In our series “Myths Under the Lens” we publish articles scrutinizing subjects that agitate our minds. In this article, MK examines the perennially unresolved issue of extraterrestrial life.
The question whether aliens have visited the earth in ancient times and/or are still visiting us arises again and again when we try to explain some strange occurrences that do not look natural but cannot be assigned to humans.
History and archaeology provide a fertile ground. Many occurrences recorded hundreds of years back and some creations that are preserved till date look impossible for humans with the primitive technology available to them at the time they relate to. Some cave inscriptions and drawings, and some artefacts, look so unusual for the period to which they belong. It also looks unlikely that people of those times could draw or describe them out of imagination.
Mythologies of old civilizations talk of some characters with super human abilities, and their actions have also sometimes been explained as actions by extra-terrestrials.
A lot of curiosity about alien visits seems to have arisen due to fiction. Aliens give the freedom to the story-teller to expand imagination to the levels that cannot be achieved within the limits of humans and the physical limitations of the earth. Scientific fiction, which imagines things that would happen in a future much ahead of the times, gives wings to such imagination. Movies have taken it much farther, with immensely powerful effects.
In the last one hundred years, numerous unidentified flying objects or UFOs are reported, photographed and videographed by people, which raise public curiosity.
While the news reports about UFOs or new archaeological finds are transient, some television programmes have focused on aliens. The Ancient Aliens television series on History channel is worth a mention here. This series, running since 2010, explores peculiar occurrences recorded in the past, ancient cave paintings and archaeological finds that defy explanation in human civilizational terms, UFO sightings and governments’ suspicious conduct in sharing findings of investigations into UFOs.
Whenever a curious object or event is reported, media makes it more juicy by exaggerating the reality and adding suspense. In recent years, social sharing sites pick them up for gaining traffic and social networking and chat platforms broadcast them to one and all. In some circles, even the current pandemic is being attributed to aliens and there may be millions who believe it.
The concept of aliens
Aliens are supposed to be creatures who have the technology to travel from another world to the earth. Since humans cannot yet travel to distant planets, such creatures must be much more advanced than humans. That differentiates them from other forms of ‘extra-terrestrial life’ which may be in planets or satellites around the earth but is not highly evolved or intelligent.
We will examine the probability of extra-terrestrial life in the universe in another article sometime later. Since this matter is germane to the present discussion, let’s also briefly touch it here.
Is intelligent extra-terrestrial life possible?
Scientists believe that the universe is enormously massive, and there are no less than 1022 (22 zeroes after 1) or 10,000 trillion trillion stars in it. Each star, in turn, has many planets and satellites. Even after applying filters for satellites and planets that cannot support life, scientists talk of the probability of billions of life-supporting celestial bodies.
According to one estimate, there could be 40 billion earth-sized habitable planets within our own galaxy, the Milky Way! Another estimate gives the number of planets with some form of life within the observable universe as 6.25 billion. Exobiologists assert that out of so many habitable planets, at least a few thousand planets must have life that has evolved to at least human levels.
Once life evolves to a level where it has invented technologies that can communicate through radio waves and travel to space, the capabilities grow exponentially within a short period of time. By that logic, a civilization just a hundred-thousand years more evolved than the humans today can be expected to have the wherewithal to visit the earth from the other corner of the galaxy, if not farther.
With these assumptions, scientists started exploring whether the intelligent extra-terrestrials could be approached with radio waves. Many SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) experiments started being conducted in the middle of the last century. They or their new versions are continuing in different parts of the globe. Now satellites, space probes, linked computers etc – in addition to mainstream high-resolution space telescopes – are being used for capturing and analysing unusual electro-magnetic signals received from the space and also to proactively try to reach out to aliens by sending own signals. So far, no breakthrough has been achieved.
Range of theoretical possibilities and questions
If we assume, for argument sake, that intelligent aliens do exist and some of them are so evolved that they have been travelling across space, there arise many questions regarding their visit to the earth:
- When did they arrive? Millions or thousands or some years back? Are they still visiting? Are they actually there at this time? Do they keep coming and leaving?
- Why would they come to the earth? To invade it? To populate it? In search of minerals/ chemicals? To experiment with earth’s life? By chance or mistake?
- If they came, why did they leave the earth? Were they unable to survive? Whether they did their experiments and went away? Where did/ do they arrive?
- If they come even now, why don’t they come in direct contact with humans?
- If they came, how did they affect humanity? Did they help us with technology not known to us? Did they create things for themselves and destroyed them when they left? Were they friendly or inimical to humans? Were they the gods and demons in mythology?
- What could be the biological composition of aliens? Need they look, breathe and eat, live and act like earthly creatures?
- Is it that humans are in some way of an alien origin, supplanted on Darwinian evolution?
