Are UFOs just drones?

post by Kenny · 2021-01-08T20:51:26.068Z · LW · GW · 5 comments

This is a question post.

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    Stuart Anderson
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5 comments

From Conversations with Tyler 2020 Retrospective (Ep. 112) | by Mercatus Center | Conversations with Tyler | Dec, 2020 | Medium [emphasis mine]:

HOLMES: One of the crazy things about 2020 has been this under-discussed acceptance of what you just described, that it has become more — mainstream is the wrong word — but more accepted among smart people that we may be seeing actual signs of alien life. It may not be likely, but it’s becoming the most likely explanation.

COWEN: Even if it is, which I give 5 percent . . . I’ve been saying it’s almost certainly drones, not that the proverbial little green men are inside. But it should be a big, big thing, and it isn’t. That to me is so startling. Brennan can say what he said. It won’t be on the front page of the New York Times. Some number of people will talk about it.

I'm sure I've run across that idea before – that UFOs are drones – but encountering it just now (again?), and thinking about it (again?) ...

I'm relatively convinced – UFOs are 'just' 'drones'.

They're 'just' drones – it wasn't 'obvious' before and, if a significant number of historical UFOs were drones, the drones are impressive tech!

Possibly the drones were much more than even contemporary drones known to the public – so not just (regular) drones.

(And it's still of course possible that some of the drones were extraterrestrial – and maybe much more likely than UFOs being sentient-human-plus-intelligence-in-the-flesh piloted or occupied.)

Answers

answer by Stuart Anderson · 2021-01-09T14:16:31.946Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For the aerial craft hypothesis to be true we would need to address multiple factors that we simply don't have any answers for. This isn't stealth bomber territory where you can say after the fact "It's a plane made out of new stuff, in an unconventional shape", this is stacking multiple problems one on top of another.

At the very minimum we are looking at novel propulsion technology that defies our fundamental understanding of physics. Masses that move at ludicrous velocities and perform hard stops, turns, and accelerations. That energy has to come from somewhere, and it has to go somewhere. Consider how other objects that move fast (especially ones that go from stationary to supersonic) behave. Why aren't our UFOs acting the same way? Where's the sound, heat, shockwaves, etc. from all this movement? 

Even if there was some lower mass involved we'd still have the problem of power generation. Where's the generator? That thing would be huge, and it would have all the same physics problems the propulsion did.

We have to start with the most fundamental questions first. If this is breaking physics (and it appears that could be so) then how might it be doing so? Are there any more plausible explanations? If it isn't breaking physics, or if even a smidgeon of conventional physics applies, then where should we be looking for evidence of that (for example: if these are projections, where's the projector)?

comment by Kenny · 2021-01-11T21:34:38.341Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Masses that move at ludicrous velocities and perform hard stops, turns, and accelerations.

What I'm thinking here – in the form of the proposed hypothesis in the question – is that the anomalous movements are anomalous relative to aircraft, which, until recently, were all piloted (as far as the 'public' knew). Un-piloted craft are capable of (relatively) "hard stops, turns, and accelerations" that pilots can't physically withstand.

If the movements people are observing really do consist of "ludicrous velocities and perform hard stops, turns, and accelerations" – even assuming the UFOs are un-piloted (or not piloted by humans or somehow don't have the expected effects on their pilots or passengers) – then I readily admit that they can't be (mundane) drones as they are widely/publicly understood.

But I'm not sure how much weight to put on the 'ludcrity' of observations generally.

comment by Stuart Anderson (stuart-anderson) · 2021-01-13T21:07:39.588Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

anomalous relative to aircraft

It's more a case of anomalous compared to matter. 

Forces always have to go somewhere. It doesn't have to be the same kind of force but it has to come out somewhere. So, where?

Un-piloted craft are capable of (relatively) "hard stops, turns, and accelerations" that pilots can't physically withstand.

This isn't about mushing up a body, it's about tearing an airframe to bits. 

Think about meteors and asteroids. You've seen footage of them entering the atmosphere. That's what mass travelling really fast meeting opposing force looks like. When they heat up and explode that's what high speed mass decelerating beyond the stable point of its material composition looks like. 

But I'm not sure how much weight to put on the 'ludcrity' of observations generally.

We've seen footage and data released by military and other official channels, so barring unbelievably coordinated disinfo whatever this phenomena is it appears to vastly exceed what we understand to be possible with solid objects.

There is clearly something there, the problem is that we don't know what that might be.

comment by Kenny · 2021-01-14T18:07:21.268Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But how plausible is the evidence that the observations really (accurately) are of "a case of anomalous compared to matter"?

Like, what's the evidence that what's been observed – and among the best data, i.e. "footage and data released by military and other official channels" – really has been of solid objects?

