by Jerome Clark
FATE Magazine, 1978
Noted scientist-UFO researcher proposes a startling
theory about what UFOs may be, how they behave and what
we can do about them.
by Jerome Clark
Dr. Jacques Vallee, a French-American computer specialist with a
background in astrophysics, once served as consultant to NASAís Mars
Jacques Vallee is one of ufologyís major figures - and also its most
Vallee, who holds a masterís degree in astrophysics and a Ph.D. in
computer science from Northwestern University, was an early
scientific proponent of the theory that UFOs are extraterrestrial
spaceships. His first book, Anatomy of a Phenomenon (Henry Regnery,
1965), argued eloquently that,
"through UFO activity Ö the contours
of an amazingly complex intelligent life beyond the earth can
already be discerned."
In Challenge to Science - The UFO Enigma (Regnery,
1966) he and Janine Vallee (who is a psychologist by training, with
a masterís degree from the University of Paris) urged the scientific
community to consider the UFO evidence in this light.
But by 1969, when he published
Passport to Magonia (Regnery),
Valleeís assessment of the UFO phenomenon had undergone a
significant shift. Much to the consternation of the "scientific ufologists" who had seen him as one of their champions,
seemed to be backing away from the extraterrestrial hypotheses and
advancing the radical view that UFOs are paranormal in nature and a
modern space age manifestation of a phenomenon which assumes
different guises in different historical contexts.
" When the underlying archetypes are
extracted," he wrote, "the saucer myth is seen to coincide to a
remarkable degree with the fairy-faith of Celtic countries Ö
religious miraclesÖ and the widespread belief among all peoples
concerning entities whose physical and psychological
descriptions place them in the same category as the present-day
The Invisible College (E.P. Dutton,
1975) Vallee posits the idea of a "control system."
UFOs and related
phenomena are "the means through which manís concepts are being
rearranged." Their ultimate source may be unknowable, at least at
this stage of human development; what we do know, according to Vallee, is that they are presenting us with continually recurring
"absurd" messages and appearances which defy rational analysis but
which nonetheless address human beings on the level of myth and
"When I speak of a control system
for planet earth," he says, " I do not want my words to be
misunderstood: I do not mean that some higher order of beings
has locked us inside the constraints of a space-bound jail,
closely monitored by psychic entities we might call angels or
demons. I do not propose to redefine God. What I do mean is that
mythology rules at a level of our social reality over which
normal political and intellectual action has no powerÖ."
Vallee is also coauthor, with J. Allen Hynek, of
The Edge of Reality (Regnery, 1975). A resident of the San
Francisco area, he is completing a book which further develops his
theories concerning UFO phenomena.
We have talked together at some length about his beliefs. The
following interview is a report of these conversations:
Clark: Since the great autumn
1973 sighting wave public attitudes about the UFO phenomenon
seem to have changed dramatically, to the extent that society
may be entering a pivotal period in its perception of the
problem. What do you think will happen now?
Vallee: First, I expect increased government and scientific
attention to it. More researchers will be pursuing the physical
evidence aspects, conducting much more sophisticated
investigations of traces left at landing sites and so on. The
people moving into the field now are good physicists and good
engineers who know what they are doing and who are convinced it
is time for them to get involved.
At the same time I expect that public opinion will change also.
Initially it probably will move strongly toward the
extraterrestrial explanation. Most people see only two ways to
look at the problem - either itís all nonsense or weíre being
visited from outer space. The current spate of movies, books and
magazine articles is going to push people toward the
extraterrestrial hypothesis. After that I expect a backlash
effect may push them in the other direction. I donít know where
thatís going to leave scientists who want to do research.
Clark: You say that scientists are entering ufology in search of
physical evidence. But is there physical evidence? And if there
is, are they going to find it? What happens if they donít?
Vallee: If I were speaking for them I would say, "Jerry, itís
premature to ask those questions." One doesnít know the answers
until one really looks - and so far nobody has looked very
seriously. So far the people who have looked have been military
types searching for enemy craft or direct threats to national
security. Or theyíve been superficial investigators, dedicated
civilians with good training but limited time and limited
But youíre asking me what I think. I think there are physical
data. They are very, very interesting. They may contain a
message. My inclination is to look at the message both in a
physical sense and in a symbolic sense, but thatís because Iím
an information scientist and not a physical scientist. I look
for the meaning behind the object.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Recently Paul Cerny
investigated a case in northern California in which two older
persons saw a UFO take off. Afterwards they saw a sort of ring
on the ground. Within the ring they found some molten metal and
a pile of sand.
Obviously here is physical evidence. Two tangible things - the
molten metal, which turned out to be brass, and the sand. I took
some of the latter to a geologist friend who knows about sand.
He said it was highly unusual because it did not contain quartz
and it was not stream sand or beach sand or residue from mining
or anything else. It seemed to be artificial sand created from
grinding together stones of different origin.
Well, to a physicist that may not mean too much. Itís an
indication of something that turns out to be absurd. We can put
it alongside other cases of physical traces and then we may
start looking for patterns which might lead us to a better
understanding of the modus operandi of whoeverís doing all this.
In that sense, yes, there is physical evidence. But if you mean
physical evidence in the sense that weíre going to discover
somebodyís propulsion system from it, I would have to say I
donít expect that to happen.
Clark: Can we infer from the existence of physical evidence,
then, that there is a physical cause?
Vallee: If the UFO phenomenon had no physical cause at all,
there would be no way for us to perceive it because human beings
are physical entities. So it has to make an impression on our
senses somehow. For that to take place, it has to be physical at
Clark: So in other words there is such a thing as a solid,
three-dimensional flying saucer.
Vallee: No, I didnít say that. That may or may not be true. I
donít think there is such a thing as the flying saucer
phenomenon. I think it has three components and we have to deal
with them in different ways.
First, there is a physical object. That may be a flying saucer
or it may be a projection or it may be something entirely
different. All we know about it is that it represents a
tremendous quantity of electromagnetic energy in a small volume.
I say that based upon the evidence gathered from traces, from
electromagnetic and radar detection and from perturbations of
the electromagnetic fields such as Dr. Claude Poher, the French
space scientist, has recorded.
Second, thereís the phenomenon the witnesses perceive. What they
tell us is that theyíve seen a flying saucer. Now they may have
seen that or they may have seen an image of a flying saucer or
they may have hallucinated it under the influence of microwave
radiation, or any of a number of things may have happened. The
fact is that the witnesses were exposed to an event and as a
result they experienced a highly complex alteration of
perception which caused them to describe the object or objects
that figure in their testimony.
Beyond there - the physical phenomenon and the perception
phenomenon - we have the third component, the social phenomenon.
Thatís what happens when the reports are submitted to society
and enter the cultural arena. Thatís the part which I find most
Clark: Before we go into that, letís clarify your views on the
nature of the physical aspect. When I asked you if there was
such a thing as a solid, three-dimensional flying saucer, I was
thinking in these terms: Letís suppose that somebody says he has
seen a UFO, the bottom part of which was flat and circular. He
says he saw the object come down, settle on the soil and then
fly off again, leaving a flat circular impression. Doesnít that
clearly suggest the presence - at least for the duration of the
sighting - of a solid object whose physical structure was more
or less as the witness perceived it?
Vallee: Not necessarily. We have evidence that the phenomenon
has the ability to create a distortion of the sense of reality
or to substitute artificial sensations for the real ones. Look
at some of the more bizarre close encounter cases - for example
the incident from South America in which one man believed he had
been abducted by a UFO while his companion thought he had
boarded a bus which had suddenly appeared on the road behind
It is conceivable that there is one phenomenon which is visual
and another which creates the physical traces. What Iím saying
is that a strange kind of deception may be involved.
Clark: In other words the physical traces are placed there as
ostensible confirmation of what the senses perceived?
Vallee: Yes. Itís comparable perhaps to the strategic deception
operations of the British during World War II to fool the
Germans. They created artificial tank tracks in the desert and
in other ways simulated the passage of large armored divisions.
They even caused dust storms to perpetuate the illusion, which
the Germans found very convincing indeed.
In the UFO context that might explain cases such as the one in
California I mentioned earlier, in which the "physical evidence"
left in the wake of the UFO appearance really seemed to have no
clear, unambiguous connection with the perceived "object."
Clark: What do you think happens during the "UFO experience?"
Vallee: We donít know. There is no question that something
happens. It seems as if an external force takes control of
people. In the close encounters people may lose their ability to
move or to speak; in the abduction cases, which are the most
extreme example, they gradually enter into a series of
experiences during which they lose control of all their senses.
Do they experience what they think they experience? Suppose you,
an outside observer, had been there. What would you have seen?
Clark: I can think of several cases which might suggest I would
have seen the same thing they saw. To cite an example, one of
the famous Venezuelan humanoid encounters of late 1954 was
independently observed by a doctor some distance from the scene.
Vallee: Yes, Iím familiar with that incident and similar ones.
