Page 15 - The 'X' Chronicles Newspaper - October / November 2018
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Scientists: Space Object May Be Alien                                                                                   15

             Harvard Scientists Say                       sunlight, as radiation from the sun strikes the  and feeds and alerts–it’s easy to feel like we
                                                          sail and pushes it forward like wind, according  don’t have time to read anything but headlines.
           Mysterious Space Object                        to the Planetary Society, which plans to launch  We are social animals, and the desire for likes

                                                          a solar sail of its own into outer space in 2019.  can supersede a latent feeling that a story seems
               May Be From ‘Alien                                The Harvard scientists speculated that  dicey. Political convictions lead us to lazy
                      Civilization’                       solar radiation hitting a solar sail could explain  thinking. But there’s an even more fundamental
                                                          why the mysterious object started moving       impulse at play: our innate desire for an easy
                                                          faster.                                        answer.
                       By Scott Berson                           “Considering an artificial origin, one          Humans like to think of themselves as
                                                          possibility is that ‘Oumuamua is a lightsail,  rational creatures, but much of the time we are
          It’s cryptic, dark, and going really, really fast —  floating in interstellar space as a debris from an  guided by emotional and irrational thinking.
          and a pair of Harvard scientists say the        advanced technological equipment,” the         Psychologists have shown this through the
          mysterious space object ‘Oumuamua may           scientists wrote. “... Alternatively, a more exotic  study of cognitive shortcuts known as
          actually have come from an alien civilization.  scenario is that ‘Oumuamua may be a fully      heuristics. It’s hard to imagine getting through
                 The theory, which the scientists call    operational probe sent intentionally to Earth  so much as a trip to the grocery store without
          “exotic,” comes from a recent paper they wrote  vicinity by an alien civilization.”            these helpful time-savers. “You don’t and can’t
          which was published online in November.                Some are not so sure the cigar-shaped   take the time and energy to examine and
                 “I follow the maxim of Sherlock          ‘Oumuamua is a solar sail, however.            compare every brand of yogurt,” says  Wray
          Holmes:  When you have excluded the                    “Why send a spacecraft which is doing   Herbert, author of On Second  Thought:
          impossible, whatever remains, however           this?” said Coryn Bailer-Jones, an astronomer at  Outsmarting  Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits.
          improbable, must be the truth,” one of the      the Max Planck Institute for  Astronomy,       So we might instead rely on what is known as
          authors, Abraham Loeb, said, according to NBC   according to NBC News. “If it were a           the familiarity heuristic, our tendency to assume
          News.                                           spacecraft, this tumbling would make it        that if something is familiar, it must be good and
                 Scientists first spotted ‘Oumuamua, a    impossible to keep any instruments pointed at  safe.
          Hawaiian word for scout or messenger, in 2017,  the Earth.”                                            These habits of mind surely helped our
          when they detected it blazing through the solar        In their paper, the Harvard scientists say  ancestors survive. The problem is that relying
          system at 196,000 miles per hour, Reuters       the only way to know for sure is to keep watch  on them too much can also lead people astray,
          reported. The initially thought it was a comet,  and see what else shows up in our solar system.  particularly in an online environment. In one of
          but soon realized it didn’t have the telltale   There are probably “thousands of interstellar  his experiments, MIT’s Rand illustrated the
          gaseous tail, according to the site..           ‘Oumuamua-like”        objects     “trapped”   dark side of the fluency heuristic, our tendency
                 Scientists decided it was probably an    somewhere in the solar system, they wrote. Not  to believe things we’ve been exposed to in the
          asteroid, but then it started mysteriously      to mention all the others floating through the  past.  The study presented subjects with
          accelerating again, which is more like what a   stars. []                                      headlines–some false, some true–in a format
          comet would do, NASA wrote.                                                                    identical to what users see on Facebook. Rand
                 Astronomers were baffled, eventually        How Your Brain Tricks                       found that simply being exposed to fake news
          settling on the term “interstellar object,” the                                                (like an article that claimed President  Trump
          Washington Post reported.                         You Into Believing Fake                      was going to bring back the draft) made people
                 “For decades we’ve theorized that such                                                  more likely to rate those stories as accurate later
          interstellar objects are out there, and now―for                   News                         on in the experiment. If you’ve seen something
          the first time―we have direct evidence they             Continued from Page 13                 before, “your brain subconsciously uses that as
          exist,” said  Thomas Zurbuchen, associate                                                      an indication that it’s true,” Rand says.
          administrator for NASA’s Science Mission        What is clear, however, is that there is another       This is a tendency that propagandists
          Directorate in a 2017 news release.             responsible party.  The problem is not just    have been aware of forever. The difference is
                 NASA believes the object is a reddish    malicious bots or chaos-loving trolls or       that it has never been easier to get eyeballs on
          color after being bombarded with solar radiation  Macedonian teenagers pushing phony stories   the message, nor to get enemies of the message
          and is made out of rock and metal. It is expected  for profit.  The problem is also us, the    to help spread it.  The researchers who
          to shoot past Saturn and leave the solar system  susceptible readers. And experts like Wineburg  conducted the Pew poll noted that one reason
          in early 2019, according to the agency.         believe that the better we understand the way  people knowingly share made-up news is to
                 But if it’s not a comet, and there’s no gas  we think in the digital world, the better chance  “call out” the stories as fake. That might make a
          pushing it forward, then what was causing it to  we have to be part of the solution.           post popular among like-minded peers on social
          accelerate? In their paper, the Harvard scientists     We don’t fall for false news just because  media, but it can also help false claims sink into
          say it may have been something called a “solar  we’re dumb. Often it’s a matter of letting the  the collective consciousness.
          sail.”                                          wrong impulses take over. In an era when the
                 A solar sail is a type of spacecraft that  average American spends 24 hours each week                          (Continued on Page 17)
          can be propelled forward entirely by the force of  online–when we’re always juggling inboxes
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