Transhuman Ufology

Mac Tonnies @ 16-03-2008

Mac Tonnies - Loving the Alien Welcome to the return of non-fiction essays to Futurismic! And welcome also to the inaugural Loving The Alien column, in which Mac Tonnies sets out his pitch for “transhuman ufology”.

How can Kurzweilian Singularitarianism and informed ufological speculation be reconciled? Read on to find out …

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I have a confession to make: I am a “transhuman ufologist.”

So far as I know, this is the first time the term has appeared on the Web, so I’ve yet to see if it has any staying power. But the idea, at least, is simple enough: I see absolutely no contradiction between the “hard” technological realities of the Kurzweilian Singularitarian crowd and the speculation of informed UFO researchers.

We transhuman ufologists are a witheringly small bunch; although I’ve come across provocative discussions about nanotechnology and machine intelligence within the more intelligent corridors of ufology, committed transhumanists approach the subject of UFOs and the “paranormal” with pronounced disdain. The very definition of “skeptic,” for instance, is summarily forgotten; among the more strident and vocal proponents of transhumanism, the very prospect of extraterrestrial visitation via UFO is considered naïve fantasy good for little more than placating true believers with elusive promises of galactic altruism. Certainly, they argue, we’re better off parroting the so-called Fermi Paradox.

Of course, those looking for reasons to denigrate UFO research don’t have to look particularly hard. The field is strewn with banality and hobbled by the omnipresent will to believe. A newcomer weaned on Carl Sagan isn’t likely to find ufology accommodating; consequently, the genuinely compelling evidence goes unnoted. The phenomenon (or phenomena) at the core of the UFO question is lost in a stew of lifeless memes.

But the Singularitarian elite’s failure to appreciate the nuances of the UFO problem is largely semantic, hindered by the media’s lamentable tendency to equate “UFO” with “extraterrestrial spacecraft.” At least most skeptical ufologists are willing to concede the presence of a genuine unknown, regardless of its origin. To devout critics, the very idea that our planet could be host to some form of nonhuman intelligence reeks of wishful thinking. After all, humans have always attempted to populate the darkness with beings possessed of varying degrees of humanity. And the UFO phenomenon — whatever it is — isn’t easily distanced from its folkloric context.

Which leads to an interesting idea. If we’re indeed interacting with a nonhuman intelligence, could it be deliberately insinuating itself into our cultural fabric, appealing to our basest preconceptions in order to engage us in some long-term dialogue? Given the phenomenon’s enduring physicality and penchant for theater (for example, the airborne acrobatics over Washington, D.C. in 1952 or any number of pilot cases in which objects are seen performing outrageous maneuvers), it’s surely folly to assume we’re the sole participants in our slender portion of the galactic drama.

Elsewhere I’ve entertained the prospect that UFOs might be the product of a postbiological intelligence predating human history. In this scenario, UFOs could be the equivalent of Arthur C. Clarke’s Monolith: both evolutionary catalyst and patient overseer.

Ironically, the very speculative technologies embraced by hardcore Singularitarians could very well help researchers make sense of the exotic characteristics reported by UFO witnesses. The near-magical potential of nanotech “utility fog,” for example, recalls effects observed in the vicinity of UFOs (and their ostensible “pilots”). The seamless metallic surfaces and uniform lighting described repeatedly in the UFO literature also lend themselves to the emerging science of molecular manufacturing.

Once we grant the possibility of self-replicating probes wafted into the abyss by exploratory ET civilizations — an idea embraced by transhumanist pundits — it’s impossible to abandon the parallels outright. Personally, I feel a synthesis is in order, if only for the unbridled intellectual fun of it.

I don’t, incidentally, foresee the UFO “community” joining hands with futurology. Nor do I expect Ray Kurzweil to publish a tome on UFOs — at least not within my biologically allotted lifetime.

But I do predict a subtle, inadvertent diffusion of ideas — provided ufology can clear its head of a half-century’s faded dreams. Because ultimately ufology and transhumanism share a certain reckless certainty in their respective subjects: a trait immediately recognizable in any decent garage band.

And everyone loves a good jam session.

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MacMugshot Mac Tonnies is an author/essayist whose futuristic fiction and speculative essays have appeared in many print and online publications. He’s the author of Illumined Black, a collection of science fiction short-stories, and After the Martian Apocalypse (Paraview Pocket Books, 2004). Mac maintains Posthuman Blues, a widely read blog devoted to emerging technologies and paranormal phenomena, and is a member of the Society for Planetary SETI Research. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where he writes, reads and surfs the Net. He is currently at work on a new book.[Loving the Alien column header image credited to RedMonkeyVirus]

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11 Responses to “Transhuman Ufology”

  1. Samantha says:

    This is largely not helpful as it puts words and attitudes in the mouths and minds of transhumanists who are not convinced of UFO presence. As this entry decries such on the other side this is ironic.

