Background on UFOs, Disclosure, and Rationality

There have been reports of various strange flying objects for a very very long time (read the paragraph with "Boeotia". Note, a "hogshead" seems to be a type of barrel.), but, for me, it wasn't until quite recently that it became really unambiguously clear to me that something is really going on there. I'd recommend looking into the Princeton/Nimitz "tic-tac" incidents specifically. IIRC, at least 6 navy staff on those boats have very publicly and extensively testified to having seen a very strange propulsion technology. I've come across no story as to how, or why any human faction would be keeping a propulsion technology like that secret, and out of deployment for so long.
(A half-baked theory though: Perhaps this propulsion tech could be used to make devilishly fast, non-interceptible ICBMs, the existence of which would make the world worse, so maybe it's a technology that we should avoid publicly acknowledging for as long as possible?)

However, it's possible that it wasn't a propulsion technology, and that it's more of a plasma image projector used in combination with a radar spoofing technology, as futurist David Brin seems to confidently believe. In that case it's a lot easier to understand how the technology could have been kept hidden - it hasn't been mature for very long, and it has fairly limited applications, and it isn't salacious enough to leak about.
So this would be one of my dominant hypotheses, the tic-tacs really look like they're just this, to me. But there are a few contrary details in the account of commander Fravor and US officials (including Obama, among other former presidents) swear up and down that they'd tell us if that were it.

So I kinda have to keep paying attention to this stuff.

But isn't it wildly implausible? How can a rationalist entertain the possibility that aliens would be like this, or behave like this? The econ/tech-eschatology of it doesn't make any sense!

I'm sympathetic to that. My intuition says that if aliens had reached us, their construction projects would have filled our night sky, they wouldn't be hiding from us, because whatever the value of hiding, the costs are greater. Robin Hanson talks extensively about the dynamics of economically plausible aliens and finds that it wouldn't generally support these sorts of observations.

But the observations seem to be disagreeing with my intuitions, so I seek a more detailed model.

Robin Hanson also talks extensively about the a less prevalent but still believable set of dynamics that we might expect to see in panspermia-sibling aliens who happen to have developed a sclerotic world government (a development which is not especially unlikely, and might happen to us) that could temporarily resist the laws of instrumental convergence towards "grabbyness".
That story could support these sorts of observations.

Regardless, if you are sure that it's definitely not aliens, you should be extremely interested in the possibility that humans, hence, appear to have created practical alcubierre drives.
I think that would warrant some discussion.

Summary and Commentary of the Proceedings of the Open Subcommittee

(The subcommittee hearing can be watched here)

  • There's a new US govt UFO investigation program: Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, "Or, AIMSOG".

Congressman André Carson:

Today we will bring that organization out of the shadows. ... Unidentified Aerial Phenomena are a potential national security threat, and they need to be treated that way. For too long, the stigma associated with UAPs has gotten in the way of good intelligence analysis, pilots avoided reporting or were laughed at when they did, DoD officials relegated the issue to the back-room or swept it under the rug entirely, fearful of a skeptical national security community. Today, we know better. UAPs are unexplained, it's true, but they are real, they need to be investigated, and many threats they pose need to be mitigated.

  • Possibly new video of something reflective going past or being passed by a plane. Later in response to a clarifying question of Mr Himes, Mr Bray says yeah it's "probably moving very very slow".
  • They've figured out what that weird night vision footage of hovering triangles were! Just US drones producing a really weird camera lens effect in an IR lens being filmed by another camera. "We're now reasonably confident that these triangles correlate to unmanned aerial systems in the area. The triangular appearance, is a result of light passing through the night vision goggles, and then being recorded by an SLR camera"
  • (after faffing around trying and failing to get VLC to show a still of the flyby thing from that maybe new video. (It doesn't occur to anyone to try slowing down the playback :|||| like, should I be reading into the fact that there was this very basic technical puzzle in front of them and in all that time, not one of these guys thought of this))

