Christopher Lydon interviews John E. Mack, M.D.

by Christopher Lydon

Originally aired February 29, 1996 on The Connection.

Listen to this interview (mp3)

I’m Christopher Lydon, this is The Connection. Abducted by aliens you say? Really? Little bubble headed space people out of flying saucers you say? And you’re sober and you’re serious and you’re troubled about it? And you’re not given to this sort of extraterrestrial fantasy but it just happened? And you can’t get the shock and embarrassment out of your head? Now really, what do you expect your doctor to say? The shocking thing in this skeptical, scientific world is that the psychiatrist John Mack of the Cambridge Hospital and the Harvard Medical School has been saying attention must be paid here, these alien abductions are not dreams or fabrications or science fiction he says, and he’s been in all kinds of trouble for saying so. Trouble with Harvard, trouble with colleagues and the press, and now with Nova, the PBS science show. John Mack and the alien argument are next on the Connection.

VOICE (from Nova program): “There was a spotlight shining in the room with somebody walking towards me very quickly”
VOICE of Peter (from Nova program): “I woke up in the middle of the night and there were two beings, one to the side of my bed and one to the foot of my bed, and I found myself trying to wake up my wife, trying to scream, make a noise and I couldn’t. And again I felt myself paralyzed.”
VOICE of John Velez (from Nova program): “Panic set in. And it’s so intense that it takes your breath away. You can’t breathe, you can’t move.”

CHRIS LYDON: You just heard them. Those people say they’ve been abducted by aliens. They say small grey beings with huge liquid black eyes have kidnapped them, and in some cases used them in breeding experiments. Among the people who work with the so-called “experiencer community,” and who believe their claims should be taken seriously, is the Harvard psychiatrist John Mack.

VOICE of John Mack (from Nova program): “It’s often said that I’m a believer, and sort of gone…lost my objectivity. I really object to that, because this is not about believing anything. I didn’t believe anything when I started and I don’t believe anything now. No one has found an alternative explanation, in a single abduction case.”

CHRIS LYDON: Dr. John Mack has been the butt of jokes, he’s been the subject of an academic investigation at Harvard, but a Nova documentary on Tuesday night perhaps came down hardest on him.

VOICE from Nova program: “The ease with which Mack accepts either deliberate, misleading or hypnotic fantasies as real is very frightening, for someone whose in a position of authority, for someone whose in a position of telling people this stuff is real.”

CHRIS LYDON: That was Richard Offshee, a sociologist at the University of California at Berkeley. Nova also interviewed Donna Bassett, a freelance writer in Cambridge who said she went undercover into John Mack’s alien support group posing as an abductee. She says she was hypnotized by John Mack three times and then she wrote a Time magazine story denouncing John Mack as a fraud. We’re joined by Dr. John Mack this morning; he’s written a seven page letter to Nova defending people who say they’ve been abducted, and rejecting the claims of the writer Donna Bassett. We’ve invited Dr. John Mack to talk about his work. We wanted to give him a chance to respond to the criticism around the documentary. We wanted also, you, Connection listeners to have a chance to give him a call this hour. Do you believe those aliens are real? Do you believe the whole idea is nonsense? Do you believe there could be a nuanced, more mysterious reality, somewhere between obvious physical truth and nonsense? Do you believe in John Mack’s academic freedom to explore those questions? Give us a call. John Mack, good morning.

JOHN MACK: Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS LYDON: Welcome. I want to just remind people who didn’t know that you’re a Pulitzer prize – as well as being a psychiatrist – a Pulitzer prize biographer of T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, an accomplished writer, a man who wrote a very serious and interesting book on the abduction phenomenon. You’re a formidable character, certainly in the field of psychiatric studies and literary argument. The question, the first question in my mind – we’ll get to the sort of the reality, what is the nature of this alien reality if they’re real at all – is what’s keeping this argument going? And why haven’t you, with the enormous powers of articulation at your command won more followers, especially in your own field? What is the war going on in which the Nova documentary is just one more interesting battle?

JOHN MACK: Well I think the fact that Nova actually took on this subject for a full hour and that here we are on a very fine and distinguished radio show taking on this subject, looking at it seriously, that tells me that the subject is being considered in the culture more and more widely. Now that it’s controversial that is to be expected. And I think the reason that it’s so controversial has to do with what we’re being asked to consider in relation to the abduction phenomenon. We’re asked to consider that some form of intelligence, some kind of beings, who are not simply the products of imagination, are not simply the ancestor beings connected with some tribal culture, but are actually confronting people in our culture in some way that is powerfully real for these people, and that the people themselves are not deluded, that this is not a product of some kind of psychiatric condition. In other words, that there is some sort of crossover from the imaginal or unseen world into our physical world, in that beings are manifesting to people in the cosmos. That’s very hard for our culture to take seriously.

