Through the Great Filter: a Spacetime Search for UAP(UFOs) - with Robin Hanson | Merged Podcast EP 9
On the general topic of aliens I think the way most people frame it as, we officially know nothing, we have no information and therefore serious work just can't be done. I think that's false, about both of these topics both UAPs and aliens. So, in our "Grabby Aliens" work we're claiming that We know quite a bit about the distribution of aliens in space-time, and you might say, "But we've never seen one, so how could we know anything?" And the point is, we do see other data that's relevant, and we can put that together cleverly to learn a lot about aliens.
There are these historical examples where it switched over. Some sort of evidence was enough to make people take it out of the superstition-crazy realm. So what would it take to do that with UAPs? Basically, they're saying, "This is so crazy unlikely." If we say, "Why?" because cosmologists have told us so, and I say, "No, they haven't."
That's where I'm trying to go and say, "Look, from what we know about cosmology, this is not crazy unlikely. It might be unlikely, but it's not crazy unlikely. That's the key difference. Can we get people to accept it's not crazy unlikely?" The UAP is a pioneer in the field of AI-driven comparative and qualitative analysis, and was established with the primary goal of uncovering the hidden value left behind in complex data sets.
To find valuable insights that can help drive growth, formulate competitive strategy, and to identify key patterns in targeted demographics, head to their site to learn more. coeus.institute So what originally brought you to my attention was the Grabby Aliens paper that you did. That was my first exposure
to you on Lex Friedman. I loved how you were able to integrate UAP into the model itself to work through some assumptions. I'll let you speak to that. Why do you think that we don't see more academics engaging in this type of work? Because it seems like there's a lot to really unfold there. I'm not the first person to notice there's a taboo here. It's pretty strong. It's remarkably strong and even puzzlingly strong. It's worth wondering
exactly why. But it's pretty clear. So I started out in physics a long time ago, and physicists are just really strongly of the opinion that there's like a certain kind of pseudoscience that they should just dump all over. And then this has been classified in that category of pseudoscience. And elites, especially in our world, they're eager to show that they're different from ordinary people and they sort of share the opinions of elites and not the opinions of foolish ordinary people. And this is one of those things on the list. Interesting.
So what have you received any any kickback? And I know you haven't just jumped onto the scene. You've been writing papers about this to some degree since the 90s. Is that correct? About aliens. Yeah. Correct. Yeah. Although there's much less about the taboo about aliens than about UAPs. Well, let's talk about that difference.
So UAP, from my perspective, now the terminology is unidentified anomalous phenomenon. So we're classifying that as a domain agnostic observation that doesn't fit our expectations. Right. Be loose. And we're we're now starting to track that and gather numbers about that so we can we can learn more about that. So it's a it's a practical issue that we're seeing.
But then we separate that and we say, let's look out into the universe as if we're separate from it. And we say, do we see anything out there? I presumably within our light cone, but we don't. And that's that's part of the confusion. I think that people have in this because we're potentially there's the opportunity for something to be in our backyard that we don't see anywhere else in the universe.
Can you maybe perhaps describe how you've integrated those two categories of anomalous activities here, aliens as in the wider universe and what perhaps is in our sky that we can't identify? I realize that's a big question. So the general topic of aliens, I think the way most people frame it as we officially know nothing. So if you're going to talk about it, we're just going fun speculation. And in fun speculation, you can make a movie and you can you know, you can play with it. And that's OK as long as you're in fun speculation mode. But the official story is we know nothing. We have no information. And
therefore, serious work just can't be done. I think that's false in essence about both of these topics, both UAPs and aliens. So in our grabby aliens work, we're claiming that we know quite a bit about the distribution of aliens in space time. And you might say, but we've never seen one. So how could we know anything? And
the point is, well, we do see other data that's relevant and we can put that together cleverly to learn a lot about aliens. You think what? So I like the analogy of long ago in ancient Greece, they managed to figure out how far away the sun was. And you might think, how could you possibly look up into the sky and figure out how far away the sun is? They had this clever thing about the shadow length at one latitude versus another latitude on the peak noon on those days. And they could use that in the distance to these took places to figure out how far away the sun was.
I'd say similarly, we actually have some data that we can use to figure out the distribution of some kinds of aliens in space time. You just have to be clever about it. So we have a three parameter model and each of those parameters is fit to concrete data we have.
And so the story is then we know this model roughly. It's a stochastic model of where aliens are in space time. And we say we kind of have to believe it because of another key data, which is that we are early in the history of the universe. And so the date on the clock is a key piece of data. And it tells you there are aliens out there right now.
And using these other pieces of data, we can get the distribution in space time. So I know when you're hearing this, you're going, that can't be right. But it's being as clever as those ancient Greeks did to figure out how far away the sun is from just a few pieces of infamy you couldn't figure.
And we can do the same thing with aliens. So the three pieces of data we have are the date on the clock that is now 14 million years since the beginning of the universe. There's the piece of data that at the moment we don't see anything in the sky. That's data.
And the third piece of data is when we look at the history of life on Earth, we can see certain key events happened at certain dates. And that gives us a key clue to basically how many hard steps life had to go through to get to where we are. And that's another key parameter. So with those three parameters, each one of them tells us about one of the three parameters in this three parameter model. And that tells us where aliens are in space time. Wow, that is very clever. Let's talk
about some of the assumptions in there. One of the assumptions, I believe, is that some of those hard steps may have had to occur off of Earth. Is that correct? Using a panspermia concept? So in our simple grabby aliens model, we make the simplest assumption that life on Earth started on Earth and had no ancestors before that. And in that simplest model, we are an independent origin from aliens. And basically, advanced life like us would appear roughly once per million galaxies.
And then it would spread out at near half the speed of light, roughly. And then we might meet it in roughly a billion years if we were to expand to be like that. So it's really rare. Under that simplest model, there's no way there's any aliens near here.
The chance that anyone would have originated that close is crazy low because they appear once per million galaxies. So the simplest model just doesn't let aliens be anywhere near. But we can modify that model in a plausible way to make a correlation.
So aliens could be siblings. That is, we could have had a common origin, a previous planet before Earth, that there was plenty of time for that. So we are now at 14 billion years. Our planet started about four and a half billion years ago. That leaves nine and a half billion years at the beginning of the universe for other stuff to happen. The peak of when stars were forming was about four billion years after the origin.
So if a star had formed then and a planet around it, it would have had, you know, another six billion years when life could have been evolving on it. And then life from that original Eden could have moved via a rock that smashed, you know, some rock smashed into the planet, knocks off a rock that has lifed on it. It drifts and it could have seeded the stellar nursery where Earth was formed. So stars are formed in nurseries with roughly a thousand stars all formed together in the same place in time, really close to each other with lots of rocks flying back and forth. And when we say this life, we're talking about microbial life.
Right. Yeah, something very simple. But life could have started. But the most complex, perhaps at this point in history in this local group. So life had to go from really simple at the beginning all the way to really complicated where we are. And the plausibly that was just really hard. There were a lot of hard things
that had to happen to make that happen. So in order for that to happen in the last four billion years of our life on Earth, life on Earth had to get really lucky. A bunch of things that were really hard happened to happen especially fast.
And so an analogy is cancer in the human body. So basically in your body, there are trillions of cells. And in order for you to get cancer, one of those cells has to have six mutations. And it's really unlikely for any one cell to even have one mutation. And so it's especially unlikely for a cell to have six mutations. But by the end of your life, you have a 40 percent chance of having cancer somewhere in your body.
So one of those cells had all six mutations. It got really lucky, that one cell, in the sense of all those things happening in that one cell. So the analogy is with Earth is there's all these planets, and maybe many of them start out at the beginning of this life path.
But it's really hard to go down each step. And most of them never get past the first step. They never even get to the first step.
But some lucky planets go through all of these mutations and finally get to a place where we are before the deadline where that planet no longer supports life. And the idea is Earth was really lucky. And that's why we're so rare. But if there was a longer period of time when life started on some Eden, then it would have had a lot more time to go through all those steps and makes that whole process a lot more likely. And so life could have gone halfway down the path to a much more complicated than the very basic life.
And then some rock knocked it off, and then it seeded our stellar nursery with some intermediate complexity life. And then that continued to evolve for the last four billion years to get to where we are. And seeding that stellar nursery would have seeded basically all of those stars with life at that level of complexity.
And then all the stars drifted apart quickly, and they formed a ring around the galaxy. And we can actually see them out there because they have exactly the same chemical composition as our star. Our star, because it came from the same nurseries, we can actually identify many of them out there. And the idea is one of those other stars had a planet which life evolved like on Earth, but it got to our level first.
And they had an advanced civilization there, and then they came here. And that's how there could be aliens here, but not anywhere else for the next million galaxies. All right. There's a local cluster of
life that popped up. Right, exactly. Well, let's talk a little bit about that stellar nursery. This is how you calculate your priors for this, correct? And would you mind defining that, how you kind of calculate a probability based off of what you just said? So the key idea for UAPs would be, what the hell? What are these things? We have four major categories of theories.
You know, they could be just mistakes and hallucinations. They could be lies and hoaxes. They could be some hidden Earth organization with amazing powers, or it could be some alien organization with amazing powers.
So in order to guess the relative chances of those hypotheses, we need to have two things for each hypothesis. One is what's called a likelihood, the chance that the evidence we see would happen if that were the truth. And another thing we need is a prior. What's the chance that that sort of thing would happen, ignoring the evidence? And if we can multiply those two things together, normalize over these four options, and then that's how we get our posterior, i.e., the chance that
each hypothesis is true. So because I did this grabby-aliens work, I decided I'm kind of an expert on the prior for aliens hypothesis. I got to say, you know, what's the a priori chance that this would be true? And in order to do that, what I need to do is come up with the most plausible hypothesis that could be consistent with what we know about the UFO phenomena and the rest of the universe. And then for each component of the hypothesis, penalize it for how specific, unusual an assumption I'm making in order to make the story work. So I've come up with what I think is the best story I can for if UFOs were aliens, how that could make any sense. And it's got several components.
And when I put those components together, I come up with a prior of, say, roughly one in a thousand, one in ten or a hundred thousand in that range. And the important point is that's high enough that you really got to look at the evidence. That's the key point.
So in a murder trial, you're asked to believe that A, murdered B, okay? The prior probability on that is basically one in a million. That is, only one in a thousand people get killed, and they probably have a thousand people nearby who might have done it. And so to believe that A killed B, you're being asked to overcome a prior of one in a million. But often you can do that. Concrete evidence in a murder trial will convince you that, yeah, A killed B. And so that's why you don't dismiss a murder accusation.