    Most transhumanist of the Singularity or extropian bent have no problem at all with the idea that extraterrestrial intelligences could visit this planet. We tend to point out that even with light speed limitations it would be expected that a post Singularity species could reach every part of its local galaxy within some 400000 years. What many of us doubt is that such visitors would take the form of “little green men” or other humanoids or fundamentally biological beings. For a sufficiently advanced civilization it is very highly unlikely that they would send relatively unintelligent and difficult to sustain and transport biological beings over such distances. It is far more likely that some sort of nano-wisp extremely minute intelligent craft would explore and where deemed worthwhile build out more substantial tools and computational/mind abilities in areas of sufficient interest. Of course they might choose to build actual apparent biologicals for contact work. But actual proven contact seems to be missing.

    There is much in UFO reports that defies belief or underlying logical consistency. Of course and advanced civ with its highly advanced tech could have us see and experience whatever it wishes. But the reports are often so contradictory that even assuming such godlike powers doesn’t lead to a coherent or believable account. In particular accounts of UFO “accidents” or hacking up of cattle or abducting humans for experiments are not remotely compatible with a civ sufficiently advanced to traverse the vast distances involved.

  2. Michael Garrett says:

    Lately, my own thinking has been proceeding much along the lines of Tonnies post. Our ideas concerning what UFO’s may represent have been so confused by disinformation and our own physical and intellectual limitations, it’s good to have some new direction in thought regarding the subject.

  3. Mac Tonnies says:

    Samantha–

    Extropians don’t dismiss ET visitation, but they *do* shun UFOs.

    Like Jacques Vallee, I think the absurdity of the UFO experience can be attributed to a “control system.” If so, there’s no reason it couldn’t be cybernetic as opposed to biological. I should have emphasized it more in my essay, but I think UFO “pilots” could very well be staged for our benefit. What better way for a distributed machine intelligence to interact with us on an “invisible” level than insinuating itself into our folklore?

    Some UFO events indeed seem unbelievable. But if we’re dealing with an effectively godlike technology that’s been with us for millions of years, we might expect its machinations to be unnervingly subtle.

  4. John Auchettl says:

    Hi Samantha,

    We have ample evidence that “contact” is basically a form of theatre, pompous declarations, speeches, flags, noise, uniforms etc. For example as an Australian we have great records of such theatre. http://www.joseflebovicgallery.com/Catalogue/Archive/Cat-115-2005/Large/0003.jpg
    Granted the Cook example has its limitations, the Australian Aboriginal culture undoubtedly had some previous contact with Western man and the differences in the culture although visible are never-the-less similar… yet one can see a pronounced distinction.

    Now if you use Nikolai Kardashev (1964 soviet astronomer) proposed scale for measuring the technological advancement of an extraterrestrial civilisation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale Then the theatre will undoubtedly be unrecognisable to us and thus may in fact be gear to bring us into the moment (again by some theatre?). It could explain why the subject feels real, weird in operation, tooled with human artefacts, mystical in form, vaporous in longevity and defies rational explanation etc.

    With Kardashev in mind your spokesmen like proclamation on the minds of “transhumanists who are not convinced” in the shape of defined statement such as; “light speed limitations…”, “would take the form of…”, “highly unlikely that…”, “difficult to sustain…” and “contact seems to be missing…” tells me this, if we are still grubs in the “Type 0” stage then you have sadly missed the point.

    John Auchettl
    Phenomena Research Australia
    Melbourne, Vic

  5. John M. says:

    Scientists and their proponents dismiss ufology for two general reasons. First and most obvious is the fact that if they even question the possibility, they are subject to ridicule and are essentially engaging in career seppuku. The second is the ‘lack of evidence’ angle. If the only evidence you examine is in a book by Michael Shermer, you will find a distinct and categorical lack of it.

    Also, ‘paranormal’ or fringe researchers often dismiss, or even attack those in other like fields. This is likely to seem more discriminating and objective, while appealing to more mainstream sensibilities by saying “I’m just like you, I think those guys are nuts, too.”

    Extrapolate the above notions to the intersection of ufology and transhumanism and one should see telling results. Although transhumanism is technically not in the ‘fringe’, it is certainly ‘on the bubble’ in the eyes of many. It seems a fairly safe bet that many transhumanists will reject ufology for these very reasons.

    (Note that I’m referring to a ‘public’ stance. Many people from all walks of life will ‘privately’ show interest in many very ‘off the table’ fields of study and speculation.)

    Sadly, until now, the only crossover points between transhumanism and ufology seem to be in science fiction. Still, science fiction has also neglected, even rejected informed ufology, for the most part.

    As an aside, two other fields that have neglected ufology are psychology and mythology/folklore. Both disciplines have largely ignored a treasure trove of viable study.

