SocraticGadfly: But Aliens! NOT!! Maybe Russia's new "F/A-18"

July 14, 2021

But Aliens! NOT!! Maybe Russia's new "F/A-18"

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about what Daniel Brito wrote about the latest UFO brouhaha, and I of course see him as "representative of a class." (Turns out, contra the initial header, that the Russky plane-in-development that may have triggered some alleged UFO spottings by US military pilots is not an F/A-18 knockoff, but an F-35 Lightning II. Now that we've got Russian air show spottings, see below for why indeed this could be the trigger.)

With that in mind, and since, within that piece, as an addendum, Poynter interviewed some not-so-skeptical skeptics, including, surprisingly for not being more skeptical, Keith Kloor, I'm doing a part two about the social psychology, sociology and related issues as well as physics and more.

First, on the physics.

It would be incredible, simply fantastic, for a civilization to develop astro-ships that could travel at one-tenth the speed of light, or 0.1 c. The energy such a civilization would be expending in general, even with genius-level economies and conservations, would have a massive electromagnetic spectrum "signature" that would surely be visible outside of its home star's spectrum. (Dyson spheres, if real, encompass a star to harness its energy, and would actually make a planetary electromagnetic signature MORE visible.)

Given the variety of telescopes we've had in Earth orbit for 25 years or more, and with none detecting such a signature, I think it's very safe to say no such civilization exists in the 25 light-year range established by that. Period and end of story. (The "25 years" is a round number; I didn't do web searches for the date of launch of every atmospheric telescope in all different portions of the electromagnetic spectrum in which they have been launched.)

Related to that? From Wired, among other things on this issue, Adam Mann talks to actual astronomers! (We'll get back to him below.)

Here's an excerpt:

But before rushing off into such flights of fancy, it might be good to consider that another group of sky watchers, astronomers, rarely report seeing unidentified aerial phenomena. “No one would be happier than astronomers if UFOs turned out to be alien spacecraft,” says Andrew Fraknoi, a retired astronomer and member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), which promotes critical investigation of extraordinary claims. “Imagine getting to talk about astronomy with creatures that traveled through the stars.”

Mann has more in that vein, with further comments from Fraknoi, at the link.

Heck, 0.01 c would be incredible. (In all of this, I'm rejecting Star Trek's warp drive and other science-fiction ideas of trans-light travel as being, well, science fiction and not science fact.) And, per my comments above, a planet achieving this level of development would also, surely, have a visible electromagnetic spectrum "signature."

A planet more than 25 light years away, with this skill level, would take 2,500 years to visit Earth. Or ANY planet 25 light years away from it.

NOW, we're going to get into sociology, psychology, and related issues.

Given that Earth as of this time does not have THAT level of "signature," that this planet does, and given the 0.01 c constraint, given that Earth 2,500 years ago had basically ZERO human-based "signature" at light, infrared or other radiation lengths, WHY would our planet be a target for ANY aliens?

Answer: It wouldn't.

We have zero, zip, zilch, nada, to teach them, from anything I can see. We couldn't even teach them not to be idiots, since a civilization this much more advanced than ours would already have avoided human idiocy. Per the Sargon episode of Star Trek-The Original Series (all future ST references will also be TOS, and normally by generic names, and specific episode titles), while we humans are arrogant, we haven't reached Sargon-level arrogance at the time he and the rest of his species wiped out their planet, in essence. So, nothing to teach them.

So, why else would SO advanced a civilization come?

The "Apollo" or "Who Mourns for Adonis" episode postulated that ancient aliens became ancient human gods. Well, Erich von Däniken was wrong in reality, and besides, we see no "worship me or die" aliens around here any more.

Are they here to teach US something? Well, no aliens have gone to Biden, Putin, Xi or the UN General Assembly and said, here's how you stop climate change: Do it or die.

Nor, to postulate aliens not just ego-hungry, but hungry period, and to change TV shows, have any aliens like those of Twilight Zone's "To Serve Man" dropped in to herd humans into their "cattle truck" UFOs. (And, why wouldn't some aliens be that diabolical? Or maybe, just that resource-exhausted on their home planet? That said, contra Rod Serling, they'd probably dispense with niceties and just put a bunch of humans on dry ice after stunning them.)

