Alien Intelligence: UFOs or Dogs?

February 15, 2008


According to a poll reported in the New York Times in 2003, there are three million Americans who believe they have had some kind of encounter with an alien.

My opinion is that if Americans wanted to have an encounter with an alien intelligence they probably have one sleeping on a rug right in their own home. I submit that the family dog possesses a mind that is is at least as alien to most dog owners as any “grey” with huge black almond-shaped eyes and an unsettling tendency to probe human orifices.

My interest is to explore the canine mind and leave the extraterrestrial brain to the province of science fiction and needy fantasists.

People who claim they’ve met aliens, been aboard their space craft or given birth to alien-human hybrid babies are 1.) suffering from a delusion and 2.) have no understanding of the size of the universe.

How can I so easily dismiss the multitude of reports by millions of otherwise sane and sober folks? Let’s take a look at how big a place this universe is anyway.

Physics tells us that it is impossible to achieve speeds greater than that of light itself. The commonly used denominator light year is defined as the distance light travels in one Earth year, approximately 6 trillion miles. Let’s assume that we could actually build a ship capable of sustaining life that matches the speed of light.

Leaving Earth we pass the Moon in 1 1/2 seconds. Venus flies by us in 2 1/2 minutes. The recently down-graded Pluto would take us 5 1/2 hours. So far so good. It will now take us several months at this speed to leave behind the gravitational influence of the Sun and escape our solar system. To get to the closest star, Proxima Centauri we’ve got to travel for more than four years.

Here comes the problem. To get to the center of our own galaxy, one of billions observable by the Hubble Space Telescope, will take us 25,000 years. To get to the outer edge of the Milky Way requires 50,000 years at the speed of light. Wait, it gets worse. The closest galaxy to us is Andromeda. To get there we’d need to travel for 2.5 million years.

The farthest objects we can see with the HST would require a journey of 12 billion years. For comparison the age of the universe is currently believed to be 14.8 billion years.

So while the odds certainly favor the possibility of intelligent life out there among the stars, the distances between us and them are almost incomprehensibly vast. Which makes the thousands of reports of alien ships seen or boarded since 1947 seem highly unlikely. Instead, E.T., the greys and the rest of the intergalactic menagerie come from that universe between our ears, the human brain, than from the one we see when we gaze into the night sky.

In future posts we’ll explore the genuine mysteries and complexities of the canine mind; the alien at our feet.

Source: Hubble: the Mirror on the Universe, Robin Kerrod & Carole Stott, Firefly Books, 2007. (Above) A cluster of galaxies 2.2 billion light years from Earth. Photo from, the Best Hubble Images,


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