Jordan: Every so often it’s worth looking back at the stories of 2020 that haven’t gotten much attention. The things we’ve missed because of the, you know, raging global pandemic, furious protests against police brutality and racism, the never ending saga of Donald Trump somehow being president of the United States, and the general 2020 crap like Murder Hornets and plane crashes and catastrophic global warming. Hey, it’s been a busy year. And so naturally some things just slipped through the cracks a bit. Little things, you know, like aliens, stuff like that. Wait, aliens. Right. I remember that. Aliens.
News Clip: The Pentagon declassifying three videos of what they’re calling unexplained aerial phenomena. It’s rotating! Two videos showing object spotted by Navy fighter pilots during training flights in 2015, and this one from 2004, showing an object about 40 feet long hovering about 50 feet above the water. Weird, right?
Jordan: Yeah, no biggie. But we learned a few months ago that the Pentagon has video footage and files on unidentified flying objects that, if you watch the footage, clearly confused and possibly scared the crap out of experienced air force pilots in fighter jets. So, yeah, okay. And now, Oh, we’re going to get more info on aliens and programs looking into them and, okay, you know what? Cool. You see, it’s just another Friday in the year 2020 where, I don’t know, if you told me that this was all a simulation and you had hard evidence of that, I’d just ask you if you could wait until after we found a vaccine. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is another Big Story getting lost in the middle of this insane year. Marie-Danielle Smith is a reporter with Maclean’s based in Ottawa. Hi Marie-Danielle.
Marie-Danielle: Hey Jordan.
Jordan: How’s it going?
Marie-Danielle: It’s going okay. It’s been quite a year.
Jordan: And just to add to this year, now you’re talking about aliens? Really?
Marie-Danielle: I mean, so this obviously has nothing to do with the slow unraveling of my mind during the pademic.
Jordan: No, not at all.
Marie-Danielle: But I’ve been thinking about it because, you know, it’s been such a crazy year. We’ve had a global pandemic, we’ve had an economic crisis, there’s also been all kinds of weird earthly events, like we’ve got the wildfires in Australia, locust swarms in East Africa, we had an asteroid miss us very closely in June without anyone noticing. So it kind of strikes me as a good idea to entertain the thought, the idea, the concept that maybe 2020 is the year we find out about aliens.
Jordan: And you didn’t even mention the Murder Hornets.
Marie-Danielle: That too!
Jordan: Well, why don’t you start, before we go off into the realm of what scientists and other experts think about how these aliens might show up, start maybe by telling us a little about what we’ve learned recently about the potential presence of UFOs or existence of aliens. Cause like, there’s been a couple of high profile incidents this year, right?
Marie-Danielle: There has. And actually I’ll tell you as well that part of the thing that sparked this idea was a conversation with the staffer in the Prime Minister’s office here in Canada. He said that they’re trying to plan ahead for every eventuality in the year 2020, except for aliens, which I found quite charming. But in the US we actually have seen some evidence, or at least the suggestion that there might be evidence of unidentified aerial phenomena. So in April the Pentagon in the US officially put out three videos of UFOs. They had already been leaked a couple of years ago, but this was an official confirmation that they’re real, and that the US government doesn’t seem to know what we’re seeing in the videos. There’s kind of an object in the sky that’s rotating at a weird angle, that’s traveling at a speed that doesn’t really make sense. So they’ve put out these videos, and then late in July, we get another bombshell report from the New York Times. And the headline of that report is about how the Pentagon will be mandating to report some of its other findings to the public. So something else out of what’s called the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon taskforce. But in my opinion, that story actually buried the lede because they’re quoting officials, former government officials and scientists later on in the story that say that objects of undetermined origin have already crashed on the earth–
Marie-Danielle: And that they’ve picked up samples. So take it with a grain of salt, because they’re quoting people who can’t provide proof right there. The concept being that, if it could, it’s highly classified material, they probably don’t have access to it themselves. They’re just saying, Hey, I’ve seen it. So they quote an astrophysicist who worked as a sub contractor and a consultant for the UFO program at the Pentagon. And he says that as recently as March of this year, he’s given classified briefings to defence officials about retrievals from, and I quote, “Offworld vehicles not made on this earth.”
