A Look Back: Belgium’s UFO Crisis

Alarmed Belgians started to report disc-like objects in the sky on November 25, 1989. These were later believed to be the result of an elaborate nightclub show, but that didn’t change the fact that UFO fever had hit the European nation in a big way.

The “Case”

A black isosceles triangle (shown above) with dancing lights was first spotted by a pair of police officers. No military activity in the region caused the sighting and ultimately, an estimated 13,500 people witnessed the event.

Other witnesses of the object claimed that they heard a sound that resembled the noise that a ventilator makes. They also believed that an object similar to a turbine was spinning behind the apparent alien spacecraft. SOBEPS, the largest UFO organization in Belgium, released at least two volumes detailing the incidents.

Alternative Theory

While it may be disappointing to individuals who put a great deal of stock into the Belgian triangles, at least one scientist argued that the original sighting was caused by exhaust. A pollution cloud coming from a nearby power facility might very well have radiated enough heat to warp the air. Anyone driving on a hot road has seen what heat can do to one’s vision. The lights, for that matter, might very well have come from a smokestack.

Regardless of what caused them, the triangles did cause quite a stir in the small country at the time. What are your thoughts on UFO’s in general? Is there enough evidence that alien crafts are visiting Earth on a regular basis? I remain skeptical however If I were to personally see something in the sky resembling the image above, I have to admit I’d most certainly be alarmed (at the very least). Alas, to date I have yet to personally see a real-life UFO despite the many hours I’ve spent examining the night sky over the years. Perhaps someday I’ll catch a glimpse of something that is worth investigating further. Until then, I’ll continue to indulge my fascination with all the other great things going on up there. Have a great weekend everyone!

Film Influence on Our Consciousness

Theorists have sometimes stressed that The Day The Earth Stood Still had a profound influence on the collective consciousness. Gort’s visit to Earth was witnessed on the silver screen across the globe in 1951. His mission seemed peaceful, despite his methods. Indeed, some people have suggested that the Klaatu character might have held religious significance.

Other film critics feel that his mission was unsettling, and that it meant extraterrestrial forces cared little about the Earth’s people. Regardless of which stance one takes, it’s easy to see that the film changed the way that people look at the human condition. It might also have caused many of the supposed UFO sittings of that time period.

Viewers might have subconsciously been influenced by the film’s depiction of otherworldly beings. They might very well have ultimately convinced themselves that they were able to see flying saucers around them. Mass delusion is a realistic explanation. It’s important to understand, however, that this neither proves nor disproves the existence of extraterrestrial life forms. It doesn’t even suggest that all alien spacecrafts viewed during the time period were phony. All it shows is that other forces may have been at work. Only an appropriate exploration program could truly provide proof either way.

Do I Look Like an Alien to You?

© Scott-Free Productions and 20th Century Fox-Film Corp

I finally got a chance to see Prometheus this weekend and it reminded me why I love both technology and space so much. Without giving too much away for those of you that haven’t yet watched it, one of the more prominent ideas put forth in the movie is that we were created by alien lifeforms that look eerily human in many respects. While I don’t buy into the notion that we were created by other beings (although I do suppose it’s plausible in some respects), I have often wondered what extraterrestrial lifeforms might look like. This is the focus of today’s post. Your input and thoughts are welcome as always.

Occam’s razor would suggest that extraterrestrial lifeforms wouldn’t be quite as different as sci-fi has so often depicted. On the other hand, many scientifically inspired works have long suggested that life on other worlds would be significantly stranger and vastly different than anything found on this planet. For instance, some researchers have depicted alien creatures as somehow silicon-based rather than carbon-based.

© Twentieth Century-Fox

Species with silicon structures could theoretically perform respiration functions with nitrogen molecules instead of oxygen-based matter [all of you biologists out there – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on this account]. This thinking is perhaps particularly creative, but that doesn’t mean that it’s entirely accurate. Hydrogen, carbon and oxygen molecules are found in certain proportions in life on Earth. In The Fitness of the Environment (1913), American biochemist Lawrence Joseph Henderson first stressed the advantages of carbon and water in lifeforms. Henderson was struck by the fact that the very materials needed for life are exactly those that are abundant here on Earth. It remains a remarkable fact that the atoms most useful for life have very high cosmic relevance. Thus, there’s no reason to suggest that life anywhere else is any different. That doesn’t mean it can’t or hasn’t happened. It just means that right now, we don’t know of another way life may have evolved.

Since the search for extraterrestrial life has often focused around planets that vaguely resemble Earth, it seems a bit strange that people have envisioned aliens as so remarkably foreign. While the culture of some distant planet might be shockingly different, the individual beings there might have much more in common with humanity than anyone ever imagined.

Some researchers have suggested that it seems arrogant to assume the aliens are similar to beings on Earth. However, assuming that otherworldly species resemble Earthlings isn’t necessarily arrogant. One might deduce that it’s the most realistic way to answer the question posed in the title of this post. After all, the idea of lifeforms being based around something besides carbon is seemingly outlandish given our current understanding of biology and how life is created.

What do you think? If there are in fact alien lifeforms out there, are they vastly different from us or closer than those most often depicted in literature and film?

Research:

Ehrenfreund P, Spaans M, & Holm NG (2011). The evolution of organic matter in space. Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences, 369 (1936), 538-54 PMID: 21220279

Ziurys LM (2006). The chemistry in circumstellar envelopes of evolved stars: following the origin of the elements to the origin of life. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103 (33), 12274-9 PMID: 16894164

Kerr RA (2012). Planetary science. Homegrown organic matter found on Mars, but no life. Science (New York, N.Y.), 336 (6084) PMID: 22628628

Davies PC (2003). Does life’s rapid appearance imply a Martian origin? Astrobiology, 3 (4), 673-9 PMID: 14987473

Frederick Su (1996). Extraterrestrial life forms examined SPIE DOI: 10.1117/2.6199612.0001

ResearchBlogging.org

Who Built the Baigong Pipes?