CHRIS LYDON: Well, yes and no. I mean, this is wildly religious country as we discover especially in the Presidential primaries every four years. All sorts of people believe in some big active power out there, Christian God or otherwise. What is it that you think people are experiencing? I mean, I take your main point, you’re main point is that there’s something out there manifesting itself here, it’s not simply generated in the turbulent dreams of nice neurotic American folk. But what is the nature of that confrontation?

JOHN MACK: Well just briefly for people who are not familiar with this, what happens and what…I started out when I began to work in this area thinking this had to be some kind of psychiatric problem, it just wasn’t possible that beings – whether they be the classic greys with big black eyes and pear shaped heads or more luminous taller beings, there are a number of types that people describe – this simply was not possible, from the standpoint of my world view and scientific training. But what I began to have to deal with in case after case, and I’ve now worked intensively with well over a hundred of these people in the United States and increasingly in other parts of the world, is people of sound mind telling a consistent story with appropriate intense emotion. This isn’t the emotion of an experimental planted idea, as shown on the Nova program for example, where Elizabeth Loftis’s work showed that people could bring back memories falsely of something, but those people were…

CHRIS LYDON: Or movies, or tv shows, or…

JOHN MACK: Sure. But those were situations where there was deliberate experimental planting of an idea and then the people recalled it with not particularly strong emotion or anything, rather flat actually. But where in these cases, people spontaneously come to someone like me with intense emotion, full of doubt themselves because it conflicts with their view of the world as much as it does with ours, and they say “Look, you won’t believe this doctor, but around my bed were these beings with these big black eyes,” and they’re terrified as they describe this, and they worry that they’re crazy, but psychological tests over and over again show that these are people of sound mind, normal psychologically – not that there can’t be people in that group that also have troubles. But, there is nothing psychiatric we’ve been able to find that distinguishes them from anybody else. They’re not particularly imaginative or prone to fantasy, or that kind of thing. Now when case after case consistently among people who had not talked to each other, did not look at the media, did not have anything to gain, in fact everything to lose because there’s a tendency as you mentioned yourself to ridicule people in this area…When I began to see that, and also with associated physical findings corroborating what was going on I found I had to take this seriously. It wasn’t something that I could explain away psychologically or psychiatrically.

CHRIS LYDON: Ok, thus far I’m with you entirely. I mean, John Mack basically says attention must be paid, this can’t be just dismissed or left to the National Inquirer or ridiculed or passed off as a particularly vivid dream or wet dream or whatever. Ok, now, what is it? What is going on – who are these little beasts? Do they have a reality of their own? Are they implanted, um, you say they’re not simple figments of people’s imaginations but do they exist, nonetheless, only in the minds of the people who experience them? Is it a message from God? I keep thinking frankly as you talk about it, I must say, it sounds like a modern version of the revelation that you read all through the Bible. “And the Lord said to Moses,” or “The Lord said to Isaih,” or… As you describe it, it seems to me you basically want to treat it as a kind of message from heaven, as intuited by prophets in the old days. Is that what you’re driving at?

JOHN MACK: Well we can, I think that the creation of myth and how myth is related to actual human experience is something that folklorists are beginning to look into. But take for example the case of Peter. You had a brief soundbite from Peter at the beginning of the show, and Peter acknowledges that he’s an experiencer. Peter, when he first began to acknowledge that these beings had come to him, that they had put him on a table, that they had done sexual experiments, taken sperm, taken seed from him, he was terrified. It was deeply distressing, it clashed with his reality, he didn’t want to talk about it but he finally did come to speak with me about this. Now for Peter, once he came to accept that this was real, in other words that he could not somehow dismiss this as a product of his own imagination – and he arrived at that himself, I mean he, this was so powerfully physical for him,


JOHN MACK: what had occurred – but then, what really changed him was the acknowledging that there were in fact other entities, beings in the universe that could come to him, that could confront him. And it was the fact of that that opened him to a whole different sense of himself in the cosmos. In other words that he was not simply the one, an intelligent member of a species that considers itself at the top of the intellectual hierarchy in the cosmos, but he was one kind of being and perhaps not even the most intelligent and most powerful being.

CHRIS LYDON: What does John Mack think that other entity really was? Was there something in the room there with Peter?

JOHN MACK: Well that’s the mystery. And that is the edge of the mystery. We do not know what these beings are, but they are not simply the product of somebody’s psychiatry or imagination or psychodynamics or early conflicts. We’ve looked at all those possibilities; early history of sexual abuse, false memory, sleep paralysis. None of these even begin to account to for the complex, consistent narratives that people report from these experiences, and report with intense appropriate emotion.

