Unidentified Phenomena, Being Human, Taking Reality As-Is

Collage: All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) landing page (https://www.aaro.mil/) and AARO UAP Reporting Trends 1996-2023 (https://science.nasa.gov/science-red/s3fs-public/atoms/files/Sean%20Kirkpatrick%20-%201100am%20to%201130am.pdf ). (September 28, 2023).
AARO, UAP Reporting Trends 1996-2023. aaro.mil, science.nasa.gov (2023)

NASA’s “UAP Independent Study Team Report” used the words stigma, destigmatize, or destigmatizing about a dozen times. At 31 mostly-text pages, that works out to one of those words every two and a half pages.

That’s nowhere near the frequency I’ve seen for terms like “communist threat” or “climate change” in fevered philippics, but it was enough to get my attention.

Particularly since I’m both a nerd and a convert to Catholicism.

That’s given me opportunities for experiencing scorn and/or bemused puzzlement: along the lines of ‘how can you believe in that stuff’; or ‘well, I don’t believe in…’.

Oh, boy. Before getting around to perceived existential threats and B movie space monsters, I’d better talk about “believe in”.

“Do You Believe in….”

Survata poll: 'Do you believe in extraterrestrial life?'I don’t “believe in” science, grammar, music theory, or anything else that helps us make sense of this universe and its components. But I think they’re useful.

I certainly don’t “believe in” them in the sense that I rely on, say, the heptatonic scale and Pythagorean theorem for meaning and purpose in my life.

Then there was a survey done between September 16 and 18, 2013. Survata asked 5,886 Americans “Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life?”

If they’d asked me, I might have said ‘yes, no, I’m not sure’. And then started discussing semantics, the nature of knowledge — which may be why I’m very seldom polled.

Except during election years, when they’re asking for money. And that’s another topic.

On the other hand, I might have figured that the survey folks felt that “do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life?” and “do you think extraterrestrial life exists?” meant the same thing. In which case my response would have been and still is “I’m not sure”.

I don’t know how serious Survata was about their poll.

Apparently the folks were interviewed online, which would limit the sample to folks with Internet connections. And instead of asking if they thought extraterrestrial life exists, they asked “do you believe in….”

Granted, to “believe in” means having faith or confidence in the existence of, or trusting the goodness or value of someone or something.

In that sense, I “believe in” New Hampshire and the Minnesota State Lottery.1 But not the way I “believe in” Jesus.

Okay. That’s enough, maybe too much, about “believe in” and opinion polls.

Next, what I suspect is behind warnings some scientists got, that openly discussing extraterrestrial technosignatures would hurt their careers.


Collage from 'Tales of Future Past', David Szondy.Bear with me, please.

I think most folks would realize that 1950s B movies accurately reflected neither science nor scientific research. If they stopped whatever they were doing, and seriously considered the matter.

But I suspect that folks who are on successful career tracks are focused, driven, practical: and not prone to ponder matters which lack a direct bearing on either current projects or future promotions.

I’m also quite sure that serious-minded researchers who seem offended by colleagues who openly admit interest in extraterrestrial intelligence are — well, very serious-minded folks.

Certainly not the sort to admit having seen cinematic works such as these:

  • “It Came from Outer Space” (1953)
  • “It Conquered the World” (1956)

“It Conquered” — or — Beware Space Monsters Bearing Gifts

From Roger Corman's 'It Conquered the World': Space monster from Venus, with conquest on its mind. (1956)
Space monster from Venus, with conquest on its mind. “It Conquered the World”. (1956)

It Conquered the World” (1956)
“A well meaning scientist guides an alien monster to Earth from Venus, so that he can rid mankind of feelings and emotions — but only death and sorrow results.”

I’m 71. If I’d had a successful career in a field which tends toward mandatory retirement ages, then I’d have been retired by now.

But if staying on the job was an option, I might have become an administrator, executive, or earned some other decision-making position by now.

During eras in which apple carts were not being repeatedly upset, putting folks with decades of experience in charge arguably made sense. I suspect it makes sense anyway, since human nature hasn’t changed: not since long before we started keeping records.

But today?

I grew up in a world where telephones and television were destabilizing technologies. Information technology had been a threat to many folks in middle management. It still is; at least for folks who won’t, or can’t, learn new skills.

Since then, I’ve had jobs including but not limited to sales clerk, flower delivery guy, beet chopper, radio disk jockey, English teacher, graphic designer, computer guy, and list manager — and kept paying attention.