You don't just say murder's crazy unlikely. That couldn't have happened. Just ignore it, right? And so—but many people for the UFOs as aliens hypothesis, they basically say, that's so crazy. I don't even have to look at this evidence. That's so unlikely that it's just so neat to look at it. No unlikely. Let's not even quantify it.
Right. Now, there are some kinds of hypothesis you might think are so unlikely that you're just not even going to consider them. But I'd say in this case, isn't one of them. This is the sort of thing you'll have to look at the evidence for.
That would be the main point. But that's my contribution to this whole issue, is to say, first of all, the prior likelihood is high enough that you got to look at the evidence. You can't just dismiss it on the basis of that seems crazy unlikely. And then furthermore, well, what specifically is the most likely hypothesis that could make sense of this? Because that's the sort of thing you should kind of believe if you end up believing that you're a piece of aliens. Well, before we talk about some of that evidence, let me just ask you with what you just said about stellar nurseries and our ability to detect them and identify them. One, is there a way to perhaps use that proactively, that information, that knowledge to further refine that calculation? And two, would that perhaps be useful that what you just stated that observation would that be useful and perhaps for SETI or for James Webb Telescope as a target list of potential solar systems for further observation? Perhaps there are microorganisms that are producing gas in these atmosphere. James
Webb might be able to detect them. Do you think that might be a legitimate path to pursue for more proactive observations of life? If Panspermia's siblings hypothesis is true, then in fact, there's these thousand other stars out there where planets around them plausibly will actually be hosting life at the moment. They are a good candidate for looking through telescopes to see if life is at those planets. And, you know, standard signature is to look in their atmosphere and see, say, do they have a lot of free oxygen, because that's a signature in our atmosphere that there's life here. The problem is, at the moment, say, our best telescopes can see some kinds of, you know, gases in atmospheres relatively close, maybe, you know, a 10 or 100 light years away.
These thousand planets are basically, you know, five or 10,000 light years away because they're spread in a circle around the center of the galaxy. Oh, that's right. They've been taking four billion years to spread out. It's interesting. So, yeah, they're basically a ring around the galaxy. Right. And so some of that ring is close.
And so there's probably something that's the closest one. And we should try to look at that. But that wouldn't be clear evidence because maybe only a third or a tenth of them have been seated with life or something. So maybe a particular star wouldn't happen to have planets in the right place or whatever, the right type.
But still, yeah, it would be a way to check. Interesting. And you're not claiming that that ring wouldn't be the only hospitable place in our galaxy, but only hospitable for potentially life that would be immediately recognizable as congruent to us. Well, it's just the place that it would be if we had a common origin. Got it. Right. In the stellar nursery. Right. So any place out
there maybe could have life. But again, we've got this like really low chance that any one thing gets very far. But the stellar siblings might have gotten a lot farther because they have this because we know that we got a long way. And that means our siblings have a much higher chance of having gone further than a random place.
Have you spoke with any astronomers or others that work directly in this field that on this? No, but I would it's going to be a while before we get this sort of confirmation. But yeah, but I think many people already kind of know that this is one of the more interesting places to look is in our stellar siblings. All right. Well, let's talk a little bit about that evidence, perhaps. My assumption, maybe it's not correct, is that there's been renewed interest from you or involvement in this recently.
Or has there been a pretty consistent drum beat on this for you? So among a lot of people, the idea of aliens is interesting and just the overall history of life on Earth is interesting. And I tapped into that subject 25 years ago when I wrote about what I called the Great Filter. And many people thought that was an interesting topic, but it wasn't something anybody thought you could get a job with or get funding. And so only a few people like me who would on the side play with it, you know, played with that. But over time, other people have came to use this phrase, the Great Filter, to describe the basic puzzle of why the universe seems so empty.
And again, I wrote about that 25 years ago. And then I set that aside as well because I was trying to get a career going and get tenure in economics, which I did. And, you know, my colleagues said, you shouldn't. This is a distraction from your career in getting economics. And I took that to heart. But then a few years ago, I came back to the topic because I read a paper that was talking about very long-lived stars, most stars are much longer than ours, and about how this hard steps model that I talked about, that life has to go through many hard steps, has an interesting implication that life would be much more likely to show up on these long-lived stars than our short-lived star.
And that clued me into the fact that people in this area had been neglecting this hard steps model when thinking about aliens. And so that's why I came back to this topic three years ago, because I had the sense they were missing that, which they were. And so often, you know, the key to making progress is to, like, keep in your mind a list of interesting topics and then wait until you have an angle on one. You're just like, oh, I've got an angle on this one that other people don't have, and let's pursue that angle and go with it.
But that was my angle, which was this hard steps model people had neglected. So the key interesting point is, if life has to go through a number of hard steps before it can get to our point, then the longer the duration of a planet to go through all those hard steps, the more likely it is to succeed, and not just proportionally, but to a power. So if there were six hard steps that life had to go through, which is a roughly best estimate for a life to get to our level at this point, then the chance of advanced life appearing would go to the time duration of the planet to the power of six, which is the same in your body. That is, cancer in your body needs to go through roughly six steps in order to get the mutation. And the chance of your getting cancer as a function of time is roughly the power of six of your lifetime.