CHRIS LYDON: That I understand. What I don’t understand is what you think was in the room. I mean it sounds like Marley’s ghost in the room with Scrooge. Is that what you’re talking about? There was a profound reality there, it’s a reality that millions and millions of people rediscover every time they read that story at Christmas or other times, but we know that Jacob Marley was not in the room. That’s what puzzles me. What do you think was in the room with Peter?

JOHN MACK: Some kind of entity, being…we don’t even have language for it. A form of intelligence, something that has shown up which is in as you said earlier, nuance. Some grey area between the highly dense physical matter like you and me, and something which is like in the spirit world. It’s what the Dali Lama said, “these beings have crossed over from the spiritual world into the physical world because we have destroyed their spiritual home. They have no way to reach us but to manifest physically.” So you’re right, it is complex, it is physical in a sense, there are cuts, scoop marks, lesions on people’s bodies which they have after these experiences. They experience these beings as physically very real, sometimes there are actually burned earth patches where ufos land, people have cuts on their bodies where they were probed on the ship. I mean it’s not something which is simply like a phantom or an apparition, it has more dense materiality than that, but it – We don’t have photographs of these beings, we don’t have anything that is like as solidly material for example as this table to show as an artifact. And that I think is part of the controversy, in other words if this is real, we have only small, medium and large in real, like we have fantasy and we have

CHRIS LYDON: Animal, vegetable and mineral.

JOHN MACK: the table. But we don’t have, as you said, the nuanced notions of reality that this requires. So the debate constantly gets framed in “Are these physical beings like you or me, or is this purely fantasy?” But there are all kinds of other possibilities. That is, of realities that we could expand to, of beings for example that can exist in the cosmos as spirits but manifest physically. We have no place for that, no context in our cultural ideology.

CHRIS LYDON: Well you know you keep saying that but it strikes me, another way of looking at it is that of course we do, of course we do, it’s called religious experience and it happens all the time all over the world. I’m sure if you hung out your shingle and said “This is John Mack, I’ve moved out of alien abduction stories into sightings of the Virgin Mary stories,” you’d have lines and lines of people from all over the world wanting to talk to you about it. And they’re very much the same kind of thing, “There was a burnt mark on the ground, no I don’t have a picture but she did appear,” or “Jesus appeared,” or something happened. It seems to me not only very common and persistent in the world – you read about it forever – but that this culture deep down, the religious side of our culture, believes profoundly that Elvis is still alive, that Hitler may still be alive, that God knows indeed Jesus is still alive, and that the Virgin Mary was seen not only at Fatima in this century but, there are many many places in this world where people go to experience this kind of “different reality,” and we do have an extended language to talk about it, mostly in the language of religion. Are you open to that kind of fusion of these two discussions?

JOHN MACK: Well yes and no. The analogy is not totally off but there are some problems with it. First of all, these are not people that are particularly believers. They are isolated one from another, there may be hundreds of thousands who –

CHRIS LYDON: Not all the people who see the Virgin are believers either.

JOHN MACK: Well, but they – it tends to be a contagion. They tend to be people who see this at once in a kind of group phenomenon, whereas in these situations these people tend to be very isolated one from another, they’re having very individual experiences which bear little relationship at least so we’ve been able to tell to their background or religious belief. They don’t experience it as something that is transcendent necessarily. It may be something which is mainly traumatic, mainly physical, down and dirty, disturbing, and not particularly of any religious or spiritual value or quality for them. So, it doesn’t have the quality of something which is a kind of gathering religious connection of people with meaning that is consistent. There’s some often nasty, rather nasty big eyed beings that intrude into people’s worlds, shock their reality, make them actually if anything disturb them psychologically, traumatize them. When they meet with each other they give each other support, but it doesn’t have the quality of a kind of growing religious system of belief which serves the individuals in some deep sense.

CHRIS LYDON: Ok, let’s go to the phones. John Mack. Doctor John Mack. The ufo-doc, as the headlines put it. The man who insists that there is a reality to be explored in the many stories of alien abductions. He’s our guest this hour. Give him a call. Anne is on the line from Cambridge.

CHRIS LYDON: Good morning, Anne.
CALLER ANNE: Hi doctor Mack and hi Chris.
JOHN MACK: Hi, Anne.
CALLER ANNE: I saw the show on Nova and I was just so disappointed, I felt like we’d gone back about ten years in our thinking about this. I’m not an experiencer, but there’s something about it that resonates with me that has caused me to read a lot of the literature that’s out there, and Dr. Mack’s book is clearly the most reasonable and enlightening of what is available, I think. Because it’s simply a report of patients experiences. He doesn’t interpret it, and you’re trying to make him interpret it, but I don’t think he can interpret it, and that’s sort of the point. I mean, these patients are clearly suffering from something. I mean, do you think, Chris, that something is happening with them?

