The Nightshirt Sightings, Portents, Forebodings, Suspicions

“You see, Earth, it’s not that we’re lazy, it’s that we just don’t care.”

In his writings on contemporary culture, the philosopher Slavoj Zizek likes to invoke a concept borrowed from psychoanalysis, “the subject presumed to know.” Basically, we often project onto specific other people and institutions a sense that they hold the answers about us. It is derived from a patient’s inner conviction that his therapist really holds the answers about his own inner self but is putting off divulging it. Therapists make it easy to believe this by not saying what’s on their minds; the imagination readily projects “complete knowledge” onto them. Even if you know rationally that they don’t know, somewhere down deep we still believe it. People have always projected such a belief onto God, and now they do so with secular institutions. Paranoia about conspiracies, etc., reflects “the subject presumed to know” in a political or social context.

The UFO phenomenon is another clear manifestation of such a need to believe in a “subject presumed to know.” Somewhere I read a good description of therapists as manifesting “a freely and evenly hovering attention” to their patients, and I’d say this probably makes a perfect description of how people think of UFOs too. I am ready to admit that my last post feeds into such a belief: Basically, I’ve come around to thinking UFOs may well be real, that if so they are probably extraterrestrial, but that if that’s true, they are basically the advanced equivalent of our automated interplanetary probes–here to gather knowledge. But I think that’s all they are.

Because I think it is important to draw a distinction between “the subject presumed to know” and “the subject presumed to give a shit.” I think the interesting question raised by Mac Tonnies, about whether extraterrestrial visitors are actually sentient—to which my post was a kind of response—could be rephrased in these terms. Because I think that lurking within the concept of a “subject presumed to know” is the assumption that someone who knows, who has the answers, also on some level cares. Even their withholding of knowledge is somehow aimed at you, reflects some way in which it matters to them whether you know or not.

Popular culture surrounding UFOs tends to presume a level of giving a shit that, I argue, just isn’t present. If UFOs are real and they are extraterrestrial, they must be here to gather data and thus they certainly “know” a lot about us, but I suspect that they really don’t have any personal or collective investment–that they are essentially probes on automatic pilot, scouring the universe for data, originally created by now-ancient intelligences that are either dead or on some other plane of existence we just can’t fathom. I think it is possible, in other words, to reconcile the “small UFO” picture with a sublime vision more along the transhumanist lines advocated by George Dvorsky at the Sentient Developments blog. It only makes sense that some advanced civilizations with a thousand- or million-year jump on us would have at some point in their history been able and motivated to send out automated probes to every solar system in the galaxy.

The intelligent automation of UFOs is why they seem so autistic, so weirdly lacking in “sentience” in the way Tonnies describes. They are not planning some big contact event a la Close Encounters, any more than NASA’s Spirit rover has a plan for contacting Martian algae if it finds it—nor will they lift a single one of their four fingers to save us from destroying ourselves, if it comes to that. But they aren’t that motivated to hide themselves from us either. Such probes avoid being seen because it generally helps in gathering data, the way field biologists try to be unobtrusive when observing baboons, but in the end stealth is not an obsession.

So UFOs and their biomechanoid “pilots” are kind of like the Peter Gibbons character in Office Space: “You see, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.”


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

One Response to ““You see, Earth, it’s not that we’re lazy, it’s that we just don’t care.””

  • it would seem that like many illusory aspects of our reality this subject has been presented to us as a rigid dichotomy when, as you have pointed out, a third typeset may exist.

    i think some, if not many of the negative experiences that have been reported may actually reflect a clinicality and indifference that just doesn’t care either way. but since so many have a vested interest in maintaining this negativistic perception our awareness of these potentials has been steered toward that direction by the influencers and moulders of public knowledge.

    if we are to develop a truly accurate understanding of what the real case may be it is imperative that we reevaluate the episodes that have defined this narrative and isolate which events are legitimate and offer valuable insight into the situation and which events are staged contrivities engineered to conceal the rubicon behind another layer of smoke and mirrors.