That is, you're almost certainly to get it near the end of your life, not in the middle or the beginning. So the key point now here is that long-lived stars should be much more likely to have advanced life than short-lived stars, and we are on a short-lived star. So our planet will run out of room for life in another billion years, and therefore there's only, right, a five-billion-year window on Earth for us to appear, but the average star lasts for five trillion years, a thousand times longer. And so if the chance of life showing up on that should be a thousand times more raised to the power of six, or ten to the eighteen, which makes us crazy early unlikely. That is, why would life show up on Earth, which is a short-lived star with a short-lived planet, as opposed to on one of these much longer-lived stars and much later in the history of the universe? Can we talk about red dwarfs? Yes, exactly. So would that be a place—so if we consider our stellar nursery and the output from that as our cousins, if you will, would looking at life around red dwarfs be more applicable to looking at perhaps older, more mature civilizations? Well, if we were later in the history of the universe, that's where we'd look, but we're now early.
So they're all these—even the red dwarf stars, they have only been around for a few billion years, right? They haven't been around for trillions of years because the universe isn't that old. So the puzzle here is that we do a calculation that says, if the universe would sit and wait empty for advanced life to show up, then it should show up much later than now. And the answer to this puzzle is the universe would not sit and wait empty. Right now, the universe is filling up. Aliens are right now out there taking the universe, reshaping it, making it the way they want, and they're expanding, and in roughly a billion years or so, it'll all be taken. And there won't be any place for life like us to appear.
We had to appear before that deadline, and that's the answer to why we're so early. All advanced life has to appear before the deadline of when the universe gets filled up. And that's the reason why we are early, and that's why the reason why the data on the clock is telling you they're out there.
But then to fill out this model, we need to make a full statistical model of the distribution of aliens in space-time. And so that's what we've done with the three-parameter model, fit to three pieces of data that tells us roughly where they are and when we'll meet them. Very cool. And I know you actually were able to calculate a date. It's nothing on our calendar, but— What we show is there's a probability distribution over the date, and there's a small chance it could be much earlier, but the middle of the distribution is roughly a billion years. It depends on some parameters, so it's a very rough estimate, but it's not soon.
By chance. That would be a chance. Right. So there's a bunch of random variables in here. How early are we in the distribution of alien civilization? We could be very early. We could be very late. They appear once per million galaxies, but at random. Didn't one happen to appear much closer to us or much farther away? Those random elements means we can't set the exact date because we're not sure how early we are or how close the nearest one is.
I guess what I'm trying to get at here is if we then look at the model and say, "Okay, UAP do represent something from somewhere else," that much lower probability becomes a certainty. And how does that incorporate into that model? Right. So the simple grabby aliens model, as I said before, just doesn't find it at all plausible. There could be any aliens nearest. It says, "No, that's just kind of crazy." But there's a simple way to modify it, which is to assume that the aliens are siblings, panspermia siblings to us, that they evolved from the same original planet that we did, where life spread from that planet to our cell nursery, and then we drifted apart, but we had the same origin.
And that would be a way to allow aliens being here. What are they doing? Well, so we have to add something more to this story to have it make sense. So if panspermia siblings showed up before us, the statistics say they couldn't have shown up just a thousand years ago or a million years ago.
That would be an amazing coincidence in their timing. Plausibly, they would have appeared a hundred million years ago or even longer. And in our galaxy, like a few thousand light years away, a hundred million years ago, a hundred million years is plenty of time for civilization that allows it to just expand, fill the whole galaxy, fill the neighboring hundred galaxies, and make a huge difference such that we wouldn't be here now. That is, they could have come to Earth a long time ago and remade Earth and remade everything nearby into whatever civilization they wanted.
Clearly, they didn't do that. So in order to make sense of the story that aliens are here now, and they showed up as our siblings a hundred million years ago, we have to add a next element to our story, and we're going to have to penalize our hypothesis for this next element, which is they, for some reason, did not want to expand. They did not want to allow this remaking of the galaxy and the universe. They had
a rule against that. Now, if we talk to people today, there's a lot of people who think that would be a good idea. So it's not so crazy. A lot of people are kind of wary of us going out in the universe and remaking it. They think that's somewhat of a harm to nature. It's arrogant, et cetera.
And in addition, it would break our civilization permanently into fragments that couldn't be unified together by a single central governance or community. I just want to say real quick, too, we're using the speed of light as a travel and communication limit in this theory. Yes. So if you assume the speed of light is not a limit, you have a much bigger puzzle, because if you could go faster than speed of light, then any civilization anywhere in the universe could fill the entire universe in space time all the way back to the beginning. So the fact the universe is empty would be a much bigger puzzle. It would say no civilization anywhere in space time wanted to come here and do stuff here.
So either you'd have to believe there was only very few of them who decided not to expand or there's none other out there. So I think it's a much more plausible hypothesis to believe that the speed of light is a solid limit, in which case you only have to explain why stuff in our backward light cone isn't here, not why nothing in the entire universe is here. To review, we're trying to make sense of UAPs as aliens. And we're asking what story can we make up that fits what we see and is the most likely in order to— and then at the end of it we're going to ask, how likely is that? Is that crazy unlikely or just only somewhat unlikely in the analogy with the murder trial? OK, so one thing we had to assume, panspermia siblings, like the nearest other aliens are a million light years away— I'm sorry, a million galaxies away—and they are here near us coincidentally because they had the same origin for us, panspermia siblings.
