As the famous X-Files poster declares, “I want to believe.” This wanting, however, often leads us astray. When confronted with shocking and inexplicable celestial phenomena, we tend to see intelligent design. This jumping to conclusions is a sin for which we can be forgiven—we have an insatiable need to know if someone’s out there. When we say, “I want to believe,” what we’re actually saying is, “I hope we’re not alone.”
From the moment the first members of our species took the time to look up and ponder existence, we’ve been misinterpreting the stars. Someone once told me that ancient peoples probably mistook the tiny twinkling dots above for distant campfires, in what was probably the first example of humans “seeing” aliens that aren’t actually there. We’re still doing this, as these historical examples demonstrate.
This story was originally published on December 16, 2020.