Alien Enlightenment: An Interview with John Mack

by David J. Brown

An expanded version of this interview appears in David Jay Brown’s 1995 book of interviews for St. Martin’s Press titled Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse: Contemplating the Future with Noam Chomsky, George Carlin, Deepak Chopra, Rupert Sheldrake, and Otherse. Below is the original 1996 version of the interview which does not contain the newer material from conversations recorded in 2003.

“It begins a kind of enlightenment process, which can be very disturbing, but they come to realize that the universe is an intelligent realm, not just a physical fact.”

There is little more fascinating to the human mind than the notion of extraterrestrial beings who are more highly evolved and technologically-advanced than ourselves. Although the majority of biologists that I’ve spoken with suspect that life has probably evolved all over the cosmos, most people roll their eyes when you mention the possibility of real extraterrestrial contact. Yet, in the face of mass disbelief and even ridicule, a substantial number of credible and mentally sound people claim to have been abducted by other-worldly visitors, taken aboard strange spacecrafts, and subjected to intrusive medical exams by small, spindlely-limbed, grey-skinned beings with large pear-shaped heads and big black tear-shaped eyes.But in recent years there has been a growing cultural interest in the abduction phenomenon, and more people than ever are giving it serious attention (there was even a scientific conference on the subject at M.I.T. in 1992), primarily because of the work of John Mack. Dr. Mack — a Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard psychiatrist, who has closely examined the matter of alien abduction for a number of years — is hard to just brush aside. After reading Dr. Mack’s controversial, best-selling book Abduction (revised, Ballantine Books), it is very difficult for a thoughtful person not to look into the sky and wonder about the truth of these claims. The evidence that he presents is extremely compelling.

If people aren’t being abducted by aliens, then something equally unbelievable appears to be going on — because a large number of psychologically healthy people are genuinely traumatized by these experiences, and there is simply no question that, for them, the experience is extremely real. The most remarkable aspect of the alien abductee claims is the astonishing similarity in the details of the accounts that people give. Currently there is no acceptable scientific theory to explain all the evidence that has emerged over the years, and anyone studying this phenomenon is sure to have their notion of reality stretched.

Dr. Mack is currently professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and is the founding director of the Center for Psychology & Social Change. He also founded PEER (Program for Extraordinary Experience Research), a Cambridge-based research and education group as a project of the Center, dedicated to exploring and understanding the abduction phenomenon. In 1977 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of T. E. Lawrence — A Prince of Our Disorder.

I interviewed Dr. Mack over the phone on August 21, 1996, and found him to be an extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking individual. His calming voice and gentle manner of speech allowed me to see why he is able to gain the trust of so many traumatized people, and the research results that he shared with me deeply inspired my imagination.

David: What originally inspired you to become a psychiatrist?

John: Back when I was around twelve years old I became curious about psychology. I wanted to know what was inside people, what made them tick, what made them feel and act the way that they did. I was interested in the inner world, and was quite introspective. It’s interesting that in many ways current psychiatry in the United States is anything but introspective, but it was my own introspection what led me into it. The interest in understanding myself came out of my own struggle to know why I felt the way I did at different times. It was particularly the dark feelings that I didn’t understand, and nobody ever talked about.

So psychiatry seemed to be the field that would help me understand this. My initial experience of psychology at Oberlin College was anything but introspective or clinical, as the program was highly experimental. Actually, it seemed to have very little to do with human beings, as I was interested in them, and very little to do with culture, or people’s inner lives and deeper drives. They discussed emotions in a very mechanistic and behavioristic way, which wasn’t what I knew of emotions.

When I was planning to go to medical school in the late forties early fifties, psychiatry was more psychodynamic, experimental and behavioristic. Psychology itself has become much more clinical in the decades since, but in those days there was a split with which I was confronted between what I knew of psychology, which was behaviorism, and medical psychology, which was clinical. Medical psychology was basically psychiatry, and there had been a strong influence of Freudian thought in the field that appealed to me, and seemed to make a lot of sense. At that time Depth Psychology was really only studied in psychiatry, not psychology. That’s changed, but that’s the way it was when I went to medical school.

David: How were you first introduced to the abduction phenomena?