So, contra Ralph Blumenthal at Poynter, this idea that aliens would drop in on John Q. Public for a cuppa coffee with a humanoid is laughable. But it IS a sign that, if not mental illness in the narrow sense, "Apollo" level egos among John Q. Public humans on this issue are quite real.

Speaking of "Apollo," let's turn this around to Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11. If we knew the Moon had sentient life, Neil and Buzz wouldn't have gone to John Q. Moon Public. They'd have visited Joseph Moon Biden at the Sea of Tranquility White House. Or, they, per Mann, would have visited the head of the National Moon Academy of Scientists or something.

So, again and now in detail, contra Mr. Blumenthal?

“I’m pretty sure what they are not. They’re not mental illness. They’re not hallucinations. They are not fabrications or hoaxes,” he said. “They’re not publicity-seeking efforts … so when you eliminate that people are not crazy, they’re not disturbed, that they’re not doing it for attention, that it affects people from all walks of life … it’s a universal phenomenon in terms of these sightings. … Where they come from, that’s speculation.”

In the past, hallucinations and fabrications have been part and parcel of UFO reports. Publicity seeking certainly has been. Whitley Strieber presumably has been doing both! Why would anything be different now? And, narcissistic personality order has an official DSM listing, so, if neuroses as well as psychoses are considered mental illness, that's covered, too. (And, per Rational Wiki's page on Strieber, many like him either are true believers in, or grifting peddlers of, multiple types of metaphysical woo and/or conspiracy theories.)

Also, per the Skeptic's Dictionary entry, what is called "Roswell" is actually a conflation of events over several years, with aging-deteriorated memories, other false claims and more.

And, with that, let's again bring in someone else I mentioned in my first piece — Adam Mann.

Mann has several good things to say:

Though it contains no indication that any of its incidents could have been caused by things not of this Earth, it will be seen as a major victory by those who have been pushing for increased government disclosures about strange lights in the skies.

The new report is less a major turning point in our understanding of life in the universe and more a product of our current cultural climate, a time when expertise and authority are increasingly being called into question. The debate over UFOs instead highlights the limits of knowledge and humanity’s continued need to believe in something beyond our mundane experience of the world.

To me, that ties in with the psychological angle of narcissism on those who claim to have actually seen UFOs that must be aliens. People in an America of 330 million and world of 7-plus billion are looking to escape the mundane.

Maybe Ralph Blumenthal is doing the same, not through believing in UFOs, but believing that non-skeptically condoning belief in UFOs also battles the ennui of the mundane.

OK, I said above that you should put a bookmark in that initial physics talk, and now, here's why.

Related to that? The economics of interplanetary manned spacecraft. I mean, in today's dollars, peak Apollo spending was $40 billion a year. And, that was just to send three men 250,000 miles away for a week or so at most.

Let's put that distance in astronomical terms. That was to send people about 1.5 LIGHT-SECONDS away. That's versus an interplanetary alien ship that will have to have come from at least 25 LIGHT-YEARS away.

Let's do simple division for a ratio of differences on length. There's 40 1.5 light-second periods in a light-minute. From there, 60 light-minutes in one light-hour gives us 2,400 Moon-travel distances. Then 24 light-hours in a light-day, which contains 57,600 Moon-travel distances. And, we're not yet at the finish line.

Multiple that by 365 for a light-year and we're at more than 21 million Moon-travel distances, or 21,024,000 to be precise. But wait, remember this civilization has to be more than 25 light-years away, so multiply that by and we're at FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE MILLION, or 525,600,000, to be more exact, times the distance to the Moon.

This is why the likes of Daniel Brito, per my initial piece are either full of shit willfully or full of shit out of ignorance. Ralph Blumenthal's shit is probably astrophysics ignorance. Kloor's, and one other interviewee at Poynter, Denise Chow, who used to write for Space.com, are willfully full of bullshit. Maybe they haven't thought this through, but they know the physics. 

