UFO UpDates
A mailing list for the study of UFO-related phenomena
'Its All Here In Black & White'
Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1997 > Oct > Oct 28

Re: Questions for Abductees

From: Greg Sandow <gsandow@prodigy.net>
Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 17:43:42 -0500
Fwd Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 00:10:38 -0500
Subject: Re: Questions for Abductees

The always thoughtful Peter Brookesmith raises many points...

> Date: Sun, 26 Oct 1997 22:21:56 -0500
> From: Peregrine Mendoza <101653.2205@compuserve.com> [Peter
> Brookesmith]
> Subject: UFO UpDate: Re: Questions for Abductees

On the subject of Occam's Razor (and its applicability to the
ETH...I'd said that Occam's Razor is tricky to apply, since when
it comes to life elsewhere in the universe, we're dealing with a
complete unknown.

Peter writes:

> are not dealing with "a complete unknown". We are dealing with
> the possibility that the conditions for life may actually be
> unique properties of this solar system alone (read Mike Davis as
> cited). Further, we are dealing with a vast mass of knowledge
> about human perception of UFOs (read Allan Hendry, and Hartmann
> on the Zond IV re-entry in Condon) and a vast literature on
> perception in general, altered states of consciousness, sleep
> disorders, hallucinogens, lucid dreaming, cultural dispositions,
> God knows what-all else. Occam's razor applies with swift bright
> strokes. To get to aliens being here you need to set up a row of
> about (guess) 12 hypotheses. To get to any of the others requires
> no more than (guess) four. Whatever the real numbers, a
> terrestrial explanation for UFO experiences of any kind calls for
> fewer "entities", in Occam's terms. Move outside this world and
> more hypotheses arise. It's as simple as that.

When we talk about mistakes in perception, and other
psychological issues, we're talking about things we can observe.
We can make hypotheses about how often and under what conditions
people report things that aren't so, and -- this is the crucial
part -- we can test these hypotheses, falsifying some of them,
and thus ruling them out of scientific contention.

We can't do that with hypotheses about life beyond earth. All
sorts of theories float around, about how life arises, how common
it is, how often it evolves intelligence, and what those
intelligent beings may then do. But none of these hypotheses can
be falsified. They're just speculation, however scientifically
grounded they may seem. Many scientific hypotheses are falsified
when research makes new data available.

And so here, Peter, there's a wonderful hidden assumption in your
argument. You talk about the hypotheses we'd have to accept to
make the ETH viable. One of them is an extremely basic point --
that life exists elsewhere, something that, as yet, has not been
conclusively demonstrated. Thus, you argue, one makes an
intellectual leap in concluding that UFO sightings can be
attributed to vistitors from beyond. But, Peter, that's only true
if we tacitly assume that life should be presumed not to exist
until it's been found.

Why should we assume that? As I said earlier, we can study
perception, and come up with at least rough estimates of how
often people misperceive things. So how can you come up with a
rough estimate of the liklihood of alien visits? You can't. If
there's lots of alien intelligence and it travels widely through
the galaxy, then alien visits are very likely. If there isn't
much of it, and what there is doesn't travel, then alien visits
aren't likely at all. We don't know which situation is true. You
say that alien visits should be presumed to be less likely than
failures of perception, and that's exactly the kind of circular
argument I earlier alerted the people on this list to. You have
no way of knowing whether such a presumption is true. Facing a
situation with many unverifiable hypotheses and no data, you
choose to assume that alien visits are unlikely. Somebody else
could just as reasonably -- or, really, just as unreasonably --
assume that alien visits are extremely likely, and therefore
invoke Occam's Razor to suggest that UFO sightings are caused by
aliens. The reasoning is equally silly on both sides, and equally

Interestingly enough, some scientists have in fact made
assumptions opposite to yours. I'm talking about Enrico Fermi's
conundrum -- he rather famously assumed that there isn't any
intelligent alien life, because if there were, it certainly WOULD
have visited us. I don't know Fermi's attitude toward UFOs, but
someone who held his position should, logically, be predisposed
to look for real aliens behind UFO sightings. After all, if you
think aliens, should they exist, would certainly visit, and you
notice people reporting things that might be alien ships....

Your argument is no less circular than that one. You're loading
the dice.

More from Peter, countering my statement that science is a belief
system, as well as a method of thought and research:

> Meanwhile, I find the idea that science is "a belief system"
> bizarre in the extreme. The horrible fact is that science WORKS,
> and if it did not I could not sit here welded to my armchair
> communicating with you, Greg, 3000 miles away (more by way of
> Toronto) in this spectacular fashion that we all take so much for
> granted. And one of the joys of science is that it is incomplete
> - which is another clue to it not being a "belief system". Its
> greatest endeavor is to wreck itself in the service of greater &
> more profound knowledge. When experiments in nuclear physics are
> getting results where p is no greater than one in one million
> billion and better (bearable results being in the region of
> p=3D1:20), I begin to suspect that "science" (which I speculate you
> are confusing with Scientism) has actually latched onto genuine
> laws of nature. Real things. Not matters of belief like the
> gender of angels or whether Tony Blair is the anti-Christ or
> Princess Diana was murdered.