I don't recall the newer (and better) evidence being of solid objects but of 'lights'.

(I'm genuinely curious about both questions. I read about, or even watched some, of the recentish U.S. Navy (?) pilots observing a UFO off the cost of California (?) but I don't remember any particular evidence about the object(s) being solid.)

comment by Stuart Anderson (stuart-anderson) · 2021-01-15T16:07:35.749Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Physics still applies to energy. Light has to come from somewhere.

Footage is optical/IR. Radar is radio waves. If we can observe a thing, then as long as the equipment is functioning properly then something has to be there. What that thing is is a different question.

You'd expect to see light, but radar and other sensors won't work on light (neither will bullets). If you have the gun cam footage from some fighter plane then you also have all the other sensor data pointing the same direction. I don't know enough ufology to know what the deal is there.

comment by Kenny · 2021-01-15T17:00:59.942Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I agree with everything you wrote, but the caveats are where I'd focus any investigation:

  1. Is the equipment functioning properly?
  2. Are there other plausible interpretations of the data gathered by that equipment?

Some of the best UFO sightings seem pretty similar to 'ball lightning' which also isn't either well-explained or particularly well observed. (I think there's one plausibly somewhat-detailed observation of it to-date.)

I don't know enough ufology to know what the deal is there.

I also don't know enough about specific events, the observations made, the raw data collected for those events, etc..

comment by Stuart Anderson (stuart-anderson) · 2021-01-17T22:22:21.624Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is the equipment functioning properly?

I would run with a default yes on the grounds that avionics are a big deal in planes in general, and anything big enough to be supplying this data also gets constantly checked, stripped down, and reassembled.

Furthermore, a lot of the avionics data comes from military craft. All the standard maintenance above applies plus additional measures. When you're firing missiles having your sights off by even a fraction is unacceptable.

Ground based radar (etc.) data has similar operational conditions as military craft do. You tell a plane to go in the wrong direction and then it isn't a plane anymore, it's a missile.

As an aside: if ufo are craft then their maintenance schedule would be a million times worse than even the most sophisticated planes we have. Planes break themselves as a routine part of flying, mainly because of the forces involved and the materials they're made from. We take planes apart and replace anything that has been in use too long or that looks suspect in any way. Every plane you've ever been on is a Ship of Theseus.

Are there other plausible interpretations of the data gathered by that equipment?

That's the crux of the problem: physics applies, so what's going on here? We don't have answers for what we're seeing here. Excluding some sort of illusion (which is possible) then we can only be looking at massive amounts (presumably, given the presentations) of energy that we can't account for.

Some of the best UFO sightings seem pretty similar to 'ball lightning' which also isn't either well-explained or particularly well observed. (I think there's one plausibly somewhat-detailed observation of it to-date.)

There's a ton of weird electromagnetic atmospheric phenomena that we understand poorly. It is far more likely that the majority of ufos are actually this.

Ball lighting is a perfect example of a seemingly physics defying presentation. St. Elmo's Fire is another good example, auroras are too. Charged particles, plasmas, etc. are all things that emit light, seem to move contrary to conventional forces, and only exist in the presence of massive energy discharges.

As I keep yammering on about: physics must apply. It might be peculiar high energy physics, but physics nonetheless.

comment by Kenny · 2021-01-18T21:59:03.524Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those are very good points about the reliability of the relevant equipment.

I totally agree that physics must apply.

There's a ton of weird electromagnetic atmospheric phenomena that we understand poorly. It is far more likely that the majority of ufos are actually this.

That's interesting that you think this!

Do you have a good sense of numbers, or even just the relative distribution, of various types of reported UFOs?

Off the top of my head, a good number of reliable reports, historically, seem to have been, e.g. experimental aircraft, weather balloons.

Reports of 'abductions' seem fairly unreliable – my prior is that these are likely 'modern reboots' of what were previously supernatural or divine events, e.g. what were previously 'devils' or 'demons' are now 'aliens'. There seems to be a significant background of hallucinations experienced by many people and it seems like this has been true basically forever.

I'd be surprised if 'drones' weren't ever reported as UFOs.

But maybe "weird electromagnetic atmospheric phenomena that we understand poorly" is a better explanation, particularly for what seems like pretty reliable and recent reports of 'objects' for which 'drones' isn't a good explanation.

comment by Stuart Anderson (stuart-anderson) · 2021-01-22T06:55:11.475Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you have a good sense of numbers, or even just the relative distribution, of various types of reported UFOs?

No clue.

I'd think it would be difficult for a number of reasons. People think you're nuts if you talk about UFOs. Everyone has mobile phones and dashcams these days and we aren't suddenly inundated with high quality footage of UFOs buzzing around. Governments do have reason to try to keep any legitimate evidence out of public circulation (because some of this stuff has to be conventional weapons research).

