May 19, 1992
In this NPR interview, Harvard professor of psychiatry John E. Mack, M.D. discusses the possible reality of alien encounters while a professor of journalism at UC Berkley, Timothy Ferris, Ph.D., discounts them. David M. Jacobs, Ph.D., appears later in the program to discuss the history of UFOs.
This interview was conducted just after the release of David Jacobs’ book Secret Life, to which John Mack contributed a foreword. The book resulted in Jacobs and Mack receiving a tongue-in-cheek Ig Nobel Award the following year.
This program came about when an NPR producer asked Mack for his psychiatric opinion on the Los Angeles riots; Mack suggested a show about alien encounters instead.
This may be the worst interview presented on this website, because it is not a discussion as much as it is a collision of talking points. To his credit, David Jacobs presents a concise history of UFO reports (though he protests that is not what he wants to discuss) and he refutes a series of unsound assertions from Tim Ferris. Ferris uses a variety of debate techniques, including asking the other guests questions as if he were the host of the program, and claiming not to be a skeptic while delivering skeptical comments direct from a debunker’s playbook. John Mack uses a similar technique as Ferris by overvaluing his own initial skepticism, and he says very little that he did not say more effectively in other settings. A set of doubtful callers make some good points. For interviews that are more informational, select from the others presented on this website.
INTRO: From National Public Radio at the center of the galaxy, this is Talk of the Nation. I’m Mul Dar.
Please remember in this next hour that it can be an act of courage to proclaim what others believe to be false, a public service to face ridicule and derision because the story you have to tell is so outrageous, most of us would simply dismiss it.
Some say they must tell this story anyway, that they have been kidnapped by what appear to be outer space aliens. As bizarre as these stories are, they are not being ignored. A new book from a big publisher recounts alien abductions, and CBS is broadcasting a two-part movie on the subject.
Keep your skepticism at hand, but listen, and join in on Talk of the Nation after this news.
ALEX CHADWICK: This is Talk of the Nation. I’m Alex Chadwick sitting in for John Hockenberry.
And joining me now by phone from Boston is Peter, a 34 year old student at the new England School of Acupuncture. Peter?
PETER: Hi, good afternoon.
ALEX CHADWICK: Hi. Would you tell us your story please?
PETER: Certainly. I guess before I begin, I should say that this is the first time that I’m sharing any of this information publicly. Other than my wife, Dr. Mack and his associates and some very close friends, no one ever, no one knows about this.
ALEX CHADWICK: Right, well, just go ahead.
PETER: Okay. My first conscious memory of something happening was back in 1988. My wife and I were living and working in the Caribbean at the time, and I had two rather unexplainable experiences that happened to me in my sleep. And what made them very unusual was that in the morning when I woke up, I was very agitated, very afraid. I had some strange markings behind my ears.
And it took me several days to calm down. I was very upset. And I wrote this off to just bad dreams or I didn’t really know.
And then in 1990, I moved back to Boston to attend graduate school. And a friend of mine, a classmate, had attended a Grand Rounds that Dr. Mack gave at Harvard Medical School concerning the UFO phenomena, abduction phenomenon. And some of the things my friend was reporting that Dr. Mack had talked about really kind of rang true with me, and brought back these memories that I had in 1988 of these experiences.
So I contacted Dr. Mack and then he invited my wife and I to come in and see him and just talk about the experiences. And when I did that, as I explained what happened, and as I recalled the memories and the experiences, I became very emotional, very upset. It was very difficult for me to hold eye contact.
I went through feelings of tremendous fear and terror. I began to cry. And these were things that were very unusual for me. It made me really realize at that point that there was some deeper, psychological, underlying trauma that had gone on here.
I had then done about two or three regressions with Dr. Mack from between January and mid March of 1992. And up until that point, I had actually thought that maybe it was some kind of psychological illness. And in fact, I almost kind of would have welcomed that to happen to me because then I could have been to therapy and maybe had some medication and got through this, but it didn’t turn out that way.
In March of this past year in 1992, three friends and I were staying overnight at another friend’s house in Connecticut, in rural Connecticut. And in the morning we all got up and my friends decided to go for a walk along with the owners of the house.
What happened at that time was I decided to stay back in the home alone. And I fell asleep. I woke up about an hour, an hour and 10 minutes later, right before my friends returned to the home. At that point, they came into the house and said, “did you experience anything unusual while we were gone?” I reported that “no, I was asleep, I don’t remember anything”. At that point, they had said that they had heard a very loud humming sound very unusual coming from near the house. This sound increased. It came towards them. It seemed to hover over them and speed off into the distance.
These three friends who knew nothing of my experiences or nothing of my work with Dr. Mack basically had reported that they saw something that was unexplainable to them. Some type of craft, something out of this world.
At that point I realized, and even today I realize that because of that experience in March, because of the three independent individuals really verifying that something strange and unusual happened to them that seemed to be out of this world, seemed to be unexplainable and happened while I was present, made me really realize that I’ve definitely had some kind of experiences with aliens, with beings, with things that are unexplainable in the terms of…
ALEX CHADWICK: But do you recall being abducted onto an alien spacecraft?
PETER: Absolutely. Yeah. That was part of my experiences. Being in a room, having a being come in, being paralyzed, being lifted up, being carried away, being carried into a ship.
ALEX CHADWICK: And at what point did you realize, what… at what point did you realize this had occurred to you?