> Science leaves open the possibility that it is wrong - Popper's
> principle of falsifiability - and admits it is provisional. At
> the same time, it *works* on the basis of what we know so far. To
> argue from current scientific knowledge is not to argue in a
> circle, because it argues from what is known. It may not be
> complete know-- ledge but it's the best we have, and it's based on
> principles of unimpeachable intellectual honesty.

I wasn't precise in my statement. I should have said that
scientists, being human, often stretch scientific data to support
beliefs that, logically, can't be falsified, and hence aren't
proper objects of knowledge.

Case in point: An e-mail exchange I had with Paul Davies, the
Australian physicist who write speculative scientific books,
especially about areas in which science and religion intersect.

One of his books, "Are We Alone?" is about alien life. In it,
Davies gives the usual arguments for the unliklihood of alien
visits, but does pause to quote a colleague about one assumption
on which his arguments depend. Remember that a key provision of
many of these arguments -- not necessarily Peter's; I don't claim
to read the Duke's mind -- is that nothing can travel faster than
light, so that interstellar journeys of many light years seem
forbiddingly difficult, if not outright impossible.

Davies notes that, for this argument to be accepted, an
assumption must be made -- that aliens, no matter how advanced,
won't find a way to circumvent this barrier. No hyperspace
drives, no tunneling through wormholes. And this assumption
depends, in turn, on another one -- that our view of the laws of
nature is correct, or in other words that we, after just a few
hundred years of science, have settled some basic questions about
the nature of the universe. Aliens a billions years ahead of us
would have no quarrel with our beliefs.

I e-mailed Davies to ask him how he'd justify such an assumption.
If ever a statement was metaphysical, in Karl Popper's terms --
or in other words unfalsifiable, a matter of belief, not science
-- this seems to be it. Davies' reply was amazing. He modestly
noted that future science will, of course, invalidate many
assumptions we now hold dear, but that, nevertheless, it would
not be "science" to abandon these assumptions in our present

In saying that, I believe that he confused two uses of scientific
knowledge. The first is the business that Peter stressed -- the
fact that science "works." We've learned how to build computers
and toasters and cars and planes, which send e-mail, make toast,
travel down highways, and fly. If you want to make a better
plane, you HAVE to use current scientific knowledge. It won't do
much good to design a plane that flies using unproved principles.
The odds are you'll fail.

But when you're dealing with a complete unknown, our scientific
data may not be much help. Can aliens fly here? We do NOT have
data on that. We have theories. We have beliefs. And as Peter
points out, you have to pile up many beliefs to come down on
either side of the question. The big mistake is to raise any of
these beliefs to the level of certain knowledge -- which is what
you do when you say that alien visits are unlikely, and therefore
that thing your Aunt Harriet claims she saw hovering over her
backyard should be presumed to be a weather balloon, or a trick
of her mind.

One last point. On the subject of discussing things here that
later will be part of a published article, Peter says:

>as a sometime commissioning editor myself
> I'd be deeply pissed off if someone I'd asked to write a piece
> were to test his drafts in public and perhaps then not change a
> word for the final version. I'd be paying money for something
> that millions can read for free. Why pay? And why commission this
> character again if he's giving away his best beans for nothing
> every time to hoi polloi?

> Put it this way: if you'd bandied your best ideas about Ornette
> Coleman around on the net for weeks (let's assume you had the
> weeks), how'd you think the Wall St Journal would feel?

I can't imagine why they'd care. Tomorrow -- meaning Tuesday,
10/27 -- I float the concept of "alternative classical music" in
a Wall Street Journal review. I've been talking about it for a
month, trying it out and refining it with people in the classical
music world. If I were in the habit of discussing classical music
on e-mail lists (nothing against it, I just don't have the time),
I would have talked about it there, too. Suppose I'd written
about "alternative classical music" in Symphony magazine, the
publication of the American Symphony Orchestra League, as I
easily might. The Wall Street Journal wouldn't be concerned. So
what if they were about to expose their million-plus reader to
ideas that had appeared in a publication read mostly by orchestra
adminstrators? In fact, if my Journal editor felt that these
ideas were talked about a lot in the classical music world, he'd
be even happier to have them. These days I seem to have a
specialty -- changes that are going on in classical music, as it
reaches out to a wider audience -- and much that I write
incorporates thoughts and turns of phrase I've published before,
or put before people in the business in other ways. That's not
only inevitable -- it's one of the ways I get work.

That said, Peter should (and of course will) conduct his own
professional life in the way that seems right to him.

Greg Sandow

Search for other documents from or mentioning: gsandow | 101653.2205

[ Next Message | This Day's Messages ]
This Month's Index |

UFO UpDates Main Index

UFO UpDates - Toronto - Operated by Errol Bruce-Knapp

Archive programming by Glenn Campbell at Glenn-Campbell.com