Having someone in charge who is around my age, but who hasn’t had my opportunities for learning new skill sets every year or so; along with my indiscriminate reading habits —

That might have unintended consequences.

Particularly if attitudes and assumptions formed when hula hoops became Hula Hoops had remained unconsidered.2

I’d be surprised if anyone admitted that “It Came from Outer Space” shaped their professional views. Make that astonished.

But I suspect that growing up in a culture which produced such films could leave a mark.

I haven’t seen the film, but found a few mildly neutral discussions of it;3 and this review.

“…Lou Rusoff’s plot is squarely centred among the clichés of the alien takeover genre — it is not long before the good old Communist analogies are being wheeled out — when the possessed general wants to impose martial law at the base the readiest reason is ‘Communist Threat’. Surprisingly though, Rusoff transforms the takeover themes into a literate war of ideas….”
(“It Conquered the World“, Roog, Moria Reviews)

Close Encounters of the Creepy Kind: “It Came from Outer Space”

From Jack Arnold's 'It Came from Outer Space': 'It', a space monster; who just wants time to fix his ship. (1953)
A space monster who just wants to be left alone. “It Came from Outer Space”. (1953)

It Came from Outer Space” (1953)
“A spaceship from another world crashes in the Arizona desert and only an amateur stargazer and a schoolteacher suspect alien influence when the local townsfolk begin to act strangely.”

I haven’t seen this film, either; apart from a two minute, 40 second, clip on YouTube:

Based on that clip, and what I’ve read about the film, I think that maybe there’s more to it than the usual ‘beware anything new and/or ugly’ theme.

I’ve also formed the considered opinion that its fans like it, while folks with more contemporary tastes don’t. I might enjoy it, but maybe not enough to warrant burning those 80 minutes.

“It”, the title character in “It Came from Outer Space”, strikes me as something more that the usual malevolent menace. Based on that two and two-thirds minutes, and what I found in Wikipedia and IMDB.com.4

Perceptions and Assumptions
From Jack Arnold's 'It Came from Outer Space': 'It', during a face-to-eye interview. (1953)
Close encounters of the creepy kind. “It Came from Outer Space”. (1953)

“It” was also (probably) used as a case in point for a video about B movie science fiction. The video’s point was that man-in-a-rubber-suit monsters and schlock plots gave the genre a reputation for being stupid kid stuff.

At least, I think “It” was used as the example of a dumb movie monster. I saw the video while researching this post, and didn’t record the name or URL. Vexing. Particularly since the video’s narrator made a point that fits in with what I’ll be saying.

Also vexing, because if the video used “It” as an example of cheap B movie science fiction: well, they’re not wrong. Not entirely.

IMDB’s blurb, “…the local townsfolk begin to act strangely”, is a standard 1950s B movie situation: along with townsfolk speaking in stagey southern redneck accents, even if the town is in the Pacific Northwest.

A habit which oozed over into television, and that’s yet another topic.

But I’ve read that the budget for “It Conquered…” was “modest” and “low.” Which fits with the film’s two week black and white production schedule.

“It Came from Outer Space” was filmed in “3-DIMENSION” and cost $800,000, which I’m guessing wasn’t chickenfeed in 1953.


I was going somewhere with this, and it wasn’t ‘compare-and-contrast’ two old films.

Let me think.

1950s science fiction movies.



Moving along

“It” isn’t up to the production values of, say, the xenomorph in “Alien”. I figure that’s partly because “Alien” premiered 26 years after “It Came from Outer Space”.5

“It Came from Outer Space”: Ethics and Extraterrestrial Intelligence

From Jack Arnold's 'It Came from Outer Space': the title character, 'It'. (1953)Although it lacks H. R. Giger’s styling, “It” is a more nuanced character than the usual featured creature in ‘everyone screams at the monster’ dramas.

For starters, It and the other aliens don’t want to be on Earth. All they want is to fix their ship, so they can leave and carry on with their mission.

So far, so good: “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” starts with much the same situation.

But It and the others aren’t cute, there’s more than one of them, and they kidnap some humans.

I gather that the kidnappings were necessary, from the aliens’ viewpoint.

Some of them shape-shifted into reasonable facsimiles of the humans. Which got a couple of them killed. The aliens, that is: turns out the facsimiles weren’t sufficiently convincing.

