Monday, March 28, 2022

Jacques Vallee's " Invisible College" Teaches "Metalogic."

This is the review I wrote of  The Invisible College by Jacques Vallee, appearing in The Zetetic (which later became The Skeptical Inquirer), Spring/Summer, 1977. The first part of my review, “The Edge of Reality” by Hynek and Vallee, is found here, I recently added to it Hynek's reply to me, and mine to him (which in the original publication was at the end, after both reviews.). If you read that posting before this one was published, I suggest you go back to read Hynek's reply.

The Invisible College: What a Group of Scientists Has Discovered About UFO Influences on the Human Race. By Jacques Vallee. E. P. Dutton, New York, 1975. 223 pp. $8.95.

Reviewed by Robert Sheaffer

The Invisible College is best read sitting down, with seat belts firmly in place. If Jacques Vallee, in collaboration with J. Allen Hynek, can produce The Edge of Reality, then this book of undiluted Vallee can only be titled “Beyond the Brink.”

Be prepared to meet Ummo, the inhabitants of the solar system of Wolf 424 (a red-dwarf star, believed to be incapable of supporting habitable planets), who cruise around in their Oawolea Ouewa (lenticular spacecrafts). You will also meet 7171, a UFO entity who is in frequent telepathic communication with a terrestrial medium, and Oeeu, the “Universal Association of Planets,” a sort of cosmic United Nations. Vallee takes these stories seriously. Most UFO investigators take Vallee seriously. That fact alone suffices to keep the present writer from taking UFOs seriously.

Monsieur Vallee, computer scientist, astrophysicist, and member or the scientific board of Hynek's Center for UFO Studies, has a unique way of looking at the universe. It's called “metalogic.” For those or us not familiar with that term, he explains that it means quite the same thing as “absurd.” So should we protest that Vallee's theories are “absurd,” he will correct our usage: they are merely “metalogical.” That's the next level above common sense, just beyond the “edge of reality.” UFO skeptics are wrong, Vallee would say, their theories objectively false. The UFO evidence allegedly proves that, in a manner that even Aristotle would find quite satisfactory, Quod erot demonstrandum. But Vallee's exquisite theories are not to be evaluated on such a vulgar level. They are metalogical—not precisely true, but certainly not false either, not in the same sense that UFO skeptics are simply wrong. UFOs, Vallee informs us, are “truer than true” (emphasis in original). Should anyone reading this actually understand what it means, it is urgent that you contact Vallee at once. There will then be two of you.

The metalogic truly represents the greatest advance in scientific philosophy since the invention of the Dialectic, which enables devout Marxists to “prove” that the Proletariat can only be liberated by being locked up in Gulag camps. One cannot get by with ordinary logic if one wishes to believe all the incredible things that Vallee does, so he rejects logic itself instead of rejecting Ummo, Oeeu, and the like. If the UFO evidence doesn't make sense, so much the worse for sense. Watching Vallee, who calls himself a scientist, so cavalierly jettison the objective, nonmystical world-view of science, one cannot help but wonder how far he might go were he to become an avowed mystic.

Spectra is the name given to the mysterious space entity which is alleged to beam down to Uri Geller the “paranormal” powers that enable him to do the things that stage magicians can do without them. Vallee has met Mr. Geller, and was most impressed by the apparent authenticity of his “paranormal” abilities. (I wonder if Vallee has ever met James Randi?) Geller's supposed revelations from the UFO-beings of Spectra of course fascinate Vallee, but he is not blind to the absurdities and contradictions in their messages; he recognizes that they are “telling obvious falsehoods and uttering sheer jargon most of the time.” Does this damage Geller's credibility in Vallee's eyes? hot at all: “I think highly of Geller's talents. We cannot brush aside [his] experiences ... with simple rejections. What we can and should do is to sort out the implications of the extremely confusing set of events (they claim] to have observed.” It appears that Geller's tales are simply too absurd for Vallee to reject. Hence they must be true, in some metalogical sort of way.

