The Nightshirt Sightings, Portents, Forebodings, Suspicions

“They” Are Not “Them”: A Hybrid View of the UFO Presence

KennethArnold1947For many years I was skeptical of the UFO phenomenon. I was persuaded by SETI pioneers like Carl Sagan: It’s pretty certain that the universe is full of intelligent civilizations, but the vast interstellar distances and the vast timescales involved in traversing them made the notion of an alien presence in our skies seem (to me) silly. I tended to agree with science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, particularly the view put forth in his great novel Fiasco. Civilizations will pass through a very brief “window” of maybe a couple centuries duration when they simultaneously have the technology required to communicate with other civilizations and still have an interest in doing so. After this, they will either have destroyed themselves/exhausted their resources or will have become “lotus eaters,” having solved all problems of material scarcity and retreated into virtual worlds of pure imagination, no longer caring who else is out there. Given the limitations on the speed of interstellar travel coupled with the fact that different civilizations’ histories will be wildly out of sync with each other, radio transmissions might be sent and received, but any actual two-way contact between different technological civilizations will be a tremendous statistical rarity despite the vast number of such civilizations that must arise.

I held to the view, in other words, that we would probably never make contact with an alien race, except perhaps by eventually finding its million-year-old ruins or fossils on some long-dead planet. The alternative, Star Trek-like universe teeming with roughly similarly advanced civilizations with similar agendas seems to defy both what I believed and, really, what I thought was most awe-inspiring: a sense of profound cosmic aloneness, despite infinite worlds and minds spread across unbridgeable distances.

As I’ve come to delve into the UFO stuff over recent months, however, I’m convinced that my old view requires revision. The evidence is overwhelming that Earth is being surveyed by alien craft. They are seen all the time, by perfectly sober and sane people. I saw them on two occasions, less than a month apart, this summer, and dutifully made my reports (obviously, this was a big factor in my revisiting the whole question). They are seen particularly often by pilots, astronauts, police, and people in the military. The latter four groups, for decades under explicit or tacit gag rules, are finally starting to talk openly about their experiences. It is becoming clear that the superpowers have gathered a lot of data that they have suppressed—for the very sensible reason that political control and social stability rest on governments seeming to be in control of their people’s security and destiny, an appearance that evidence of more advanced cultures in our airspace irrevocably punctures.

First of all, before I go any further: Is the UFO phenomenon a cultural construct? Of course it is. The same way “autism” is a cultural construct. Autism diagnoses have mushroomed in the past decades, not because more people are autistic but because more people are being recognized and classified that way. If it’s on our mental radar, it will influence how we make sense of the world, and it may be a productive filter. Whether or not there are actually more UFOs in our skies now than there were ten or twenty or fifty years ago, people are now primed to interpret anomalies in UFO terms and are less embarrassed to report seeing them. This certainly makes for more false positives, and more room for hoaxes, but it does not render the phenomenon “mythical” or part of our collective imagination.

And, lest I be seen as a conspiracy theorist or kook, my hunch is that, while they have probably gathered massive and conclusive evidence that UFOs are real and are extraterrestrial, the terrestrial powers that be may not actually know much more than the rest of us have been able to piece together. They probably have all the really excellent footage and photographs, perhaps physical evidence or even pieces of alien technology—too many people have admitted to such “secret rooms” and confiscations of military footage that it seems pointless to doubt. But whether our government has made any kind of actual “contact” is another question, and I’m quite dubious. I’m skeptical that the Pentagon or the Rand Corporation really know much more than the rest of us about the motives of alien civilizations to come and explore Earth.

To see why, I think we simply need to extrapolate from our own motives. If you had an interest in a less technologically advanced, perhaps even less-evolved civilization, what would you do to learn about it? And more fundamentally, why would you be interested in the first place?

For some reason, many people who write and speculate about UFOs and the motives of extraterrestrial visitors fail to do the obvious, which is put themselves in their shoes. And by “they” I mean the actual intelligences responsible for the visitations, not the visitors themselves. I’m surprised this distinction isn’t made more often, but if you extrapolate from our own space program, it seems pretty obvious that the UFO-nauts are not the “them” that sent them. If you draw this distinction, it makes the whole UFO thing seem much less farfetched and fanciful.

