This is the text of a talk I gave in a debate with Mary Rodwell on the topic of alien visitation. The debate will be broadcast by SBS (I believe under the title ‘My Mum Talks to Aliens’) in December 2010.
Odd marks on the skin.
I can’t talk about aliens without thinking about The X-Files. I’m sorry, but I was a teenager in the 1990s. The X-Files offered something cool. The Truth – and this is something dear to my little scientist heart – Was Out There!
As a young teenager living in the murky mists of Far North Queensland, The X-Files offered something special. It offered a coherent view of the world, but one that was just… twisted slightly. The people were the same; the buildings were the same; but something different rested underneath. Watching The X-Files in the 1990s, we were like the muggles of the world of Harry Potter, muggles being introduced to this magical twist on our normal world. While everything was the same on the surface, underneath was a radically – magically – different world of aliens, wondrous flying machines and government cover-ups and conspiracies of the highest order.
Now, around about the same time, my high school up there in Far North Queensland introduced me to the wonders of the internet. What. A. Time.
The first thing I did on the internet – I was a 15 year old, remember – was look up the precise button sequence for a particular combo attack in the video game Killer Instinct. True story. The greatest invention since electricity, and I went instantly to video game secrets. Sometimes I really do despair for the human condition.
Anyway, back to the video game secrets.
The fact that I looked for them actually says something.
Not the video game thing, the thing about secrets.
You see, back in the glory days of the mid 90s, the internet had been announced to us as this amazing truth finding machine, something able to find out the secrets of the world. Not only would we be video calling and tweeting and chat-rouletting each other by the end of the week, we’d all be hacking into mainframes left right and centre. Not for nothing was the phrase “he’s hacked into the NASA mainframe” or “she’s downloaded secret files from the CIA” a supposed badge of internet pride.
And so the second thing I looked up when I first saw the internet was the United States Air Force’s infamous Blue Book on Unidentified Flying Objects.
Introduced to me probably by The X-Files – though it had been a concept important to popular culture for much longer – the Blue Book was supposedly the record of the US Air Force’s investigations into unidentified flying objects in the 1950s and 60s. This was it! The record of UFO encounters! How excitement!
I can’t remember if I found it then, though I do remember seeing a long and typographically awful text file at some point that claimed to be the Blue Book. I didn’t read it all, but the conclusions were plain.
“No evidence … that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ represented technological developments or principles beyond the range of modern scientific knowledge; and
“No evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ were extraterrestrial vehicles.”
Now I’m sure our friends across from us would say that this is merely evidence of a cover-up. That this is simply the US government’s spin on what was actually going on.
It might surprise them, but I’m not going to argue against that. We simply cannot know if this is a clinical, bureaucratic document was a clinical, bureaucratic document describing things as they were, or a clinical, bureaucratic document that covered up the truth.
What’s more important is to look at why I wanted to see this book.
You see, I thought – given the impressionable youth I was – that I was operating under the pro-science tagline of The X-Files of ‘The Truth is Out There’. This, to my inquisitive eyes, was an injunction, a command! Go out, discover! You too could be part of the quest to find the truth.
Yet deep down, I think I was operating under The X-Files’ alternate tag-line, the tag-line that became more prominent in later years: I Want To Believe.
You see, whether I actually believed in alien visitation or not – and I don’t believe I actually ever did – the search for aliens like this was fascinating, intriguing, fun. This giant possible secret, just beneath the surface.
But to play the game, you had to commit to a massive suspension of disbelief.
Weird marks on the skin?
Strange utterances by children?
Strange lights in the night?
Waking from a dream to find your mind wide awake, but your body paralysed?
The belief in alien visitation requires a suspension of disbelief; it’s an alternate reality game without a gamemaster.
To play the game of alien visitation, on each of these things – and on the countless other points of evidence that have been cited by our friends opposite – you have to reject the simplest explanation in favour of something rather more improbable.
Not impossible, I accept.
Indeed, not illogical. We can, logically, sustain a coherent argument about visitation by extraterrestrial aliens.
But if your theory starts to explain everything – if your theory can account for strange marks on the skin, weird gaps in people’s memory, odd things said by children, missing pieces of furniture, strange lights in the night – then we’ve got one of two things going on.
Either we have a perfect theory – an excellent account of what is going on – or there is a flaw in our method of collecting evidence. There is, quite frankly, a story that comes before the evidence that has been presented.