Vallee at Northwestern giving a talk
on computer science (about 1969)

A policeman in Nebraska was supposedly abducted by a UFO in 1967. The UFO occupants reportedly gave the patrolman “a lot of interesting but possibly misleading information. They wanted him to believe that they came from a nearby galaxy. They had bases in the United States. Their craft was operated by reverse electromagnetism.” Even Vallee finds it difficult to believe these things! Does he reach the obvious and straightforward conclusion that the witness is either hoaxing or else has hallucinated the incident? Certainly not. Vallee designates this aspect of absurdity “The Third Coverup.” It represents “the built-in silencing mechanism of the phenomenon itself.... The phenomenon negates itself. It issues statements and demonstrates principles where some of the information conveyed is true and some is false.” UFOs, he says, deliberately make themselves absurd to keep us from taking them too seriously. That line of reasoning can, of course, be utilized to justify absolutely any absurdity at all. One would hope that Vallee might look past the obvious immediate advantages to see the long-range problems that would arise if other scientists were to follow his lead in constructing hypotheses that can never be proven true or false.

The only thing wrong with Vallee's metareasoning is that, if adopted as a legitimate scientific paradigm, it would mean the end of experimental science. No one could ever prove or disprove anything. Science is a fully consistent body of knowledge; if metalogic is a valid methodology for analyzing UFOs, it must likewise be applicable to astronomy. Well, I say the earth is flat, and it rests on the back of a turtle. Don't say that's absurd—it is metalogical. Don't trot out evidence to show that I'm wrong, for contradiction is one of the ways in which the Great Turtle manifests the phenomenon. My flat-earth hypothesis is truer than true. Don't say that my theory is unscientific because it is impossible even in principle to prove it wrong, because Vallee's wild UFO speculations are likewise safe from the potential challenge of any critical experiment. In short, in The Invisible College we find nothing less than a complete and explicit rejection of the scientific method. Its rigorous standards of evidence are incompatible with the charming stories of miracles, little people, and mystical visions that Vallee wishes to weave into his UFO tapestry.

Vallee does indeed reach a conclusion about UFOs which presumably follows directly from his metaevidence. It is not immediately clear that conclusions of any kind can be drawn if one rejects “our laws of causality” (in Vallee's colorful phrase), but apparently even the Great Trailblazer was unable to make a clean enough break with his past to outgrow the childish habit of seeking conclusions from the evident in hand. His conclusion is that UFOs form a “control system” for human consciousness: “they are the means through which man's concepts are being rearranged.” How and why we are being “rearranged,” and by whom, he is unable to say; whether by Affa, Ummo, Ankar, Oeeu, or Spectra is left for the reader to decide.

What. by the way, is The Invisible College? It is a loose federation of scientists who are carrying out their own investigations into the UFO phenomenon, even though UFO research is not (“as yet,” as they say) a recognized scientific field. (Very little of the book deals with the College: miracles and metalogic predominate.) The present-day Invisible College takes its name from a seventeenth-century group of scientists that met informally, even clandestinely, at a time when the established colleges were dominated by the fossilized doctrines of antiquity. As experimental science gradually became respectable, its practitioners crawled out of hiding. Vallee-style UFOlogists like to think that they, too, are far ahead of their time, and that someday their ideas will likewise be vindicated by history.

But the original Invisible College was made up of scientists who were rebelling against the very sort of mysticism that Vallee is seeking to bring back. They were followers of Francis Bacon, the arch-experimenter, who advocated. that scientists “put nature on the rack and compel her to bear witness.” Bacon would have been acutely uncomfortable in the presence of a metalogic.

Bacon also left his followers a sober warning, which the latter-day invisible college might do well to heed: “In general let every student of nature take this as a rule—that whatever the mind seizes and dwells upon with peculiar satisfaction, is to be held in suspicion.” 

Methinks that the members of today's Invisible College might show just a trifle more suspicion in analyzing reports of bizarre UFO encounters.

Jacques Vallee comments:

I have but few comments, since the reviewer has misunderstood both the spirit and the letter of the book to the point of assuming that I believed there were such planets as Ummo and Spectra, when a great deal of my time is spent precisely in exposing the contradictions of contactee stories. The only inaccuracy I would like to correct for the record has to do with the Center for UFO Studies, with which Sheaffer believes I am still associated. In fact I resigned from the scientific board of CUFOS over a year ago and am not currently associated with any UFO groups. To relieve the dullness of this whole subject I would like to share with you and your readers the epitaph I have composed following the death of Professor Donald Menzel, to whom we owe many definitive explanation of the UFO phenomenon. I have written it as a limerick:

There once was a dead man with a final answer
To strange things in Heaven, but as he got closer, He did meet an angel,
Who said, “Dr. Menzel,
Why are you flying so, Sir?"