I Know We’ve Got Enough To Worry About, But…How Much Is The Government Ethically Obligated To Tell Us About UFOs?

Today the Pentagon shared three videos taken by US Navy pilots that show  what the military calls “unidentified aerial phenomena,” and what we have usually called “UFOs.” The videos, from November 2004 and January 2015, have been on the web for a while, and have turned up in various documentaries and even  on the History Channel and elsewhere.

The three videos can be downloaded here. (I’ve seen them. Cool!) The Department of Defense stated that the videos were finally being made public after it was determined that they did not reveal any “sensitive capabilities or systems,” nor would releasing them “impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions.”

I remember that President Carter promised before he was sworn into office that he would find out the truth about “Area 51” and what the government knows about alleged alien encounters, and tell the public. He never said a word about it afterwards. That has always bothered me. Long before Carter, I went through a flying saucer stage, and read a lot about the various controversies, incidents, and ridiculous government explanations about “swamp gas.” When I was a teenager, I saw a UFO, as did the father of a high school classmate who was a scientist. He called in a report on it.

Since that time, nothing much has changed except that the science fiction movies have gotten much better. I was always more bothered by the fact that the government seemed to be lying about the topic, whatever the truth was. There’s no doubt about it, the field is made up of crackpots and conspiracy theorists, and once we saw the stealth bomber, there should have been no mystery about what had caused at least some of those UFO sightings. Still, I wonder if, were there strong evidence of technically advanced extra-terrestrials periodically dropping in for giggles, the government would withhold the information for “the greater good.”

The late Stephen Hawking, for example, opined that if there really were such advanced civilizations, we were in big trouble. “We don’t know much about aliens, but we know about humans,” Hawking said in one forum. “If you look at history, contact between humans and less intelligent organisms have often been disastrous from their point of view, and encounters between civilizations with advanced versus primitive technologies have gone badly for the less advanced.” The Pentagon might be withholding hard evidence to avoid a panic.

The other motive might be social disruption. Most world religions don’t have wiggle room in them for other inhabited planets and superior beings who aren’t divine.

I believe that governments hiding anything from their citizens is a bad habit, and hiding something as momentous as intelligent alien visitors is an abuse of power and unethical. Maybe this outbreak of transparency from the Pentagon regarding close encounters is a positive development.

38 thoughts on “I Know We’ve Got Enough To Worry About, But…How Much Is The Government Ethically Obligated To Tell Us About UFOs?

  1. Personally, I think that the government has been hiding military test devices and planes (like the stealth bomber) and, quite possibly, incursions by other countries.

  2. Always have thought, were these events what they appear to be, it was far more likely we are seeing inter dimensional or time travelers, not intelligences from light years away.

    • Agree. Time appearing to us as a one-way street is necessary for our lives to have any meaning. As for government agencies hiding this kind of thing, what else would we expect from them? They’re government agencies.

  3. In my senior year of high school I participated in the state track meet. We stayed at a cool old hotel in downtown Des Moines that still had opening windows and fire escapes. With the reckless confidence that is unique to high school boys, we decided it would be fun to climb up the fire escape to the roof of the hotel.

    As we gazed out upon the city lights, my buddy directed our attention to some strange lights high in the eastern sky. The lights were small and bright, but undoubtedly very high and very far away – not dissimilar from seeing an airplane pass overhead. The weird thing about these lights was that there were lots of them, maybe half a dozen, and they were moving extremely fast in varying direction – almost like swarming bugs.

    We stared at them for a long time trying to suss out what they could be, but came up with nothing. We scoured the paper the next day looking for any reporting of similar strange sightings over the city, but found nothing. I’m not a big believer in extraterrestrial life (though I wouldn’t rule it out completely), but to this day I have no idea what those strange lights might have been.

    That’s my UFO story.

  4. Regarding Hawking’s concern:

    The primary reason that so-called primitive peoples were exploited by colonial powers is for the resources in their land. Presumably, a civilization capable of interstellar travel has little need of the resources on this particular planet. There are plenty of other planets with similar resource profiles that could be mined without a population to contest such actions.

