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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1998 > Jun > Jun 17

Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

From: The Duke of Mendoza <101653.2205@compuserve.com> [Peter Brookesmith]
Date: Wed, 17 Jun 1998 09:07:26 -0400
Fwd Date: Wed, 17 Jun 1998 10:03:50 -0400
Subject: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

With the compliments of the Duke of Mendoza:

>Date: Mon, 08 Jun 1998 22:19:54 +0200
>To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@globalserve.net>
>From: Jean van Gemert <jeanvg@dds.nl>
>Subject: Re: UFO UpDate: Re: Occam's Razor and UFOs

>It's not enough that a hypothesis be "simple", It
>must also explain *all* the evidence to which it is directed.
>E.g., you argue earthlights are preferred to the ETH but in many
>of the cases that would require deliberately *filtering* out
>aspects of the observations the earthlight theory wouldn't be
>able to cope with.

Yes, you're quite right. And I didn't make it clear enough that I
think "earthlights" (aka the ELH) may explain some, but not all,
genuine UFOs. That would still leave some/many UFO sightings

>if the evidence suggests phenomena are more complex than one
>would like you can't call on the Razor to dismiss the
>contradictory evidence.

No, I agree, and I hope I wouldn't suggest that you can.

>Here's that "they saw something" again, and you seem afraid to
>more precisely describe this "something".

Not afraid, just not willing to complicate the issue for the sake of
that part of the argument. I simply wanted to establish that there
was an "objectively existent object" agreed on by the mythical
parties in my mythical case. The question then is of interpretation,
and how the different sides fall out.

In cases where "anomalous, metallic-appearing, structured, luminous,
high performance objects" are described, Occam's razor can still be
used in favor of a prosaic explanation. That doesn't necessarily
make the explanation true, or close the case, but does provide a
logical basis for saying, in effect, "Well, I'll go with that for
the time being." (Note: the mind as well as the case remains open.
How far - well, dilute to taste, as they say.)

>>The non-ETHers - in this case - say: Sorry, can't explain
>>it, but perhaps it was an aircraft on an illegal or unfiled
>>flight path. The ETHers say: Can't explain it, so it must
>>have been an alien spacecraft. The non-ETHers have no

>That's absolutely *not* what reasonable ETH proponents would say.

Er... who is it that says "Not made here, must be one of theirs",
and who says "What else is there?" with much emphasis. Clue: two
persons whom many apparently regard as "reasonable ETH proponents".
I regard these "conclusions" as jumped-to, not least because we are
dealing with reports ("stories") not hard data, and there are so
many problems attached to that. Also, I *was* caricaturing to some
extent to make the argument easier to follow.

>You seem to believe the ETH interpretation comes from nowhere and
>is bunk because people only report "something". That's a silly
>strawman and a stereotype.

The ETH, IMO & after nearly two decades of thinking about it, comes
out of a particular moment in history and a particular culture. That
doesn't make it wrong, but looking at it like that does offer
another way of asking how right it may be. Okay, so relativity
theories sprang from a particular moment in history and a particular
culture, too - but with centuries of observation & experiment - and
an increasing raggle-taggle mob of unresolved problems - behind
them; of which relativity made mathematical sense, and the means
were available with which one could test the theories. This isn't
the case with the ETH. The ETH and its ufological sympathizers bear
a much greater resemblance to (say) political "truths" and theories
than to anything in the scientific tradition, and to that extent can
be analyzed best with the tools of logic - informed by scientific
logic & method and, besides some wherewithal as to scientific
knowledge, a great deal of non- (not un-) scientific knowledge.
Which is why Occam is not only handy but really rather important.

Over there in that thread "Air still very active over North Sea" you
can see what happens when Occam is not applied early. A Tornado
crashes in the North Sea, and suddenly people are jumping about
trying to entangle the incident in ufology, and suggesting there is
some connexion with the renegade A-10 incident - although there are
dozens of prosaic reasons for the crash yet to be eliminated. My
impression is that this kind of behavior is much more prevalent in
ufology than that of what you call "reasonable ETH proponents". (I
also get the impression that "reasonable" is a term more often
applied to the proponents' tone of voice than to the rigor or
robustness or accuracy of their arguments. Now there's a nice little
study for a sociologist.)

>we also know (a) that intelligent life
>in the universe does exist (I think Peter must have missed the
>point that we ourselves are proof of the concept of the ETH)

We know intelligent life exists in the Universe (yes, here we are)
but we don't know it exists elsewhere. Current theories of planetary
formation say there's no guarantee that a planet will end up within
the "life zone", let alone have a handy tilt to its axis or a large
moon to create evolutionary pressures. Given the importance of
contingency in evolution there's no guarantee life will ever move
beyond the microbial even where those pressures exist, and certainly
none that something vaguely humanoid will emerge. All this before
you even begin to worry about why anyone would want to start
spacefaring, and how they'd go about it, &c.

Then, we have astronomers detecting a pretty titchy chunk of rock
god knows how far away that isn't going to hit or miss Earth for 30
years, and amateur atronomers photographing our own space hardware
at thousands of miles distance... and not a peep about alien
spacecraft from the same quarter. Being as astronomy (like
ornithology) is so dependent on amateurs, you can explain this
silence only by recourse to a theory of cover-up & conspiracy of
truly diabolical proportions... and where is your Occam's razor in
all of that?

>You're arguing, fallaciously I might add, that we should know
>beforehand whether X or Y exists before we assign causes. That's
>*not* how science discovers novel phenomena, with you missing the
>point that "proving" X or Y tends to be done with those
>observations in the first place.

I'm saying we should have some kind of clue or direction, not a
totally open-ended set of possibilities, of what we are discussing
in our current account before assigning causes to it. Besides, there
is no fallacy here: science *does* tend to work by proving the
existence of X or Y to its own satisfaction before assigning causes
(i.e. developing a theory to account for the data, most urgently
when the data doesn't fit current theory: look at those neutrinos
Greg has been telling us about). Look too at all the dead ends -
some of them political! - that AIDS research went into before
pinning down the HIV, and consider too how many leads HIV research
now has to follow before it can pin down how it actually affects the
immune system. Theory altered constantly before the HIV was
identified, and is still being tested.

But the major difference here is that AIDS/HIV data and theory are
testable, whereas the ETH is not: it's either provable - the
traditional landing on the lawn - or just an unfalsifiable notion
with a lot of cultural baggage dragging behind it. That makes me
very interested in the baggage, but I've never said - indeed I've
publicly denied - that that interest is amenable to a strictly
scientific means of pursuit.

For me, that makes Occam's razor a crucial tool, because it's one of
logic - in turn the best bit of kit we have in the laboratory of the
mind, which is the prime testing station we have in the ufological
debate, with or without the ETH.

Anyway, green or gray, they're welcome to land on one of Castle
Despair's many rolling acres any time they want. All I ask is they
don't frighten the horses.

best wishes
Pilchard D. Melbatoast
Cool Mix

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