Sunday, September 5, 2010


Looks like I created a bit of a fuss yesterday when I put Michio Kaku to task for suggesting that extraterrestrials may account for UFOs. I realize that he didn't explicitly say that ETIs were definitely behind unexplained flying phenomenon; he was obviously choosing his words very carefully. But it is my opinion that Kaku exercised poor judgement (and not courage as others have pointed out) by appearing on a ridiculous TV segment that was clearly geared toward linking UFOs with aliens. His claim that "we don't have the smoking gun...but this is as close as you can get to the smoking gun," was a bit alarming to me.

I recognize that there are still a number of unsolved mysteries out there. As Kaku pointed out, we cannot account for 5% of these sightings. Okay, cool, I get it.

But it's the leaping to conclusions I don't get. Why the immediate linkage to extraterrestrial intelligence? Why not ghosts, superheros, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? The tendency to do so has become a reflex action, a legacy of 1950s era futurism and its fixation on flying saucers.

I'm guessing that a lot of people, including Kaku, didn't get the memo: spaceships are dead. The whole starship concept makes for great science fiction, but as a potential method for galactic travel and colonization, it's an idea that's increasingly growing into disfavor among the futurist cognoscenti. And that's if colonization even happens at all. Kaku should stick to physics and leave the theorizing to those who know what they're talking about.

As for me, correlating UFOs with aliens seems very... unintuitive. It's not immediately obvious to me that an extraterrestrial intelligence has anything to do with with appears to be atmospheric phenomenon. If we're going to start throwing baseless Wild Assed Guesses out there, I'd put collective psi phenomenon or a simulation glitch ahead of alien visitations.

But Wild Assed Guessing like this is a bit of a cop-out. It's a kind of desperatism that people resort to when science can't provide the immediate answers. And this is another thing that disturbed me about Kaku's recent television appearance. Sure, it's very likely that he was using the segment to pedal his unique take on physics—extra dimensions and all—but it was frustrating to see him give up so easily on established science. For Kaku to tread forth and make assumptions about UFO phenomenon falling outside of the known laws of physics was surprising.

Am I suggesting that we know everything there is to know about physics? Not by a long shot. I'm just suggesting that we exhaust all scientific avenues of inquiry before we start making extraordinary and sensationalistic claims like these.

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