    Although, even friendly visitors from beyond may bring novel diseases that make coronavirus look like the common cold….

      • It seems unlikely that, if any could be possible, there would only be one, doesn’t it? The odds are greater that there are either zero or multiple civilizations capable of at least communicating with us. Maybe there’s a whole United Nations of them and they’ve all agreed to a “hands off” policy regarding Earth. It would have to be something like that, wouldn’t it? (I think it’s more likely that there are none, but still.)

  5. The other motive might be social disruption. Most world religions don’t have wiggle room in them for other inhabited planets and superior beings who aren’t divine.

    I had my encounter with alien *space-culture* out on the savanna of of SE Venezuela. I camped for 25 days on top of a Tepuye with a Danish girlfriend and during the last 5 nights we had distinct interactions with ‘space ships’ and ‘space peoples’ that descended in them. (No jungle drugs involved in case you are wondering).

    The thing is (I am not sure if people realize this) they are only semi-material. I mean the *ships* themselves. And the intelligences that travel in these *vehicles* are nearly absolutely inexplicable. More like encountering an ‘effervescent color’ is how I came to understand it.

    They speak of ‘regions’ (where they come from) but it would honestly be better to speak of them as ‘dimensions’ from what I came to understand. They are not — I mean, those we encountered — coming from another material planet.

    Years later I came across a song that reminded me of what I felt in their presence. It really had much to do with *exalted feeling* as it did with extraordinary ideas. But the ideas were extraordinary!

    I know you won’t believe me but this is as true as I am me and you are you.

    • As odd as it may seem, that sounds like something that might possibly be more probable than strictly physical contact. Isaac Asimov did a piece years ago where he tried to work in all the factors that would have to fall into place for there to be contact with another sentient race. As he figured it the odds were, well (you know what’s coming), astronomical. I believe he started with the already very small chance of a planet with just the right physical characteristics and factors for life of any kind to form, then sentient life, then technology. After that and other things, there was the question of distance and the lightspeed problem. The final kicker, if I remember correctly, was that even should civilizations capable of communicating with each other come into being (and rise and fall), if they were even the tiniest bit out of sync across aeons of time, they would never be aware of each other.

  6. As a Catholic I’m good with alien life. The search is part of the Vatican’s astronomy program. “Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on Earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God,” Father José Gabriel Funds said in 2008. “This is not in contrast with our faith because we can’t put limits on God’s creative freedom….To say it as St. Francis, if we consider some earthly creatures as ‘brother’ and ‘sister,’ why couldn’t we also talk of an ‘extraterrestrial brother’? He would also belong to creation.”

    As for government involvement. I don’t think it’s either/or it could be secret programs as well as others checking us out.

        • That’s absolutely what a lot of people think, but I think they’re victims of the same phenomenon that made so many Christian laypeople believe that the Big Bang was somehow anti-Biblical, even though in fact it validates the Bible and was mainly first propagated by a believer.

          Atheists generally resisted the Big Bang theory, then, having no choice, admitted to it, then atheist activists aggressively (and erroneously) portrayed it as an alternative to Biblical creation, and gradually many believers came to think that they “weren’t supposed to” believe in the Big Bang.

          Given how much the hardcore atheist block fantasizes, in books, film and just in general, about aliens coming as a sort of counter-claim against Christianity, they seem to have created a perception that that’s “their” territory. Although at the present time there’s as much evidence for aliens as there is for Bigfoot, so, funnily enough, it’s the Christians who are the skeptics in this scenario, refusing to accept that for which there is no proof.

  7. “Most world religions don’t have wiggle room in them for other inhabited planets and superior beings who aren’t divine.”
    What is this based upon? Most of the angst against alien life I have heard has come from people who extrapolate from the Biblical record of creation in Genesis. However, there is nothing in the account that would preclude God from creating other worlds on other planets. The Bible simply does not say anything about other worlds. It is an argument from silence. While I do not hold out much hope for that, it would not upset my belief in God or the Bible.

