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Why is ET such a magnet for loonatics?

  1. Mar 2, 2012 #1
    It's a very important question in science. Are we alone in the universe? This is a question that should be handled like every other fundamental question, yet most people treat it like a novelty. If proof ever does surface it will be clouded by the enormous amount of hoaxes.

    When looking up "facts about crop circles" look what the second result on google said

    Is it a joke? They surely must be making fun of alien conspiracys. But as you read on, they are serious. Or at least seem to be. Its silly.

    Which brings me to my question, and the point of this topic. What is it about life from another planet that got Hollywood so interested? Will the search for ET ever be taken seriously from the public?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 2, 2012 #2


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    I have a feeling we're going to be visited by Giorgio Tsoukalos very, very soon...
  4. Mar 2, 2012 #3
  5. Mar 2, 2012 #4


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    I feel you may be right.
  6. Mar 2, 2012 #5

    Ivan Seeking

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    I don't know that the subject of ET attracts any more crackpots than many other subjects, such as physics, politics, religion, 911 conspiracy theories, and everything on the banned topics list, for starters.

    I think about a third of Americans believe ET has visited. I would guess that those beliefs are pretty wide ranging with only a small percentage buying into the wildest conspiracy theories.

    For example, how many free-energy claims are out there?
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2012
  7. Mar 2, 2012 #6
    I think silly ideas, seriously fundamentally flawed as they are, fuel real science. I would be surprised if a majority of veteran scientists were not, at least at some point in their life, not inspired to devote themselves to science based on silly fantasies like science fiction or oddball conspiracies.

    I think daring to probe into the unknown reaches of the universe, to seek to learn what is not known requires a creative thirst as much as an understanding and respect for the scientific process.
  8. Mar 2, 2012 #7
    Haha, I would have done it. But now that you've said this I can't.
  9. Mar 2, 2012 #8


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  10. Mar 2, 2012 #9


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    I don't think that number is anywhere close to 100 million.
  11. Mar 2, 2012 #10
    http://digitaljournal.com/article/290378 indicates as many as 1 in 5 people living in 22 countries believe in such things, which applied to the U.S. population (assuming, though of course there is no reason to, that the U.S. has a similar proportion out of the 22-country total; I would suspect the ratio might actually be higher for the U.S.) would be around 70 million.

    I honestly don't find such numbers all that surprising when I consider about half the country -- more than 150 million Americans -- believed George W. Bush was a better choice for president than Al Gore or John Kerry, and one-twentieth of the country -- around fifteen million Americans -- don't believe or are not sure whether Hawaii is a state.
  12. Mar 2, 2012 #11


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    I'm pretty sure Hawaii doesn't exist. Or either of the Dakotas.

    Also, I'm not sure who you think is eligible to vote or who actually does vote, but only 100 million Americans even voted in the 2000 election total.
  13. Mar 2, 2012 #12
    Touche ... though I would argue that would mean the remaining eligible voters did not feel a different president was worth even trying to vote, but that leads to the whole "is silence truly acceptance?" tangent. Not that I pretend to not have a fondness for exploring tangents. ;)
  14. Mar 2, 2012 #13


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    It is a sickening array of candidates that we typically get to choose from each election cycle.
  15. Mar 2, 2012 #14
    According to a National Science Foundation survey one in five Americans still believes the sun revolves around the earth. Other surveys have shown some 90% of West Virginians' still believe ghosts and goblins wander the woods and the devil literally walks the earth. One psychologist noted that every ten years at most Hollywood switches their focus from horror to science fiction and back again, and their caseload changes from people claiming to be abducted by aliens to abducted by devil worshipers.

    It may sound bizarre and unbelievable that so many people in the wealthiest nation on earth can still believe such nonsense, but you have to put it in context. Very likely this is how most of humanity has been throughout history. Religious Taoists, for example, believe the human body alone has 8,000 different gods inhabiting it. One psychological explanation for such elaborate beliefs is that they foster "resilience". The ability for people to bounce back quickly from traumatic events.

    However the growing majority of the world's thriving democracies are now largely secular. The Japanese are even referred to as "funeral Buddhists" for their tendency to only attend ceremonies for funerals which, again, suggests they get some sort of resilience from the practice that helps them bounce back faster from the loss. They'll even tell you straight out that different religious practices are good for different things and it really doesn't matter whether you believe or not.

    Notably the more classist and capitalistic the society the more likely it is to be fundamentalist Christian explaining why the US is by far the most religious country in the developed world. However, as entitlements have expanded there has been a mass exodus from religious services by the poor, while the besieged middle class has attended in record numbers, and the wealthy never did attend. All strongly suggesting again that such beliefs and rituals cannot be understood outside their social context.
  16. Mar 2, 2012 #15
    Lol, we sure are touching on a lot of different ideas here.

    I had no clue that there were that many "Believers" out there. Too much x-files on primetime. The cattle started getting spooked.

    If ET showed up tomorrow, what effect would that have on society? Assuming they just came to say hello, and then leave. No secrets shared, no invasion. The public just knew without a doubt that we were "not alone". Would this knowledge change religion, politics, morals, etc? Has anyone done any extensive work on this question? Any expert opinions out there?
  17. Mar 2, 2012 #16
  18. Mar 2, 2012 #17
    I am an aspiring writer, and as I develop characters in my stories with wildly different personalities and even try to engage in political and other debates, I like to think of myself as being able to see the world through others' eyes ... but I must acknowledge there are times I fail to acquire a solid grasp of how others react and think in lives that are different from my own.