CHRIS LYDON: Uh, yeah, I’m inclined to – I mean, when I compared – I’m trying to encourage it. Read “Turn of the Screw.” Were there real ghosts there or not? I mean, I believe in pushing the edge toward some grasp, some understanding, some respect for spiritual reality. In that sense I think this is all extremely interesting. And frankly I like John Mack’s approach to it.

CALLER ANNE: Right. But what I think Dr. Mack is running into is something that I run into everyday in my work life as a nurse, which is there’s a point of view in the medical profession that basically is “If we can’t explain it, it doesn’t exist.” And it happens with a lot of things, not just this. There’s many many many other things.

CHRIS LYDON: Is that the scientific code, Dr. Mack, that’s still trying to take a bite out of you?

JOHN MACK: I think that scientific code that we’ve been raised on says that if we can’t prove it – and that’s a kind of an 18th century scientific code, because there are many variabilities and there are many probabilistic matters in quantum mechanics and advanced physics – but we’ve been reduced to a kind of 18th century physics when we’re talking about something that threatens our world view like this does. In other words, we’ve gotta have a chunk off of the ufo itself before we’ll believe it. Well physics isn’t really at that sort of material 18th century level, but in this case we kind of regress it every level in the debate. And I wanted to say something about Anne’s point in connection with the Nova show, and the controversy. You can tell that this is an ideological battle as well as a scientific one by the fact that in for example the case of this Donna Bassett you mentioned, they did no fact checking. We had a preview of the program so we were able to mount a brief which showed countless errors, in how nothing she said was accurate or truthful. But they didn’t fact check that. And when you have a situation where fact and truth are overridden in the pursuit for a point of view,

CHRIS LYDON: Let’s just be sure what the factual errors, if any, were. Did you hypnotize her?

JOHN MACK: Let me give you an example. There’s a little note on the program which she, it says “Looking forward to our meeting, here’s some materials in advance of that meeting.” She went in to Time magazine, she also said on the Nova program that this was sort of priming her in anticipation of a regression so my beliefs would be put across. Well what was left off in the Nova show? They only showed me writing this to Donna. This note was written – and we have the note – to Ed and Donna, namely to both of them in anticipation of a meeting in the lounge of the Charles Hotel, which I understood was a collegial meeting to exchange papers and ideas about it. It had nothing to do with a regression or anything of the kind. So that was a complete distortion.

CHRIS LYDON: Did you hypnotize her and did you feel that she was faking her way through it?

JOHN MACK: I worked with her in good faith. She was a troubled person, troubled by what appeared to be these experiences. There’s a friend of hers who says she’s been troubled about these abduction experiences going back into the eighties. The whole question of her hoaxing, infiltrating, that’s really very uncertain. There’s a letter to Whitley Strieber going back – who is a very well known experiencer, she wrote to him – going back a year ago saying that abductions have been occurring in her family for generations.[1] This goes back eleven months before she ever contacted me at all. So, you know there’s a real question about the whole story. After two meetings, in the Charles lounge, where we talked about some of her and her husband’s ideas of government conspiracy and radiation and this and that, damaging our people, and experiments that were going on, it appeared that she herself was troubled and wanted to have some sessions with me so I did meet with her after that. But, again, because she was a troubled person – and I’m not going to talk about details of her case – I have a lot of question about it and have never used any of the materials from my sessions with her in any of my public speaking or any of my written materials. So this notion that I somehow accepted everything she said without any skepticism is also completely false.

CHRIS LYDON: We’re talking with Dr. John Mack on the whole question of alien abductions. It’s been his view for years that something serious is going on here and it’s not just out of the troubled minds of the people who experience abduction. He’s never said exactly what he thinks is going on but he thinks respectful attention must be paid to it. What do you think? Give him a call. He took a heavy hit from Nova on PBS Tuesday night. Our minds are still open at the Connection. 1-800-000-8255 makes the abduction connection with Dr. John Mack this hour. We’ll be back after a very short break.

VOICE of Carl Sagan (from Nova program): “As a scientist, what worries me the most is the absence of skeptical thinking, not just on the so-called abductees, but on the part of the therapists.”

CHRIS LYDON: I’m Christopher Lydon this is the Connection. That was the voice of Carl Sagan from the Nova documentary on the abduction phenomenon and very specifically on Dr. John Mack, who is our guest this hour on the Connection. Do you want to respond to Carl Sagan on the matter of skepticism? I’ve never found you “un-skeptical,” what does that mean to you, Dr. Mack?