The other thing we've got to assume is for some reason they did not want to go out and conquer the universe and fill it up with stuff. They chose to prevent anyone in their civilization from doing that because it would have just taken one deviant to do it. And they managed to enforce this rule for 100 million years or more. Pretty impressive. Does that penalize your model as well? Somewhat. Yeah, you have to say how plausible it is that it could have lasted for 100 million years for those to make this assumption of no expansion. And then you have to ask, what's the chance they would have made this rule of no expansion? But once you make those assumptions, now we have an explanation for why they'd be here.
We'd say, well, they know that if they're making this rule and some other panspermia sibling shows up and expands, then that defeats the purpose of their rule. Somebody else will go fill the universe. And if they don't want that, then they've got to come here to do something about it. Obviously, one thing they could have done is just destroy us. They could have just sent a bomb from a distance, and that would be the end of it.
Easy peasy. But we'll have to also add the assumption that they didn't want to just destroy us. They would rather persuade us. So now we have a story for why they made it an exception. Because if they're going to have this rule against no expansion, they can't be allowing very many expeditions away from home. Every expedition risks breaking this rule.
And again, they managed it for 100 million years. They had to be pretty anal about this, right, to manage this. Nobody leaves for 100 million years.
Every monitoring station would be an exception, potentially. Right, exactly. And every expedition away would be an exception.
So they can't allow very many exceptions, but they chose to allow an exception for us. And so this expedition is going to come here, and its purpose, mainly, and do other things as well, is to convince us not to expand. And without killing us, preferably. And in addition, they don't want the strategy that this expedition has to be, require a lot of discretion or judgment or creativity, because any one of those things is going to risk this thing going rogue. So they need to approve a strategy from home. Okay, we're going to send this thing out, and it's going to only have the equipment and materials it needs to implement our strategy.
And they're just going to do what we told them to, and they're not going to have a lot of discretion. So they can't have chosen the strategy based on many details about us, because they wouldn't know very many details about us, and our details change over time. So not just something, not just an expedition from that society, but a sufficient enough technology, a representation of that society, perhaps, would even break that rule.
An artificial intelligence that they created, perhaps, however we define it. They needed to have strong political officers, if you will, inside this expedition to make sure it followed their rules. And so it needs to have a very simple strategy and just execute it. So then that's our next question.
What quarter strategy could they have picked? And we also need to explain one more piece of data to combine these together. So the one other puzzling thing about UAPs is the following. A hundred million year old civilization would be either quite capable of being completely obvious or being completely invisible. Both of those would have been easy for them to do.
And yet they chose a third option, which is to be at the edge of visibility, not making themselves really clear, and not being completely invisible. Which many people have noted is kind of a strange thing for them to do. Why hang out at the edge of visibility? So we're trying to explain that, and in addition we're saying they had to have a strategy to come here to persuade us. So we're trying to combine these two things into our story of why aliens would be here if they exist.
So the answer I can think of to combine these two things together is domestication. So humans have always had a status hierarchy, and basically most social animals that are relatively smart have a status hierarchy. In a status hierarchy, the higher status animals are respected and deferred to by the lower status animals. And this is in fact how humans have usually domesticated other animals and domesticated ourselves.
Basically we sit at the top of their status hierarchy. We are the top dog, the top horse, whatever it is. We show up and we are the top of their hierarchy. We show that we are stronger, more capable, and also somewhat friendly. That is, we aren't enemies trying to destroy them.
We're there with them and above them. And we earn their respect, and we've done that when humans, like emperors of empires, this is how emperors have domesticated their empires, right? They have the biggest palace, the biggest crown, the biggest army, and they are the most impressive, the most articulate, the richest. And humans have domesticated ourselves and other animals by showing up, being more impressive, being relatively peaceful, and making it somewhat clear what you want. And then people go along with what they want. That's the history of humans and other animals.
So the hypothesis is that the aliens, that's also true for their social animals, that's true for them. They have a status hierarchy. They've domesticated other animals by that sort of strategy in the past, and so they figure that could work for us.
And it's a simple strategy. You show up, you're nearby, you're peaceful, and you're really impressive, and you make it clear what you want. And that's it.
Are we clear what they want? Well, I would say we can figure it out. Now, maybe we haven't so far, but it's not that hard. That is, under what I just told you, we know what they want, right? So all we have to—all they had to assume is that we could figure this out.
We could figure out that they had to be a rare panspermia of siblings, that they did not conquer the universe, therefore they did not— they had a rule against that, and that they made an exception to come here. So, duh, the reason they're here is to get us to go along with their rule. Maybe that's what they afford, just the opportunity to see the rationale behind their behavior. Right. So under this theory, all we need to see is that they're here. They're not from here. They're
peaceful. They're impressive. That's all we need to know, and we should be able to figure out why they're here and what they want. That would be the story. So they don't—I mean, I think, but why not, you know, be really obvious? Why not do that? Obviously, being invisible won't work for this strategy.
