It’s a question I get asked regularly.
I was asked again yesterday.
In a way I suppose at it’s heart is one of the most fundamental questions humanity has.
Inevitably I’m eating when someone asks me.
Big morsel of lunch just starting to get on famously with my mouth.
“So what about those UFOs then?”
I look up and attempt to not look like a sandwich filled hamster while trying to communicate my feelings on the matter via the medium of eyebrow.
The table manners so engrained in my youth prevent me from answering immediately, so usually I don’t get to reply before I’ve heard what the questioner thinks.
Which of course is almost always a précis of modern UFO folklore and conspiracy.
We are, of course, not alone and we should trust no one.
Finally I’m able to reply. But what on earth to say?
This could be a deeply held belief, something cherished, adored or even worshipped by the person opposite. Or they may have just read about it in the Daily Mail.
So I start neutral, a little history. Fermi’s Paradox.
While his colleagues ate their lunch (and probably had mouths full of food) the physicist Enrico Fermi, pondering UFOs suddenly asked “Where is everyone?”
It is a good question. Given the size of the Universe, the age of the Universe and looking at the abundance of life on Earth, why have we not seen or heard any evidence of other civilisations? Surely a civilisation with modest space technology could colonise a galaxy in a (astronomically speaking) short time.
No signals, no alien probes, no diplomatic shuttles on the President’s lawn.
There are many proposed solutions that range across the spectrum of science fiction.
Perhaps we are alone. This is it. We are the statistical chance in a sea of improbability. Truly the universe looking at itself.
Perhaps we are the most advanced. We have transmitted radio for a century and a probe has yet to leave the Solar System. The Universe is vast and if we are the first to send a signal we are as good as alone.
Maybe we are primitive. Maybe we barely register in the senses of far more advanced civilisations using technology not just beyond our comprehension but beyond our awareness.
We could be in quarantine. Perhaps we are like the un-contacted tribes of South America, out of bounds, watched from a silent distance.
Maybe they are here and they wear rubber masks to hide their lizard faces…
The only honest answer is that we haven’t been contacted, we haven’t seen or heard from another civilisation so essentially, for now, we are alone.
“But what about the UFOs?”
Now I have to decide if they are winding me up, just interested or really believe that some good ole’ boy in rural Arkansas is getting regular prostate checks from a little green man.
I generally decide on the same course of action and reach for the Sagan.
I explain the need for evidence, point to our world being dominated by one superstition after another, the grasp for answers that results in dragons, fairy’s and witchcraft. How humanity has always looked for the fantastic and been ready to believe the improbable if it fitted our desires, how women were hanged and knowledge suppressed to service our need to believe.
The simple answer is yes there are UFOs, by the nature of the label there are things seen in the sky that aren’t identifiable. But that does not mean they are beyond rational explanation.
And why now? Why do so many UFOs get spotted after humanity learns to fly and fills the sky with machines?
Then there is the weirder side. Just why would a technically advanced space-faring race travel across the vastness of interstellar space just to explore the fundament of a credulous American farm worker or hover over a police car in Devon with their lights on.
Maybe I’ve insulted my inquisitor. Perhaps I should have just shrugged my shoulders.
Who knows eh?
But I can’t, I never can. I finish my sandwich and dwell on our Demon Haunted World.
“…if we offer too much silent assent about mysticism and superstition – even when it seems to be doing a little good – we abet a general climate in which scepticism is considered impolite, science tiresome, and rigorous thinking somehow stuffy and inappropriate.” Carl Sagan