JOHN MACK: Well first of all Carl Sagan on the program is a bit inappropriate, really. I mean, here you have an astronomer, this is really not a question of astronomy. I mean Carl Sagan is making pronouncements about hallucinations and human distortions of reality and this and that, I mean he’s simply not qualified to do that. And I think it’s just the fact that he’s a major figure in this culture that he would be on that program at all, which I think again reflects the bias, because he’s well known to be not only skeptical but a complete debunker on this abduction story – hasn’t looked at the data, hasn’t worked with this population, but there he is speaking ex-cathedra on the matter. So I question…I think that again indicates the ideological bias of the program. But let me speak to the question of skeptical thinking. I think that’s simply inaccurate. Those of us that have worked in this field are deeply effected by the mystery of it, we wonder…we wonder, what is this about? We don’t accept at face value what people tell us. We question, we challenge. You mentioned the Harvard controversy. There’s signed affidavits from thirty people that I’ve worked with that say I do not lead them, I do question, I am skeptical, I challenge in some instances their ideas. Because this is something which I know goes against the grain of what this culture believes. So there may be therapists out there that are believers, I haven’t met many of them. Most of them are as incredulous as I am. But here we’re dealing with data. We have two choices at this point: Faced with something which doesn’t fit our world view we have a choice. We can try to jam it into conventional explanations, like the show tried to do. Or, we can say maybe we don’t know everything, maybe we need to expand our notions of reality to say I don’t know, there’s a mystery here. What the show does is it takes all the conventional possible explanations – an unsuspecting viewer wouldn’t be able possibly to catch this, they take false memory, sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and they take all these things that are mutually contradictory and offer them as if they were plausible explanations of this phenomenon. Instead of getting people that are qualified, they take the known debunkers – not skeptics, known debunkers – as their authorities and don’t consult any philosophers, clinicians, religious people, scientists who are open to the phenomenon.

CHRIS LYDON: It seems to me it’s the mark of skepticism that you are willing to listen patiently to this whole question over a long period of time. But let’s go back to the phones. Make the Connection with Dr. John Mack, the “ufo-doc” as he shows up on page 1 of the Herald. Nathan Cohen is calling from Belmont, he’s a SETI researcher. SETI stands for Search for Extraterrrestrial Intelligence. Thanks for calling.

CALLER NATHAN COHEN: Morning Chris, how are you. I’m not sure if I’m your right man – it sounds like Dr. Mack wants a philosopher on the line here.

CHRIS LYDON: What’s your own view of all this?

CALLER NATHAN COHEN: Alright bottom line, aliens are not among us. It just takes too much effort, the distance between stars is too great, and there’s absolutely no reason to think that the Earth is a particular garden spot of the Milky Way. It’s more viable to think that if there are extraterrestrials, they’re likely to try to communicate via radio transmissions, which will be one way in nature because of the time scales, and we’re more than equipped in our technology to pick those kinds of signals up.

CHRIS LYDON: We’re listening for them all the time.

CALLER NATHAN COHEN: Well, some people are sporadically. It isn’t as if there’s five thousand radio astronomers listening for “ET”. It’s a sporadic exercise.

CHRIS LYDON: John Mack, you respond to Nathan Cohen.

JOHN MACK: Well first of all, Terrance McKenna, who is kind of a philosopher made the remark that to search the heavens with radio waves trying to find extraterrestrial life is as culture-bound as sending a search light into the heavens looking for a good Italian restaurant. The point is that it completely frames the dialogue in terms of our rather primitive technologies that we’ve developed here, to send out radio signals and expect that there’s going to be some culture that’s kind of like us that has developed radio technology, and is going to send them back. Also, the idea that we have to think in terms of how big the cosmos is, and how many miles and how long it would take to get here by our physical laws, again that looks away from the possibility that we don’t know everything. We don’t know the laws by which some other intelligence might communicate with us or reach us through a technology for example that might have been developed thousands of years ahead of us. So, to travel over some totally different principal than anything that we know about.

CHRIS LYDON: Norman Cohen, you got a last word?

CALLER NATHAN COHEN: Uh, yes. This is nonsense! I mean Dr. Mack is obviously not familiar with Ockham’s Razor, which says if you have to consider several different hypotheses, always choose the simplest one. These people have medical problems, their problems have no basis in physical reality, period.

JOHN MACK: Look, to say something is nonsense because it doesn’t happen to fit – or you use Ockham’s Razor when you want to take the things we already know and say “this has to fit what we already know,” I think that’s just restricting the way of thinking about this whole phenomenon.

CHRIS LYDON: Thank you Nathan Cohen. 1-800-000-8255 is our phone at the Connection. The ufo Connection, the abduction Connection this hour. Steven is calling from Boston.

CALLER STEVEN: Good morning Chris, good morning Dr. Mack. I must say I certainly watched the Nova special the other evening and I do have your book, though I’ve skimmed through it I’ve not read it cover to cover. I find the whole topic very intriguing, very interesting despite my hard core background in science as a physicist, and I don’t know what to make of it, I don’t believe it nor dis-believe it –


CALLER Steven: – but I do respect the quest for the search for the truth or whatnot, however you want to term it. I have a question that Nova did not discuss, it didn’t even touch upon it. What are your thoughts on the notion of, as a case study for evidence, just video surveillance of these abductees or alleged abductees or the ones who particularly claim multiple abductions? Just setting up video surveillance of their bedrooms, in their bedrooms night after night after night?