Ancient aliens or just really bad art?

Many scientists have argued that people who claim archaeological remains are extraterrestrial in origin are being disrespectful to ancient civilizations. Those civilizations had to overcome countless challenges to produce remarkable structures. They developed advanced forms of engineering.

Baigong Pipe

However, Chinese researchers once seemed to take the idea of alien interference very seriously. Mount Baigong in Qinghai province boasts a particularly unusual landscape. Various objects that seem to resemble rusty pipes litter the soil. These objects are associated with what appears to be a pyramid built on the top of the mountain. This pyramid is attached to a trio of caves, though unfortunately two of the caves are now sealed off. Inside the accessible cave, there is s a half-pipe about 40 centimeters in diameter tilting from the top to the inside of the cave. Another pipe of the same diameter goes into the earth with only its top visible above the ground. Dozens of strange pipes surround the opening with diameters ranging from 10 to 40 centimeters. Their structures indicate a highly advanced and completely unknown construction technique.

Skeptics have put forth several types of geological explanations. Natural science offers explanations for many types of phenomena as well. For instance, magma flows might have caused the formation of the objects when it seeped into existing rock fissures.

However, some people remain unconvinced. There were over 3,000 UFO sightings in China in the early twenty-first century. Local residents have continued to refer to the objects as extraterrestrial relics. Yang Ji of the Purple Mountain Observatory felt that the site still needs to be examined before any conclusions could be made. Some individuals, however, have already made their own assumptions about what entities built the pyramid and pipes. What are your thoughts regarding the idea that extraterrestrials have played a part in the construction of large-scale structures on Earth in previous periods?

The Bizarreness Effect and Spotting E.T.

Recently I’ve been researching historical accounts of UFO sightings/alien abductions (this topic never ceases to fascinate me) and exploring possible scientific explanations for their occurrences when I stumbled across a theory known as the bizarreness effect. I thought I would share a little of what I’ve learned of this theory and would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

The Bizarreness Effect

Early studies on bizarre imagery have produced contradictory results; some researchers have suggested that the bizarre imagery effects memory recall while others, using similar conditions in their labs, have not obtained that effect.  It was not until the 1980’s that McDaniel & Einstein theorized a paradigm in which consistent results were demonstrated.  Researchers showed that bizarre images are best remembered when mixed with common ones.  This phenomenon is known as the bizarreness effect and it refers to the greater recall of stimuli that have bizarre or unusual connotations as compared to those that are common.

This enhancement of bizarre, relative to common, sentence recall is believed to arise from a distinctiveness of the bizarre material, an uncomplicated sentence structure, and free recall of the material.  The following is an example of a bizarre sentence, taken from McDaniel & Einstein in 1986: 

The DOG rode the BICYCLE down the STREET.

One can see that though the sentence is reasonably simple in structure it may require more cognitive effort in order to visualize.  In an unmixed list, where bizarre and common stimuli were presented separately, the noun combinations of bizarre stimuli are not distinct enough to elicit a higher response recall then an unmixed list of common material.  However, in a mixed list, in which both common and bizarre are presented simultaneously, the bizarreness effect is shown abidingly.

Though researchers have come to understand what variables induce the bizarreness effect, it not clear as to what mechanisms account for effect in the first place.  The current understanding of the bizarreness effect suggests that it is a combination of theories based on the difference in storage and retrieval of the images.  The storage theory proposes that common stimuli are stored better into memory than bizarre stimuli.  The retrieval theory suggests that when bizarre stimuli are compared to common stimuli it produces a “surprise” response.  This response provides an extra cue for the retrieval of the bizarre stimuli.

An understanding about the mechanics of the bizarreness effect has a multitude of applications.  For the purpose of this topic, an understanding of imagery mnemonics are applied to enhance the recall of eyewitnesses used in UFO sightings or possibly even alien abduction accounts.  For investigators, if they can understand what is it about bizarre images that make them so remarkable, they can manipulate certain variables to improve the overall memory of the eyewitness and reduce or eliminate wrongful accounts.

Reference:

Peter Lipton, . (2007). Alien Abduction: Inference to the Best Explanation and the Management of Testimony Episteme: A Journal of Social Epistemology, 4 (3), 238-251 DOI: 10.1353/epi.0.0013

Clark, S., & Loftus, E. (1996). The Construction of Space Alien Abduction Memories Psychological Inquiry, 7 (2), 140-143 DOI: 10.1207/s15327965pli0702_5

Kelley-Romano, S. (2006). Mythmaking in Alien Abduction Narratives Communication Quarterly, 54 (3), 383-406 DOI: 10.1080/01463370600878545

McDaniel MA, Einstein GO, DeLosh EL, May CP, & Brady P (1995). The bizarreness effect: it’s not surprising, it’s complex. Journal of experimental psychology. Learning, memory, and cognition, 21 (2), 422-435 PMID: 7738508

Macklin, C., & McDaniel, M. (2005). The bizarreness effect: Dissociation between item and source memory Memory, 13 (7), 682-689 DOI: 10.1080/09658210444000304

Worthen, J., & Wood, V. (2001). A Disruptive Effect of Bizarreness on Memory for Relational and Contextual Details of Self-Performed and Other-Performed Acts The American Journal of Psychology, 114 (4) DOI: 10.2307/1423609

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