Reports of 'abductions' seem fairly unreliable

From what I've seen, if you think you're being taken by aliens you likely have a sleep disorder.

People routinely experience 'contact with aliens' when they take DMT that is exactly like what people that think they're being abducted report happening to them. We can also induce some elements of the experience with targeted fNMRI. This appears to be entirely neurological in origin (especially when you consider that some people that believe they're abducted by aliens have been asleep in the presence of other people when they claim abduction. They are quite literally bad dreams and nothing more).

But maybe "weird electromagnetic atmospheric phenomena that we understand poorly" is a better explanation, particularly for what seems like pretty reliable and recent reports of 'objects' for which 'drones' isn't a good explanation.

The best explanation is the one which we are least comfortable with. The U in UFO. Unidentified.

We need to be more comfortable with saying "we don't know" about things. That doesn't stop you from speculation or consideration, but it does introduce flexibility of thought into the situation. 

I'd think the bigger question that hardly anyone asks is "Are these UFOs all the same type of thing?". We already know that some past UFOs have been weather balloons, experimental aircraft, weather phenomena, hallucinations, etc. so I see no reason to assume that all of the stuff we are seeing belongs to the same class. Perhaps some are drones, but clearly some are not. A good argument for drones is that not all UFOs are drones.

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comment by Charlie Steiner · 2021-01-09T02:56:46.789Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do UFOs need a single explanation? Just because we have one label on our map doesn't mean the underlying territory is unified.

comment by Kenny · 2021-01-11T22:06:55.612Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nothing needs a single explanation, so no. But this seems pretty uncharitable as-is; or maybe a kind of covert radical skepticism. Or maybe I'm just failing to think of a better set of multiple explanations – what is yours?

To clarify, by "UFOs" I was thinking of what, in this answer [LW(p) · GW(p)], is referred to as "Masses that move at ludicrous velocities and perform hard stops, turns, and accelerations.".

Obviously, there's a big space of possible objects that could be considered 'UFOs':

  1. Flying objects that can't (or just weren't in some specific instance) be identified to some standard resolution, e.g. 'That looks like a X aircraft but a little different.'
  2. Objects or phenomena that aren't flying but appear to be, e.g. due to a mirage.

My question is implicitly ignoring [2]. It's also ignoring 'mundane' instances of [1], e.g. weather balloons, (early) experimental aircraft, stealth/spy aircraft. Those seem all accounted for by reasonable common-sense explanations, e.g. someone saw an aircraft they didn't recognize or couldn't clearly identify.

The specific subset of [1] that didn't (at the time) seem explainable as aircraft, because they (seemed to) move in ways that aircraft can't/couldn't, seems much more likely to me to be people observing drones, e.g. un-piloted aircraft. And, given that UFOs (by definition) can't be clearly identified, it seems likely that observations about them might be inaccurate, e.g. because their distance, velocity, or movements might not be accurately observable (especially given the salient comparisons available to observers). So what seems like objects that exhibit "ludicrous velocities and perform hard stops, turns, and accelerations" might well just be un-piloted aircraft that can exhibit a smaller degree of those same characteristics (because they're not constrained by needing to not kill or injure pilots or passengers).

Obviously this couldn't explain things like, e.g. Bob Lazars claims.

comment by Charlie Steiner · 2021-01-12T04:41:47.294Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hm, so roughly speaking, how would you break down the probabilities of some different explanations, given a generic UFO sighting? E.g. just a shadow or reflection, natural object in the sky, man-made stationary object, human-piloted airplane, drone, actually aliens? Is there some common sub-type of UFO sighting that you think has low probability of all non-drone explanations, even accounting for all the faults of human memory and character?

comment by Kenny · 2021-01-15T17:12:06.379Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know enough about 'generic UFO sightings' to answer.

"actually aliens" seems very very unlikely – definitely not literally impossible tho.

My priors are that a lot of historical UFO sightings really were experimental aircraft. I'd expect some number were early drones too. Others seem to have definitely been, e.g. weather balloons.

Other sightings, particularly the relatively well-documented recent ones, seem very similar to 'ball lightning', which is also so little understood that it's not even clear that it's real. Assuming those observations are both accurate (e.g. the relevant 'equipment' was working correctly) and being interpreted accurately, they don't seem to be drones, unless the drones themselves include novel propulsion systems (which is very plausible assuming the existence of such novel systems).

(And, as a a kind of reference point, 'rogue waves' seem to have been similarly so hard to study, until very recently, that their existence wasn't entirely clear.)

comment by Stuart Anderson (stuart-anderson) · 2021-01-09T13:35:49.828Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll second that. People seem to routinely ignore the U in UFO.