As lockdown ends, and people potentially can return to a world of casual socializing, there remains a question of what there is to talk about. The ongoing catastrophe has impressed upon us a fatalistic worldview that no one wants to hear about at a party. The news offers its share of celebrity gossip and political flashpoints, but those present their own pitfalls. Thankfully, we have news of UFOs being acknowledged as real by authority figures considered legitimate. I have a spiel I am excited to go off on after two beers, but when one friend was like “I want to read that essay,” since she lives in a different city than I do, I decided to put it down for posterity because we might not find ourselves at the same BBQ in the months to come.
First off, while I reject the “mathematical probability” aspect of the simulation hypothesis*, I do think we have to consider the notion of life on other planets pretty much a given. However, there remains a question of what exactly we’re talking about when we talk about life: We get excited about the prospect of water within our solar system, or frozen bacteria. Even if we’re extrapolating beyond what’s known, we’ve gotta concede we’re mostly talking about slime molds, maybe jellyfish in some other “Goldilocks zone.” It’s very cool to imagine a planet where the most advanced form of life is just a squid, and this is a much better starting place than thinking of figures that cast humanoid silhouettes.
I think about Jacob Berendes calling Earth “the music planet” a lot. Albert Ayler says “Music is the healing force of the universe,” it’s true, but the best theory as to the origin of music I’ve heard in terms of its place within evolution is it stems from the humming sounds mothers made to soothe their children. We’ve come a long way from there! But the development of harmony, syncopation, recording and manipulation of electronic systems seems a better measure of where we are and where we’ve come from as our culture developed than the development of tools of war.
Science-fiction narratives about aliens and their advanced technology emerging within the twentieth century spurred the development of our own technology, but that was funded by military budgets, coping with the threat of the cold war. Much of the materials harvesting in prior centuries came about due to colonialism. The results of these efforts are things that people like to act as proof that ours is an advanced civilization, but their original motivations are what I would cite as evidence that our species is self-destructive. The idea that another, more advanced, civilization would be interested in the building of flying saucers runs up against the fact that we’re imagining this metric point as somewhere past where we stand on the brink of armageddon. We need to address why we’re interested: All of this projected imaginative activity occurs in the shadow of our own anxiety about the end of our world, and this belief held by the techno-libertarians-cum-crypto-fascists among us that colonization of other worlds is preferable to conservation of the delicate balance which sustains us here on Earth. Not enough people listen to Sun Ra, not enough people are willing to consider that someone from outer space has something to teach us.
By beginning from a place where we’re imagining life on other planets as being primarily squids and turtles, we’re halfway to a place where we’re conceptualizing something more chill than where we reside when we think of other worlds. A lot of changes to the composition of our atmosphere would result in a different climate and culture. I’m pretty sure we would be less aggressive if there was more lithium in our groundwater.
At the same time, this doesn’t preclude the possibility of alien life being the cause of UFOs. My understanding of physics has it that the possibility of faster-than-light travel exists, were one able to fold time. I am interested in the possibility of some sort of organism with a different consciousness and different sensory organs could be able to do this were it to reach some kind of advanced point. There is technology that has nothing to do metal, armor, and weapons system. Language is a technology, just as photosynthesis is a way of life. I’m imagining something that looks a whole lot more like a pile of goo that’s just an evolved form of a slime mold than it does a shapeshifting reptilian that’s just an evolved form of 19th century antisemitic caricature. What I want to approach or talk about bumps up against notions of mushrooms being from space, traveling to earth via panspermia, and maybe McKenna’s “stoned ape” hypothesis gets folded in there too. Chatting about mycelium networks is cool, (experiments have been done where they reproduce a map of the Tokyo subway system), but so is just chatting about drug experiences (my one friend once pissed on the floor of a Barnes And Noble while on acid).
I’m also into this theory I saw once that the classic “grey alien” resembles a drawing of a creature summoned by Aleister Crowley in a ritual at the beginning of the twentieth century and that their cold unearthly manner is the result of them being souls that have not incarnated and experienced human existence. All this stuff is fun to think about! My point is we should never cede our imaginative horizons to what the military says is real, as they seek justifications for increased budgets for faster planes. I am not particularly well-read in science or even science fiction. I just think I’m smarter than the Blink-182 guy, and that’s largely by virtue of not liking pop-punk. If we’re throwing parties, and not inviting pop-punkers or libertarians, there’s a load of interesting conversations to be had.
*: There’s a whole other argument I drafted in my head about how we are subject to the will of a simulation that has nothing to do with true reality, it’s just called the stock market being viewed as indicative of the economy. This was meant to dovetail with an argument about the popularity of Rick And Morty with the Reddit-brained is due to how one doesn’t have to be smart to see through the world’s bullshit, and it remains an appealing fantasy that it can somehow be bypassed or circumvented. (The people who think they’re “better” than the show also get made fun of under this line of argument — it’s a well-made cartoon!) I think I was thinking about all of this when the WallStreetBets/Gamestop stock thing was happening, but I didn’t write anything down beyond texts with friends.