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Opinion: What extraterrestrials might learn on Earth

U.S. Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Scott Bray explains a video of an unidentified aerial phenomena, as he testifies before a House Intelligence Committee subcommittee hearing at the U.S. Capitol on May 17, 2022 in Washington, DC.
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U.S. Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Scott Bray explains a video of an unidentified aerial phenomena, as he testifies before a House Intelligence Committee subcommittee hearing at the U.S. Capitol on May 17, 2022 in Washington, DC.

The truth is out there. And may be slightly disappointing.

This week a congressional committee held the first hearings on UFOs — now called UAPs, or Unexplained Aerial Phenomena — since 1969. Investigators say there are now about 400 reported "incidents" in their database, in which people reported seeing something in the skies that cannot be explained.

But Scott W. Bray, Deputy Director of U.S. Navy intelligence, told the committee they still haven't discovered anything "nonterrestrial in origin."

To quote an understated line from NPR.org, "None of the documented objects had attempted to communicate with U.S. aviators, and no attempt had been made to communicate with them," although if any UAPs would like to appear on our show, I promise them Nina Totin' Bags from the NPR gift shop, for carting back earthly souvenirs.

A number of years ago, I called a highly placed former government official, to ask, "You received the highest-level security briefings. Is there anything we should know about UFOs?"

They called right back, and didn't say No, or Yes, but said, on background, "We receive scores of reports every year that can't be explained. Those things may not be from another planet, but we would rest easier if we knew what they were."

Those officials who testified this week said they hoped to remove any stigma about reporting Unexplained Aerial Phenomena. They're mostly concerned the source might be earthly adversaries, not non-terrestrial ones.

Ronald S. Moultrie, Under-Secretary for Defense Intelligence and Security, told the committee, "(W)e want to know what's out there just like you want to know what's out there."

The highly placed former government official who spoke to me also said you'd think we would have learned something from our own planet's space explorations: genuinely advanced discoveries are accomplished by small probes with exquisitely sensitive robotic technology, not big, shiny saucers that flash in the sky.

"Maybe it's just the size of a gnat," that person theorized. I have not been able to slap a gnat off my neck since.

There are some weeks when the news is so discouraging you might wonder what any civilization would hope to learn here anyway. We earthlings manage to dauntlessly explore space, send TikTok videos to billions, and develop vaccines against deadly viruses. But we can also deploy our most superb achievements to promote our worst instincts. Some weeks you wonder if a truly advanced civilization might come across ours in the universe, and just shrug and ask, "What's their problem?"

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.