    Mr Schiff: "Is this one of those situations where it was observed by the pilot and it was also recorded by the aircraft's instruments?", "Ah, we'll talk about the multisensor part, in a later session" (a closed one? :|| Why. It's possible this is just because talking about what the sensors saw would require talking about the sensors themselves, which is generally secret info.) "But in this case, we have, [gestures at the footage] at least that." :< neither confirming nor denying correlation from other sensors.
    I think I like Mr Schiff a lot. He is a live player. Regarding the hovering triangles, he questions this frankly surprising explanation optical artifacting, and asks whether they've reproduced that effect experimentally. Yes, apparently, it has been done.
  • Mr Wenstrup: 'have allies or adversaries reported similar sightings', "we should save that for a closed session" :[
  • Mr Gallagher asks them about the Malmstrom incident (I think this is it) where a UAP seemed to interfere some nuclear missiles. They say they haven't looked into it or heard of it. I'm as concerned as Gallagher is to hear that. They say they don't have the resources to follow up on that sort of story without an authoratative figure requesting it. Mr Gallagher says 'I don't claim to be an authoratative figure but for what it's worth I would like you to look into it'. Moultrie says "will do".
  • Mr Krishnamoorthi asks whether we have records of anything under the sea. Moultrie: "I think that would be more appropriately addressed in closed session, sir"
  • Mr Moultrie confirms that they do have processes "to ensure that we are not potentially reporting on something that may be a developmental platform or a US operational platform that is performing either testing or performing a mission".
    He states that there don't seem to have been any cases where they've accidentally reported a potential US technology. I don't place much stock in this, though. They wouldn't be able to do this job at all if they weren't willing to lie about whether something is a US technology, alas, we should expect them to lie about those cases, so maybe it doesn't ultimately mean very much that the government are consistently denying having any tech programs that could explain the observations.

I approach a model: It's conceivable that that what's actually going on here is, the story of Alien UFOs is useful for hiding novel technologies, but it's also been an impediment to national security, it's created a stigma around reporting, which means that if a rival nation actually had propulsion technologies like this, their radar crews might not report it. The US wants to maintain the cover of the AUFO story, but they also want to dissolve the stigma. I think this new group are going to do that exceptionally well.


19 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:45 PM
New Comment

I think the most likely concrete explanation for the hypothetical of non-world-eating alien tech is a non-corrigible anti-AI-risk AGI that was built by aliens in their own 21st century to stop AI risk. In this sort of partial failure of alignment, the AGI doesn't change more than it has to in order to prevent AI risk, and it doesn't itself develop, just keeps the world low-tech in this particular way. If such an AGI didn't kill its developers, this means that it couldn't be reformed or defeated since, and so we are likely safe from world-eating levels of AI risk as well, but we won't be able to actually build powerful AGIs and things like aging might need to be solved manually. If it did kill its developers, then building even an aligned AGI might trigger the alien AGI, but also in that case it might be possible to work around, since nobody lived to try yet, and its purpose might be unrelated to prevention of AI risk.

I don't think looking into the possibility of actual low-tech alien machines is meaningfully useful. Either it's complete nonsense, or the alien machines probably exert some effort towards hiding the evidence, so that more effort would mostly fail to help with producing a compelling argument that it's not complete nonsense. (The remaining possibility is that there's legible argument/evidence that's easily available, which is not actually the case.)

At least 6 navy staff on those boats have very publicly and extensively testified to having seen a very strange propulsion technology.

Even if it were true, how would they know it was a propulsion technology?

Regardless, if you are sure that it's definitely not aliens, you should be extremely interested in the possibility that humans, hence, appear to have created practical alcubierre drives.

I'm very sure it's not this either. Alcubierre drives have several issues, such as requiring negative energy densities, not having any way of accelerating them, or requiring astronomical amounts of energy.

This video debunks some of the Pentagon's UFO footage, and I have no reason to doubt that the other videos have similarly mundane explanations.

Even if it were true, how would they know it was a propulsion technology?

Uh, because there seemed to be a solid object (showed up in a kind of radar that we don't know how to spoof) that was moving around really fast in line with the visual. As stated, I still think it might not be a propulsion technology, but the witnesses don't tend to float any other possibility. I haven't seen them asked about the plasma image theory.


I wouldn't say I think that it's an alcubierre drive specifically, what I mean is I don't know what else to liken it to and it would seem to share a lot of qualities.

