Reality Checking—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, February 2018
The Edge of Reality: A progress report on Unidentified Flying Objects
by: Brent Raynes
In their collaborative effort The Edge of Reality: A progress report on Unidentified Flying Objects (1975), Dr. J. Allen Hynek and Dr. Jacques Vallee, two of the most noteworthy, high-profile and respected scientists in the UFO field, sat down together and, at times, with a few other notable individuals, like a certain Dr. Arthur Hastings, and engaged in a good deal of open, free-associational type of discussion about the UFO phenomenon. The book contains their word-for-word interactive dialogues and observations, and it includes their discussions and their thoughts on some of the high-strangeness aspects that John Keel had taken much criticism for, going back to the late 1960s, touching upon things like poltergiests, out-of-body experiences, apparitions, clairvoyance, elementals, fairies, Uri Geller, Hopi and Sioux Indian stories about sky people, the writings of Carlos Castaneda, occultist Aleister Crowley's little men encounter in the Swiss Alps, men-in-black cases, healings...although John Keel got mentioned only once.
Nonetheless, I remember when it was published how I was impressed that Hynek and Vallee approached such subject areas at all in these published conversations, which certainly were at odds with the ever popular “nuts and bolts” ET believers of the ufological mainstream. They weren't on the exact same page as Keel, but they were definitely pondering and questioning many of the very same aspects. Keel claimed to be frustrated with both of them, stating how he was initially criticized by them for his views and the areas that he covered in his research and investigations, and then, more and more, he noticed that they too were starting to touch upon and address some of the same things. Keel even joked about how he was Vallee's “ghost writer” because Vallee began saying and writing very similar ideas as Keel had.
However, in fairness to Vallee, his landmark Passport to Magonia (1969) came out the year before Keel's Operations Trojan Horse (1970), and it contained a great deal of revolutionary ideas and data, comparing the modern UFO landings and occupant encounters with centuries old angelic, demonological, and elemental/fairy accounts. Of course, Vallee was well aware of Keel's work, they even corresponded, and while I can imagine there was some influence, Vallee was certainly his own person and naturally didn't need Keel to be his ghost writer. Vallee was ahead of so many others in the UFO field and has made numerous and significant contributions of his own.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Hynek at his home in Evanston, Illinois, on September 30, 1972. I had recently purchased, read, and brought along a hard-cover edition of his then newly released book, The UFO Experience. I acquired his autograph, of course, and we talked about the Condon Report, recent UFO activity, even the paranormal, and I discovered then that he found Keel's writings and ideas interesting (which I thought was saying a lot). I steered clear of mentioning swamp gas.
Keel's ideas on the phenomenon were rather distasteful for many, with his frequent references to UFO contact events stating that they shared aspects in common with ancient demonological and psychic events and manifestations and, quite frankly, such implications are understandably quite disturbing and can be quite frightening to many. The religious implications certainly are, though Keel described himself a life-long athiest, and so felt removed from the belief that influences so many others, though he was not removed from the implications of being brainwashed and misguided by such trickster beings in the absence of having someone on our side. One person who had had the opportunity to meet Keel and read his books told me that while she found them quite intriguing and potentially relevant, it was a wonder that his books had become as popular as they had because of the disturbing message they conveyed. One time, during a phone conversation with Keel, in which we had been discussing Virgin Mary type miracles and apparitions, which I've just written about in the two previous columns before this one, I asked him outright if he had ever stumbled upon any evidence or indication of any kind that there was a benevolent, positive force behind any of these occurrences. “I know in a lot of what you've written you keep referring to the demonic elements – the deceptive and manipulative elements of the phenomenon,” I said.
“Vallee has also tried to write about that,” Keel replied. “He doesn't know enough about the subject.” Then Keel answered my question directly. “No,” he began. “In all of these years, I've never seen a positive side to it.” He explained to me how back around the late 1960s, early 1970s he tried to make his position on this clear. “I sent out a form letter back in those days saying that I had concluded that it was all sort of against the human race, that whoever – whatever is doing all of this doesn't have our interests at heart. I think Vallee came to the same conclusion. Even with the angel visitations and all, they always turn sour so it's a little scary.”
