Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Rant: If It’s Not Aliens…Then What Is It?

If you’re anywhere in the greater nerd universe, you’ve doubtless seen recent reports of Navy pilots spotting objects zipping around the sky and sometimes diving into the ocean. The Feds have declassified three videos of unidentified thimgamajigs doing their airborne calisthenics in the vicinity of US Navy fighter pilots.

So what is a reasonably sane person supposed to think about this?

UFOs as a phenomenon are not a new thing. It’s older than I am, and I’ll be 69 in a few weeks. Early on, the mythos crystallized around the theory that such objects are spacecraft (or aircraft) created by and piloted by intelligent beings from some other star system. There was (and still is) big money to be made on alien-based entertainment. Independence Day is one of my all-time favorite movies. The aliens myth (and I’m speaking in a Campbellian sense of the word “myth” here) is strong. I’m an SF writer. I should be a big aliens guy. I’m not.

I’m actually a Rare Earther. There are so many possible terms to the Drake Equation that I’m pretty sure we as a species are a vanishingly unlikely fluke. There are either hundreds of millions (or more) intelligent species in the universe, or there is only one. I reviewed an excellent book on Enrico Fermi’s question and its possible answers. It’s definitely worth reading.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question since I read that book back in March. So what I’m going to do in this entry is list all the possible explanations for the Navy sightings that I can come up with, irrespective of their likelihood. Note well that I don’t “believe” in any of them. I offer them as hypotheses. And yes, some of them are batshit nuts. I’m an SFF writer. Batshit nuts is just one more thing we deal with every day.

Buckle up, kids.

Tonight’s question: What are those things the Navy pilots caught on film?

My hypotheses fall into three general categories:

  1. They really are made and piloted by aliens. I cite this for completeness only. I have reason to think it’s not the case, since I have a hunch we are alone in the universe. I won’t discuss this category further. It’s long since been discussed to death.
  2. They are made and piloted by Hungarians. (This is an inside joke. Look it up.) What I mean by it is that the objects were created right here on Earth, as a result of top-secret research into novel physics. (Ok, here’s a cheat.)
  3. They are the result of…weirdness. Patience. I’ll get there.

So. It’s possible that the objects are in fact aircraft of some sort, piloted or drones, created in somebody’s lab somewhere under truly deadly secrecy. Physics is not as complete and airtight as physicists would like the general public to believe. The big glitch in physics currently is dark matter and dark energy, about which I have some quibbles, but set those aside. Darkstuff (my coinage) may be a telltale of novel physics, novel enough to give us “thrusters,” that is, engines that don’t depend on action/reaction; e.g., throwing stuff backwards.

If that’s the case, the apparitions may simply be a show of force by whoever developed the thrusters. Let’s hope those developers are American.

That’s the entirety of Category 2 in a nutshell.

So let’s take a look at Category 3. This is the fun stuff. I’ll give you another list, of explanations that seem absurd on the surface…keeping in mind that we as a species have been wrong before, and we will doubtless be wrong again.

1. They are aircraft from Earth’s own future, piloted by human beings who have figured out time travel. I like this one, as there is a whole series of novels buried in the premise. (Somebody may have already written them.) As I understand the physics, time travel, while difficult, is more possible than faster-than-light travel. It may require some of that darkstuff to make it work, but however it works, those Tic-Tac travelers could be somebody from a few hundred thousand years in our future. What they’re up to is unclear. Maybe they’re just testing their machinery. Maybe they’ll announce themselves eventually. Maybe they’re trying to stop us from making some really bad mistakes. (If so, they should have set their meters to 1900 and prevented us from creating Communism, which killed 100,000,000 people in the 20th century and is still killing them.)

2. They are glitches in the simulation that we here on Earth call The Universe. Glitches–or beta tests of new features. Maybe bugs–rounding errors, or off-by-one errors. Reality-as-software is a scary notion to anybody who’s done any significant programming. Supposedly we could determine if we are in fact existing in a simulation, but I’m skeptical of that claim.

3. They are evolved but not intelligent organisms, originating in our solar system if not necessarily on Earth. (This is a variation on Category 1, but I put it here because it’s way weirder than canonical big-eyed Aliens.) If exotic physics yielding thrusters are possible, they could emerge via evolution from conditions that could be radically different from what we have on Earth. Who knows what could cook itself up in the atmospheres of Jupiter or Saturn? What I mean here is something like an animal, not self-reflective, but posessed of the means to cross interplanetary distances. Maybe they thrusted their way here, zipped around for awhile sampling the local environment, and finally decided it’s not fun and went home. It’s humbling to admit that they may not have noticed our presence at all while they were here.