Let’s assume that, if nonhuman civilizations are able to manipulate space and gravity to the extent evidenced by their spacecraft, they have probably solved pretty much any other engineering problem we could imagine—which includes bioengineering and molecular engineering problems—and thus their reasons for sending spacecraft here have nothing to do with needing anything from us. They can clearly make whatever they need—mechanically, genetically, you name it. I surely think it is naïve to think they somehow covet our genetic diversity or want to breed with us. They are probably capable of more or less conjuring all their needs and wants via nanotechnology.

This is the good news, in a sense, because if they don’t need anything, there’s no motive for warfare or invasion. Call me naïve, but I suspect that Type-III (spacefaring) civilizations wouldn’t find themselves in much competition for the kinds of things wars are fought over, and thus “interstellar war” probably is mostly a matter of science fiction.

But another of the things “they” don’t want from us is cultural knowledge: What knowledge or insight could humans possibly have that an interstellar civilization, hundreds or thousands of years in advance of us [edit: Rick Philips makes the point that the difference factor would be millions or billions–he’s right.], could possibly use? We should assume that whatever our most brilliant ideas are—including the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism or The Golden Rule—they had those ideas, or equivalent ones, long before we ever did. I think that this answers one question that continues to vex many in the UFO community: Why haven’t they made contact? The answer is, there’s nothing for them to gain. The nice Close Encounters idea of interstellar “sharing” is the laughably simplistic vision of beings who are, to them, still tiny children with big dreams. (Think about it: Other than as passing or idle speculation, how many biologists actually want to or could “make contact” with the animals they study? What can baboons or even chimps tell us?)

So “they” are not here because they want anything from Earth (i.e., via colonialism, invasion, let alone “trade”), nor do they want to make contact with humanity in some tableau of cosmic love and harmony. The assumption we are left with is that they are here to gather data. And by the looks of it, they are probably systematically gathering vast, vast quantities, and may have been doing so for a long, long time.

Here is where we need to extrapolate from our own space program and realize who “they” are and why “they” doesn’t need to be the “they” that originally sent them to our solar system or our planet. Data collection by and large doesn’t require a vessel to be manned. When UFOs aren’t entirely automated (as I suspect most are), their occupants are surely not the beings actually responsible for the mission to Earth; they are surely something like clones, or biomechanoid creations, purpose-built or purpose-bred for space exploration. Perhaps their humanoid form is meant to facilitate data gathering with humans specifically. It is even quite possible that the visitors and their craft aren’t even technically interstellar but are manufactured from local materials right here in the solar system or on earth. All that really needs to travel between the stars is information—marching orders and instructions—the rest can theoretically be done locally with basic nanotech and matter-reorganizing factories.

Whatever the case, the data-gathering and data-recording abilities of such extraterrestrial probes are no doubt many orders of magnitude beyond what we can achieve, so we could assume such probes have archived virtually our entire culture. Which again helps explain why there’s no question of making contact. They would already know anything we would ever want to say to them.

The two motives for gathering data are science and security, and surely the UFO presence is related to both these aims. The science aim is obvious: An advanced civilization got to where they are via science and technology, and the motive to gather all information, whether or not it seems relevant, is an easy one to program into an automated probe—the “learn all that is knowable” imperative. This, we must assume, is a basic and not an applied science enterprise–a long-term investment with uncertain payoffs. Ours is one of possibly hundreds or thousands of planets whose goings-on are being surveyed and recorded by numerous civilizations in our own stellar neighborhood (writers who classify types of UFOs have surmised that there could be at least four distinct civilizations surveying earth right now), but if “they” don’t have needs in the sense we understand it, then it’s hard to imagine what application such data would ever have been envisioned.

