Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Wonders in the Sky" by Vallee & Aubeck

I am a major, major, major Jacques Vallee fan.

(In case you haven't noticed.)

When I saw that Vallee had at long lost authored a new book about UFOs, I was so excited I could hardly stand myself.

I might have had a small spontaneous seizure or something. I'm not sure.

(It's hard to tell these days, given my increasingly space-ranger-ish demeanor. Suffice it to say I was very excited.)

The new book, called Wonders in the Sky is a chronology of brief historical accounts of anomalous aerial phenomena taken from original sources.

Starting with a recorded event from 1460 B.C. in Lebanon and continuing up until just before the first airship took flight in the late 1800s, Wonders in the Sky provides persuasive evidence that UFOs and all the attendant weirdness that surrounds them were being reported long before Kenneth Arnold made his famous 'flying saucer' sighting in 1947.

These historical accounts were meticulously compiled by Aubeck and the crew of his Magonia Project over a period of about six years.

The Magonia Project is an informal collection of like-minded historians and computer scientists who started out as friends of Aubeck, and who all saw a need for a more analytic, less anecdotal approach to this controversial material.

Neither debunkers nor true believers, Aubeck, Vallee, and the members of the Magonia Project are now taking an almost unheard of approach to UFO research consisting of:

1) serious scholarship, and

2) computerized data analysis.

Let us now pause for moment, while a rendition of the Hallelujah chorus masks my joyous whoops and hollers and 'yahoo' woot woots!

Okay then. That felt good.

Moving right along...

As you read Wonders in the Sky, it quickly becomes obvious that Vallee's imprimatur was added to the byline to boost sales. Don't let that stop you from buying a copy or at least reading one. Aubeck's analytic, historical approach is a direct outgrowth of Vallee's earlier writings.

In fact, the forward by Penn State Professor David Hufford (author of the groundbreaking folkloric study on the Old Hag and sleep paralysis, The Terror that Comes in the Night) is worth the cost of admission in and of itself.

In the course of the first five pages, Hufford references the ontological implications of his own work, as well as the careful criticisms of renowned philosophers of science Charles Fort, Thomas Kuhn, and Paul Feyeraband.

Be still my heart!

If you've spent even half an hour wading through the lurid drek in the New Age section of most bookstores that passes itself off these days as UFO research, you know that this is heady and rare stuff indeed.

Vallee thinks UFO phenomena are important and worthy of serious study, and because he takes the phenomena seriously was also one of the first contemporary UFO writers to reject the ET hypothesis. Vallee has for years now been openly calling for serious academic study and careful data analysis for years.

Breaking through kneejerk ridicule is no easy task, but if anyone has come close to doing it, it's Jacques Vallee.

Vallee vigorously argues against forming premature theories and explanations--a position that quickly made him the target of emotional attacks leveled by much-published ufologists who frankly make their living selling exactly that.

(Are you listening Budd Hopkins, Mark Jacobs, and the rest of you? You know who you are.)

As early as the late 1980s, Vallee was constructing a persuasive case that UFO phenomena shouldn't really be interpreted without invoking higher standards of data collection and then carefully analyzing that data using established science.

All of Vallee's books anecdotally recount aerial phenomena in historical literature dating back the dawn of writing and in the oral history and mythology of native peoples and early man.

This position departs significantly from the 'ancient astronaut' theory espoused by authors like Zecharia Sitchin, Erich von Daniken, and others. While Vallee does believe that these phenomena have been around as long as man has been around, he argues that we have no clue what it's all about and that ancient astronaut theories are premature and probably misguided.

How about if we try to find out using actual science and tried and true research methods?

You wouldn't think such a sane proposal would upset or offend anybody.

You'd be dead wrong.

Vallee's detractors continue to misrepresent his ideas as a slippery form of debunking.  Critics charge that Vallee tries to equate real spaceships and aliens with fantasy, fairies, and folklore, and to thereby dismiss the importance of the phenomena.

I believe those charges have way more to do with critics protecting their own intellectual turf (such as it is) and loyal following than with what Vallee is actually saying. Wonders in the Sky contains some terse zingers directed at these folks, and I have to say, I especially enjoyed those small moments.

In recent years a new crop of researchers represented by postmodern writers like Nick Redfern and Mack Tonnies have tapped Vallee's writings and come closer to his perspective, seriously questioning the ET hypothesis and by so doing also lending support to his call for better research. This has caused quite the tempest in the ufological teapot.

Go back to that Hufford intro and read about Kuhn and you'll see it's all to be expected, really.

If careful historical data collection is the early first step in getting closer to a theory if not an explanation, then Wonders in the Sky is the first baby step of that early step. It's an easy read.

The blurbs drawn from historical texts and reprinted here form the first third of the three part collection. They are by turns fascinating, obscure, humorous, and sometimes completely baffling.

A middle section outlines some of the most popular myths and hoaxes still floating around the blogosphere and ufological world as fact.

The final section outlines the methodology used by the Magoniax project to collect the material.

I hope that, as promised, this is only the beginning of a serious study of these phenomena.

I look forward to future offerings. In fact, I can't wait.

5 comments:

  1. Critically important post about a fascinating phenomenon.

    Had to Tweet a link to it :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the nice review. Should you come across anything that might interest us, don't hesitate to find us at Magonia Exchange in Yahoo Groups.

    Best regards,

    Chris

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  3. Oh and by the way, Jacques Vallee was a lot more involved in the writing process than you imply in your review. The selection process was actually rather long and involved a lot of debate and idea swapping, so i'd say it was about 50:50 in the end.

    Regards from Madrid,

    Chris

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  4. Thank you Chris and Linda. :)

    Sorry if I gave an inaccurate impression of the book. I appreciate your correction!

    ReplyDelete