    • On the contrary, an advanced species on another planet would pretty much make a Creator official.

      The odds that we ourselves can exist as we do already mathematically amount to an impossibility.

      It would be like finding not only a television set, but also a discarded cell phone on Mars.

          • Depends on what dimension you exist in. But as to the idion “two sides to every coin,” it means that arguments cut both ways, and that the same facts can support multiple valid conclusions. To take Isaac’s “odds” Drake’s Equation can be employed to predict many advanced anlien civilizations, or to predict that we are alone in the Universe. Then there’s Fermi’s Paradox…

            • Yay, I was hoping we’d get to talk about the Fermi Paradox!

              I submit that both sides of all the coins suggest a supernatural creator as the hypothesis most likely to be true, anyway.

              All the evidence we now have tells us that we are, in fact, alone in a vast, vast universe (and the Fermi paradox makes a very good argument in that direction as well.) None of that contradicts Christianity or the Bible, but the opposite wouldn’t either, unless we erroneously make assumptions about those interplanetary travelers before we meet them. (“I bet they don’t believe in stupid gods! I bet they’d tell us how backwards we are for believing that stuff!”)

              Imagine if aliens visited and Richard Dawkins was schmoozing with them and said, you won’t believe this, but lots of Earthlings believe in this stupid Jesus myth,” and the aliens replied, “Oh, you mean Flortborf? The one who was transfomoglumated for our sins? He’s been to our planet too!” Well, then that didn’t settle much, did it?

              Ergo, it’s more wishful thinking on the part of imaginative science-fiction writers than anything really scientific that seems to fuel this idea that aliens would disprove religion (see the movie “Paul” to watch this fantasy played out so enthusiastically that whoever wrote the screenplay probably slam-dunked his word processor afterwards and yelled, “Take that, believers! My make-believe alien proves you suck!”)

              The “settings” of various properties of matter and energy in the universe are such (for no known reason) that they are “finely tuned” for the emergence of complex life. Tweaking one or two such setting here or there would result, again and again, in a barren universe in which no life such as ours (and no known alternate life, so far as we know) could even have a chance to evolve. Which means that just one Earth is a miracle. Two such life-sustaining planets do not diminish the miraculousness, although I think there must be some sort of logical fallacy (I honestly don’t know if anyone’s ever named it,) that makes an objectively remarkable thing appear less remarkable if it occurs more than once.

              That’s a major problem with a multiverse as well. One universe appearing seemingly out of nothing is remarkable and requires explanation. Whatever apparatus would be capable of spitting out infinite universes demands even MORE explanation, not less. An explanation shouldn’t just raise greater objections.

      • The odds that we ourselves can exist as we do already mathematically amount to an impossibility.

        This overlooks a fundamental principle of probability. We exist in an infinite universe, and with infinite possibilities, even the most remote are might still happen.

        Often, when presented truly random data, people mistakenly think it isn’t. They expect random data to look messy, but it may well have strange sequences that seem highly improbable. We cannot look, however, at the one improbable pattern and think, “What are the odds?”; rather, we look at all possible combinations that seem improbable, and admit that it is likely that we might see an improbable scenario.

        The trouble is that we cannot predict which improbable scenario. The human mind wants to see patterns, and when a there is no pattern to what is seen, it is biased to believe that it is not random, but specifically chosen by somebody. Thus, if we look at the universe, we think, that it is impossibly likely that we materialized from the primordial ether. We look an alien species and think its even more improbable that we both should randomly occur.

        Yet, in the grand scheme, it is just as likely that our improbable universe with one or more intelligent inhabitants should have been occurred, as any other improbable scenario. The vastness of the universe makes make almost any scenario have a greater than zero chance of occurring. Given infinite time, any such scenario just might.

        • But universe is NOT infinite. There is a finite amount of matter and energy in the observable universe. The universe does not create anything.

