Reflections on two variants of Vallée’s Control System Hypothesis

My last post argues that the UFO phenomenon, including the Unidentified Flying Object itself, is given to us as a text. This position segues nicely into (at least) Jacques Vallée’s thinking in at least two respects. Since coming to know Jeffrey Kripal, Vallée has become interested in Kripal’s approach to the paranormal that grasps it as hermeneutical (hermeneutics, the discipline or art of interpretation), or so Kripal relates in his Authors of the Impossible (2010). Moreover, Vallée himself, beginning with The Invisible College (1975), has speculated that UFO events are not what they seem but are, rather, if not attempted communications exactly, staged dramas intended to influence human culture if not “consciousness”. I have reflected on the implications of this proposal here a number of times, most recently, here.

A prompt to pursue this matter further presented itself a while back. I came across the meme that serves as this post’s featured image when it was generously shared as a comment on the announcement of a recent Fireside Chat podcast. I’d read Vallée’s valuable and, in a sense, canonical paper mentioned in the meme a number of times, but had forgotten the addenda the meme cites. To venture a “doubling” of Vallée’s text (to paraphrase it): some Other (a terrestrial nonhuman intelligence, either another species (?) or the planet itself (Gaia), or the Jungian Collective Unconscious) by means of symbolically-charged interventions (variously ufological or more recognizably religious, e.g., visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary) is either “training us to a new kind of [unspecified] behaviour” or “projecting…the imagery which is necessary for our own long-term survival beyond the unprecedented crisis of the Twentieth century.”

Vallée’s Control System Hypothesis has recently come under what to me seems relatively cogent criticism. Nevertheless, any considerations as to the meaning or meaningfulness of the phenomenon is welcome here. That being said, Vallée’s Others who address us range from the speculative to the not-so-hard science fictional: Jung’s Collective Unconscious, Gaia, and Strieber’s visitors (or Tonnies’ Cryptoterrestrials?). Rather than probe these posited sources for the phenomenon’s communication or manipulation, thereby avoiding having to reflect on the hermeneutics let alone semiotics of their respective communications, I’d like to, all too quickly, consider Vallée’s variants from the perspective of their social effects.

Passport to Magonia (1969) presents a telling narrative. In Chapter Five, Vallée relates the story of Singing Eagle / Juan Diego, who in 1531 encountered what appeared to be a supernatural “young Mexican girl” who came to be known as Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is said to have performed both a miraculous healing and the no less miraculous creation of the holy relic of a tilma adorned with a representation of the Lady herself. Aside from “the magnificent symbolism” of the story Vallée hones in on is the fact that “[i]n the six years that followed the incident, over eight million Indians were baptized.” In Chapter Seven of The Invisible College Vallée presents the story of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, who, too, after (as Smith claims) a number of visionary experiences, he is given a supernatural artifact, a chest of gold plates upon which, written in a strange language, is the text of what will become The Book of Mormon. This newest testament, among much else, states, “the Indians are the remnant of an Israelite tribe…” The social effects of both these (in Vallée’s view) symbolic interventions by some Other are well-known—and utterly unremarked in either book. The vision and attendant stories around the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe served to colonize the indigenous population, supplanting its spirituality with Roman Catholicism. In a similar fashion, Smith’s revelation effaces the unique difference of the First Nations of Turtle Island, ideologically smoothing the way for the “settlement” of the Utah Basin by the Mormons under the racist Brigham Young, dispossessing an estimated population of 20,000 Indigenous inhabitants.With respect to these two stories and their effects, Vallée’s Control System seems on the side of settler colonialism…

