On Vallee’s Variable-Ratio UFOs.

My attempts to examine the observations of Jacques Vallee have hit a brick wall, I’m afraid — I am either misunderstanding him or understand him perfectly fine, and the problem resides in what he is proposing. Considering that this issue resides with what seems to provide the foundation for his central outlook on the phenomenon, I feel it is essential for me to work out this problem. Maybe someone out there can clarify it for me.

In Heretic Among Heretics, an article comprised of an extensive interview with Jacques Vallee, he describes the origins of his “control theory” regarding UFOs:

“A new computer analysis of historical trends, compiled in the 1970s, led me to plot a striking graph of “waves” of UFO activity that was anything but periodic. Fred Beckman and Dr. Price Williams of UCLA pointed out that it resembled a schedule of reinforcement typical of a learning or training process: the phenomenon was more akin to a control system than to an exploratory task force of alien travelers. There are many control systems around us, and some are a part of nature: ecology, climate, etc. Some are man-made: the process of education, the thermostat in your home. If the UFO phenomenon represents a control system, can we test it to determine if it is natural or artificial, open or closed? This is one of the interesting questions about the phenomenon that has never been answered.”

The pattern of UFO waves do not resemble just any schedule of reinforcement, he has written elsewhere, but the most optimal kind, which he described as being a process that combined periodicity with unpredictability, making it a slow process but the one with the highest resistance to extinction. Though he has not stated it specifically, it seems clear that what he is describing is a variable-ratio schedule of reinforcement, in which reinforcement is delivered after the desired response is expressed by the organism in question an unpredictable amount of times.

Imagine a rat in a cage. Though he takes some time to discover the lever placed at the far end of the cage, when he does and presses the lever, he receives a pellet of food. Pressing it again, nothing happens, and so the rat drifts from the lever for awhile, but eventually comes back, and eventually thinks to keep pressing the lever. After three times, he receives a pellet of food. After nine times, another pellet. Two times, another pellet. Eighteen times, then a pellet.  Eventually the rat learns that pressing the lever eventually gives you a food pellet, though the number of times you have to press the lever before getting your food pellet always varies. This makes him increasingly more liable to press that lever as often as he can.

Imagine the rat is a person, and the lever is part of the typical slot machine, but instead of a scrumptious food pellet after an unpredictable amount of lever-pulling there are instead a copious amount of coins. Its the same structure, as it is with the lottery and every other form of gambling. This is a variable-ratio schedule of reinforcement. The subjects involved expect dry spells, but know that eventually pulling the lever will deliver a reward, and it could always be the next pull of the lever, the next ticket, coin, or whatever.

Of all schedules, this schedule results in the highest rate of response as well as the highest resistance to extinction.  Though the process operates at a snail’s crawl, it stands as the most optimal schedule of reinforcement as well as the most economical, as it is the one that takes the least amount of investment by those behind the scheme in terms of reward. If some form of intelligence were to try and condition humanity, this particular schedule would undoubtedly be the prime candidate for the course of action.

Applied to UFO sightings, it would have to be as follows: we are the rat, UFOs are the food pellet, and the lever is something we’re feeling, thinking, doing as a collective species. All three present some serious issues.

For starters, when I say that we are the rat, I mean all of us as a species constitute the single rat in this scenario. We commit the act as a group and we receive the reinforcement as a group. One should be sure to remember that the waves graphed my Vallee represent sightings across a large population over an enduring period of time, and so if they truly represent a variable-ratio schedule the UFO activity must be targeting our species as if it were a singular entity. While this seems consistent with the perceptions conveyed to alien abductees by their captors, and seems to be a projection of the alien’s own psychology as a hive species, it is difficult to see how this would work in practice. For one should also realize that “the masses” in this case represents different groups of people at different times and in different locations.

One might wonder how any kind of “consequence” could be reinforced this way, as it would not be the same groups of people having the UFO encounters every time. There is one possibility. Although they would only be effecting certain segments of the population directly, it is possible that perceptions would spread quickly through observational learning and herd mentality. The next group of witnesses to have UFO sightings would bear that learned consequence, mediated by the culture, which their own sightings would build upon and further reinforce. Individual reactions would spread, creating a growing subculture.

Then we might ponder the “lever” — what it is that we are doing, thinking, feeling, believing as a population which is being rewarded (so we do it more often) or punished (so we do it less often) through the UFO waves. Considering that the waves are similar to variable-ratio schedules, this reinforcement would come after an unpredictable amount of target responses; in other words, we would have to enact the target response or responses an ever-changing number of times before receiving a UFO sighting as a result. Although this thought, emotion or behavior does not always elicit a UFO sighting, it would be the only thought, emotion or behavior that would elicit a UFO sighting, and so the lever — the target thought, emotion, behavior or belief — should be present just prior to the UFO sighting. And it should be the same thought, emotion, behavior or belief, all the time. If UFO reports included what the witness was doing, thinking, or believing just before the sighting, the target behind the UFO phenomenon, and whether it was something they are trying to steer us towards or away from, should be easily ascertained.

Another issue with the lever aspect is just as confusing. As it is the group and not the individual who is the target here, another important question would be how it is that they are measuring our collective behavior. They are, after all, utilizing themselves as a response, not a stimulus as in the case of classical conditioning. Rather than merely a means of measuring their progress, observation would also be a necessary part of the process, as one had to know when the behavior is being exhibited, the thought being thought or feeling being felt in order to know when to provide the reinforcement. (And so perhaps it is not the most economical after all?)

Do they take surveys of a random group of the populace, perhaps using telepathy to gauge the thoughts and emotions, using that sampling to indicate the overall response of humanity? After all, UFOs have often shown their capability to react to the unexpressed thoughts and emotions of witnesses in individual encounters. They have sometimes even transmitted thoughts of their own to such witnesses. Military pilots who have encounters with them often speak as though the craft could anticipate their actions and behaved accordingly. All this implies the presence of telepathy during UFO encounters, which would make them capable of telepathic scanning or surveying.

Yet it implies something more than mere telepathy. It implies the presence of a telepathic feedback loop that allows the UFO to “navigate” an individual by adjusting its own behavior until it is able to elicit the desired response from that individual. Interestingly, this would constitute Vallee’s control theory on the small, single-sighting scale, whereas he applied it to the large scale of UFO waves. Perhaps it also operates on Vallee’s grander scale.

Another series of questions arises with the food-pellet we call the UFO. We can surmise with reason that if they are operating through a variable-ratio schedule, they desire long-term behavior modification, and so would elect reinforcement over punishment, which is effective only for short-term behavior modification. And we know that the wave of UFO sightings would collectively constitute the reinforcement, or the food pellet of the rat analogy. The question now is, how do the UFOs constitute a reinforcement for anything?

First, it should be remembered that operant conditioning informs the subject through experience: “Do that and you’ll get this.” The UFOs are a consequence of the desired behavior, they are not a stimulus which is intended to elicit a specific reaction. They are not the cause, but the effect — or at least the effect’s mode of delivery. After all, UFO sightings may be generating aversive or appetitive responses through light, sound, and focused electromagnetic energy weapons.

The immediate reactions of the witness after they have had an encounter with a UFO might constitute a reward, and considering that fear is cited as the most common response to sighting of a UFO that sounds more than a little strange. This is not necessarily the case, however. The reward might be of a long-term, slowly-unfolding  nature, so that while initial reactions to a UFO may vary among individuals, the “rewarding” effect is still in action. Of course, what is rewarding to one individual may not be rewarding to another, and UFOs, able to tap into our psychology via telepathy, may custom-make the reward for each individual case. Although UFOs would only be directly effecting certain segments of the population, the general concept of the rewarding nature of the experience, or aftereffects of the experience, would spread quickly through observational learning and herd mentality. Though I should state plainly that all of this, to me, carries the distinct stench of a long shot in the dark.

Regardless, the target thought, emotion, idea, or behavior that the UFOs are rewarding should be consistent across the board in every encounter, and these targets should be placed in time just before the UFO encounter. So far as I am aware, there have been no noted correlations.

Maybe the populace isn’t the ultimate target. Maybe the reaction being rewarded or perhaps even punished stems instead from the leaders of those respective populaces. We know that sightings breed a growing belief in UFOs and alien life among the populace, which the military would presumably fear for multiple reasons. For one thing, a growing belief in UFOs and alien life would, in the public eye, undoubtedly seem to lend credence to any number of conspiracy theories that painted the government as an enemy, and this would certainly be perceived by the military as a threat to national security — even if the government is not hiding away alien spacecraft, bodies and intelligence, but, of course, even more so if indeed they are. This is not helped by the fact that the government has been denying interest in and the existence of UFOs since the late 1940s, when the horrible mass panic of Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of War of the World was still clearly in sight — fears that were no doubt reinforced by various studies such as that which was published by the Brookings Institution, and some of which we may have never heard about. Since that time, echoed during every wave of UFO sightings they are forced to comment on, they have been offering prosaic explanations that don’t fit the facts they propose to weave together. This, too, feeds an ever-eroding sense of trust in our leaders.

I don’t know if punishment can be substituted for reward when it comes to the schedules of operant conditioning, but if that is the case, this part may make a bit of sense. Still, what would the military be being punished for?

In the end, we do not know what we or our military might be doing to receive the “reward” or “punishment” of UFO sightings, nor do we know how it is that UFO sightings constitute a reward. As a matter of fact, the only indication that there is a variable-ratio schedule at work here at all, we would be wise to remember, is found in the pattern of UFO waves graphed by Vallee.

Is there perhaps another reason UFO activity takes on this pattern of intense piques at unpredictable times and places, and then just as unpredictably and with the same astounding intensity vanishes from our collective vision, ready to pounce again like a cosmic cougar just as soon as out of sight breeds out of mind?

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