The kidnappings weren’t part of the usual ‘take over the world’ thing. It and company were stealing materials they needed for repairs.6

Kidnapping and theft are bad ideas. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2297, 2401, 2408-2413)

I’ll grant that It had good reason for thinking that negotiating with the humans would go badly, particularly after panicked humans killed some aliens who were getting supplies.

Whether it was legitimate defense, unintentional homicide, or murder: is something I’ll skip for now. (Catechism, 2258-2269)

How much of this nuance and complexity was readily apparent in the movie? That’s a good question: and a reason I might view it someday.

Accepting Truth: and Uncertainty

Collage: promotional art for 'Plan 9 From Outer Space', 'Earth vs. The Flying Saucers', 'The Thing from Another World', 'The Day the Earth Stood Still', 'Invaders from Mars'. (1950s)I don’t know what goes on in another person’s head. But that won’t stop me from speculating: based on my experiences; and, arguably, biases.

I suspect that even folks with advanced degrees and important titles may at some level believe that films such as “Plan 9 from Outer Space” and “Invaders from Mars” accurately reflect current astrobiology and SETI research.7

That, and what might feel like justified fear of scandal besmirching the fair name of science, could explain the hate mail mentioned recently:

“…At least one scientist serving on the study team reported receiving negative (hate) mail from colleagues due to their membership.…”
(“UAP Independent Study Team Report“, Final Report, NASA Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study Team (September 14, 2023) pp. 26-27)
[emphasis mine]

Less vindictive folks tried to warn colleagues, lest they stray from the path of conventional studies and thereby fall afoul of those whose duty it is to punish — you get the idea.

“…Study Team members also noted firsthand knowledge of colleagues who were warned to stay away from research in areas like extraterrestrial technosignatures, which could damage their scientific credibility and promotion potential. These experiences further confirm the negative stigma associated with studying unusual or unexplained phenomena….”
(“UAP Independent Study Team Report“, Final Report, NASA Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study Team (September 14, 2023) pp. 26-27)[emphasis mine]

Curiosity, “Summa Theologica”, and Mr. Squibbs

Studio Foglio's Mr. Squibbs, used w/o permission.The inimitable Mr Squibbs notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure that studying UAPs (Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena) is not “…tampering with things man was not supposed to know….”

Neither, I think, is discussing what is and is not a technosignature.8 Which is a topic or two for another time.

I’d say that curiosity can’t be a bad thing, but I won’t.

Mainly because a priest pointed me toward what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Whether curiosity can be about intellective knowledge?” (“Summa Theologiae”, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 167; St. Thomas Aquinas (13th century) translation via New Advent).

St. Thomas Aquinas was chatty, even by my standards.

What he said, very basically, was: knowledge, truth, and wisdom are from God; and they’re good things. But since we’re messed up — that’s a whole passel of other topics — we can twist curiosity away from truth and toward selfish goals. And that’s a bad idea.

My “basically” summary is an enormous simplification. Like I said, St. Thomas Aquinas was chatty.

Again, I don’t know what goes on in another person’s head.

But I suspect that some misgivings about extraterrestrial intelligence — folks who are people like us, but not human — are responses to a perceived existential threat.

‘Existential Threat from Outer Space’?!

Amazing Stories magazine cover. featuring Miles J. Breuer's 'The Raid from Mars'. (1939)I’m not sure when I started noticing “existential threat” as a recurring phrase in articles and op-eds.

Realizing that American English has shifted a bit I since started paying attention, I looked for a recent definition.

existential threat
[ eg-zi-sten-shuhl thret ]
December 2, 2019
What does existential threat mean?
An existential threat is a threat to something’s very existence—when the continued being of something is at stake or in danger. It is used to describe threats to actual living things as well to nonliving thing things, such as a country or an ideology.
(Pop Culture dictionary, Dictionary.com)

Pushing their ‘existential threat’ button gets people’s attention. As a marketing tool, you’ll see it in ads for everything from insurance to hair care products.

Pushing the ‘communist menace’ button was effective in my youth. It still is in some circles, although these days it’s mostly been replaced by climate change.

I wasn’t fond of fearmongering then, and I’m still not. Partly because I think that, despite the hysteria, there were and are real issues.

Maybe not as dire as those depicted in “Zombies of the Stratosphere” and “The Brain from Planet Arous”, but serious nonetheless.9

Acknowledging real issues seems reasonable. Whipping folks into a blind panic doesn’t.

Granted, I’m not raising money for some outfit or campaigning for the proper party.