The security aim is more in the background, but is probably of greater long-term significance. UFOs’ clear interest in our space program and weapons clues us into this: Here we are, on the brink of being a spacefaring race, if we play our cards right and don’t blow it. Depending on how things go, we might, in a few hundred or a thousand years, be some kind of minor player in the politics of our tiny corner of the galaxy (whatever “politics” looks like on an interstellar scale). Or, if the Lem-like vision holds, “they” won’t give a shit anymore (if they even did when they sent our their probes, which could have been aeons ago for all we know), but the descendents of their biomechanoid defensive superstructure will kick into high gear to protect their ability to lotus-eat in private once our exploratory probes reach their airspace. By that point, we might have stopped giving a shit too, but we will have done what any self-preserving civilization does to protect itself: putting a nice robot-and-clone buffer out there to protect our future interests. It is only at that down-the-road point of mutual political relevance that all this data would conceivably provide some alien race somewhere with some useful insight about us. If they are still around, that is.

So we shouldn’t assume that the “active interest” of the UFO-nauts is really all that active or interested. It should be seen as mechanical and automatic. This would explain what Mac Tonnies describes as our visitors’ “clumsy, oblique interactions with us” and why they seem simultaneously both “wildly sophisticated and limitlessly stupid.” Speaking of autism—isn’t that the sense one gets from these lights in the sky, or these “grays”? The Mars Spirit rover would seem pretty autistic too.

So the view I’ve come around to is a synthesis, or hybrid, of the standard UFOlogical and “sublime” visions of interstellar communication. I suspect that something like Lem’s vision is still closer to the truth—civilizations don’t overlap much, and interstellar politics is probably nonexistent or trivial over large distances—yet it is probably also the case that during their crucial “window,” civilizations do initiate massive and self-propogating data-gathering activities throughout their local stellar neighborhoods or even farther afield. No doubt these data-gathering abilities are matched by similarly astounding (and automated) defensive capabilities that would kick in if necessary.

“They” are not the ones who sent “them,” in other words, and we shouldn’t think we’re particularly hot shit because automated probes are watching us. The ones who sent them, the real extraterrestrials, are either dead and gone, have evolved into something completely different, or have bigger fish to fry. In a thousand years, when our first flying saucer reaches their solar system, if they are still alive and awake, they’ll rouse themselves from their meditation on the Three Noble Truths (take that, measly Earth Buddhists!) and download the voluminous data reports from Earth directly to their massive quantum brains. Only at that point will they raise their middle eyebrows in unison and go “Hmm, fascinating.”


I am a science writer and armchair Fortean based in Washington, DC. Write to me at eric.wargo [at]

13 Responses to ““They” Are Not “Them”: A Hybrid View of the UFO Presence”

  • “They are seen all the time, by perfectly sober and sane people. I saw them on two occasions, less than a month apart, this summer, and dutifully made my reports (obviously, this was a big factor in my revisiting the whole question).”

    Could you tell us what you observed, in detail, on the two occasions you observed ufos?

  • Energy probes: Another solution to the Fermi paradox…

    We have looked at alternative solutions to the Fermi Paradox and one of the ideas I touched on was that aliens might be here but in a form we would struggle to comprehend as suggested by the Subanthropic Principle or other Stanislav Lem-like scenario…

  • I think the government is a lot more aware of what’s going on than most of the rest of us are. I think they hide it for their own benefit though…although what the particular benefits are may be difficult to pinpoint. We see how politicians, elitists, and executives of big corporations do things that benefit themselves and their cronies. The UFO phenomena is probably no different. In an age where secularlism is so prevalent, rulers don’t want their power to be limited by a “higher authority,” whether it be the pope, God, or aliens. They probably think its better to hide any evidence of the existence of aliens.

    I also think we need to consider that aliens are not necessarily like us, or future versions of ourselves (at least not all of them). A lot of people have a tendency to think that advanced aliens may have once been similar to us, but have been around longer and figured out how to do a lot more things. It gives us the impression that if we wait long enough, we may figure out some or all the same things that they have allegedly figured out. This could be true, but maybe it really isn’t like that. I think back to some of the things we don’t even know about our own past. We don’t even know what the methods used to build the Giza pyramids, Puma Punku, or Coral Castle were. We don’t know how our ancestors did some of the things they did in the past, much less how we will do things in the future. But I suppose it gives us something to look foward to.

