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 …
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.
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]