Screenshot of CartoonStock Ltd., selection from 27,593 results of 'ufo crackpot' search. (CartoonStock Ltd.)So: what, if anything, does this have to do with NASA, UAPs and technosignatures?

I figure part of the answer is in Ted Rall’s July 2, 2021, cartoon:

“They covered up UFOs because they cause us to question the basic nature of humanity….”
(Text from “The Truth is In Here“, Ted Rall (July 2, 2021))

Stephane Vetter (TWAN)'s photo: red sprite, an uncommon sort of lightning an image with a remarkable level of detail. Most thunderstorms do not produce sprites. Via 'UAP Independent Study Team Report' (2023) used w/o permission.Ted Rall’s cartoon relies on two assumptions: that UFOs are spacecraft built by folks from another planet, and that knowing we have neighbors would threaten what we think is our basic nature.

I think it’s funny, partly because I think both assumptions are valid. Valid as accurate reflections of widely-held cultural beliefs, at any rate.

But since I’m not squarely on my dominant culture’s 50th percentile, I’d better share my views.

I think UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) and UAPs (Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena) are real. In the sense that they are, in one case flying objects that were not identified, and in the other odd phenomena which were not identified.

One UFO turned out to be a Bart Simpson balloon. I mentioned that back in June.

Sprites aren’t UAPs any more, since we’ve learned that they’re massive electrical discharges that happen over thunderstorms.

My guess is that most and possibly all UAPs will eventually be identified as more-or-less-rare natural phenomena.

And some may remain as unidentified as the UFO reported between Grafton, North Dakota and Steven, Minnesota, back in 1979.

I don’t, by the way, recommend following the link: not for the next week or so, at any rate. KARE 11 is a reputable media outlet in this area, but the page triggered one of my security routines when I accessed it on Friday.

Incident on Highway 220, 1979: UFOs and Stress

UFO Research of Manitoba photo: Highway 220 looking south from County 5. (1979)This is one of the better accounts of the 1997 incident, and includes images of 19 documents from the Marshall County Historical Society. I’ve saved them, and might use them for a post; eventually. Anyway, here’s the KARE11 Extras piece:

Minnesota’s most notorious UFO sighting remains a mystery four decades later
A sheriff’s deputy’s encounter with a hovering light is still unexplained.
Chris Hrapsky, KARE11 Extras (August 4, 2021)

“…August 27, 1979 in Warren, Minnesota, about 20 miles from the North Dakota border, Marshall County Sheriff’s Deputy Val Johnson was on patrol early in the morning on Highway 5 when he saw a bright light to the south on Highway 220.

“Johnson thought maybe a crashed semi or a downed plane, but as he approached it, he said the light instantly jumped through the windshield hitting him like a ‘200-pound pillow’ knocking him out.

“His reaction was preserved in the actual radio call to dispatch when he awoke.

“Dispatch Operator: ‘407 What is your condition?’

“Deputy Johnson: ‘I don’t know. Something just hit my car.’

“Dispatch: ‘What’s your condition? Are you OK?’

“Johnson: ‘Something attacked my car. I heard the glass breaking and the locks … the brakes locked up. I don’t know what’s going on?’

“According to the sheriff’s office investigation reports, Johnson’s wristwatch and the clock on the 1977 Ford Ltd. cruiser stopped working for 14 minutes. Johnson said his teeth were fractured at the gumline and his eyes burned.

“‘My eyes were extremely painful as if I’d been subjected to something like [an] arc welder burn or something,’ said Johnson during an interview on the 1980 TV show ‘That’s Incredible’….

“…We spoke with him for 20 minutes, but he did not want to go on record because of the stress and attention this has caused his family for a long time. He did however permit us to pass on the notion that he hopes these new UFO sightings and government reports might give people new perspective on his story.”

My opinion at the time was that what Deputy Johnson saw was real: real enough to damage his vehicle, at any rate. That’s still my opinion.

Maybe it was something along the lines of ball lightning, someone dangling a crowbar and road flare from a low-flying airplane, or something entirely different.

I don’t know.

I do know that I sympathize with Val Johnson. Accounts at the time and KARE11 Extras’ followup in 2021 strongly suggested that he’s someone who had an odd experience, and reported it to the best of his ability.

Making that report marked him as someone who didn’t keep quiet about an oddity.

I strongly suspect that the stress which his notoriety inflicted on his family is real, too.

The Johnson family’s experience is one reason I hope current efforts to study UAPs without punishing folks who report them succeed.

Do I see the 1979 incident as proof that space aliens are real?