    With all this in mind, transhumanist ufology is due for a fair bit of controversy. With the highly speculative turn of mind in the transhumanist community, at least we can look forward to informed and reasoned argument… hopefully.

  6. Joseph Capp says:

    If UFO are Spacecraft from other places and have been here for a long time a conclusion could be drawn that they do not want be of a public nature. Now how do you that if you are going to be here for a long time. How much do they learn about our species? Now I was going back and forth for years on this idea. Sometimes the UFO phenomenon made sense sometimes it doesn’t.
    With this hypothesis in mind. When I read 11 people on their deathbed confessions of Officers who were station at Roswell had kept their Oath to this country and only told their families at the deathbed “bodies and ship” the augment was over for me. No one would do that unless it was true.
    They spoke about the smell of the bodies the craft and the cover-up. So then I looked again on how to resolve this issues of non-logic and still come out with an intelligent species. My theory is intentional disguise aim at the scientist of our world. The thinkers who hate the idea of an intelligent species acting illogically. Could it be these species hide in the metaphysical and use detailed “Staging” of events as a way to not make sense. Are the events happening now in Mexico and elsewhere a type of conditioning of our species as it gains, technological skills, to the reality of what and who they are. Would they take into account and thoroughly study a species psychology and then use it against them to stay hidden. Sounds smart to me and if it was done it has been pretty effective.
    Joe Capp
    UFO Media Matters
    Non-Commercial Blog

  7. Jeremy Vaeni says:

    On the topic of the silliness of some and discrepancies between close encounter cases, let’s not forget one possible answer: Humans divide consciousness into conscious/unconscious. If these being don’t then any action on their part may be split accordingly when we perceive it. (And then add to that all of the other cultural and psychological filters that mask the action.

    I maintain that the silliness at least partially stems from the fact that any action a being who is not of that divided consciousness makes is going to at once appear to us as logical, illogical, the stuff of dreams, and some of it will go wholly unrecognized.

  8. Juan Zapata-Arauco says:

    It is amazing how intellectual seeds emerge almost simultaneously when time comes to illuminate multidisciplinary studies (even marginal) as in this case Transhumanism and Ufology. Some years ago being inmerse en Kurzweil, Norstrom, Lanier, Ryle and many
    others about the possibility (near certainty) of a Singularity en future Simulation and Virtual Reality developments I saw the usefulness of these ideas for explaining the ‘High Strangeness’ component of ufological observations and soon I saw some ufo blogers with which I had no comunication whatsoever expressing transhumanistic connections very similar to my own speculations.

    These ideas were:

    Could UFOs behaviour (movements sudden discontinuities, physically impossible accelerations, sudden emergences and dissapearences, shapeshifting, etc) be an advanced analogy of these same behaviours simulated in our universe considered as a computer processed virtual reality?. In this sense could UFOs not necessarily be extraterrestrial/ extradimensional/timetravelled but merely samples of transhumans (humankind transcended in the future) visiting one (ours) of many of their simulations?

    With my Best Regards

  9. Bruce Duensing says:

    I just posted a brief speculation on the reappearance of spontaneous generation in this phenomenon.The phenomenon is what it is. A paradox model implanted in the field of consensus reality as a stun gun to behavior based upon rational materialism.
    Then again, maybe not. Great post…

  10. Dia Sobin says:

    hey, mac, at least your comments are intelligent ones… even “samantha”
    almost makes a point… if we assume that alien technology would somehow
    develope along recognizable lines… and if we assume that nanotechnology
    is, in fact, the highest technology possible… and if we assume the highest
    technology is even necessary to “arrive” at this planet when the vast amount
    of light years between us and other intelligent beings is also, alas, merely
    an assumption…and lastly, if we assume our entire concept of time and
    space is spot on and travel from point A to point B must be local and linear
    (as opposed to kaku’s views of wormholes) then truly, the presence of UFO’s
    (as opposed to nanowisps) would be unlikely, indeed, and “loving the alien”
    could hardly be helpful.

    if, on the other hand, we step outside the bounds of contemporary
    assumptions, the arguments addressing the proposition of “alien” visitation
    and/or presence at any time in our history are not merely beyond dismissal
    but raise the bar in our development as a species.

    you go, mac!

  11. carl says:

    An interesting perspective is to look at alien visitation and ‘crashes’ as a form of indirect guidance. That is instead of giving us the information and techniques of a certain skill as a teacher would a student they simply show us the possibility as a guide giving us the opportunity to reinvent the technology and in so doing come to fully understand it. “Teach a man to fish…” So they fly through the sky performing impossible gravity defying feats to inspire us to imitation and so evolution. Sometimes they crash a craft just to give us a little more help! They don’t give us the answers rather they show us how to find the answers for ourselves.