I agree that the videos are not really very interesting at all. The recordings (radars) of the most interesting parts of the encounter were not released. A pilot, Fravor, says they were confiscated (this would be consistent with the US plasma image tech). (I think former AATIP (the previous UFO reporting program) lead, Luis Elizondo, sort touches on the way they only released the crappy videos, though I don't think he really explained it at all, in this conversation with skeptic Mick West.)

Re the Malmstrom incident, there have been various reports over the decades of UFOs appearing at nuclear missile sites and even apparently interfering with (eg disabling) the missiles. Eg the Rendlesham Forest incident in 1980 at a USAF nuclear base in the UK, in which deputy base commander Lt Col Charles Halt and many other personnel spent hours observing (and filming, photographing etc.) UFOs over two nights.

(I'd link to the Wikipedia article, but last time I checked a while back it was being gatekept by ultra-skeptics who reverted any changes. I have however seen Col Halt describe the incident at great length & detail. An audio recording he made as the events were unfolding is also in the public domain, though he says radar tapes, film and photos were all taken away on higher orders and never seen again.)

UFO's aside, there are strong incentives not to disclose potential evidence of interference with a state's strategic nuclear deterrence.

Indeed. In fact IIRC the fact nuclear missiles were based there was secret at the time and long afterwards

There is no way to be polite so I will be brief. I think you should consider the positives of epistemic learned helpelessness with respect to arguments for any particular UFO being non-mundane.

I will politely decline to undergo epistemic learned helplessness as it seems transparently antithetical to the project of epistemic rationality

Less so under potentially adversarial conditions, when there are politics/culture-war aspects. For example, many people have large personal and social incentives to convince you of various ideas related to UFOs. In that case, it may not be the correct move to engage with the presented arguments, if they are words chosen to manipulate and not to inform. Do not process untrusted input,.

I'm curious if you think that this formulation of the above idea is still antithetical to epistemic rationality.

In situations like that, I'd say, more.. you should process it with reduced energy, in correct proportion. I wouldn't say you should completely deafen yourself to anyone (unless it's literally a misaligned AIXI).

I think even this slackened phrasing is not applicable to the current situation, because the people I'm primarily listening to are mostly just ordinary navy staff who are pretty clearly not wired up to any grand disinformation apparatus about UAP.

Given the enormous number of independent chances/pathways for life to have evolved in this galaxy outside of earth, the prior on us being alone is very low. It's only then reasonable to conclude that we are alone if one is extraordinarily confident on the future trajectory of alien civilizations, and that it necessarily results in visible megastructures which look very different from known/suspected natural stellar systems. That is what a very strong prior does, it overcomes other evidence (or lack thereof).

But given that advanced life is most likely some form of advanced computation, and advanced future computational systems will necessarily be extremely cold and dark, it does not seem reasonable to update so strongly on lack of visible megastructures.

And otherwise the evidence we have (history of UFO sightings) is actually quite compatible with advanced alien civs.

Hopefully the James Webb will eventually find (or not find) at least a few planets with bio-compatible atmosphere signatures (although of course there will always be other explanations, and these will always continue to be more popular for various reasons until hard reproducible evidence is publicized). But if we instead find 0 bio-compatible amtospheres out of a sample of at least a few hundred candidates, that would be more important evidence against the copernican principle than lack of visible megastructures.

Spacefaring aliens are post-AGI, and have post-AGI kind of tech even if they successfully prevented unaligned AGIs from taking over, as they had enough time since then to develop, so they might as well just be AGIs. At that point visible UFOs no longer make sense. If we have been reached but not eliminated as observers, that can only be a moral judgement, and we are either completely left alone or have been put in a simulation, in which case occasional UFO sightings don't seem like an optimal feature of the outcome.

Visible megastructures seem a priori more likely than visible UFOs, in the scenario where we are left alone in the physical world, since it's probably too costly to hide evidence of development elsewhere in the world without violating some non-interference moral code that also prevents us from being put in a simulation or wiped out or being contacted (at this stage of our development). But it's trivial to avoid visible UFOs, even with total surveillance, if competent alien AGIs make sure it's not noticed. And depending on the moral code of non-interference, it's similarly trivial to fake all observations even outside a simulation.

