“We were at the farm sitting in the family room, and that’s when we saw it,” my Aunt Mae would always say when I’d ask about the UFO for the umpteenth time. It was the mid-1960’s at the Harmeson farm just off Park Road in Anderson, Indiana. “We jumped in the car and followed it south to the cemetery. That’s when we saw the thing shoot straight up. And then,” she would say with a wave of her hand, “it just disappeared.”
Her description never varied – the object was always round, completely silent, had a very bright light, and seemed to defy the laws of physics. If this was a fictitious tale, she was awfully matter-of-fact and consistent about it, as if reciting the recipe for her famous Karmel Korn.
I never doubted that what she saw that evening was an alien craft, and be forewarned that this piece treats UFOs and aliens as fact (just go with it, it will be fun). With billions upon billions of galaxies having billions of stars each with a multitude of orbiting planets in the habitable zone, it always seemed highly improbable that we are alone in the universe. In the words of Carl Sagan “It would be astonishing to me if there weren’t extraterrestrial intelligence, but of course there is as yet no compelling evidence for it.”
Now presenting (drumroll)… the compelling evidence.
On this day, June 25th, 2021, in response to the Intelligence Authorization Act, the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense provided the first public accounting of UFOs (or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, UAPs in official parlance). Information has recently come to light on what the government knows, such as these naval air videos and the findings of the New York Times and 60 minutes, but this highly anticipated report is our official proof of UFOs. Alas, the report does not attribute UFOs to aliens, but it doesn’t rule them out. The report focuses instead on the risks of unknown and advanced technologies to our national security. But the implication is clear: We are not alone.
So UFOs are real (go with it), and just as described by Aunt Mae they seem to defy the laws of physics with no sound, no emissions or other signatures, and an ability to move and maneuver in ways impossible with known Earthling technology. Some of the more credible reports document UFOs flying at over 3600 miles per hour (by comparison F/A 18 Super Hornets fly at up to 1200 mph), and an ability to easily move between mediums – space, air, and even underwater (at an astonishing 70 knots). The History Channel wrote an excellent piece on the topic, These 5 UFO Traits, Captured on Video by Navy Fighters, Defy Explanation. In the words of one Navy airman, “Look at that thing!”
It’s fun to speculate about aliens and “first contact.” I often ponder the questions we might ask them, such as Do you laugh? If yes, Do you think we’re funny? and Do you need toilet paper? There are many great science fiction stories about first contact, my favorite being Ted Chiang’s brilliant Story of Your Life.
My real interest as a scientist and entrepreneur, however, is not aliens. It’s in the science and technology that brought them here, and what will happen when – not if – we discover it ourselves. The alien technology (go with it) clearly revolves around understanding, deflecting, and harnessing the most mysterious force in the universe: Gravity.
You might think that with the advances of the last century we have a good understanding of gravity. In fact we don’t understand it well at all. We understand how it behaves mathematically, sort of, but we don’t have any clue as to why it behaves the way it does. Newton’s law of universal gravitation was the gold standard for centuries in describing how gravity behaves: The force of gravity between two objects is the product of their masses divided by the square of the distance between them. Einstein’s general theory of relativity went a big step further, showing how the curvature of space-time relates to gravity. But even with Einstein’s complex equations, we have to add as-yet-unobserved dark matter to make the equations match observation. So no, we don’t have a great grasp on gravity and why it behaves the way it does.
Some physicists argue the “why” of things should be the muse of philosophers, not scientists. The late Richard Feynman gave a very entertaining response to a question of “why,” which you can see here. Mathematics, many argue, is the language of the universe, and understanding “how” things behave mathematically is all we need to know. “That’s just the way it is. Shut up and calculate.” I disagree. I believe anti-gravity technology is possible, and because it’s possible it’s inevitable, and our first step toward it must be to understand why gravity behaves the way it does. What actually causes it?
For twenty years I’ve been thinking about the why of gravity, and the implications of harnessing it. My journey began on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Given the other events of that day it was an easy date to remember. I was flying from Portland through Chicago to Philadelphia. Inside the Discover Magazine I picked up at O’Hare was Tim Folger’s tiny 122 word sidebar article Shadow Play describing Thomas Young’s double slit experiment. This is the experiment in which light shone through two slits produces a pattern of light and dark bands on a screen.
The article got me thinking about the strange behavior of particles, and the even stranger explanations given for that behavior by physicists. Folger explained the quantum mechanical principle of superposition which holds that these light particles / waves aren’t interfering with one-another, but rather they exist in all possible locations at once and are interfering with themselves. The only other explanation, according to the article, was that the interfering particles might be coming from parallel universes.
Things existing in all places at once and interfering with themselves? Parallel universes? It all seemed counterintuitive and a little absurd. In her book Lost in Math the incomparable physicist Sabine Hossenfelder put it this way:
It’s not that quantum mechanics is technically difficult—it isn’t. It’s that quantum mechanics doesn’t quite feel right. It’s disturbing… It seems absurd.
During that flight on 9-11 is when an idea hit me. You can read all about my theory of Persistence, but in short I wondered if particles might behave like threads stretching between their origin and their termination, and if they might interweave among all other particle threads that have ever or will ever exist in all of time to create a timeless “fabric.” Could the interference we observe be interference with particles from other times? Eventually I also realized that if such a timeless fabric wrapped more densely around objects like planets and galaxies and less densely between them, this might create a differential pressure that causes gravity. Hence was born my theory for why gravity behaves the way it does, adding to a heap of unproven theories on the topic (ahem, gravitons).
I hold no status in the world of physics and I have no apparatus to run experiments, so I did what any self-respecting armchair physicist would do: I started writing science fiction. I’ve begun to write stories that take place in a world transformed by the invention of anti-gravity. I’ve imagined details of the invention to an embarrassing level of detail, along with the massive societal changes that follow. I call this world, its people, and its stories, The Persistence Universe.
I imagine an unprecedented “aerial” industrial revolution resulting in open trade and limitless travel, the shattering of socio-political barriers, zero-emission energy production, and even a revolution in organized religion as we realize that the Fabric (capital F) and God are one and the same. The Alpha and the Omega, The Beginning and the End, and so on.
I describe how the very way we think might change. Knowing that everything we do is imprinted forever in the Fabric, we become frenetic in our productivity and positivity. The result is a utopian world reborn with people living a third of their lives “up,” no crime, a climate on the mend, and everyone being (annoyingly) positive (Queue We are the World). Then millions of people die when the aerial grid fails, but ignore that for now. Anti-gravity is cool.
A corporate headquarters in the shape of a giant levitating mobius; egg-shaped containers that can transport anything anywhere on a moment’s notice; assistive suits that provide “mobility equity” to the elderly; an orbiting “That’s No Moon” theme park; power turbines skinned with anti-gravity and producing perpetual, emission-free energy; real-life quidditch… Building The Persistence Universe is a great deal of fun. I’ve even detailed several patents that my fictitious company The Kite Factory holds to protect the invention. Are there echelons of nerdom? Because I’m pretty sure I’m at a high level here.
Our alien visitors (go with it) have undoubtedly already gone through their own societal transformation as a result of understanding and harnessing gravity. Perhaps our own invention of anti-gravity will be the triggering event for first contact. Or perhaps they’ve issued an intergalactic Prime Directive to never be seen except through blurry photos and videos (curse you, cloaking devices!).
Today’s report makes UFOs more fact than fiction for the first time, and it makes anti-gravity seem even more possible. And if it’s possible, I truly believe it’s inevitable. My Aunt Mae died in December of 2019, more than a half-century since her encounter. We recently gathered to celebrate her and our late Uncle Don’s lives, and we shared memories of their UFO story. The official recognition of UFOs didn’t happen in their lifetime, but it did in ours. Is it possible that in another half century we will fully understand gravity? Will we invent anti-gravity? If we don’t, will the aliens laugh at us, wiggling those little things we assume are antennae? We definitely, definitely wouldn’t want that.