So, navy pilots have been encountering UFOs for quite some time, and it is a matter that is being taken seriously enough for the US Navy to  set up a formal process for pilots to report UFO sightings.


UFO sighting on FLIR

Just to be clear nobody is saying that these flying objects are aliens. They are just unexplained, and their performance is extremely impressive, as shown in the videos above and detailed here. Of course, at Imaginaries at work, when we read stuff like that, we can not help but wonder what our imaginaries tell us about unidentified objects flying (or diving) super fast.

The obvious answer is that the technological gap is so important compared to what we know right now (or better, what is of public knowledge), that the best explaining plot is obviously … aliens (or the US army’s secret technologies for that matter, but it is less fun, so let’s focus on aliens for the time being).

Just for the fun of it, here is a list of the top 100 aliens invasion movies and even if we disagree on some stuff (how can Bumblebee be better than V ?) it will help us for the rest of this post.

The first thing that comes to mind is that, when faced with a major threat in a movie, humankind needs to … win. Or at least give enough hope to the audience. Just closing by saying that we all died and it was fun thank you would not really be helpful in selling the movie. So this extreme UFO and alien encountering thing shows us a major limitation of our imaginaries : the fact that at one point you need to sell the movie and that the audience might prefer a winning end is a problem for speculation.

The fact that we need to deal with the audience’s expectations does not allow us to really envision extreme endings. Well, sometimes in books mankind might disapear, but mostly due to a long evolution transforming our species into something else. For example, Dixon’s fantastic Man after Man gives us a glimpse into this kind of post-human world. But they remain quite rare and exotic, especially in movies.

That leads us to the second issue : the way we depict the incoming dangers is so … humanlike. We are basically facing robots (Transformers), enhanced humanoids (Predator), monsters that could be dinosaurs on steroids (Pacific Rim) etc. There are of course numerous counterexamples (The Thing is clearly a bit more subtle in offering a vision of how to deal with an enemy that you can not recognize), but on average, we can say that these imaginaries are fairly conservative. Some argue that they need to  talk to our fears, they are our Indians in cow-boys movies. And from a cognitive standpoint, they are easier to remember than highly exotics forms (behaving partly like humans, but in a slighlty counter-intuitive way. Anthropologists specialized in religion and god’s ontology explain that it is something that helps reinforce memorization and communication).

Which leads us to the third issue : humans always find a way to deal with the problem at stake, and we do so again in such a …human way. The most caricatural (laughable in fact) example being the hacking scene in independence day. The basic idea is that the ship piloted by Will Smith will board the mother ship, upload a virus that will destroy the alien’s shield, and then launch a nuke. In order to make that plausible, the movie directors went as far as showing the human software « negotiating with the host ».

Hacking an alien ship with human tools…

All these small clues in order for the audience to understand what happens, but leading to a global situation that is clearly not plausible, and hence raising numerous questions. Some authors have obviously studied what could happen if we had to face an alien civilization and in this specific case, it seems that a non fictional approach would a better way to speculate. Books such as the one published by Taylor offer a much more useful approach in the sense that they are much more grounded in real life physics. As an example, they tell us that hoping to nuke a ship that has had to travel at the speed of light is like trying to blow up an aircraft carrier by throwing a grain of sand at it.

So this is one of the cases where we see that imaginaries (at least the movies), are not very strong at offering really interesting insights on a specific situation. Maybe because it is so extreme that the moviemakers have to « lower the dangers » in order to make it plausible for the audience ?. So an interresting question is how much are we able to deal with rare situation and extreme futurity ? Dealing with a possible encounter with aliens is far from being a stupid task, it is a great tool for speculation.

Let’s just say we have some homework to do in order to provide really challenging, then plausible, near future scenarios that are far from our current fears. We are just guessing that is the same for AI, post-humanity, ecological nightmare and end of the world visions.