But that doesnít alter my point. The doctor may have experienced
the object as "real" but we donít know what the nature of that
We know there are objects that contain a lot of energy in a
small space. What do we know about what happens to the human
brain when itís exposed to a great deal of energy? We know very
little about that. We donít know much about the effects of
electromagnetic or microwave radiation on the brain, nor about
the effects of pulsating colored lights on the brain. The
research into that is just beginning.
What we do know is that you can make people hallucinate using
either lights or microwave or electromagnetic energy. You can
also make them pass out; you can cause them to behave strangely,
put them into shock, make them hear voices or even kill them.
Clark: Is there any way to penetrate to the reality of the
experience, for example through hypnotic regression?
Vallee: Iím not sure that what we learn under hypnotic
regression is useful. Hypnosis is really a delicate technique
and some of the people in our field who are using it are doing
more harm than good. If the hypnotist doesnít have medical
training - and most of these people have no medical training -
the results may be disastrous for the witness. But if the
hypnotist does have medical training and doesnít have any
knowledge of the subject, he may ask the wrong questions. I
think that may have happened in
the famous case of Betty and
Barney Hill. The hypnotist was extremely skilled but was not
especially interested in UFOs and didnít know the background of
Clark: What can we do, then?
Vallee: Iím not saying that hypnosis has no role to play in UFO
investigation, nor that it canít be helpful under certain
circumstances when percipients are blocking from their memories
something they have seen or experienced.
The thing I really want to emphasize is that the investigatorís
first responsibility is to the witness and not to the UFO
phenomenon. The average witness is in shock because heís had a
very traumatic experience; what heís seen is going to change his
life. Your intervention, the very fact that youíre talking with
him about it, is also going to have an effect on him. Now he may
say to you, "I need help to understand what I saw," but in fact
he needs more immediate help as a human being who is deeply
troubled by a very disturbing experience.
Unfortunately this element has been neglected. The more UFO
investigators try to appear "professional," the more they ignore
that human aspect - and by extension their own ethical
obligations. I want to convince my friends in UFO research that
whenever we have a choice between obtaining interesting UFO data
and taking chances with the life of a human being, we should
forget the UFO data.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are alternatives to
the use of hypnosis. These involve putting the percipient into a
state of relaxed revelry or free association. There are several
techniques that are equally as effective as hypnosis in bringing
out the hidden details but are must less harmful. Investigators
really havenít made use of these yet.
Clark: What do you think of the abduction cases?
Vallee: Again, Iím interested mainly in their symbolic contents.
Let me explain what I mean. We live in a society that is
oriented toward technology, so when we see something unusual in
the sky we think of it in physical terms. How is it
manufactured? What makes it tick? What is its propulsion system?
We tend to assume that the physical phenomenon is its most
important aspect and that everything else is just a side effect
and much less important.
But perhaps weíre facing something which is basically a social
technology. Perhaps the most important effects from the UFO
technology are the social ones and not the physical ones. In
other words the physical reality may serve only as a kind of
triggering device to provide images for the witness to report.
These perceptions are manipulated to create certain kinds of
If thatís true, then the abduction cases are quite revealing. I
am not concerned with how many switches there were on the
control panel or whether the percipient felt hot or cold when he
was inside the flying saucer. Those questions may be totally
irrelevant because maybe that person never actually went inside
But the report is extremely important for its symbolic content.
It can help us understand what kinds of images are coming
through. One might illustrate the difference in this way:
An engineer observing a computer would want to look at the back
and open up the boxes. He would want to take a probe and examine
the different parts of the computer. But there is another way of
looking at it; the way of the programmer, who wants to sit in
front of the computer and analyze what it does, not how it does
it. Thatís my approach. I want to ask it questions and see what
answers I get. I want to interact with it as an information
In the case of the abductions I think weíre dealing with the
information aspect. I came to that conclusion because abduction
cases, in close encounter cases in general, what the witness is
saying is absurd.
Clark: What do you mean?
Vallee: I donít mean simply to imply that the account is silly.
I mean it has absurdity as a semantic construction. If youíre
trying to express something which is beyond the comprehension of
a subject, you have to do it through statements that appear
contradictory or seem absurd. For example, in Zen Buddhism the
seeker must deal with such concepts as "the sound of one hand
clapping" - an apparently preposterous notion which is designed
to break down ordinary ways of thinking. The occurrences of
similar "absurd" messages in UFO cases brought me to the idea
that maybe weíre dealing with a sort of control system that is
subtly manipulating human consciousness.