  • These groups of lights appear to be plasma formations and are often generated in groups and come in waves. For the past many years the saucer shape has been out and the triangular pattern is now seen. Experiments at the U.S. Naval Laboratory have been demonstrating these earth-atmosphere formations often have an exterior that appears solid, often metalic. They may begin as a ball or sphere, can flatten out becoming disc shaped, and now very evenly spaced and triangular or cubical. Tears in the surface allow points of light to be seen, they strobe, blink and are sometimes in various colors. But they do not behave like an exploratory spacecraft.

    Real space aliens could learn what they wanted from a high parking orbit, much like the fictional starship Enterprise does on TV. No need to come down into view like a world war 2 observation plane, which is what Keyhoe, et al, presumed they were doing in the 1950s. Made sense back then, but in afterthought, aliens still wouldn’t do that.

  • Everything is unique but nothing is special. There are no identical things or events or rivers to walk into. Twins are not identical or molecules or atoms and probably not even quarks. Yet none of these wonderful creations is special. There is no privilege to being unique. Certain rules must be followed by all. But humans believe they are special and certain groups of humans have come to believe that they are super-special, god’s chosen people. As a result, we have no doubt that we are the only intelligent, conscious, and self conscious tool makers (civilized?) living on this planet and in our solar system. I disagree with this picture of reality and propose that we probably share our planet with an ancient civilization of evolved mammals, monotremes to be exact.

  • Anonymous: My first sighting was of a pair of lights moving NE to SW over Philadelphia, appearing almost playfully to “dance” with each other. I made my report to MUFON when I later learned there had been a rash of similar sightings (various numbers of lights moving in the same direction over Eastern Pennsylvania and up and down the Eastern seaboard) the same evening. The second sighting was of a single light moving due N to due S over the Capitol building in Washington DC; its altitude was unclear, but it faded in and faded out, much in the manner of a satellite, but it was way too bright to be a satellite (there was so much light pollution that only a single planet–I think Jupiter–was visible).

    Jeff: I now agree that the U.S. government does probably do know a great deal about what’s going on. Dolan’s books have persuaded me that they couldn’t be in the dark, that there’s a huge coverup. I just hate to sound like a stereotypical paranoid who thinks “the government” knows everything! But I guess sometimes it’s true.

    Randel: Although I’ve more recently come to think that much of the UFO presence isn’t interstellar probes, as I argued in this post, I do think that there are all kinds of data gathering, at densities we can’t even fathom, and that closer-to-surface recording would be part of that. If you wanted to “videotape” and archive an entire civilization, you’d want closer-to-ground vantage points. (But–and here’s where it defeats my argument–you could probably put cameras and sensors near the ground without ever being seen or detected, too.)

  • If these things are here observing, it could well be our living planet that is being observed, not specifically us, who are so far behind them we are no more special than anything else here to observe.

    On another note, I have long held that surviving races will eventually leave their planet of origin, and maybe even leave planet-bound life altogether. Sure, there could still be something on their planet of origin related to them – or not. And there could be things related to them on other worlds they colonized years ago. There could be many races through-out the galaxy, or indeed the universe, that are from the same source, but evolved along different paths, as they took different directions when moving through space. The problem of them coming here and then getting the infomation gleaned back home would not be a problem if they are moving through space constantly, and never go back. Indeed, they may not even know where “home” is or even that they ever had one.

  • You’re absolutely right that it might not even be us “they” are here to observe. Since I first wrote this post, I’ve sort of “bifurcated” my thinking on the whole UFO question: That the statistics demand the presence of ET probes, yet that many or most of the UFO phenomena people experience could be caused by more advanced beings who originated right here on earth (it’s the view that Jacques Vallee has argued very persuasively, and I take it it’s what Mac Tonnies argues in his forthcoming book The Cryptoterrestrials). So, what if there’s an ET presence on Earth to observe or interact with a cryptoterrestrial race who are the real players on our planet?

