Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

A message from Vrillon

Eminent astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson made a trenchant and amusing observation apropos of people who see something moving across the night sky and forthwith declare that they've seen an alien spacecraft from another star system:

Remember what the "U" in "UFO" stands for.  It stands for "unidentified."  People see a light in the sky, and they say, "I don't know what it is... therefore it must be a spaceship piloted by an intelligent being from another planet."  Well, if you don't know what it is, that's where the conversation should stop.  You don't go on to say that it "must be" anything.

I was reminded of this when, quite by accident, I ran into an account of something that happened in England in November of 1977, but which is still causing aficionados of aliens to wiggle their eyebrows in a meaningful manner nearly fifty years later.  

[Image is in the Public Domain]

People in southern England watching television on the evening of November 26 suddenly had their regular programming replaced by a deep buzzing noise, followed by a distorted voice claiming to be Vrillon, a representative of the "Ashtar Galactic Command," who said the following (I've shortened it somewhat to keep it to a reasonable length):

For many years you have seen us as lights in the skies.  We speak to you now in peace and wisdom as we have done to your brothers and sisters all over this, your planet Earth.  We come to warn you of the destiny of your race and your world so that you may communicate to your fellow beings the course you must take to avoid the disaster which threatens your world, and the beings on our worlds around you.  This is in order that you may share in the great awakening, as the planet passes into the New Age of Aquarius...  Be still now and listen, for your chance may not come again.  All your weapons of evil must be removed. The time for conflict is now past and the race of which you are a part may proceed to the higher stages of its evolution if you show yourselves worthy to do this.  You have but a short time to learn to live together in peace and goodwill.  Small groups all over the planet are learning this, and exist to pass on the light of the dawning New Age to you all.  You are free to accept or reject their teachings, but only those who learn to live in peace will pass to the higher realms of spiritual evolution...  Be aware also that there are many false prophets and guides at present operating on your world.  They will suck your energy from you – the energy you call money and will put it to evil ends and give you worthless dross in return...  You must learn to be sensitive to the voice within that can tell you what is truth, and what is confusion, chaos and untruth...  We have watched you growing for many years as you too have watched our lights in your skies.  You know now that we are here, and that there are more beings on and around your Earth than your scientists admit.  We are deeply concerned about you and your path towards the light and will do all we can to help you.  Have no fear, seek only to know yourselves, and live in harmony with the ways of your planet Earth.  We here at the Ashtar Galactic Command thank you for your attention. We are now leaving the planes of your existence.  May you be blessed by the supreme love and truth of the cosmos.

Well, first let me just state up front that Vrillon sounds like a pretty swell guy, and frankly, I'm kinda deeply concerned about us, too.  I'd love it if we'd all put away our weapons and live together in peace and goodwill.  But we've been told since the 1960s that the New Age was upon us and soon everyone would ascend to a higher plane and the world would be all rainbows and flowers and fluffy bunnies forever afterward, and if you'll look around you, you'll see that none of that happened.  Worse, it turns out even the astrologers can't agree on when the Age of Aquarius is supposed to start, despite the song by The 5th Dimension making it sound like it was some kind of exact science.  An astrologer named Nicholas Campion did a study of different people's calculations, and found that about two-thirds of the astrologers said we were already in the Age of Aquarius, while the other one-third said it wasn't going to happen until the 24th century.

Kind of large error bars you got there.

In any case, after the broadcast interruption, the UK's Independent Broadcast Association was understandably torqued that someone had overridden their signal that way and gotten a huge number of television-watchers seriously stirred up, so they launched an investigation, wherein they concluded that someone had used a small unauthorized transmitter to hijack the IBA's Rowridge Transmitter on the Isle of Wight.

In other words: it was a prank.  If that wasn't already obvious.

The problem was, it wasn't obvious to a lot of people, and apparently still isn't.  This story is still making its way around websites, podcasts, and television shows about aliens, usually with the subtext of "What if Vrillon was real?"  One asked, "[How] can the IBA – or anyone else – be sure that the broadcast was a hoax?"

Well, I suppose it depends on what you mean by "sure."  The culprit was never caught, so there is no concrete proof that it was a signal hijack by a waggish human prankster.  And I guess since Vrillon said he was "leaving the planes of [our] existence" it's unsurprising we haven't heard from him again.  But there's the awkward fact that none of the stuff he predicted ended up happening, which is kind of problematic if you believe the voice was coming from a super-intelligent galaxy-traveling alien who had the inside scoop on where humanity was heading.

So the great likelihood is someone with a transmitter on the Isle of Wight read a goofy speech on-air and shook up most of southern England in 1977.  At the very most, all we can say is that the origin of the signal is unidentified.

And recall what Neil deGrasse Tyson said about that word.


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