PETER: These were my conscious memories of the experiences in 1988. But they were unexplainable to me. I had realized at that point that I…
ALEX CHADWICK: When you woke up the next morning down in the Caribbean, after this experience?
ALEX CHADWICK: And did it, did it seem like a particularly acute and realistic dream?
PETER: It was the most acute and realistic dream I had ever experienced, complete with emotional side effects. And which made me realize that there was something more to this.
ALEX CHADWICK: But did you at the time think of it as a dream or as something which had…?
PETER: It was beyond a dream, Alex, it was, it was much more severe. It was much more real to me. I had never had a dream where I was left in that emotional state. And then when I did the regression work with Dr. Mack, then the pieces really began to fall into place. And I could remember much more of the actual experiences.
ALEX CHADWICK: And how many times in total have you had this experience of being taken up to a space…
PETER: …ship, or whatever? I am aware of at least three specific times. The, most recent was the one in March in Connecticut, where there were three other people there at the time. And I’ve had memories as early as childhood. But I’m still more or less working on those and, and trying to put the pieces together.
ALEX CHADWICK: There’s a reason why you are telling this story now for the first time. There’s a reason why you haven’t told it before, that is, and that is that people think this is nuts.
PETER: You’re absolutely right. I’m reluctant to go out and tell people things that can be written off as, as fantasy. And only recently have I felt the support from professionals and even from my family to be able to stand up and say, yes, I believe this happened to me. I cannot explain it. And I don’t know what it is, but it’s very real to me.
ALEX CHADWICK: Peter is a student at the New England School for Acupuncture in Boston. In a moment, we’ll be talking with some experts and if you’d like to join in, you can call at
800 989-TALK, that’s (800) 989-8255.
The first person we’re going to introduce is John Mack, who Peter referred to. He’s at the studios of member station WBUR in Boston. Dr. Mack is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University. Dr. Mack, are you there?
JOHN MACK: Yes. Good afternoon, Mr. Chadwick.
ALEX CHADWICK: Good afternoon. Well let me just ask since you are something of an expert in this field, how common and occurrence is it for you to encounter a patient like Peter?
JOHN MACK: Well, in the nation there may be as many as 2% of the population that have had these kinds of experiences. A recent Roper poll [zip file] taken in July, August, and September indicated that there may be over 3 million Americans that have had experiences of this kind. I have worked with experiencers or abductees for less than three years, and I’ve now interviewed or worked intensively with more than 50 of these individuals – children and adults.
ALEX CHADWICK: So you, you, you find it a not an uncommon experience for people to report this kind of thing?
JOHN MACK: That’s correct. And I, like Peter that you just talked to, was extremely skeptical when I first heard about this. I first heard about it from a colleague of mine who took me to meet with Budd Hopkins, who’s a pioneer in this area, and I thought about Hopkins and the people that believe this must be really you know, disturbed. And then when I began to hear these stories and particularly the consistency of these stories down to the last detail, I realized there was something unusual going on here that I could not explain within the familiar theories and conditions that I had known about working in psychiatry for over 40 years.
ALEX CHADWICK: We’re going to go to some callers and because of the kind of technical requirements we’re going to need to lose Peter in doing that. Before we do Peter, can I just ask if you are susceptible to – we have lost that call already? I won’t ask that.
Dr. Mack, let me ask you. Are the people you who tell you these stories in your view susceptible to what one might call – and what Dr. Robert Baker of the department of psychology at the university of Kentucky calls – a “fantasy-prone personality”?
JOHN MACK: That has not been my experience with these individuals. I’ve found them to be sincere, reluctant to come forward. I noticed that at the beginning, you said people who have “claimed to” be taken the board UFOs the people generally do not “claim” this, and they, in fact, they come forward like Peter extremely reluctantly. They would prefer often to even be found mentally ill or to think it’s a dream, or that it’s a fantasy then to little by little have to face the fact that something has happened to them in their real world that they cannot explain.
ALEX CHADWICK: Also with us from member station KQBD in San Francisco is Timothy Ferris. He’s a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of The Mind’s Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context. Thank you for being with us professor Ferris.
TIMOTHY FERRIS: I’m glad to be here.
ALEX CHADWICK: What is your view of people who report instances of being abducted on the spacecraft?
TIMOTHY FERRIS: Well, I would seem to me that we need to distinguish between the psychoanalytical aspect of this, which Dr. Mack I gather is addressing in his research, and the objective question of whether there is any evidence for that extraterrestrials are visiting the Earth.
The answer to the second question is no, there’s a, there’s hardly a shard of evidence that deserves to be called evidence that aliens are arriving.
It doesn’t mean they couldn’t show up this afternoon, but excuse me, the UFO phenomenon as such has been going on for decades and has added up to essentially a lot of hot air.
So what my question, I guess, with regard to the psychoanalytical aspect of that I would pose to Dr. Mack is do you have a, what is your hypothesis in this research? What, what do you think is going on here?
JOHN MACK: The experiences that these people report do not admit of any kind of psychoanalytic or psychiatric theory that I have worked with over 40 years. These are people who, as I said, come forward, reluctantly. They are very sincere. They have had some kind of experience, either a sighting of a being as Peter reported in their rooms, or some kind of strange light that they could not explain. Sometimes they actually remember being taken aboard the ships. And then when you explore it more deeply, with or without hypnosis, which helps unlock what are very disturbing memories, they come up with highly traumatic experiences, which are very detailed, very consistent one to another, in which they have been probed, stared at, sometimes reproductive things done to them. The experience of women having a fetus removed or men having sperm samples taken. Highly detailed descriptions of the beings. Descriptions of the inside of the ships, among people who are otherwise quite sane.
