Ooops, All UFOs! [Trenchant Edges]

On Richard Dolan and Critical Thinking

Welcome back my friends, to the Trenchant Edges.

I’m your host Stephen Fisher and we reckon with what it means to seek forbidden knowledge.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes, 51 seconds. Contains 1773 words

I’d planned on continuing our discussion of high weirdness, but when I started typing 1300 words about this other UFO book I’ve been reading came out.

Whoops? I don’t know, this one is VASTLY better than the 37th Parallel. Might even deserve being strip-mined for sources.

Last, in other UFO news I’ve reached out to Chuck Zukowski about interviewing him and Tammy. No clue where I’d put it up, but that’s a someday later problem.

After Disclosure by Richard Dolan and Bryce Zabel

I’ve been struggling to get through this audiobook for the last week.

It’s an uphill battle because, frankly, Dolan and Zabel are such insufferable jackasses.

But if you can stomach the, “Everyone will soon realize that my weird hobby is actually the most important and relevant thing anyone’s ever talked about and those who have mocked my interest in it will themselves be mocked for their close-mindedness” it’s actually a pretty introduction to the broad topics and possibilities of the UFO phenomena.

It’s more than a little credulous, though. Which I find frustrating. Let me give an example: It discusses the possibility of large-scale underground bases. Now, we’ve had the technology to build such bases for a while. It was pioneered by Nazi Germany as a way of building factories resistant to allied bombing and our Operation Paperclip provided several nazis involved with such projects with safe passage to the USA.

But once Dolan establishes that such bases are possible, he decides they must exist.

It’s crap rhetoric and the kind of error that weakens the arguments on almost every subject.

Ex. There’s a disclosure possibility that the US government actually doesn’t have any clue what these things are, but covered it up out of what’s basically a cold war reflex action and kept the cover-up going to avoid blowback for their previous decisions.

This is not considered even though it’s the most likely outcome.

UFOlogists have often treated the level of secrecy and misinformation from the state of their wildest speculations. But the national security state hides information and lies as its baseline functioning.

Yesterday I listened to a Micahel Parenti talk where he said the US government classifies 20,000 documents per day, which I can’t find a source for. In skimming some presidential reports, I was able to find a source that found suggested that about 2,000 people in the executive branch have the authority to classify documents, that Executive agencies have classified 46,000 documents in 2014, and that they performed 77,515,636 derivative classification decisions.

Derivative classification decisions are remixing, editing, or otherwise changing or consolidating already classified material.

The exact numbers aren’t as relevant as the scale.

And that’s just one branch of the government.

Let’s take an example: To estimate the relative technological advantage of the natsec state, Dolan uses a report from a source who claimed the NSA had computers with processors that had 150mhz speeds in the 1960s. Speeds the consumer market wouldn’t match for another 30 years.

Now, while Dolan uses this more for scale it’s important to take a look at the details.

First, the NSA wasn’t using personal computers. They were using state-of-the-art custom mainframes. Big damn computers. Second, they weren’t much faster than comparable civilian models.

The top of the line IBM mainframe of 1966 was the IBM System/360 Model 91, which had a clock speed of 16.6mhz, itself comparable to consumer chips released in 1991.

So the NSA had 10x the capacity of a civilian mainframe. Impressive, but if you compare with the 20 doublings 30 years of Moore’s law would give, you’d expect a little more of a gap.

In reality, they had a modest advantage over comparable hardware are the time. And this is the kind of bad extrapolation that weakens many arguments in this book.

OK, but if it sucks why am I talking about it?

Well, rhetorical sock puppet, because despite its janky logical structure this book has some really interesting ideas.

They’re not really well thought out because of the issues laid out above, but the core possibility is there.

Including some issues, I’ve completely missed in my own thinking on the subject.

First, Dolan rightly predicts that studying the UFO secret and any potential breakout technologies that went with it has probably been more in private hands than the government’s over the last few decades.

Now, public/private partnerships would always be part of the equation. If anything about the Roswell crash story is true, and wreckage went to Area 51, the odds are good various military contractors who had employees there like Lockheed-Martin would also be quite busy.

I hadn’t really thought about this as relating to UFOs or UFO secrecy.

Personally, I’ve always thought that one of the best arguments against UFOs was that there haven’t really been a ton of technologies to really breakout past what one might expect. If you know knowledge expands exponentially and then levels off to diminishing returns in each domain, the last 100 years make a lot of sense.