Why wouldn't be really obvious work? Wouldn't that be much clearer? Why risk any miscommunication? What would you expect from feedback from something like this if you were to poke it, essentially? Now, if this thing is there for monitoring with limited ability to interact, you know, what does that tell you about the potential domain of responses or behaviors? So even today, a powerful warrior in full regalia, if punched by a two-year-old toddler, won't retaliate violently because they feel very confident they can't be hurt by the toddler. Their usual norm is to laugh it off and to find it funny and engaging that the two-year-old toddler would even try to hit them. So we have a general norm that if you're too much more powerful than somebody else, you take small attacks and you let them slide off.
And that's often a way you show that you're so much more powerful that you can't even be bothered to respond to somebody's pitiful attack. I might not, you know, hit the child back, but I definitely would not hit the child back. Let's make that clear. Okay, good. All right. It's very clear.
But I might move out of the way. I might respond in some fashion. Right.
And so, you know, as we, you know, these questions are interesting to me because I'm actively engaged in different efforts to now detect and perhaps consider what the purpose or at least pattern of these objects are. And so one of the things I've considered even professionally when I was working in the defense industry against normal adversaries, but even against these, is how do we provide a certain stimulus so we can, you know, build a very simple model, stimulate that model, that environment, and see how it responds to learn more about it. So that's perhaps the area I'm talking about now, given any thought. Okay. So let's get to that after we finish the story. Okay.
I'm joking. Yeah, because that's a great next point to get to. So in the story, their strategy is merely to be impressive and visible nearby and let us get it and figure it out. But there's this question, why wouldn't they just be completely obvious? Why hang out at the edge of visibility? And the story there could be that even among humans, we often hate other humans for relatively minor differences.
And we're really quite capable of seeing them as another instead of us on the basis of pretty small things. These are actual aliens who are actually going to be different from us in a lot of pretty big ways. Maybe they eat babies. They don't think it's a big deal, but we might. They're afraid, right? So this whole strategy won't work if they reveal too much about themselves. And the same way that, like, elites of an empire might not get the loyalty of the empire if they show too many internal ways that those elites act differently from the rest of the people.
So often in the past, elites of an empire would keep themselves apart and just show their impressiveness but not show all their details. And so the aliens are just going to be different in more ways, and there's just going to be something about them we hate. So they can't risk revealing that much about themselves.
But with their strategy, they don't need to. All they need to do is be here, be impressive, and make it clear what they want, and that'll be enough. So the implication here is all these UFP sightings are just about them showing off their abilities, and plausibly there's nothing else they're trying to say. There's no more clues to be gotten, and they actually don't want you to get any more clues. And if you're trying to probe them to get information and they figure that out, they're just going to, you know, resist your probes and not respond in a way that would be informative to you. They're just going to be— Right.
They're just going to try to be opaque. All they're trying to do is make you see they're there and that they're impressive and peaceful. That's it. And clearly, like, they're not trying to help, right? They haven't been interfering much.
I'm certainly not taking any credit for it to help us. They didn't, like, take one side of World War II or something, or they didn't, like, take out the nuclear bombs in Cold War, right? There's lots of things they could have done for us. They didn't do anything.
They're not here to do something for us. They're not trying to give us information. And so if they don't want us to know, and they're 100 million years more advanced than us, what's the chance we're going to figure out more than they want us to know? And so that's just a status quo, then, that we should expect for the foreseeable future.
Right. I mean, we might coordinate more to decide that, okay, we really did see stuff and they really are here, but plausibly we won't learn any more about them. I mean, not even their local base. They've got to have some local base, right, physically, where they're sitting. And presumably they'd be a little more vulnerable if we knew where that was.
They don't want us to know where that is. We're not going to find out where that is, you know, because they can just hide. It's not a pretty picture. It's not an inspiring picture, necessarily. What does this say to our, you know, our attempts and our thoughts of better understanding of this? It suggests that the main thing was we should just decide if we already know enough and we should draw a conclusion of what we already know.
So in a lot of the UAP world, people who talk about this stuff, there is this norm that we shouldn't talk much about what the evidence implies. We should just be trying harder to collect more evidence to convince people the evidence is really there. I think that's unfortunate because maybe we already know enough to conclude as much as we're ever going to conclude for a while.
And we're never necessarily going to get that much stronger evidence because they don't want us to have that much more evidence. So maybe, I mean, they want us to have evidence that they exist and they really are there. They don't mind just, you know, being convinced of that. But figuring out what their things are made out of or kind of physics devices they're using or, you know, how they're internally socially organized, they don't want us to know those things. So we're not going to find out.
Yeah, because really our technology will never catch up. Well, not for a long time. Yeah. Well, unless if we assume that there's an end point, right, we would assume— I think it would be fair to say that we can't catch up if they have millions of years on us, assuming we have relatively similar ability to gain knowledge and progress. And so in a sense, there almost wouldn't be a way to catch up.
There would just be a way to expand our feeble amount of knowledge about it to a stair step. I guess what I'm trying to say is we can't just—we can't expect to fully understand the situation. So what can we as humans comprehend? What can we say definitively that we know? And how do we move to that next thing that we don't know? Well, first, we should just walk through more things we know from this fact. So one thing we should probably know is their expedition here has some limits on its capacity, right? And our technology might approach theirs at some point. And so at some point, they would lose control of us if they allowed us to go past some limit. So there probably is some limit where they would either speak up, take over, or destroy us.
