Terrestrial ignorance

Mini-column ‘Alison in Wonderland’, published in the Observant, Maastricht

A UFO was spotted above the Waddenzee last week, the NRC reported. Was it really a flying saucer with little green men? The speculation brings to mind a Richard Feynman lecture, now decades old and available on YouTube in all its black and white glory. Feynman was an American physicist, known as “the Great Explainer”. And you can see why, as he tells of a layman who had asked, somewhat foolishly: “Is it impossible there are flying saucers? Can you prove that?” Feynman: “No I can’t prove it. It’s just very unlikely … From my knowledge of the world I see around me, I think it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the result of the known, irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence [ouch!] rather than the unknown, rational characteristics of extra-terrestrial intelligence.”

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