- If not aliens themselves, is there a possibility of their unmanned probes reaching the earth or observing it from a distance?
- If aliens or their probes ever came to the earth, why are there no traces at all of their spacecraft, dead bodies, clothing, etc.
- And many more.
Did aliens create these colossal structures?
A number of awe-inspiring structures dating hundreds of years back exist in different parts of the world. Some people argue that it was impossible for humans of those times to create these structures without help from a technologically much more advanced race. In absence of historical or archaeological evidence of such a human race, it is argued that only aliens could have done so. Some such structures are:
Sacsayhuamán: A 1000-year old fortress in Peru, whose walls are made of rocks weighing as much as 360 tonnes, with high precision. These rocks were transported to the fort from 20 miles away.
Nazca Lines: Huge drawings of geometrical shapes and animal figures are found in Nazca desert in Peru. Some figures are so big that they can be observed in full only from an aircraft or a hill-top.
Egyptian pyramids: Their enormous sizes, precise shapes, and alignment with celestial bodies, have kept the humanity awe-struck.
Stonehenge: This 5000 year old circle of huge stone figures in England also keeps us wonder-struck when we note that the stones weigh up to 50 tonnes.
Indian Shiva temples coming in the same longitude: It is stated that eight major Shiva temples representing different elements of nature lie on the same longitude (about 79 degrees east), from Kedarnath in the Himalayas to Rameswaram on the Indian Ocean shore. It is argued that humans did not have the knowledge and capacity to calculate and map longitudes at such distances, and such a precise alignment could have been done only by aliens.
Easter Island figures: These 900 huge stone human figures scattered on hill slopes in a Chilean island defy explanation how and why they were created.
Gods and aliens
As religions grow old, they collect stories – whether real or imagined or created with a motive – of events that are beyond humans. Most religions worship supernatural power(s) and/or humans supposed to be specially blessed or sent by the powers.
The belief in these super-humans and super-human occurrences, which is at the root of many religious faiths, comes in conflict with the modern science when the latter demands verifiable proof.
One of the ways to explain ancient super-human occurrences is that Gods were a very advanced race who came from other worlds. They were, thus, aliens. It gets credence because it easily explains away the lack of human advancement at the time of their incarnation.
Look at the extra-ordinary powers, capacity to transcend space and time, and the weapons these super-humans or Gods yielded. Some of their wares looked like modern day aircraft, spaceship, firearms and missiles, laser, remote controlled devices and other present-day or futuristic tech tools. Hindu deities are described in ancient scriptures to have had vimanas (aircraft) and astras (flying weapons/ missiles). Some adventurous researchers have tried to find uncanny similarities between the objects held by deities in temple sculptures with modern day devices. People have also tried to explain the relationship of religious characters such as Adam, Lord Shiva, prophets and oracles with other worlds.
UFOs and cover ups
UFO sightings have been reported from all parts of the world, for over two millennia. Their occurrences have been recorded more regularly in the last hundred years as people started reporting that they had seen flying saucers, strong lights hovering over some area and disappearing, and lights moving in the sky in an unnatural way. Even abduction of humans or animals by some unseen force in the sky have been reported .
The most serious UFO reports come from jet pilots and astronauts. Some of them are convinced that they had real encounters with aliens.
It is reported that in 1977, a professor of space science and astrophysics at Stanford University mailed a questionnaire about UFO sightings to members of the American Astronomical Society. He received 1,356 responses from astronomers, and 62 of them – 4.6 percent – reported witnessing or recording inexplicable aerial phenomena.
There are many cases that have been studied by military and aviation experts over time but remain unexplained. Subject to correction, these include a 1947 sighting of flying saucers [which sparked off the modern UFO era]; a 1948 incident of seeing a UFO by the US defense forces, and when a fighter pilot was sent to investigate, his craft crashed and he was killed; a 1952 US incidence of an unusually bright light observed on radars, which disappeared when aircraft tried to intercept it; a 2004 case in which a US naval fleet was sent to intercept a strange object over California; and a 2014 video recorded by the Chilean naval authorities. In the last case, they concluded that it was an unidentified aerial phenomenon suggesting that it could be a UFO or an extremely unusual cloud formation.
It has also been said that the US government has a lot of classified data on strange aerial occurrences reported by pilots and captured on radars. However, in response to a petition, the US government issued a statement in 2011 that no such data exists.
At the same time, the US government itself has commissioned a number of studies on UFOs and some of them are reported to be still continuing. CIA too was closely investigating UFO cases at least between 1947 and 1990.
Many ufologists believe that the US as well as Russian governments have much information in store about UFOs, which they do not make public for reasons best known to them.
Scientific evidence so far goes against alien visits
All the strange objects and occurrences linked to aliens get examined except highly classified information, if any.
