Magazine article The Futurist

Aliens: A Social Phenomenon

Magazine article The Futurist

Aliens: A Social Phenomenon

Article excerpt

Fascination with "E.T." reveals humanity's own alienation.

A significant number of Americans believe that aliens from outer space have visited the Earth, reports journalist Joel Achenbach in his recent book, Captured by Aliens. The percentage of people who respond "yes" on a survey to the question of alien visitation can be 22%, 47%, or even 57%, depending on how the question is phrased. This belief has grown over the last half century, spurred by flurries of UFO sightings in 1947, 1952, and 1973, and has culminated in tales of people being abducted by aliens and of a massive government conspiracy that keeps the terrifying truth from the public.

Images of the big-headed, almondeyed space creatures are everywhere in our society. "There are aliens bobbing from rearview mirrors and staring off bumper stickers. There are alien key chains, alien snow domes, alien tattoos," observes Achenbach, a Washington Post writer.

Given that no convincing evidence for the existence of aliens has been produced--either by those who claim to have been visited by them or by the more sober, skeptical scientists who search the sky for extraterrestrial radio signals--why do aliens continue to grip so many imaginations?

In attempting to answer this question, Achenbach talked with a wide range of people obsessed by aliens, from the late Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer who dedicated much of his life to searching for extraterrestrial life, to members of the "Starseed Contactee Group," who believe they are aliens in human bodies. Achenbach's interviews and research have led him to suggest a few answers.

The first answer has to do with the notion widely held among true believers, that aliens have traveled Participant to Earth because they need our DNA in order for their race to survive. Through this story, Achenbach believes, we have found a way to reclaim our centrality to the universe; we can deny the scientific view that has relegated us to insignificant organisms living on a speck of dust in the backwaters of the cosmos.

The belief in aliens, at first glance, seems to acknowledge that we are not the most important beings in the universe. "And yet these other inteligences are obsessed with us. …

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