Are we here on Earth alone in the universe? This question has fueled popular entertainment as far back as when H.G. Wells published The War of the Worlds in 1898. Aliens, UFOs and the question of whether extraterrestrial beings and civilizations exist is a major and abiding topic that grips mankind and inspires a plethora of works in a variety of pop cultural realms.
Evidence of speculations go as far back as ancient civilizations. It’s safe to say that looking into the sky and wondering whether we are the only life form in the infinite vastness of space has been part and parcel of human life ever since then.
A large part of the science fiction book genre addresses various speculations on the topic as it does such best-selling works of popular fiction as Communion. It was found on TV in such series as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and The X Files, the lovably silly comedy My Favorite Martian and of course Star Trek. It is addressed in such successful and in some cases landmark films as Close Encounter of the Third Kind, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, Cocoon, Signs, Men in Black and, of course, the Star Wars franchise plus the Star Trek and The X Files films that followed the earlier TV shows. Extraterrestrial life is at the very core of the most notable superhero character in comics books plus TV and movie series Superman.
Late astronomer Carl Sagan’s stature as a pop culture icon was also driven by the human curiosity about who and what else may be out there. There is a vast cottage industry of documentary films – some of which might best be described that way in quotes – TV shows and books that claim to prove the existence of aliens and space travelers.
It is so prevalent that one might almost be tempted to say that if you seek proof of life beyond our planet, just look at how preoccupied mankind is with the notion. Flying saucers are all but part and parcel of our modern human symbology.
A dear friend who believes in aliens and their visitations recently directed me to some sources that she feels bolster her faith. One was a (self-published) book (I won’t mention) in which the author claimed ongoing encounters with UFOs that raised as much skepticism with me as it did present intriguing information. Another was a compelling source I looked into on the Internet – where belief in extraterrestrial life is almost as common as pornography – that I also found interesting but in the final analysis unconvincing.
A recent Washington Post article notes how “the enduring power of UFOs doesn’t seem like something we can explain away as delusion or demographic proclivity. It seems to spring from someplace deeper.” And that is the search for meaning not dissimilar to the spiritual notion of a higher power. But until recently, even if I do feel there is something akin to the idea of a God beyond and above life on Earth, nothing has convinced me that extraterrestrial life exists. It takes a leap of faith like that in the existence of a higher power to also think there is life out there in space.
I do not believe that we are the only beings in the universe. I base that largely on odds and common sense when one ponders the immeasurable dimensions of space. But I am skeptical about almost everything I have come across.
And that is all I could confidently say on the matter until I saw the TV documentary Alien Encounters: The Message on the Discovery Channel. It examines the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and its scientific research into other life in the universe. And how its researchers located what seems to be a credible radio wave signal from another planet and civilization. It’s the first thing I’ve found that seems to prove we are not alone. And I feel that it will be the only thread I can currently see that may lead mankind to answering the big question because it is based on rigorous scientific investigation and methodologies.
The second hour of Discovery’s Alien Encounters speculates on the effects of an actual encounter with alien civilization from an intelligent expert viewpoint. My own hope is that it might help break down the human hubris that feeds the political strife, violence, inhumanity and lack of regard for the natural environment of this planet that sometimes feels as if it’s the seeds of mankind’s suicidal self-destruction. Which is also what, ideally, political progressivism should yield.
But for now, all the rest out there on the subject is mainly entertainment with some intriguing hints here and there in my view. The best of it is provocative and thought-provoking as well as engaging diversions. But as to where this one piece of evidence I find convincing may (or may not) lead us, it will only be revealed in the future.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2013
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