But how many Carl Sagan fans know that while the renowned scientist was at Stanford University, he produced a controversial paper, funded by a NASA research grant, that concludes ancient alien intervention may have sparked human civilization? Author Donald Zygutis lays out a compelling case that points to a cover-up by the Pentagon and NASA, who may have buried it soon after it was written. How significant is the Stanford Paper? The answer may lie in another question: How would a science-backed theory and search strategy to guide the discovery of alien artifacts among our own ancient civilizations impact the worldwide institutions of government, religion, and culture?
Recently rediscovered by the author, Sagan's lost Stanford paper is the central theme of The Sagan Conspiracy. Groundbreaking research and paradigm-changing material challenges conventional thinking about the People's Scientist--and maybe even the origins of human society. Sagan even conceived of the likelihood that the ancient Sumerian civilization had been visited and influenced by beings from other worlds as evidenced by ancient manuscripts, among other artifacts.
As we celebrate the 20-year anniversary of Carl's death, The Sagan Conspiracy is sure to fundamentally alter how the world thinks about extraterrestrials.
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About the Author
Donald L. Zygutis is a graduate of Corban University and has 40 years of experience investigating and analyzing the life and work of Carl Sagan as a leading skeptic and ETI theorist. Zygutis resides in Bend, Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
Carl Sagan, Raw and Uncensored
Over the course of what most people would call a spectacularly successful career, Carl Sagan became a trusted scientist to a generation largely raised by parents who were disillusioned by Nixon, Watergate, and the Vietnam War. For reasons entirely justified, our parents were suspicious of politicians, big government, and scientists who they saw as little more than pawns of the military-industrial complex. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a young, cool, and very articulate astronomer began popping up on college campuses, the Johnny Carson show, and other places talking about the virtues of the scientific method, the best process ever invented for determining what is true and what isn't. He didn't speak down to us; he related to us — and he made sense. He made non-scientific people like me believe that we were capable of understanding what science was all about — that it wasn't the bogeyman that people like me were hearing from our religious leaders, or that young people were learning from their parents. Quite the opposite. Science, he insisted, was humankind's best hope for the long-term survival of our species.
Through advanced technology, Sagan assured us that we could clean up our polluted planet, control runaway population growth, achieve global peace, and bring nations and people together in common cause. We could explore space, visit other planets, and start colonies on the Moon and Mars. Carl Sagan, more than any other person on Earth, psychologically and intellectually prepared an entire generation to receive with open arms all the breathtaking possibilities of the modern computer age.
But people who think they know Carl Sagan invariably know him the way that influential individuals and powerful institutions in charge of his legacy want them to know him. All along, throughout the course of his 40-year professional career, Carl Sagan believed that advanced extraterrestrials exist and that they have been to Earth. Carl Sagan was an ancient alien theorist, convinced that human civilization was a gift from visiting aliens.
The truth is that from 1956, when Sagan was a 22-year-old whiz kid at the University of Chicago hobnobbing with Nobel laureates, until December 20, 1996, the day of his death, Sagan not only believed in ancient aliens, he single-handedly built a scientifically rigorous model that makes it possible for ancient alienism to hopefully, one day soon, become a legitimate field of inquiry.
In 1956, years before the SETI radio telescope experiment was launched, Carl Sagan saw clearly what NASA, SETI, and professional skeptics were either unable or unwilling to grasp: that in a 14-billion-year-old Universe and a 10-billion-year-old Milky Way Galaxy, if advanced aliens exist anywhere, they should have already discovered and visited the four-billion-year-old pale blue dot — Sagan's term — that we humans call Earth. A simple theorem developed by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi as early as 1943 remains to this day a powerful argument in favor of Sagan's suspicions. Fermi's Paradox notes the high probability of life evolving on many planets over vast stretches of time and space, and that many, many advanced extraterrestrials should exist, but so far, we have not seen any proof of or had contact with any such alien civilizations. The sheer number of statistically probable alien civilizations contrasted with the complete lack of any proof of any alien existence famously moved Fermi to ask, "Where are they?" Today, more than a half century after the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence began, we still don't know whether we are alone in the universe or if we have cosmic company. Sagan was optimistic:
Studies of the origin of the solar system and of the origin of the first terrestrial organisms have suggested that life readily arises early in the history of favorably situated planets. The prospect occurs that life is a pervasive constituent of the universe. By terrestrial analogy it is not unreasonable to expect that, over astronomical timescales, intelligence and technical civilizations will evolve on many life-bearing planets.
Sagan thought that in a few centuries, humans will have developed the technology for interstellar travel. If that is true, he pondered, shouldn't aliens, having civilizations possibly millions of years older and millions of year more advanced than ours, have already been to Earth? In the 10-year period between 1956 and 1966, he wasn't writing popular books, appearing on the Johnny Carson Show, or hawking the virtues of space exploration to the masses; he had his nose set to the grindstone, engaged in the most ambitious project of his life: to build an airtight science-based argument that Earth has been visited by advanced extraterrestrials.
Ancient Alien Theorist
If you watch ancient alien documentaries on television, you hear the phrase ancient alien theorist mentioned over and over. A theorist is someone who develops and espouses a theory, which the dictionary defines as:
1. The analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another.
2. A belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action.
3. An ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances.
4. A plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or principles offered to explain phenomenon.
5. A hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation.
6. An unproved assumption.
7. Abstract thought.
A theorist, according to the scientific definition of the word, is a lot more than a guy with an opinion. They invariably hold multiple advanced degrees from reputable institutions, an extensive curriculum vitae, and they usually sit at or near the top of their chosen discipline. A good example is Stephen Hawking, the English theoretical astrophysicist who formerly held Isaac Newton's Lucasian Chair in the Royal Society, who has made significant contributions to the science of black holes. Contrast this with the ancient alien theorists of television documentaries, who never cite their academic credentials or professional accomplishments — because they don't exist.
Carl Sagan was an ancient alien theorist in the same way that Stephen Hawking is a theoretical astrophysicist. He held advanced degrees in multiple disciplines from institutions like Harvard and the University of Chicago. A complete list of his academic and scientific awards and achievements would require pages. Though his specialty was astronomy, he had an amazing cross-disciplinary education that qualified him to speak out on a broad range of subjects relevant to space and to Earth. By any measure, Sagan had the perfect qualifications to be an ancient alien theorist — and that wasn't by accident. He chose to major in astronomy and biology, areas that would serve to enhance his credentials as an ancient alien theorist and equip him with the knowledge and skills that would be needed to find hard evidence to confirm his controversial hypothesis.
In 1962, years before Carl Sagan became the famous astronomer and extraterrestrial hunter that millions grew to know and love, he held another title: visiting assistant professor of genetics at Stanford University. Carl Sagan a geneticist? Yes indeed. Along with an advanced degree in astronomy, Sagan held an earned degree in biology from the University of Chicago.
The head of the genetics department — in fact, the man that Stanford hired to established it — was Nobel Prize winner Joshua Lederberg (1925–2008). Knowing that Sagan's Miller Research Fellowship in astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, was about to end, Lederberg persuaded NASA to grant Sagan a short-term appointment as assistant visiting professor in his new school of genetics in Palo Alto, just across the bay. Lederberg had a keen interest in the possibility of extraterrestrial existence, and, from his willingness to allow Sagan to write the Stanford Paper in his department and under his oversight, was clearly enamored of the possibility that visiting extraterrestrials may have influenced the human genome in a way that both qualitatively and quantitatively separates humans from other animals. His lasting contribution to modern astronomy is that he coined the term exobiology, which is currently one of NASA's hottest new disciplines.
While he was at Berkeley, funded in part by NASA grant NSG-126-61, Carl Sagan researched and wrote "Direct Contact Among Galactic Civilizations by Relativistic Interstellar Spaceflight." In 1962, under Lederberg's oversight at Stanford, Sagan eventually published the paper that laid out the scientific foundation for his ancient alien theory. In the Abstract, Sagan clearly stated his claim "that there is the statistical likelihood that Earth was visited by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization at least once during historical times." In the Stanford Paper, Sagan arrives at the conclusion that "approximately 0.001 per cent of the stars in the sky will have a planet upon which an advanced civilization resides" and "statistics ... suggest that the Earth has been visited by various galactic civilizations many times (possibly ~104) during geological time."
In the late 1950s and 1960s there were scientists in the Soviet Union who interacted with Sagan on the possibility of past alien visitations, but he was the only legitimate ancient alien theorist in the West to develop a formal model that included a search strategy and then present it to his peers in the form of a scientific paper for their consideration. It was subsequently peer reviewed and published in a respected scientific journal, Space and Planetary Science. The extraordinary and completely unexpected pronouncement of past alien visitations to Earth, by one of the preeminent SETI theorists in the world, sent shockwaves throughout the astronomy community. Yet, in a vivid example of how Sagan was decades ahead of everyone else in the field, the Stanford Paper was a combination of existing SETI theory, hard science, and compelling logic. It is a model crafted by a scientist who expected it to be evaluated by his peers in the scientific community.
Perhaps it seems contradictory that Sagan was also an iconic skeptic who spent his entire life debunking UFO claims, dismissing then-current UFO sightings as unreliable, thus rejecting the modern UFO craze as pseudoscience. But ancient legends related to the early Sumerians, including some recorded in the Old Testament, led him to a stunningly different conclusion about the possibility of past alien visitations: Some of the gods of antiquity could have been, and more than likely were, visitors from outer space.
As Sagan narrowed the scope of his treatise, he refined his hypothesis by moving from a detailed explanation of how humans might someday achieve interstellar spaceflight, to positing that godlike aliens were physically on Earth, our Earth, establishing a human civilization through the Sumerians. Sagan's own ethic, now popularly known as the Sagan Rule, was that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. His hope was for a discovery of direct evidence that would independently corroborate his hypothesis. His suggestion was that confirmatory empirical data might be found on the Moon, or possibly in ancient manuscripts. Man has since been to the Moon and they didn't find any evidence of alien activity. But what about ancient manuscripts?
The Land of Sumer
Most people erroneously believe that ancient alienism began in 1968 with the publication of Erich von Däniken's Chariot of the Gods?, which is why most people have the false impression that the subject is inherently pseudoscientific. But the truth is that 10 years earlier, in the late 1950s, Carl Sagan, working off a collaboration with Russian scientists and Nobel Prize–winning geneticist Joshua Lederberg, formulated a mature and science-based theoretical model that had extraterrestrials mastering interstellar spaceflight, exploring the Milky Way Galaxy, and visiting Earth at regular intervals.
In 1966, in Intelligent Life in the Universe, Sagan expanded on his controversial theory by suggesting that an alien signal of some sort might be found in ancient manuscripts related to the Sumerians, people of an unknown origin and with an unknown language who built the world's first high civilization; the Sumerians attributed their advancements to teachings from half-fish, half-human creatures, the Apkallu:
Some years ago, I came upon a legend which more nearly fulfills some of our criteria for a genuine contact myth. It is of special interest because it relates to the origin of Sumerian civilization. Sumer was an early — perhaps the first — civilization in the contemporary sense on the planet Earth. It was founded in the fourth millennium B.C. or earlier. We do not know where the Sumerians came from. Their language was strange; it had no cognates with any known Indo-European, Semitic, or other language, and is only because a later people, the Akkadians, compiled extensive Sumerian-Akkadian dictionaries.
The successors to the Sumerians and the Akkadians were the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians. Thus the Sumerian civilization is in many respects the ancestor of our own. I feel that if Sumerian civilization is depicted by the descendants of the Sumerians themselves to be of nonhuman origin, the relevant legends should be examined carefully. I do not claim that the following is necessarily an example of extraterrestrial contact, but it is the type of legend that deserves more careful study.
Taken at face value, the legend suggests that contact occurred between human beings and a non-human civilization of immense powers on the shores of the Persian Gulf, perhaps near the site of the ancient Sumerian city of Eridu, and in the fourth millennium B.C. or earlier. There are three different but cross-referenced accounts of the Apkallu dating from classical times. Each can be traced back to Berosus, a priest of Bel-Marduk, in the city of Babylon, at the time of Alexander the Great. Berosus, in turn, had access to cuneiform and pictographic records dating back several thousand years before his time.
Berosus, a Greek historian and Chaldean priest, wrote three books on the history and culture of ancient Babylonia, including the legend of Oannes. The Oannes myth meets Sagan's criteria for a potential "contact myth," textual evidence that includes "a description of the morphology of an intelligent non-human, a clear account of astronomical realities for a primitive people, or a transparent presentation of the purpose of the contact," indicators Sagan believed should be investigated as possible alien intervention:
At Babylon there was (in these times) a great resort of people of various nations, who inhabited Chaldæa, and lived in a lawless manner like the beasts of the field. In the first year there appeared, from that part of the Erythræan sea which borders upon Babylonia, an animal destitute of reason, by name Oannes, whose whole body (according to the account of Apollodorus) was that of a fish; that under the fish's head he had another head, with feet also below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish's tail. His voice too, and language, was articulate and human; and a representation of him is preserved even to this day.
This Being was accustomed to pass the day among men; but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters and sciences, and arts of every kind. He taught them to construct cities, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect the fruits; in short, he instructed them in every thing which could tend to soften manners and humanize their lives. From that time, nothing material has been added by way of improvement to his instructions. And when the sun had set, this Being Oannes, retired again into the sea, and passed the night in the deep; for he was amphibious. After this there appeared other animals like Oannes, of which Berossus proposes to give an account when he comes to the history of the kings.
The rise of an advanced civilization from primitive clans, who for centuries had struggled for survival in mud-bogged villages, was so meteoric that it was almost as though aliens had dropped out of the sky and taught it to them whole cloth. Unlike the norm in history, nothing was borrowed or stolen from neighboring civilizations, because there were no other civilized people.
Sumerologist Samuel Noel Kramer brings the contrast in sharp relief. He writes of the Sumerians:
In spite of the land's natural drawbacks, they turned Sumer into a veritable Garden of Eden and developed what was probably the first high civilization in the history of man.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Sagan Conspiracy"
Copyright © 2017 Donald L. Zygutis.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Cad Sagan, Raw and Uncensored 15
Chapter 2 SETI East vs. SETI West 33
Chapter 3 SETI at Sunset 57
Chapter 4 A Conspiracy Wrapped in a Paradox 81
Chapter 5 SETI and Ancient Alien Wars 101
Chapter 6 Sagan Under Siege 129
Chapter 7 Last Words 159