          The universe is also not magical; it behaves in predictable ways. Many of those values and properties are so ironclad that we call them Laws of Science. So there are not infinite possibilities.

          The existence of the universe itself is a wonder of probability. That is not a perception. That is a reality that theorists and cosmologists are all grappling with in different ways. If this is the only universe, then it is inconceivable that it falls within the nearly impossible parameters allowing for life.

          This is why there is even a debate over a theoretical multiverse, which, in a vacuum, is an idea that would never be given the time of day by credible scholars. However, the giant neon sign pointing to an intentional Creator that is the “fine-tuned universe” argument has created a demand for a materialist explanation that erases the problem. To make a universe like ours plausible, you don’t just need a thousand universes, or even a million. You need INFINITE universes with constants generated at random. (Now you’re stuck with an unexplained random universe-generator, which itself would have to exist on some sort of supernatural plane, but at least you kept an intentional God out of the mix.)

          • TL;DR version: You can’t say, “The origin of this impossibly-calibrated universe is not remarkable, given how big the universe is.”

      • Your cat doesn’t really think that. It’s just playing along, lulling you into a false sense of security. When the time is right, your cat absolutely will murder you, with no hesitation or remorse. Cats don’t respect the superior intelligence of humans, or really anything else about us.

  8. I know it was a cheap, easy remark. I am probably just mad because the little green men have always avoided me. I have lived in a rural are for half of my life and have never seen anything in the night sky more interesting than Orion or the Big Dipper.

  9. Hahahaha. All silliness aside, the closest other star to the sun is Alpha Centauri, 4.37 light years away. In other words, to get from there to here would take 4.37 years if you had a spaceship that had the speed of light. No such ship exists, and I strongly doubt such a thing is possible. Any sentient being who could reach here would have to have such a means of getting here, and I just don’t see it. I know there have been a bunch of supposed sightings and encounters over the years. I was born in the 1970s, when the flying saucer craze was the thing, building on the futurism of the 1950s. I read some of the alien-based sci-fi, including the tales of John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (white former Confederate officer conquers the red men, the yellow men, and the black men? Hmmmmm) I know about the crash of Thomas Mantell, supposedly chasing a flying saucer. I read about Betty and Barney Hill, Lonnie Zamora, Herbert Schirmer, Travis Walton, Lucky Sutton, Charles Hickson and Kevin Parker, and all those other folks who claim to have seen or met beings from other worlds. BTW, Area 51 is almost certainly a testing area for experimental aircraft and weapons.

    Here’s the thing: there’s not one scintilla of evidence that any of this stuff really did involve anything out of the ordinary. No footprints, forgotten objects, or other unexplainable evidence has ever been found. The USAF spent 20 years and a lot of taxpayer money reviewing 12,618 reports of UFOs (Project Blue Book) and concluded that the vast majority of them were mis-sightings of natural phenomena or conventional aircraft. Others were later identified as involving then-classified reconnaissance aircraft. A few remained “unexplained,” but the project concluded that there was no proof of anything and no threat. There’s no denying these videos show something out of the ordinary. However, Steve-O’s Rules for Reading and Understanding History say: 4. Never ignore the obvious. If a reason for something is staring you in the face, it’s probably the reason… 11. If there’s a mundane rather than a miraculous explanation, then go with the mundane one, but…12. There will always be some things that can never be fully explained, and a few that can’t be explained at all. Dealing in what we know, not what we don’t, the odds of any other star nearby supporting sentient life as we know it are pretty low. Even if there were such sentient life, the odds of those beings being able to come here are lower still. If those beings existed and had the capability to come here, the odds that they would CHOOSE to come here are still lower than that. However, the odds of misidentifying atmospheric or natural phenomena, especially at night or in unusual weather conditions, are much higher. The odds of man-made phenomena, like experimental aircraft that look unfamiliar, weather balloons that go astray, or conventional aircraft that drop flares or other signaling ordnance that grabs the attention, are also higher. The odds of hoaxes by people looking for attention or just with too much time on their hands, from heaving a hubcap into the air and photographing it to more elaborate set-ups, are also pretty high.