What of Vallée’s second variant, that in the UFO, at least, the Collective Unconscious is “projecting…the imagery which is necessary for our own long-term survival beyond the unprecedented crisis of the Twentieth century”? The imagery and its effects are ambivalent in this regard at best. Jung himself posits that the circularity of the flying saucer is an archetypical mandala, an image of wholeness and unity, that psychologically compensated for the anxiety brought about by a world split into two, murderously-adversarial camps. However, however dramatic, such a visionary intervention is hardly an answer to the mortal problem it emotionally assuages. Indeed, it fits almost perfectly one definition of ideology: an imaginary solution to a real problem. But more disturbingly are the ideological implications of the UFO mythology as it by and large came to be developed since 1947. The flying saucers were taken to be extraterrestrial spaceships possessed of a technology vastly in advance of our own. As such, the flying saucer functions, again, ideologically, reifying—making seem natural and universal—the reigning character of the so-called First World. If the growing menace of climate change and the ecological crisis are anything to go by, the imagery of the UFO mythology seems at odds with our long-term survival, entrenching a kind of techno-optimism that serves not so much to suggest a way beyond the urgent environmental crises of the moment as to stabilize the present social order enriching Silicon Valley and capitalists such as Elon Musk.

Admittedly, the interpretation of those interventions Vallée’s work presents is far from so cut-and-dried. The matter demands difficult work on presenting the mythology in its wild variety, and reflecting long and hard on the semiotics and hermeneutics proper and sufficient to this mythology considered as a communication or intervention from or by a nonhuman other. That being said, anyone undertaking this task needs muster an ideologically-sensitive vigilance to the ways the myth works and more importantly for whom regardless of its ultimate source.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on two variants of Vallée’s Control System Hypothesis

  1. Bryan, your two text-oriented posts are very thoughtful and helpful. For those hope to reach the object beyond/without words, there is always the problem that the “object” has already been transformed (a la Kant) via human sensory/cognitive faculties) from its “raw” state into something apprehensible by a human being. The everyday experience that we trust to be delivering things as they really are to us involves a very complex process. Moreover, unless we are content with gesturing at something anomalous (usually fruitless since the phenomenon is usually long gone), we resort to words (as you note) to describe what we encountered. There are neuroscientists who claim that experience is a “controlled hallucination” (See Anil Seth,
    https://www.newstatesman.com/science-tech/2022/02/is-reality-a-hallucination-the-neuroscientist-anil-seth-thinks-so). Still, there is the matter of what stimulates/triggers our experience. Anomalous experiences are called that because they are often WAY different from the “controlled” hallucination to which we are accustomed. Why try to make the anomalous fit into the already-known. I do this sometimes when I have taken a wrong turn while driving–I notice that something is not quite right about the houses, which some semi-autonomous process in my brain/mind is frantically trying to turn those houses into the ones that SHOULD be there. Despite reservations such as those you have listed, we still seek to comprehend in some manner or other the anomalous phenomena that have been with humankind for millennia. Vallee’s way has something to recommend it, but clearly more work needs to be done. Just how to do that “work” is a daunting matter.

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    1. Michael, you can surely appreciate that I am as eager to move beyond Kant’s correlationism as in a sense he was himself and surely those who immediately follow. The Critical philosophy orients/possesses my thinking primarily because of my investment in Jena Romanticism, for which Kant’s thought was, if not exactly foundational, surely a major sun in its sky!

      That being said, in my understanding the object is phenomenal, a synthesis of the forms of intuition and at least a mess of empirical concepts. So, in my reading of Kant it is not true the object is always already transformed; it would be some imagined thing-in-itself which is transformed into an object. But I follow Dieter Henrich in understanding the thing-in-itself as being ontologically empty; the thing-in-itself merely names precisely the condition you remark, that the spontaneity of the subject must have something given to it–_that is all_.

      As a scholar of Heidegger, you can well imagine the retorts I have ready-to-hand for the likes of Seth et al.! As a much less seasoned reader of Heidegger, I still stick by the thesis that time is the horizon for any possible understanding of Being, and therefore prickle a little at any claims about “phenomena that have been with humankind for millennia”, which too blithely, I think, overlook the hermeneutical problematic entailed by Dasein’s historicity, nor does the work of Gadamer or Jauss allow an easy solution, but that’s all more grist for the (our) mill!

      I have proposed that the anomalous experience undergoes a process of attempted recuperation into intelligibility if not comprehension in a manner similar to the way the mind seeks for a concept for an novel object or aesthetic object (a reflective as opposed to determinative judgement). I link the argument in the post (“What is that?”). Funnily, it’s what Pierce termed “abduction”!

      Thanks for your civil(ized), welcome, and substantial intervention.

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