Context and Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life A Whitepaper by Richard

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Context and Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life: A Whitepaper by Richard C. Hoagland (C) 1989 Introduction One of the things I have tried to understand, as my research and that of others has revealed ever more suggestive data, supportive of the phenomenal idea that these objects in the Viking images could in fact be artifacts, is the curious "historically anomalous" position of the agency which took the pictures in the first place: NASA. Despite "a billion dollars plus" spent by Viking in the Search for Life on Mars, NASA has refused throughout these ensuing thirteen years to even once reexamine its original "political" position on these images -- that the objects they contain are merely "tricks of light and shadow" -- despite now published and peer-reviewed good science to the contrary. This reaction, increasingly at odds with both outside scientific assessments of our work and rising public calls for swift resolution of this question, has resulted in this paper -- a serious attempt to place NASA's curious "non-reaction" in some historical context and perspective. The Ancient Roots of Our Obsession with 'ETs' Scholars who have studied the history of our involvement with the idea of "extraterrestrials" have been more or less amazed to discover the ancient roots of what has been generally perceived, until these studies, as a minor and relatively recent "pop" cultural reaction to the Space Age -- you know, "Star Trek", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "ET", etc. Dr. Michael Crowe, Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science, at the University of Notre Dame, has published the most current (1986) in-depth treatment of the subject: "The Extraterrestrial Life Debate 1750-1900: The Idea of A Plurality of Worlds from Kant to Lowell." Crowe's own words summarize best what he and others have discovered: "The question of extraterrestrial life, rather than having arisen in the twentieth century, has been debated almost from the beginning of recorded history. Between the fifth-century B.C. flowering of Greek civilization and 1917, more than 140 books and thousands of essays, reviews, and other writings had been devoted to discussing whether or not other inhabited worlds exist in the universe . . . the majority of educated persons since around 1700 have accepted the idea of extraterrestrial life and in numerous instances have formulated their philosophical and religious positions in relation to it." Notwithstanding Crowe's all-too-familiar Western Civilization chauvanism -- that all human intellectual thought began in Classical Greece -- he is pointed in the right direction; it is amply demonstrable that we are heir to several thousand years of intense preoccupation with ETs prior to the Greeks -- such as Sumer's fascinating "Oannes Myth," and their attribution of their entire civilization and culture to visitation and specific instruction by a representative of an advanced extraterrestrial society, in about the 4th Millennium B.C. (the full "Oannes Legend" is carefully cited in detail in The Monuments of Mars -- see RESOURCE). The ancient documents and cosmologies that Crowe then cites as evidence for Grecean origins of human ET curiosity -- such as Epicurus' "Letter to Herodotus" -- actually reflect an already very old tradition, which the Greeks (along with all their other supposed cultural "inventions" -- according to Stanley Kramer, noted "Sumerologist" at the University of Pennsylvania) simply passed along to us from Sumer, several millenia before. The 'Extraterrestrial' Roots of 'The Enlightenment' Crowe's recounting of the involvement of more recent historical figures in the great Extraterrestrial Life Debate is more original -- from the written works of fundamental religious revolutionaries, such as John Wesley (founder of the Methodist Church), to extraterrestrial musings of that "great man" of pre- Einsteinian physics, Sir Isaac Newton, to discovery of detailed conversations carried on around the subject by such geopolitical giants as Napoleon -- and amply confirm that even theoretical interest in ideas of other worlds has had a remarkable effect in shaping human thought -- and thus the current world. Rather than merely making the claim that "the discovery of extraterrestrials would powerfully influence human ideas," the historical record reveals direct evidence that the extremely ancient, widespread belief in extraterrestrial life has repeatedly and directly affected life on Earth -- beginning with Sumer 6000 years ago. Furthermore, its captivating hold on leading philosophers and intellectuals of what has since been termed "The Enlightenment" ( c. 1700-1800) -- from Descartes to Kant -- reveals the fascinating, and heretofore unappreciated, extent to which the quest "for extraterrestrials" actually created the context for the rise of modern science. Which makes all the more inexplicable NASA's adament refusal to either take a second scientific look at the anomalies on its own Viking photographs -- the first demonstrable hard evidence favoring the existence of extraterrestrials in the millennial- long history of this Debate -- or to take new and better pictures of Cydonia, when the unmanned Mars Observer mission returns to Mars, in 1993. Why -- against the historical backdrop of documented, overwhelming interest in the idea of "a plurality of worlds" -- this apparent paradox? The Search for Extraterrestrials as Inspiration