Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Alien, More Then 2 Million People Believe They have Been Abducted

Believe in aliens? Astronomy lecture will be out of this world

Think there’s life on other planets?

Sixty percent of Americans do, surveys show, and 20 percent think aliens live among us disguised as humans.

But extraterrestrials’ strange hold on earthling imagination — reflected in movies such as “Avatar,” “Barbarella,” “The Brother From Another Planet” and “Cowboys & Aliens,” and thousands of reported UFO sightings every year, plus scores of books, movies, video games and toys — is older than ancient Greece.

“People think all this is strictly 20th century,” said Michael J. Crowe, an expert on historical astronomy, “but Aristotle argued against philosophers like Epicurus and Lucretius who thought there were extraterrestrials.”

A Notre Dame professor, author of nine books and recipient of a top American Astronomical Society prize, Crowe will expound on the subject Monday in a lecture at the Rauch Planetarium called “E.T. at the Rauch: 17 Key Developments in the Extraterrestrial Life Debate.”

The lecture covers everything from the execution of Italian priest Giordano Bruno in 1600 for teaching that there were intelligent beings on other planets; to the discovery of Uranus in 1781; to The New York Times’ reports in 1911 of engineering feats on Mars that applauded “our planetary neighbors”; and the 1995 discovery of exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system.

“There are pretty credible sources that say some 2 million people in this country believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, an extraordinary number,” Crowe said. “But there are people prone to fantasy and have an inability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

“People with sleep paralysis, for instance — where you wake up and for a minute or two you can’t move — these people tend to believe they’ve been abducted. And there are a lot of strange things you can see in the sky that can lead you to think you’ve seen a UFO. Usually there’s a scientific explanation. You see a bright light in the sky, but an astronomer comes along and says what you’re seeing is Venus, the brightest planet, or that you mistook a weather balloon for a UFO.”

Although most academics like Crowe dismiss planetary migration as hokum, the idea that extraterrestrials with amazing powers and technology visited Earth in antiquity and influenced human development is a pop culture fixture — not just in science fiction but also in spots like the History Channel series “Ancient Aliens,” which Crowe coincidentally appeared in.

One segment of the show interprets a “Star Wars” narrative from ancient Hindu texts, describing heat-seeking guided missiles, light sabers, stealth weaponry and atomic blasts.

Another proposes that George Washington had a close encounter at Valley Forge and that Thomas Jefferson reported a UFO sighting.

Crowe reports that another Founding Father, Thomas Paine, wrote a scathing attack on Christianity based on the belief in extraterrestrial life.

“He was a believer in God, didn’t know much astronomy, but thought that it was absurd to think that Christ would go from planet to planet, taking on different forms, redeeming inhabitants of Jupiter and Saturn and Mars,” Crowe said.

He says that by 1938 and Orson Welles’ radio broadcast hoax, “War of the Worlds,” scientists were convinced life didn’t exist elsewhere.

“But that wasn’t a very interesting conclusion,” he says. “It’s much more exciting to think there were things in space that could invade us at any time.”

Thus the 1980s ABC sitcom “Mork & Mindy”; the 1999 movie “My Favorite Martian”; the Daily Mail report last year that astrophysicist Stephen Hawking thought Earth was at risk of alien invasion; and the Geico Insurance commercial where the guy is adjusting the antenna on his camper and folks around the campfire are little green men.

“People continue to say, ‘They’re out there,’ ” Crowe says. “I like to talk about things backed by solid evidence, and that’s what I’ll be doing at Rauch Planetarium.”

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