reach a later crisis caused by
74 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDIES
atmosphere changes due to the biogenic release of massive quantities of oxygen.
Such changes also result in less heat retention and potential irreversible glaciation.
This last risk may be substantially modulated by the atmosphere controlling
activities of the most primitive life forms in the oceans (the so-called GAIA force),
however (Lovelock 1980; Margulis 1982).
Therefore, there is a life zone surrounding each sun-like star, a strip within which
a planet must luckily form if it is to be a liquid-water earth. What are the odds that
such a stroke of luck will occur? Hart and the school of minority opinion say that the
chances are so slight that it is almost impossible to get a planet slotted into this
narrow channel. Hart’s models indicate that the galaxy is filled with Venuses and
Mars lookalikes, and the Earth, the fabulous fluke, could be unique.
This position is now largely discarded or severely modified even by the
pessimists. The reasons are several:
The original aUnospheric models have turned out to be overly
simplistic and even directly inaccurate in some of what they did
include (Schneider and Thompson 1980);
The original models totally ignored the effect of life forms
(microorganisms) in stabilizing atmospheres;
More complex, and probably more accurate, modelling of early
atmospheres predicts the probability of much wider liquid water
zones, particularly on the “cold side” of the strip (Kasting et al.
Our own Earth’s history shows adaptation to widely differing solar
energy inputs while maintaining remarkable temperature stability at
the surface, a stability impossible if the pessimists’ models were
anywhere nearly correct (Schneider and Thompson 1980).
Newer models of aUnospheres and temperatures point to life zones six or seven
times wider than the Hart estimate. In our own solar system with the Earth at the
reference distance of 1.0 astronomical unit. Hart’s model pointed to a life zone
between 0.95 and I.Ol AU. The new estimates increase the local life zone to between
0.86 and 1.25 (or greater) AU. Venus, for reference, is too hot at 0.72 AU. Mars is
a bit too cold at 1.52 AU. With this wider zone what are the odds of an earthlike
planet forming there? We do have some guides with which to estimate this answer.
When we look at the spacing of the planets in our own system, we are struck with
an intuition of a patterned array. The great rocks seem to lie in lanes of movement at
“respectful” distances from one another, gradually widening the gaps as we look
further from the Sun. The Bode-Titius equation hints at a regularizing mathematical
physics which rules their positions, as if primaeval forces of gravitational resonance,
collisions, available mass, or whatever, determined the design. As our theories of
system formation become better at approximating the realities we see in our own
planets, we are able to alter the initial parameters (star size, cloud metallicity, angular
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 75
momentum) and watch as our computers form alternative planetary arrays in
moments. The arrays stay essentially the same: small rocky terrestrials in close to the
star, a transitional zone, big Jovian gas balls further out, all gradually widening their
gaps to their next further neighbor. Our own system should not be widely deviant
from the others of the galaxy.
If the arrangement of our terrestiial planets was precisely the rule for our galaxy,
it would be an easy task to lay down a grid containing die “too hot,” “habitable
zone,” and “too cold” regions, and overlay the spacing of our four terrestrials on it.
We could then slide the planets up and down and make a quick estimate of how often
one would happen to fall in the zone. For our system, a planet falls in the life zone
over 90% of the time (about 92.4% actually). If our system was average in this sense,
then the vast majority of extra-solar systems would have a terrestiial planet in the
zone. Our own spacing would allow a few systems (about 8.5%) to have two earths
in the zone. The fact that the two numbers add up to something very close to 100 is
not mysterious; it simply follows from the fact that our life zone’s width (0.39 AU)
is about equal to our average planetary spacing in the terresti-ial zone (0.38 AU). This
is perhaps just a coincidence, and maybe not even that true, given our future
refinements of life zone width estimates. But it may also be just another intuitive
reason to believe that earths are a natural product of the cosmos.
Such reasoning and the perusal of many computer-generated arrays has led
researchers to estimate varying numbers for the amount of earth-like worlds. Planets
do form and almost always one falls in the ecozone, but other concerns (axis
inclination, mass, orbital eccenu-icity, and period of rotation) moderate many of the
guesses. Depending particularly on what the model used says about planetary mass,
estimates made upon widened (non-Hart) life zones would place earthlike planets
with all the proper characteristics in the zones between one-third and two-thirds of
the time for stars very much like the sun. Because most of tiie suitable stars will be
smaller, perhaps calling for generally smaller planets as well, the odds may drop.
Stephen Dole drops them by a factor of ten (to I earth in every 200 stars in the disk);
Martyn Fogg drops them by a factor of fifty (I in 1,000 stars); and the “Hart school
enthusiasts” of Bond and Martin drop them by a factor of five hundred (I in 6,000
to 12,000 stars). Bond and Martin, and even Fogg, used modified Hart models and
their estimates would seem too low. Dole seems more legitimate and perhaps his
guess is best for the moment (see Fogg 1986ab, for comparisons). If there are more
determinant factors ensuring proper mass contents for terresti^ial planets near the life
zones (and other orbital characteristics), then the following more optimistic estimate
by Sebastian von Hoerner of die National Radio Asti^onomy Observatory could well
“Some astionomical estimates show tiiat probably about 2 percent of all
stars have a planet fulfilling all known conditions needed to develop life
similar to ours. If we are average, then on half of these planets
76 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDffiS
intelligence has developed earlier and farther, while the other half are
barren or underdeveloped” (quoted in Ridpath 1975).
THE RIGHT STUFF IN THE RIGHT COMBINATIONS ‘
Will the right sort of planet revolving at the right sort of distance around the right
sort of star produce life? The answer seems to be: yes, if it has the right sort of
material to work with. Everything to date points to the conclusion that the right
materials are automatically there. It is a conclusion practically without debate.
We have a convincing concept for the general formation of the elements
(everything heavier than hydrogen and helium). They are formed ubiquitously in the
galaxy in the cores and the death throes of stars. The larger stars disperse these
elements to space in similar ratios wherever they destroy themselves in their titanic
explosions. We have measured the composition of the resultant molecular clouds by
spectroscopy. It is a pleasing revelation to find that the composition of the galaxy at
large matches that of our solar system. The crucial fact seems assured: the elemental
stuff that allowed planets. Earth, and life in our solar system was, and is, available
everywhere else in the disk, once the galaxy went through its initial element-building
and dispersing stage (Fowler 1984; Wood and Chang 1985).
We find, then, that the proper elements exist ready for further formation, and these
elementals are already combining to form useful molecules. Some of these
molecules are chemically active organics which could lead to biology. Especially
creative scientists have even imagined life itself being pieced together in space on
dust grains or cometary particles (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe 1980). Whatever the
truth of that, it is almost a certainty that the chemistry-of-space produces important
biological molecules such as amino acids, the monomeric units of proteins (Ferris
1984; Greenberg 1984). Such substances and others of importance have been found
in carbonaceous chondrite meteorites (Engel and Nagy 1985; Irvine 1987).
“Around 4 billion years ago, showers of comets and meteorites may
have carried the basic compounds of life to Earth. During their
encounters with Halley’s Comet, the Vega and Giotto spacecraft
detected many of the elements necessary for hfe. Analyses of meteorites
and cometary dust that have fallen to Earth have shown us that these
interplanetary objects are often rich in organic material.”—William
Irvine, University of Massachusetts.
These discoveries are important in that they add three almost certain pieces to our
vision of the formative days of planetary systems and earthlike worlds:
a) chemical reactions between the elements are so programmed that
massive quantities of organic chemicals are made in space and exist
in the heavy molecular clouds from which planetary systems form;
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 77
b) much of this organic substance condenses into chondritic dust and
lumps which form the basis for early planetary cores, contributing
ready-made organic chemicals to the neonatal planets;
c) even after planet formation, more lumps and dust (a carbonaceous
meteoric rain) continue to fall into the new environments of the
“earths,” seeding them with potentially biogenic compounds.
This should be happening, and did happen in the past, all over the galaxy: billions of
earths soaking up a prebiological rain. The right stuff is present at the right time. Is
this enough to ensure life?
When our chemists began to simulate the primordial atmosphere and energy
conditions, they were delighted to discover that these original circumstances
spontaneously began creating the chemicals of life. For two decades the advances
have been continual and positive (Calvin 1975; Dickerson 1978; Hartman et al.
1985). The primitive conditions not only produce the right biochemicals but they
seem to do so in a non-random way. Chemistry’s products are determined, and not
just anything is possible. Certain atomic arrangements (for example, just certain
amino acids or nucleic acid bases) are strongly favored over other arrangements in
the same biochemical classes of compounds. There seems to be a limited set of
biochemical units out of which earthlike life, and presumably all galactic life, can be
The linking together, or polymerization, of these small units into the vital
structures of proteins or nucleic acids is currently impossible to imitate in our labs in
short time frames. Nevertheless, three lines of reasoning lead us confidently to
suspect that such polymerization occurs in orderly, rapid and probably uniform
fashions on Earthlike worlds:
a) Several polymerization mechanisms have been researched and a few
seem to work. They involve high-energy sources (e.g., UV-radiation,
lightning, volcanic heat) and high-surface-areas for encouraging
catalysis (such as on the bubbles of sea-foam or in the matrices of
clay materials). All of these conditions should be available
galaxy-wide. Related work, such as the melting of pure biochemical
monomers together, and analyzing the resultant products, again
shows that not just anything is possible. These melts yield a
surprisingly limited variety of polymers.
b) A second line of reasoning involves attempts to calculate the most
stable aggregation of molecules, the molecular alliance which would
have the best chance to persist in primitive planetary environments.
The winners seem to be those aggregates which ally proteins and
nucleic acid polymers, the same crucial alliance which lies
universally at the basis of Earth’s life (Eigen et al. 1981; Schuster
78 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDIES
c) The third line of reasoning is a deduction from a single observation.
Whatever route the biochemicals took to form polymers and beyond
to simple life, it was not difficult and it happened very rapidly. Life
appeared in its simplest forms almost as soon as the Earth had cooled
and setded enough to permit it (Groves et al. 1982; Ferris 1987;
“On Earth, Life began almost as soon as the planet was cool enough to
form seas. If this is typical, there may be as many as 10 bilUon Earth-like
planets in our Milky Way alone. Today we contemplate a universe
teeming with life, some of which may be intelligent.”—Bernard Oliver,
chief, NASA SETI program (1987).
More pieces of the prebiological puzzle continue to come to light. The discovery
of microspheres, bilayered spherules which spontaneously form from certain
proteins, is another important example. These structures behave much like cell
membranes, creating differential electric charges on their surfaces and showing
division behaviors uncannily like living units. Work with these microspheres and
other simple pre-biological systems has inspired their discoverer, Sidney Fox
(1984), to say: “The experiments suggest that evolution of molecular complexity
was capable of occurring from simple beginnings very rapidly…in days or less”
(quoted in Ridpath 1975).
Such optimisms about life formation abound in the cosmochemical and
protobiological literature. The trend of the work to date supports such optimism.
Given the right stuff in the right places (a situation which is the expected galactic
norm), life will spontaneously and rapidly form. Returning to the Drake Equation,
the factor “f” is ” 1 ” ; life does it every time, and quickly. It is the basic
biochemistry of the universe.
“The elements required for life—carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen,
phosphorus, and sulfur—originate in the formation of stars. Then they
evolve into larger organic (carbon-based) molecules in space between
the stars. In primitive planetary environments they combine into the
building blocks of life, evolve into enzymes and the genetic code,
organize into complex and stable cell-like structures, develop selfreplication
processes, and grow from simple to complex living
things.”—^Donald DeVincenzi, NASA Ames Research Center (1987).
The subsequent two factors in the Drake Equation, f; and f^, which concern
themselves with the advance of life in complexity until it achieves inteUigence and
tool-using civilization, are usually considered together, and often as arbitrary
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 79
benchmarks on an inevitable progression of bio-abilities. Some years ago opinions
concerning biological advance would have been largely intuitive. Now the answer is
essentially certain. Life inevitably advances in complexity. This insight is the gift of
one of the twentieth century’s great discoverers, Ilya Prigogine (1980; Nicolis and
Prigogine solved the paradox of an evolving life-force in a thermodynamically
dissipating universe by demonstrating the following:
If an entity is both unstable (i.e., malleable, alterable, flexible,
changeable) and self-organizing (i.e. capable of structuring and > ,
and such an entity is “perturbed” (i.e. challenged, altered, stressed,
damaged) by some force,
then that entity will re-organize itself taking the perturbing force into
account. It will tend to maintain its previous talents, while adding to
them something which contends with the offending perturbation. It
will become “more clever” in existing.
Such great insights always have the characteristic of being “obvious,” once
someone finally sees them.
Life forms are quintessential “unstable, self-organizing systems.” Unless the
perturbations they face are so disruptive as to kill, they will advance, they will
evolve. Although this “advance,” through extinctions and difficult times, is not
uniform, the arrow of time and the arrow of bioevolution generally are in step.
