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Impearls: Update: More Taken lapses

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Earthdate 2002-12-22

Update:  More Taken lapses

Whew!  The Taken series is finally over; what a relief!  Twenty hours, egad!  (Now my wife misses the program, though — and predicts a sequel.  She could be right; plus she's got all those tapes….  I predict I'll be seeing more of it.)

The biggest failing of Spielberg's Taken, as it turns out, is not a few stupid comments by the obligatory German scientist in cliched films picturing the late-40's and 50's, it's in the fundamental premise behind the entire series:  the idea that aliens from another world would want or need to conduct several generations of “selective breeding” of humans (or anything else) to produce some kind of master genetic superman.

Hello, this is the twenty-first century!  Selective breeding is how many millennia old?  Ten, fifteen thousand years?  Could there perhaps be a slightly more recent and advanced technology available (to us, much less sophisticated aliens from across the stars)?  Hm….  How about (pa-dum!) genetic engineering!

Read physicist Freeman Dyson's essay for imaginative yet entirely reasonable forecasting how such enormously powerful technology, once acquired, could be made use of.  Once we have mastered these new technologies (much less than a century away, I'd say), there will be no more need for breeding generation after generation to slowly approach some ideal phenotype.  Instead, one would simply program a “seed” or “egg” with the final genetic complement desired for the organism, then wait (pouring in energy and food to speed up the process) while it grows to adulthood.  Existing organisms can also be updated in place, rather than growing new ones.

The problem with Taken, as is typical for the entire UFO mythos in fact, is not that the science of such hypothetical galaxy-spanning denizens is so advanced (civilizations millions or billions of years older than ours — as most extraterrestrial civilizations must be — have time to develop some pretty advanced technologies; however, see my earlier Taken post for a discussion of the real difficulties in traveling between the stars).  Rather, it is that the technologies the aliens are reportedly using here and now on Earth are primitive, even by standards of what we're learning to do today, much less what we'll be able to do by the time we learn to cross the great gulfs between the stars.

Where's just one of the millions of implants, for example, supposedly distributed among the estimated one-eighth (!) of Americans who, according to the scuttlebutt, have been “abducted”?  Where indeed is any verifiable alien artifact from any of the dozens of alien races reportedly buzzing round Earth like flies over a corpse?

It's worthwhile keeping the words of writer and visionary (inventor of the modern communications satellite) Arthur C. Clarke in mind:  “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  Any civilization capable of reaching between the stars could easily build microscopic robots capable of studying us from wazoo to zilch, zenith to nadir — from the vantage point of particles of lint hiding in our navel!  There's no need for aliens to perform “abductions,” insert implants, or indeed act in any way that we can possibly observe.  We'd simply never see them at all.

As a result, the UFO mythos — as well as the Taken storyline — simply isn't credible.  That, not some imagined great conspiracy of all the governments of the world, is why the UFO paradigm has never gotten (nor deserves) “legs.”



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