What's left are weird cases of permanently crippled development, with incompetent AGIs and low tech, which should be sought in our own possible futures to understand their nature. And UFO sightings being total nonsense.

advanced future computational systems will necessarily be extremely cold and dark

The stars are burning away useful resources, it's likely possible to do better than leaving them alone, by either deconstructing them or capturing energy output. We observe that stars have been left alone. So either all observations are fake, or there is no megastructure building capability out there.

and we are either completely left alone or have been put in a simulation, in which case occasional UFO sightings don't seem like an optimal feature of the outcome.

Agreed. A way of using our matter (the earth) for something else, without killing us.

So I've been thinking about that. For any simulator, there are things they do and don't care about capturing accurately in the simulation. I'd guess that the simulation has a lot to do with whether we hold to the reciprocal kind-colonization pacts that they're committed to themselves. For that, it's important that the "we" is preserved, we have to be allowed to develop without any major interventions, so that we self-actualize, so that the thing being tested is really us.
There may be interventions that they can make that wouldn't interfere with the integrity of the test, that would actually enhance its accuracy, reduce the random noise of a perfectly natural history.

I don't have an idea of what that would look like. It's not obvious to me that it would look like UFOs. I can tell a story where it does, but it's weak so far: To induce us to consider the possibility that our neighbors are already here, without confirming it (or even, before disconfirming it later on ("ah, turns out it was all a ridiculously implausible propulsion research program all along, nothing to see here")).
And maybe that leads us to... no. I shouldn't go on, today. I just don't understand what this noise-reduction means and how it should work. I need to think about that more.

You are making strong unwarranted assumptions about far future tech. Advanced computers are most likely quantum reversible and are thus not energy constrained - they are mostly mass and temperature constrained. Stars may not be very useful.

Is there writing about that? Last time I thought deeply about reversible computing, it didn't seem like it was going to be useful for really anything that we care about.

I'll put it this way.. if you look at almost any subroutine in a real program, it consists of taking a large set of inputs and reducing them to a smaller output. In a reversible computer, iirc, the outputs have to be as big as the inputs, informationally (yeah that sounds about right). So you have to be throwing out a whole lot of useless outputs to keep the info balanced, that's what you have to do to maintain reversibility, but that's not really different to producing entropy. I expect life and life-like patterns to have that quality, as computations. Life, by nature, is inextricable from time, but the most precise reductions of the forward motion of time is that it consists of the increase of entropy, or something like that.

Simulation timesteps compute a new similar size model state from previous, and since physics is reversible simulations tend to be roughly reversible as well. And more generally you can balance entropy producing compression with entropy consuming generation/sampling.

Even if stars only make up a small fraction of the matter in the universe, it's still matter, they'd still probably have something they'd prefer to do with it than this. I'm not really sure what kind of value system (that's also power-seeking enough to exert control over a broad chunk of the universe) could justify leaving it fallow.

Stars consist mostly of low value hydrogen/helium, but left to their own devices they cook that fuel into higher value heavier elements.

But anyway that is mostly irrelevant - the big picture issue is whether future civs transcend vs expand. The current trajectory of civilization is exponential, and continuing that trajectory requires transcension. Spatial expansion allows for only weak quadratic growth.

  1. Hmm makes sense if you really don't care about energy. But how much energy will they need, in the end, to reorganize all of that matter?
  2. I don't think there's going to be a tradeoff between expansion and transcension for most agents within each civ, or most civs (let alone all agents in almost all civs). If transcension increases the value of any given patch of space by s^t, and you get more space from expansion at s*t^3, well, the two policies are nonexpansion:  vs expansion:  :/ there's no contest.
    If it's not value per region of space, if one quantity became negligible relative to the other, that value of expansion is still bigger than the cost of building one self-replicating expansion probe (which is even more negligible), so they do that.

So the EV of continuing spacial expansion is still positive. Unless you can argue that the countervailing value of leaving the stars fallow grows in proportion to the transcension in some way. It sorta looks that way with humans (some sort of moral term resembling diminishing gains on resources, and a love of history and its artifacts (fallow planets) that grows with population size?), but it could go either way.