Now, they are troubled by these experiences. This is very traumatic. So I don’t know what is going on here. I do know that I have to suspend judgment because it is not something that fits into anything that I had been taught before. And so either there is something extraordinary going on in the human psyche, which connects people all over the United States and the planet with highly detailed scenarios, among people who have not met with each other, or talked with each other, details that are not in the media accounts. Also this happens in children as young as two years old, who report the little man coming in the room and taking them up.
It also occurs in association with UFO sightings, both in the media. There are physical features associated with it, little scars – cuts, scoop marks that occur on these people. And when they’re tested, there’s no obvious evidence of mental illness. So it’s either some kind of very unusual psychological phenomenon, which would include all those elements. Or there is some kind of intelligence that is entering into their worlds. And I just don’t know. I’m not at a point where I can come up with a consistent theory.
ALEX CHADWICK: But Dr. Mack, how could you explain the interest of apparently very powerful beings from another world coming down here and collecting a bunch of humans from the planet and then putting them back down, why are they doing this?
JOHN MACK: I don’t have a theory about that. A lot of there’s a lot of speculation that there are some actual beings who have, in which there is some in their world or their universe there is some kind of deprivation, some kind of a depletion of genetic material so they’re connecting with us in some way. There has been speculation – certainly many of the abductees experience an opening of their own consciousness, things that they couldn’t believe possible, they begin to open themselves to, as Peter indicated, so that they become very sensitive about planetary destruction. They become more open to other possibilities that we would have ruled out, like alien beings coming here. So it may be that there is some kind of way in which, in this connection with this form of intelligence, whatever it may prove to be, that there is some opening, some enlargement of our consciousness and our sensitivity, and a more realistic sense of our place in the universe. That may be what it’s about. But then when you speculate about alien motivation, you don’t get too far.
ALEX CHADWICK: We’re talking about claims of alien abduction with Harvard psychiatrist, John Mack, and Tim Ferris, professor of journalism at UC Berkeley.
Woody in live Oak, Florida, you’re on Talk of the Nation.
WOODY: Yeah. Are you there?
ALEX CHADWICK: Yes, we are.
WOODY: Can you hear me?
ALEX CHADWICK: We can.
WOODY: I’ve been reading lately over some material that I’ve had. I’m working on a book that says we humans create our own reality. I’m reading the Malleus Maleficarum, Springer and Kramer, and a whole series of statements like the statement from the young man that began the program about being abducted by witches, about being tortured by witches. And then I had a friend who belonged to the theosophical society who used to “wrestle with demons”, and he would come up with bruises and scars and even old bruises that bled the next day.
So I think we create this kind of legend, and I think the UFOs are just another extension of our original belief in witches. Now we don’t have to torture it out of people – they like to get on the media and tell about it.
TIMOTHY FERRIS: Well the caller, if I may, makes an excellent point, which is that a great many people have believed in a great many fantastic things. Millions of people believe in witches. Here in California, I’m informed of about a third of the adult population believes that the president of the United States can legally suspend the constitution by signing a piece of paper. About a third of the American public believes in astrology. It’s a hard fact of adult life, the fact that a great many people believe a thing does not mean, and in fact has no bearing on, the question of whether that thing is true.
So I, I guess the remark I’d like to inject is that the fact that perhaps a million people all think they’ve been abducted by aliens from outer space… well, although it may be of interest as a question of psychopathology, has no bearing on the question of whether aliens are visiting this planet.
JOHN MACK: That’s simply not consistent with the clinical experience. Of course people can believe things that are not so. I mean, that’s been true throughout history.
But the, this is not the sample of people that one would select for that. These are people who are not particularly gullible. These are people who come to these experiences, extremely reluctantly. This is highly traumatic. These are people who are very sincere, sometimes very solid from a standpoint of their work in the community.
This would not be the population that would be believe in something fantastic or be fantasy prone or believe in witchcraft. This is this is a very ordinary sample of people who are not particularly the kind of people that would be believing in something fantastic. To simply reject that without having known these people, worked with them, seeing how sincere they are, seeing how deeply emotionally this affects them as a real experience, which there is no other way to account for in their lives… That is something that you have to actually work with people.
I was the same way as Mr. Ferris, I felt the same way, professor Ferris. I was the same way when I started this, just as reluctant, but there is a power and conviction about this.
TIMOTHY FERRIS: Let me just interrupt you if I may at that point, Dr. Mack, because I don’t think that the view you had before is the same as mine today. Because you described your view as being extremely skeptical, which isn’t really my view.
I’ve been fascinated by the UFO phenomenon for over 30 years. My position isn’t skepticism, it’s a result of having actually looked at the evidence and finding that there’s nothing there. Which is rather different than a skeptical attitude.
ALEX CHADWICK: You’re saying, your view is one of disbelief.
TIMOTHY FERRIS: It’s well, it’s one of, of having weighed the evidence and found it extremely wanting. Exactly the same. Sorry, let me, let me just make this point. Exactly the same sort of claims that Dr. Mack is making, and which I don’t reject – that these people are sincere, that they’re reluctant, that they’re not kooks – were made by Wallace, and when Darwin was alive in support of people who saw fairies in the Irish Dawn. They’ve been made in many letters to me about people who saw more conventional UFO sightings, 10 and 20 years ago.
