Friday, May 27, 2005

"THE VISIBLE COLLEGE" - Oh how I wish ....

The title of this fascinating book "The Visible College" represents the obvious objective of all marginalised and hidden "invisible colleges" in diverse pirsuits. There are many "invisible colleges" within the UFO field - the direct result of ufology's image as "forbidden science" or marginalised science. Many scientists around the world contribute anonymously to further the cause of scientific investigation of the UFO mystery. Many undertake such efforts openly, sometimes risking their reputations in the bargain. Ann Druffel's excellent account of Dr. Jame's E. McDonald's "fight for UFO science" - "FIRESTORM" - is both a powerful statement of McDonald's extraordinary efforts and a sobering lesson of the possible costs of perhaps pushing the envelop too far. All of us who are committed to advocating serious scientific attention to the UFO phenomenon hope that some day the field of UFO research will not carry the stigma of borderline fringe activity. "The UFO Enigma - A new review of the physical Evidence" edited by Peter Sturrock (1999) represents an excellent statement of the potential scientific worth of the UFO mystery.

At a UFO conference in Campbelltown, New South Wales, Australia, during February, 2003, I gave a lecture entitled "UFOs & Science - the Australian Experience" - a tribute to those who have contributed to the scientific investigation of UFOs in Australia. In that presentation I referred to Dr. Harry Messel (who advocated interest during the period 1953-54, but who now is very skeptical), Dr. Miran Lindtner (who carried out scientific investigations as part of the Sydney based UFO Investigation Centre, based in Sydney, until his untimely death in 1969), Harry Turner (nuclear physicist and intelligence analyst who fought a secret battle to bring science into official Australian UFO investigations), Dr. John Farrands (Chief Defence Scientist 1971-1977 who had an interest in the UFO subject), Dr. Don Herbison Evans (who developed a "UFO Indentification Kit"), Dr. Geoff Stevens (who applied thermoluminesence techniques to Australian UFO landing physical trace cases) and Dr. Michael Duggin (who worked with Harry Turner on the UFO problem and was a part of Allen Hynek's "invisible college"). Other scientists have contributed both publically and confidentially.

These scientists have carried out their UFO contributions in a number of different ways, some from the invisible college perspective and others from visible college perspective. The choice is often dictated by concerns about job tenure and preservation of reputation given the uncertain dynamics and results inherent in revealing significant levels of active interest. UFO researchers should provide appropriate environments for scientists willing to make either sorts of contributions in postive and worthwhile ways. Hopefully at some point a kind of critical mass will be reached where there will not be any negative consequences of open expressions of serious interest by scientists in the UFO subject. Even now, with some noteable exceptions, the environment and reception for interested scientists is far from certain.

Historian Gary Werskey's 1978 book "The Visible College" describes the early activities of one of my scientific heroes. He describes the legacy of Dr. Joseph Needham (1900-1995):
"If Needham's gentle and sustained support of revolutionary China did not render him a dupe, neither did his obsession with the history of ancient China qualify him as an eccentric. Perhaps such a label was rather irrelevant in the case of someone who had already combined in his life a unique and continuing attachment to science and religion, communism and Anglo-Catholicism, and who moreover insisted on jumbling up these 'opposites'. What has really rescued Needham from crankishness, however, has been the seriousness, scale and success of his now world-famous series on Science and Civilization in China. It is a work of prodigious scholarship, possibly, in the words of one reviewer, 'the greatest single act of historical synthesis and intercultural communication ever attempted by one man'."
Robert Temple provides an accessible "summary" of Needham's work in "The Genius of China - 3,000 years of science, discovery and invention" (2002).

Needham himself was particularly critical of western historians who spoke of 'our' science and 'our' modern culture. In the wonderfully entitled book (at least for the chemist in me) "The Grand Titration: Science and Society in East and West" (1969) Needham makes keen points that have some resonance for the emerging presence of Chinese ufology, even though he was of course just referring to science:
"Surely it would be better to admit that men of the Asian cultures also helped to lay the foundations of mathematics and all the sciences in their medieval forms, and hence to set the stage for the decisive breakthrough which came about in the favourable social and economic milieu of the Renaissance. Surely it would be better to give more attention attention to the history and values of these non-European civilizations in actual fact no less exalted and inspiring than our own. Then let us give up that intellectual pride which boasts that 'we are the people, and wisdom was born with us'. Let us take pride enough in the historical fact that modern science was born in Europe and only in Europe, but let us not claim thereby perpetual patent thereon. For what was born in the time of Galileo was a universal palladium, the salutary enlightenment of all men without distinction of race, colour, faith or homeland, wherein all can qualify and participate. Modern universal science, yes; Western science, no!"
Given this perspective, returning to a UFO theme, more modern focuses, such as the newly emerging ufological manifestations such as in China, and others outside the Ufological heartland of the United States, and indeed of the newer ufology, represented by new and often much younger players, all have something to contribute to this fascinating subject. Equally the older ufological players, and even older UFO legacies, from much older cultures, can also contribute to our greater understanding of the UFO mystery.

Bill Chalker


Blogger Regan Lee said...

Very good work, and important work! Still so many with their heads in the sand in regards to the legitimate, serious study of UFOs. Thanks. . .

10:03 PM  
Blogger Isaac Koi said...

Hi Bill,

As someone that posts under a pseudonym when discussing ufos due to the "giggle factor" associated with this field, I have a personal interest in some of the matters you mention.

There are two books which I think contain particularly interesting discussions of the stigma associated with ufology:

(1) Charles F Emmons' "At the Threshold: UFOs, Science and the New Age", and

(2) Brenda Denzler's "The Lure of the Edge".

Kind Regards,


9:38 AM  
Blogger Bill Chalker said...

I agree that both Emmons & Denzler's contributions are very good contributions to this debate.
Peter Sturrock's "The UFO Enigma - a new review of the Physical Evidence" 1999) and "UFOs & Abductions - Challenging the borders of Knowledge" edited by David Jacobs (2000, from University Press of Kansas) are further excellent references in this area of science and the UFO subject.
More popular readship fare can be found in earlier volumes such as Ronald Story's "UFOs and the Limits of Science" (1981), "Science and the UFOs" by Jenny Randles & Peter Warrington(1985) and Edward Ashpole's "The UFO Phenomena - a scientific look at the Evidence for extraterrestrial contacts".
Other titles that come to mind include:
"UFO's - A scientific Debate" edited by Sagan & Page (1972 & more recently reissued in 1996)
"Unconventional Flying Objects - a scientific analysis" by Paul Hill (1995)
"UFO Phenomena and the Behavioral Scientist" edited by Richard Haines (1979)
Thanks for drawing attention the issue and related books.

6:33 PM  

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