All across Earth’s surface and Earth’s time, perturbations and restructurings have
been taking place. Uncounted numbers of biological trials and errors have offered
themselves up for testing by the physical and living environment. The winners have
survived. Some writers have suggested that we make very risky judgments about
advanced life in the galaxy when we base our thoughts on the “single case” of life
on Earth. “Planetary chauvinism,” Carl Sagan and others call it. Surely life fills the
galaxy in unthought variations. Perhaps. But, whereas we are probably at great risk
to apply specific macroscopic appearances from Earth forms to other galactic life,
concerning the fundamental patterns of life there may be little or no risk at all. The
patterns of design and basic structures of our life forms are neither random nor
inflexibly Unked to some peculiar or singular set of conditions on this planet. Our life
forms do not represent “one case.” They are the consummation of the experiments
of billions of years to find the tools of survival, the structures and behaviors that
work. And we have akeady seen how much alike the earthlike physical
environments throughout the galaxy should be.
Support for the idea of common patterns of advanced life comes from more than
intuition. Concrete evidence lies all about us. It is called convergent evoludon. In
isolated ecologies we see life forms which not only occupy similar niches but have
also developed similar sizes, shapes, functional structures, and even behaviors. Life,
80 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDIES
through all the experiments-to-exist, finds and refinds the paths to success.
Convergence of form and behavior implies that “getting it right” involves a Umited
number of structures and abilities for each task. Our world separately evolved two
kinds of bats, animals so alike that we didn’t recognize their evolutionary
separateness until very recently (Pettigrew 1986). We have marsupials almost
indistinguishable from placentals. We have mammals (dolphins) looking like fish
(sharks) looking like reptiles (mosasaurs). We have two dozen independently
developed kinds of eyes. Some things obviously work and some don’t. Some are so
valuable that they are bound to arise many times. As biologists begin to take more
and more physics into account in their discipline, it will be seen that the forms and
abilities of organisms can not be infinitely variable in their basic patterns. And the
same physics will operate throughout the galaxy (Reif and Thomas 1986).
There is little or no debate in the ETI literature about the general end-product of
the advance of life. Complexity, great size, even intelligence and civilization are
viewed as inevitable stages along the flow of evolution.
“Parallel or convergent evolution is a common phenomenon. Hence we
see on Earth repeated, but separate, appearance of advantageous
characteristics such as multicellular organisms, eyes, or wings. Such
evolutionary developments are therefore not unlikely in living systems
elsewhere in space.”—John Dillingham, NASA Ames Research Center
Intelligence, or encephalization, has been shown to be part of the strong trend of
complication in bio-development as well (Russell 1981), and our own advanced
inteUigence is viewed as the product of a sequence of events which could as well
operate on other life forms of our world should we have failed.
“The view that mankind’s development was a lucky chance, and the
only one, may perhaps be not quite right. It may well be that nature was
making a number of experiments in homonization….It’s quite conceivable
that, given the same starting conditions, and given enough time and
evolutionary opportunity, it could happen more than once.”—Philip
Tobias, University of Witwatersrand (quoted in Ridpath 1975).
Reflecting on these matters, David Attenborough argued that, if man became extinct
and vacated the top of the intelligence niche in Earth’s ecologies, there exists “a
modest unobtrusive creature somewhere that would develop into a new form and
take our place.”
Without quibbhng about the exact details of similarity between ours and other
planets’ life forms, the consensus of the Uterature upon the Drake Equation factors
fj and fj. is: once life begins on a long-existing earthlike planet, the advance to
intelligence and tool-using civilization is inevitable, f; and f^ are ” 1 . ”
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 81
“Something like the processes that on Earth led to man must have
happened billions of other times in the history of the galaxy. There must
be other starfolk…these non-human creatures of great learning have
doubtlessly been sending explorative expeditions through interstellar
space for countless millenniums.”—Carl Sagan, Cornell University.
SUMMARY OF THE DRAKE DEBATE
The ETI literature and related scientific research developments indicate good
reasons for optimism about the amount of life, even intelUgent hfe, which has arisen
in the galaxy. As Frank Drake likes to put it: about one new intelligent civiUzation
appears in the Milky Way a year. The question remains: how much of this inteUigent
life is still around? In the Drake Equation this refers to the final term, L, the mean
lifetime of an advanced civilization. This current author has been quite impressed
with the insights of modem science in casting light on all the other factors of the
Drake equation. We know a great deal and we’re advancing all the time. But this last
factor, L, is almost a complete mystery. Sadly, all we can offer is a few tenuous
Our galaxy was formed about 10 billion years ago, and it was at that time
composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium: no heavier elements, no heavy
molecular clouds, no planets, no life. A significant but undetermined amount of time
must have passed while the first generation stars built heavy elements in their cores,
the larger stars exploded as supernovas, and these elements were dispersed to space.
A great deal of this needed to happen before the “metallicity” of the galaxy would
be high enough to allow formation of rocky terrestrial planets. For perhaps the first
three billion years this process went on in the sterile galaxy. Perhaps seven biUion
years ago some solar systems outside the nucleus formed planets upon which the
processes described earlier in this paper began. Two billion or so years later our own
solar system was formed and we began the crawl up evolution’s ladder.
If anything like the above picture was true, then some systems may have begun
life-building a couple of billion years before our own. If so, and if Frank Drake’s
“one civilization per year” (essentially referring back to between one and ten
sunUke stars per year) rule-of-thumb is anywhere near, then perhaps 2 billion
civilizations have arisen before our own. The extremes are easily determined. If no
civilization ever dies off (i.e., L=lifetime of galaxy), then all 2 billion or so are still
“out there.” If civilizations execute themselves immediately (i.e., L = 1), then there
is only one. So one can be either form of extremist: pessimist or optimist. For the
optimists one must admit that nearby supernovas or huge galactic nucleus events
may scour some systems of life. For the pessimists one must admit that even our own
erratic selves have managed to make it forty-plus years past the invention of nuclear
weapons and are still staggering into the future. Intuition, all that we have on this
issue, would seem to say: some make it, some don’t. Even the most pessimistic
82 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDIES
scenarios would seem to be forced to the conclusion that there are advanced
civilizations out there somewhere. And a little more faith in intelligence produces
“There may be abundant groups of 10^ to 10* worlds linked by a
common colonial heritage. The radar and television announcement of an
emerging technical society on Earth may induce a rapid response by
nearby civilizations, thus newly motivated to reach our system directly
rather than by diffusion [emphasis added].”—William Newman,
‘ i UCLA, and Carl Sagan, Cornell (1981).
THE QUESTION OF APPEARANCE
As we have seen, knowledgeable commentators on ufology do not object to the
extraterrestrial hypothesis on the basis that there are no extraterrestrials. Some
apparently learned commentators do object that any visiting extraterrestrials will not
look at all like us, and that the anthropomorphic similarity of the described
“ufonauts” is alone enough to disqualify those reports as fantasy (Simpson 1964;
Dobzhansky 1972). But, whereas a precise identity to Homo sapiens in UFO reports
would be very difficult to explain in any independent evolution scenario, a similarity
of basic patterns of structure may be far more likely than is generally recognized.
Commentators on advanced extraterrestrial life can agree on several foundation
stone concepts. This life will be based upon the same primary elemental mix, the
same solvent, the same basic chemistry, and polymers of amino acids and nucleic
acids, and the energy systems utilizing phosphate molecules. The life forms will
develop in relatively similar physical environments, including solar radiation,
atmosphere contents, comparative planetary masses, temperature similarities.
Observing the apparently required sequence of evolutionary events, one must add
to those similarities multicellularity, oxygen-use, sexual reproduction, large size,
mobility, and, if a manipulative tool-user, evolved from a land-dwelling animal
form. The large size (required of any intelligent evolved creature) demands several
other crucial characteristics. The creature must be a large tube with an input end and
an output end, a “head” and “tail.” Nutritional intake, processing, absorption, and
rejection proceeds most efficiently on a linear assembly line basis. Simple osmosis
or other more passive mechanisms cannot deal with a large land-dwelling situation.
For the same reason there must be a branching tubal circulatory system powered by
a pump to reach all cells. The gas transport system should use the same tubes to
avoid redundancy. The large mass will require a skeleton, which must be internal to
allow mobility and flexibility. Such an animal will be bilaterally symmetrical along
the line of the tube. The head end will concentrate the central nervous system and the
major information-gathering senses, especially sight and sound. The brain must be
seriously protected by some enclosure, and be directly and proximately attached to
the major sensory organs.
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS
These traits are recognized as required or determined by simple logic and physic8a3l
laws. They are also recognized as being wholly dominant in all large land-dwellers
and most large water-dwellers on Earth. This is not in any way an accident peculiar
to our planet, but the result of limited sets of possible forms being tested and retested
in the fires of universal physics, chemistry, and predator-prey relations. We are
beginning to discover these limitations as biologists begin to apply physical
principles to biological structures and systems. We are beginning to realize the
power of certain structures or packages of characteristics as we learn more about
evolution and its parallel or convergent production of similar traits. As is now
commonly stated in reference to the two dozen or more independently evolved eye
structures: some ideas are so important that they must independently reoccur many
times. If ETI life forms did not have very similar visual organs situated close to the
brain and above the food-intake orifice it would be an astonishing surprise.
The most convincing trend in biology which will indicate the likelihood of
structural similarity of advanced life forms everywhere comes from the growing
application of physical principles to biology. The field is still largely in infancy but
the initial insights are impressive. Limitations on the variety possible in design turn
out to be far more restrictive than most biologists suspected. The systems of fluid
transport and filtration are based on only 5 and 6 design principles, respectively, no
matter in which life form they appear. An interesting specific example of limited
design is the “fibrewound cylinder,” the commonest skeletal unit on the planet. This
structure appears in plants, many lower animal forms, and some higher animal forms
such as the swimming mammals. It allows lateral bending while resisting
longitudinal compression, a useful combination of flexibility, mobility, and strength.
A particular angle for winding the fibre around the cylinder is most efficient in
balancing these traits. This exact angle evolved several times, let alone the separate
evolution of the structure-at-large (LaBarbera 1986). Mathematics and physics will
apply everywhere. So too will fibre-wound cylinders wound at “terrestriallyobserved
Even large biological categories, such as skeletons, have limited numbers of
designs. A finite definable number of skeletal types has been described and related
to earthly forms. Almost every type turns out to exist on Earth, most of them with
many representatives (Reif and Thomas 1986). The message is this: physics,
geometry, strength of materials limit the number of structural possibilities. Within
these limits a dynamic ecology will inevitably fill each useful structural niche,
usually many times over.
“We are not pretending that the outcome of evolution was fully
determined or predictable, but we want to argue against the supposition
that all things are possible. The same design elements show up again and
again.”—R.D.K. Thomas, Franklin and Marshall University.
84 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDIES
A rather amazing case of structural determinism has been presented in the
relationship between the capacity of mammalian bones to accept stress (before
breaking) and the maximum likely stress those bones will be called upon to
withstand in their owner’s hfestyle. Investigators looked at small mammals such as
rodents, at medium ones such as humans, at big ones such as elephants. All the ratios
turned out to be exactly the same. Somehow the trials and errors of survival in nature
have converged (Reif and Thomas 1986). Balancing all the differences of mass,
activity, jumping, running, fighting, every type of mammalian bone became
designed to achieve the same safety factor: they all can sustain three times the force
they are likely to encounter in their Ufestyles. This is another apparent example of a
powerful order-giving trend governed by basic physical principles, which in this
case makes all bony skeletal mammals astonishingly the same. Similar mathematical
relationships exist for hydrostatic skeletal structures such as tentacles, tongues, and
elephant trunks. Would these same principles apply elsewhere in the galaxy? It is
difficult to conceive why not.
With these encouragements in mind let us address a prominent observable feature
in advanced life forms which some scientists seem ready to doubt in an alien life
form: the number of limbs, two arms, two legs. How really unlikely is it that
advanced intelligent life forms evolving elsewhere will have this famiUar
morphology? A brief examination of our own development of this pattern may offer
some grounds for more than a purely intuitive comment. Life here developed in the
seas and moved to the land. Such a pattern must be the pattern elsewhere as well.
Earthly life in the seas had a long period for advancement before the constitution of
the atmosphere allowed movement to the land. Oceanic life was therefore quite
advanced before any elaborate land life was possible. Given the time scale for such
atmospheric change, this also should be the general pattern elsewhere. Many sorts of
things can ultimately crawl up out of the sea to make a living on the land, but only
the bony skeletal vertebrates were able to support the size, mobility, and potential for
intelligence necessary to be a dominant advanced form. Again, and as we have seen,
it is simple physics. It was therefore the fishes from which came the dominant land
animals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. But what determined the hmbs?
Fish have fins, and it is from the fins that the four-limbed pattern of land-forms
developed. Not all fins evolved. Fins along the midline of the animals simply
disappeared in the land-forms. Why? They weren’t useful anymore. They didn’t help
move the animal, and steering and stability in a dense fluid medium were no longer
relevant. Fins distributed bilaterally in pairs were still useful. Primitive amphibious
landlubbers could paddle and flop themselves forward using such fins in the way we
might use oars in a rowboat. The more out-of-water time spent by the species, the
more effective these fins needed to be as true walking structures. But why “four,”
and not six as in the insects, or eight as in the octopus, or any other number?