What I’m trying to tell you is that my position is not that anyone who says these things is a kook. I, for all I know they’re perfectly normal people. I’m just saying that the fact that a million people think something does not mean that, that thing is so.
ALEX CHADWICK: How do you explain these peoples reports of similar occurrences to them then?
TIMOTHY FERRIS: Well, let me split that into two aspects. One is something has been badly misunderstood in the UFO question, and that is how science works.
You can’t do science by saying that the job of science is to explain all the data, and anything that’s unexplained therefore is left open to a fantastic interpretation.
So you say 95% of all UFO sightings have been explained, the other 5% therefore must be alien spacecraft from space. That’s the basic reasoning in UFOlogy as it’s called, and you can see the flaw in it.
And so I don’t have an explanation for why people have these experiences or why they people believe in ghosts or astrology or any number of other things. And I really think someone with Dr. Mack’s background could comment more intelligently on that.
But the point is that one cannot make the leap from saying we can’t explain this (although, in fact, I think probably some of it could be explained, perhaps all of it). We can’t make the leap from saying, well, we can’t explain every single iota of everything we see out there and therefore we’re open to any possible explanation. That’s just not, not a reasonable way of approaching any phenomenon.
ALEX CHADWICK: Dr. Mack?
JOHN MACK: Well, I don’t claim to be an expert on the history of UFOs. I wish that you would have someone on the program who is informed about the history of UFOs like Dr. Jacobs or Jerome Clark.
ALEX CHADWICK: Dr. Jacobs will be joining us shortly.
JOHN MACK: Well he can speak to the history of UFOs and the evidence one way or the other on that. That’s a debate, which is a hot one of its own sort. I’m not, that’s not the side of it that I’m committed to here. I’m committed to the fact that I cannot, as I work with these individuals, discover, again, professor Ferris was implying that somehow psychiatry would explain how these people’s experiences occur. And that’s simply not been possible for me. And I’ve spent scores of hours searching for that kind of explanation. I mean, as I say, a theory, a psychiatric theory or psychosocial theory has got to explain the consistency of these experiences, their occurrence in children as young as two years old, the physical marks that occur afterwards, which do occur quite spontaneously.
There was one man that I saw very recently who following an abduction experience in which there were probes in his experience, in his head, in his wrist. This man happens to be a quadriplegic. So we often say, well, they do it to themselves or they’re lying. This man was quadriplegic; he could not do it to himself. And yet after this experience was a circle of marks on his wrist.
And this kind of thing, I have no explanation for. I’m as… I’m totally in a sense of mystery about it. I think there are many things in this universe that science does not know. There are ways of knowing that go through our deep experience that can open us to realities that we have not been able to let in before.
TIMOTHY FERRIS: Well, you know, that’s true. That’s unquestionably true. But if Dr. Mack were doing research, let’s say on people who have a conviction that a monster is lurking under their bed at night, we, I don’t think we’d be on the radio discussing it. The reason we’re discussing it is because the implication is that these people have been abducted by flying saucers.
And this is such a widespread belief that there are now therapy groups that you can join to overcome the trauma that you suffered from abduction.
Now, I’m not trying to make fun of any genuine trauma that people have suffered, but I’m trying to sever this question from the question of alien visitations, for which there’s no evidence.
Because that, really, if we’re frank about it, it’s where these discussions are drawing their juice. Isn’t it? I mean, otherwise we would just be looking at one more unexplained psychiatric phenomenon.
JOHN MACK: Well, again, you’re saying a priori that there’s no evidence, and I think you’d need to get a really balanced discussion of people that have studied UFO sightings of which there have been thousands. Some of which well-documented. That’s not my area, but I think to keep saying there’s no evidence offhand as if that was a proven fact, I don’t think is a fair statement.
ALEX CHADWICK: Gentlemen…
TIMOTHY FERRIS: Well, let me say that it’s a, it’s a judgment, but it’s a judgment based on 35 years of following the literature in this field.
ALEX CHADWICK: We’re going to take a short break. We’re talking about claims of alien abduction with Tim Ferris, who’s the author of The Mind’s Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context, and Harvard psychiatrist, John Mack. To join the discussion, call us at
(800) 989-8255. And we’ll be back in a moment. At 30 minutes past the hour, you’re listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR news.
ALEX CHADWICK: This is Talk of the Nation. John Hockenberry is on vacation this week. I’m Alex Chadwick.
Joining our discussion now is David Jacobs. He’s associate professor of history at Temple University and the author of the new book, Secret Life: Firsthand Accounts of UFO Abductions. Professor Jacobs joins us from the studios of member station, WHYY in Philadelphia. Good afternoon.
DAVID JACOBS: Good afternoon, Alex.
ALEX CHADWICK: And also with us, psychiatrist John Mack, who joins us from member station WBUR in Boston and professor Timothy Ferris of the University of California at Berkeley coming to us from KQED in San Francisco.
And from Greenwich, Connecticut, Gail, you’re on Talk of the Nation.
GAIL: Can you hear me?
ALEX CHADWICK: Yes, we can.
GAIL: Okay. I can’t hear you very well. Earlier somebody mentioned something about a gap between we can’t explain everything and being willing to accept any explanation. I think I have something that could shed some light on this.