The super-human looking structures, like those mentioned above, have been examined with re-creation, modelling and other methods, and found to be man-made. For example, recently a rope and lever system has been discovered in Sacsayhuamán area, which explains to a good extent how the extraordinary feat of transporting huge boulders might have been achieved. An experiment with available wooden scales and ropes done at Nazca has shown how it was possible for humans to carve out such -huge figures on the earth, despite no compass. Egyptian pyramids seem to be creations by a workforce of thousands of humans rather than aliens. Now scientists know that technologies were available to humans at Stonehenge to make a circle of huge boulders. The Easter island figures are also found to be human work, not requiring help from an alien.
A close examination of the placement of Shiva temples on Indian map shows that major ancient Shiva temples are on the banks of rivers or sea shores, and have no relationship with a particular longitude.
Researchers say that not finding a much more capable race at the site of huge stoneworks, etc does not mean that the people of that area did not have the technology. It might be that the race perished or migrated. Some works might have been assigned by kings, using thousands of workers. Some rare genius might have enlisted people’s support to produce extra-ordinary works.
Let us talk about the most important source of alien hypothesis: the UFOs. Many of the UFOs, which could not be explained at the time of their sighting, have been found to be satellites, balloons, distant missile tests, spy planes, meteors, secret military exercises, unusual cloud formations and phenomena caused by unusual air draft or optical illusions, even an earthquake.
Collective UFO sightings have been explained as mass hysteria, with dozens of people convincing themselves that they had seen a similar UFO.
Investigation of some cases of abduction by flying saucers revealed that such experiences are a form of hallucination caused by sleep paralysis.
Scientists have often underlined that media has a vested interest in whipping up stories about curious subjects that defy explanation. On such subjects, TV channels, though claiming to show the reality to the people, usually present half-truths with the promise to go deeper into the subject so as to whet public appetite.
Can we rule out alien visits because we have no evidence?
As discussed above, it is very much possible that life much more intelligent than humans exists in the universe. For example, humans after a thousand years from now might be able to travel enormous distances in space and send/ receive signals that are unknown to us today. Their technological capabilities would be unthinkably enormous in a million years, which is not too big a time in the astronomical scale.
So, outright rejection of the possibility of highly intelligent extra-terrestrial life will be as unscientific as calling every strange happening as divine or an alien handiwork.
It is also a fact that with decades of research, SETI experiments have not been able to prove even a single communication from an intelligent being outside the earth. SETI scientists say, not getting a communication could be due to a different way of communication or distortions or sheer distance in which communications are bound to be lost, and this does not rule out the presence of highly intelligent life millions of miles away from us. Humans should also have the humility to accept that, when it comes to knowing about the universe, they are like a kid who has just taken her first step.
It can also not be ruled out that aliens landed or passed by the earth sometime in its long life – and their remains have disappeared over time. It is also not impossible that they might have inhabited the earth and perished due to their own actions (a parallel with human activities: large-scale nuclear, biological or chemical wars) or big calamities.
It also seems credible that the US Defense Department and its agencies are not certain about some objects studied by them, and there seems to be some sort of cover up. One big reason for this suspicion is that even though some projects were running, the government denied them.
At this stage, let us rest our argument with some facts and possibilities – and uncertainties:
- It is highly probable that highly intelligent creatures exist in some places in the universe.
- It is unlikely that such creatures are in our surroundings today.
- It is not known whether such creatures or their unmanned vehicles ever visited or came close to the earth. If they did so, there is no evidence.
- There are some unexplained UFOs and other objects that defy scientific explanation, and these need further scientific study before they are rejected as nonsense. It would help if governments do not hide any such occurrence from deep scientific scrutiny unless serious security concerns demand such secrecy.
- The super-human accomplishments depicted in mythology may be imaginary or exaggerated or even actual. They are important for their religious and cultural aspects more than scientific. Legends are better left the way they are: not put to undeserved scientific scrutiny and not explained with pseudo-science.
- 7 Ancient Sites Some People Think Were Built by Aliens
- 9 Strange, Scientific Excuses for Why Humans Haven’t Found Aliens Yet
- An alien hunter explains why extraterrestrial visitors are unlikely – despite the US government’s UFO evidence
- Chilean Navy Can’t Identify Mysterious Aircraft Caught on Video
- CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-90
- Have aliens visited Earth? Question worthy of study, says physicist
- List of reported UFO sightings
- UFO Watch: 8 Times the Government Looked for Flying Saucers
*About the author: This article has been contributed by MK. He does not like to call himself a rationalist but insists on scrutiny of apparent myths as well as what are supposed to be immutable scientific facts. Please don’t take the views of the author as the views of Raag Delhi.