One might claim that the major reason for advanced land animals having four
limbs was simply an accident of having evolved from fish having four bilaterally
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 85
paired fins, the pectoral and the pelvic. But fish were not always this way. The
earliest forms had no fins. Later, all sorts of patterns appeared, including types with
more than four bilaterally paired. Such experimentation by nature continued until the
seas became dominated by the pectoral/pelvic pairs pattern. Accidental? Random
chance? Almost no serious evolutionist utilizes such explanations today. This
pattern became dominant because four was, on the average, more useful; it had a
survival advantage. Can we understand what that advantage was?
Any such understandings, like all scientific queries which probe into the past,
cannot be stated with certainty. We can, however, make some reasonable
assessments based on our current knowledge. To start, since all advanced land life
develops from bony vertebrate mobile ocean forms, and such forms are tubal and
strongly “ended” in structure, these developed land forms will be tubal, ended, and
bilaterally symmetric. The likely numbers of fins, which become primitive and
evolved limbs, will be “paired”: two, four, six, etc., rather than three, five, seven.
For all of our advanced forms, the “answer” has been four. A large animal not yet
possessed of a significant intelligence, might benefit on the basis of stability alone
from more than two limbs. But the main reason is simply that having only two limbs
nearly cripples the individual from doing more than one thing at the same time (e.g.,
standing while defending oneselO- But then should not six or eight be better yet?
There are two possible reasons why this may not be true, and as knowledge
progresses, we’ll probably know exactly why four is not only a useful number but a
When an animal is large, every major structure of its body is a major genetic and
energy expenditure, and a major site of risk. It is a place which can be hurt, infected,
and cause death. Adding major structures to a species’ form is a situation, therefore,
which is carefully weighed by nature’s struggle of survival. Six, eight, or
multi-limbed organisms minimize their problems by strategies of dropping limbs or
regrowing them, strategies inconceivable for a large advanced animal, given the
energy and material commitment. Small creatures such as salamanders are probably
at the limit of those which can afford such a luxury. Large land-dwellers need very
strong supportive members. The problems of dispensing with strong joints and
elaboradve circulatory and nervous connections, and then restructuring it all later,
make it obvious why such a large animal is “stuck with” the number of limbs it has
in good times and in bad. More is, then, not necessarily better.
The main factor may be the nature of the brain. A big animal is, in a sense, in more
than one place at the same time. Its brain must be able to independently and
effectively control each of its limbs so as to avoid the most trouble and accomplish
the most gain. The brain seems to be limited as to just how much of this it can do.
Perhaps because of the stress of monitoring and station-keeping labor it does keeping
track of bones; muscles, sense perceptions, and spatial relations in the limbs, or
perhaps because of something even more fundamental about brain structure, the
brain seems not to be able to properly focus upon 6 or 7 things at a time. Four things,
four limbs, seem easily manageable. Five appendages as with prehensile tails or
86 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDIES
elephant trunks, seem well-managed also. But six? At this point the brain seems to
fail. The six-legged world of insects operates on a non-independent 3-up/3-down
“tripod” walking pattern, most of the time. Very little independent control is
possible for the minute brains of insects, and so the complex task of walking is
simpUfied by a six-limbed robotic system with a stable tripod always on the ground.
Instead of six, we might better consider their brain’s task a task of controlling two
sets of three during this apparently complex activity.
The octopus is quite intelligent and seems to do a good job controlling its eight
limbs, thus contradicting our theory. But despite its abilities as one of the Earth’s
best problem-solvers, the burden of controlling eight limbs severely limits what it
can do. Tbntacle movement is extremely complex and most of it must always be left
to unconscious robotic control rather than focused intentionality. So limiting is this
burden, that despite its high intelligence no octopus can learn a maze (Reif and
Thomas 1986). The explanation for this brain-dependent preference for lower
numbers of limbs is not clear, but it seems to be clearly true, and points to why we
have four limbs and not six or more. Does this mysterious “mathematics” of our
earthly brains apply only to our world? Maybe, but considering that the preference
has held so strongly across time and types of species on Earth, one wonders if
something more powerful and universal may be going on.
The point of the foregoing is not to prove anything but to show that, at the least,
the facile dismissal of morphologically similar aliens needs a lot more work than
authoritarian guesswork. A reasonable case can be made that common macroscopic
designs happened here and elsewhere on the basis of simple physics, geometry,
strength of materials, and whatever yet unknown processes limit the controlling
abiUties of central nervous systems. Further arguments might be made for four or
five digits on hands and feet, the arrangement of facial features, basic advanced
reproduction designs, certain patterns of sensory intake and brain processing. But
there are also many areas allowing much room for variation within these larger
structural designs: mass, size, relative dimensions of structures, colors, textures,
secondary sex characteristics, aging and immune system patterns, consciousness
cycles, etc. Exact duplication of an Earth-human by an independently evolved ETI
is indeed inconceivable by any biologist. Such a UFO report would cry out for a
non-independent relationship between the reported “alien” and the reporter. The
first place a researcher would look for such a relationship would be in the
imagination of the reporter. But a report of a morphologically similar but
non-identical alien seems a totally different matter. It is intriguing in fact to note, that
on the facts and reasoning discussed above, these reports tend to agree with those
things deemed likely to be universal, while differing in those things we know may
differ (Bowen 1969; Webb 1976). Such an “inspired” dichotomy might well be
seen as a positive aspect of the reports rather than a reason to dismiss them.
“If we ever succeed in communicating with conceptualizing beings in
outer space, they won’t be spheres, pyramids, cubes, or pancakes. In all
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 87
probability they will look an awful lot like us.”—Robert Bieri, Antioch
College (quoted in Ridpath 1975).
TRAVEL AND BEHAVIOR
Other objections to the study of UFOs and the possibility of extraterrestrial
visitation of Earth have occasionally been used as absolutist rejections of the
concept. Of these, the commonest may be “the inadequacy of space travel
technology” and the so-called “Fermi Paradox.” Both of these have been rigorously
and negatively critiqued, if not wholly dispensed with. A few remarks on each will
be sufficient here, and will serve to develop some views particularly germane to the
A. Space travel. Writings concerned with ETI ahnost always admit that
interstellar travel is not only possible within the limits of what we know and can
project, but that advanced civilizations could probably manage it if they were so
motivated. It should be enough for us to learn from history about the absurdity of
assuming that we know what our absolute technological limits are. But if vague
intuitions about history aren’t enough, we need only to look at the present. Any
serious perusal of the writings of Robert Forward, among others, should convince a
reasonable person that even extensions of today’s technologies could achieve travel
to the nearest stars in travel times of twenty to one hundred years (Forward 1984,
1985). Nuclear fusion designs and lightsails seem most concrete, and anti-matter
engines are much written about as well (Forward 1982; Bond 1977; Winterberg
1983). Certainly we and others will uncover other methods as our knowledge
B. The Fermi Paradox. This conviction that there is little (technologically) to
prevent ETI from traveling to the stars has inspired a “back door” argument that ETI
doesn’t exist. It is an argument of a puzzling sort. It is dominated with peculiar
assumptions, even prejudices, and it fails the test of logic (Freitas 1983ab, 1985).
Nevertheless, it has received an apparently serious hearing in the literature, giving
one some concern about presumptions and prejudices playing overly important roles
in scientific discussion. Perhaps, though, this is better viewed as a healthy
willingness to explore new concepts, however unlikely.
The argument is called the Fermi Paradox, after Enrico Fermi, who allegedly first,
even casually, formulated it. The thinking goes, in its briefest form: a) if lots of ETI
exists, and b) if they can travel from star-to-star in any reasonable time-frame, then
c) because the galaxy is so old and many of these ETI’s comparably old with it, the
earliest ETIs will have had plenty of time to travel to all the stars many times over.
But, since we have no evidence of them visiting here, one of our assumptions must
be wrong. Conclusion: since the case for possible space travel technology seems
secure, it can only be that no such ETI existed in the first place (Tipler 1980; Marun
and Bond 1983).
Most readers will have akeady spotted the flaws in this position, but, especially
88 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDIES
for ufology’s sake, it is useful to point out the major fallacies. The initial prejudice
which is apparent to anyone even mildly conversant with the UFO phenomenon is
the cavalier assumption that we have no evidence whatever which could be
interpreted as ETI visiting this planet. Most serious UFO researchers would be
willing to admit that we have no conclusive evidence for an extraterrestrial visitation,
but to say that nothing in our recent, or even distant, history might be so interpreted
bespeaks of a profound prejudice or ignorance of some kind. In a straightforward
way, the whole thrust of the ETI Uterature should lead one to an intense research
interest in the mysterious elements of the UFO phenomenon, as it is in these
elements that the predictions of the Fermi Paradox reasoners would be borne out:
that is, by every scientific line-of-reasoning, ETI should have visited our system.
Any refusal of interest in investigating the UFO phenomenon, using an ETI concept
as one working hypothesis, should surely be astonishing.
But, for the moment, we may set aside this problem and move on to a second,
equally troublesome one. This second fallacy or unnecessary assumption was
originally hidden between the lines, but is now openly discussed in the body of
Fermi Paradox articles. The assumption begins with the view that, if ETI visited our
solar system, the evidence of these visitations would be overt if not overwhelming.
This rather “science-fiction” vision of ETI activity seems to pervade all thinking by
the Paradox supporters. They seem to have grave difficulty imagining their
ET-travelers as being anything other than colonizers.
When one speaks of “colonizing,” giving “overt display,” or “leaving obvious
evidence about to be observed,” we are talking about behavior, and we are talking
about motivation primarily. Almost everyone addressing the topic admits that it is a
dangerous game to guess what alien behavior and motivation would be, and that
wisdom alone should place the “colonization hypothesis” into perspective as just
one of many possible ideas. A certain sort of reflecting upon possible behavior and
motivation is not dangerous however, if we display the proper attitude. Such
reflection will be objective if we do not arbitrarily select just one motivation or
behavior and then build absolutist conclusions out of that viewpoint. Some
consciousness of alternatives is healthy surely.
C. Alternative ideas on motivations. We can imagine, probably, a nearly endless
run of motivations for ETI meandering the stellar systems, but here we will briefly
assess seven of the most discussed. We won’t delude ourselves that we’ve covered
the scope of possibilities, and we will hope that the discussion serves only to place
ETI and the UFO phenomenon into useful alternative perspectives. The seven
2) Material gain and power;
3) Threat at home;
4) Threat here;
5) Galactic kinship;
6) Religious conversion;
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 89
7) Curiosity and exploration.
The first of the list has already been mentioned as the motivation most debated
(Hart 1975; Newman and Sagan 1981; Singer 1982; Fogg 1986ab). Although it is
possible to envision “colonization waves” being driven by needs other than
population growth, this is the factor which has dominated the discussion. This
dominance is one more oddity in the discussion of ETI, as the choice of population
pressure as a driver would seem to be one of the poorest choices we could focus
If, as most feel, the moving of craft through interstellar space will involve a major
resources and technology effort, then this is not something which will be done either
casually or on a massive scale. A culture wishing for relief from population pressure
will not find it by sending 300 citizens to the nearest star while 300 billion remain
at home. Some other solution will be sought, like population control. Since on our
own planet we have spotted the dangers of overpopulation even at this rudimentary
stage of our development, and most of the advanced nations are vitally concerned
with attaining stable population levels, it stretches credulity to think that advanced
ETIs would not long ago have seen this problem and dealt with it. When you read the
literature you get the intuition that the writers are using this particular motivation
because it allows them to play “number games” (doubling times, filUng times,
expanding colonization waves) and so to make irrelevant “estimates” of how long
it takes to saturate the galaxy based on a veneer of math and implausible
assumptions. It reminds the reader of the drunk and the lightpole. The drunk spends
all his time looking for his lost keys near the hghtpole (despite the fact that he knows
that he didn’t lose them there), because it’s the only place that he can see. The other
more probable motivations do not lend themselves to the mathematical game, so
they aren’t often discussed.
Let us stretch the population problem scenario to its limits by assuming that the
ETIs have developed some absolutist position such as a “sacred priority of
propagation,” and are, therefore, mindlessly spewing out citizens and somehow
surviving all the crises this creates. Even this scenario does not demand colonization
of all Earth-like planets or Sun-like systems in ways that require readily recognizable
extraterrestrial presence. For instance, such a civilization would surely do the easier
task of colonizing its own system thoroughly, prior to launching to the stars. In doing
so, it would learn to live efficiently in space colonies or cities. Should such a
civilization later decide to colonize other systems, eventually entering our own, such
a colonizing group might easily choose to settle in space with the readily accessible
solar energy and asteroidal minerals rather than at the bottom of a difficult
gravity-well on our planet’s surface. They might not even want to risk immersion in
our alien biosphere any more than necessary. In short, they could have been here
many times, and could still be in the solar system, without ever setting up
housekeeping on Earth. And, at our crude level of solar system exploration, it could
be many years into the future before we suspect what has been going on nearby
90 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDffiS
“Following life’s innate tendency to expand into every available space,
technological civilizations will inevitably colonize the entire galaxy
establishing space habitats around all its well-behaved stars. The most
reasonable place in our solar system to test this possibility is the asteroid
belt, which is an ideal source of raw materials for space colonies.”—
Michael Papagiannis, University of Boston (1983).
