Today I’m toying with the idea that paranoid delusions are the only rational response to the world we live in. Attempting to understand what’s going on around us in a sensible, scientifically responsible manner is just too discouraging. I mean, how anybody in the Republican Party could possibly take themselves seriously, without either throwing up or collapsing in helpless laughter — there really is no way to make sense of it.
I’ve been forced, rather against my better judgment, to conclude that space aliens are doing something really awful to Republicans’ brains.
This theory has the advantage that it’s tidy. We can’t possibly understand the motives or methods of space aliens, so we don’t need to try to explain what they’re up to. It’s enough to grasp that they’re doing it. Because, really, what other explanation could there be?
You may say, “But Jim, there are no space aliens! All of those purported sightings are either deliberate lies by attention-seekers or the result of bad brain wiring. Those thousands of photographs of flying saucers — all of them are 100% fake.” That’s an interesting theory, of course, but it has difficult features. For one thing, it’s an attempt to be rational. The existence of the modern Republican Party clearly demonstrates that rationality does not work at all reliably. It’s deficient. As a result, any attempt to be rational is highly suspect.
In addition, the theory that UFO sightings must be either hallucinations or lies lumps together a vast array of disparate phenomena and presents a purported explanation for all of those phenomena — but without the troublesome business of actually investigating the phenomena. Is this how science works? I think not.
Last night I was looking at a UFO theory website, and read an essay that raised a provocative question. The question is, what would it take to persuade you that UFOs are real? What sort of proof would be sufficient for you? This turns out to be not a scientific question at all, but a question about social psychology. I firmly believe, for instance, that there exists a very large, expensive device called a supercollider in Switzerland, using which a bunch of highly trained people are attempting to discover something called the Higgs boson. However: I have never been to Switzerland. I don’t know anyone who has ever seen this supercollider. And I would be entirely unable to explain to you why the Higgs boson, though it has never been observed, is thought to exist.
The very existence of Switzerland is, for me, a socially constructed “fact.” I believe that Switzerland exists because people whom I deem trustworthy assure me that it does. But why are certain people deemed trustworthy while others (specifically, those who have seen UFOs) are not? Largely because of a social consensus process. Because of a social consensus, people who believe in UFOs are generally assumed to be confused, mistaken, or lying.
And yet, there are also millions of people who believe in Jesus Christ, and certainly with less evidence than the evidence for UFOs. By social consensus, those people are not judged to be confused or mistaken. From this we can easily see that the social consensus process is not 100% trustworthy.
Here are some facts about the universe:
We have been studying the universe in a reasonably scientific manner for only a few hundred years. The very existence of other galaxies and of subatomic particles has been known for only a hundred years or so. We now understand that the universe is very, very large and very, very old. We can also see that we understand, as yet, very little about it.
Based on present-day astronomical findings and the findings of atomic physics, we can guess that planets that support advanced forms of life are relatively rare. Most planets are undoubtedly quite barren. But the universe (see above) is very large and has been around for a very long time. Thus the probability that other planets have developed advanced forms of life is actually very high. It’s not at all unreasonable to suppose that a civilization that was 10,000 years older than our own, or 100,000 years, would have developed technology that would make crossing the vast gulf between life-supporting planets a relatively simple matter.
If any civilizations in our galaxy have been around long enough to manage that feat (and the probability seems rather high), the relative scarcity of life-supporting planets would naturally give them a keen interest in studying same. They would be quite likely to come here, just to see what’s going on. I mean, wouldn’t you do that, if you had the technology? Of course you would.
It’s also important to grasp the idea that we would never be able to develop any thorough understanding of the possible motivations or agendas of space aliens. After all, we can barely understand the motivations of Republicans, and they’re reputed (according to some theories) to be members of the human race.
It has recently been discovered that prairie dogs have a surprisingly well-developed language, containing dozens of distinct calls. And the humble octopus, though it lives for only two or three years, is capable of rapid learning and problem-solving, at a level that no human three-year-old could hope to emulate. Evolution can do almost anything, given suitable raw material — and the universe contains an unimaginable amount of raw material! So it’s a grave mistake to think that we would be able to figure out, even on the basis of far more extensive evidence than we have, what a species as sophisticated as our own, but evolved on an entirely different world, might be doing, or why.
In sum, the reasons to believe that UFOs are real are quite cogent, and that belief, in that it may serve to explain certain bizarre and otherwise inexplicable human aberrations (such as Republicanism), is actually rather comforting. Of course, believing in UFOs is only a paranoid delusion; I do understand that. It’s a paranoid delusion because there exists no social consensus that would say otherwise.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that paranoid delusions can, in some cases, be rational. That’s the kind of world we live in.