Extraterrestrial Visitation Fact or Fiction

The notion extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth is an intriguing enigma, and one fancied by human minds for at least the past hundred years. The very idea of extraterrestrial life only first breaching the mind of  sixteenth century Copernican disciple Geordano Bruno, it has become quite an elaborate subject fraught with conjectural thesis. Jules Verne, in his 1865 novel “From the Earth to the Moon,” may have been one of the earliest science fiction writers to tantalize his readers with the notion of extraterrestrial beings. Of course, in this case it was earthly humans visiting the Moon and not the other way around.

In 1919, renowned astronomer Percival Lowell provided the first alleged scientific evidence of extraterrestrial creatures with his observation of what appeared to be canals on Mars. Viewing sketches of what Lowell saw and interpreted as canals, leads one immediately to the conclusion these structures were “martianmade, and not natural features. Lowell, of course, was only building on the earlier suggestion of “canali”  by Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli. Perhaps, Lowell, believing in Schiaparelli’s discovery,  simply wanted to see canals on Mars so desirously, that indeed, he looked through his telescope and there they were. Forget the fact actual scientific exploration of Mars since the 1970’s has  virtually ruled out the possibility of “canali,” of for that matter, any semblance of intelligent life on the red planet. Nevertheless, the notion of extraterrestrial visitation on Earth was fixed in the minds of many humans by the time Lowell suggested empirical proof of it. We have one of the most convincing fiction novelists of all time to thank for that, Orsen Wells.

In 1897, Wells’ novel, “War of the Worlds,” was first published as a serial feature in Pearson’s Magazine. A year later the entire work was released  as a science fiction novel, which can be pointed to as one of the very first suggesting alien visitation of Earth. By the 1920’s the idea of extraterrestrial visitation had become a regular feature of comic strips, but it was probably Wells’s radio dramatization of his own book War of the Worlds in 1938 which helped extraterrestrial beings make the jump from pure SIFI to perceptual reality. By the late forties and fifties, the notion of alien visitation evolved to include first hand testimony of  alleged human abductions by extraterrestrials, albeit empirically uncorroborated, potentially establishing the scientific certitude extraterrestrials have been, and still are, visiting Earth. What was missing then. to confirm the fact of extraterrestrial visitation,  was any instance of intrinsic evidence to be scientifically evaluated. In the Early 1960’s the Swiss author Erich von Dänikener stepped up on lifes stage to provide just such empirical evidence, derived from sources no less impeccable than the Bible itself.  

In 1968, Dänikener’s book “Chariots of the Gods” was an instant best seller. In it,  Dänikener draws the readers attention to Old Testament Biblical scriptures, numerous ancient pictographic renderings purported to be alien beings and space craft,  and  to megalithic edifices around the world no mere earthly ancient humans could ever possibly have constructed.  Since the 1960’s, and building on Dänikener’s “hypotheses,” a menagerie of theories have been advanced alleging, that only some advanced alien visitors could have had the technology to build and align with such precision to the cardinal points, structures such as Egypt’s pyramids,  England’s Stonehenge, or Peru’s Nazca line formations. Like Dänikener’s, the theories offer seemingly compelling circumstantial evidenced stitched together with a lavish dose of conjecture and speculation, contrives in susceptible minds a daunting belief that Earth has already been visited by extraterrestrial beings, and that these beings may well have been the ancestors of modern humans.

Of course, founding a conviction of plausibility and belief  in the mind of the reader is exactly what the accomplished science fiction writer does best, but Dänikener can hardly be recognized as a writer of any stature, let alone accomplished. He dropped out of school at age 19 and has been convicted of embezzlement, fraud and other nefarious crimes. Nevertheless, we are to accept at face value, his claims, interpretations, and bold assertions. The late Dr. Carl Sagan, astronomer, planetary scientist, microbiologist, a founding member of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and so on,  pointed to many of von Dänikener’s conclusions as rank absurdities. In his last book, “The Varieties of Scientific Experience” (edited and published by his wife Ann Druyan after his death) Sagan, questioning how good  Dänikener’s evidence was,  characterizes it with this: “And, unfortunately, the standards of evidence were extremely poor, in some cases non-existent.”

So plainly apparent, in light of recent cosmological discoveries, the fundamental problem with alien visitation is that without some technology which defies the known laws of physics it is doubtful extraterrestrials could ever get here from wherever they might be, any more than we can expect to get to them. As Enrico Fermi (Fermi’s Paradox) postulated in 1950, if extraterrestrial life is a reality it should be relatively apparent. The Drake equation, a statistical probability formulated by astronomer Dr. Frank Drake in 1961, supported Fermi’s notion that intelligent extraterrestrial life should be abundant in the Milky Way galaxy. It stands to reason that any advanced intelligence capable of space travel would have also developed electronics and be broadcasting radio frequency signals. Signals such as television broadcast have been emanating from earth for 70 years now. Presumably, any extraterrestrial  intelligence which actually visited Earth would have been broadcasting such radio telemetry far longer. Since the 1970’s the field of stars within 300 light years of  Earth have been systematically scanned with radio telescopes hoping to detect the first intelligible radio signal from an extraterrestrial life form. To date, not a single such signal has been discovered.

The question at hand asks: “Do you believe that aliens have already visited our planet?” Belief is an element of human cognitive process which requires no substantiation beyond whimsical desire; we can believe anything we want to. The word “science” comes from its Latin root “scientia,”which in Latin simply means “knowledge (to know).” The threshold for knowing something, as opposed to simply believing it, is much higher. Knowledge requires real proofs or empirical evidence that renders a notion self evident to any mind that considers it. Just believing something does not make it so, beliefs are amorphous and can change. What is known withstands all scrutiny it is subject to, its fidelity and veracity bolstered by inquiry and scholarly challenge. Some folks, like Erich von Dänikener, propagate information they represent to be “scientific evidence” but which under more exhaustive scrutiny turns out to be only a facade of belief based on conjecture and speculation. It sells lots of books to believers, but it is not science. It is, instead, pseudo-science; something fashioned to look like science, but which can not withstand the rigor and scrutiny of the scientific method.

Yes, there are plenty of people today who have bought into the premise of belief that extraterrestrials have already visited Earth, but to safeguard this belief they must disavow and ignore the real evidence or lack thereof, known to real science.  In a discussion this writer had with a scientist working here at the SETI/ U.C. Berkeley Hat Creek Radio Astronomy (HCRO) facility not so long ago, the scientist asserted there is a growing disenchantment among extraterrestrial intelligence investigators, especially those who have been at it for thirty years or so now, that the belief in the abundant existence of extraterrestrial intelligence predicted by the Drake Equation has dimmed greatly over the past decade or so. This is not to say that extraterrestrial life does not exist out there somewhere in the cosmos, but only the certainty it is a much rarer phenomenon than was thought a few decades ago. The likelihood extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth, or even were the progenitors of life on this planet, is an even more remote possibility, the real scientific evidence in support of the notion dauntingly absent. Given the choice to believe in the pseudo-scientific conjectural hypotheses promoted by the likes of the Erich von Dänikener’s of the world, or the certitude of the scientific method and men like Dr. Carl Sagan who practice it, this writers own belief can only side with the latter group. Subsequently, we can safely conclude here that the notion of extraterrestrial visitation on Earth still remains the stuff of science fiction, not science fact.