The point of this speculation is that being absolutist about any of these scenarios
makes no sense. Many possibilities are readily imaginable. The second scenario,
material gain or power, is really an analog of the population problem. If it is truly
difficult and expensive to travel star-to-star, then this possibility makes even less
sense than the first. Mass freighting of some relatively abundant universal
constituent seems inconceivable, and the specialty freighting of some rare
commodity (genes? humans?) seems a poor return on the investment if this is some
economic game. And could some power-mad tyrant want to go out and conquer
star-systems just for the kick of it? Maybe. But if such existed, how many would be
required to saturate the galaxy? And, each would have to spawn generations of
power-mad successors to keep the “power wave” expanding for several millions of
years. And, how does one hold “The Empire” together with the most isolated
chains-of-command imaginable? Most tellingly, we know that this bizarre idea is
irrelevant for us anyway. Despite Hollywood, no conquerors have arrived.
A third possibility is threat-at-home. This we can divide into two: a specific threat
prejudicial to a small group, or a cosmic threat against the whole system. Hi-tech
pilgrims in their fusion-powered Mayflowers may leave the stifling repression of
home worlds for freer spaces, but this is a piecemeal effect not likely to give us the
sustained continuity of expansion necessary to cover the stars of the galaxy. And our
space-faring pilgrims may also be no more interested in planetary surfaces than our
generic colonizers discussed earlier. A more certain occurrence would be the flight
occasioned by rare but inevitable coincidences of an advanced civilization lying
about an unstable sun. Would such a civihzation meekly accept its end or make a
heroic effort to reach safe havens in the stars? Of all the mass movement scenarios
this seems the most necessary, although the cosmic coincidence needed to inspire it
should be exceedingly rare. Such people would be a reluctant group of colonizers
seeking a long-lived star, and stopping their expansions after one great wrenching
jump. If one’s own Sun did not happen to be the nearest stable neighbor to such a
tragedy, there is little reason to expect visitors from such a cause (San 1981).
What if we comprise a threat of some sort? Such may seem another bit of human
egocentrism, but perhaps not. We are constantly reminded that we are competitive,
xenophobic, and violent. We are also curious, inventive, and risk-taking. We
understand nuclear power and the rudiments of space flight. We have been very fast
to accelerate into a high-technology lifestyle. How fast and how far will we go?
Recently there has been talk of “relativistic rockets,” devices which might approach
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 91
the speed of light. Science fiction? Maybe, but who knows when we will “turn over
the right rock” and discover the key secret to make it a reality? Such a device would
participate in the relativistic effects of objects moving at very high speeds, including
tremendously increased mass. Relativistic rockets have been called “planet
crackers,” a doomsday weapon, the “gun” that makes all civilizations equal
If you were living around a nearby star, you might well want to know what we,
your neighbors, were like. Once you found out, you probably would want to keep
track of us, while keeping a low profile yourself. Depending upon your level of
interspecies ethics, you might be sitting “out there” right now, weighing our
existence in the balance, hoping that we learn how to behave properly, or just
paranoically biding your time until you give up on us and pull the trigger. Many such
paranoia scenarios might be possible, but they all call for one alien behavior:
ultra-secrecy. The last thing a worried civihzation wants to do is give itself away. A
larger organization of civilizations might not feel as threatened, but still be
concerned. In such a scenario more genuine concern over the survival of dangerous
but fledgling species could be evidenced out of both self-interest and a sort of cosmic
This leads us to a possibility of some galactic kinship group, oft termed the
“Galactic Club” (Bracewell 1975). Such an alliance is pictured as an association of
advanced civilizations who oversee the maturation struggles of species such as ours.
This overseership could be driven by anything from total self-interest to total “moral
duty-to-others.” Within that spectrum can be imagined any amount of overtness,
ranging from nearly-total quarantine (the so-called “leaky embargo” hypothesis) to
blunt intervention. Once again the point is: this possibility allows an ETI presence in
the Solar system in a variety of levels of covert activity with, however, some
purposeful interaction or manipulation (Tough 1986).
Only certain extremes of alien motivation would demand overt display, and one
such extreme relatable to the above is the sixth scenario: religious mission-work. It
has been reasoned that if interstellar travel is as difficult as it seems it should be, then
only extreme survival pressures or powerful “matters of the spirit” would motivate
ETI to engage in the task. One of the things that has made blood run hot here on
Earth has been religion and the desire to bring one’s truth to others no matter what
the sacrifice. Such an interstellar apostolate is quite conceivable, but it is difficult to
conceive as other than an overt interactive mission. Since nothing like that is
happening, we are left only with the unlikely situation of a “conversion by stealth”
to an alien thought-system. Subtle persuasions through hidden means: an
excruciatingly slow method for evangelization. This possibility, despite the claims
of some UFO contactee groups, seems irrelevant to reality as we currently find it.
The last possibility is the one this author finds most congenial and most likely,
hopefully on more than purely intuitive grounds. This seventh scenario is motivated
by curiosity: the desire to explore. It is a motivation that strikes a responsive chord
in most of us because it is the motivation which has primarily driven our own space
9 2 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDffiS
excursions. There is little question upon listening to our spacecraft designers and
“high frontiersmen” that if (when) Homo sapiens goes to the stars it will be because
we want to know what’s out there. Curiosity, for us, is a powerful “matter of the
spirit” which is one of those irrational urges which disregards economics, security,
and other practical values and plunges forward anyway. Curiosity is the driving force
of Discovery. As such it would be the same motivator that pushed any technological
civilization forward in the development of its elaborate tools.
But is there any reason other than intuition and the history of our own species to
give better validation to this idea? Perhaps there is. First let’s try logic. Imagine any
life form in any situation. To be able to behave appropriately (to survive), the life
form must have some means of either altering its situation to move toward (become
more involved with) something, or of altering its situation to move away (become
less involved with) something, or of maintaining its present situation. We might call
such abilities “exploration,” “flight,” or “stasis” in common language, or, if we
were psychologists, “novelty seeking,” “harm avoidance,” and “reward dependence.”
For an intelligent species, the triggers for these instincts would be located in
the brain and serve as the foundation of behavior. It has been said, loosely and
without any depth of analysis, that alien intelligence would never share any
behavioral similarities with our species. Yet logic, simple deductive reasoning,
indicates that the foundation stones of behavior must be the same three universals,
one of which is closely related to, if not identical with, curiosity (Cloninger 1988).
Now that the tools of science have advanced enough to let us probe the physics
and chemistry of the brain, psychologists are moving beyond the limits of external
observation of behavior and are beginning to apply the physical sciences to their
discipline. Some of these researchers have akeady shown that a chemical trichotomy
serves to facilitate the three foundation stone behavioral drivers just described. These
researches delineate a “Behavioral Activating System,” related to impulsive and
exploratory activity, driven by the critical consciousness-alerting hormone,
dopamine. A second “Behavioral Inhibiting System” relates to caution and shyness,
and is driven by the major sleep-state controlling hormone, serotonin. The third
“Behavioral Maintenance System” relates to dependency and conservatism, and is
inversely driven by the main energizing hormone, nor-epinephrine (Cloninger
We have known that these three neurotransmitters (brain hormones) are vitally
importantto behavioral stability for some time. Imbalances in these chemicals have
been accused of producing certain schizophrenias, depressions, hyperactivity, and
neuroses. We are just now realizing how fundamental they are. They go to the roots
of behavior, and one of them is the activator of what we see as a biological essential
relatable to the ETI story: curiosity, exploration, novelty-seeking. Species
everywhere should seek novelty, avoid harm, and conserve the good. If we were to
assume the absence of a powerful curiosity and exploration instinct in ETI, we
assume that they are missing one of the three required instincts of life forms. Would
their level of curiosity be strong enough to take them into the stars and ultimately to
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 9 3
us? No one, of course, can say. But if they do come, they will come with curiosity
and a sense of exploration among their other instincts.
UFOLOGY AND SCIENCE
The discussions of this paper have argued for the following:
a) There are billions of proper suns, planetary systems, and life-bearing
worlds in our galaxy.
b) It is extremely probable that many of these systems evolved
intelligent life-forms, some much earlier than our own.
c) It is extremely probable that some of these civilizations still exist, and
possible that all of them still do.
d) It is extremely probable that some, if not all, of these life forms are
based upon a physical structural format similar (though not precisely
identical) to our own.
e) It is extremely probable that some, if not all, of these advanced
civilizations have the means, albeit with difficulty, of traversing ‘
f) And, it is essentially a certainty that these advanced life forms have
several instincts/motivators/behaviors in common with Homo sapi- i ‘
ens, one of which (curiosity) may be particularly germane to such
If there are scholars who do not agree with the arguments upon which the above
conclusions are made, they should at least agree that each of the points is possible,
not inconsistent or forbidden by scientific information as we know it. A perfectly
congenial scientific working hypothesis might be: advanced extraterrestrial visitors
have reached our solar system and may still be here. Though not identical, they have
much in common biologically and psychologically with our species. They are partly
motivated by curiosity and (scientific) exploration.
This is the classical “ET hypothesis” from ufology. When stated simply without
the extensive previous discussion, it is often disregarded ad hoc or even derided.
However, we have seen that it is an eminently defensible and scientifically
respectable beginning hypothesis. We see its respectability in the growing interests
of scientists in closely related research. There is the large upsurge in interest and
programs for detecting ETI by radiotelescopy by the Drake-Sagan school of
explorers. Other astronomers have suggested that an intensive exploration of the
asteroid belt, looking for space colony-dwelling ETI, is in order (Papagiannis 1983).
The famous “Face on Mars” and the “Pyramids of Elysium” are intriguing
(DiPietro and Molenaar 1982). Some established scientists have mused that they are
probably natural but just maybe not (Sagan 1980). Another researcher has scanned
the Earth-Moon Lagrangian gravity-well points for possible alien artifacts (Freitas
94 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDffiS
1983ab; Valdes and Freitas 1983). No true scientist disapproves of these
investigations as being outrageous, laughable, or beneath scientific dignity. Nearby
stars, the asteroid belt. Mars, the Lagrangian points: how much closer does
“respectable science” have to come to Earth itself before UFO research is accorded
“The supposition that we are alone in the solar system is based
essentially on the assumption that if others were here they would have
made contact with us, or at least we would have become aware of their
existence. Neither of these assumptions, however, is true, though it is
possible that some of the thousands of UFO sightings might deserve
some further consideration.”—^Michael Papagiannis, University of
The ET hypothesis is an acceptable concept to be weighed alongside others in the
analysis of UFO phenomena. UFO phenomena, like any other natural (physical,
biological, psychological, etc.) events, are acceptable subject materials for research.
The only question can be: is this research being pursued properly?
As J. Allen Hynek was fond of saying, the science of ufology is the analysis of
UFO reports (and any attendant artifacts or other remanent features). As in any
fledgling science, the primary duties of researchers have been data-gathering,
data-clarification, and pattern-finding. These are the classical first steps of the
scientific method and much of the effort in ufology has been directed properly to just
this work. Many patterns were found (e.g., times of sightings, population density
relationships, witness numbers and types)(Hynek 1972). Some patterned subsets
were discovered. Some of these led to known but somewhat unsuspected phenomena
(e.g., rocket booster re-entries). Some of these led to rare or possible new natural
phenomena (Persinger and Lafreniere 1977). And some led to intriguing unsolved
puzzles (e.g., motor vehicle engine interferences, Rodeghier 1981; and ground
markings, Phillips 1981).
Beyond the pattern-finding step, scientific methodology requires testing or at least
some form of pro-active observation to proceed further. However, as in many
non-laboratory sciences, variables were difficult to control and replication was not
possible, in general. Occasionally, as in photographic analysis work, labwork has
been possible, and has often been pursued with high standards (Maccabee 1988).
Scientific deductions based upon the available patterns are possible in part, but as the
phenomenon is idiosyncratic regarding time of appearance (and as no one seems to
be able to produce the phenomenon on demand) only the crudest predictions can be
made and checked (see Persinger 1981 for a creative attempt at this).
On the other side of scientific methodology (researching causal agencies, rather
than patterned behaviors or “laws of nature”), hypotheses for “why” the
experiences are as they are obviously can and have been made. The ET hypothesis
has been one of many hypotheses weighed in the pursuit of explanations. “Lying,”
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS 95
“misperceptions,” “confabulation,” “psychiatric problems,” and “unknown
natural phenomena” are several of the other hypotheses always taken seriously by
the better UFO researchers: a fact proven by the vast majority of UFO reports being
explained by those same researchers. True control of variables is not possible in all
of the hypotheses (especially the more extraordinary ones such as the ET
hypothesis). As such, testing and scientific deduction aimed precisely at these
possibilities has not yet been fertile. However, in any given case, all of the
hypotheses are theoretically falsifiable, and, in each explained case, all but one has
been falsified. And this is not a trivial point in a fledgling science wherein one case
bears no necessary relationship to any other. Science must permit piecemeal testing
of cases or no new field of science could begin.
Beyond this, some cases have resisted explanation by the airay of “mundane” or
“ordinary” hypotheses, and yet are consistent with extraordinary ones like the ET
hypothesis. They do not prove the hypothesis, as “hard,” unambiguous lab-testable
evidence does not exist for any such case. Such cases, therefore, present the scientist
with flaws. By definition, since they are unexplained, diey lack sufficient data. They
may lack data because the data was not able to be uncovered, or because the witness
or the researcher were not clever enough to uncover it, or because the methodology
used in the case has somehow clouded the data. Certainly all of these situations exist
in the vast numbers of cases in the field. But the conclusion of a scientist should be
this: if cases exist, flawed or not, which resist explanation in ordinary ways, and
which are consistent with extraordinarily interesting alternatives, these reports
constitute an area worthy of scientific research. Even if all of the reports and all of
the past researches are flawed in some form or another, this statement still stands.
Ufology is, after all, a difficult field to “surround,” and thereby difficult to research.
It is eminently interdisciplinary, and taxing for the narrowly trained investigator. Its
complexity should be recognized and approached with proper humility by the
skeptical commentator as well. But the difficulty of the field is not a reason to
abandon the field or to oppose the reasonable work of those who choose to pursue it.
Comparing the scientific approach of J. Allen Hynek to the scientific charade of
the so-called Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects headed by Edward U.
Condon (Hynek 1972; Condon 1969), an outstanding U.S. scientist wrote in Science
(the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science):
“On balance, Hynek’s defense of UFOs as a valid, if speculative,
scientific topic is more credible than Condon’s attempt to mock them out
of existence. The fact that Hynek was granted no NASA or NSF support
at all for study of UFO’s can be regarded as a rather dismal symptom of
the authoritarian structure of establishment science. It is also disappointing
that Science, which has earned the respect of U.S. scientists and
occasionally the enmity of U.S. bureaucrats by providing an independent
forum for controversial views, failed to publish a responsible rebuttal
to the Condon report, treating it instead as a news item. As a result, the
96 JOURNAL OF UFO STUDffiS
substantial criticisms raised by Hynek now were not adequately aired
then. Thus, from this juror’s point of view at least, Hynek has won a
reprieve for UFO’s with his many pages of provocative unexplained
reports and his articulate challenge to his colleagues to tolerate the study
of something they cannot understand.”—Bruce C. Murray, California
Institute of Technology (1972).
In the view of this current author, this situation has not appreciably changed.
Hynek’s articulate wisdom and his cases remain, the public attitude of official
science has remained cool to hostile, and Dr. Murray’s enlightened tolerance has not
been followed by his peers.
There have been many goals of this paper and many issues treated. The following
general positions have been defended:
a) The UFO phenomenon is a proper field of scientific study.
b) Some UFO researchers have proceeded with the elementary first
steps of the scientific method in a proper fashion.
c) Some UFO researchers have pursued the more advanced steps of the
scientific method properly, albeit with the difficulty expected in a
complex, uncontrollable, de novo science.
d) The ET hypothesis is a proper alternative hypothesis for use in
evaluating UFO reports.
e) Reasonable scenarios within the ET hypothesis are consistent with
debated and puzzling characteristics of many unexplained UFO
And, concerning the possibility that an advanced ETI civilization could be visiting
our planet, it is easy to conceive why the following specific characteristics of the
UFO phenomenon would follow:
f) UFO experiences would not be able to be controlled or easily
predicted by Earth scientists.
g) UFO experiences might be deliberately made confusing whenever
total secrecy was not possible or desired.
h) “Good” (related to ETI) UFO cases would be relatively rare, buried
within a multitude of mundane experiences.
i) Some UFO experiences might appear to be deliberately “staged” to
accomplish some specific purpose.
j) “Magical” or “impossible” characteristics of some experiences
might rather be manifestations of ultra-advanced technology accord-
SWORDS: SCIENCE AND THE ET HYPOTHESIS ‘ i n g to the “Clarke Law” of the impact of such technology on relative 97 primitives.
k) Occasional awarenesses or subtle programmed information might be
transferred, but never concrete physical evidence.
These last comments are highlighted simply as a reminder that the rejection of some
reports, or the whole study area, on the basis of “absurd or confusing content” is
another inappropriate attitude in this ETI context. Such a list as above may be a bit
depressing for the scientist who would much rather be the controller than part of the
controlled, but it is a possibility well within our concept of the universe and what
could be going on around us.
“I cannot presume to describe, however, what UFOs are, because I don’t
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Richard Thieme is interviewed by Matt Nie on WBSD Radio, Burlington Wisconsin, on June 23, 2013, about the recently published book “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry” to which Richard contributed. Nie’s questions in the half hour interview are excellent – concise, sharp, right on the money. The file below is in MP3 format for easy listening and easy downloading.
Fox Point’s Richard Thieme discusses UFO research book at North Shore library
By Danielle Switalski
May 20, 2013
Fox Point — “Excuse me, can you tell me what a typical UFO looks like?” Fox Point resident Richard Thieme asked a random woman at Stonecreek Coffee on Port Washington Road last week.
“Isn’t it kind of a disc shape?” she replied.
Turning back to his interview with North Shore NOW, Thieme said, “Everybody knows what a UFO is.”
That image of a UFO has circulated around the world for years and Thieme says there’s a reason for that. Thieme was a member of a team that spent five years researching historical documents and requesting public records relating to unidentified flying objects. Ultimately, the team authored “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry,” a 600-plus page book with nearly 1,000 sources that documents the phenomena and how the military and intelligence communities responded to it from World War II to the present. The book is not about what a UFO is, or where it originated from, rather it is about the government response to, and how they developed policies, around the phenomena.
“You will pick up a lot of information about UFOs along the way because they responded to something real,” Thieme said. “There’s nothing in here that is speculative, it’s all documented and it’s about the government primarily and how the government responded to the phenomena.” Thieme, a speaker by profession and past English literature professor with two master’s degrees, is giving a presentation on the book at 1 p.m. Saturday at North Shore Library, 6800 North Port Washington Road.
The public is welcome to attend to hear an in-depth discussion on UFOs and their relationship with the U.S. government.
Thieme is a contributing writer and editor to the book meant to serve as an academic resource.
“There was a lack of robust historical research,” Thieme said of the topic. “The field had been so discredited that it has become taboo in academia to even treat it as a social or cultural phenomena and we wanted to show that it was worthy of serious, historical study with robust scholarship.” A look into history
The government was getting credible reports from credible people about things flying in the sky back when the U.S. Air Force first formed decades ago, he said. In his experiences, when people describe what they have seen, they generally describe exactly that.
“They were surprised to find it was real and the reports came from credible pilots, radar operators, multiple witness accounts,” he said. “When you get those reports by the thousands, literally the thousands, from all over the world, then you know they are corroborated.”
The book details documented reports using data from sensors early on, which led to the formation of Project Sign, a U.S. government study to look at unidentified flying objects. During the time when the Cold War was gaining viability, Thieme cited national security concerns as the reason why the government became tight-lipped about the phenomena.
“It became a threat in terms of what could be done with it and the best thing that could be done with it from our point of view was to damp down concerns in the American population and they chose to do that by dismissing it, ridiculing it and denying that it represented something threatening or something real,” Thieme said.
There were three explanations for censored data reports of UFO sightings early on: American, Russian or extraterrestrial, he said.
“We show how they eliminated the first two,” Thieme said.
It has been 60 years of gradual desensitization to the phenomena, which Thieme said is exactly what the government wanted.
From intrigue to reality
Thieme first became interested in the subject in 1978 when he worked as a priest in an Episcopal parish in Utah. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was in theaters. Thieme was sitting in the church basement, speaking with a man who was a friend, a parishioner and a decorated fighter pilot. At that time, Thieme said all he ever knew about the topic was what he read and he told his friend “you chase them and you can’t catch them.”
Thieme’s friend confirmed this sentiment.
“Instead of being fun, interesting, intriguing, it was real,” he said.
From that moment on, conversations about the subject of UFOs with people from all walks of life began and have continued ever since. Thieme went on to read everything he could about the subject and sought leaders in the field. It all came to fruition when Thieme was asked to participate in the research project.
For the last 20 years, Thieme has worked as a speaker, discussing an array of themes and topics at different venues with different audiences around the world, including Def Con, a computer hacking conference. He has spoken in Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland, Wellington, Dublin, Berlin, Amsterdam, The Hague, Israel, and all around the United States. He wrote numerous pieces of fiction and non-fiction before tackling the nonfiction research project “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry.”
from Josh Corman, facilitator of the interview:
Dan Geer is CISO of CIA’s In-Q-Tel and a LOT of other things as well.
RT is an author and speaker.
The SOURCE Boston Keynotes are up on YouTube.
University of Wisconsin –
University Research Park
Wisconsin Medical College
Cardinal Stritch University
Mount Mary College
Wisconsin Lutheran College
Purdue University – CERIAS
Technology, Literacy and Culture Distinguished Speakers Series of the University of Texas
Nathan B. Stubblefield Distinguished Lecturer in Telecommunications Systems Management at Murray State University, Murray KY
University of Calgary, Calgary Alberta – “Design Matters” Lecture Series
Illinois Institute of Technology
Loyola University – Chicago
Milwaukee Area Technical College
Gateway Technical College – Racine
Chippewa Valley Technical College
Waukesha County Technical College
University of Chicago Club – Milwaukee
Phi Beta Kappa – Milwaukee Chapter
It’s Identity, Stupid
by Richard Thieme
Published n Cyber Defense Magazine at RSA March 2013
We know that identity is a critical issue for security practitioners, but have we really grasped that identity has become THE existential issue for life in the early 21st century?
Academics write scholarly tomes on morphing personas and juggling online personalities; counter-cultural spokesfolk like Jacob Applebaum in his 29C3 keynote articulate a perceived need for learning how to erase tracks that linger in the snows of cyberspace; traffic analysis and those from whom and to whom the traffic moves requires more and more storage, faster and faster processing.
But it’s deeper than that.
The fact is, we live among a multiplicity of nested identities that are linked and simultaneously morphing, identities that we determine at the comment of both contemplation and action because the decisions we make about being and thinking and doing determine the clusters of thoughts and actions that in turn determine HOW WE ARE PERCEIVED by Others – and the other may be Big Brother, or one of many little brothers gathering, parsing and selling our data, or casual friends who interpret who they think we are unselfconsciously as they engage with our symbolic presence – also on the fly – and assume and presume us to be who they think we are (see: phishing).
Identity – from that of “the individual,” a social construction, post-renaissance, post printing press – to the citizenship we reference as our primary source of being-in-the-world – is on the move. And because those levels are nested and linked, a change in one means a change in the others, the way pulling a side of a rhomboid on a computer monitor alters the area and the shape, yes, but above all, the relationships of the parts to each other and to the perceived whole. And it is relationships that determine the whole, even more than what is related. Relationships frame what we think we see, more than the things we thinn we see, and those who know this and achieve mastery and control over most behaviors in that regard, rule the identity space – which is now the space of offensive and defensive activities alike.
But it’s worse than that.
Implicit ethical and moral dimensions emerge from new social and cultural structures as a result of ongoing technological transformations, so any discussion of ethics – that is, the right or appropriate behavior in any given context – in relationship to the implementation of new technologies, must take into account these multiple dimensions. The philosophical and religious systems that permeate society are also undergoing transformation, which means that prior paradigms have become chaotic seas of uncorrelated data in transitional cognitive spaces. The frames in which emergent properties, new patterns of data, and new emergent selves – beyond “individuality” – all live and move and have their being, are not yet clear, nor do they have names we can use as if we all mean the same things by our words. We still call these vehicles for self-expression “horseless carriages,” as it were, using terms that are fading from sight, and have not yet found a way to talk about “driving” and “automobiles.”
All this is most evident in the world of security and professional intelligence.
Post WorldWar II, R&D in the intelligence community and military spheres have shared responsibility for creating technological engines that have transformed human identity and therefore the Kuhnian paradigm in which we frame possibilities for action. Action means options, and options mean ethics. (As I said, I define ”ethics” as options that are most congruent with our core notions of identity, self, integrity, and “the right thing to do.”)
Definitions of everyday reality—privacy, security — continue to be transformed by technologies of surveillance, information, and communication. Those technologies are invisible frames because we live inside the picture, so if we define ethical issues in the context created by prior technologies then we derive familiar recognizable and comforting concepts as a result, but ones that no longer fit the real-life context created by new technologies. Our ethical decisions are inauthentic. We deceive others, yes, but first we deceive ourselves. That is the heart of the problem.
Between times, we live in the fog of war. In a world which posits terrorists (i.e., enemies of social and economic order) as the Other, the mind of society is the battlefield. Images and ideas are the primary weapons, and the means by which they come into being and move through human networks is the subtext of all security. The paradigms we use determine the questions we are capable of thinking and asking. The formulation of relevant questions may be more important than the answers.
Let me highlight a few key concepts:
(1) Information security as one task, both offensive and defensive, of the intelligence community sanctions breaking foreign laws while prohibiting similar activities on American soil. We have no friends or allies “out there,” only targets (and maybe “in here,” too). But simple distinctions of “foreign” and “domestic” no longer hold. The convergence of enabling technologies of intrusion, interception, and panoptic reach, combined with a sense of urgency about the counterterror imperative and a clear mandate from our leaders to do everything possible to defeat an amorphous non-state entity defined by behaviors rather than boundaries, borders, or even a clear ideological allegiance, has created an ominous but invisible set of conditions that undermine the previous cornerstones of law, ethics, and even religious traditions.
(2) Identity is a function of boundaries. An “individual self” defined by a boundary around biological processes and the complex of energy and information radiated by those processes is undermined by the erosion of those boundaries by the use of connective technologies.
(3) Security, privacy, and intelligence gathering are corollaries of individual and national identities and how they relate to one another.
(4) Security is a function of boundaries. Boundaries define the “other” that threatens “us” and “us” is a felt experience of clan, tribal, and societal kinship still. Prior to the emergence of writing and the religions it facilitated, the “enemy” was the “Other.” Ancient societies defined enemies as non-members of our tribe. After writing, the enemy became – e.g. in Christianity– that in ourselveswhich must be fought, resisted, or transcended. This shift in consciousness was a result of emergent technologies of writing.
When the enemy is “within” the body politic, defined as an element that threatens societal order and economic well-being, defined no longer as a nation-state that threatens our political existence as a nation state, then the distinction between criminals and terrorists or religious/political dissenters and supporters of terrorism blurs. Accordingly the tools considered appropriate to their identification and neutralization will blur.
We continue to speak of ethical norms in relationship to the cultural past as if it is still the context of our beliefs and actions. We speak of individuals as primary moral agents. We speak of nation states as primary determinants of our collective identities. We speak of the intelligence mission as if “we” who live inside one nation are intercepting or penetrating or subverting the technical processes and social dynamics of others who are also “inside” the boundary of a nation state that defines them.
Those distinctions no longer hold.
(6) Current technologies make speaking of interception obsolete. Boundaries between elements of the network, between the networks that make up the network, are arbitrary and porous. We live in a world without walls. Every attribute of a process or structure that broadcasts or transmits information about itself by any means can be detected, often at the source. Often enough, those who built the system in the first place engineer information to come to them. “Here” and “there” are distinctions without a difference.
(7) Identity at a fundamental level is therefore transformed. Digital identities can be appropriated, yes, but more than that, we invent them on the fly and determine at the moment of thought or action or execution to which matrix of equally transitory and transitional attributes we are related as a node in the network. Our identities exist as potentialities made actual by our intention at the moment of action. They are the equivalent of quantum states, fixed only when expressed.
Identity in relationship to security is a matter of observationand not assertion. Only multi-level observation penetrates the skin sufficiently to reach the meta-level determined by actions which may support or contradict identity-assertions.
(9) As boundaries go liquid, the task of defining appropriate behaviors in relationship to moral norms becomes difficult because the phrase “moral norms” is a metaphor for the context that is generally invisible to members of a society but not to sophisticated security professionals, an elite sanctioned to manipulate those underlying norms on behalf of ends considered important enough to justify a variety of means to achieve them.
Security and intelligence professionals exercise an implicit, de facto thought leadership because they create structures that bind and inform society and civilization. They create frames of human behavior that determine how we think about ourselves as possibilities for action. Their real implicit charge is no longer “to defend and protect a nation” but tostabilize a world.
The dire possibility of societal disintegration elevates the moral responsibility of the security and intelligence communities to a higher level. Linked in cooperative activity, they are responsible for maintaining social and global order at a level of understanding far beyond that formulated in the past by any one nation. These communities in the aggregate constitute a global community of practitioners who share an ethos and modalities of operation not available to ordinary citizens; they have thereby created for themselves an intrinsic vocation or calling to maintain global order in a way that is consistent with the ethical norms and moral order articulated by the great cultural traditions even as those traditions are also transformed by diverse technologies—and even though they and we recognize that in practice that moral order and those ethical norms are often violated as a matter of practice.
Well, this is but the beginning of a conversation. No one said it would be easy, did they?
A Short List of Selected Resources on UFOs
UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry (Anomalist Books: 2012) by Dr. Michael Swords, a retired professor who taught at Western Michigan University for 30 years, and Robert Powell, with co-authors Clas Svahn, Vicente-Juan Ballester-Olmos, Bill Chalker, Barry Greenwood, Richard Thieme, Jan Aldrich and Steve Purcell – from reviewers: “This is the best book about the UFO phenomena that was ever written” and “UFOs and Government is a triumph of sober, conscientious scholarship unlikely to be equaled for years go come”
The UFO Encyclopedia : The Phenomenon from the Beginning (2 Volume Set) by Jerome Clark. Omnigraphics. 1998. – The best by a serious thoughtful scholar. The two volume set is superior to anything in the field.
The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial by Jerome Clark. Visible Ink. New York. 1998. An abridged version of the encyclopedia.
The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry by J. Allen Hynek (1975, reissued Marlowe and Company 1998) - A plea by an astronomer and respected scientist for the scientific method to be applied to UFO data, with clear criteria for doing so, above all, eliminating reports from consideration which can not be analyzed appropriately.
The controversy over unidentified flying objects in America: 1896-1973 by David Jacobs (Thesis – University of Wisconsin, Madison: 1973) – A historical review for a Ph. D. in history by a man who became a professor of History at Temple University and – much later – immersed himself in the study of abduction experience. Until “UFOs and Government,” the best history of the subject available, although now dated.
The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Edward J. Ruppelt (Ace Books: 1956) – (compare first and second editions) – a thoughtful reflection on his experience as an early head of the USAF Project Blue Book. Still one of the best resources.
The UFO Evidence – Volume 2 : A Thirty Year Report by Richard H. Hall on behalf of NICAP (The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena) is a classic, with numerous incidents analyzed and a taxonomy of vehicles reported by witnesses. This edition (if you can find it and afford it) is best. Hall also wrote Uninvited Guests (Aurora Press. 1988), a popular account.
The UFO Enigma by Dr. Peter A. Sturrock. Warner Books. 1999. and A Tale of Two Sciences: Memoirs of a Dissident Scientist. Exoscience: Palo Alto CA. 2009. – Two mature, thoughtful works by a recognized physicist whose fine work with plasmas was in the open and whose research with UFO and other anomalous phenomena was not. The latter book documents his frustration with trying to do science which was not acceptable to the academy. See my review at www.thiemeworks.com.
The Myth and Mystery of UFOs by Thomas E. Bullard (University Press of Kansas: 2010). A fine scholarly work which emphasizes the social and cultural contexts of UFO experience and reports in relationship to history and myth. The emphasis is on how a percept travels through humans –bodies, communities, frames of thought, constructions of reality – and is transformed along the way into acceptable concepts. The author concludes that the phenomena is real, compelling, and demands serious investigation and study.
CE-5: Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind by Richard F. Haines, Ph. D. (Sourcebooks Inc. 1999) – A compendium by a NASA psychologist of encounters that suggest intelligent interaction between anomalous vehicles and people. Haines has also documented encounters by airline pilots and produced a compendium of 3500 cases. (google NARCAP for details and other publications)
The Missing Times: News Media Complicity in the UFO Cover-up by Terry Hansen. Xlibris: 2000. – A journalist explores the failure of the mainstream media to cover the phenomena in a serious way.
Unconventional Flying Objects: A Scientific Analysis by Paul R. Hill. Hampton Roads Publishing Company. 1995. A veteran at NASA, he was allowed to collect reports inside the agency for years on the condition that he keep it quiet. His daughter posthumously published this attempt to understand the physics of the characteristics shown by anomalous vehicles within the constraints of science that had not yet advanced to a level appropriate to account for the reported data.
Incident at Exeter. John G. Fuller. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1966. A popular account of a major incident. It all depends on the reports and data, of course.
The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders. The New Press. New York. 1999. (published in the UK under the title “Who Paid the Piper? by Granta Publications. – Nothing on UFOs here but illuminates methods and covert action by the early CIA in the realm of the social sciences and art worlds. Good for contextual understanding of the CIA in the 1950s-1960s.
The Cash-Landrum UFO Incident: Three Texans are Injured During an Encounter with a UFO and Military Helicopters by John F. Schuessler. (Self-published 1998) A well-documented incident which calls into question the accountability of government units to or for physical injuries during an unusual experience which may have involved radioactivity.
Encounter at Buff Ledge: A UFO Case History by Walter N. Webb (J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies: 1994). A fascinating account of an abduction experience recalled independently by the two who experienced it. The result of ten years of thorough, serious, responsible investigation, this incident ranks with the Hill case and the story of three women in Stanford, Kentucky in 1976 (http://ufos.about.com/od/bestufocasefiles/p/stanford.htm) for those interested in the abduction phenomena. Also see the Betty and Barney Hill case in 1961, the Pascagoula MS incident in 1973, and the Travis Walton incident in 1975.
Google or read at www.thiemeworks.com:
“How to Build a UFO … Story” by Richard Thieme. originally published in Internet Underground and anthologized in numerous collections.
“Are There UFOs on Mars?” by Richard Thieme, at www.thiemeworks.com, with a collection of interviews
CHOICE: a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries. A Division of the American Library Association. www.choicemag.org
CURRENT REVIEWS FOR ACADEMIC LIBRARIES
FEBRUARY 2013 VOL. 50 NO.06
SOCIAL AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES
History, Geography and Area Studies
The following review appeared in the February 2013 issue of CHOICE.
UFOs and government: a historical inquiry, by Michael Swords et al. Anomalist Books, 2012. 580 p. ISBN 9781933665580 pbk. $29.95
The bibliography of the UFO phenomenon is vast but often dreary. This straightforward study of the limited topic of government responses to sightings of UFOS–unidentified flying objects–is an exception. The idea that UFOs had extraterrestrial origins (a hypothesis not favored by governments) is only one of the many explanations the authors discuss. Although UFO sightings have supposedly occurred throughout history, the modern UFO phenomenon had its origins in the final days of WW II. Initially, Western officials feared that UFOs were NAZI or Soviet technology. Cold war fears caused the US and other governments to obsess about the national security implications of UFOs. Scientific investigation and transparency were only occasionally part of the response. Combined with inconsistent government policies, the response resulted in confusion and suspicion, which inspired conspiracy theories. Although these nine authors are part of the UFO community, they are not advocates of fringe theories. Their narrative is firmly based on the available sources. The writing can be dense and sometimes convoluted, reflecting the military sources that form the evidence. A useful resource for the study of a controversial topic. SUMMING UP: Recommended. All levels/libraries. — R. Fritze, Athens State University.
“UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry” is an exceptional and exciting book. Written by the UFO History Group – serious researchers and historians composed of Swords, Powell, Svahn, Olmos, Chalker, Greenwood, Thieme, Aldrich and Purcell – it brings analytical complexity of the UFO phenomena from World War II up to current days. Their work stands on the shoulder of facts, official documents, and sterling sources. The book is focused towards military and intelligence circles and describes in detail their long-term struggle on how to handle the unwanted problem of UFOs. If only the phenomena could simply go away and leave them in peace. But it persists, without mercy, over and over again. Historical treatment of the official UFO research within the United States is presented with great care along with the controversies that followed projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book. Years passed. Different officials within different policies tried to deal with the issue, one way or another.
It was especially interesting to compare official policies with the internal notes of Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, former head of project Blue Book and who wrote a classic book “The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects.” “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry” brought extended treatment to General Cabell’s 1951 meeting, which was mentioned only in passing in Ruppelt’s book. Notes from the meeting show that Cabell demanded a serious approach regarding UFOs. Ruppelt previously described in his original book that “every word of the two-hour meeting was recorded on a wire recorder. The recording was so hot that it was later destroyed.”
It was impressive to follow the chapter on the Colorado Project which caused the closure of the USAF investigation of the phenomena. Audiotaped lectures from the CUFOS archives of Robert Low to the JPL at Caltech from October 1967 shows how strong the subject was polarized between personal opinions and official inertia. This chapter is a great companion piece to previous works of Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s “The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry,” David. R. Saunders’ “UFOs? Yes!: Where the Condon committee went wrong,” and Wendy Connors’ audio set “Faded Discs.” Documents and facts from Sweden, Australia, Spain, France, Belgium, the former Soviet Union and Brazil, emphasized the international context of the whole problem.
In the Australian chapter, the Sea Fury radar-visual incident with UFO from August 31, 1954 was presented. The pilot was instructed by air-traffic control to turn his airplane in a circle for identification. That maneuver showed that his aircraft was discernable from two other close targets. A similar radar-visual case, that I am personally aware of, happened at the end of 1970s in the former Yugoslavia where a pilot was also instructed to turn his aircraft through a maneuver for identification purposes. At that moment, the UFO accelerated towards the aircraft almost causing a collision. The case involved AIRPROX which implicated aviation safety so it was interesting for me to compare similarities between both cases.
The book also explains the unique situation in France because their official UFO research program, from GEPAN, SEPRA to GEIPAN, is located within the French Space Agency CNES where a scientific approach is applied. Although the official UFO program in the United States was terminated after the review of Condon’s committee, other programs in other countries are still active. It can be argued that due to the lack of direct experience in the UFO field, countries that are still in the UFO business, will encounter the same obstacles and in the end, they will draw the same conclusions that Project Blue Book did. On the other hand, France is already 35 years into the UFO field, which is 13 years more than the length of the entire Blue Book mandate. Official projects and investigations of these complex aerial phenomena are ongoing, and that is the fact.