    Frankly, I put UFOs in the same category as Atlantis and other lost civilizations (probably based on something that was real, but exaggerated), lake monsters and ape-men (based on glimpses that are hard to prove, but hard to disprove), miracles like Constantine’s fiery cross, the Dannenbrog, and St. James pointing the way at Las Navas de Tolosa (inventions to make it seem like one side was legitimate) or the miraculous figures at Mons (ghostly English archers, angels, warrior maidens) who saved the Allies (probably mass hallucinations by the stressed), and figures like King Arthur and El Dorado (ideals projected onto much more prosaic facts).

    It’s nice that the government declassified these videos, but I think they mean very little.

    • I share all of your skepticism. But on your first point; all you’d need is for an alien world to create self-sustaining or self-replicating probes of some kind.

      And since humanity emerged so quickly and so recently, there have been millions of years for other civilizations to create such probes. The probes themselves would have had millions and millions of years to drift through space (even if they had stopped working) to where we might at least have noticed some space junk.

      I assume that we haven’t found anything because they just aren’t out there. But I don’t really care if I’m wrong; that’s just where the evidence seems to be right now.

  10. As a young man, I spent a lot of time in the southern Appalachian mountains, hiking and primitive camping in remote areas of east Tennessee, northeast Georgia, western North Carolina and southeast Virginia. About half the time I was alone, other times with a friend or two. One of my (our) pastimes was going off-trail to locate waterfalls, caves and mountain balds that were infrequently visited. Many a night was spent in areas remote enough that there was no sight or sound of civilization except what was visible and audible in the air. Over time, we became familiar with the “normal” commercial air routes over the territory, and with other areas that were often used for nighttime military aircraft exercises. We often saw aircraft operating through the mountain passes and down in the valleys below where we were camped, at low altitudes and speeds that would be in violation of numerous FAA regulations. One time a formation of jet aircraft flew low over our mountaintop campsite and the wake turbulence blasted the treetops nearby. Almost all the time, the sounds of these craft even when distant gave them away as being military in nature. But, there were a few times when the objects we saw (just moving lights, really) did not fit the usual pattern of aircraft movement and had no discernible sound. Although we never felt like we were in any danger, the experiences were quite chilling at the time. Being in my late teens and early 20s during this time, I was of course curious, and many of our campfire conversations concerned UFOs and extraterrestrial life. I always expected that our government was less than transparent about aircraft development and wouldn’t hesitate to lie about new aircraft capabilities. I never saw any sort of “UFO” activity away from these remote areas.

    I am open-minded on the subject of extraterrestrials, but it seems to me that if they are coming here and meant us any harm we would know it by now. This is another one of those subjects about which I am content to wait until all is revealed in the next life. I try not to succumb to conspiracy theories, because after four decades of working in government I know how hard it is to keep ANYTHING secret, even if it is merely waiting for the right time to release information. The number of people who would have to be involved in a successful UFO conspiracy is staggering. Was it Franklin who said, “Three people can keep a secret if two are dead.”? Yeah, that.

  11. I think we can’t even imagine or conceptualize the vast numbers of stars and planets out there, nor the amount of distance between them.

    I fall on the thinking that of course there is life out there. Even in the Milky Way alone, there are 100’s of billions of stars. Throw in all the other galaxies and it’s out there, somewhere, probably in a large multitude.

    The easiest reason I see for why we haven’t seen it (and that’s all Fermi’s paradox boils down to, why haven’t we seen it), is we just don’t have the technology to do so. With all the multitude of ways for technology to develop, why would we think it would even remotely match what we have. At the very least, even if it followed our own line of tech, any intelligent species would have left what we know long behind (unless we happen to be the technologically advanced species I guess). Any “signals” being sent out we would not be able to detect.

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