CHRIS LYDON: Sounds like me wanting to wait up and see Santa Claus, Steven.

JOHN MACK: Steven, we’ve done it. In fact one of the people I work with very intensely is a kind of video electronics expert. He sets up every type of detection that he can. Electronic wire – trip wires and video surveillance, everything you can possibly imagine and the thing eludes him. There’s one case that Budd Hopkins reports where somebody set up something all night long, so that the person’s abduction would be monitored and what happened was that an abduction occurred but the tape was blank for that hour. One of the things we’ve noticed when the energies related to this are around, that electronic equipment goes nuts. And even electrical equipment. Toasters go off, light bulbs do funny things, tv sets do funny things, cars even stop.

CHRIS LYDON: Are these unions technicians on the job?

CALLER STEVEN: Why was that not covered at all in the Nova special? At all? It was lacking completely that the net element of video surveillance…and what you’re saying now would have provided at least some semblance of, some kernel of curiosity for even staunch doubters.

JOHN MACK: Steven, we’re even deeply involved at the organization PEER, the Program for Extraordinary Experience Research, Carol McCloud and others in our team, in doing comparison studies in depth with psychological profiles of these people to investigate just the kind of things that the Nova program said we didn’t do. They knew we were doing this, they simply left that off because they were so intent upon discrediting this work.

CHRIS LYDON: Steven, thank you. Carol is calling from Gloucester.

Listen to an excerpt of this conversation (mp3)

CALLER CAROL: Hi, I’m a forty year old woman and um, when I was thirteen years old I had what I’ve considered to be an abduction experience, and for years I was in denial about it even though it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. But as I grew older and I read other people’s accounts of abductions, I came to feel like a commonality in my experience. And the point I want to make is that if people or beings from another planet or another dimension wanted to get in touch with us, they would choose people that are vulnerable, people that are free thinking, people that are, might be intoxicated, might be, might think in ways different than people who have very rational minds. Somebody from another place would not be able to really reach somebody who had a very rational mind. So, that’s the point I wanted to make.

CHRIS LYDON: But then again, how would they know, Carol? How would they know to select free thinkers?

CALLER CAROL: Oh, these beings know EVERYTHING. I mean, I know that.

CHRIS LYDON: There’s a bit of a leap right there. Carol, what was your own abduction experience, can you describe it?

CALLER CAROL: My, yes it was very very powerful. I was sitting down between two friends my own age, we were sitting at a sea wall, I looked up in the sky and saw a plane. I heard a loud beep and I blacked out. And my friends later told me that my eyes were open the whole time. Um, I, they were…I didn’t see beings but I was very aware of their presence. Maybe a male. I was being communicated to telepathically for sure, and the most important thing that happened is – and this is, it’s like I’m describing a dream, it makes no sense – they took a pearl and put it into the top of my head! And I could see it falling down inside me to the bottom, the bottom of my being. And um, I don’t talk about this to a lot of people, I can’t believe I’m calling up on the radio to tell you about this but it’s very exciting…Maybe I’ll never figure it out. One other thing I wanted to tell you –

CHRIS LYDON: Had you been reading War of the Worlds comic books in the hour before this happened?

CALLER CAROL: No (laugh), no.

CHRIS LYDON: John Mack, please comment, and Carol stay on the line.

JOHN MACK: Quickly, well the fact that it makes no sense to the people themselves, that’s why it isn’t right to call these people believers, because they often feel isolated like that. Her case is atypical in some senses in that often when people are having these experiences children for example in the case of parents will witness that the parent is actually missing. In other words, in some situations the physical body is missing, in other situations as in Carols other witnesses can see that they have not been physically removed. Again, that grey nuanced range of penetration of this phenomenon into our physical world. The fact that they choose people who are vulnerable – I don’t know about that. We haven’t found any consistent personality characteristics and its very hard to know what shows up in the personality after having these experiences as opposed to, that this was the type of person that was, because if this begins in infancy they’ve lived with this their whole lives. But I think that choosing people, communication and what gets communicated is quite interesting. In addition to the traumatic reproductive aspect, this is occurring in the context of the destruction of the planet’s living systems, and that fact gets communicated to people telepathically in these experiences over and over and over again.

CHRIS LYDON: This is something I’ve always wondered about. You say that one of the bottom line messages in all of these visitations is a sense that the world as its currently going is destroying the planet, environmentally and otherwise. A couple questions here. First of all, this again takes me back to the Biblical prophets, saying “the end is…” it’s another reminder of “the end is near.” It’s the universal warning of God to Israel or to the world that shape up or I’m going to blow you away again.