For the man who had become known for declaring “belief is the enemy,” his overall assessment of the UFO enigma obviously often had him at odds with many others in the field. Keel had become immersed in knowledge from many different disciplines and had acquired through the years a perception of the world that the majority, like he said of Vallee, did not know enough about – nor did they necessarily want to. Keel had been dismissed and shunned by many in ufology, and, of course, by others in other fields like parapsychology, religion, and cryptozoology – because where he saw everything as interrelated many did not. He was a talented, gifted writer who struggled to deliver a largely unpopular, unwanted message, over and over again. I have been told that if one asked Keel how he was doing, he often replied, “Suffering and struggling,” one of his big struggles being a writer trying to make a living at his beloved craft, and I was told that it was like a cloud was hovering over him much of the time. “From under that cloud everything must have looked pretty bleak,” I was informed, by someone who had known him well. A few years before his passing, Keel scribbled in a note to me, “Religions are merely a method to reach down to us and keep us confused. We are skidding to the end and we'll never know the ultimate truth.”
Whether you agreed with Keel, his atheistic perspective or his ultraterrestrial theory and his version of quantum physics, his writings, research and investigations were highly thought-provoking and influenced many engaged in various anomalous areas of study, that Keel continually strived to point out were interrelated.
Taking a moment to re-read The Edge of Reality, after sitting on the shelf now for a few years accumulating dust, I decided to brush the dust off and refresh myself on what was written down. In one instance, in a chapter appropriately entitled “Brainstorming,” Hynek made a distinction between psychic cases of “ghosts” and apparitions and people who have seen UFOs. He pointed out that with apparition cases it was often where one person saw an apparition while another person present didn't. “In the great, great, great majority of UFO cases, if one person sees it, they all see it,” Hynek stated. “It attests to a solid reality. In a room of five people, if three people said, 'We saw it,' and two people said, 'We looked and couldn't see it,' that would be damning. But that doesn't happen.”
The problem is, Hynek's “expert” opinion doesn't entirely agree with the evidence. A lot of the reports are cherry picked by the ufologists so that they conform to certain desired patterns and expectations that the “ufologists” feel reflect the best evidence. In 1992, John Keel described in a Fortean lecture about a case back in the 1960s that he and Ivan Sanderson had worked on together. “This was in an area of New Jersey where if one family saw this then hundreds of other people should have seen this,” Keel stated. “Ivan put articles in the newspapers there in New Jersey asking if anybody else had seen anything unusual on that day.” What they had was a family whose attention had been drawn by their barking dog to a huge “flying saucer” with windows, located between two mountains at an altitude of approximately 2,000 feet, which from the detailed descriptions they obtained had to have been about a mile in diameter! Keel added that the husband had been the president of a fairly large company in that state. “A pretty reliable person,” he said. “They were not about to make up flying saucer stories to entertain Ivan Sanderson and John Keel.”
Keel said that he and Ivan were quite puzzled. “Why didn't 3,000 other people see the same thing?” he said. “It had to be some kind of hallucination and only this one family saw it. The family down the road didn't see anything. The family in the next town didn't see anything, and certainly if something a mile in diameter flew over New Jersey at an altitude of a couple of thousand feet a lot of people would have seen it.”
“So this is one of the many, many cases that convinced me that there's a hallucinatory process involved in this. No matter how reliable the witness is, what they see can be questioned. The same is true in many of our Bigfoot cases – strange monster cases. The people see some image that is planted in their mind and the creature itself probably doesn't exist at all. At least, not as the creature that is seen.”
So before I pursue this any further, in this talk Keel clarified what he thought UFOs really were, which readers already familiar with Keel already know. “They seem to be masses of energy that have an intelligence of their own, and a lot of witnesses also remark on that,” he declared. “They say, 'You know, I think that thing was alive.' I've heard that phrase over and over again from witnesses. I don't think they're vehicles. I think sometimes people see what appear to be vehicles but they're really hallucinatory.”
Journalist Bob Teets investigated more than 150 eyewitness accounts for his book West Virginia UFOs: Close Encounters In The Mountain State (1995). One of my favorite oddball UFO cases was recounted to Bob in an interview with one Gregg Knight, a deputy with the Harrison County Police Department. Gregg had described an old man named Brian (pseudonym) who he stated was quite a “mentally disturbed individual” who had “quit work because of events in his life and in his daughter’s life in Louisiana because of contact with aliens.”
Gregg’s story is that one clear afternoon back in 1990, he and Brian were just standing outside at a trailer park in Belmont, West Virginia, engaged in conversation. Brian was known to be very knowledgeable about Biblical matters and, in their conversation, Gregg said words to the effect, “If I ask my Dad a question, he answers. If I ask God the Father something, he won’t answer, sometimes for years. Now why is that?”
Gregg recalled that Brian responded, “It depends on what you ask.” Gregg came back with, “Like UFOs, what could they be? I want to see an alien craft not of this world.” Brian then simply said, “Look there,” and Gregg looked to the west, and what he saw, he admits, “took my breath away.”
