Aliens could be humans from the future – anthropologist
While ufology continues to be a fringe science about flying saucers, a subject of speculation, Dr. Michael P. Masters, professor of biological anthropology and author of ‘Identified Flying Object: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the UFO Phenomenon’, has his own hypothesis of what might be out there.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Dr Michael P Masters, Professor of biological anthropology, author of ‘Identified Flying Object: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the UFO Phenomenon’, welcome.
Michael P Masters: Thanks, it's great to be here, I appreciate you having me on.
SS: Alright, so you suggest that UFOs and aliens are our distant descendants coming from the future to visit us, and we’re their ancestors who live in their past. If UFO sightings are something to take seriously at all, what made you think that they're not indeed signs of alien presence?
MM: Yeah, well, if we look at the physical form of these purported aliens, and I'll admit that this is a somewhat tenuous aspect of the argument because we don't have full proof that these individuals inside the craft are real in a true sense. There's a lot of people throughout the world who see them, and who claim to have interacted with them, being abducted by them. We do now recently have some level of proof of the craft themselves. So the question becomes, what are they and who is inside? And if we look at the craft, if we look at the technology that has been confirmed by the Pentagon here in the United States and other countries throughout the world, other governments have been discussing this and talking about it and have evidence for the existence of these craft, the question is, who are they and what's inside. And this book tries to offer an explanation for who they are, what they're doing here, how they get here, and when they come from, as opposed to where. And there's a lot of indications that if these reports of the beings are in fact real, that they are likely to be hominin, they're likely to be us. They're constantly reported being upright walking, having bilateral symmetry, same characteristics on the left and right side, five digits on each hand, on each foot. They have bigger eyes, bigger forehead, smaller faces, – all of these traits are very hominin, and they're very indicative of our specific clade within the phylogenetic tree of life. And if we look at all of these traits in the context of continued human evolution over the last six to eight million years, since we became upright-walking hominins, you can kind of connect the dots and see how they may just simply be us from a future time coming back into the study of their own past.
SS: But from what I understand, when I listen to you or listening to your previous interviews, your interest in UFOs was basically inspired by science fiction, right? But you never encountered any of them yourself...
MM: No, unfortunately, I haven't.
SS: What makes you so sure that they exist at all?
MM: I'm not. It's hard to be sure because I've never seen one. And in a way, that's almost a good thing. I think it allows me to remain skeptical, to still question a lot of these ideas and stories that other people tell. What fascinates me, though, is how consistent they are, how all of these people report almost identical beings and the same experience, and if we can take them seriously, and I think we should. There's obviously crazy people out there, but they're not all crazy, many of them are just very average normal human beings, some of them are military personnel, police officers. So if we can believe their stories, and if we can take seriously what they say, I think it's worth studying. But you're right. I've never even seen anything strange in the sky. I've never even seen anything that could be considered a UFO. But I think in a way that keeps me more grounded and allows me to view this more as an outsider and look more objectively at it.
SS: The famous Fermi paradox – do you feel like your theory is basically solving it? I mean that the alien civilisations do not expose themselves because at the present moment of history there just aren't any?
MM: Yeah, that's a great question. I guess in a way it does sort of play into Fermi's paradox. And, you know, we still have this open-ended question, could there be alien life out there and Enrico Fermi did a great job of laying out some parameters for how we may conceptualise whether they exist or not, and the likelihood of us finding them and how close they might be and how long their civilisation will be alive, which I see as a potential problem if we get to a point in our evolutionary and technological development, where we destroy ourselves simply because we have the technology to do so, and if other alien species are as combative as humans are there's a very good chance that could happen. So it's not only unlikely that we would find another upright walking, human-looking being with very similar but yet more advanced technology, so close to us but also alive at the same time. And at such a similar level of technological development. So, yeah, I think if we look at the different metrics associated with Fermi's paradox, and we look at this phenomenon as a whole, and through this lens of this extratempestrial model, as I call it, this time travel model, I think it might help us unravel some of the mysteries of this phenomenon and also get at some of what Enrico Fermi was talking about many decades ago.
SS: You said there's a stigma, like a ‘cultural hangover’ over the issue of the existence of alien life and the evidence of their visiting us. Why do you think that is?
MM: Well, that's also a great question, and one that I have to deal with on a daily basis since this is somewhat of a taboo topic still. But I think, you know, not to sound like a conspiracy theorist or anything, but there actually were a lot of programmes really since the alleged Roswell crash of 1947 happened in July in the desert in New Mexico, just outside of Roswell. But really, ever since then, there have been programs set up, first, Project Sign, Project Grudge, whose actual stated mission was to quell conversations about this, to get people to sort of have confused sense of what was happening and what might have happened in Roswell because it was very much in the public eye at that point. And then Project Bluebook after that. All of these programmes and, and these have been divulged, these aren't blackout programmes anymore, we have a very clear idea of what was happening. The main purpose, the manifest function of these institutions was to quell discussion and public interest in this phenomenon, it was also to debunk individuals who had an experience to de-legitimise them as witnesses. So a lot of that stigma that was manufactured many decades ago, going back 70, almost 80 years, still exists today. It's just recapitulated over time. It's a cultural hangover, as you said, it's something that we just can't quite shake even though there's now overwhelming evidence that this is a real phenomenon. It seems like we should be talking about it. And especially my scientific colleagues, there's no reason why we shouldn't be at the forefront of this, trying to figure out what's going on, using our resources and our knowledge and our skillset to really get at the root of what this is and what's happening.
SS: So if UFOs are time machines that bring our future progeny into the past, what material can they be made of to make it possible? Why the shape of the flying disc even?
MM: Yeah, it's hard to know for sure what these materials are, they're oftentimes referred to as metamaterials, they're most certainly things we don't yet possess because by all accounts to in order to carry out the manoeuvres that they're seen doing, in order to operate as a time machine, in order to bend space-time enough to travel into the past, it certainly involves a lot of energy and a lot of forces, very likely centrifugal forces. Because a very common theme throughout all of the research investigating how we might travel backward through time, going back really as early as Albert Einstein with his 1915 paper on general relativity and the solutions to his field equations that he published in association with those, they have all thought about this or shown that to create closed timelike curves, the way we would actually create this loop and visit the past is done through the rotation of a very massive or highly energetic cylinder, originally, a disk, a sphere, all of these things that are spinning very fast, and are able to bend light cones toward the past. And what a light cone is, is anything within the future that's possible, must take place within the boundaries of light because nothing can move faster than light. So in order to travel into the past, we have to reorient our light cones toward the past, we still move forward in our local frame of reference, but we're travelling into the global past, we're moving back in time relative to everyone else. So what's interesting about these solutions to his field equations, and especially the fact that going back to van Stockum, the Goedel universe, Frank Tipler, a famous physicist who worked out how this might happen is they all involve that rotation and oftentimes have a sphere or a cylinder or a disk-shaped object. And so we have this expression in biology that form follows function. And if we look at the form of these crafts of these UFOs, as they're known, they would seem to have all of the same characteristics that you might expect of something that carries out the function of travelling backward in time. So not just the beans, all of the morphological traits that we have that we obviously got from our ancestors that would seem to carry forward into these other beings, these alien beings, these extratempestrials, as I call them, but also the craft themselves. If we look at the history of our knowledge of how backward time travel might be achieved, also seemed to have characteristics indicative of something that would be able to travel backward through time.
SS: You know, it's interesting because just recently, I talked about the nature of time with physicist Carlo Rovelli. I don't know if you've heard of him.
SS: And he told me that travel to the past would only be possible by changing the arrangement of molecules and the laws of physics, such as the second law of thermodynamics, which is so far considered impossible. So are you saying that our distant descendants will have figured out a way to step over the limits of what is possible?
MM: Yeah, it's been interesting talking with physicists about this and reading what they've written on the subject. Speaking of taboo and stigma, the question of backward time travel is very much one of those things that's been weighed down by stigma within the scientific community, and especially within the physics community, since they are at the forefront of this. And yeah, there are certainly different ways of approaching it. Some have argued that it's not possible to create a time machine and we can't travel back through time past the point when the first time machine was created. Others have argued that there would be molecular changes, that would be violating the second law of thermodynamics, as you just mentioned. Others say that it's not possible, Stephen Hawking with his theories on the subject, the chronology protection conjecture, specifically say it's not even possible to send anything larger than an atom or molecule back through time so we might be able to send information but not humans. Others say it's completely possible. I mostly draw from the work of a noted Russian physicist named Igor Novikov, and specifically the Novikov’s self-consistency principle in the book, and approach it in the context of block time, or the block universe, which is the dominant model within the field of physics. And in this sense, we look at it essentially how when you go back in time, even if you were to change things, even if you were to interact with the past, and I use the word change loosely, because anything that you would do in the past, any effect that that might have, has already manifested itself before you even went. So you are already doing essentially what's always been done simply by visiting the past and interacting with it, you were always there, you were always a part of that past. And anything you did to create a change has already worked itself out by the time you left. And that's, again, the dominant model, the way most physicists and logicians and philosophers view this. However, there is also the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which says that if you go into the past and you create a change, you simply make two different timelines, there's this sort of quantum decoherence, that takes place. And now within that space that you're in, that time-space area, you go forward in a separate timeline than the one you came back from. And it'll be some time before we work that out. It'll be some time before we work out whether there is a separate physical law that we're not yet aware of. And it would seem that there is, we've yet to combine quantum mechanics and general relativity. And until we can do that this is something all physicists agree: until we can do that, there's likely not going to be a way to really circle that square to figure out the actual mechanical forces or the logistics of travelling backwards through time. I feel like we're getting closer, but it's still gonna be some time before we figure it out.
SS: Going back to your theory, I wonder why would the future us travel to the past? Just out of curiosity, or, I mean, we've all watched Nolan's latest film, the Tenet, where people are returning in the past, to change the course of events?
MM: Yeah. And then that comes back to what I was just saying. Are they trying to avert some catastrophe? Do we destroy this planet which, by a product of being human, they have to live on at some point in the future? Or are they coming back to study us, to simply observe? And I obviously have some biases in this respect.
SS: Could there be a negative scenario that they could be coming to actually quicken up the end of the world?
MM: Yeah, that's definitely plausible. I hope that's not the case, but it very much is a possibility. Maybe it's some sort of cleansing, getting rid of humans. There's 100 different ways of viewing their intentions. It's the same thing in studying the past: we can dig up the material culture of past peoples, we can see what they made, we just can't really understand what it meant to them, or what it was used for, what their intentions were. And as an anthropologist who's worked in digs all over the world and studies other people and other groups, and especially their physical form, I'm kind of biased toward the idea that they're just studying the past, they're doing biomedical research, they're collecting gametes, they're possibly creating hybrids, which would be possible if they are us, it wouldn't be possible if they were from a different planet, per se. But yeah, there's a lot of other possibilities. There's the time tourism explanation, maybe the ones that we see just hovering around in craft or watching us people have paid money to go back in time. And yeah, there's that obvious, sort of persistent question of, are they trying to change something? Are they trying to do something for themselves in the future because something went wrong? Or they're trying to make space? Or, who knows, I think... Until they sit down and tell us what their intentions are we can really only speculate.
SS: Well, as an anthropologist, you point out that anthropologists tend to influence the cultures they're studying just by studying them.
SS: It's an inevitable downside of the job. So if you if UFOs are actually crossed-temporal anthropologists trying to study us in our natural environment, aren't they influencing us by creating this culture of UFO sightings, images of aliens etc.?
MM: Yeah, that's a fantastic question. I think, yeah, you're right. It's inevitable that they would. When early anthropologists used to go to places to study groups, unbeknownst to us, it took the negative ramifications of this for us to even understand our effect, but we were trying to get interviews from people by giving them cigarettes and candy and money and things that obviously had negative effects on their culture. You can look at the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy and what that did to the people of Botswana in northern South Africa by interjecting money into that culture to pay the actors like we would anywhere, it essentially destroyed their system of reciprocity and their system of trade. So yeah, I think even beyond creating this UFO culture, whatever this is, it does kind of lie below the surface. It sort of bubbles up every now and then into popular culture, but for the most part, we ignore it as a species. We don't really talk about it and a lot of that because of what we discussed earlier with regard to the stigma, but even things like the intentional cranial modification, modifying our heads and things like that.
SS: Well, you also say that the descriptions of aliens suggests that their anatomy is basically ours, only evolved in time. Indeed, our anatomy has been changing all the time since the dawn of our species. There's explanations for that, like, for instance, humans lost the body hair because the climate became warmer. When we look at those images of our supposed descendants - big heads, big eyes, no hair – can you suggest what possible events far in the future could cause all those body alterations?
MM: There's definitely a lot of things that could happen between now and then, there's no doubt about that. We could really harm the planet and have to live in space for some time. And I've heard arguments in association with this time travel model that if humans were to live in space for even 100 years, we would automatically have these bigger eyes and bigger heads and smaller faces. And that's possible. In the book I try not to speculate about what might happen between now and then, rather, I just look at our long term evolutionary changes. And if we look at the human skull now, compared to that of an early hominid, this is actually a chimpanzee skull, but it retains many of the morphological traits of an early hominin. Going back about 6-8 million years ago, you can clearly see the two main trends are reduction in the face and the low sloping forehead starts to grow forward and expand mediolaterally, left to right. And we just get these big bulbous heads what we call neurocranial globularity in anthropology, our faces shrink back and in homo sapiens, specifically, we develop a chin, a mental eminence we're the first ones to have, that dates back about 200,000 years ago. So even beyond all of the things that could happen between now and then, if we just continue these same traits of expanding our skulls, getting more rounded, more fronted more mediolaterally expanded skulls, reduced facial projection, we're likely to look like them regardless of what happens because these same trends characterise the last 6 to 8 million years, regardless of where we lived on the planet, what our subsistence strategy was, what our political system was like, what our economic system was. The same trends have just carried on largely in association with first bipedalism, standing upright. And then later with the production of tool technology, stone tools, fire, eating meat helped spur this along. So yeah, and this next book I'm writing, I'd like to kind of get into that a little bit more. The first book ‘Identified Flying Objects’, I was trying to maintain a more conservative approach and just look at these long term evolutionary trends without really discussing what could happen going forward. There's certainly a lot of things, there's definitely going to play into our physiology as culture and the environment have, but it's hard to know exactly what those are going to be.
SS: One last question, if aliens are not creatures from different planets or galaxies but us from the far future, does that mean that, as of now, our chances of meeting them on our initiative are equal to zero, like organisations like SETI, or sending out the golden disc on the Voyager is just completely useless?
MM: I mean, it's hard to say, I don't think SETI and METI are the best use of funds, to be honest. But again, if it provides something for humans, if it gives us a sense of trying to reach out and contact other worlds, and we share this collective goal of doing that, then I think it's an expensive form of therapy, but sort of some kind of global therapy where we don't want to feel like we're alone on this rock in the vastness of the universe, just flying around the sun. Maybe that does provide us some comfort. However, if we do look at Fermi's paradox, if we do look at the Drake equation, specifically with regard to how many intelligent civilisations might be out there right now, there's not necessarily a lot of indications that there are. The UFO phenomenon can obviously be interpreted that way that they're here. But there's always this lingering question, why wouldn't they announce their presence? If they travelled all across the universe or across our galaxy and more likely to get here, why wouldn't they get out and say hello, why wouldn't they kill us and take our resources? There's a lot of reasons why they would at least announce their presence. But with regard to this phenomenon, it seems almost more of just an observation, an etic anthropological observation of the past where they sit back, they watch us, they pick people up and study them from time to time, you could argue we might expect that of a curious extraterrestrial civilisation, but it makes way more sense in the context of humans and how humans do research and how we want to understand ourselves and our past. I mean, that's the purpose of anthropology. The main thing we do is try to figure out where we came from, how we got here, how this technology arose and gave us all of the advanced abilities that we have. So yeah, I don't think it's the best use of public funds to build these giant radio towers, to send little discs out to space. But I definitely think it's important and it's an important part of our history. And it's a fun human project, I guess you could say.
SS: All right, Michael, it's been a delight talking to you, very interesting. Thanks a lot for this interview. And I hope we get to do this again sometime soon.
MM: Thank you. I really appreciate you having me on. It's great talking to you as well. Take care.