There’s an article from October one, 1990 on page 20 in a publication called Aviation Week and Space Technology. The title of the article is “Secret Advanced Vehicles Demonstrate Technologies for Future Military Use”. And it talks about what seems to be UFO sightings, but in terms of simply sighting unusual aircraft flying at unusually high speeds, making sounds that suggest that an unusual system of propulsion. And all this makes me think that the explanations for people’s experiences might really have a perfectly normal and terrestrial origin, but there may be some unusual chemicals in the environment, or unusual fields of energy that are causing people to have those unusual emotional or physical experiences. I’m just wondering what your comments would be about that, if any one of you read the article.
ALEX CHADWICK: Let’s ask David Jacobs to respond, especially because your name was raised in the first half hour of this program as someone with some expertise in the area of UFOs.
DAVID JACOBS: Well, the UFO phenomenon first came to public consciousness in 1947, and I really didn’t want to talk too much about the UFO phenomenon per se. I wanted to talk more about abductions, but as long as it’s come up.
Since 1947, the scientific community to a small degree and the Air Force to an even smaller degree has been trying to figure out exactly what has caused these. Over the past four decades there has been any number of explanations to account for UFO sightings, which includes things from moats floating in people’s eyes, floaters, to lunar dust kicked up by hard landings on the moon by Russian space vehicles in the 1960s, to swarms of bugs in the sky, to everything.
And I’m sure that probably all those things might account for a sighting here or there – one or two out of the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of sightings that we have.
To suggest as Timothy Ferris has said, that the evidence points nothing is to pretty much display a fairly profound ignorance of what the UFO phenomenon is all about and what the studies have shown over the past years.
And obviously if this was simply a matter of nothing, if it was a matter of delusions and madness of crowds, we wouldn’t be talking here about this subject other than in a psychological manner.
ALEX CHADWICK: May I ask you, professor Jacobs, why it is that we cannot produce any physical evidence, however that any of this has occurred?
DAVID JACOBS: Well, the evidence is not exactly what we would want. Obviously what we want is one that we can have, to hold, to touch. The same thing with the abduction phenomenon. We want hard evidence and we just don’t have that. What we have is primarily anecdotal evidence.
For the UFO phenomena in general, we have photographic evidence. We have radar evidence, we have multiple sightings, we have triangulated signings by credible people and so forth. I certainly don’t want to rehash this. This has been gone over for many, many years. We have effects on the environment, on the ground, on vegetation, on animals.
We have everything but a UFO and we have enough evidence to make a certainly a circumstantial case that would certainly that would hold up in any court of law, it seems to me. And this is what’s happening with the abduction phenomenon as well. We have a core of anecdotal evidence, and at the same time, we have an enormous amount of supporting circumstantial evidence as well.
ALEX CHADWICK: You’re listening to Talk of the Nation. Hello, Rick in Princeton, New Jersey, you’re on the air.
RICK: Yeah. I’m more interested in the information side of this. And I know that I heard at least one of your guests bring up the issue of how people could possibly have identical or similar stories if they’d never met each other, et cetera, et cetera. From an information viewpoint, this isn’t very astonishing.
People tend to pick up bits of information on almost subconscious basis and integrate them. But that raises the further question, that once you have a show, like the one CBS has just done, doesn’t this contaminate all further data?
DAVID JACOBS: Well if I may answer that question, this is a problem that that has occurred with UFO sightings in general.
First of all, after the initial sightings came to public consciousness in 1947 and thereafter, do we therefore dismiss all other sightings over the next four or five decades because people have already seen them and therefore they could be picked up in the press? And the answer is obviously not. You have to go on each event and, and, and investigate each one on its own merits.
The other problem is with the abduction phenomenon. In the book that I’ve written I have basically included material, 75% of which at least has never been publicized, never been published, even UFO researchers don’t know about it. I played it all very close to the vest, so to speak. And what we get is precisely detailed accounts, even to the shapes and functions of instruments, over a two and three hour period that could not possibly have been picked up in the media.
ALEX CHADWICK: Tim Ferris, can you offer an explanation?
TIMOTHY FERRIS: Well, we’re again, into this dynamic where I’m called upon to explain it. I don’t think that my impression of the reports is that the precision is not that great, but Dr. Mack has certainly been looking at this much more closely than I have.
Let me, rather than try to answer questions like whether in fact we have evidence for UFOs, when I, I can’t think of any natural phenomenon for which there’s less evidence than there is for UFOs, let me just pose a question to our other guests.
What distinguishes these reports in their quality or interest from reports of ghosts, let’s say, which have been going on for centuries, which are remarkably similar in content, which traumatized people, which produce physical evidence and so forth?
ALEX CHADWICK: David Jacobs?
DAVID JACOBS: Yes. Okay. Ghost sightings of course have been going on for centuries. And what you have is sightings of ghosts. Each sighting has a generalized sense of familiarity based on the culture, that is to say they’re all seemingly consistent. They may be amorphous shapes. They may be solid people, who are an old Seafarer who is smoking a pipe. It might be just a fleeting mist of some sort. But there, they’re are all sort of ephemeral. All of the sightings of ghosts are quick, they’re short. Most of them are, if they have any length whatsoever, are idiosyncratic to the person’s a life, or they might be based on the culture and the society in which the person lives, and so forth.
That is not the case with the abduction phenomenon. With abductions, none of the abduction events are idiosyncratic. They are not based on a person’s life. They are not based on a person’s culture or society or upbringing or anything. They are all very long in duration. They are all precisely detailed, once again a convergence in their details. Not of which could have been found before. Let me say this also, and let’s elevate this conversation just a little bit.
We have scores and scores of multiple, multiple abduction sightings… events, rather. That is to say, people see other people being abducted and are not abducted themselves. People see other people being abducted and are abducted themselves. Furthermore, in all, and I have to use this word in this case because you don’t normally use this word, but in all abduction events, the person is physically missing from his normal environment. We don’t have a single case, not one where a person has said that something unusual has happened to them and it was found out to be an abduction event, let’s just say an independent investigation has verified that the person was in fact, in bed, sleeping at a bar, having a drink or wherever he was. We don’t have a single case of that.
ALEX CHADWICK: You, you say, you say professor Jacobs that there are many instances of people witnessing others being kidnapped, but has anyone got a picture of someone being kidnapped?
DAVID JACOBS: No, we do not have any photographs. So what we see here is that these events happen where you just, you don’t have the wherewithal oftentimes to grab a camera. People, the environment is controlled, so to speak. Most people who are witnesses to these events are themselves, shall we say, rendered powerless. That is to say they oftentimes report that they are paralyzed, that they can’t run. They can’t scream. They can’t hide, even though they are witnessing something they don’t want to see. And so we do not have photographs. Now, photographs of UFOs, we have hundreds of them over the years, obviously. The abduction phenomenon, we do not.
ALEX CHADWICK: Many of the photographs that have claimed to be of UFOs have been shown to be fraudulent.
DAVID JACOBS: That is correct, but those are not of UFOs.
TIMOTHY FERRIS: [inaudible]
DAVID JACOBS: When optical physicists have looked at these photographs, we have a core of photographs that have stood the test of time in study after study, after study. Once again, I really don’t want to rehash this material. That appear to be a solid objects, artificially constructed and under some sort of control. That’s the best I can say.
ALEX CHADWICK: Diana in San Leandro, California, you’re on Talk of the Nation.
DIANA: Hi. this is just a comment, not so much a question. I was thinking, well, there’s nothing as psychosomatic as skin lesions or any skin disorder. I was thinking in particular of Cotton Mather’s account of Margaret Rule and Mercy Short, and some of the truly horrible injuries, psychosomatic injuries, that they suffered. I don’t regard skin lesions as evidence that anything. I’ll take any comment off the air. Thank you.
ALEX CHADWICK: John Mack?
JOHN MACK: The question of evidence has to be looked at from the standpoint of the whole experience. If you just take the cuts, the nosebleeds, the little scoop marks, the scars that appear – unexplained by themselves, that would not make one experience this as such a powerful mystery. But it’s the context in which this occurs. That somebody, let me just as a psychiatrist walk through just very quickly, what happens. The person as we recover the experience, and this will happen in near communication with me, they will report having been in their room, in a car, in one case a woman on a snowmobile. Some kind of light comes down, they’re taken up, they’re paralyzed, they’re terrified. They are taken into some kind of enclosure. And as they report this, their bodies in recapture this experience, their bodies trembled with fear, with rage, with deep hurt. I have to work very hard to support them through this experience. It is like something that has really happened to them.
And in not one case, nor is there any cases in the literature have, has this trauma turned out to be something other than what the person says it is. Now what it is, whether it’s aliens from, in what space/time dimension, or what other dimension they come from, I don’t know. But there is something that I cannot explain. And the power and conviction and emotional intensity of what these people go through – it’s not like watching a ghost or believing in something. It’s something that is deep in their being and which I respect when I hear it, because this is the material that I work with. And I, as a psychiatrist, I just simply cannot ascribe this to something else that I’ve been able to discover to be going on.
ALEX CHADWICK: But how was it, how was it different from seeing a ghost or reports of seeing a ghost?
JOHN MACK: Somebody may report having seen a ghost and been afraid. Or they may report that in the family. But this has a hard edge to it. I mean, this is something which is brought out with great resistance with great difficulty with, sometimes they just don’t want to look at it, don’t want to believe it. It has a power to affect their lives. It just has a depth to it. A robustness, if you will, that, that I have not found in other reports of strange beings or other historical accounts of fairies, goblins, or whatever.
ALEX CHADWICK: Kevin in Oakland?
TIMOTHY FERRIS: Can you, could I excuse me, could I pose a question here?
ALEX CHADWICK: Tim Harris, go ahead.
TIMOTHY FERRIS: I wanted to ask Dr. Mack. I always had difficulty with scientific research that seems to be purely inductive. I’m always looking for some sort of a theory. And so I’m asking this question not contentiously, but because I really don’t know closely enough to judge. I understand that there was a survey done by the psychologist Kenneth Ring, which indicates that the people that have this experience of being abducted tend to have a higher than normal incidence childhood abuse. And I’m curious whether that’s, whether there’s any truth to that in your experience?
JOHN MACK: The figures that Ken Ring came up with indicated a slightly higher incidents of child abuse, but also these may be individuals whose consciousness has been open in some ways to child abuse. Also child abuse has turned out to be so common among the general population that those figures have really not held up in scrutiny that has occurred in a whole subsequent review of this phenomenon. And it’s possible that people have both abuse experiences and these experiences, and we’ll tend to confuse them. But there is not, as I said before, a single case where an abduction experience when explored deeply turned out to have behind it, a child abuse experience. The reverse is the case – that child abuse experiences, when explored have turned out to hide this kind of experience. Because people are much more willing to ascribe it to… In fact, I know many situations where therapists have assumed that this was child abuse, brought in families, question families, fathers, uncles, about what they did to a child, causing trouble in the whole family. The patient gets worse until whatever this is gets identified as the real source of the distress.