Bob’s account of this story continues as follows:
It was a massive craft, so huge it “blocked out the sun, and yet it didn’t cast a shadow.” Gregg estimates it was more than 2,000 feet in length, with a finish like that of “a Chrysler 426 hemi engine, that’s it exactly.” Its features resembled “a battleship turned upside down.”
“I yelled for my wife as loud as I could, or at least I thought I did,” he recalls, “but no one came out.” After it was gone, Gregg looked at Brian. “Did you see that!” he asked, incredulously. “Sure,” Brian answered. “That ain’t nothing, that’s just a mother ship. You ought to see a colony ship. And then wait ‘til you talk to ‘em.”
Gregg says Brian’s son, who was 20 miles away in Parkersburg, saw it too. From his perspective, it appeared to be about the size of a baseball on the horizon.” Bob Teets adds that Gregg afterwards became an active member of the Mutual UFO Network, as a direct result of his dramatic encounter that strange afternoon in 1990.
This isn’t the only UFO case where a small group of people presumably observed something quite spectacular and massive in size that hundreds of others should have been quite startled by – something that should have resulted in a media sensation. Despite Gregg yelling to his wife at the top of his lungs, no one else ventured outside to observe the huge object with them. Indeed, often witnesses to UFO close encounters seem to become somehow isolated from others. The neighborhood, the streets, the highway suddenly became eerily quiet and devoid of normal human activity or automobile traffic. British ufologist Jenny Randles coined the term “The Oz Effect” for such situations. Have such witnesses become unknowingly and temporarily pulled into a parallel world that outwardly resembles our own on the surface? Or is this an experience similar to religious visionary phenomena, induced perhaps by some sort of intelligence that somehow floods our consciousness with powerful imagery through altered states.
Hallucinatory, visionary, or whatever label you wanna slap on it, we encounter quite a few wrinkles in our logic and assumptions when it comes to UFOs. As Keel pointed out a good number of times, a government cover-up of the UFO situation isn't needed; we're quite capable of suppressing information all on our own, and often not at all conscious we're doing it. Vallee remarked on when he and Hynek first met in late 1963 and Vallee showed Hynek all of the information and statistics on UFO cases from France that involved landings and occupants, while here in the United States we had largely not pursued such evidence, it was quite an awakening for Hynek. Hynek admitted that he had read Aime Michel's studies of the massive French UFO wave of 1954 and such, but that it was like he was reading “books about ghosts...not having the background, I have to say, maybe this happened and maybe it didn't.” NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena) was one of the leading civilian UFO organizations in the United States, founded in 1956, with it's headquarters in Washington, D.C. The 1950s stories of “contactees” like George Adamski and Howard Menger were denounced by NICAP as hoaxsters and fanatics. “In an effort to downplay the apparently ludricrous claims of the contactees, NICAP made arbitrary rules as to what kind of UFO cases it would 'allow,'” early ufologist James Moseley wrote. “At first a saucer could come close to the ground, as long as it didn't land; then the unwritten rules were eased so that it could land as long as no one got out; and finally, under continuing pressure from us and from the Phenomeon itself, NICAP was forced to accept the 'little men' stories, though they still rejected the contactees.” Of the neglected evidence of landings and “occupants”, Vallee remarked, “It was there, it was there in NICAP's files, but NICAP was too afraid of it to publish it, and there's a lot in those files that hasn't come out yet that is of that nature.” It was a “great puzzlement” to Vallee as to “why this sort of thing wasn't known in the United States.” There was a great division with the Air Force on one side of the fence and “Adamski and the cultists” on the other. “And there was nothing in between,” he said.
Hynek, knowing what he later came to know, noted: “We had some landing cases, but time and again, what today I would regard as a good physical trace case they [Air Force] would have marked 'hoax'; it couldn't be real, it just had to be a hoax. If somebody said they had three triangular markings, then the kids must have put those in there to make a good story out of it, that was just standard technique! And if it weren't a landing this was simply automatically labeled – I saw it with my own eyes – 'psychological.'”
In fairness to APRO (Aerial Phenomena Research Organization), which started up under Jim and Coral Lorenzen in 1952, “occupant” reports, often “little men” accounts, were acceptable so long as they didn't get too weird and too much like a “contactee” tale with “Space Brothers” and a trip to Venus or Mars. Repeaters (those who have not had just a once-in-a-lifetime UFO sighting but several to many) were like red flags to presumably responsible UFO researchers early on. A good number of people who did claim repeated sightings in the early days were often found to have made misidentifications of Venus, conventional aircraft, etc. So for a number of years, a rule of thumb with many “ufologists” was beware of the repeater. It could be the kiss of death, grounds for dismissal, for many reporting more than one sighting back in the early days. But, of course, as more and more (thousands more) credible appearing UFO contact experiencers came forward with repeated “abductions”, “contacts,” and/or “close encounters,” adults with stories often going back to childhood, the majority of “ufologists” came to a place of more understanding and readiness to take an objective look at any “repeater” allegations that just might represent some genuine anomalies.
