Thursday, January 10, 2013
Idle UFO Musings: J.Allen Hynek, Part Two.
In the run-up years to the Colorado Project and Hynek's distancing from Project Blue Book, from across the Great Waters came Jacques Vallee. Vallee was a very bright young Frenchman with all sorts of training in astronomy and mathematics, and an intense desire to research the UFO Mystery. This had been inoculated into him by personal experiences with members of the French astronomy community and in talks with Aime Michel [which would probably have inspired about anybody]. He came to Northwestern University to study with Hynek, now head of the astronomy department there. This relationship became more Colleague-to-colleague than Student-to teacher rather quickly from what I've been able to determine.
Jacques used Hynek's contacts to create a database for statistical analysis [very crudely at first, but interesting nevertheless] which with his own contacts abroad allowed him to write the twin classics, Anatomy of a Phenomenon and Challenge to Science. These books put Vallee on the UFO map, and in at least this way he owes Hynek a great deal. With Hynek's knowledge and prestige coupling with Vallee's books and statistical ideas, they made a formidable pair as the Colorado Project was formed. Colorado refused to take them on as staff, but they did invite them in to consult. Vallee's approach hit David Saunders right in the sweet-spot, and Saunders decided to attempt to prove the reality not only of UFOs but that they were intelligently driven extraterrestrial technology using statistical data and Vallee's French mentor, Aime Michel's , concept of UFO waves in orthogonal [artificially straight and patterned] lines of occurrence. In doing so, Saunders abandoned larger duties on the Project and the future of UFOlogy suffered due to that abandonment. [Plus the Orthoteny theory failed anyway, so it was a complete bust]. One can't blame Jacques or Allen for this, but they played a role.
Another oddity of this period was Allen Hynek's evolution towards parapsychology. Rather than blaming Jacques for this, it at least as possible that the influence went the other way. Hynek was getting himself into a real mental bind. He KNEW that UFO experiences were real and that they were not just odd lights. But their manifestations had become stranger and stranger across the 1960s. A REAL robust phenomenon with real credible witnesses and real mind-boggling strangeness. Since Allen's astronomer's hang-up about ETs not being able to cross interstellar space still dominated his prejudices, he didn't have many options. Hynek was also in no way conventionally religious, so angels and devils were out as well. He was running out of theoretical options. Allen began turning to the paranormal. He didn't know HOW that realm might answer his questions, but it seemed that it might just be "big" enough to handle them. As I say, I believe that this influenced Jacques as well, as pretty soon Vallee was abandoning his view that science could handle this problem, left the US and went back to France to contemplate other answers, possibly occult ones.
Colorado came to its infamous close, and Project Blue Book to its unceremonial one. Hynek went on with what had by now become an obsession. Back in Evanston, and thankfully for the future of UFO research, carrying loads of "stolen" Blue Book files, he contemplated how to go on. He began thinking about a civilian organization, maybe even without a physical focus: the "invisible college". This group would stay in touch with each other and the phenomenon, some members maintaining anonymity to the outside world so as not to damage their working relations, and plan ways to push research forward. He began to coerce several old buddies into coming in with him on this, even enlisting former Robertson Panel member Thornton Page as an initial name on the brainpower list. But going it alone was going to be tough.
Coincidentally, an old NICAP hand in Chicago, Sherm Larson, was trying to rescue the invaluable NICAP files literally from the trash dumpster. With great energy he managed to almost completely pull this off, as perhaps two-thirds of the files safely transited to Chicago. [Most of the rest blundered about in DC, ending up with Dick Hall --- the story of their ultimate disposition is a tragedy which will not be gone into here]. The Chicago story is pleasanter. Larson convinced Hynek to join him in a new organization led by Hynek, and founded upon the combined resources of the NICAP and Hynek's own personal files. Here then was another formidable source of information. And it was called The Center for UFO Studies.
Now with persons already around Larson and new additions by Hynek or others volunteering themselves, Hynek was no longer alone to try to get things done entirely on his own. Hynek and Larson shot high: a sort-of membership concept, a pretty good newsletter, ultimately a darned good "magazine" [The International UFO Reporter], a couple of academic-style conferences, and ultimately a try at an academic journal. In the meantime he also wrote his book trying to define the field as an academic area of research. None of this was easy, but all of it had some success. And CUFOS got a reputation as the place to come to see the master [Hynek] and get the best information. NICAP had collapsed; APRO was doing so, MUFON was still in "club" status, but CUFOS had Hynek and the NICAP files and the "invisible college". Hynek went from maligned swampgasser to pop cult hero in a few years.