Jordan: Okay. Now the space force doesn’t sound so ridiculous.
Marie-Danielle: Not really. I mean, everything that sounded totally crazy and wild in January, 2020, now it’s kind of like, I’m ready to accept it. I’m ready to take it in.
Jordan: So what is the most popular theory among the experts and the non-experts, of which there are hundreds of thousands out there, about why, if there is life out there, that we haven’t found it or seen it yet, at least not publicly.
Marie-Danielle: Right. So why don’t I tell you about the Fermi paradox, which is what they’re all trying to solve? So that’s named after an Italian-American physicist and he theorized this around 1950. So basically it goes like this. We know that there are billions of stars in the Milky Way that are similar to our own sun. And it’s probable that at least some of them have Earth-like planets, but a lot of them are much older than our sun. So if Earth is typical, then intelligent life over there could have developed a really long time ago. But if stars are billions of years older than the earth, and we predict that, you know, even the longest form of interstellar travel that we can imagine right now might take millions of years. But if there are billions of years old, we should have probably seen somebody by now, right? Like we should have been visited by some kind of intelligent life or at least, you know, their probes or signals. So there’s a bunch of theories why that, you know, could make sense that we haven’t. It could be that alien life is really rare. It could be that we magically are the first intelligent species out there, which I find kind of implausible, but you never know. It could be that life has developed too far apart in the universe. It could be that life is locked in an ocean and can’t get out of the water and can’t actually physically travel. Or that the nature of intelligent life is just to destroy itself so that if anybody gets close to interstellar travel, something happens domestically on their home planet or whatever, then causes them all to blow up or die out.
Jordan: That sounds like the most appropriate one for 2020.
Marie-Danielle: It does, doesn’t it? And then there’s an even scarier one, which is that maybe everyone else is just hiding from some alien super predator that’s out there to swallow planets. And Stephen Hawking actually thought so. He said at some point that he thinks our silence is what’s protecting us. So he’s worried about us sending signals out there. And the quote that he said is, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America. And that didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” Right? So, that’s his theory.
Jordan: So let’s assume, I guess, because this is 2020, that this is going to happen this year, in some form or another, what you kind of did was try to put together a handful of scenarios, ranging from I guess implausibly plausible, to outright nutty of how exactly that would happen and what it would look like. So why don’t we just start with, like, what’s the most obvious way that that aliens appear? We just pick up a signal and we realize, Hey, there’s life out there?
Marie-Danielle: Yeah, so that could be one way. So scientists have actually already done a lot to study signals from space. A lot of them, we don’t understand. But we are picking stuff up. And there was actually a study earlier this year, in the year 2020, based on findings from a radio telescope in BC that found fast radio bursts were coming from a different galaxy. So not the Milky Way. But they were coming in on a really weird pattern. They would burst in for four days and then they would stop for 12 days. And this would repeat. So we don’t actually know yet what that means. But this paper was published. So, there is work being done to try and identify those signals. On the other hand, aliens could get ours. So we’ve been broadcasting radio signals for about 80 years. there’s a paper that came out in 2016, some researchers at Cornell University were kind of theorizing, what does that mean? Like how soon might we have someone discover us? And they suggest that if we’ve been broadcasting for 80 years, then like about less than 1% of the galaxy would have been reached by now. But if you wait up to 1500 years, then we may very well be reached. Somebody might just pick up our signal and say, Hey, there’s this other planet. Maybe let’s go check it out.
Jordan: Do we want that to happen? I know Stephen Hawking did not, but like, if you’re sitting here talking to me, and you’re picturing, Okay, after all the other crap that’s happened, September 1st aliens show up, what do you want them to do?
Marie-Danielle: I mean, I guess the hope is that if they are intelligent and benevolent, maybe they can give us some technology and medicine, right? I mean, maybe some like lovely Jean-Luc Picard type alien shows up. I know he’s a human, but just for the purposes of my theory. Some alien shows up and sees a planet in need and sees that there’s a rising death toll from a virus and notices that we’re kind of struggling in lots of different ways and decides to impart on us some beautiful knowledge. So I think that’s the best case scenario. It seems–
Jordan: That’s a very un-2020 thing to happen.
