Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Of course I know what it is, it's a UFO!

Note: I've been having a lot of trouble getting this post up. The first time I tried to post it, nothing appeared in the text. The second time, I decided to copy everything I'd written before posting so I wouldn't lose it again. But then, as I scrolled to the top, it suddenly all disappeared on me. The third time, Blogger somehow posted a drafted version of the post instead of the completed version. This is my fourth real rewrite of it, and I absolutely hate writing something over and over again. Normally when I have to, it gets shorter each time, but hopefully I haven't let that happen here.

I went to bed earlier than usual last night; around 7:30. And then around 10:30 I woke up, and things were weird. There was some sort of commotion outside my door, and my room appeared to be flashing. Now, when it's completely dark, sometimes a blinking light on my computer would cause a steady, weak flash throughout the room, but this was much brighter, and much more erratic.

Now, the blinds to my room aren't perfect, as with most blinds, so a bunch of light does get in. This of course made looking outside for the source of the flashing the next logical step. There wasn't a malfunctioning light out there or anything that mundane. Instead, all of "outside" appeared to be flashing. At the peaks of the flashing, it briefly appeared to be as bright as daylight outside.

Normally when one sees flashing coming from outside, lightning is the first (and often only) thing that comes to mind. But this was atypical. The flashes came in bursts, building up and fading away, then repeating the process a random time later, rather than simply single brief flashes. Additionally, there was no thunder, nor was there even a trace of rain. So, lightning would appear to be out of the question.

And then the commotion outside my room jumped in intensity...

Let's pause the story right there. This sounds a lot like the beginning of a UFO an alien abduction story, from how it starts with waking up to the presence of weird, unexplainable sights and sounds. Despite that odd similarity, this actually did happen to me last night. Now, from this point, I can see a bunch of ways the story could progress, depending on the mindset of the person involved. Here are a few interesting branches:

1. The Believer

They were coming! It had to be aliens; the freaky flashing could only be from the landing lights of their UFOs. I looked for a place I could hide. Under the bed? No, too tight with this modern, low-riding, double-mattress bed. The closet? Too obvious. Under the desk? *Thud* It'll do!

I clambered under my desk and hid out. Fortunately, it turned out to not be necessary; they never even opened my door. Eventually, the commotion stopped, and a bit later the flashes stopped. As soon as they did, rain poured from the sky as if something plugging it had just been released. They were gone.

2. The Unknowledgeable Skeptic (unknowledgeable about this phenomenon, that is)

Ignoring the commotion, I turned the TV on to the local news station. This couldn't just be happening to me, so they must be reporting on it somewhere. The regular nightly program was on, but there was a thunderstorm warning at the bottom, with every county in the map a foreboding red. So maybe it was lightning.

I switched over to the Weather Channel, in case they gave any more information. Sadly, they didn't, so I was left at a loss. I guess most people just didn't care enough, so the news didn't bother reporting on it. By this time, I was getting rather sleepy again, so I climbed back into bed and decided that in the morning I'd do some research and see if I could figure out what that was.

3. The Knowledgeable Skeptic (and the continuation of what actually happened)

It was quite a long time ago--in middle school, I think--but I remembered hearing about something like this. We were learning about the different types of lightning. Typical lightning arcs from a cloud to the ground (or vice-versa, depending on the charges). Sometimes, lightning will also arc between two clouds. But the most common and least-often noticeable form of lightning is when it discharges completely within a cloud. Usually, this looks simply like a cloud suddenly brightening up and then darkening.

But when the cloud cover is thick enough, this can cover the whole sky and briefly illuminate the ground as if it's daylight. When this happens, it's often called "Sheet Lightning." Seeing sheet lightning on this scale was quite rare, and this was the first time I'd ever witnessed it. I stared outside at the majesty and utter coolness of it for minutes on end, until finally rain broke and the bolts started hitting the ground.


Each scenario I have here makes me think of a different general point I could make. I decided to split this post up so I could make all three, while also showing how a simple piece of knowledge you might not expect to ever need can drastically change a situation (even if it's just your appreciation of it).

1. The Believer's Story - There's no doubt in this person's mind. He's "identified" this as a UFO. Of course, UFO stands for "Unidentified Flying Object," but he's hijacked that term to refer to alien spacecraft. He still doesn't truly know what it is, but the handy UFO label makes him feel like he does, even if its use as an identification directly contradicts its meaning.

(For a similar useless term, check out Doggerel #1: "Supernatural")

2. The Unknowledgeable Skeptic's Story - Our most commonly-accessed resources (TV, for instance) often do an incredibly poor job of giving the coverage you need at the moment. They're also generally aimed much too low for the person seeking real knowledge - they may tell you in broad strokes what's happening, but they'll rarely explain it well. The reason for this is simple: Most people don't care about science, so they don't waste too much time on it. Conspiratorial anti-science stories, on the other hand, are sure hits...

3. The Knowledgeable Skeptic's Story - Nature is cool. You don't need to come up with stories about alien abductions to find wonder in life, you just need to know what's going on. And when you think about what's really happening, it can become all the more magical that you're a part of it. There may be no innate meaning to life, but it's easier to find your own if you give just the slightest effort.

"That's the appendix. We don't know what it does, but now that we've named it, we know what it is." - My Critical Thinking professor, mocking biologists.


TheBrummell said...

"2. The Knowledgeable Skeptic "

Um, you asked us to call you on your typos. You re-wrote this 4 times, so perhaps your patience for this has worn thin.

Shouldn't that be a "3"?

Infophile said...

"2. The Knowledgeable Skeptic "

Um, you asked us to call you on your typos. You re-wrote this 4 times, so perhaps your patience for this has worn thin.

Shouldn't that be a "3"?

Fixed. In the future, I'll try to make an effort to proofread my posts, but as you correctly guessed here, I didn't have the patience to go over this one any more.