No. Certainly not. There simply isn’t enough evidence.

Which gets me back to “…the basic nature of humanity…” and extraterrestrial intelligence.

Neighbors and Angels

Collage, observable universe to Earth.Will solid evidence that extraterrestrial intelligences, people who aren’t human, exist “…cause us to question the basic nature of humanity…”?

In some cases, yes. Probably.

For me? I’d be curious about them. But how I see humans and humanity wouldn’t change all that much. I’ll get back to that.

I don’t know how many folks believe that humans are the only people in this entire universe, and that there can’t possibly be anyone else.

I suspect that at least a few folks who seem convinced that the Bible forbids any knowledge that we obtained after, say, the 15th century, would be shocked and horrified.

The upper crust and nouveau riche of 19th century Europe seemed to have trouble accepting that folks who weren’t (a) European and (b) of their class were, in fact, human. So some of their contemporary analogs might have trouble, too.

But me? I’m a Catholic, I know my faith, so I’m okay with the idea that God’s God.

Backing up a little: I think God is infinite. Eternal. All-powerful. Incomprehensible. (Catechism, 1, 202, 268-269)

If God decides that we’ve got neighbors, I won’t say ‘you can’t do that’.

Now, what about “the basic nature of humanity”?

We’re made “in the image of God”. We’re creatures with a body and a soul, made with the stuff of this world, living in space and time. We can think, and decide what we will or will not do. (Genesis 1:27, 2:7; Catechism, 302, 362-368, 373, 1730)

If we meet other people who are free-willed spirits with physical bodies — as this scientist said, they’ll be people:

“…Frankly, if you think about it, any creatures on other planets, subject to the same laws of chemistry and physics as us, made of the same kinds of atoms, with an awareness and a will recognizably like ours would be at the very least our cousins in the cosmos. They would be so similar to us in all the essentials that I don’t think you’d even have the right to call them aliens.”
(“Brother Astronomer,” Chapter Three, Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? — Brother Guy Consolmagno (2000))

One more point and I’m done for this week.

There’s another reason I have no problem with thinking that some people aren’t human. We’ve been dealing with non-human people off and on for millennia.

We call them angels. They’re not human, not even close. They don’t have bodies. Although they can interact with us, they exist outside of time and space. (Catechism, 328-336) — and that’s still another topic. Topics

Somewhat-related posts:

1 Math, music, Minnesota, and a 2013 opinion poll:

2 Hula hoops, computers, and middle management:

3 That movie with the malevolent walking carrot:

4 “It”, not your ususal movie monster:

5 Miscellania :

6 Two ‘monster’ movies:

7 Science and silliness:

8 Seeking signs of intelligence:

9 A little history, FUD appeal, and movies:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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3 Responses to Unidentified Phenomena, Being Human, Taking Reality As-Is

  1. I imagine that those scientists detracting efforts toward researching unidentified phenomena are more worried about their pride as rational researchers going against pop culture fanatics, something more like the whole “science versus religion” thing we folks today often like to engage in. Ironically, as far as I’ve learned in uni, sci-fi goes under more scholarly scrutiny than fantasy, so supposing that they think like that, I’d say that their cowardly restraints would hurt them as much they would hurt us meme-brained plebeians. And hey, why are these so-called scientists stealing us uneducated masses’ self-made jobs of mocking their superior geniuses? Is it because we’re more famous? Well, they can be our guests, since we’ve been looking for more folks to be miserable with about our bigger fame and to mock to hell once they start getting boring to us again.

    But seriously, speaking of beings we call aliens, I feel like they’d be an extension of the earthly plane rather than some heaven-disproving existence. Also, I continue to surprise myself with my pop tastes alongside such thoughts.

    • If we’ve got neighbors – aliens – free willed creatures with physical bodies, and so having a nature very much like ours – I was going to say I’d be writing about angels, demons and used spaceship dealers. But remembered that I’ve done that. Recently. A couple years back: https://brendans-island.com/catholic-citizen/space-aliens-perceptions-assumptions/#illbe

      But, yes: “an extension”.

      “…the whole ‘science versus religion’ thing…” – I’d like to think that it’s become less central to my native culture, and maybe it’s going in that direction. Time will tell.

      And pride, the vainglory version, does seem to be behind much of the silliness I talked about this week.

      Granted, “pop culture fanatics” – good phrase, that – can inspire strong emotions. And that’s another topic. Almost.

      Thanks for reading & responding!

Thanks for taking time to comment!