    I also completely agree with you about the possible destiny of a spacefaring species. Interstellar distances would make speciation inevitable. And the notion of leaving planet-bound existence would be an interesting solution to the problem of keeping a spacefaring civilization with a coherent sense of history and destiny in a universe limited by Einsteinian laws. If the entire society moved at a speed approaching that of light, they wouldn’t all have to go the same place, as long as they rendezvoused at predetermined spacetime coordinates.

  • Eric – thanks for the reference about billion year old beings/entities. I must say – I really enjoyed your ideas and writing style — your ideas are very similar to my beliefs that I have also been expressing on my blogs.

    Also, I just added this blog to my UDCC blogroll.

    Keep up the great thoughts and will be adding this link to my Squidoo site.

    Rick Phillips

  • Thanks much, Rick! I enjoy your site too, but have only scratched the surface. Obviously I’ve only delved into the subject relatively recently (after my own experiences last year). Though I now read obsessively all the good blogs out there, I still have a lot to learn. Hence the rapid evolution of my own thoughts on the subject, and my diminishing confidence in any of my initial conclusions!


  • Regarding security, another reason why “they” might show rather high interest in our space programs and our power-producing technologies: if Einstein was correct, a ship travelling at relativistic speeds would pack on a fiendish amount of mass as it drew closer to the speed of light. This would mean that even a fairly small robotic probe could become, if not a planet-buster, at least a hurtling piece of hell capable of producing extinction-level events if it were to impact a life-bearing planet. I’d keep a close eye, too, on some random near-sighted fool capable of firing a howitzer into my house.

  • The so-called Great Silence, the Fermi Paradox, or in simplest terms where are they… your post is an interesting comment(s) on whatever the truth may really be.

    The biggest issue would seem to be contact itself. What is the point? Of course its not hard to logically tease out categories of answers and more or less paint ourselves into the corner where the answer lies.

    I would suggest we may have no good idea of what the purpose of contact may really be. We may not have the ability to understand the reason(s) behind their presence. And I dont mean to sell us short but simply enumerate one of those possibilities.

    Suppose they had solved all their woes… well if they know the answer to just about everything data-gathering seems a bit pointless… even security seems beyond pointless.

    And if they are so close to being god(s) and their wisdom is almost infinite, if they understand the root of all things, and branches so to speak, well they really dont need to gather any more data points. They know. They are on the other side of one hand clapping. They are on intimate terms with Jesus Himself.

    Something trite. Perhaps, as absurd as it sounds, absurd and inconsequential as the human race may be, maybe their aloofness isnt that at all. Maybe we cant see the forest for the trees and just the imagination of their presence here, beyond the lights in the sky, triangles and saucers etc., maybe our dreams our changing us, and our dreams are changing because of them.

    And chances are they are not them… really a sobering and fascinating distinction but the issue of contact itself doesnt seem much changed by that wrinkle. Maybe, as ridiculous as it sounds, after everything is said and done, they arent here to gather data, theory is now Truth to them, one more data point in their scheme of things, well it is already an outline in Eternity, and security wouldnt seem to mean very much to such a presence, could they be here to lend a hand. Maybe that is the wisest use of their timelessness.

    Of course there is a spectrum of things between help, perhaps a not quite fathomable sort of help, and the unanswerable, a reason beyond our grasp, beyond our ken. Of course the least interesting thing, as Vallee has remarked, is that they are simply from another planet, our reflections at another turn of the spiral.

    You have quite an interesting blog! Thanks!

  • Thanks for the compliment, James. I disagree with you though that even a hyper-advanced civilization would be “godlike” in the scope of its awareness. That implies information-gathering that transcends time and space and I’m not ready to accept such a possibility (but of course, who knows). Thus I’m limited in my imagination to information gathering that is achieved through technology, and is indeed necessary.

    I’d suggest also that not all advanced civilizations will be equally far advanced from us, and those in question (i.e., those engaged in “deep anthropology”) could be relatively near to us in capability, having simply achieved the ability to propogate Von Neumann probes through its stellar neighborhood.