JOHN MACK: Chris, the analogy with prophetic traditions isn’t necessarily wrong, it just means we have to maybe rethink how prophetic matters would show up at this time and this culture.

CHRIS LYDON: Absolutely, absolutely.

JOHN MACK: Since we only know the material world, it might have to show up materially for us to even pay any attention to it.

CHRIS LYDON: Ok, that’s one question, but I just want to compound it with the other question that I always want to ask John Mack, is what if the message from outer space were something you profoundly did not like. Like, “Nuke the commies now before it’s too late, or…”

CALLER CAROL: Can I say something here…

JOHN MACK: Look I don’t like the message – I’m sorry Carol, you come in next right after this – I don’t like the message we’re getting now, which is that the human species as we’ve known it has failed, that the planet needs to be under some kind of receivership because we have gotten out of control, we’re a malignancy on the earth, we’re destroying things, the whole political game is off, I mean I don’t like this message at all, it’s a scary message.

CHRIS LYDON: Of course you like it. No, it’s a scary message but it’s the oldest message in Judaeo-Christian thinking, which is sort of “shape up, you’re God’s children and you’re blowing it.” That’s why it’s the Tower of Babel all over again and I’m going to flood you out.

JOHN MACK: Carol, what do you think?

CALLER CAROL: I think the message that I got when I was twelve or thirteen was I was very nervous but excited too, and I felt absolutely safe, they told me that they had gotten in touch with me before, they will get in touch with me again in my lifetime, I felt very connected to them…I mean I don’t even think of them as outer space beings, it’s more like wise beings, and the message I got loud and clear is “there’s a lot more here than meets the eye.” A heck of a lot more.

CHRIS LYDON: Carol, that’s good!

CALLER CAROL: Ok, great. I’m so glad I called! Feels great to verbalize this in public. Thank you.

CHRIS LYDON: Thank you very much. 1-800-000-8255. You don’t have to have experienced that sort of message to call the Connection, but all the more if you have. Mike is on the line in Arlington.

CALLER Mike: Hi Chris, thanks and yeah, here I am at a loss for words. I have had an experience, at least I thought I did, ok? But my question is with the individuals that come forward and share their experience. What is their feeling about societies view of them? And I want to bring in the government because of traditional, first let’s see the spaceships, then now it’s – I’m getting nervous for some reason – now it’s the close encounter or the third kind the physical existence, this evolution that’s begun, the individual, the suppression in the brain…It’s very deep for me because like I said I did have something, but I being somewhat grounded felt like I was traveling across the United States and I pulled over in Arizona to sleep at night. I’d been eating oranges all day, and I thought maybe the acid build up in my system was like a dream type deal, but you know I walked away from it just thinking that much of it was my own picked up little bits and pieces. I’m aligning myself up more towards you Chris, as far as religious experience, seeing ghosts early on in life, that kind of stuff. But aside from that, when I talk about it, if I try to bring it up to someone they say I’m nuts, or “yeah, yeah, yeah.” And I’m not in it that deep to where I’ve had multiple experiences, I don’t feel they’re contacting me all the time, but I know there’s probably individuals out there who have that. What are their feelings when they come forward and they’re on the table and they’re under hypnosis and they’re telling you all this? I mean are they fearful that like something will, doom is over their shoulders?

CHRIS LYDON: Let’s ask Dr. John Mack.

JOHN MACK: There are many questions there. First of all, like you they’re anxious about communicating, they fear isolation, they don’t come forward readily. But you touch on something which I think relates to what this whole thing is about. I think it has to do with, at it’s core, about who we are. Human identity. Are we this superior technologically, scientifically, self important species or are we one species among many in the cosmos who needs to learn to live in harmony with the earth and in the planet. That expanded notion of our identity seems to be what this is about from an evolutionary point of view. Dominique Calamanopolis and I, my colleague who has worked in the international aspect of this is discovering that this phenomenon is showing up in many countries, among many different cultures. A Cherokee medicine woman for example talked to us about how we had lost our original instructions, in other words who we were supposed to be, as one species living in harmony with the earth. Credo Muhtwah, a sangoma, a South African leader of the Zulu people, he said to me – and he’s had classic abduction experiences. He’s of the Zulu culture, and he was on the table, and had the terror and had the trauma, the whole thing. But he said, look Doctor Mack go back to the United States, tell those scientists to stop quibbling about whether this is real or not, the earth is in danger. Tell them we have to get on with this, that the earth is a sacred place.

CHRIS LYDON: Every word you say just makes me think this sounds like orthodox Judaeo-Christianity.

JOHN MACK: From a Zulu medicine man?