4. They are poltergeist activity. (Hey, don’t zone out. I warned you!) This is tough to describe, but it’s a scruffy box into which we could place all sorts of “paranormal” phenomena–some of which look suspiciously like reactionless motion. Telekinesis, psi powers, all that stuff. A friend of mine was confronting poltergeist activity fifteen-odd years ago, and Colin Wilson has written about it extensively. Objects fly around the room, appear and disappear, with no known force behind any of it. Peculiar mental powers seem to exist. I’ve experienced a couple of those things that I still can’t explain. But they happened. (I can’t go into any of it here.) Maybe our UFOs are just astral travelers, out for a ride without having any suspicion that they can be seen or perhaps any clear notion of where they are.

5. They are irruptions from the collective unconscious. Some might choose to toss this in the poltergeist box as well, at least those who think poltergeists are irruptions from the collective unconscious. I don’t. I’ve read extensively about Marian apparitions like Lourdes, Fatima, Zeitoun, and many others. There is something called the White Lady archetype in Jungian thinking. Humans have a thing for luminous women popping up in odd places. (The white is their overall color, not their skin color–I have to say that in this race-nutso era.) Christianity shaped that archetype into the Mother of God in Christian visions. However, white ladies were originally a pagan archetype and are still being seen all over the place in contexts without any religious framework at all. Seeing odd things moving around in the sky is also an archetype. It gained strength in the first half of the 20th Century as popular culture embraced predictions of space travel and people from other worlds. In 1947, assisted by movies and TV, the archetype got legs. Note that these aren’t purely mental glitches in the minds of the Navy pilots. These are disturbances in the physical world that generate/reflect light and can be photographed.

6. They are intrusions from higher spatial dimensions. Now, this hypothesis could also be tossed in that scruffy box with the poltergeists, but I mean it in a more rigorously geometrical way: If there are in fact more than three spatial dimensions (I’ve heard people talk about as many as nine) then suppose some four-dimensional being is poking at our planet with a stick. Imagine Flatland here, with a 3-D being poking at the surface of the plane or sphere or whatever 2-D surface you like. Moving that stick will appear to the denizens of Flatland as a cross-section of the stick moving around without any apparent cause. The cross-section of a four-dimensional stick would be a three-dimensional lump. Its motive power would be off in hyperspace where we can’t see it. All we would see are the cross-sections of 4-D objects moving around like crazy, unimpeded by Newton’s laws. Why? Who knows? Maybe it’s the hyperspatial equivalent of skipping stones on a quiet lake, done simply for fun. Again, it’s possible that whatever entity is holding the stick has no knowledge of us at all.

That’s what I have so far. If I had to choose one to hold as most likely (and I don’t) I would choose an application of novel physics by human scientists and engineers right down here on Earth. Secrets of that sort are very hard to keep, and I wonder if the leaks have begun, and the Feds are feeling their way toward eventual disclosure of the technology. It would be perhaps the most wonderful “unsettled science” ever discovered, as it would open the solar system to human exploration and habitation.

Remember that this is a rant, and I have my SFF writer’s hat on. I embrace Haldane’s Law: The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine–and I can imagine a lot.


  1. Dennis Harris says:

    Excellent. I’m liking 2 and 6.

  2. Eric Brown says:

    I’m still a believer in “optical illusions”. There’s a video on YouTube (sorry, no link) that discusses this behavior, and a fair amount of the images can be explained by (effectively) bokeh from a triangular shutter, which, apparently, is fairly common on night vision glasses.

    1. ed says:

      The nice thing about the recent incidents with a flotilla of Burke’s, and to a lesser degree the multiple LCS’s, is that we *should* have multiple optical/IR/Radar tracks from multiple vessels.

      If one can construct a consistent 3d track then there is something that probably isn’t a sensor glitch, swamp-gas, or mirage.

  3. Michael Black says:

    7. Someone’s remaking “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, except they have a working flying sub.

    1. That was one of my favorite shows in the mid-60s. The flying sub was very cool, though in looking it up just now I don’t remember it being…yellow. Oh, wait…we didn’t have a color TV in 1964. Or 1965. Or 66.

    2. They have a number of complete episodes on YouTube, and I’d watch them except that the low resolution would make me nuts. I had the same problem with The Flying Nun and a couple of other old shows I looked up.

  4. Lee Hart says:

    What about plain old natural phenomena, which we don’t understand and/or are misinterpreting? Odd weather, sea birds, etc. That’s what most UFO sightings have turned out to be.

