Michael Swords on the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis

by rthieme on August 28, 2013


Box 31335, Chicago, IL  60631
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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.




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Journal of UFO Studies, n.i. 1. 1989,67-102

© 1989 J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies






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.



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





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

psychological insights.

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.




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




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




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).




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

star formation.


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




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

Prinn 1984).


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




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

life-bearing planets.


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




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




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

beti-ue: ^


“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




intelligence has developed earlier and farther, while the other half are

barren or underdeveloped” (quoted in Ridpath 1975).




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;




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





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;

Gould 1978).


“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




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 1977).


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 > ,

maintaining itself),

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,




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 . ”




“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.




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




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).




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.




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.




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?

(Radinsky 1987).


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




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

demanded one.


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




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




probability they will look an awful lot like us.”—Robert Bieri, Antioch

College (quoted in Ridpath 1975).




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

UFO phenomenon.


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




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

motivations are:

1) Colonization;

2) Material gain and power;

3) Threat at home;

4) Threat here;

5) Galactic kinship;

6) Religious conversion;




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

(Papagiannis 1978ab).




“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




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

(Pelligrino 1986).


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




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




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.




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 ‘

interstellar space.

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




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

equal dignity?


“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

Boston (1978a).


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,”




“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




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

know; but I can establish beyond reasonable doubt that they are not all

misperceptions or hoaxes.”—J. Allen Hynek (1972).




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© 1989 J. Allen Hynek Cenler for UFO Studies

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