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Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft: Alien Life and the Dubious Claims of David Grusch

Words by Chris Murphy (he/they)

contributing writer

Illustrations by Stella Roper (they/she)

contributing artist

In June of this year, US Air Force officer and former intelligence official David Grusch came forward as a whistle-blower, claiming there’s been a decades-long cover-up of “non-human” technology by the US military. At a recent congressional hearing, Grusch claimed there was a recovery of crashed UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, the new “scientific” term for UFOs) containing “biologics.” This has led many to believe that the existence of aliens visiting Earth has been confirmed. It hasn’t.

While Grusch’s claims might seem compelling at first, they are all hearsay. He doesn’t claim to have personally seen any of these craft or non-human life forms, he’s only been told about them. He hasn’t even claimed that these craft are extra-terrestrial, only that they are not human. Bizarre claims for sure – and without any specific evidence, not ones I’m willing to believe.

The questions that came to my mind when watching Grusch’s testimony were “What did this biological material look like? How was it determined to be biological? If it was clearly non-human, why could it not definitively be called extra-terrestrial?” These weren’t the questions that the congressional hearing asked though. They were more interested in whether or not anyone had been injured or killed to maintain the cover up. Grusch remained vague on that too.

I don’t know what’s actually happening here, but it could be the military trying to muster funding for the new Space Force. There’s a possibility that the air force has been misspending taxpayer money and is now trying to cover its ass (which, if true, is the stupidest way to do it imaginable). Or maybe David Grusch has stumbled on some weird shit and he genuinely believes it is non-human tech. It really doesn’t matter. If it is just a psy-op, it isn’t working very well because people don’t really seem to give a fuck. It really doesn’t matter. What I do know for sure is, it isn’t science. It isn’t independent research being published by people who are actually involved with organisations like the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI). It’s really unlikely that actual first contact will be this dramatic.

Because of the huge scale of the universe, it makes sense to limit ourselves to our own galaxy when discussing the possibility of alien life. We can only see the observable universe, which is basically a bubble of all the light which has been able to reach Earth since the universe began. There are at least 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and there are several hundred billion galaxies in just the observable universe. The Whole Universe is probably infinite, so it’s inevitable that there is alien life out there somewhere. The Milky Way is huge and would take thousands of years to cross even with craft that could travel at the speed of light, distances between galaxies are even greater. Because of that there isn’t much point talking about life in the universe outside our own galaxy, we’ll probably never be able to reach it, and it will never be able to reach us. So, unfortunately, we’re trapped in our own shitty little milky corner of space.

Given the almost unimaginable distances between stars in the galaxy, and the many technological and physical barriers that we’ll need to overcome to travel between them, it’s more likely that we will detect alien life by some kind of radio signal. This is what SETI is looking for, using an array of radio telescopes all over the world (including in Aotearoa). There have been a couple of decent candidates for alien radio signals already, the biggest one being the Wow! signal, which was detected in 1977. It was a strong signal with a very narrow bandwidth – it continued for the full 72 seconds that the telescope was able to detect any signal. Unfortunately, it has never repeated, despite our best efforts to find it. Point being, good science takes time. We won’t suddenly discover aliens exist in one huge moment. It’ll take years of research and debate and speculation before anyone is even willing to say, “Hey, we might have just detected a radio signal from an alien civilisation. Probably. We hope.”

We make a lot of assumptions about life in the universe too. Physicists and astronomers tend to assume intelligence must be a natural end point of evolution, but as someone with a background in biology, I’m sceptical of this. As far as we know, we are the only intelligent species to ever evolve. The family Hominidae, the great apes, the genetic family we belong to, evolved about 17 million years ago. The Homo (not gay) genus evolved around 3 million years ago. Our species, Homo sapiens, evolved only 300,000 years ago. To put that into perspective, the Ceratopsia group of organisms, which triceratops (objectively the best dinosaur) were a part of, existed for 95 million years and never developed any kind of human-like intelligence or culture. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old. The universe is about 13.8 billion years old. Our planet has existed for nearly a third of the universe’s history, yet, our type of intelligence has existed for less than 0.01% of the planet’s history. We are the only example of a planet with life (that we know of). I can’t think of any other scientific concept people are willing to speculate on with a sample of one.

We also like to think that aliens must be absolutely clamouring to study and observe us, because we are so important and special. While humans have a massive influence on the environment, we make up less than 0.01% of Earth’s total biomass (that’s the weight of all living things on the planet). Microscopic life is far more diverse and expansive than just the human species, and plants represent the largest part of the planet's total biomass. I have no idea why we assume aliens would think we were more interesting than the millions of other life forms on the planet.

The idea that aliens would even want to contact us is based on an assumption of the colonial European perspective. Most Western scientists assume some kind of cultural similarity with alien life. There is no universal objective reason why an alien species would be interested in reaching out or observing. I study science and I sincerely believe that the scientific method is a powerful and useful tool for understanding the world, but the European method of scientific inquiry is not universal. If it were, we’d see analogous approaches in different cultures on Earth, and we don’t. European denial of indigenous knowledge has undeniably hurt our environment and world, and stunted our understanding of many aspects of the natural world. Any alien species capable of crossing the huge distances of interstellar space must have technologies that are well beyond any of our current capabilities. So, ironically, if aliens were anything like the vast majority of European scientists over the last 400 years, they would probably be dismissive of our “primitive” mathematics, science and engineering.

So, are aliens real? Maybe. I want to believe they are too. I’ve been fascinated by the UFO phenomenon since I was a little kid. While I think Grusch’s claims are bullshit, I don’t think UAPs in general are. Even if just 1% of the reported incidents are authentic, it would still be worthy of serious investigation. There just isn’t any proof that UAPs are from an intelligent source and not just a natural phenomenon we don’t understand yet. Despite all the strides that modern science and research have made, there is still a lot we don’t know, even about Earth.

Until little green people come crawling out of a flying saucer that’s just crashed into Aotea Square, or SETI picks up a signal with a clear and unambiguously intelligent source, I will continue to believe that we are the only intelligent species in our galaxy or maybe even the observable universe. It’s a good reason for us to focus on looking after our own planet. Life like ours seems to be extremely rare. Our intelligence is a cosmic gift, whether you believe in higher powers or not, and if we continue to allow a handful of the greediest people in positions of power to prevent us from coming together as an intelligent species to save ourselves, maybe we don’t even deserve to make contact with whatever might be out there.


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