Summary: The complete text of the opening remarks Dr. Mack planned to present at the November 19 symposium.
It has been nearly thirteen years since I first heard about the so-called alien abduction phenomenon from a colleague and friend. She told me that there were people from all over the United States telling Budd Hopkins, David Jacobs and a few other courageous investigators that they had been visited by strange humanoid beings who were taking them into spacecraft and subjecting them to various intrusive examinations and procedures. My first reaction, needless to say, was that this was some new sort of psychotic manifestation. But when I actually began to meet with these individuals it quickly became apparent that they were, for the most part, people of sound mind. There was nothing about their histories or personal psychology that could account in any way for what they were reporting, nor was there then or now depictions in the media that accurately portrayed the detailed, consistent stories that I was hearing. Furthermore, the experiencers had nothing to gain from telling anyone of such bizarre encounters, had had no contact at the time with other experiencers, and were reporting consistent stories with the kind of intense emotion that people express about something that has actually happened to them.
The only problem was that what they were describing was not supposed to be possible within the framework of the worldview in which I was raised. According to this worldview, it may be theoretically possible, even likely, that life forms have developed on some of the countless planets in the billions of galaxies that constitute our known universe. But, except for the inhospitable planets in our solar system, they are all so far away that beings could not get here, since it has been presumed that the speed of light is the maximum speed at which they could travel, and there would not be time for them to get here in any conceivable single lifetime. A rigid adherence to this worldview, sometimes called the Newtonian/Cartesian or materialist perspective, essentially voids the universe of all other intelligence that could reach our planet.
As I worked with these individuals, and became increasingly convinced that they were describing real experiences, I was forced to choose between two possibilities: either an explanation might yet be found that was consistent with our traditional materialist worldview, or this worldview was in some way incomplete.
The abductees—I prefer to call them “experiencers” because it is not clear how many of these individuals have actually been “taken” somewheres—have often been subjected to extensive medical and psychiatric workups in a search for some explanation consistent with the above worldview. Sometimes these examinations have been quite detrimental to their physical and mental health, and inappropriate medications or other treatments have been administered. But nothing has been found that has provided an explanation that is consistent with the established scientific paradigm. It has become increasingly clear that what the experiencers are reporting comes as close as we have been able to get to what has happened to them.
In the last few years I have had the privilege of discussing the encounter phenomenon with a number of physicists, whose evolving cosmology includes such notions as parallel universes, other dimensions of reality, wormholes, quantum holography, the quantum vacuum, zero point energy, non-locality, speeds vastly greater than the speed of light, and consciousness as the primary creative energy of the universe. Although no one has been able to “explain” the encounter phenomenon, these concepts have made it seem less strange to scientists and clinicians.
Each of us in this discussion agrees that this phenomenon is of momentous significance. But we might differ in our emphasis. Initially I had thought that the “great news” was the fact that we were being visited by alien life forms, but my view of this matter has changed as I have had the opportunity to work with experiencers and medicine men in native cultures. Many indigenous societies have always known of the “sky people,” and some believe they are descended from them. It is difficult sometimes to know whether these individuals are speaking or writing of literal or mythic experiences, as traditional peoples do not place as much emphasis on this distinction as we do in the West. But it has become clear to me that in some instances, at least, my informants have been referring to experiences that are not easily distinguished from the “abduction” phenomenon. Cultural interpretation is important, but the core encounter experience may be similar in different societies.
I have also spent a good deal of time trying to relate the abduction phenomenon to other anomalous or extraordinary human experiences. Psychologist Rhea White has identified ten classes of exceptional experiences which, in addition to the encounter phenomenon, include near death experiences, exceptional human performance feats, unexplained healings, psychical experiences, and mystical or religious peak experiences. What each of these experiences have in common is that they challenge the Western worldview that regards physical matter and energy as the primary reality, and that knowledge is to be obtained solely through the application of a methodology that drastically separates the investigator from his subject. The abduction or encounter phenomenon is distinct primarily because of the degree to which it penetrates, unequivocally, into our physical world. It reaches us, in effect, “where we live,” and comes upon us often unbidden and usually unwelcomed. However it shares with these other experiences a basic property. Each of these phenomena speak to us of a universe that contains forces and intelligences that do not reveal their secrets to a way of knowing that separates the investigator from the subject he is exploring or from the person whose experiences he is trying to understand.
The earth-shaking news then is that the findings of the investigators of the encounter phenomenon and other extraordinary human experiences are among the discoveries that are bringing about the collapse of the materialist worldview. Furthermore, the basic elements of the phenomenon can now be seen as less inconsistent with the findings of leading scientists than was once believed. But as the distinguished theologian, Huston Smith, wrote in his recent book, Why Religion Matters, “No one dares to attempt the removal of the ideological carcass [of the materialist worldview] from fear of the consequences of universal disapproval.”
The abduction phenomenon is potentially especially powerful in hastening the transformation of our worldview, for it is particularly difficult to deny. Strange craft can, and indeed have been, frequently photographed and videotaped by entirely credible professionals, including journalists, law enforcement officials and military personnel. Experiencers relive their encounters with unique intensity, and “return” with marks and small lesions on their bodies that neither they nor their physicians can explain. But it is one among a number of phenomena that are all pointing in the same direction, namely that, in the words of astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, after he came back from his own “peak” experience in space, “The answers to the ancient questions, ‘Who are we? How did we get here? Where are we going?’ within science were certainly incomplete and perhaps flawed.”
I am sometimes asked how I know that the experiencers are telling the truth about what they say has happened to them. It is a good question, one that each of us who work in this controversial field must consider, especially when there may not be available convincing corroborative physical evidence. To some extent this is a clinical question. The interviewer/examiner must develop an empathic, trusting relationship with the experiencer, relying on intuition as well as an intellectual evaluation in assessing the mental status of the experiencer. The examiner usually speaks with those who know the person about his or her reliability in other matters, looks for independent observers of the event in question, and tries, within reason, to rule out alternative explanations. But there is something more, what might be called witnessing.
This is a quality known to religious and tribal leaders from ancient times—as, for example, in the case of priests trying to evaluate reports of miracles, apparitions, or even “demonic possession.” It is the sense that one is in the presence of a truth teller, a person who is a witness to a compelling, often sacred, reality. We see a witness through the “eye of the heart.” One experiencer with whom I have worked closely has written of the reluctance of witnesses of such experiences to speak, especially when what they have to say is not accepted within the framework of a society’s consensus reality. “Yet when they speak,” she has written, “all recognize they have been in other realms. Sincerity and truth and power of spirit are just as measurable as inches and pounds, but not in the same way. The measuring rod is the sense of pattern ringing true that one feels in the presence of such a person.”
The way that we receive the communications of authentic witnesses has an important moral dimension. For when we unjustly disbelieve them we can cause deep wounding for them as individuals. Equally important we deprive ourselves of information that may have great meaning for the society, which it is perilous to discount or ignore.
The encounter phenomenon challenges the literal mind, the tendency in a mass media and sound bite dominated culture such as ours to reduce complex questions to either/or answers and solutions. But this phenomenon confronts us with ambiguity and paradox, depending upon the observer’s perspective or relation to it. It is physically real, but not always. The beings may seem to be embodied, but at other times less so, or they may appear as translucent forms that do not appear to be solid at all. The experiences can be traumatic, and yet spiritually transforming. The beings are menacing, but they may also awaken us to loving aspects of ourselves, and to vast dimensions of reality from which our materialist worldview has cut us off.
I wish to close with a kind of parable. One of the questions that is frequently asked about the encounter phenomenon has to do with alien morality or justice—what right do these beings have to force themselves into peoples lives, sometimes hurtfully, without permission? But think of this. Imagine that you work for a higher intelligence in some region of the universe, and you and It have noted that one species among the millions residing on a jewel among the planets has taken upon itself a destructive project. It has appropriated this planet for itself, while killing off millions of other species, not just for its own survival, but indifferently or wantonly, sometimes just for the sport of it. Furthermore, this species has already rendered much of this planet uninhabitable, and is at risk of making still more of it incapable of sustaining life, and threatening destroy all life through the development and use of nuclear weapons. From that perspective how would you judge the alien intrusion?
I am not suggesting that the beings have come here to save us. The phenomenon may not even be primarily about us, except possibly in the sense of damage control or for the preservation of elements of our genetic structure. But the parable becomes less far fetched when you consider that most, if not all, experiencers receive information in the course of their encounters, sometimes communicated vividly and dramatically, about the status of the earth’s living systems and our responsibility for the planet’s perilous condition. They are affected deeply by these communications, and some experiencers become active protectors of the earth’s living systems. Not all well informed people believe this parable to be literally true. However, I personally believe it would be wise to conduct ourselves as if it were true, unless or until it is proven to be untrue. This would require that we awaken to the harm to the earth that we are causing by our present conduct, and take concrete steps to reverse this course.