Occasionally I like to groove about the possibility that an errant alien spacecraft dumped some space alien DNA in Earth's primordial ooze sometime in the Paleozoic Era and survived intact enough to evolve into octopuses. Given the diversity of life in the oceans, this doesn't seem too far fetched. I mean, have you seen the weird stuff living down there?
"Not so!" Howl the marine biologists, who assure me that octopus DNA is 90 percent similar to mine. In fact, owing to the fact that most of our DNA is junk, just about all life on this planet is about 90 percent related to me. No aliens in that closet.
Despite the USAF-backed Project Blue Book, which published a meticulous but tepid effort to debunk UFO-logy in 1969's "Condon Report," theories of extraterrestrial visitation have not only become more elaborate, but 39 years later enthusiasts have established several organizations about it.
The latest Internet development entails a watery tape from a 2001 Disclosure Project meeting in which retired army Sergeant Clifford Stone, an air accident investigator, asserts that there are no less than 57 alien species walking the streets.
But any alien technology that touches upon human civilization would spawn a tidal wave of consequences, particularly on the sciences. Yet when one studies the history of science, it proceeds very systematically (when it proceeds at all), with one advance logically leading the way to another. There are no great mountains of insight indicating the intervention of a vastly superior culture. Calculus evolved from the math of its day, though it took prodigies like Isaac Newton to grasp its potential.
The data purporting alien flyovers have been misinterpreted by people not completely familiar with natural phenomena or the technology of their time. One of the most famous photographs of a flying saucer is actually a lenticular cloud, which forms over mountains. Another is of a B1 Stealth Bomber flying overhead as the excited videographer shouts "What the f*k is that!" The best video was produced by a Saudi Arabian, who put some elbow grease and production values into what was otherwise still unconvincing.
What keeps this ball in the air is sloppy government attempts to cover up top secret research. The date of the famous Roswell incident, 1947, was a least two years into the air force's hyper-secret fighter jet tests which, if I recall the figure correctly from Tom Wolfe's "Right Stuff," once hit a mortality rate of 60 percent, a heartbreaking statistic the military was even more eager to squelch, even if it meant concocting a ludicrous cover story about a weather balloon and crash test dummies.
Nevertheless, Sergeant Stone and his colleagues in the Disclosure Project have taken scientifically bloodless ideas and turned them into really cool tropes; like "super-luminal capacity" (faster than light drive), and "zero point energy" (a ground quantum state in which a machine might operate without friction).
On the other hand, "UFO" is a military designation. If you're a pilot in a hostile environment, then an unidentified plane becomes a UFO until someone reveals it as a friendly, a boogie, or a harmless civvy airliner you've just painted with your weapons system.
It's no more believable that aliens walked the Earth, at least during recorded human history, than it is probable that Europeans visited North America hundreds of years before Columbus. If the American Indian was exposed to the existence of the iron knife, it would've been a mere handful of decades before they'd develop advanced metallurgy of their own. Either Leif Ericson never met the Indians, or he was never here.
Okay. I admit it. Belief in a pantheon of space critters is just dang fun, which is why I regard the promoters of these ideas as showmen with the extravagance of a P. T. Barnum.
I don't want to believe we are alone in the universe, either. It's just more likely that, if we survive our own greed and waste, we'll get out there first.
Then that would make us the aliens.