Jacques Vallée, UFOs, and the Case Against Aliens

There is no more influential thinker in the
study of UFOs than the French astronomer, computer scientist, and ufologist, Jacques Vallée. By the late 1960s, Vallée drew ufology’s attention
to the deeply symbolic qualities of UFO reports, and demonstrated a continuity of symbols, actions,
and archetypes from historical folklore and mythology. For his insightful and rigorously
scientific approach to the field, Vallée has earned a reputation
as the grandfather of ufology, and in his illustrious career, he pioneered
an entirely new explanation for the UFO phenomenon. Vallée had an early exposure to UFOs. In 1955, a 16-year-old Vallée
saw a disc with a half-dome on top hovering half a kilometre away
from his home in Pontoise, France. Six years later, while working as an
astronomer at the Paris Observatory, Vallée witnessed the destruction of tapes
tracking the movement of a bright, unknown object orbiting the earth in retrograde. With a newfound interest in UFOs,
Vallée moved to Evanston, Illinois in 1962 to begin a PhD in computer science
at Northwestern University. There he met Dr. J. Allen Hynek,
scientific consultant to Project Blue Book, the UFO investigation group of the US Air Force. Together with a secret network of academic scientists, Hynek and Vallée shared their UFO research
and discussed possible explanations. Vallée published two books on UFOs in this period,
Anatomy of a Phenomenon, and A Challenge to Science, both of which advocated the popular
extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs, or ETH. These books brought a level of scientific rigour to the field previously unseen
on the side of the ETH advocates, and earned the still-young Vallée a reputation
as a leading authority on the UFO phenomenon. In the fall of 1966, both Vallée and Hynek were
invited to consult on the recently-established scientific study of UFOs
at the University of Colorado, Boulder, but were barred from participating for
their public advocacy of UFO research. When the Colorado project published
its controversial report discouraging further research on the UFO phenomenon,
Vallée returned to France in disgust, and distanced himself for a time
from the scientific community. Over his discussions with the
“invisible college” of UFO scientists, Vallée began to feel that the extraterrestrial hypothesis was too simplistic to account
for the great variety of UFO reports. He was puzzled by the fact that many UFO sightings
coincided with other paranormal phenomena, and that many cases involved highly
implausible scenarios, with specific elements that could hardly be expected of intelligent,
interstellar travellers with superior technology. Inspired by Carl Jung’s work on UFOs,
Vallée searched the historical record for stories of encounters with
aerial wonders and supernatural beings, and found a number of common
themes with modern UFO reports. For example, Vallée noted the similarities between
medieval European faeries, gnomes, and goblins and the short, alien beings of
twentieth-century UFO encounters. All these entities were known to
occasionally abduct their witnesses, and leave them with symptoms of
paralysis, disorientation, and amnesia. Vallée proposed the existence of a technologically-
mediated, extra-dimensional intelligence that has operated throughout human history, masquerading as creatures of myth
and legend in the witnesses’ culture. This intelligence has repeatedly
manifested itself in the form of a technologically or spiritually-advanced civilization, unreachable by humans, and just outside
the understanding of the witnesses. It has evolved its appearance to
keep up with our changing worldview and ever-expanding technological capabilities, but always represents what’s just
ahead of us in our vision of the future. For example, this intelligence appeared
over Medieval Europe in flying ships, with occupants who claimed to originate
from a civilization above the clouds. After the industrial revolution, the same intelligence
appeared over the Western United States in dirigibles, with pilots claiming to be from
foreign continents or the planet Mars. The intelligence then appeared
in rounded, metallic saucers when the world’s superpowers began experimenting
with jet engines and disc-shaped craft, and just before humanity’s exploration of outer space
renewed interest in the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Vallée published his work in
Passport to Magonia in 1969. The book is now considered a breakthrough in our understanding of UFOs, and it’s revered as a cult classic. But initially, at least, Vallée’s views
made him an outcast in the UFO community, which had largely formed a consensus
on the extraterrestrial hypothesis. In his own words, Vallée became
a “heretic amongst heretics.” In his next three books, The Invisible College,
The Edge of Reality, and Messengers of Deception, Vallée developed the idea that the UFO phenomenon
acted as a kind of “control system” to alter human belief systems and
social structures over long periods of time. By drawing from powerful archetypes
in our evolving cultural repertoire, they create a myth about themselves –
their origin, means of travel, and purpose for visiting – which feeds back into our shared
mythology with each new encounter. The specific content and logic of these encounters
are self-contradicting and frequently absurd, but what Vallée called the “meta-logic,”
or their deeper, symbolic meaning, showed consistency in undermining
dominant belief systems and social structures. Vallée also rejected the idea that the US Air Force was withholding proof of extraterrestrial
visitation or flying saucer crashes, and argued instead that by debunking UFOs
and disseminating misinformation, they were distracting the public
from their own ignorance of an elusive, and ultimately unpredictable phenomenon. It was the UFO phenomenon itself
that engaged in the real cover-up, by cloaking itself in absurdity so as
to be rejected by mainstream culture. In his next three books, Dimensions,
Confrontations, and Revelations, published between 1988 and 1991,
Vallée expanded on the control system hypothesis, and criticized contemporary
ufologists for their obsession with establishing extraterrestrial origins
and achieving government disclosure. He travelled to Brazil, Australia,
and the Soviet Union, among other places, to study manifestations of the UFO phenomenon there, and published UFO Chronicles
of the Soviet Union in 1992. In 2010, Vallée published the results of
years of data curation with Chris Aubeck, a compendium of 500 descriptions of anomalous aerial
sightings from antiquity to the early modern period. The book allows for easy comparison of sightings
across different cultures and historical eras, and demonstrates common features over time. Not only did Vallée provide the first real
alternative to the extraterrestrial hypothesis, he helped turn ufology’s attention away
from the physical origin of UFOs, and toward their effects on people and society. This shift in perspective has lead “new ufologists”
like Micah Hanks and Nick Redfern, and abduction researchers such as
John Mack and Whitley Strieber, to recognize linkages between UFOs,
consciousness, and other anomalous phenomena, and to explore theoretical frameworks
for understanding them all together. Vallée has left his mark on popular culture, serving as the inspiration for Claude Lacombe
in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But his legacy is built on the far-reaching
impact that he’s had on UFO science. Vallée has made a number of game-changing
breakthroughs in our understanding of aerial anomalies, and by re-opening the question of UFO origins,
he paved the way for many more. (Sources listed in the video description.)

Eugene Islam

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