Marie-Danielle: It seems like not in keeping with the year that we’re having. Another thing could be that maybe the aliens find us this year and decide actually, no, these guys don’t see more of that. And they just don’t bother letting us know that they’re here. They just kind of move on in their merry way. Either cause we’re not intelligent by their definition of intelligence, or because they think we’re kind of a loose cannon and, you know, maybe just best not to disturb them.
Jordan: What happens. And I know this is something, that some governments, at least though apparently not ours are planning for, if the aliens make themselves known publicly and kind of eschew the communication with governments or sending signals. I’m thinking about the content that I consume every day on social media and the posts that I see. Would we even believe them?
Marie-Danielle: This is my thought. If aliens– say they’re here already. Say they’re on the planet Earth, or they figure out how to communicate with us through the Internet, do you think that anybody will see that and take it at face value? Like, we have so many conspiracy theories running rampant this year, and I just can’t imagine that somebody coming forward and saying, Hey, I’m from, you know, this other galaxy just saying hi, even if they, you know, could provide some video footage that seems interesting, or you know, that shows some kind of strange physiology. I mean, wouldn’t, we just think that might be a Deep Fake? Like, I don’t know that I trust the public to recognize something like that. And actually, I don’t know that I trust myself to see something like that and think it’s real, to be honest with you. So I’m not sure that they would get much traction with humans.
Jordan: What if government documents are revealed that say yes, actually. So let’s just carry on with the revelations from, you know, the NSA and the FBI and wherever. And it goes one step further in this actually, you know, when, when we mentioned, that an aircraft had crashed. Yes, it’s true. And, you know, here’s some pictures of it in it’s underground laboratory.
Marie-Danielle: Yeah. I mean, I actually think this is the most likely scenario in 2020, for us to find out something about extraterrestrial life, is that some materials get declassified that suggests that it’s real. Some kind of proof that seems to be backed up by the US government. And the thing that I find kind of fun about that theory is that A) we already have a bit of evidence, like you say, from the Pentagon to suggest that yeah, maybe they’re planning to do this. Maybe they’re planning to release something or let us in on some secret. B) it’s an election year, right? I mean, think about President Donald Trump, who’s doing very poorly in the polls as– not that the polls are the whole story, but he’s doing very poorly in the polls, and has had a variety of bad news cycles and his country is suffering so much right now. And I could just imagine, like right before people go to the polls, him wanting some huge distraction to come out. So if I were him and I was sitting on a pile of, you know, information about aliens like this, you know, why not? Just throw spaghetti at the wall, see what sticks.
Jordan: Aren’t you then asking people to make the decision. If Donald Trump is the person they trust to handle communication with aliens?
Marie-Danielle: So then we go back to the same, I guess, idea of whether or not people will believe him. I mean, if Donald Trump says there’s aliens, are people gonna take that seriously? But yeah, I mean, is Donald Trump the right person to be leading the charge? And if we do come upon some information or some signal that we think we could actually use to try to contact intelligent life out there, do you want Donald Trump to be the guy? Like, do you want Xi Jinping to be the guy? Do you want Vladimir Putin to be the guy? You know, so I just could imagine this like crazy international gridlock and then one of those leaders going rogue and doing it anyway.
Jordan: Well in the movies, you know, because 2020 is basically a disaster movie, you end up with a nice handholding alliance, usually under the leadership of a US president, that all kind of agrees to present a unified front. And I can’t see that happening at all in our current geopolitical situation.
Marie-Danielle: It’s so hard to picture it. I mean, I guess the optimistic scenario is that the only thing that could bring us together as humanity would be an extra terrestrial threat, like if anything could ever unite those governments, that would be it. But yeah, it’s hard to imagine that they could come to an agreement on how to do it.
Jordan: What are the chances that we have seen something that is evidence of intelligent life elsewhere, but we simply don’t understand it and can’t comprehend it?