This sounds rosy, but it was very much like every UFO organizational experience in several ways. It still had no secure base of funding and inordinate amounts of time had to be wasted trying to live day-to-day. Also, the supporting troops were nice and helpful in some ways, but in the end it was Hynek himself that everyone wanted to see. Allen, to the outside world, rightly or wrongly, WAS UFOlogy by the mid-1970s. And Allen had not suddenly become a bean-counting administrator. Allen still loved the adventure of the Hunt. He didn't want to just sit in Evanston or Chicago while others had all the fun; he wanted to be out there himself [if the case was right]. Above, there he is with the young Ted Phillips investigating a trace case literally "in the field".
Some of that adventuring he probably should have passed up no matter how tempting. Particularly things like going to Hessdalen, Norway in winter to try to catch the Hessdalen lights with Erling Strand couldn't possibly done his old body's health any good.
But some of these trips were important. On some of them he inspired researchers in foreign countries to organize more seriously and cooperatively. Hynek was attempting to build a UFOlogy community which would separate itself finally from the Uforiacs. Astronomy had separated from astrology and until it pulled that off it had no chance of getting any respect. But that took astronomy many centuries of eroding unhelpful cultural elements. Victories in this quest were small and of course insufficient. Still, three cheers for Allen.
Other sorts of important trips were like his surprising foray to Australia and on to Boianai, New Guinea to interview the local residents who had seen the case usually known as The Father Gill case. As great a witness as Father Gill was [and he was one of the best ever], this case would not have become the number one case of all UFOlogy [my ranking, not, I realize, yours] without a true effort to interview the other 30+ witnesses. Allen didn't get to them all, of course, but he saw plenty. The interviews [on invaluable cassettes in the CUFOS collection] are a real pleasure and even a Hoot on occasion. Language was an issue, but the locals were very intelligent and seemed to "get" Hynek just fine. Hynek however took forever to "get" them. All this was "The great Cultural Divide" and Allen was no anthropologist. Sometimes when he asked a primary witness if she had actually seen the object, she might say "no", totally blowing Allen's mind. What he didn't realize is that she was telling him that she didn't see any object from where they were standing at the time. Upon getting to the exact scene, then yes, the object was right up there.
There were other goofs and howlers like this. Allen tried to get a couple of men to do his "if you use your finger to point to the spot of the UFO, how did it move across the sky?" ... he was trying to count the seconds that a westerner would make his finger move to gauge the subjective speed. Hah! Good luck with That!. The locals just whisked their hands across the sky to show the direction of motion and never the pace. Hynek never could get his thought through to them, and gave up on that one. Despite these [actually funny] "difficulties", Hynek's not-so-brilliant interviews established the vital foundational fact: it wasn't just Bill Gill who saw something astonishing [or made it up], it was many persons, most of whom were about as unpolluted with western hang-ups as you could find on this planet. Hynek helped place the Credibility Index for this case through the roof. Also, the descriptions of the craft and the actions matched up in the end. HIGH STRANGENESS. = UFO.
Allen accomplished quite a lot for one guy, but he was in analogy the equivalent of the young man who is interested in so much that he can't focus. After he wrote The Hynek UFO Report, he wrote no more books [the sit-down semi-BS session volume with Jacques doesn't count, and neither does his tag-along presence on the Hudson Valley Boomerangs book]. We could have used some more. He also didn't really write much of significance at all. Allen was becoming an old man, who was looking for more spontaneous and less grinding "projects". Still, it is very hard to complain about how much he DID do. And probably too base of us to complain about his mistakes.
As Allen became infirm, he gradually left the "business" of CUFOS in others' hands, whether he was relaxed about that or not. When he fully retired to Arizona, he left behind a different CUFOS than the fully academic and field research organization that it never was and only occasionally resembled. But it was a CUFOS which carried much of his finer ideals and his standards of excellence. I'll say something about that in the next post.
I have a couple of busy practical days ahead here in Wheeling. Next post might be a few days from now. See you then, and blessings.
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- A Different Perspective
- American Philosophical Library
- Caltech Archives
- Dr. J. Allen Hynek's Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS)
- Dr. Janet Quinn
- Frontiers Of Science
- Global Consciousness Project
- National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena (NICAP)
- Robert G. Jahn, Ph.D.
- Smithsonian (SIRIS)