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We'll Always Have Roswell... by Ernest Lilley
Review by Ernest Lilley
Date: 01 July 2007

Links: World UFO Day / Flickr UFO Sighting Images /

July Second is the official date of the 1947 "Roswell Incident" and is commemorated by National Flying Saucer Day. Though the expected invasion seems to have fizzled, the idea of alien visitors and glowing disks stays with us, even if "sightings" have fallen off in recent years. Like Schroedinger's Cat, they couldn't stand the persistence of vision, and by opening the lid on the box that hid them, we sent them back to the void.

In 1950's science fiction movies, it often turned out that common household items gave us the key to defeating swarms of giant mutant bugs, monsters from the depths, or alien invaders from the stars. So it is in real life.

Ironically, it was originally thought that the gadget in question would attract UFOs, but the reality, once Schroedinger's box actually got opened, was the other way around. What was the key to clearing the skies of silver platters? Massed array's of laser (pointers)? Focused beams of microwave (oven) energy? Subliminal programming of (i)Pod people? None of the above. The aliens were sent packing by digital photography.

If you do the math, I think you'll find that the disappearance of UFO sightings is pretty much the adoption curve for digital cameras turned upside down, and the thing of it is that when digital images first started coming out, the hue and cry was that we'd never be able to believe pictures again. No one predicted the opposite being the case.

In a world where recorded images are ubiquitous, the ability to check their validity across observers outweighs the malleable nature of the images.

But what really happened was that we all became experts at detecting fakery, merely by looking at thousands of photoshopped images of varying quality, and the novelty of the occasional grainy disk in the sky paled against the glorious bits of fakery done for it's sci-fi value, rather than to actually fool folks. Thanks to digital cameras, we got wise.

This should be interesting to anyone with a rational mindset, because the mechanism here applies equally well to a wide range of phenomenon, especially on the social front. With so many cameras around, if there aren't pictures of a reported phenomenon on the internet, it didn't happen. Show me one picture of an unlikely event and you'll get my interest, but if more pictures don't show up from disparate sources, I'll decide that it may have been clever, but it was probably only art.

Don't look now, but it's the return of the scientific method.

Sadly, the dream of aliens will no doubt fade from humanity as the generations before digital cameras age out of the system. In our minds reside the memory not just of grainy images of pie plates flung across a clouded sky, but the more important memory of not being sure what it was, and having no way to find out for ourselves. We knew that the truth was out there somewhere, but there was no way to tell when it was staring us in the face. That was both scary and wonderful, flip sides of the same feeling as we came to grips with new ideas.

Now, in the real, rather than the imagined future, our sense of wonder has been replaced with a cool exterior. We've grown accustomed to the bizarre, accepting three impossible things before breakfast, as it were. But we've also learned that everything has an element of fantasy in it, that our perceptions are not reality, and that we can choose our realities to a significant degree.

Including ones where aliens in flying saucers watch over us, good, bad, or indifferent to our human lives.

When I visited Roswell, NM several years ago, I stopped at the UFO museum and toured the exhibits. An oldish woman took the tickets and I struck up a conversation with her about believers and non-believers. She claimed that she could tell them apart on sight, so I decided to test her by asking what she thought I believed. When she told me I was a believer, I wondered if she could be right. I've always thought of myself as an interested skeptic...but the truth is probably more on her side than mine. Like Agent Fox Mulder, I want to believe, because I emotionally react to the idea of aliens strongly. Now, if you asked me if I thought aliens and UFOs were rational things to believe in, I'd say no. But all the same, when I drive down a dark country road, I occasionally feel the hair on the back of my neck stiffen and I glance skyward.

Digital images, the internet, and even science fiction movies have all sent the invaders from beyond the stars packing. That's too bad in a way, because they represented as much wonder as terror. But that's what growing up is all about, and besides, deep inside, some part of us is free to believe whatever it wants.

And we'll always have Roswell.

Ernest Lilley
Sr. Editor - SFRevu

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