Increasingly ufologists seem to be noticing more and more reports of miniature UFOs, so to speak, objects some have speculated might be like our drones. However, some reports even describe tiny occupants, and even more strange, some describe how they can change size, including humans. Back in the 1960s, I talked with a man and his elderly mother in Maine about strange pulsating balls of light, generally the size of a “ten quart water pail,” that they had observed on several occasions back in the 1930s. On one occasion, they observed from a distance one of these odd balls of light near the ground where a farmer was working crops with two horses and a two row cultivator. “He worked down from above it on the hillside two rows at a time until he entered the row where it was,” the man told me. “He nor the team, showing no signs of anything abnormal, ran over it. As the horses walked over it, it grew small until about the size of a baseball. When the cultivator teeth went over it it rolled with the dirt and regained its former size behind the machine.”
Sandy Nichols, an admitted “alien abductee” from Thompsons Station, Tennessee, periodically visits Florida's well-known UFO hotspot Gulf Breeze. One night back in 2000, while skywatching along the beach at Shoreline Park, with nineteen others, it was around 10 p.m. when one member of the group named Celina spotted a “white ball of light about dime size at arm's length making a curving, zig-zag pattern downward from the west.” She called it to everyone elses attention and soon all of them were watching it. It came down just over the water, not more than half a mile away, heading towards them on the shore. So initially Sandy believed that whatever it was it appeared to be at least several feet across. When it first appeared over the beach, about 20 feet in a westerly direction from Celina, it was suddenly ping pong ball sized. Then it passed straight down the line, about three feet in front of each person, about five feet from the ground, at which point everyone saw it a little larger, like tennis ball sized. But there was something even odder about what happened next.
Sandy recalled: “We could all see the light, at this point about tennis ball size, right before it passed in front of Celina, but no one could see the light as it passed directly in front of Celina, except for Celina. Then as it began to pass in front of the second person in line, Celina could not see it anymore, but now only the second person in line could see the light as it passed directly in front of them. In other words, the only person that could see the light as it passed in front of each one of us, was the person that the light was directly in front of at the time...even though we were all standing just mere inches and no more than foot away from each other along the entire length of our line. The only exception to this pattern was when it passed by me and in front of Lisa. Lisa continued to see the light as it passed her, then it made a sharp, right-hand turn over the three steps that led from the sand to the pier, and then down the length of the pier and out over the Sound a couple of hundred feet where it suddenly flared up a bit and simply vanished.”
I have come across other reports where from certain angles something seemingly physical and real could be observed, only feet away, that someone else nearby couldn't see from their nearby perspective, in a different position, and this includes beings!
But does it necessarily have to be seeing something from a different angle that depends on what is seen? The late Swiss psychologist Dr. Carl G. Jung struggled to understand such anomalies. He wrote: “...I was once at a spiritualistic séance where four of the five people present saw a object like a moon floating above the abdomen of the medium. They showed me, the fifth person present, exactly where it was, and it was absolutely incomprehensible to them that I could see nothing of the sort.”
Jung knew of a few other cases like this and could not determine for certain what the explanation for such unusual occurrences was. This is described in his book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky (1958).
“A great number of UFO sightings are entirely subjective,” Keel wrote in a privately circulated newsletter (Anomaly No. 3, December 1969). “RAF Air Marshall Sir Victor Goddard [involved in the UK's Royal Air Force's UFO investigations back in the early 1950s] has suggested that such sightings are made by persons with latent or active psychic abilities, but that when non-psychics stand within the 'aura' of the psychic percipients they are also able to see objects which would normally be invisible to them.” Keel went on to speculate that when a person or persons with the appropriate psychic qualifications was at a site of elevated UFO activity “when specific electromagnetic conditions” were just right, then they might perceive things beyond the visible EM spectrum, or even possibly, he furthered speculated, “intercept a 'signal' which plants an image in his or her mind.”
All of this is very confusing and very difficult to wrap our minds around. We have far more theory, conjecture and speculation than hard facts. Responsible researchers and investigators in today's ufology possess more accumulated knowledge and insight into the complex global, historical, physical, psychological and even parapsychological dimensions and implications of this most perplexing and controversial enigma than years previous. However, no one needs to get too cocky and assume it's a slam dunk from here on out. We still have far, far more questions than answers, but I am optimistic and have to believe that we're making some inroads towards a solution, slowly but surely.