[ Question ]

What should rationalists think about the recent claims that air force pilots observed UFOs?

by avturchin 1 min read27th May 201925 comments

-3


NY times has a new material about possible observations of UFOs by air force pilots. Should rationalists use their arsenal of new ideas about how the world works – simulation, superintelligent AIs etc – to explain these things, or should they be of more sceptical side and explain them via some combination of biases and hoaxes?

For example, one could speculate that an alien AI have terminated long before now, but some of its self-replicating robots colonised the universe. Or may be we live in a simulation which is full of glitches and viruses?

It is possible to create many hypothesis like these with infinite explanatory powers.

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3 Answers

While these objects may be unidentified, the idea that they are the products of aliens, a simulation, AI, or something else seems unlikely given the low quality of the evidence. In all cases I'm aware of evidence for something like this being the true origin of a UFO would have to overcome the more likely alternatives of

  • secret, experimental, or stealth aircraft, probably military, with advanced capabilities undisclosed to the public;
  • observational errors and instrumentation glitches;
  • misremembering, embellishment, and outright lying.

For a comparison, the literature on cryptids (claimed to be real but unobserved by science animals like bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and the chupacabra) is full of cases where the evidence looks pretty compelling...so long as we only look for evidence that confirms the hope that a cryptid exists. Perhaps sadly, there are no cryptid humanoids or sea monsters that we know of, and all evidence of them thus far collected is either best categorized as hoaxes, misidentifications, and hopeful misinterpretations or turned out to be evidence of real, undiscovered, and not fantastical animals.

Rationalists should have mental models of the world that say if aliens/AI were out there, a few rare and poorly documented UFO encounters is not at all how we would find out. These stories are not worth the oxygen it takes to contemplate them.

In general, thinking more rationally can change confidence levels in only two directions: either toward more uncertainty or toward more certainty. Sometimes, rationalism says to open your mind, free yourself of prejudice, and overcome your bias. In these cases, you will be guided toward more uncertainty. Other time, rationalism says, c'mon, use your brain and think about the world in a way that's deeply self-consistent and don't fall for surface-level explanations. In these cases, you will be guided toward more certainty.

In my opinion, this is a case where rationalism should make us more certain, not less. Like, if there were aliens, is this really how we would find out? Obviously no.