CHRIS LYDON: Absolutely. One human species, one creation…

JOHN MACK: From a Cherokee medicine woman? Maybe there is a world wide mythology, a kind of, as an Aboriginal lady told us, maybe there is a kind of pot pourri, her words, of mythic traditions pointing to some kind of change for ourselves in the cosmos.

CHRIS LYDON: Maybe even towards some sort of truth. And if everything we were just talking about reminds me, it sounds like St. Paul off his horse on the road to Damascus and all that. I just want to – there are just a couple of other points we haven’t touched on. First of all, you John Mack have never had an abduction experience yourself, have you? Or have you?

JOHN MACK: No, have not.

CHRIS LYDON: Or anything like it? I want you to sort of comment now that the sort of trial at the Harvard Medical School is over, on where you stand with your colleagues. What you think among your medical school and your professional colleagues – and lets remember you were a pillar, you are a pillar of Harvard medical world – What do they think of you now?

JOHN MACK: Well the ones that are honest enough to tell me what they think and not just talk about me behind my back are curious, they want to – I’ve been, I get asked to speak at medical school particularly after the Harvard thing is over, I seem to be more legitimized now, I get to speak at medical school faculty meetings, I have…

CHRIS LYDON: What did the Harvard verdict say? That this is orthodox or that they just like you too much or that there is a room in a kind of notion of academic freedom for a kind of even wacky pursuit? What’s the verdict mean?

JOHN MACK: I think that the press release that was issued invited me to hold to many of the things we’ve been talking about on the show, to be scientifically skeptical, to bring in other colleagues – which isn’t always so easy – to work with me in a multidisciplinary way on the matter. To do control and comparison studies of the personalities of these people, to work to rule out other possibilities. It was basically, to do good work and continue but follow certain standards. And I find that’s fine, I had no problem with that.

CHRIS LYDON: Let’s get at least one more phone call. Jim is on the line in Wellesley.

CALLER JIM: Yes, good morning. I haven’t read Dr. Mack’s book nor am I an experiencer, I am somewhat familiar with documentary production however and I’m wondering if Dr. Mack knows the answer to this. About half way through watching the show the other night, it looked to me like an extension of the Frontline special last fall on memory. And, that the producers under the guise of presenting a very balanced report actually had a hidden agenda. And that agenda was to discredit and undermine virtually all therapists who were in the field of studying repressed memory. It looked like the same people had produced this show as had produced that show. Does Dr.Mack know?

JOHN MACK: I don’t know that, Jim. But your point about memory is well taken. Because they had for example a person who is a leading figure, Elizabeth Loftus, in the false memory controversy, and you know there isn’t a repressed memory that she ever liked. So that’s a bias right off the bat. And the whole false memory debate, which is what they came down really hard on me, is really not relevant in this situation.

CHRIS LYDON: Have you ever met a repressed memory you didn’t want to embrace?

JOHN MACK: Yeah, I mean, a lot of this whole thing is something people don’t necessarily want to embrace, that we should be visited by these beings giving these terrible messages and doing these mean things to people. But the point is that the memory issue here is really a false one in itself because these are not people who anybody suggested anything to. These are people who are coming forth with doubt, with question themselves. They are troubled about this. They speak about it spontaneously, this is not something a hypnotist is putting into their minds. The hypnosis is used after the person has already had a number of memories and then they flesh out with that experience. So I think that Jim is right, I think this show’s agenda was to somehow trash the memories that therapists bring forward in these very powerful matters for people.

CHRIS LYDON: Dr. John Mack, thank you. Thank you for being here, thank you just for the courage to keep looking, keep talking about it, and we’re always happy to talk about it here. You’re an example, it seems to me, of respectful attention in the middle of doubt, to a difficult subject but it’s one that we’re all interested in. Thank you very much.

JOHN MACK: Thank you, Chris, for having me on the show.


  • Christopher Lydon has been a distinctive voice in print, television and radio journalism for more than 30 years. A national political correspondent for the New York Times, he covered the McGovern, Humphrey, Reagan and Carter presidential campaigns in the 1970s. For nearly 15 years he was the host of “The Ten O’Clock News” on WGBH, Boston, public television. In 1994 with producer Mary McGrath he inaugurated “The Connection” on WBUR, public radio in Boston. Widely cited as the best talk on the air, “The Connection” was carried by National Public Radio and more than 75 public stations around the country. He and the original Connection team are continuing to broadcast online via their independent website,

© 1996 Christopher Lydon
Originally aired Feb 29, 1996 on The Connection, WBUR 90.9FM Boston

[1] See letter from Bassett to Strieber, December 11, 1991, in the Archives of the Impossible collection at Rice University. Mack says in the interview this was “eleven months” before Bassett wrote to him; it was in fact ten months.