Clark: But how do you prove that one is operating in a UFO
Vallee: Iíve always been unhappy with the argument between those
who believe UFOs are nonsense and those who believe they are
extraterrestrial visitors. I donít think I belong in either
camp. Iíve tried to place myself between those two extremes
because thereís no proof that either proposition is correct.
Iíve come up with the control system concept because it is an
idea which can be tested. In that sense itís much closer to a
scientific hypotheses than the others. It may turn out that
there is a control system which is operated by
extraterrestrials. But thatís only one possibility.
There are different kinds of control systems - open ones and
closed ones - and there are tests you can apply to them to find
out what kind of control system youíre inside. That leads to a
number of experiments you can do with the UFO phenomenon,
whereas the other interpretations donít lead you to anything. If
youíre convinced that UFOs are extraterrestrial, then about the
only thing you can do is to climb to a hilltop with a flashlight
and send a message in Morse code. People have tried that, I
know, but it doesnít seem to work very well!
The control system concept can be tested by a small group of
people - you donít need a large organization or a lot of
equipment - and you can start thinking about active intervention
in the phenomenon.
Clark: How could I prove to my satisfaction that there is a
control system in operations?
Vallee: If you think youíre inside a control system, the first
thing you have to look for is what is being controlled and try
to change it to see what happens. My friend Bill Powers proposes
the following analogy:
Suppose youíre walking through the desert and you see a stone
that looks as though it was painted white. A thousand yards
later you see another stone of similar appearance. You stop and
consider the matter. Either you can forget it or - if youíre
like me - you can pick up the stone and move it a few feet. If
suddenly a bearded character steps out from behind a rock and
demands to know why you moved his marker, then you know youíve
found a control system.
My point is that you canít be sure until you do something. Then
you realize that what you were seeing, the thing that looked
absurd and incongruous, was really a marker for a boundary that
was invisible to everybody else until you discovered it because
you looked for a pattern. I think thatís exactly what we have to
do with UFOs. We have to do something that will cause them to
react. And I donít mean building landing strips in the desert
and waiting out there to welcome the space brothers.
Clark: But what do you mean?
Vallee: I hesitate to be too specific. Iím speaking, as Iím sure
you understand, of the attempted manipulation of UFO
manifestations. Itís a pretty tall order. Weíre assuming that
there is a feedback mechanism involved in the operations of the
control system; if you change the information thatís carried
back to that system, you might be able to infiltrate it through
its own feedback.
Clark: How does one go about investigating UFOs, taking into
consideration the possible existence of a control system?
Vallee: You should work outside any organized UFO group. Also
you must be very careful about the types of instruments you use
for your analysis. For example, I have become increasingly
skeptical of the use of computers in UFO research. Weíre losing
a great many data because of a certain situation that is
developing: The field researcher will spend a lot of time and
money investigating a case. Typically he will write it up in an
excellent 10-to-20-page report; then heíll send it to his
superiors in the organization, assuming that they are going to
put it on the computer and that in this way itís going to add to
some great body of knowledge.
But it doesnít. Investigators should understand that their
reports go absolutely nowhere. They end up in a drawer
somewhere, they are never published, and theyíre quickly
forgotten. All thatís left in the computer is a bunch of codes
and letters and numbers on magnetic tape somewhere and thatís
the end of that.
For another thing you donít want to go around chasing every UFO
thatís reported. If a sighting gets a lot of publicity, you
should stay the hell away from it. Instead you should go after
cases that you select yourself, ones that have received very
little publicity and youíve heard about through personal
channels. There are plenty of those and they are surprisingly
rich in content. You should take your time investigating them.
Get involved with the people as human beings. And then you have
to become part of the scene, getting as close as you can to
whatís happening especially if it continues to happen.
Clark: Are you suggesting that the investigator should attempt
to experience the phenomenon himself?
Vallee: Yes, I think thatís sound scientific practice.
Clark: But isnít that rather dangerous - in the sense that
thereís a real risk the investigator, even if he is emotionally
stable and intellectually sophisticated, might be overwhelmed by
the experiences involved?
Vallee: Yes, there are dangers. Witness what happened to
Jessup or to Jim McDonald. But I think that now weíre more aware
of what the dangers are. Once you realize the phenomenon may be
deliberately misleading, then you can use certain safeguards.
Iím not saying that safeguards are always going to work. There
is an element of danger you really canít avoid. Thereís no way
to do that kind of study just by reading books.
Itís a little bit like the study of volcanoes. You can learn a
lot about them by watching them from a distance but you
certainly learn a lot more when you can be right there - even if
itís somewhat risky.