    I find myself stuck, for instance, on the leading question of your second paragraph of my acceptance following Carl Sagan's explanations that it would be exceptionally unlikely that, in the vast trillions of stars in each of the trillions of galaxies, that there would /not/ be life and that, even if just but one in a trillion developments of life lead to a species possessing the intelligence to develop spacefaring technology. Its a "no duh" to me that there are other civilizations somewhere out there in the universe, though I have seen no convincing evidence of a reasonably certain record that we have yet been visited. I know there are people who assert that the reverse is true, that we are alone, the only intelligent species on the only life-bearing planet in all of the universe, but ... that is a mentality that I find it particularly difficult, though I cannot understand much less explain why, I cannot fathom identifying with. In debates and stories, I have been able to imagine myself in the shoes of racist bigots (my black Southern A.P. English teacher in h.s. challenged me to debate in /defense/ of slavery from the perspective of the slave owners, one of many things I am grateful to her for, as it enables me to comprehend beliefs and positions adversarial to my own), of cruel people, but people who /don't/ believe that somewhere out there, there isn't intelligent life, identifying with them yet eludes me.

    I don't believe it is possible to predict to any reasonable degree of certainty the result of an unprecedented event, as you describe, to the current population. However, there are historical examples of "xeno encounters" to ponder in trying to answer the question for yourself: first contact between European Explorers and the people of the Americas. Conservative estimates have had European and Native peoples and cultures separated by tens of thousands of years (some theories I've heard have it at more than a hundred thousand years). Language, religion, science, technology ... for much of human history, however long nomadic tribes led to the rise of European civilization whilst others meandered across Asia and the bering to North America, Native Americans and European civilizations were alien to one another, completely isolated for all intents and purposes until some 600 or so years ago.

    Its nice to think that we have learned our lessons from those days, that we would not have a repeat of the conquest and destruction of the Mayan and Aztec civilizations, but I fear that most civilizations today have a high degree of ethnocentrism, that their culture, religion and belief system are the one true culture, religion and belief system, and all others are barbaric. I fear too many are too ignorant of what most anthropologies have to teach us about ethnocentrism, and a mass mob mentality would likely create hostility and conflict toward an alien civilization. Hopefully, such a civilization, should they find us by some means and decide to pay us a visit, would have gone through such problems themselves and be prepared for the chaos of a first contact situation, but I would be surprised if human civilizations did not incur violent strife as a result.

    To me, it seems the world's most powerful nation -- the United States -- is gradually, but increasingly sliding into a dark age. Colonies established supposedly on religious freedom to escape the theocratic powers-that-be back in Europe seem to be itself into a theocratic nation with the circular "reasoning" that the United States is great because it was made so by an Creator and that the Creator favors the United States because the United States is great. Some progress over exemptions (such as slavery) to ideals laid out by the founders has been achieved, but now there seems to be backsliding on which "people" are or are not part of "we the people" deserving as the same rights as others, whether its homosexual couples seeking the same legal recognition as married heterosexual couples or persons of Muslim faith seeking a right to purchase a building to establish a religious center of their own.

    Religion is taking over the U.S., and I think that does not bode well for contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Its bad enough being gay or non-Christian in the U.S., ostracization of any such minority is the norm, but I believe that too many Americans still tend to view non-Christian nations as barbaric, and would hold that view of an alien civilization.
  19. Mar 2, 2012 #18


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    Yes, but you really should study some physics before you allow that notion (with which I agree) to lead you to conclude that that implies INTERGALACTIC space-faring. I think you don't understand the issues involved. Unless you believe in faster-than-light travel (in which case you are WAY on the wrong forum), you will end up with the conclusion that it just isn't going to happen. It is not absolutely impossible, but the odds are infinitesimal.
  20. Mar 3, 2012 #19

    Ivan Seeking

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    Clearly they don't poll children when taking such surveys, so 1:3 isn't 100 million.

    Free energy claims are more akin to alien propulsion systems theories, than a simple belief in visiting aliens. A more reasonable comparison would be to survey and ask people questions regarding violations of the second law - "Can you get extra energy by putting a propeller on your car?", for example. Compare that to the number of people who believe ET has visited.

    Then of course you would have to subtract people who believe in ET due to alleged direct experience. I don't think free energy claims generally have this dimension.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2012
  21. Mar 3, 2012 #20
    I think its safe to say what we don't know about the universe exceeds what we do know. There are a number of "not impossible" means of cheats around the speed of light we have vague notions of today, from wormholes to quantum-entangled gates. I wouldn't insult anyone by insisting any one is realistically valid by now, but while we may not have the foggiest clue how to begin to think about implementing any of them, and many or even if every one we can think of now might well prove impossible, I don't think it delusional to dismiss as certain impossibility that somehow, some way, some day -- if we don't exterminate ourselves first with a stupid war -- we wouldn't find a way in the future.

    Just given a source of power that could somehow last a few million years and robust a self-sustainable onboard ecosystem, interstellar or even intergalactic travel isn't that impossible even with not-so-far-fetched technology: transgenerational space travel.
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