John: It began with UFO’s. I never had had a very great interest in UFO’s actually. I thought there were too many people seeing ordinary objects along the roadside and in the sky. I basically believed that there was nothing to the reports, and it wasn’t a consuming interest of mine.

I remember a conversation on the topic that I had with Carl Sagan and Lester Grinspoon, an old classmate and friend of mine from medical school. The three of us were sitting around talking sometime in the late sixties, and Lester asked Carl about UFO’s, because that was Carl’s territory in those days. And Carl said, oh, we’ve really looked into that and studied it, and there’s nothing to it. I think that he was referring to the Condon report, which I later learned didn’t come to that conclusion at all. It just said there’s a certain percentage of cases that they can’t explain, and dismissed it. But in those days Carl seemed to be the authority on matters of extraterrestrial life, so I had just accepted his response.

You can imagine that I was somewhat surprised when some fifteen years or so later, it turned out that Carl was mistaken, and there was something to this. In fact, there was a lot to it. But I didn’t get back involved again until around 1989, when I was given a paper by Keith Thompson (who I later got to know quite well) on the UFO phenomenon. The paper was from a book edited by Stan Grof on spiritual emergencies, of which UFO encounters were considered to be one type. At the time I was learning the Grof Holotropic Breathwork method, and for some reason Stan thought I would find this chapter interesting. I did. I read it with great interest, and repeatedly asked myself, yeah, but is it real?

Still, I didn’t really pick up on this much until January of 1990, when I met Budd Hopkins. I was brought to see him by a psychologist colleague and friend, and was struck by what he had to tell me. It just didn’t add up. I couldn’t come up with any kind of explanation. As you probably know, psychiatrists are very good at finding psychological, psycho-social, or psycho-dynamic explanations for most human phenomena. But this just didn’t make any sense.

People from all over the United States (and now from all over the world) have reported with great concern for themselves, and with much self-questioning, the same basic story of being visited and taken by aliens. And many of the details are very similar, and they had not been in the media at this time. People didn’t know each other, and they were shocked when they would hear that someone else had had the same kind of experience. I met some of these people very soon after that, and they seemed very sound of mind, very genuine and sincere to me.

David: How did you become involved in working with these people?

John: Well, Budd asked me if I wanted to see some of these people, and I started to see them. First I saw people he knew in New York, but then soon after that I began to see them on my own in Cambridge and Boston. By and large they were mentally and emotionally solid people. I’ve had several of them tested psychologically, and I have reviewed the literature. There’s nothing in the psychological testing that I did, or in the literature, that suggests there’s any sort of pathology that could in any way begin to explain the experiences that these people were reporting.

From a strictly clinical standpoint, the phenomenon operates like these experiences really happened to these people — not like a psychosis, or a dream or fantasy, or some other kind of trauma. Each of those kinds of mental states has certain characteristics, which did not match up with this. This has been the basis for almost everything that I’ve done in this area. I mean, the only thing that causes people to report the same experience from all over, is that if what they’re reporting really occurred.

David: What are some of the most common characteristics that people have reported to you?

John: First of all, the person may be traumatized by what has happened, but is fundamentally of sound mind and not suffering from any tendency toward unusual make-believe, or any kind of delusion. They often report that they were in their car, at home, or out in a field when it happens, but it can happen almost anywhere. It’s happened to children in their schoolyard.

First they hear a humming, or experience some kind of intense light which they can’t account for. They become paralyzed, and might lose consciousness at that point, or they might not. Then they find themselves being transported by some strange energy, and they see one or more odd humanoid-looking beings that accompanies this strange energy. Those beings typically take them up into the sky and into some sort of enclosure. They might or might not see a UFO up close.

Then, inside the enclosure, there are other beings busily doing things with what sometimes looks like computer equipment. The walls of the enclosure are rounded. There may be a somewhat damp feeling and a dank smell. There is usually some figure — who is a little larger and older than the ones that brought them up — that they would call the “doctor” or the “leader”, who seems to give instructions to the others.

