This morning on my dog walk I listened to a not-so-recent episode of the Ezra Klein show in which two scientists heatedly debated the risks and rewards of human attempts to make contact with alien civilizations. (You can listen for yourself here.) The nominal news hook for this show was last year's release of a Pentagon report that begrudgingly conceded the possibility of extraterrestrial visitation as evidenced by inexplicable supersonic beeps and blips showing up on Raytheon's most advanced detection systems. It's both interesting and comical to hear these two men of science go at each other, somewhat like watching Jane Curtain and Dan Akroyd on a rerun of Saturday Night Live, only with all of human civilization hanging in the balance; even when the experts talk, they can't help but project our best and worst fears onto the very notion of aliens.
But listening to the debate, it occurred to me that there is an altogether different explanation for these military sightings of UFOs traveling at warp speed through our airspace. What if the aliens showing up on the radar are simply human-made aircraft from the future? If human civilization lasts long enough to undertake interstellar travel, then surely time travel might also be on the agenda. And as anyone who grew up reading science fiction well knows, one of the first rules of time travel is not to interfere with events as they unfold in the past, for fear of upsetting the chain of causality that supports the eternal present. This then would explain why the Pentagon finds it so difficult to make contact with these so-called aliens. We have met the aliens ... and they are us. Somehow we must find a way to convince our future selves that we mean them no harm and they can approach us at no risk to us or themselves. Given the rapacious way in which we are despoiling the planet, this may not be an easy case to make. But so much hangs in the balance if we ever hope to arrange a rendezvous with our future selves, more mindfulness in the present is surely the best possible route.
In other words, projection may be warranted, though somewhat misunderstood, as an altogether appropriate response to such alien sightings.
@ezraklein, in case you happen to stumble across this blogpost, I have a modest request: would you please ask the NYTimes advertising department to find a sponsor for your show other than Facebook? Much as I have enjoyed listening to your podcast, you can't help but put your credibility at risk to the extent that Mark and Sheryl continue to subsidize your musings.