Take Us To Your Leader

A little while ago, during our usual post-Taijiquan-class lunch, the conversation somehow briefly turned to UFOs. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but our teacher brought up some UFO video clips on YouTube that he found intriguing; he said he had a hard time seeing how they could be faked, and wanted my thoughts. I was surprised he’d bring this up as worthy of consideration, since he’s a huge skeptic.

A little while ago, during our usual post-Taijiquan-class lunch (and let me make a totally free and unsolicited plug for Craig’s Cafe, whose yummy food, excellent service and eclectic music have won our loyalty for years), the conversation somehow briefly turned to UFOs. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but our teacher brought up some UFO video clips on YouTube that he found intriguing; he said he had a hard time seeing how they could be faked, and wanted my thoughts. I was surprised he’d bring this up as worthy of consideration, since he’s a huge skeptic. Then again, he is the one who recommended What The Bleep Do We Know to me, so maybe he has a bit of a blind spot for some kinds of pseudoscience. I watched the videos as promised and gave him a critique of each, which I’m reproducing here in slightly edited form.

I knew about the alien autopsy from a few years back, but this painfully boring alien interview was news to me. Sadly not news were the mounds of sloppy logic, lies and half-truths, shallow New Age mysticism, shoddy special effects and spooooooky music. I don’t know who among the interviewees was in on the scam, but it doesn’t matter. This is all crap I’ve heard before, mostly in connection to the excellent computer game Deus Ex, whose plotlines involved conspiracy theories about MJ-12, Area 51 and the Bavarian Illuminati.

Prophet Yahweh looks like a grade-A nutbar (and, from what I can tell, has now dropped the UFO summoning schtick and fallen back on religious cultish end-times preaching). That thing he “summoned” could be almost anything; note, though, that it seems to be floating lazily in the wide shots, zipping about only when the camera zooms in on it. But this “zipping” is totally consistent with a shaky camera, especially since there are no clouds against which to measure the motion. Verdict: it’s a balloon.

Incidentally, though the announcer says the TV station chose the time and place for the summoning, there’s no telling what kind of negotiations went on behind the scene. For example, how much notice did they give Yahweh, so he or an associate could set up at the park? What restrictions did the kook give them, and how much veto power did he have? When Yahweh applied for James Randi’s $1M challenge he initially set out a lot of very silly conditions. So if the station was going through a slow news day or, worse, a producer was already a believer in this loony, I could totally see them agreeing to all those things and more, then not telling the viewers just to make it look more miraculous.

This looks like a crashed weather balloon. The resolution’s horrible, but there seems to be something hanging under the “saucer,” and something else trailing behind. Also, it looks like it’s fuller at the beginning, becoming flatter after the bounce without losing its basic shape (i.e.: nothing’s broken off). The trailing stuff might be equipment, but is more likely escaping gas.

This was a commercial for last year’s Sarajevo International Film Festival. Likewise, this was a commercial for scifi.com

This very short clip is quite cool. Amazing what the they can do with remote-control toys nowadays, isn’t it? We’re seeing it right from the side, so we don’t what its horizontal cross-section is. Most likely, it looks like one of these things.

This seems to be part of some woo-ish documentary on Nazi experiments with antigravity, or something. Googling a bit, I found out the British guy is called Nick Cook, and claims to have found evidence for some sort of Nazi super-weapon. There’s also a bit about the Philadelphia Experiment. The engineer, Tim Ventura, seem to have similar far-out ideas about antigravity and such—which is a shame, since the hovering dealie we see in this clip really does work, and looks to be based on real-life science.

This one, I admit, is the most startling of the bunch. But it seems even some UFO nuts think it’s a model or CGI, so the chances are pretty good there’s a down-to-earth explanation.

So there you go. Pretty slim pickings, isn’t it, if you’re looking for evidence of extraterrestrials—the sci-fi equivalent of weeping statues, or seeing the Virgin Mary on a Chicago underpass. Then again, to the true UFO believers (not including my Taiji teacher, incidentally) mere evidence isn’t too important. What matters is that they want little green men (or little grey men) to be real, and this makes them unable to properly distinguish reality from bullshit. They let their imaginations (fed by cheap sci-fi and a bare minimum of genuine science) run wild, seeing “orbs” in dust motes when they take flash photography, and a potential extraterrestrial invader or anal prober in every unexplained light when they drive at night. Simply because, to them, a world with those beings is more exciting than a world without.

I can relate, though. I’ve been a huge sci-fi/fantasy fan since I was a young ’un, devouring hundreds of books and short stories (good, bad and in between) over the years. Also, I was playing Dungeons & Dragons before I turned ten, and kept it up regularly from my early teens well into university. I tried my hand at writing a couple of times—nothing memorable, just the kind of cliché sword-and-sorcery an enthusiastic but inexperienced teen would write, though it was fun. And the best part: for years I actually fantasized about being contacted by aliens. Basically, the story went that I was one of a select group of young humans, taught various mental powers and given access to ultra-sophisticated technology. We were the next stage of human evolution, destined to change the world and eventually lead humankind to a bold future amongst the stars.

Those fantasies—naive and derivative though they were—held all my dreams of a better life, a better world, even ones I couldn’t articulate or admit to consciously. Most obviously, there were purely self-centered wishes of being selected by higher beings, being given great abilities, being special, which is just what a kid with abysmally low self-esteem wants. Then there were Star Trek-inspired visions of a universe where diverse alien species lived in harmony, and humanity could eventually grow up. And though I was still deep in the closet, my fantasy self was bisexual, with a committed girlfriend (in an open relationship) but enjoying occasional casual sex with guys. But for the longest time I just didn’t get the message: the truth about me—the real truth, not fantasy truth—was buried under miles of denial. I won’t speculate why I was bi and not gay in these fantasies: maybe I couldn’t accept not liking girls? Maybe deep down I saw bisexuality as the ideal situation? Who knows?

So yes, I know what it’s like to yearn for an exciting universe full of magic and wonder, so unlike the universe I lived in everyday. But even then I knew that when I opened my eyes, when I turned off the TV, the real world was still there. No amount of mere wishing could change it, and that’s how it should be. It took me a long time to realize that the real world is much better than any fantasies I can dream up. Yes, it’s more frustrating, more complex, less predictable. But it’s also more rewarding. Sure, I can’t travel to other star systems, or move objects with the power of my mind. There’s bigotry and war and general stupidity. But doing something about it, working to improve the world and myself is ultimately more satisfying that dreaming of benevolent aliens. Unless you actually start believing in those aliens, despite the evidence, and—fortunately—I could never manage that level of self-delusion.