    1. Heh. Some, sure. And one of the still photos I’ve seen among this recent wave of UFO sightings looks an awful lot like a heart-shaped silver mylar party balloon.

      Remember that this was a rant, and I’m not being 100% serious.

  5. Keith says:

    This comment is intended to apply only to those incidents that involve the navy planes and carriers.

    While I have no direct experience with the various sensor systems used by the navy planes and carriers, I feel sure that in the process of designing and building them, numerous assumptions were made about the nature of the targets they were intended to detect and the environment within which that detection would occur. I imagine that those assumptions guided various compromises to meet cost, size, weight, and power consumption goals.

    Now what will happen if those systems encounter some phenomena outside the range of what their designs were intended to detect reliably? My guess is that they will, at least in some cases, display incorrect results that probably would cause the humans using these devices to become confused about what has been detected. This could cause the humans to misinterpret what they see directly with their own eyes.

    Please note that I am making no claim about what the phenomena actually are. I am only saying that there may be some phenomena that the design of the sensor systems did not take into account, and therefore do not display properly.

    If we think this possibility is likely enough to warrant investigation, I imagine the most direct way to do that would require designing and installing sensor systems that have fewer limitations in the carriers and planes. That would be pretty expensive, so I kind of doubt that course will be taken.

    If the UFO incidents are as frequent as some reports seem to say, we probably would not have to install the better sensor systems in all the carriers and planes, but do it only in a few and wait until an incident occurs in which a carrier and planes carrying the better systems are involved. I have a feeling that still would be too expensive to be adopted.

    1. TRX says:

      > Now what will happen if those systems encounter some phenomena outside the range of what their designs were intended to detect reliably?

      One of Rick Cook’s ‘Wiz’ books had a scene where a military observation system had caught sight of a dragon and rider, and how the programmers were tasked to “correct” the obviously erroneous output…

  6. Bob Fegert says:

    Jeff, this is a very lucid attempt to lay out the possibilities.

    I have to say, Well done!

    p,s, I like the poltergeist ideas…..

  7. Martin L. Shoemaker says:

    Antitemporal reflections from future vehicles.

    No, I don’t know what that means. Sometimes I start with the technobabble and work backwards to the story. Sort of an antitemporal reflective way to write.

  8. ace says:

    The whole idea of this stuff leaking out of the U.S. Navy like some sort of bad fart seems contrived. Perhaps it’s just another Nutty Narrative from the Nutty Narrative Club, like the now-debunked Steele Dossier. There doesn’t seem like there’s any attempt to disown it, or to back away from it on the part of military management.

    But don’t take my word for it. I sit up here in Canada like an annoyed apartment dweller living over a meth lab. Apparently anything is possible in this day and age.

    1. Keith says:

      It isn’t quite accurate to call it leaking out. The guy in charge of the UFO investigation that was mandated by Senator Reid over a decade ago (or maybe he was not in charge, but was heavily involved — I don’t recall what I read about it in detail) went through the official procedures to declassify the videos while he was still in the service. After he got out of the service, he started to promote the declassified material with some media folks. The material is undeniably official Navy records, so it would be pointless for the Navy to try to disown it. They are not doing anything to try to raise interest in the material because it was not their idea to promote it.

      I don’t know why the Navy agreed to declassify the stuff in the first place. Maybe there was something about how Reid set up the study in the first place that forced them to do so.

  9. Orvan Taurus says:

    My suspicion for this now is “Look! A distraction!”

    But the Universe as Simulation is a concern. It means we must NEVER truly solve some fundamental problem to continue. Why? When the simulator comes up with a solution, what happens? The simulation is ended. It might be run again, but that’s not the same, from an inside perspective. Though memory traces lingering in some circuitry might explain deja vu…

  10. Paul says:

    Interesting theories/possibilities! I personally think Category 2 is a strong contender.

    I listened to a podcast with navy pilot David Fravor, and his description would seem to rule out some of the natural / optical stuff people are claiming. If it were just a navy cruiser with new sensors detecting sensor ghosts, that would be one thing. When they eventually direct a flight to confirm there is something out there, and that flight then gets visual on those items the cruiser is also detecting, that would seem to be something else.

    So now the question is, did this event really happen as described, or are we the target of a large con job? I don’t really see the need to freak the american people into more defense spending, as China/Russia seem to be a good excuse for that. Something to validate the new Space Force? I have no idea.

    I will say that after denying *events* for so long, the pentagon seems pretty nonchalant about all of this.

  11. George J Hodous says:

    I telling you it’s James Cameron setting up “The Abyss 2”.

  12. Olli says:

    Albert Stubblebine & the Stargate Project vs The GPS.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *