The UFO Iconoclast(s)

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Wonders in the Sky


David J. Hufford, Professor Emeritus of Humanities and Psychiatry, Penn State College of Medicine and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania provides the forward to Jacques Vallee’s and Chris Aubeck’s book (pictured above).

Professor Hufford is erudite and insightful.

Here are some examples from his Foreward:

I [Hufford] was pursuing the heretical idea that folk belief traditions might actually incorporate accurate observations…

[Vallee in his books, Anatomy of a Phenomenon and Passport to Magonia] recognized the difference between the core phenomenology of [UFO] reports and the local language and interpretations that clothed that core in traditional accounts.

Criticizing conventional UFO investigators for “confusing appearance and reality” [Vallee] said that “The phenomenon has stable, invariant features….But we have also had to note carefully the chameleonlike character of the secondary attributes of the sightings.

The willingness of [Vallee and Aubeck] to cast a very wide net, andn ot to allow the particular cultural interpretations of events to limit their view, offers us a remarkable opportunity to seek patterns that may lead to new understandings.

Those with a view of these matters narrowly focused on a particular interpretation, especially the extraterrestrial idea, may be annoyed by the mixing of the aerial and the religious, the political and the mystical and more.

The problem with “spaceship” is not that it is anomalous; it is that it is an interpetation rather than an observation.


But Vallee and Aubeck undercut these judicious remarks by Professor Hufford by making these comments in their Introduction:

We will show that unidentified flying objects have had a major [sic] impact not only on popular culture but on our history, on our religion…

…the fact would remain that an unexplained phenomenon has played and continues to play a fantastically important role in shaping our belief systems, the way we view our history and the role of science.

…their [UFOs] impact has shaped human civilization in important ways.


UFOs have never had a “major” impact on humanity or civilization or history or religion.

The phenomenon has always been a remote and peripheral aspect of societal life, of human existence.

UFOs, today, are as inconsequential to humanity and society as a whole as they have always been, despite Vallee’s insistence that UFOs have been and are integral to life on Earth.

Irritated by Stephen Hawking’s postion vis a vis UFOs – “I am discounting reports of UFOs. Why would they appear only to cranks and weirdos?” – Vallee and Aubeck obviously don’t agree.

The persons seeing UFOs are not cranks and weirdos. Hawking is wrong. The people who study UFOs are the cranks and weirdos.

RR

28 Comments:

  • I agree that the statement by Vallee and Aubeck is well over the top. I also thought the book was a major disappointment, although the Cult of Vallee probably thinks otherwise.

    By Blogger Paul Kimball, at Sunday, August 07, 2011  

  • Paul:

    I thought Hufford was on the button, and some of his insights reminded me of your astute positions about UFOs and ufologists.

    I'm not the fan that he is of Vallee, but Vallee has a stance, which is more than we might say about others in the UFO crowd, who parasitically attached themselves to views by others.

    The book, for me, is a disappointment also.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, August 07, 2011  

  • I thought the book was okay and could have been better in terms of the format. 'Could try harder' as teachers might say.

    The proposition 'We will show that unidentified flying objects have had a major [sic] impact not only on popular culture but on our history, on our religion…' could be looked at from several angles.

    As you and Paul note, most people don't care at all about UFOs and I personally doubt that even 1% of the world's population have a passing thought on the subject in any given year.

    At the same time, they've *possibly* had a major impact through endless permutations in the Western media that effect worldwide Pop Culture. Being skeptical, so have vampires and there's no evidence whatsoever that those critters exist. In that light, even if we didn't have a 'UFO enigma,' it's probable that we'd still be neck-deep in movies and sci-fi books about aliens and space adventures.

    That said, if Marian visions (like at Knock) and guys like Mohamed being allegedly visited by angels, are part of the UFO enigma, maybe they have played a part in our religions?

    It isn't a view I hold, but it's an avenue of speculation.

    For what it's worth, in interviews, Aubeck comes across as modest and lacking in hubris.

    By Blogger Kandinsky, at Sunday, August 07, 2011  

  • K:

    I agree that UFOs may have had, perhaps -- and I accent, perhaps --an impact on humanity, but not a major impact.

    Cro-magnon man wiping out Neanderthals had a major impact; Hitler had a major impact, Communism had a major, but temporary impact, the atom bomb had a major impact, St. Paul and Constantine had a major impact, Columbus had a major impact, the Black Plague had a major impact, Mohammed had a major impact...but UFOs? I don't think so, not even subliminally.

    The idea is ludicrous and hubristic, if one is using the point to sell their books or idea.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, August 07, 2011  

  • I respect Vallee and his work, and agree with some of what he says, but there he definitely has a cult-like following who think he's the greatest thinker since Plato, which of course he isn't. He's bright and thoughtful, and within "ufology" that's enough to make one a giant, but in this recent work one gets the impression that he just kind of "mailed it in".

    PK

    By Blogger Paul Kimball, at Sunday, August 07, 2011  

  • You talk about the 'real' world. The real world is undergoing a severe financial crisis right now. Some wise guys are even predicting the end of capitalism.

    But wait a minute: is this not more or less what Stan Friedman and certain others predicted would happen if the truth about ETs visiting earth were made public?

    Exciting stuff. The 'real' world is here now, without the ET presence even being acknowledged!

    By Blogger cda, at Sunday, August 07, 2011  

  • But CDA, exopoliticians say ET has already infiltrated the banking system, and other world enterprises.

    So maybe ET is actually responsiible for the financial crises that inundate us all right now.

    Friedman may be right, in a way.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, August 07, 2011  

  • but like us (you, Paul, and me, and a few others) UFOs keep calling him back to the fold --

    Lest I be accused of protesting a bit too much... I'm out. Of course, I was never really in. There are people whose lives are consumed by the UFO thing. For me, it was always a combination of a gig (there was, for a while, an opportunity to make films about UFOs), and a passing interest, far down the list of things that interest me. The only thing that really interests me anymore is the sociology of it all, and even that is penny ante stuff in the grand scheme of things.

    If there are aliens out there, we'll meet them someday. And if by some chance they're already here, then we'll meet them on their terms, when they choose.

    Meanwhile, on the question of Stan, I've always agreed with his humanistic view of the world, even as I've found it amusing to watch him interact with people love him but who think the UN is some kind of Zionist / Communist / Fascist (choose your "ist") plot to destroy America. They clearly haven't been listening to Stan's central message all these years, which is that we're all one species, that nationalism is a bad thing, and that one world government is the way of the future.

    These are the things that he and I really talk about at the family reunions. :-)

    PK

    By Blogger Paul Kimball, at Sunday, August 07, 2011  

  • Oh, that Stan! And those one-worlders.

    Nationalism provides a kind of checks and balance to one-world, where a maniac could get a hold and screw humanity big-time.

    Are we really one-species? Or is that a pretense -- an idea based upon a kind of Pollyanna approach to what humans are?

    But that debate is for your family reunions, Paul, and other venues.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, August 07, 2011  

  • Greetings,

    French UFO-Skeptic and Erudit Dominique Caudron have found many mistakes regarding Vallée " Wonders in the Sky" in our forum and in his blog (in french :( ).

    One is interresting and well illustrates what kind of serious analysis J. Vallée is often abble ou victim :

    In his recent book, we read :

    "Circa 343 BC, Near Sicily, Italy: a blazing light
    In Diodorus Siculus' first century text Historical Library, (book 16, 24-5) we read that the
    voyage of Timoleon from Corinth to Sicily was guided by one or more blazing lights
    referred to as lampas: "Heaven came to the support of his venture and foretold his coming
    fame and the glory of his achievements, for all through the night he was preceded by a
    torch blazing in the sky up to the moment when the squadron made harbor in Italy."

    Note: This might have been a comet, but it has never been matched with any known
    cometary object, according to Gary Kronk's Cometography. P. J. Bicknell, writing in The
    Classical Quarterly ("The Date of Timoleon's Crossing to Italy and the Comet of 361
    BC" in New Series, Vol. 34, No. 1, 1984, 130-134) argues that "a cometary hypothesis is3?
    barely compatible with the implication of Diodorus' account that the lampas were visible
    in the east at nightfall and therefore in opposition to the sun...All in all it is difficult to
    resist the conclusion that Diodorus (or his source) elaborated on the lampas for dramatic
    effect..."

    In other words, it could NOT be a comet because it was in East and not in West.

    The problem is that if you read Diodore in the text, we have (fast translation french to english :

    When he was in the sea, Timoleon was the witness of a strange phenomenon which should be a good presage for his enterprise and which would give him Glory. Each night appeared a flaming torch which seemed to walk AT THE HEAD OF THE FLEET UNTIL THE SHIP JOIGNED ITALY.

    So, So the "torch" was in the direction he was heading. Or to go to Corinth in Sicily, we go west, not east !

    A comet is then perfectly possible and Vallée confused East and West, or is not checked.
    Besides, if he had read Diodore of Sicily in the TEXT, he would have found another case of burning torch-type comet in 372 BC, but Vallée did not quote it...

    Dominique Caudron mentionnes several examples of this kind too regarding J. Vallée in our forum as we and specialy I, have found serious statistical bias in other Vallée works. But it is of topic.

    Same, Vallée is wrong concerning his remark regarding Kronk :

    Gary Kronk, in tome 1 of Cometography wrotes p.5 :
    "-340/-339
    The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote around -329 that during the archonship of Nicomachus, "a comet appeared in the equinoctial circle for a few days (this one had not risen in the west), and this coincided with the storm at Corinth." A. G. Pingré (1783) specifically gave the year as -340 and said the comet was in Leo.
    SOURCES : Meteorologica (-329), book 1, p. 54-7; A. G. Pingré (1783), p. 264; A. A. Barrett (1978), p.88."

    AND MORE FALLACIOUS regarding Vallée, Thibaut Alexandre, one our astronomer and member of our UFO-Skeptic team remarks the following :

    page 511 of tome 1 de Cometography, in Appendix 1 ("Uncertain Objects"), we read :
    "-344 ou -343
    The Roman text Historical Library, which was written by Diodorus Siculus around the 1st century BC, notes a comet visible during the voyage of Timoleon from Corinth to Sicily. He wrote, "Heaven came to the support of his venture and foretold his coming fame and the glory of his achievements, for all through the night he was preceded by a torch blazing in the sky up to the moment when the squadron made harbor in Italy."

    SOURCES : Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library (1st century BC), book 16, pp. 24-5; A. G. Pingré (1783), p. 264; G. F. Chambers (1889), p. 553; A. A. Barrett (1978), pp. 87-8."

    Badaboum Jacques Vallée...

    Well, that's ufology.

    Regards,

    Gilles Fernandez

    By Blogger Gilles. F., at Monday, August 08, 2011  

  • Erf, I made an "frenchism" above (to go to corynth in Sicily) cause how we indicate the direction here in french :
    Of course, you must read : to go FROM Corynth TO Sicily !

    So the "torch" was in the direction the fleet was going, because the torch preceded it, then ahead.

    If you take a look to a mediteranean map, to go FROM Corinth (Greece) TO Sicily, we go to the WEST, not to the east !

    Then, a comet is possible (as Kronk stipulates for this "Diodore of Sicily quote" in appendix of his book "Cometography " (p. 511 of the tome 1 in Appendix 1 ("Uncertain Objects").

    So sorry.

    Gilles.

    By Blogger Gilles. F., at Monday, August 08, 2011  

  • I didn't think is was Vallee's work, I thought it was Aubeck's. Vallee certainly gave that impression in the couple of interviews I heard.

    In academic research there's a principal investigator (PI) who usually lends oversight to the research (which helps get it published because of his established credibility in the field), but who often neither formulates the hypothesis or actively participates in the research, which is done by the co-investigator(s).

    Having worked for a prominent academic researcher in a totally unrelated field, I saw firsthand that he was often peripheral to many of the research projects on which he was PI, although when they were published, he was always listed as first author (even though he might have contributed only a paragraph or just signed off on the finished article).

    Let's not forget that Vallee was first of all an academic researcher in astronomy, despite the twists and turns of his later career. And he certainly sounded as though his approach to this project was in the role of an academic research PI, and he was passing his baton to Aubeck.

    By Blogger purrlgurrl, at Monday, August 08, 2011  

  • This book had the Vallee imprimatur as a brand name attached to the work of another. With that qualifier in mind, the clearer the terms attached to this phenomenon the more the labels steer the dialog IE, "flying" and "objects." Thirdly, I agree with the premise that there is a connection to the phenomenon being influential in human affairs, but from an opposing direction. Our concepts of life, materiality and empirical considerations all layered like an onion at the aperture of perception has an influence from our species in relation to what we think we are seeing versus what is behind this misuse of Occam's Razor.
    I have always had very serious doubts as to his thermodynamic theory of a control system of markers attached to this phenomenon. At the same time I am not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater so easily. The across the board spectrum of folklore, myth etc as attached to this phenomenon has it's place as provocative clues to the context of this phenomenon. Getting the context correctly, accurately from arcane historical sources in this case, was somewhat of a disappointment, but my expectations over the years have been leavened to view all material as questionable in the context of the observer's views and vested interest within a inferred or direct agenda. None of this rearranging of puzzle pieces will be matched by a coherent logical and rational theory whether it is atmospheric anomalies or the stock market. We are all afflicted by naive realism compounded by our terms being putting the cart before the horse which comes down to the uncomfortable position to me of realizing, one has to set humility aside to even have a reasonable guess at elsewhere of That versus This in terms of conceptual language.I know this at the outset. Some is useful to me in seeking behavioral patterns and some 99% is simply propagandist garbage attached to juvenile desires whose pretense is having a superior grasp of faux terms, vague connections..and being seen as a "expert" fraud. In a sense, I am guilty as charged, and so to throw a stone gives me pause.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Monday, August 08, 2011  

  • Fellows:

    I am a die-hard fan of accumulated data and information, presented in book-form.

    The Vallee/Aubeck book is okay, but less than what I anticipated.

    But my overall arching complaint is the authors' shibboleth that UFOs have had a MAJOR impact on humanity.

    UFOs are not and have never been the center of the Universe, nor are they or have they been a sine qua non of human existence.

    UFO mavens who think that the phenomenon is a be-all and end-all of human civilization or life have a mental quirk that borders on psychopathology.

    UFOs are merely a curiosity; no more, no less.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, August 08, 2011  

  • I think the compelling question that keeps us going to the well while complaining about water quality, the addiction to this spring of anomalies, while tamping it down and squeezing it like silly putty on a comic book, was best said a long time ago which may apply to this phenomenon;

    "Nothing can be made of nothing; otherwise any breed could be born from any other; people would pop out of the sea"
    -Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus), De Rerum Natura

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Monday, August 08, 2011  

  • Hi,

    Some material for the book came from my collection, some of it was from Jacques' archive. Collaboration on the final catalogue was 50-50, with much of the bibliographical research completed by myself and colleagues. The final selection and interpretation of the material was largely Jacques' because I personally have no faith in any unifying theory of strange aerial phenomena. The book's conclusions were general enough to be acceptable by both but we also regard them as a mere first step. I have expressed my opinions about UFOs on radio interviews with Kate Valentine (freely available online) and Whitley Strieber (not so free) if anyone's interested. 

    Despite some differences of opinion about the inclusion and interpretation of certain content, which a note at the end of the book shows, and my own conviction that 250 or less of the best UFO accounts would constitute a more powerful message than 500, I'm glad we worked together on the book because it was a great chance to do some real historical research in a fascinating field with one of its greatest pioneers. Some individual accounts took over a year to investigate. Over 1500 accounts were considered and rejected during the process. There are a few errors in "Wonders in the Sky" and I'm itching to do a recompilation and rewrite, but I don't know when that will happen. Meanwhile it truly is the most comprehensive and reliable proto-UFO reference book published to date.

    Best wishes,

    Chris Aubeck

    By Blogger Chris Aubeck, at Wednesday, August 10, 2011  

  • Thanks, Chris:

    We all have been a little harsh in our "criticisms" of the book which, as usual, because of the subject matter, invites emotional responses.

    My personal complaint was the thesis that UFOs have had and have a MAJOR impact on civilization -- on humanity itself.

    That aside, the compendium of sightings has to be applauded.

    We look forward to more from you and Jacques Vallee too.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, August 10, 2011  

  • That's fine, I have no trouble with that criticism. Not believing in an all-encompassing UFO theory myself means I can state the obvious and feel it's justified: in ancient times natural phenomena with no obvious explanation (volcanoes, comets, meteorites, tidal waves, fires, earthquakes, stillbirths, etc) had a major influence on human affairs, science and belief systems. Observing unnatural phenomena could have been no less influential, and _claiming_ to see unnatural phenomena or miracles certainly did have a big impact on human history. I don't think the statement in the book is all that far out, to be honest, though I can see how it can give that impression. My own personal research and conclusions continue to evolve, and I welcome anyone in this thread to check out my research group, Magonia Exchange. It's an amazing project and an impressive collaborative effort on a global scale, with literally no theories to sell.

    By Blogger Chris Aubeck, at Wednesday, August 10, 2011  

  • Chris:

    No one is chastising you or Jacques.

    You fellows have produced a fine rendering of ancient UFO accounts.

    But it is UFO-hubristic to think that a few meandering unidentified objects altered human history, in a significant way.

    Even miracles -- were there any, really? -- didn't have an impact greater than any of that litany of activities I mentioned in a comment.

    That said, I think we all should do you the respect of checking out Magonia Exchange.

    You might provide the link or even an extended comment about the substance of ME.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, August 10, 2011  

  • I agree that "a few meandering unidentified objects" could not have "altered human history in a significant way." Nevertheless some aerial events have influenced the ideas of philosophers and theologians, determined political actions, triggered social panics and changed the outcome of battles. Were those events ufological? Well, the phenomena (strange lights, clouds, storms, comets, crosses, meteor showers, eclipses, lunar rainbows, odd hovering objects, etc.) were unidentified to pre-scientific observers, certainly. In this sense I cannot deny the validity of our statement in the book.

    As for miracles, well no, I do not believe in miracles. I am highly skeptical and also atheist. _Claimed_ miracles, visions, contact with gods and other entities and so on have had all kinds of effect on human culture, philosophy, religion and consequently science. For over a thousand years much of the western worldview was based on the faulty interpretation of things seen in the sky.

    I would never say that specifically _flying saucer_ sightings have changed human history or "raised our inner consciousness" (etc). In a broad sense all observed phenomena can lead to changes in our vision of the universe, and therefore our actions. This is as true today as it was 6000 years ago. However, for a UFO-specific theory of this kind you'll have to talk to my friend Jacques.

    My personal interest is the history and evolution of paranormal beliefs and claims. I don't look for, or expect to find, meaning. Of course you could not know this from the book.

    My research group can be found here:

    http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/magonia_exchange/

    Best wishes,

    Chris

    By Blogger Chris Aubeck, at Wednesday, August 10, 2011  

  • Chris:

    Thanks for the link to your project.

    (I'll make a MAJOR note of it here, in a separate post, and at some of our other blogs.)

    Yes, some aerial thingies influenced philosophers, writers, politicians (Constantine), et al.

    But other events more so.

    We're quibbling over a word or stance that is moot.

    Your view(s) about the paranormal and meaning suit visitors here, especially author and researcher Nick Redfern.

    Perhaps he'll weigh in...

    Now I'm off to take a look at your site.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, August 11, 2011  

  • "But other events more so."

    True, and you'll find books on European and World history useful in this regard. (I'll refrain from saying "so what?")

    By Blogger Chris Aubeck, at Thursday, August 11, 2011  

  • Chris:

    The alteration of History and the evolutionary course of mankind is addressed in a (vital, for me) book, which may offend an atheist but is interesting reading nonetheless.

    It's Lecomte du Nouy's HUMAN DESTINY.

    Give it a try.

    We may, then, have something to really debate.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, August 11, 2011  

  • I see Constantine's name dropped every time something like this comes up, as if it's proven beyond any reasonable doubt that (a) he saw something spectacular in the sky, and (b) that it actually influenced him. That account may indeed be plausible, or even accurate, but it is equally plausible, and quite frankly more likely to be accurate, that Constantine, a master political strategist who never showed any evidence throughout his career of a strong conviction for anything other than preserving his own power (to the point of being particularly ruthless with members of his own family), simply made the whole thing up, or took a simple astronomical phenomena (a sundog, perhaps), and spun it into a tale to motivate the troops and citizenry, which by that time contained more and more members of the cult of Christianity. It certainly would have been a smart thing to do in the midst of a civil war.

    So, did Constantine see what we would call a UFO today? Even if we accept the account by Eusebius as accurate (and his is just one version), the answer would seem to be no.

    But it continues to be trotted out as a UFO case (even, I must admit, by yours truly once or twice over the years), without any discussion of the historical context, the conflicting accounts, or the nature of Constantine himself (and the debate about him and his character and actions, which continues today).

    To place that in a book, call it a UFO, and then say that it had a great influence on human history is, with all the respect I can muster, a stretch of epic proportions.

    Paul

    By Blogger Paul Kimball, at Thursday, August 11, 2011  

  • Paul:

    Let me accent my point, and it is that Constantine altered the course of humanity -- whether he saw a cross in the sky or not.

    I want to note that such actions as that of Constantine change history and society, and that UFOs have nothing to do with that.

    Henry the VIII did likewise, as did Luther, and even the Medici.

    The Inquisition altered Western Civilization, as did the War of the Roses, WWI and WWII, et cetera.

    Your expertise and schooling in History can enumerate many more instances of events and people who changed the course of man, without any UFO being involved.

    And I mean change in a MAJOR way.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, August 11, 2011  

  • I want to note that such actions as that of Constantine change history and society, and that UFOs have nothing to do with that.

    Agreed.

    By Blogger Paul Kimball, at Thursday, August 11, 2011  

  • Let me just add that while I found the book disappointing, because of the over-reach we're discussing here, it is still a useful reference tool for people interested in the subject, so long as they ignore the editorializing within, or at the very least take it with a grain of salt.

    PK

    By Blogger Paul Kimball, at Thursday, August 11, 2011  

  • Yes, Paul, my sentiment(s) exactly.

    I got the impression that the authors (probably Vallee if I'm reading Chris Aubeck's comments here correctly) wanted to provide a cachet for their book; that is, UFOs have caused MAJOR changes in society or civilization, thus our tome is dealing with a very important subject, and should be bought and read accordingly.

    You and I know that writers (film-makers, egoists, like me) have to self-promote sometimes.

    But I thought the Introduction to the book was a bit overwrought with the idea that UFOs are a sine qua non for life.

    That's all.

    Chris Aubeck has clarified his position, and I am grateful for that.

    And I've signed up to access his Magonia Exchange Project to assuage any hard-feelings.

    RR

    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Thursday, August 11, 2011  

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