Where the indistinguishable from magic techs of UFOs would force a FAR greater push. Being able to negate or shape gravity, for example, is a technology with so many applications that it’d be worth trillions of dollars. Especially if it doesn’t require absurd amounts of energy to do.

Now it needs said, there are suppressed technologies. These don’t necessarily look like magic. Most of them are more just prevented from having infrastructure. Like, high-speed public transit in the US was objectively suppressed by the auto industry to push more people towards car ownership.

So it can be done. Nikola Tesla proved in the 1890s that you can use the Earth itself to ground and transmit power without wires. But that technology hasn’t really been developed since. Which I personally suspect to be a net good. I don’t know what running any % of the world’s electricity grid through the planet would do, but I suspect it wouldn’t be great for the magnetosphere, which we desperately need to protect us from space radiation.

Some things you don’t want to mess with, lol.

The other thing I really like is the way it frames the “secret keepers” as a potential breakout civilization, detached from regular human society by advanced technology and a culture shaped by the bonds of shared secrets.

The upper ranges of UFO secrets are whatever technology we can imagine, so it’s easy to make up a hidden oligarchy of impossible tech and hubris.

Not to say we don’t have a ruling class who imagines themselves to be our betters, but it’s far less likely that they’re backed by even moderate supertechnologies.

Occasionally, Dolan makes the argument that even knowing that UFO tech is real would tell scientists that they could do the same thing would provide a research edge.

I’m very skeptical about this.

First, anyone remotely interested in high-end technologies has probably already become familiar with the claims of what UFOs can do. And probably how UFOlogists have suggested it’s done.

So I don’t think anything less than seeing the machinery at work would provide more of a boost than that.

And that assumes things are physical machines and not some stranger dimensional or temporal phenomena.

The last thing I really liked from AD was the treatment of religion.

There’s a cliche that alien encounters would challenge modern religions, possibly destroying them. Now, for sure aliens would change things. But destroy? That sounds like some naive new atheist who doesn’t understand what religions are even made of.

Plus, some religions like Mormonism, Buddhism, and Hinduism already say there are many worlds and many beings out there.

AD happily points these details out and suggests that even mainline Christianity would probably be able to pivot well enough.

The fact is people underestimate believers’ creativity. Sure, it’d provoke a reexamination of the faith, but that’s a far cry from destroying it.

All in all, a pretty good book. Maybe a 6 or an 8/10, depending on how long it’s been since I’ve run into a paragraph about how unbelievers will rue their close-mindedness.

Bringing is Back to Critical Thinking

Our original point with all this UFO stuff was to sharpen our critical thinking skills.

A basic point about critical thinking I want to get across is that how you analyze something determines as much of your conclusions as what you study.

Garbage In, Garbage Out applies to how you’re learning as much as what.

Richard Dolan is clearly a smart guy who knows a ton of things, but he’s undermined by his own enthusiasm for the subject. Cognitive scientists refer to this sort of thing as, “motivated reasoning” and it can take many forms.

A UFOlogist could easily point at my skepticism as a form of motivated reasoning, instantly putting us into a fallacy fallacy stalemate.

Dolan doesn’t quite come out and say it but while he mentions time travel, other dimensions, and demons as possible explanations he clearly favors the technological physical alien explanation, as that’s what most of his scenarios assume.

Now, as a guy who’s at least had the experience of conversing with discarnate entities, however real or not that was, I tend towards the other end of the spectrum.

Granted, that puts a burden of proof to explain radar signatures and other physical evidence on my court. I freely admit I have no idea what cattle mutilations or crop circles are up to.

But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Right now there’s no clear explanation that clearly solves all the cases and/or provides clear lines on where to distinguish between different phenomena.

A decent chunk of that is because so many of the cases are incomplete or obfuscated by unreliable witnesses or clear trauma.

Frankly, after a couple of weeks poking around on the subject, I get why mainstream politicians and journalists don’t really want to touch this.

The best investigators of these weird phenomena tend to come in as skeptics, research a lot of stuff, and come out without anything resembling clear answers. And that’s just not good for anyone’s career unless there’s also a Mayan apocalypse to piggyback off.

Easy to see why that might feel like a total waste of time.

There’s a core question implicit in the UFO scene. It goes something like this: If you have lots of inconclusive evidence pointing in one direction, is the sheer volume of evidence proof? Or does each flimsy link produce a chain weaker than the sum of its parts?

I don’t know but that seems to be the line between earnest belief and hard skepticism in a lot of cases.

If you follow motivated reasoning, it feels super convincing.

But maybe we shouldn’t be satisfied with feeling convinced.

-SF