RE: Article on “The Physics of UFOs”

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RE: Article on “The Physics of UFOs”

Post by Johnny-space » Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:04 pm

I was disappointed to read the recent Skeptic article on “The Physics of UFOs” (volume 17, number 3). It was simplistic and misleading, and employed a rather biased “straw man” argument, which is something that should never appear in a skeptical publication.

For the record, I do not quibble with the calculations summarized in the article; I’m sure they are correct. Nor do I believe that UFOs are the result of alien visitations. Rather, my quarrel is with the approach the author uses to supposedly “prove” that “alien spacecraft cannot exist”.

The author posits only one option for an alien visitation—a single spacecraft launched on a return journey from a nearby star system—and implies that nothing else is possible. He may be right, but the final word on that will not be written in our lifetimes. Other options are certainly imaginable, and the physics of such possibilities should be considered when making a blanket statement like “alien spacecraft cannot exist”. For starters, the journey could be one-way, or it might employ a generation starship whose energy requirements would be quite different from what was presented in the article. The aliens involved might have vastly different life-spans from our own, or even be machine-based intelligences (artificial or uploaded). The alien ships might arrive by way of a wormhole-like shortcut, or the visitation could be the result of robotic probes that drift from star to star and, upon locating an inhabited planet, grow “little green men” from stored genetic material and send them down to mutilate cattle and kidnap members of the local intelligent species. Fanciful notions to be sure, and certainly “impossible” by the dictates of present-day science, but are they truly impossible? Time—and not the author’s calculations—will tell.

Finally, is it really necessary for someone who sees an “unidentified flying object” to worry about the physics of space travel? Does a witness to a crime have to solve the crime before reporting it? Of course not. All a witness need do is honestly describe what he actually saw. Obviously, he shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that a strange light in the sky has to be an alien spaceship, but that’s beside the point.

The author suggests that UFO sightings should “be evaluated with the attitude that alien spacecraft cannot exist”—which, I would say, most assuredly is “closed mindedness”. Instead, one’s attitude should be that the UFO is incredibly unlikely to be an alien spacecraft; heck, for all we know, they could be time travellers. This is no mere semantic tweak; it is nothing less than the proper balance between skepticism and open-mindedness.

I’m afraid that the author has fallen afoul of Clarke’s first law: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.” To me, this suggests that alien spacecraft most likely do exist—even if not in the here and now—which is a rather comforting thought for those of us who feel alone in the universe. ;)

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Austin Harper
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Re: RE: Article on “The Physics of UFOs”

Post by Austin Harper » Fri Oct 19, 2012 2:13 am

Good response, Johnny. Have you considered sending it in to the magazine? They occasionally do publish rebuttals to their articles.
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Martin Brock
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Re: RE: Article on “The Physics of UFOs”

Post by Martin Brock » Fri Oct 19, 2012 11:40 am

I agree. You have a legitimate, skeptical point. I'm curious to see the author's argument against the possibility of interstellar space travel for any sort of being anywhere. The 'zine's Star Trek fans will be disappointed.
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