This book can serve as a perfect briefing document for every government employee, military analyst, non-commissioned officer, officer and researcher which could be, or already is, confronted with this issue. France has GEIPAN; Chile has CEFAA; Uruguay has CRIDOVNI; Argentine has CEFA, etc. If any employee of those projects, or any other serious scholar from any other field, will need a historical broad overview of the UFO phenomena, this book will provide a great service. If this issue will ever become academically recognized in the unpredictable future, “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry” should be an obligatory literature at those colleges. My opinion is that this is the best book about the UFO phenomena that was ever written.
Former Military Intelligence SIGINT operator, Croatian Army
Journalist and Writer
UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry
A Book Review By Jerome Clark
Among the most discussed issues in UFO history, dating back to the advent of flying discs in the latter 1940s, are these: What does the U.S. government know about UFOs, and is it concealing earth-shaking secrets?
The issue formed the core of the first two UFO-themed books ever published, Behind the Flying Saucers by Frank Scully and The Flying Saucers Are Real by Donald Keyhoe, both from 1950. In Keyhoe’s view the Air Force had deduced that saucers were visiting from another planet, probably Mars (which even astronomers then thought a possible abode of an intelligent race), from its analysis of sightings by reliable observers including its own pilots and other trained personnel. Scully’s book, based on what turned out to be bogus claims by two notorious grifters, anticipated later allegations that UFOs had crashed and been recovered in New Mexico. Scully’s yarn was situated near Aztec, not near Roswell, but the tale was the same in its broad details: extraterrestrial craft, alien bodies.
Today, according to the occasional poll taken on the subject, even the casually interested American is likely to suspect that the government knows more about UFOs than it’s willing to own up to. It’s hardly irrational to harbor suspicions of that sort. Decades of puzzling sightings from credible citizens of all conceivable backgrounds – sometimes backed up by multiple or independent witnesses as well as sophisticated instrumentation – render so dubious the routine official denials that one can easily conclude that government sources are being much less than forthcoming. It’s also true that the Air Force and its Project Blue Book resisted furiously – and successfully — when a civilian group, Keyhoe’s National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), lobbied for Congressional hearings on UFOs in the late 1950s and 1960s.
These facts and considerations have generated a considerable literature, most of it more speculative than factual. At one end are relatively conservative Keyhoe-like notions; at the other extreme are stories of government/ET contacts and comparable face-to-face interactions. Roswell-based theories are somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
For those curious about these things, UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry by Michael Swords and Robert Powell (San Antonio and Charlottesville: Anomalist Books, 2012, 579 pages, $29.95, paperback) ought to be required reading. After all this time it is possible to glean some perspective on what governments, our own and others, have and have not done about the UFO sightings that came to their respective attentions. Most of this fat volume is taken up with the history of American officialdom’s UFO policies and practices, but other chapters interestingly survey related matters in Sweden, France, Spain, and Australia.
The authors – Clas Svahn, Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos, Bill Chalker, Barry Greenwood, Richard Thieme, Jan Aldrich, and Steve Purcell also contribute in a secondary role – draw on the extensive documentation that has become possible through releases of documents by various governmental agencies. Interviews with those willing to speak on the record supplement the paper trail. What results is as thorough and accurate recovery of the record as is possible in the early 21st Century.
The story is a riveting one. Americans, of course, will be most concerned with what was happening within our national boundaries. The answer: a whole lot of deeply puzzling sightings versus many years of official apathy punctuated with active hostility. Official interest was (and it is correct to refer to it in the past tense) sporadic, lasting at a perhaps too-generous estimate no more than three years. The first official body to take on the problem, Project Sign, decided after a few months of inquiry that the flying discs were probably extraterrestrial in origin – which was definitely nothing its Pentagon superiors wanted to hear. The succeeding Project Grudge, barely active for much of its existence, devoted its time to minimal investigation while conjuring up absurdly inadequate solutions to reports. Between late 1951 and mid-1953 Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt led the project, retitled Blue Book in March 1952, and tried to do the job right. These were Blue Book’s golden years, never to be repeated. From then on, it was full-tilt debunking until the project shut down in 1969.
The full history of those useless years is still a fascinating one, however. Those looking for sinister government machinations can find it in the recommendations of the CIA’s Robertson Panel, which convened for less than a week in January 1953 but laid down recommendations that drove official policy forever afterwards. The panel’s scientists dismissed the reality of UFOs practically on the spot, but they thought sightings and beliefs influenced by reports constituted the true menace to national security. The panel urged that people be discouraged from making those reports by manipulation of popular opinion, and it advocated the monitoring of private UFO groups. Sightings would be quickly explained, and even if people didn’t stop making them, they would at least be discouraged from talking about them.
How American officialdom went about doing its dismal deeds comprises much of the narrative of UFOs and Government. If it’s discouraging, sometimes infuriating, reading, the book is yet full of life and color. The heroes are few, albeit not nonexistent, and the villains are many. The drama never flags, even when the good guys – those who advocated real investigation and empirical analysis – are frustrated at nearly every turn by Blue Book, the Pentagon, and an insanely compliant press which embraces official pronouncements, however spurious or laughable on their face. Meanwhile, the book continually highlights mostly little-known, seriously enigmatic, yet well-documented reports which make it depressingly clear what was not being accounted for or addressed all the while.
Before this, only three books have sought to address the official history in a responsible, grounded fashion: Ruppelt’s The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (1956), David M. Jacobs’s The UFO Controversy in America (1975), and Lawrence Fawcett and Barry Greenwood’s Clear Intent (1984). UFOs and Government supersedes all of these fine works, not only by bringing the story up to date but by filling in the early record with what we have learned since.
How could this have happened? How could what is surely destined to be seen as among the major scientific questions of the 20th Century been so irresponsibly neglected? UFOs and Government can’t answer that question, which will take up a fair amount of space in the future literature of science, sociology, and psychology. At least among military and intelligence decision-makers , however, it appears reasonably evident that once they observed that UFOs didn’t act like an imminent threat, they could be ignored while more pressing Cold War anxieties consumed policy-makers’ attention.
Of course, nobody wanted to put it that crassly when so much of the public was demanding something more substantive than rote statements of rejection. So eventually, often unconsciously, an evolving mind-set declared that UFOs were being essentially ignored because the sightings didn’t amount to anything – a judgment the military was not actually entitled to make, but which it did anyway because contrary pressures (from civilians and UFO organizations) could easily be contained. As for the dismissive scientists, no excuse is imaginable, and history will render its verdict, sure to be harsh, in due course.
Where does this leave intriguing controversies like the Roswell incident? UFOs and Government handles that question as well as any astute observer could, with agnosticism. Yes, it concedes, the official explanation (a balloon employed in a secret intelligence experiment) is unconvincing to most. At the same time, no evidence exists that so colossal an event as the recovery of an alien spacecraft affected official policy, which it would have pushed in a radical direction. To every available appearance, Roswell and its aftermath vanished into a black hole. If something is being covered up, whatever that something is, it remains for all practical purposes invisible. It doesn’t play a role in any detectable history.
UFOs and Government is a triumph of sober, conscientious scholarship unlikely to be equaled for years go come.
“UFOs and Government.”
As many blog readers will be aware, I facilitated a team of Adelaide based researchers (members of the Australian UFO Research Association) who looked for, located, and documented the file holdings of the Australian government, between 2003-2008. I now continue this work as an individual, as I slowly find more and more files in the National Archives of Australia. It is for this reason, as well as others, that I looked forward to reading a new, scholarly, work titled “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry” written by members of the UFO History group, and published in 2012. The publisher is Anomalist Books of San Antonio, Tx, USA. ISBN is 19-33-66-55-80. My copy was courtesy of a member of the group, Jan Aldrich.
Members of the Group:
A little rundown of the group’s members is in order. Jan Aldrich is formerly of the US Army; Bill Chalker is a renowned Australian researcher who was one of the first to get a look at Australian government files; and Barry Greenwood is co-author of the groundbreaking book “Clear Intent.” Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos worked with the Spanish government’s Air Force to review their files for public release; Robert Powell is MUFON’s Research Director; Steve Purcell is a member of MUFON’s STAR field investigation team; Clas Svahn is vice-chair of the Archives for UFO Research; Michael Swords is a board member of CUFOs, and Richard Thieme is an author and speaker. As you can see, the list of contributors to this work, speaks volumes about the serious nature of the quality of the contents.
The major portion of the book is dedicated to the exploration of the phenomenon by various elements of the US government. 13 of the 20 chapters of this massive 580 page book relates to the US experience. However, this work starts with two chapters which discuss pre 1947 events in non-US countries. The first delves into World War Two observations of what came to be known as “foo fighters.” The second takes a look at the Scandinavian “Ghost Rockets.”
This introductory material paves the way for an excellent, in-depth review of the US government’s actions (and inactions) regarding what started off as “Flying Discs.” We read of the formation and demise of Projects Sign and Grudge; of reports during the Korean War; and the official response to the 1952 Washington events.
There were some surprises for me in this book. In Feb 1950 the US Navy presented an intelligence analysis on the subject. The book states “This is a mild surprise to modern historians because, although it has been known that the Navy was getting copies of Air Force reports at least since late 1948 the existence of a formalised method of UFO case analysis by Naval Intelligence has only been suspected.” (p.90.)
“The CIA solution:”
Chapter nine was of particular interest to me, as I had previously read much material on the involvement of the CIA. “The CIA analysts viewed the Air Force handling of the UFO problem as honest but inadequate.” (p.175.)
Chapter 12 “Something Closer This Way comes” reminded me that the American experience, up to that stage, was one where the “unknowns” were in the air and not on the ground. This was opposed to the 1954 experience in France where many close encounters on the ground were being reported. This, to a degree, set the US government’s responses in context.
The classic Nov 1957 Levelland, Texas, “close encounters” with multiple events, met with a limited USAF response. Lt Col William Brunson’s reports included “…would suggest that Saucedo was unreliable, the sheriff had seen lighting and electrical storms, and Neville Wright must have encountered a rare case of ball lighting.” (p.254.)
NICAP v the USAF:
The saga of the civilian group NICAP versus the USAF is examined in depth, telling the story of NICAP’s use of the political arena to push for serious research. The book provides a far more in depth exploration of this era than most others. We read of the characters on both side of the debate.
Moving into the 1960′s we come to chapter 14 “The Colorado project” and find strong support for the fact that the Project lacked a proper, scientific approach. In an interesting twist, this lack of scientific rigour “…awakened many academics and intellectuals, and they came, at least briefly, out of the closet with their interest.” (p.332.)
With the release of the University of Colorado report came the demise of the USAF “Project Blue Book.” “…the defense function could be performed within the framework established for intelligence and surveillance operations without the continuance of a special unit such as Project Blue Book” said the USAF. (p.336.)
The final chapter of the US involvement, chapter 15, takes the story from 1969 through to the “Stephenville lights” of 2008. “Government agencies continued to be interested in the phenomenon, as we have seen.” (p.349.) The Roswell incident was responded to by the USAF in two reports “The Roswell Report: Fact versus Fiction in the New Mexico desert,” in 1994, and the 1997 “The Roswell Report: Case Closed.”
The government response in some other countries has been different to that of the USA.
In chapter 16 “The Swedish Military’s UFO History” we learn of the interaction between the official Swedish Defence Research Institute (FOA, now FOI) and the civilian group UFO-Sweden. “This cooperation and sharing of information between a civilian UFO group and a military UFO desk is unique.” (p.371.)
As regards to the Australian experience “The Australian response was more of a middle ground,” (p373) between the USAF’s no official program from 1969, and the UK’s, secrecy. Bill Chalker competently covers the RAAF’s involvement, together with the early efforts of the Department of Civil Aviation. Harry Turner’s extensive investigations and role, are well set out. A number of well known, and not so well known Australian cases, are documented, together with the official Australian response.
Chapters 18 and 19 set out the government’s response in Spain and France respectively. “Historically speaking, two stages are distinguished in the performance of the Spanish Air Force in the UFO business: (a) secrecy (1962-1990) and (b) disclosure (1990-1999.)” (p.437.)
In France, science studies the phenomenon, not the French Air Force. “The support provided to GEIPAN by the French government illustrates the significance that one of the world’s major powers places upon the scientific understanding of the UFO phenomenon.” (p.453.)
Finally, chapter 20 takes a brief look at the government’s response in Belgium, the Soviet Union and Brazil.
The book’s Epilogue includes “This is exactly our conclusion – many UFO incidents have occurred and are documented in the governmental sources, for which no obvious explanation was, nor is, available.” (p.469.)
My final thoughts:
“UFOs and Government” is a thoroughly, well researched and enjoyable read. It makes a magnificent contribution to our knowledge of global governmental response to the phenomenon.
I heartily recommend it as an essential part of any serious researcher’s library.
The Milwaukee Malaise – What We Can Do About It
by Richard Thieme
Published online (jsonline.com) by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in response to responses to The Milwaukee Malaise February 1 2013
To call for systemic change when our culture – like all cultures – resists change with all its heart and soul is arguably a fool’s errand. But when the risks of not engaging in creative change in intentional, focused ways are as daunting as they are in a world of perpetual change, the risks of engagement are less than the risks of hunkering down. The rate of change itself is accelerating as the IT revolution sustains change in many other areas – biotech, nanotech, materials science, space technologies, transportation – to an unprecedented degree.
Hence this response to the many responses to my op ed on “The Malaise of Milwaukee” on January 27.
The most spirited rebuttal came from Tim Sheehey of the MMAC. I found myself nodding in agreement with many things he wrote – there are dedicated people in Milwaukee, which I never denied, including both of us, doing everything we can to make a positive difference in our collective life. There are creative thinkers and bold actors like Howard Fuller and others who stand out in his list of names.
But they are exceptions that prove the rule. That they stand out is precisely the point. In a culture like the ones, for example, in Silicon Valley, Austin Texas, or Boston, there is such a matrix of creative people and bold actors that they do not stand out. The culture itself supports and generates them, and it is the culture itself – the matrix of values, incentives, and rewards and the actions and behaviors it mandates – that many of us have concluded lacks the leadership, vision, and incentives to bootstrap itself into new ways of thinking and new possibilities for meaningful action.
Sheehey names some of the trees, in other words, while I am speaking about the forest. What he calls a “broad brush approach” is, less pejoratively, the Big Picture, the very thing that Robert Galvin, in my example of how one might inflect behaviors and therefore the culture of a large company, addressed so effectively.
So let me suggest what other responders requested, some things we might do to create a context for creativity and innovation.
(1) The “vision thing” is essential. “Without a vision, the people perish,” and the shared vision called for by Ellen Gilligan of the GMC is needed to “true us up,” as a means of accountability to our goals and intentions.
(2) That vision must be articulated clearly and repeatedly. During times of change, anxiety is a natural response. Fritz Perls, the father of gestalt therapy, said that excitement is anxiety plus oxygen. Our fears can be transformed by the continuous statement of the positive outcomes we intend. Nothing else penetrates the force field of “I can’t hear you” that anxiety and fear create.
Why IS change so difficult? Because a strategy of generalization, quick conclusions and not-changing often works. To simplify our view of the world and hold it against evidence to the contrary has helped people survive. Better to be wrong – it was a branch snapping in the wind, not a tiger – than be eaten
What does leadership look like in such a context? A friend who kayaks in raging rivers said, “When you look at the rocks you hit the rocks. But when you look at where the water flows, you go where the water flows.”
Leadership is seeing clearly and saying clearly where the water flows. People will know the truth when they hear it and be grateful to go where the water goes.
My friend also said, after practicing karate and mistakenly hurting a friend one night who tapped his shoulder, “Make sure that what you practice is what you want to do, because what you do when you don’t have time to think is what you have practiced.”
(3) These thoughts lead to the three-legged stool which I believe supports all successful organizations. mutuality, feedback, and accountability.
Mutuality means learning, working, and acting in concert, because we can’t do it alone, Business or labor, government or private citizens, any single niche alone will skew toward the self-interest and distortions of its members. Cross-talk broadens the perspective.
Feedback must increase in the face of radical change. Feedback loops inside any system and from that system to other systems calibrate our plans to what is really happening. Since what is happening is rapidly changing, more and more feedback is needed to align our path with our ultimate intentions, like sailors tacking back and forth across the wind.
Accountability requires frequent alignment of our actions to our clearly stated intentions and goals. Without it, we drift. A minor difference in direction if left uncorrected can result in being many miles off course.
(4) We can face courageously the fact that our culture – mostly rooted in eastern and northern European immigration. although changing as American changes - has assimilated us like the Borg in Star Trek and deeply influences our choices and behaviors, often unconsciously. That’s just how cultures are. Margaret Mead said it took her a full year to learn as much in a new culture as she learned in a week because of unconscious assimilation This means:
(5) We MUST listen to “outsider” voices because they see our culture in ways we cannot. Robert Galvin said that when a group gathered to discuss a challenge, if it agreed at once on a solution, it was always wrong. That’s because the solution was a jigsaw puzzle piece that fit the collective groupthink that had developed in the past. Note that this insight – and its corollary, that all breakthrough ideas that changed Motorola for the better began as minority opinions – came from a legendary businessman who knew his stuff.
Therefore we must build in an openness to heresy. All great ideas, as G. B. Shaw said, begin as blasphemies.
(6) All of this suggests a multiplicity of approaches must be used, not just one. We continue with mobilization of what already exists – the GMC, the MMAC, artistic organizations, non-profits, political leaders. But that won’t be enough. We need alternative routes, too. Lincoln said, when you come to a stump in the field, plow around it. We need heterodox approaches powered by people who do not exercise “structural authority” currently. Organization, the canny use of powerful technologies (as the Obama campaign illustrated), the willingness to believe –bear fruit.
(7) It begins and ends with reality – the courage and will to look at what’s happening “out there” as well as “in here.”
And what is reality? Reality, said Philip K. Dick, is that which, when we stop believing in it, refuses to go away. New global structures – meta-national corporations, dissolving boundaries, new forms of warfare, technological engines that redefine human identity, political realities that require us to stop using the frames of the twentieth century as if they alone persist – make up that reality. Only the incorporation of everything we learn in cross-disciplinary ways will enable us to forge a future for the city we love with intentionality and power.
The Milwaukee Malaise
Published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel January 27 2013
An old Far Side cartoon depicts a dog on a tightrope, balancing a cat on his head, hoops spinning on his paws, above this caption: “High above the crowd, Rex tried to remain focused, but he couldn’t shake one nagging thought: He was an old dog, and this was a new trick.”
Welcome to Milwaukee.
It’s not that our leaders – politicians, executives, union heads, deans – don’t understand the issues that challenge us. Study after study by outside consultants confirm that Milwaukee lags behind other cities in promoting growth in helpful ways.
We know that our leaders understand because they respond with the right sound-bites, insisting they are addressing the issues. But calling a lamb’s tail a leg doesn’t make it one, as the old joke goes, and calling our situation a “Milwaukee Renaissance” doesn’t make it one either.
The Milwaukee malaise is not that we don’t know what’s happening. We have studied it to death. The problem is that we don’t do anything meaningful about it. “Not try. Do!” as Yoda said—but do something more than have committee meetings, issue policy papers, and commission more studies, all of which change nothing essential.
After 25 years in Milwaukee, I think I know why we’re stuck. And I’m part of the problem.
When people like life the way it is, they may give lip service to changing things, but why should want to?
In 2004, I keynoted the Governor’s Conference on Economic Development. The conference celebrated “Making Waves: Bold Strategies for our Economic Future.”
I asked the audience: who wants more traffic? Who wants higher prices? Who wants a longer commute, longer lines in stores? Who wants more noise?
No hands went up. People laughed. No hands would go up now, either.
THAT’S OUR PROBLEM. A lot of us like it here just the way it is. We don’t see how we can make changes that would address our real issues without changing who we are and what we have.
We don’t WANT to be like L. A. or New York or Atlanta or anywhere else where dense traffic, noise, congestion, and higher prices make life less enjoyable … but those places also have extraordinary resources and dynamic environments that attract smart diverse risk-taking kinds of people. That’s why it’s noisy there and so quiet here we can u-turn in the middle of downtown.
We say we want what they have but don’t want to pay the price. So we don’t create a context in which businesses and industries in the 21st century can succeed.
Our leaders feel no real incentive to create bold strategies or make even a single wave. As long as elected officials do not threaten the status quo, they are re-elected again and again.
The people in that audience nearly a decade ago –successful, mostly male, mostly white – are the kinds of people who have historically exercised leadership here. Because they have prospered in life-as-it-is and carved out comfortable geographic enclaves that enable them to avoid the behavioral sinks that fester in the invisible city, they can raise tinkling glasses of self-congratulation and enjoy the good life.
They do not feel the pain that compels people to do things differently. And until our leaders feel that pain and are motivated to use their power to create a context more aligned with twenty-first century realities, nothing will change.
I have lived in Milwaukee for 25 years. I have watched with frustration as leaders in other midwest cities – Indianapolis, Minneapolis, now Oklahoma City – unite to formulate plans for the future and forge ahead with economic incentives to make them happen. I have listened as Milwaukee metrics are cited, time after time, that quantify our malaise. But we refuse to implement the strategies that work elsewhere. We refuse to forge the alliances that generate creative change.
Perhaps a more oblique approach might work.
Robert Galvin was a genius who built Motorola into a powerhouse. At one point, he wanted to see then-newfangled “quality initiatives” implemented throughout the corporation. But it didn’t work when he lectured about it. Old habits were not dislodged by words. So Galvin chose a subtle approach.
He attended meetings at which lower level managers made presentations. As soon as the presentation involving quality had been given, he left.
He did that until the message sank in: the boss cares about quality. If you want him to listen to your ideas, you better make them part of a quality presentation.
Everyone learned to present their best ideas in the “total quality” slot.
Behaviors change when people pay attention to what they really care about. Meetings led by “nice guys” do not move people to action. Despite our moralistic pronouncements, we are all motivated by self-interest, and unless we see our self-interest tied to bold initiatives, why should we embrace them? Why make waves when we prefer still waters?
Will this kind of approach work? Who knows? But we might as well try this and any other approach that might make a difference. Until we break through our denial and rationalizations, until the comfortable are genuinely afflicted and the threat of doing nothing gets personal – the malaise will continue, columns like this will be written, consultants will thrive—and the change that happens will not be the kind we need or want.
Living in a World Without Walls
Published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel September 16 2012
“You have zero privacy,” Scott McNealey, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, said in 1999. “Get over it!”
He wasn’t kidding. Privacy is gone. But ordinary people do not yet “get” the full implications. We still live as if it’s the middle of the twentieth century.
McNealey’s statement was made in the middle of an IT revolution that transformed our lives. In a way, that revolution is over. Information technologies will not stop advancing – the internet is disappearing into cars, homes, clothing, even inside us – but more important, that revolution is accelerating revolutions in all other areas -– biotechnology, nanotechnology, materials science, neuroscience, space exploration, and more.
It is embedded in every domain and accelerating progress in all of them. And because IT is transparent, because computers are in more and more things the way the electric grid is the power behind appliances, users are not conscious of the consequences of their day-to-day transactions.
Those who gather massive amounts of data and and analyze it gain the ability to manipulate our lives in ways we don’t see, feel, or understand. They analyze transactions on a meta-level, using billions of transactions to find patterns and respond to them in real time. They store the details of individual lives. They aggregate that data with a click.
The patterns of our lives make us predictable. Those who know what we buy, what or where we eat, how or where we travel, how we vote, can capture us all like real birds in a digital cage, then move the cage, and we won’t even know it.
I have worked closely with experts in information security, hacking, and professional intelligence for twenty years. The world they inhabit is not the world experienced by most people.
A friend who has worked at the National Security Agency for decades says, “People are not asking the right questions,. They need to ask, how do we live in a world without walls? How can we live vibrantly? How can we free our minds [from the constraints of the past]?
The ways we think and behave, he is saying, are framed by technologies which become the context of our lives and disappear into background noise.
Older people still speak of “going on the internet” and “making telephone calls.” Younger generations do not see the internet or think of handheld computers as “telephones.” Global connectivity 24/7 is just what’s so. That they broadcast everything about their lives is also just what’s so.
In addition, since 9/11, our interpretation of the Constitution and how it applies has also changed radically. Warrentless wiretaps and collection and storage of the data of our lives by governments is another fact of life. It doesn’t matter which administration is in the White House. Intrusion and surveillance, from linked pubic and private networks, from cameras to massive databases, are now embedded deeply.
When meta-data from, say, cellphone transactions, is analyzed, the analysts know more about us than we know about ourselves. Researchers at MIT, for example, detected flu symptoms before students knew they were sick, using patterns of movement and duration, They knew when two people were talking about politics, despite not knowing the content of the conversation.
And when you read a book on your sexy new “pad,” the publishers know what books you finish, how long it took, and what you immediately download next (this is why more trilogies are being published; addicted readers of melodramatic formulaic fiction tend to order the next installment right away).
“People look like little particles that move in space and occasionally communicate with each other,” says Northwestern University physicist Albert-Laszlo Barabast in a Wall Street Journal feature on smart phones
It’s hard to worry about privacy or other ethical issues from that God’s-eye perspective.
Software to monitor online activity has become so inexpensive and the means of implementing technologies of surveillance so universal that every country in the world today can observe every single electronic transaction that takes place inside its borders.
A friend works with telecom companies to develop policies that will enable them to cooperate with governments to intercept communications. “Will we ever be free from this level of intrusion?” I asked.
Oh Richard, she said, her voice suggesting I was a naive child. Of course not.
Can we, then, prevent misuse or abuse? Can we establish levels of accountability that protect us?
The answer to that question, based on human history, is not good. Every technology is dual use, and humans will employ them across the entire spectrum of possibilities.
That leaves on the table only the question posed by my friend at NSA: how do we free our minds from the past? How do we live in a world without walls?