Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ancient Aliens on the History Channel

The Great Pyramid of Giza. Machu Picchu.

How do we account for numerous wonders of the Ancient world? How could "primitive" humans, without the technology we take for granted today, have created such vast and mysterious creations? For some, the answer lies in science, in archaeological digs and theory. For others, the only explanation is that we were visited by extra-terrestrials who gave us the tools to achieve these great feats.

While history is undoubtedly filled with misunderstandings and miscommunication rife in our historical media, I find it personally disappointing that The History Channel would give into such outlandish fair. Don't get me wrong, the series 'Ancient Aliens' is as amusing as watching the film 'Stargate' or indulging in any fun science fiction. It's also a clever demonstration of Individual Selection Theory, which posits that viewers essentially "see what they want to see", gathering information that supports their perspective (in the Technological Age - especially on the internet, there is no shortage of information to support any view humans have - no matter how far-fetched).

I have heard quite a bit about this show and have even met a few individuals who strongly subscribe to the belief that ancient civilizations were built by alien visitors. I understand why humans are so baffled and bewildered by ancient treasures, they stand the test of time and leave us in perpetual wonderment. But I am sad to see these theories play out on a channel dedicated to historical education (though I am sure there are several embellishments and errors portrayed on the channel with respect to other events and happenings for entertainment purposes). I am also concerned as to what such beliefs truly say about those who believe such theories, with respect to the potential of our species.

The show indulges in speculation as to how these ancient structures were built during times when humans seemed to understand so little. Many of the guests have little credibility (as could be expected), such as citing an 'investigative journalist' as a source or a host practically forcing a stonemason to indulge in the notion that aliens gave ancient humans the tools to cut through granite. The stonemason proceeds to say that it would take an incredibly long time to cut such intricate patterns and essentially suggests that he wouldn't have the time to do so because he basically has a life to return to. He has also been cutting through rock for 40 years and can't explain how the ancients were able to master their craft. What is life without a few unsolved mysteries?

Suggesting that aliens either built ancient civilizations or gave humans the tools to do so, simply because we modern humans can't explain some of the mysteries of the past, is unfortunate and frankly, lacks human imagination. I believe that most of our difficulty to comprehend these scenarios lies in extreme judgment of our ancestors, human capability, and a lack of empathy and understanding of those who lived in other eras.

Flexing our empathy muscles, it's not hard to conceive that ancient people had lives drastically different than our own, and their concept and use of time greatly differed from how we spend our days. Ancient civilizations sustained themselves, they grew their own food, and while many worked, the definition of "job" wasn't the usual 9-to-5 system we are accustomed to. (Nor do we have leaders that force thousands of us at a time to work on projects of their choosing.) The modern stonemason is correct to suggest he doesn't have the time to devote decades to carving out intricate patterns on the mass scale as done thousands of years ago. However, ancient people had a great deal of time on their hands and while they weren't staring at a blaring screen, they had to fill their time with creative and intellectual pursuits or were often subject to forced labor in mass numbers. Our ancestors most likely spent a great deal of time pondering mystery, problem-solving, and making due with the resources they had available, not unlike their modern counterparts.

To suggest that we needed an alien species to "show us the way" to correctly build and create suggests a profound lack of faith in our ancestors' ability to be independent thinkers and strategists. Why is it so hard for the modern human to believe in our own species? Did aliens build our airplanes, light bulbs, and computers or cure Polio? No, human ingenuity did. What makes us so certain that our ancestors did not have the same capacity to use logic and reasoning to find practical solutions to their problems and to enjoy amazing feats and accomplishments as a result? OK, so they didn't have
power drills, forklifts, and computers to engineer and build. This doesn't mean they didn't have expert knowledge and utilize their definition of "technology" to make ends meet.

Per Occam's Razor, the simplest explanation tends to be true. What is more plausible - that man was intelligent and made the most with what they had or that ancient aliens visited us and gave us tools and then whisked off (with the tools) later, that they had flying machines, and that obelisks could communicate with satellites that beamed across the globe? Humans are brilliant creatures and always have been. Suffice to say, ancient people were far more intelligent and resourceful than we credit them for. Humans are far more capable than they expect of themselves on a daily basis. I have had the wondrous experience of seeing DaVinci and Michelangelo works in person, pieces of art that continue to fuel the human imagination and defy explanation hundreds of years after-the-fact. Art and architecture will always inspire other humans to push the boundaries of possibility and think outside of the limitations we often impose on ourselves. After all, man has rocketed to the moon, taken to the skies, and found solutions to numerous global and geological challenges, and we didn't need E.T. to do it.

Were it not for the burning of the library at Alexandria, we may have a few more pieces of the puzzle as to unlocking some secrets of the ancient world (though fortunately, we had duplicates of many texts). However, our endless curiosity and wondering as a species inspires further investigation and innovation. We have, after all, survived thousands of years for a reason: We have the capacity to use our minds, think critically, and forge ahead, regardless of the obstacles that lie ahead. Perhaps hundreds of years from now, our descendants will wonder some of the same questions about us.

I can only hope 'Ancient Aliens' finds a home on a different channel and that humans restore faith in one another and continue to forge a unique path in our history, one of advancement and exploration.

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