UFOs as a Commentary on a Divided Worldview
Probably no topic so divides science and the “new age” as UFOs. A recent column in Astronomy Magazine entitled, “Let’s cut the UFO crap,” makes the point that it is only naivete about the cosmic distant scale than allows people to believe in UFO’s. This is a powerful argument when one considers distant scales. The closest star to the Earth other than the sun is Alpha Centauri, which 4.37 light years — or over 25 trillion miles away. An extremely fast spacecraft traveling at 100,000 mph (the record for a manned spacecraft is just under 40,000 mph) would take about 28,000 years to reach the Alpha Centauri planet. And this is the closest possible one. So from this perspective, the notion that alien spacecraft are roaming the sky, darting in and out of our vision, waiting for the right moment to land, seems preposterous. The scientific case builds when the cosmic distant scale is taken together with a largely unconvincing set of UFO sightings –particularly when considered in light of the modern ubiquity of cameras. With hardly any public act escaping some form of video recording, one might think that by now, someone would have taken an irrefutable picture of a true UFO.
Nevertheless, Gallup reports that 48 percent of the American people believe in UFOs and 64 percent believe that aliens have contacted humans on Earth. Considering that less than 20% of Americans believe in evolution without God, the UFO statistics are pretty remarkable. Richard Lawrence, who I had on my radio show, Conversations Beyond Science and Religion, on February 9, 2015, makes a reasonable and intelligent case for UFOs. Going beyond the distant scale objection, he believes extraterrestrials exist on another plane of existence, analogous to near-death experiences.
So this is where we find a lesson from UFOs: our modern minds tend to evaluate them with one foot in the scientific camp and one foot in the spiritual camp. More precisely, we evaluate their credibility from a hybrid of matter-first and mind-first worldviews, or from a mixture of naive realism and idealism. If matter came first, then the world exists as it appears — the distant galaxies are really trillions of miles from us and we can never reach them in our lifetimes; but in a mind- or consciousness-first worldview, the universe is a reflection of consciousness: to paraphrase Michael Jackson, we are the world, but also the universe. Viewed in this second way, aliens are within the realm of the possible; Star Trek becomes the future and the world of the imagination becomes real.
But perhaps the bigger lesson from UFOs is that our minds are divided: we tend to view the world while simultaneously juggling two incompatible perspectives: mind-first and matter-first. Quantum theory states that particles do not exist, but biology, chemistry, and of course particle physics are based on the notion that particles do exist. Medical science is based on re-arranging the parts to the mechanical body to make it healthy, but we know that strong belief heals (as in the placebo effect) without manipulating particles. Millions of people pray to a God overhead yet, somehow, we are closer to the God within. UFOs, then, may be not so much signs from outer space, but rather a sign of the movement beyond our current jumbled mindset and toward a unified picture of the world.