Marie-Danielle: Your guess is as good as mine. Something that comes up often in relation to the Fermi Paradox is that alien life might be so different and so strange to us that we can’t pick it up. Like they could be all around us and we wouldn’t know because of how their physiology is or how they communicate. It could just be on a frequency that we can’t access as a people, right? Another thing about, you know, not knowing whether or not aliens are here is that maybe they just don’t want us to know they’re here, right? And so a lot of of my theories about them finally making themselves known to us in 2020 are based on this zoo hypothesis, which is coined by John Ball in 1974, he’s a radio astronomer at MIT. The thought is that the aliens might just avoid us because we’re too primitive. So they’re letting us develop and see if we turn out to be an intelligent civilization like theirs or not.
Jordan: They’re following the prime directive.
Marie-Danielle: Right? So they could be following the prime directive, and that’s why you need some Star Trek-like captain to go rogue in order for them to decide to make themselves known to us. Because obviously we’re not at a level where– we don’t have interstellar travel. We can’t really fall under their criteria, at least from a Star Trek point of view, of what the prime directive should be.
Jordan: The last scenario I wanted to pick your brain about kind of relates to that, and it’s one, that’s always fascinated me, which is that, kind of like the zoo hypothesis, that we are actually the creation of some intelligent AI or computer program or simulation, like we’re the SIM city of some God-like extra terrestrial being. And has anybody– like now I know we’re getting ridiculous, it’s near the end of the podcast, but has anybody ever explored that with any credibility?
Marie-Danielle: Actually yes. There are a couple of ideas out there that have been cited as a pretty decent, like, framework for understanding how that could possibly be the case. Other than the movie The Matrix, which is also an interesting study. So in 2001, there’s a science fiction author– so he’s a science fiction author– let’s put that on the table. But his name is Stephen Baxter and he proposed, as part of a solution to the Fermi Paradox, the Planetarium Theory. So that basically says if we haven’t heard from aliens it’s because our universe was designed deliberately to appear empty of life. That kind of makes sense. So if you all continue down the rabbit hole with me, in 2003 there’s a philosopher named Nick Bostrom who probably went the farthest in flushing out an argument that actually kind of makes some logical sense as to how it’s possible that we could be living in a simulation. And I won’t go into gory details here. But it’s basically a premise based on the idea that a post human civilization, like of artificial intelligence, whatever our ultimate ancestors might become, would in theory, have the computing power to make such a thing happen. And so it’s been endorsed by people like Elon Musk, take that with a grain of salt, but it’s certainly a popular one, and, you know, I am ready to entertain it. It’s 2020. Anything can happen. Maybe our artificial intelligence overlords think that we’ve kind of gotten too wacky in this timeline and they’re going to start over.
Jordan: Well, it could be like, I don’t know if you’ve ever played SIM city when you were younger, but you know, when you just get bored of making a city and you start clicking all the disasters at once to see what happens?
Marie-Danielle: How are they going to react? How are the little humans gonna handle this?
Jordan: Yeah, not, well, it turns out.
Marie-Danielle: Not well at all.
Jordan: Marie-Danielle, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to take our mind away from the actual disasters and talk about another thing we could screw up this year.
Marie-Danielle: My pleasure.
Jordan: Marie-Danielle Smith of Maclean’s in Ottawa, unless none of those things are true, and this is a simulation. And if so, I’m glad you’re spending your simulated time listening to this podcast. Make sure to write to me, even if I’m not a real person. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can talk to us and probably make fun of us on Twitter at @thebigstoryFPN. And of course you can always find this podcast in all of your favourite podcast platforms, that’s Apple and Google and Stitcher and Spotify. It doesn’t matter, we’re there. Leave us a rating, leave us a review, don’t base it on just this one episode, please. Please? Claire Brassard is the lead producer of The Big Story. Ryan Clarke and Stefanie Philips are our associate producers. Annalise Nielsen is our digital editor. She’s off on a well-deserved vacation. She didn’t have to hear me make this episode. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk on Monday.
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