for Major Astronomical Discoveries One of the most revealing new insights regarding the history of questions relating to extraterrestrial intelligence, is the extent to which the science of the times followed prevailing religious doctrines on the subject -- contrary to our general understanding of how science has supposedly developed. Countless quotes from the technical papers of legendary scientific figures of the 18th Century -- the heyday of the Enlightenment -- ranging from men like Immanuel Kant (and his Nebular Hypothesis -- how solar systems form) to Sir William Herschel (and his theories of star distribution and formation in the Milky Way) make clear that their revolutionary insights and discoveries were impelled by something other than pure "science." Their theories, which have led directly to our present understanding of the Universe were, it turns out, inspired in significant measure by a search for extraterrestrials! -- by a fundamental acceptance and pursuit of something termed "the doctrine of the Plurality of worlds." This basically religious inclination was spurred by a deep theological conviction, prevasive of the times, in "the principle of Plentitude" -- the assumption that a truly Infinite God could not help but create an infinitude of other, habitable worlds . . . if not Inhabitants themselves. The Rise of Modern Science -- and the Rejection of 'the Plurality of Worlds' Only increasingly sophisticated telescopes, and other instruments of astronomical research (which eventually enabled acquisition of real information on the stark inhabitability of the other planets in this solar system) finally produced the sharp divergence of scientific thinking -- beginning with the question of extraterrestrials -- from this curious religious heritage. This break thus marked the true beginnings of "rationalist science" -- and an increasing intellectual embarrassment by later scientists, over the religiously-based cosmologies which originally gave birth to the idea of "a plurality of worlds." At its height, it was a sweeping theological assumption that populated even the surface of the sun with "beings whose organs are adopted to the peculiar circumstances of that vast globe" (according to one memorable quote from Herschel). NASA's Intellectual Timidity Based on Fear of Intellectual Embarrassment? It is easy to see, in this brief overview, one element of NASA's obvious discomfort with reawakening ideas relating to even a formerly inhabited planet in the solar system. Much of current science seems to operate by "fear of intellectual embarrassment"; with a history like this, it's no wonder that the idea of a plurality of worlds seems more appropriate, in the eyes of some of NASA's scientists, to the Book of Common Prayer than to the pages of the scientific journal ICARUS! But this is not the whole sad story, of "extraterrestrials and modern science." The Scientific Death-Knell to 'the Plurality of Worlds' By the beginnings of the twentieth century, all scientific expectation of actually verifying the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence essentially had died -- with the singular "anomaly" of a continuing intellectual flirtation with a place called "Mars." With this one, agonizing exception -- which almost singlehandedly destroyed modern astronomy and modern planetary science, according to Carl Sagan -- that should have been the end of it, no more "God given Plurality of Worlds"; the new scientific evidence in hand simply made life-bearing planets -- except for Earth (or "earth-like" worlds, like Mars . . .) -- impossible. The rapidly ascending theory of planetary formation, in the early decades of this century, was now focusing on planets as "random by-products of near stellar collisions" -- events calculated as so rare, that in the entire several-billion-year history of the Milky Way Galaxy itself, there had been literally only one near-collision, with the resultant freak creation of the sun's nine planets! Thus, by virtue of the immense distances separating stars, sheer statistics argued implacably against more than "one or two" collisions in the entire history of time and space. Meaning, that in all the Galaxy -- if not the Universe -- we were quite alone . . . The Scientific Resurrection of the Nebular Hypothesis -- the Modern Basis for a Real 'Plurality of Worlds' The scientific process, if it's properly pursued, has a way of quietly continuing, leading to continuing developments in fundamental theory, new observations which throw out old ideas, etc. Within a few more decades, by the middle of this century -- the 1950's -- from the confident, premature pronouncement that Earth was undoubtedly the only inhabited planet (with, of course, the possible exception of Mars . . .) in the entire Galaxy, several fundamental astronomical breakthroughs came about -- and with these, came a return to a Galaxy potentially filled with stars as central suns, orbited by countless other worlds . . . In 1959, as the Space Age itself was just dawning, two astronomers proposed a radical approach to actually establishing contact with all the new potential beings on all those new potential worlds far beyond the solar system -- they proposed that technology might enable "ET to phone home" -- or at least, try "to ring up good ol' Earth." The modern, scientific "SETI Paradigm" -- the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence -- was born. The Politics of SETI -- Even Recognizing ET Artifacts as Opposed to ET Signals Morrison and Cocconi, the two astronomers just cited, proposed using microwave radio equipment -- technology developed for the fledgling science of radio astronomy after World War II - - in a bold program of interstellar listening for signals. The SETI Paradigm that they created by announcing this proposal was simply this: that, because of the vastness of the interstellar night and the immense difficulty of even approaching a reasonable fraction of the speed of light with any spaceship technology known to human science (especially in the 1950's!), any truly intelligent entities seeking conversation with other intelligent entities, separated by the almost inconceivable interstellar distances, would inevitably turn to radio transmissions . . . and "phone" their messages at the speed of light between the stars. That was thirty years ago . . . and the idea that it will always be easier and more economical to send radio transmissions then to send a fleet of spaceships, like the ancient theological obsession with "a plurality of worlds," has now became the new, unquestioned wisdom of the age-old Search . . . All opposing scientific concepts -- such as the very real technological possibility that spaceships someday might be good enough to do the job (to a truly advanced race of interstellar beings) -- quietly were banished. If it isn't a radio signal, whispering in from somewhere deep in interstellar space, no one currently looking for ETs is even interested . . . And therein lies the second cause of NASA's rejection of our Intelligence Hypothesis: there simply can't be artifacts on near- by planets! Not only are they all demonstrably lifeless (after all, not even a microbe lurks beneath the Martian sands, according to Viking's trusty life experiments) -- so there's no one "home" to build such artifacts -- all possibilities for visits from beyond the solar system have been effectively ruled out -- by the basic "theology" of the SETI Paradigm itself: to travel is engineeringly too difficult . . . and too expensive! The 'Ultimate' Reason for NASA's Apparent Fear of the Intelligence Hypothesis: It's on the Wrong Planet! And, if "they" -- interstellar beings with a spendthrift propensity for wandering around the Galaxy in spaceships -- by some miracle had visited the solar system, "they" certainly wouldn't have wasted great amounts of time and energy building silly "pyramids" and "faces" on the surface of a dead and battered Mars! Shades of those fantasies about canals . . . Because . . . when all else is said and done . . . that's the ultimate reason NASA, by their own admission, hasn't bothered to scientifically examine one frame of Viking's Cydonia photography: the planet Viking photographed-- The planet Mars itself. The ultimate reason NASA hasn't taken seriously our Intelligence Hypothesis is simply this: Mars is scientifically bad news! No other single planet in the solar system, or in the history of the pursuit of the plurality of worlds, has been more abused or ridiculed than Mars. With the scientific excesses and downright vicious namecalling of the last century, over the "reality" or "non-reality" of Martians, still ringing in their ears, planetary scientists -- not a generally courageous lot -- are loath to reopen anything even remotely resembling the "circus" that surrounded Schiaparelli's Canals . . . Lowell's "valiant canal-constructing Martians". . . or Orson Welles' Invasion . . . Or, in the words of Sagan: "It became so bitter and seemed to many scientists so profitless, that it led to a general exodus from planetary to stellar astronomy . . . the present shortage of planetary astronomers can be largely attributed [to this]." Conclusion If Sagan's assessment is correct, the present treatment of the entire issue of the "Face" by NASA and its small cadre of planetary scientists (led, it must be noted, by Carl Sagan) -- who vividly recall the sad and bitter scientific history of Mars and its "canals" too well -- is driven by a fervant fear that history will once again repeat itself -- only this time, in addition to intellectual embarrassment, the stakes are now perceived as cataclysmic: potentially, a disastrous loss of funding from the Congress, and with that -- as NASA is the only game in town which pays for "looking at the planets" -- the imminent destruction of the very profession of "planetary scientist" itself! Or, as one planetary researcher put it to me candidly: "If you keep this up, you will destroy the planetary program!" Which, of course, is a revealing personal statement -- regarding the nature of true scientific curiosity versus the desire for security . . . pursued merely in the name of "science." Ultimately, now that "good science" (as acknowledged by many reputable researchers, in a variety of fields) has been done outside of NASA with regard to Viking's Cydonia photography, the dispoition and implication of what's on those images lies, not with "science" or with fearful men and women pretending to be scientists . . . but with people. The meaning of potential artifacts on Mars is almost incalculable -- and must lie somewhere nearer that millenia-old quest for answers to what Albertus Magnus termed "one of the most wonderous and noble questions in all Nature," than to NASA's 13- year timid and myopic "non-response." So, how do we find out? The problem ultimately is not with most scientists not really being "scientists," or with an agency called "NASA" worrying more about survival than with scientific Truth . . . but with our own individual response to "Do we really want to know . . .?" Because the wonder of this data is: we can. -0-


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank