This interview with Dr Jacques Vallee originally appeared in Issue 4 of our free online magazine SUB ROSA (PDF download). It is presented here for easy access, but we do recommend reading it in SUB ROSA as the graphical presentation is far superior. There are also a number of other fascinating articles in the magazine - why not download every issue...they are free after all!
There are few people who bring more credibility to the field of UFO research than Dr Jacques Vallee. As one of the most respected investigators of the phenomenon over the course of more than four decades, he has perhaps the widest experience and knowledge about the topic of any person living today. However, Dr Vallee brings far more to the field than simply his experience – he also brings the credentials of a true Renaissance man.
Born in France, he received a B.S. in mathematics at the Sorbonne and an M.S. in astrophysics at Lille University. After coming to the United States as an astronomer at the University of Texas – where he co-developed the first computer-based map of Mars – Dr Vallee later moved to Northwestern University where he received his Ph.D. in computer science.
He went on to work at SRI International and the Institute for the Future, where he directed the project to build the world's first network-based conferencing system as a Principal Investigator on Arpanet, the prototype for the Internet. He has since become a successful venture capitalist, and currently serves as a General Partner of Euro-America, a Silicon Valley group that invests in North America and Europe, primarily in high-technology.
In May 1955, aged 16, Dr Vallee first sighted a UFO over his Pontoise home. Six years later in 1961, while working as an astronomer, he witnessed the destruction of tapes which had recorded the tracking of unknown objects orbiting the earth. His interest in the UFO phenomenon became a career (of sorts) when he joined with Dr J. Allen Hynek in researching the UFO phenomenon for U.S. Air Force’s well known investigation, Project Blue Book. His contribution to the field was recognized by Steven Spielberg in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which the French scientist played by François Truffaut was modeled on him.
Since the 1960s, Dr Vallee has written a series of ground-breaking books on the UFO phenomenon. His 1969 book Passport to Magonia was instrumental in changing the perspective on anomalous sightings and experiences, as he set forth the hypothesis that the phenomenon was simply the latest incarnation of something which had been happening throughout human history (explained in past ages as fairies, demons, and signs from God). Dr Vallee’s rejection of the ‘nuts and bolts’ explanation of UFOs (as interstellar spaceships) gained him a hostile reception from some parts of the research field, leading him to describe himself at one point as a “heretic among heretics.” In 1979 he again challenged the ufological community with the publication of his book Messengers of Deception, in which he warned against the dangers of UFO cults, government deception, and the trickster nature of the phenomenon.
Dr Vallee continues to investigate ‘border phenomena’ in his own time, around the globe. He also serves on the scientific advisory board of Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas, Nevada.
SR: Many thanks for taking time to talk with us Dr Vallee. First off, the obvious question – you haven't published any books since the Dimensions/Confrontations/Revelations trilogy, and your fascinating memoir of the early days of UFO research, Forbidden Science, in the early 1990s. Have you been involved in UFO research over the past decade, and if so, do you plan to write any more on the subject?
JV: True, I haven’t published any UFO book since Fastwalker ten years ago, but I have published several books on other topics, dealing with technology, finance and the history of the Internet. I am finishing an English translation of a novel called Stratagem, which has just been published in Paris. In the current situation I find it easier to say what I have to say in fiction form.
SR: Your fiction novels have actually been somewhat overlooked, at least in the English-speaking world – you have of course previously won the Jules Verne prize for science fiction writing. The plot of Stratagem appears to have many autobiographical elements (UFOs, trips to Brazil, contacts in the technology world, mention of manipulation by intelligence agencies) – do you find that fiction-writing allows you somewhat of a ‘cathartic’ release from your thinking processes, free from the strictures of presenting a reasoned argument (as in a non-fiction book)? And, when can we expect to see Stratagem in the English language?
JV: A non-fiction book about paranormal phenomena has to describe the available facts and to explore potential hypotheses, but it does not let you develop a complete scenario. In a novel like Stratagem, we can explore one interpretation of what is happening, from beginning to end, and see where it can lead, through characters that are fully involved. This suggests completely new ideas. I have a complete English translation, but I have only begun the process of looking for a U.S. publisher.
SR: What are your thoughts on the state of ufology in 2006?
JV: It’s a mess. There is valuable research going on, but it is carried out by individuals working with almost no financial or logistical resources. The few scientists who are still actively involved are forming a new version of the old “Invisible College,” communicating privately to stay away from the sensationalism that has taken over the field. As for what remains of the organized groups, they are not playing the role of disseminating information, conducting field research or encouraging critique and open debate. They are little more than lobbies for a particular point of view. This is a pity, because periods of low UFO activity like the current one present the best opportunity to do quiet research. By centering the whole discussion of the phenomenon on highly-charged, but poorly-researched issues like Roswell and abductions, ufologists have lost credibility, alienated the scientific public and opened the floodgates to hundreds of Internet sites where the wildest rumors circulate. No wonder serious researchers are going underground!
SR: To set the record straight – from an authority in the field, to those less conversant with UFO research – what are the three top cases we should be devoting attention to, in your opinion? Conversely, what are the cases wasting time and resources (from your comments above, I’m guessing Roswell is one of them?).
JV: I am not comfortable with the idea of basing the reality of the phenomenon on a few so-called “best cases.” We have to start from a global assessment of patterns in a large number of cases where common misidentifications have been screened out. To that end, I have developed a family of four computer catalogues from several parts of the world, under a new standard format. This requires a major effort but fortunately the tools of database development have evolved rapidly in the last few years.
Roswell, in my opinion, is a blind alley. It is a major tactical mistake to base the argument for UFOs entirely on a case that has so little scientific evidence and so much ambiguous and conflicting testimony surrounding it.
SR: You first became aware of possible government manipulation of UFO sightings when you discovered the ‘Pentacle Memorandum’ among Allen Hynek’s papers in 1967. In Messengers of Deception you warned of the dangers of how shadowy groups could manipulate large groups of people into believing certain things and propagating the message. The story of Paul Bennewitz, among others, has been a sad validation of your warning. In the modern day, when rumours can spread around the globe within minutes, how is it possible to ‘keep a lid’ on hoaxes and misinformation? It would appear the well is a little too easily poisoned in the Internet Age (perhaps another validation of the advice you received in Messengers of Deception to leave the ‘useful idiots’ to their games and work quietly in the background?).
JV: My primary concern, like any scientist working in the field, is to avoid wasting time on peripheral cases and spurious events. That was my initial motivation for calling attention to the fact that serious manipulation of the UFO belief was going on. The military may have had legitimate reasons to plant false UFO stories, for instance to protect the secrecy of certain prototypes: that is none of my business. But it becomes my business when ordinary researchers are used as amplifiers for fake rumors, as was the case in the Bennewitz affair.
SR: In the past couple of decades there has been a convergence of multiple strands of research, pointing at perhaps one common experience underlying shamanic experiences, UFO sightings and 'alien abductions', and Near Death Experiences. Researchers such as Ken Ring, John Mack, and Rick Strassman have all come to conclusions that seem to parallel the 'Magonia hypothesis' somewhat (although Mack framed the idea in terms of Henry Corbin's 'Imaginal' world). Considering that you and John Keel 'pioneered' this line of thinking in the 1960s, do you find anything of interest in these more recent lines of research?
JV: John Mack spoke of “Passport to the Cosmos” rather than “Passport to Magonia:” He had difficulty letting go of the extraterrestrial context, but he was gradually becoming aware of the fact that the strict ufological interpretation of abduction reports was too narrow. We have a long way to go in exploring the connections between high strangeness UFO reports and the parapsychological experience.
SR: On those connections – you were a member of the scientific advisory board for the National Institute of Discovery Science during the investigation of the so-called ‘Skinwalker Ranch’. The recent book by George Knapp and Colm Kelleher on this investigation featured a great deal of anecdotal evidence for anomalous craft, strange beings and poltergeist-like phenomenon. From your point of view, do you feel this investigation was a success, and were there any aspects that were of particular interest to you?
JV: I am still a member of that Board, now restructured under Bigelow Aerospace, so I feel bound by the non-disclosure agreement I signed.
SR: In considering research into this type of phenomena, is it really possible to approach it via the strict protocols of science? Science itself has become so entrenched with physicalist philosophy and the concept of the dominance of humanity – is it a suitable method for studying a phenomenon which may be capable of intelligently manipulating observations and results (the ‘trickster’ element often spoken of in the paranormal)? It seems to me that any number of situations – if consciousness can affect reality (and therefore influence test results), if we are within a Matrix-like virtual environment, or as you say that UFOs may be a kind of control system – then the scientific method may not in fact the best way of investigating. In Messengers of Deception you discuss ‘intelligence gathering’ as a method perhaps better suited to the job. What are your thoughts now on this issue?
JV: There is a distinction to be made between a Matrix-like virtual world and what I first proposed in “Messengers,” namely an information multiverse with fully physical manifestations. After all, when I was researching mystical groups in the Melchizedek tradition, and was picked up by the only cab driver in Los Angeles called Melchizedek, it was a real car and a real driver! To start understanding consciousness we need to develop a physics of information that does not rely on the formulation of the physics of energy, which is limited by its use of dimensions.
SR: You have personally researched a number of the more compelling UFO encounters over the past four decades, and in various books have offered apparently solid evidence to support your ideas. Looking back now, has this data survived the test of time, and do you still draw the same conclusions from it?
JV: When I look back on the field work I did, and the current information I am getting from investigators in my network, it is obvious that we have only scratched the surface. No matter how open you try to be, you always approach the phenomenon with a certain set of hypotheses, and they have to be revised based on the data you get. It would be very helpful to go back now and revisit some of these cases, armed with a little more knowledge, and certainly more humility…
SR: You have also made your mark in the technology scene, as both a programmer of early Arpanet protocols and also via investment in technology companies. Futurist Ray Kurzweil sees the imminent approach of 'the Singularity', a time when we will see "technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history". Vernor Vinge talks of similar things, and Arthur C. Clarke talked of us passing a threshold from biological evolution to technological evolution. What are your personal thoughts on our future in regards to technology?
JV: The fact that we are approaching a singularity is increasingly supported by evidence. Some 30 years ago a French research, Professor Meyer, pointed out that the feedback mechanism between human society and technology was a positive loop, and that growth was not exponential but hyperbolic. With classic exponential growth you can always manipulate the scale of the graph to draw a well-behaved phenomenon, but there is no way to manipulate a hyperbola: it goes to infinity at a precise point. Of course, infinity has no societal or physical meaning, so what we are really saying is that a major change of the entire human environment will take place soon. One possible scenario is that Man will gradually destroy his world, either by accident or design, and that nature will go on, replacing us with species better adapted to the new environment.
By the way, I think it is ludicrous to talk about “saving the planet!” The Earth will go on whatever we do, and nature will go on. A much more powerful ecological slogan would be “save our skin!” People would relate better to the specific goal of saving our own species. If total nuclear war erupted, for example, mankind might die out but nature would have no trouble replacing us, after a few centuries, with a more intelligent life form. Technological evolution now moves faster than natural evolution, as Kurzweil and others have pointed out, so perhaps that other life form is already creating itself through us.
SR: Astrobiologist David Grinspoon (in his book Lonely Planets) talked of the possibility that extraterrestrial civilisations far older than ours may have passed this 'singularity', and may have access to technologies beyond our imagining. Is this something that would fit into the Magonia hypothesis, in terms of interdimensional travel? Your writing would suggest not, that UFOs are related in some way to the human collective psyche, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.
JV: There is no contradiction between the two. The concept of other dimensions and parallel universes is part of mainstream cosmology now. I just received in the mail the latest copy of New Scientist. The cover shows two figures climbing into a flying saucer with the caption: “Life inside a black hole – how is it for you?”
Besides, I believe that the human collective psyche has access to cosmic consciousness, and I have to assume many of the readers of a magazine called Sub Rosa entertain similar thoughts!