We don't know what that limit is. Presumably it's expansionary in some flavor. Right. So one plausible thing is sending
a probe to another star system. Which, if they didn't follow it along and keep it under control, would risk them having spent a lot bigger budget to keep us under control if we expect— Presumably they wouldn't make those exceptions, right? Because that would lead to just uncontrolled growth. Right. So they have this message, "Don't expand."
But we don't know where the line of expand is. My guess would be it's okay to expand into the solar system. I see. But not beyond the solar system. Because one plausible story is where they drew the line was at being able to maintain some internal coherence to their civilization, where some sort of community of elites discussed things together and decided things together about what to do. And that's feasible within a solar system, and it's not really very feasible across multiple solar systems, because the time delays just get really huge.
So that would be my guess about the line, but we don't know. So how do we move this conversation forward? You've identified that it might be very difficult to further understand this based off of really the intent of these objects, to not let us better understand. I don't think we're going to be satisfied with that answer. So how can we better understand this? One thing we could do is just get a big enough telescope to go look at all the stellar siblings and maybe identify the ones with life around, or maybe even the one with civilization around.
They probably have a whole solar system-wide civilization around their star, and that's going to have some telltale signs. So we could probably find their home world. And that would confirm that they're there. A stellar sibling, a home world with a civilization around it, we would go, "Oh, all the more? I guess they're really here."
It won't reveal much about them other than, say, the scale of their civilization. We won't tell them about their priorities or methods perhaps, because we couldn't see very much. But we could at least see that there's a civilization there. So this would be a bit of a—flipping the script a little bit, instead of trying to better understand what they're telling us to look at in a sense, look beyond that to try to get a sense of where they come from. Just confirm that they really are there, and they really have an advanced civilization, how big it is. I mean, for example, if you just dropped a little bit of nuclear waste into a star, we could see that in the stellar spectrum from a long way off.
So little things like that would probably show us there's a civilization there. It won't tell us that much about them, but it confirms they exist. And then we could look at the others and see that there's only one probably and confirm it's just the one.
Do we know if the James Webb Telescope has any of these candidates, these stellar nursery stars on its list? I don't know. But again, it's probably only a few of them. So the odds of finding the one are probably low, but might as well get started.
We might learn more about them, but it does seem like the biggest thing to learn here is if we learn, that is, can we decide together that we've learned this and to absorb all its implications? It seems to me that this would change civilization substantially if we came to believe that this is the situation we're in. What's stopping us from believing it now? Well, that's a good question. It's a social science puzzle in some sense, why we aren't already persuaded. I think most people out there hearing this will think, well, just the evidence isn't strong enough. You just need more evidence. I've got to say, as I've looked at the evidence, there's an awful lot of cases with an awful lot of evidence.
And yeah, I can see how you might want even stronger evidence, but it's not clear we're going to get that much stronger evidence than the sort of evidence we have, especially since the evidence we have is often in a military context where they're shy about revealing it. So, yeah, I mean, it seems like it is a sticking point for us. So there's this—some political scientists who have a theory about why we're so reluctant to believe in UFOs, especially why authorities are. They basically say authorities feel threatened by this hypothesis.
They're supposed to be in charge, and this would say they're not in charge. And we're supposed to sort of have humanity's future in our own hands, and this would say we don't really have our future in our own hands, and that we so dislike this hypothesis that we refuse to consider it. Not crazy, but I'm not sure I'm persuaded. But there's definitely an obstacle here. That doesn't persuade you. How would you
add to it or build on it? So I feel like you have a sense of it. Right, so the thing I feel strongest in saying, looking at the evidence, is just that the honest mistake theory doesn't work. OK? So, I mean, we can talk about your story. Like, if I look at your story, I go, "Some people are trying to say you made an honest mistake because it was a bird or a balloon or something, and, you know, anybody could make an honest mistake, and that's how it played out." I think that's pretty unlikely in your case, but it's especially unlikely across these hundreds of cases that they're all honest mistakes. That would be quite the statistical abnormality.
So then I got to go with one of the other three theories we're talking about, right? Either—and that's where I can't be as sure, although honestly, like, the hoax theory, the liar theory, isn't crazy. That's the next thing I would go to, right, down the list, and I got to say, "Well, what if some big organizations, say, the U.S. intelligence or military, wanted to set this up as a hoax?" Right? And there would be a plausible reason to do so. So we were in a Cold War where they had, you know, thousands of missiles trained at us, and if at some point they thought they had the advantage, they could push the button, what we might want to do is just make them hesitate by making them think there's a third party who has opinions about the situation. Right? That might make them pause and go, "Well, okay, we've got the advantage over the Americans, but do we have the advantage over this third party we don't know much about?" So it might be worth spending billions of dollars to create that sort of uncertainty on the other part about whether there's a third party who might object. Okay? So that would mean they would be only willing to spend a lot to do that.