OK, so, what the hell would it cost to be able to launch one, let alone more than one, ships with max speed of 1/100 c, to address the more conservative case first?

I'm going to guess, at a minimum, in today's dollars, the current GNP of the entire United States, currently around $6 trillion. Why not? If I multiplied that $40 billion of Apollo costs per year by $525 million, I'd be a shitload higher. Like $200 quadrillion. Let's say that economies of scale and overall economic expansion should really put that in a different light. Whack it by 1,000 and you're still at $200 trillion in today's dollars.

Let's go back to physics.

What if, per Star Trek's "Horta" or "Devil in the Dark" episode, these aliens, if they do actually exist, are silicon-based life forms? Could they even communicate with us? Would we recognize them as intelligent if we saw them? To drop the egocentricity, would they recognize US as intelligent?

If aliens do exist, they almost surely don't have a Roswell-Whitley Strieber knockup of human form.


Or, per the "Catspaw" ("Korob") episode, where he and his partner's true life form is roach-sized, would we recognize them, period? Or, a la "To Serve Man," again, what if WE are roach-sized compared to the aliens?

Back to physics in other ways. We know how weightlessness deteriorates bones of Space Station astronauts. Many of us remember watching the mix of space suit stiffness and one-sixth of Earth gravity with Apollo astronauts on the moon.

What if the aliens are from a Jovian-gravity planet, more than 300 times that of Earth's surface? Would they risk bouncing off our planet and into space, especially if we were roach-sized compared to them?

Or, what if they were roach-sized from a planet with 1/300 the surface gravity-weight of Earth? Could they even breathe, or their equivalent of breathing? Likely not. But, space suits? Which would likely have to be far bulkier and more protective.

Side note: This is why, although some likely values for some of the variables in the (in)famous Drake equation have been revised higher with the spotting of ever more exoplanets, other variables should be revised downward from some estimates. Maybe some new variables should be added. Maybe some things aren't even really calculable.

Beyond that, would they even send their own species? Ships with a mix of robots, rovers and drones would certainly come first. Even at 0.1 c, a trip from a planet outside of 25 light years away takes 250 years. Barring incredibly huge lifespans, that means, per "Space Seed," the "Khan" episode of the original series, suspended animation is likely part of the picture. That, in turn, adds yet more to the cost.

So, contra Poynter's four non-skeptics, the likelihood that any currently unidentified aerial phenomena are actually extraterrestrial and intelligence-driven is at best 0.02 percent, as I see it, and the likelihood that they're human — including hoaxes, publicity-seeking and mental illness — is 99.98 percent, and that is probably itself way too conservative. A split of 0.002 percent vs 99.998 percent is probably more the bee's knees.

Or, as Michael Shermer said a decade ago, it's not UFOs OR UAPs, it's CRAP. Shermer covers some of the inflations of the original description of the Belgian Triangles by some of its military by later persons, including the Leslie Kean so beloved by Daniel Brito.

Shermer references Stealth bombers and the like. Mann also talked about the Cold War.

A new piece at NY Mag goes back further, to chaff and other early anti-radar measures in World War II. Stealth bombers, whose triangle shapes match these non-bogie bogies on modern radar screens, is just an extrapolation of that technology. The piece also, interestingly, raises not only the possibility of "but Russians" or "but Chinese," but says, more possibly so, is "but defects in software powering modern American radar."

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Meanwhile, we have a perfectly normal reason for alleged UFO sitings. In breaking news, Russia is supposedly bringing out its version of something like the US's F/A-18 fighter jet. Yeah, the Russky PR is tweaking the American UFO public obsession, but descriptions of the plane having advanced stealth capabilities make this seem like an actual deal.

Update two, July 20: This plane, per photo at left, clearly has Stealth-like design and, just as US Stealth-type aircraft in development almost certainly triggered some previous "UFO" reports, surely, this has done some of the same.

There's a whole slideshow gallery at this story site about the new plane developed under the Checkmate program. That said, Russian Interior and Trades Minister Denis Manturov said it was designed to compete with the US F-35 Lightning II. And, it's the first single-engine Russian fighter in decades.

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