ALEX CHADWICK: Let’s take another call. Kevin in Oakland, California.
KEVIN: Yeah. Hi, Alex. I have a question for Dr. Mack with regards to the comments that Peter made the beginning of the show. He talked about multiple abductions or being abducted or incidents that happened more than once. And it would seem to imply some type of a tracking if you will, or following in some way over the years. I was curious, is this something that has happened with other people that have experienced this? And if so, was there any evidence of any I don’t know if it would be device or a chemical imbalance or something that would that would indicate the ability of these beings to track people over time?
JOHN MACK: Sometimes the experiences begin in infancy and occur throughout the person’s life. So some of the abduction experiences involve the experience of having some kind of tracking device, some sort of implant placed in the nose, groin, under the arm. And that experience is greeted with, or experienced with great horror by the individuals, who then feel that they can be found and reached. There are situations in which several of these implants are being looked at, studied chemically.
KEVIN: Oh, so you found them?
JOHN MACK: There are several that have been analyzed, that have been associated with abduction experiences. None has been proved to be of unusual extraterrestrial origin, but the jury is out on several of them.
ALEX CHADWICK: These are suppose that implantations, which have been extracted in some way from people’s sinus cavities?
JOHN MACK: Yeah. Like, as in the film you mentioned on CBS. There was a scene there where a little item was removed from somebody’s nose. They’re small, not as large as that, but small objects that have come out of different orifices following abduction experiences. Again, that’s physical evidence which is consistent with the abduction experience, but by itself the analysis of these obviously have not shown extraordinary combinations of elements, or, what somebody would say, “well, this is from some unusual origin”. But it is part of the whole picture.
ALEX CHADWICK: I’m Alex Chadwick. This is Talk of the Nation from National Public Radio, Fred in San Diego. You’re on Talk of the Nation.
ALEX CHADWICK: Hi, go ahead.
FRED: Hi. First of all … just because there’s no evidence doesn’t prove anything. And I’m also getting a little tired with how the discussion is always, “does it exist? doesn’t it exist?” Okay, let’s assume it exists. What are the implications and what should we be doing about it?
ALEX CHADWICK: Well David Jacobs?
DAVID JACOBS: Well, the implications of this phenomenon, if it exists as people are describing, are obviously staggering. And it’s something that we really should begin to think very seriously about. Even if there’s a tiny possibility that this is real, we should be thinking very hard about this subject. Right now with the abduction phenomenon, unfortunately even though virtually everyone who understands what has happened to them, doesn’t like what has happened to them, doesn’t want it to happen again, and just hopes every night that it never happens again, we have not been able to do anything about it one way or the other. We have not been able to stop it and or even slow it down appreciably. So there doesn’t seem to be much we can do right now, but I think that we really need to be considering this subject thoroughly and seriously, rather than just sort of debating whether it exists, whether it doesn’t exist, where it’s happening, where it’s not happening. Even if there’s a small possibility, it’s certainly worthy of discussion.
TIMOTHY FERRIS: It’s an interesting idea that we should start debating the implications of a phenomenon, whether, even if they’re thought to be non-existent! But I had a question I’d like to pose about the commonality of these experiences. No biologist I know of who’s looked at the question of extraterrestrial life believes that aliens would resemble humans as closely as these accounts do.
DAVID JACOBS: Oh, that’s completely wrong.
TIMOTHY FERRIS: To what do you ascribe the fact that the aliens in these reports look just like science fiction aliens have in a thousand pulp stories for going back over many decades? Old silvery guys with pointed ears and big black eyes? Even though no one in science seems to think that’s how a creature from another planet would look?
ALEX CHADWICK: A question from Tim Ferris. Go ahead.
DAVID JACOBS: Yes. May I answer that please? There’s two parts to the sentence that he said. The first part is that “no biologists would think that aliens would look like this” and that of course is not true whatsoever. And, people who have looked at this subject of what life would look like in outer space generally come to the conclusion, in fact that they would look like what people are reporting and what people…
TIMOTHY FERRIS: Can you name one such biologist? I’ve never seen such a report.
DAVID JACOBS: Well, I cannot name one, one such biologist right now. I will refer you to Dr. Michael Swords at the Western Michigan University, who has done several papers on exactly this subject using current biological theories about what is a minimum that is needed for advanced life, essentially, for intelligent advanced life. Which would be two arms, two legs, two eyes, a head. Eyes located up high for security sake, essentially. And eyes located near a brain, a central nervous system within the head… you just simply need those things if you’re going to be a higher functioning intelligent being.
ALEX CHADWICK: Why couldn’t they look like screwdrivers or tin cans?
DAVID JACOBS: Right. It’s not efficient. It does not work for higher intelligence, basically, which is why we look like that. And well, once again, this is another argument altogether, but to say no biologist thinks that – it’s just not true.
The other part [to the sentence that he said] is that these beings have big ears and then, and, and they they’re silver and they look like a Hollywood… Well, that of course is just not true. That is not in the evidence.
The evidence suggests that all people who are have had these experiences are describing a kind of being that has never, except for this film and and one film that was made in 1975 has never been in the public consciousness or, I’m sorry, Hollywood’s repertoire of monsters.