How would they spend that money? Well, they would pay people like you to lie or pay someone to fool you with, you know, some elaborate thing that they mess with your radar and mess with things they put up in order to fool you. And that would be possible, that you can spend enough money to fool people. And they could do that to our allies, too, right? Maybe they could pay France and Brazil and Peru or whatever to somebody there to lie and set up some fakes. And you've got to go, "Well, what's the prior probability on that?" And you've got to go, "Look, the U.S. military did some pretty amazing fakes during World War II, and there's some other things they've done a pretty good job of faking and hiding." And so you've got to go, "Maybe they might do that." And the thing that makes
me pause there is you go, "Well, there's all these reports of UAPs within the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War." And it's like they had whole projects and they had whole sightings. Like, could the U.S. have really arranged for a bunch of
Soviet people to lie about seeing these things and do a bunch of fakes on Soviets? Like, there's a case where apparently, you know, six jets went off to intercept some UAP, and two of them went down. Could the U.S. really have arranged something like that? And I go, "That's kind of hard to believe," right? But that's the kind of thing I'd have to believe, right? That's the next thing on the list. If it's not honest mistakes, there's a hoax and a lying campaign.
And that would be the most plausible source, and that would be how they do it. And the hardest case for them would be to take the enemy they're trying to fool, get inside their organization enough on a pretty large scale to make a bunch of fake things happening there. That just seems a tall order. And these things are reported all around the world, even China, right? And so that's the thing that makes me go, "Eh." In addition, this would have been an unprecedentedly large, like, hoax campaign over an unprecedentedly large scale. Yeah, and let's not forget you're talking about, you know, Cold War area right now, but then if we look and, you know, update that for modern times and the logic behind that, how would that change your thought about this being a manipulative scale that's now taken itself all the way into the 2020s? Well, again, the motive would still be there. Just make the other side unsure if
there's a third party who might object, right? We still have a Cold War. We still are worried about them pushing the button. So they could still want to keep the project going. But, you know, maintaining the ability to control behind the scenes, like, when their entire government collapses and they change their government radically, still we would manage to keep these things going. That would be pretty amazing. Yeah, it's nuanced at this point. So
then, you know, you're left with, it sounds like, an unexplainable cohort of observations that... You're left believing there's something real with these really amazing abilities that either comes from around here or comes from somewhere else. And now I've got to ask, what's the chance there's some secret organization on Earth, apparently not the U.S. military, right?
Who could have these amazing ability vehicles and then not use it to any military or economic advantage, right? Because these things are around for half a century, at least. And you would think you could do enormous things if you had this technology. Look at all the ways you could use it. And apparently this organization is not using it. Do you think the U.S. would use it? So
I've stated that perhaps the U.S. would not use it because they just would not want to tip off other nations that there was a "they're there" to explore, technologically, perhaps. Is that part of the calculus? Well, they weren't exploring other techs. So why that one? Why reserve that one and not all the other ones, right? Because we spent many billions of dollars exploring a lot of techs, right? If we had just stopped exploring tech, because we found this one thing and I'd say, "Oh, you know, we've just got to slay them." Maybe we weren't exploring. Maybe we already knew that it was effective.
Right. But then why pay so much for all the other worst techs? I mean, why not just sit on this one tech you got and not improve the other ones because you've just got your arsenal, right? You don't need anything new. This thing works fine. I'm not trying to play the counterpoint, but I think about how China and Russia, if that was the case, they would be competing with what we know is substandard technology. And so we'd be essentially driving a useless economic drain on their society, thinking that they were economically or militarily secure when in fact they weren't that—I'm just thinking aloud here, right? But what I don't see is an incentive for China or Russia or someone competing with us to withhold that technology.
We have the advantage and it doesn't make—it would make sense to keep it a secret until absolutely needed. But for other nations, it would make sense for me for them to integrate that into their economy. Right. But if there have been UAP events in Soviet Union, then we apparently have been demonstrating this technology to the Soviets in the Soviet Union.
So how is it we're trying to keep it secret? We're apparently trying to let them know it exists. Well, I'm not claiming that all of the sightings aren't necessarily technology. Right. But still, there's been quite a few there. You know, it's just a thought. OK.
But that's the second one you want to go to, right? If you don't buy the honest mistake theory, you've got to go second to lies and oaks. And then if that doesn't work, you've got to go to amazing actual stuff. And then the question is, you know, how plausible is it there's an Earth organization with sort of amazing stuff that they could keep secret this long? And that gets kind of hard to swallow, but then you've got the fourth one, OK? It's aliens. And now you have
to ask, but how crazy is that? And you've asked that question. Right. I'm saying not that crazy. Not as crazy as you might think.
Right. But crazy enough that you've got to look at evidence. That's why we're trying to walk through the evidence. But then you're trying to judge these things. So I think I mean, I'm happy to talk to you, but I think I should always just make clear what I'm an expert on versus what I'm not.
Like, I'm not an expert on these cases. I mean, there are people who have spent their lifetime studying these cases, and I respect that. And I want to defer to them on these cases. That's not my expertise. My expertise is maybe on the sort of where aliens might be in space, time and what agendas they might have and then what that implies for society.
I'm an economist. My specialty is more the social science part of it. So that's why I want to say that's the thing I'm presenting to you as you should believe me more because that's where my expertise is. But I don't want to just taboo the other things and say nobody should talk about them.
That's the thing I'm complaining about. A part is the taboo here on the social science implications. Interesting. So where are you in your personal model on your belief of these options? We've basically gone through, I think, all of them more or less. And you presented some as lower probability and we're being driven into this other world.
So are you now at the point in your personal life that you've accepted this as a high probability event worth exploring further? I'm not going to say it's true or not. It's high enough to be worth exploring. So that leaves me in a position of saying, OK, what if some UFOs are aliens? I've got to