“At this point we continue to assess every threat or potential threat, unknown, that approaches North America with an attempt to identify it.”
So said the head of U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command and Northern Command, General Glen VanHerck to a reporter’s question asking if he or anyone in the U.S. government had ruled out ‘extraterrestrial origin’ for the space balloons that were suddenly appearing in North American skies, or rather, suddenly appearing on the North American public’s radar, four to date, if I’m counting correctly, all shot down, wreckages still unaccounted for, if I’m up on the latest news.
Unidentified Flying Objects.
But here I sit, less interested than I probably should be in what these space balloons actually are, ‘commercial and benign’, the most recent update. Officialese for some sort of intelligence gathering technology maybe? Is there nowhere we aren’t under 24/7 surveillance? Ho Hum, What’s a little invasion of privacy between friends?
Instead, I find myself dumbfounded that an actual reporter rose to ask if we can be sure that these mysterious orbs aren’t of some ‘extraterrestrial origin’. That such a question is then seriously considered by a ranking military mucky-muck, ‘At this point we continue to assess every threat or potential threat, unknown…” Begging your pardon, general, I’m sorry, what?
Apparently, it seems, the U.S. military and the Pentagon are taking the possibility that The Truth May Be Out There seriously.
“The government’s effort to investigate anomalous, unidentified objects – whether they are in space, the skies or even underwater – has led to hundreds of documented reports that are being investigated, senior military leaders have said… Analysis of military sightings are conducted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in conjunction with a newly created Pentagon bureau known as AARO, short for the cryptically named All Domain Anomaly Resolution Office.” [italics mine]
Rather than simply admit to ourselves that there’s aspects of the world we live in that we don’t yet understand or have not developed the capacity to explain, we raise the specter of intelligent life existing beyond the stars, quasi-divinities, of sorts, beyond our simple human comprehension. A reasonably imaginative mental tic in days of yore, earlier, pre-scientific times, when, as a species, we were as grossly uninformed as to the true Nature of the Universe as a rock, perhaps even less so, since rocks have existed much longer than Homo sapiens [italics not mine], some even being of extraterrestrial origin, dating back to at least the Big Bang.
The idea of outer space alien civilizations appealed to our innate desire for explicatory narrative, assuaging our curious and restive apprehension at not knowing how everything pieced together just so.
“We’re still in the dark about a lot of fundamental ideas,” I am informed. “As much as we hate to admit it.”
I’ve summoned an academic acquaintance, one Dr. Lionel Brainard, adjunct professor at the Institute of Incomprehensibility and Intentionality (Omnes Oculi) [italics Latin], Warwick, to try and explain for me this continued desire of our otherwise rational species to hope and pray for out-of-this-world intelligence.
“By the numbers,” Dr. Brainard says, “very, very large numbers, remember, it is entirely possible that ours isn’t the only place in the universe that’s evolved a capacity to host some form of intelligent life.”
“OK,” I accept that possibility. “Why haven’t we yet discovered incontrovertible proof of such existence, and, if there was intelligent life elsewhere, why would it be seeking us out?”
Evidently, Dr. Brainard finds these questions of mine quite funny which had not been my intention. Intentionality indeed (Omnes Oculi) [italics already explained].
“Look, Barnaby,” he sets out to explain in between bouts of guffaws. “It’s a big place out there, the universe. Making contact across it isn’t as easy as all that, no matter what Lennon and McCartney thought. And who knows? We might be the most advanced form of life, and if we haven’t figured it out, right? Until we do, if we do… ?”
“And if we aren’t the most advanced form of life,” I add, “why would a more advanced lifeform, if they even bothered to discover our existence, studied us even a little bit, why would they travel lightyears to reach out and introduce themselves? Would you waste that kind of time and resources to announce your presence to semi-sentient flesh and bones who might well have extinguished itself by the time you got there?”
But this line of hypotheticals draws me away from the crux of the conversation I want to engage Dr. Brainard on.
“Why do we still believe in aliens and E.T.s?”
In the silence of Dr. Brainard collecting his thoughts and framing his response, I add,
“So deep is our belief, that we actually entertain the possibility that if creatures from outer space did manage to track us down, they’d make their presence known in the form of balloons?”
“I think it makes the vast expanse of seeming emptiness to our minds a little less forbidding and hostile,” the doctor finally responds.
“Maybe not hostile. Devoid of life. And if devoid of life, devoid of meaning. If there’s other life out there [italics Dr. Brainard’s, verbally], it makes our existence feel a little less like a fluke or accidental. We’re not just some cosmic anomaly.”
“Why wouldn’t we want to be a cosmic anomaly?” I ask, genuinely, which Dr. Brainard doesn’t immediately pick up, it seems, erupting as he does into another big burst of laughter. “I thought we prized being unique,” I shout over his mirthful bellows.
Isn’t it true?
Wars have been waged for the sake of our differences, massacres and genocide conducted upon the proverbial ‘Other’. We mindlessly kill and consume differing and contra species, reasoning that they aren’t like us, deliciously so in many cases. But yet, according to the ever-chuckling Dr. Brainard, we cannot cope with the prospect of being alone in the universe? To the point where we embrace the possibility of little green men, going out about their alien business in some backwater galaxy far, far away.
‘We are not alone’. ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’. ‘Space – the final frontier’.
“Space is boundless,” Dr. Brainard says, checking back in from the land of merry. “It squashes a man’s ego.”
An interesting thought, I thin—
“Charlton Heston in the Planet of the Apes,” he adds. I have no idea what he means by that.
Dr. Brainard fills me in with the details of the movie, the first of many installments, it turns out, the lead actor I vaguely remember in another role as some gun mad zealot, with the great apes assuming a human social hierarchy after we, humanity, did some sort of nuclear decimation, orangutangs, the top-level mandarins (because they’re orange?) [italics mystified], chimpanzees as middle-management, gorillas, the muscle, patently absurd, if you ask me. Anybody who knows anything about higher order primates knows the chimps would be the enforcers in that sort of situation. Sure, orangutangs are smart but could you draw them out of the trees long enough for them to put forth and debate important edicts? And what happened to the bonobos? Too x-rated? The playful gibbon? Too small for human actors to portray convincingly?
“The point is, Barnaby,” Dr. Brainard continues, evidently having moved on from his movie synopsis, “what humans don’t understand, what they can’t comprehend, they feel necessary to fill in the blank space, in this case, outer space.”
“We can’t abide the void,” I offer in return.
With a gentle sweep of his hand, Dr. Brainard seems to silently agree with my assessment.
Avoid the void. Fill it with the unlikely and improbable. Populate outer space with our inner space. The human condition.
I then wonder if our great ape brethren wrestle similarly… simian-arly [italics definitely mine] with such transcendent matters. Now, that would make an interesting movie.