They’re describing beings that are small, that are gray, tan, let’s just say sometimes whitish, that have dark black opaque eyes, no hair, no ears, no nose, a slit for a mouth, very thin frail bodies, thin arms, thin legs and very large bulbous craniums. This is not the standard Hollywood extraterrestrial.
ALEX CHADWICK: All right. Marianne in Monte Vista, Colorado. You’re on Talk of the Nation.
MARIANNE: Yes. I have a couple of questions to ask. Can you hear me?
ALEX CHADWICK: Yes, go ahead.
MARIANNE: Okay. First of all I was watching the movie Intruders and my first question is concerning that show is to anyone out there. I noticed in the show that the lady had been abducted and left out 30 miles from her home. From materials that I’ve read over the years, and I’ve been reading whatever there is out there, I’ve never come across an abduction where they were left someplace unknown to them or far away. And my next question is, do you have a percentage of the people that will have always continued to show a fear after having been abducted or a percentage of the people, of all these people, that are calm about it?
ALEX CHADWICK: All right, let’s go ahead and get an answer from David Jacobs.
DAVID JACOBS: You’re correct. The vast majority of people who describe abduction experiences are returned basically to the same place that they were taken from. However, I do have a couple of cases myself where people were left significantly farther away from their own normal environment than before. Although you got to remember that this is Hollywood a little bit, and they’ve taken a few liberties for dramatic effect, and that was one of them.
ALEX CHADWICK: And the question of lingering fear?
DAVID JACOBS: Well, people who know what has happened to them are traumatized and they are fearful of they, even when they don’t know what’s happened to them, they can have a generalized anxiety and be fearful of things that they think relate to it. And they might be for instance, extremely fearful of anything to do with UFOs or even the subject of UFOs, and to an inordinate degree. But this is a heavily traumatic situation. It is not a pleasant fantasy that people have spun around themselves to take care of whatever problems that they might have. It’s a situation that people live in fear about. And we do see an enormous amount of anxiety.
ALEX CHADWICK: I’ll just I’ll just say that I ran into a science editor here at National Public Radio earlier on the on the, on the elevator. And she displayed a great deal of anxiety about the fact that we were discussing this subject on a National Public Radio news program. But gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us.
Speaking with us from member station WBUR in Boston, John Mack, professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, David Jacobs, associate professor of history at Temple University, the author of Secret Life: Firsthand Accounts of UFO Abductions. He spoke with us from the studios of member station, WHYY in Philadelphia, and joining us from the studios of member station KQBD in San Francisco, Tim Ferris, professor of journalism at the university of California at Berkeley and author of the book, The Mind’s Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context. Earlier we spoke with Peter, a student in Boston who says he’s been abducted by aliens many times.
This is NPR’s Talk of the Nation. The program librarians include Jacquelyn Gilbert, Willet Stinson, and Robert Goldstein. Talk of the Nation is produced by Margaret West, Danielle Mattoon, David Shank, Gay Davis, and Sean Collins who directs the broadcast. The senior producer of Talk of the Nation is Marcus Rosenbaum. In Washington, I’m Alex Chadwick.
Support for this program is provided by this and other NPR member stations and the NPR news and information fund. Contributors include the National Education Association, 2 million Americans working for better schools, colleges, and universities, and the Ford Foundation. This program is a production of National Public Radio. The views expressed are not necessarily those of NPR, the underwriters, or this broadcast station. This is NPR National Public Radio.
Swords, Michael. 1989. “Science and the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis in UFOlogy”. Journal of UFO Studies, 1, pp.67-102
Relevant excerpt: “…whereas a precise identity to Homo sapiens in UFO reports would be very difficult to explain in any independent evolution scenario, a similarity of basic patterns of structure may be far more likely than is generally recognized. Commentators on advanced extraterrestrial life can agree on several foundation stone concepts. … Such an animal will be bilaterally symmetrical along the line of the tube. The head end will concentrate the central nervous system and the major information-gathering senses, especially sight and sound. The brain must be seriously protected by some enclosure, and be directly and proximately attached to the major sensory organs. These traits are recognized as required or determined by simple logic and physical laws. They are also recognized as being wholly dominant in all large land-dwellers and most large water-dwellers on Earth. This is not in any way an accident peculiar to our planet, but the result of limited sets of possible forms being tested and retested in the fires of universal physics, chemistry, and predator-prey relations. We are beginning to discover these limitations as biologists begin to apply physical principles to biological structures and systems. …Even large biological categories, such as skeletons, have limited numbers of designs. A finite definable number of skeletal types has been described and related to earthly forms. Almost every type turns out to exist on Earth, most of them with many representatives (Reif and Thomas 1986). The message is this: physics, geometry, strength of materials limit the number of structural possibilities. Within these limits a dynamic ecology will inevitably fill each useful structural niche, usually many times over.”
Swords, Michael. 1991. “Modern Biology and the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis”. MUFON 1991 International UFO Symposium Proceedings, Sequin, Texas: MUFON.
Swords, Michael. 1993. “Can Extraterrestrial Intelligences Be Expected to Have Human Form?”. SSE 12th Annual Meeting Proceedings, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Swords, Michael. 1995. “Could Extraterrestrial Intelligences Be Expected to Breathe Our Air?” Journal of Scientific Exploration, 9, pp. 381–392.
This transcript was produced by the John E Mack Archives for educational and informational purposes only. No official transcript has been produced by NPR; Talk of the Nation transcripts only extend back to November 1996 according to NPR: media.npr.org/transcripts