Gods of Aquarius, by Brad Steiger, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976, 264 pp., $8.95
The UFO Enigma, by Donald H. Menzel and Ernest H. Taves, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977, 297 pp., $8.95.
To understand the UFO phenomenon, says Brad Steiger, you must first comprehend the "secret": "reality is plastic." "The universe is malleable.…that which is simply imagined by one man may, after becoming widely publicized, actually materialize."
This passage from Gods of Aquarius neatly sums up the "alternate reality" theories that are rapidly winning in the competition with "serious" investigators of UFOs and the paranormal. Collective myths become reality, it is asserted, merely by virtue of their widespread acceptance. (A myth, as defined by the noted UFO scholar Gordon Creighton, is something that is "truer than truth.") Perhaps the earth really was flat during the Dark Ages? UFOs as nuts-and-bolts alien spacecraft are quickly passing out of favor: "paraphysical" and "meta-logical" are frequently heard descriptions of UFOs today.
The popular UFO press is filled with Brad Steiger, explaining at length what he terms "the reality game": UFOs fail to make sense merely because our logic is too hidebound, too analytic to encompass them. Steiger has been most successful in bringing down to the rank-and-file UFO believer the currently fashionable crackpot ideas that were previously found only in the more pretentious UFO books. The coming age of UFOs promises us nothing less than the "transformation of man," says he—a greening far greener than even Charles Reich dared promise. Not only will telepathy and mystical healing work wonders, but the UFO age promises unlimited free lunches as well:
free primary energy will run the world. No one can put etheric force into a wire and sell it.…No one can confine it within storage tanks and demand money for it. Every one is going to have energy to do the world's work without pollution and without financial price.
Why deregulate oil or invest money in energy exploration when all the energy we could possibly desire will soon be available through nonphysical channels?
Much of Gods of Aquarius consists of the most banal prattle about psychic contact with the beneficent "space brothers," and many pages are filled with the words of other UFO "researchers," a technique that permits author Steiger to further accelerate his already prolific output. No one can say Steiger has sacrificed quantity of writing for quality! Ten years ago this book would have been laughed off the shelves even by the hard-core UFO believers. Today, the book's success serves as an indisputable, objective measure of the rising tide of irrationalism in modern thought, an alarming barometer to show how far and how fast the cult of anti-science has risen.
Steiger allows UFOlogist Tom Bearden to have "the last word" in the book. (Bearden is the man who has elsewhere written, "All our present day science and logic are founded on three simple laws—Aristotle's three axioms of logical thought. With some struggle I found a fourth law, which contained the negation of each of the other three.") Bearden contributes some mumbo-jumbo about the human race as a "servomechanistic complex" plunging "exponentially toward resonance and biospheric explosion," due to unchecked technology and competition.
There remains one, and only one, way to avert disaster:
to link the brains of all men into one giant superbrain.…This linkage must be accomplished technologically by creating and installing a system of direct communications links between all men's brains…[the] brains integrate and merge into one being, one ego, and one personality. Thus linkage admirably ends the destructive competition between the formerly separated brains.
Seldom has the anti-individualist position been so directly stated. But it should come as no surprise to find that, having rejected reason, personal autonomy must also follow. Those who tend to view occult irrationalism as a harmless aberration need to give more thought to the matter: should the world-view of Steiger and Bearden prevail, it would mean the end of all hope for a rational society in which the rights of the individual are inviolate.
Fortunately, in The UFO Enigma we have a powerful antidote to the rising tide of irrationalism. The late Dr. Menzel was one of the foremost astronomers of our age. Dr. Taves is a respected psychiatrist and former "parapsychologist" whose experience in both fields adds valuable insight and perspective. In this book we find many classic "unsolved" UFO cases dissected—some for the first time—clearly revealing the weakness of the "evidence" for UFOs that Steiger and others take for granted. The book also does a good job of revealing the forces that work in favor of promoting the "mystery" of UFOs: the pro-"paranormal" bias of the sensation-hungry media and the quasi-religious fervor that blinds the UFO believers to any evidence that does not support their preconceived position.
The book is not without its faults. Menzel was an irascible man, his writing sometimes given to pontificating. Certain explanations of UFOs that interested him (most notably, meteorological optics), but can account for only a minuscule number of reported sightings, were greatly overemphasized. Nonetheless, The UFO Enigma is an extremely valuable book, good reading for everyone who seeks to do battle with the promoters of trendy occult irrationalism. Can any man or woman of reason afford to turn away from such a battle—and risk losing by default?
Mr. Sheaffer is a systems analyst and free-lance writer and a member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Gods of Aquarius, The UFO Enigma".