Then one is subjected to a variety of intrusive procedures, which could be quite painful. This usually involves staring into the big black eyes of these beings. They may probe body orifices in the ear, nose, eye, or anus. Sometimes people feel that there’s some kind of brain surgery being done on them. But most particularly there is some kind of reproductive or sexual activity, where sperm is forcefully taken from the men, or eggs from women. Then a complex kind of reproductive sequence occurs in this and subsequent experiences. The literature is now filled with this sort of thing, but it wasn’t when I first heard about it.

Now, all of this is told with emotions quite appropriate to what they’re saying. It is often recalled without hypnosis, although sometimes it comes more easily with a relaxation procedure. I think it’s important to stress that much of this is recalled without hypnosis, because sometimes people say that it’s all suggestion by hypnosis or something like that. A good part of these accounts are recalled without any special relaxation effort. The relaxation exercise tends to help with the recall, or fill-out what the person reports having experienced, but in my experience does not introduce anything into the mix.

The initial abduction experience may be followed by in subsequent abductions, with the person taken back aboard the ship to see hybrid offspring, which they are told are their own. They are asked to hold and to nurture these hybrid infants, because these beings have come to realize that the offspring don’t do well on the ships — or wherever they are — without this. Until recently they didn’t understand that these alien-human hybrid offspring require some kind of mothering or nurturing to survive. So they ask the human mothers to hold these creatures.

Another common feature is some kind of mind-to-mind telepathic communication, which is a kind of confrontation with ourselves. In other words, people are confronted with the fate of the earth. They’re shown scenes of the destruction of the earth, or apocalyptic images of portions of the earth being destroyed, and are told that the world can not go on in the way that we’re living on it — treating the planet like it belongs to our species alone. So there’s this strong kind of confrontation with ourselves. Now, of course, there’s controversy around that.

Some researchers think this is all just a kind of deception to test our reactions. But in my experience, with the people I work with, it is an important part of a process. Another important feature might be called consciousness expansion, or spiritual transformation, which grows out of the acknowledgment of this other reality. In other words, the trauma is one thing, but more fundamental is that the experiencer acknowledges that these beings are real. This has a tendency to, as one man put it to me recently, “bring me to my knees.”

In other words, it shatters the notion that we’re a pre-eminent intelligence in the cosmos. The realization that there are mysterious forces, and beings who, in some ways, are more knowledgeable, powerful, or able than we are, is brought home very strongly. Initially it creates a great anxiety, but if it can be accepted, then it can be a kind of maturing experience.

I think this new movie Independence Day capitalizes on the underlying anxiety that surrounds the whole abduction phenomenon. There’s a man in the film played by Randy Quaid who is abducted, and he ends up in a kind of suicidal kamikaze ride up the bottom of a huge spacecraft with his airplane. He’s the one who’s been traumatized through abduction himself, and went from being a Gulf War pilot to a failing alcoholic crop duster. So he avenges and vindicates himself, and in a sense his abduction experience, because he’s the sexually-traumatized abductee in the film.

The film is really a commercial exploitation of the underlying anxiety that something is upon us here that we don’t know what to do with. It’s fearful for many people. But what the film does is it polarizes and simplifies the whole thing. It makes a huge menace out of these beings, which I don’t really see. These ships are just so enormous and threatening in the film, but — through our faith in technology, some good old American true-grit, computer know-how, and a computer nerd like Jeff Goldblum, who finds a virus that — lo-and-behold — was compatible with their computer systems — we destroy the entire alien universe. It’s a kind of hark back to simpler, purer days.

David: Why do you think it is that no hard evidence of alien abduction has ever been encountered?

John: I’ve been reading a book by Patrick Harpur called Daimonic Reality. Daimonic means unseen agency, and it refers to the invisible world that — although immeasurable — may, in fact, be more real than the material world of appearance. If all this is maya, then the daimonic world is the source of reality in a deeper sense. This is the world from which telekinesis, crop-formations, and near-death experiences originate. If you study any of these phenomena — poltergiests, apparitions, the huge variety of psi phenomena that have been looked at, or the massive flood of synchronicities that come upon people when they’re spiritually opening — you discover that none of these phenomena provide the kind of hard material evidence that would satisfy a scientist who is exclusively oriented in a materialist’s world view.

There’s always the tease, the trick, the tantalization. They’re giving you just enough so you know there’s something real going on, but not enough to satisfy proof. Proof in the classic scientific method is best adapted to an entirely material universe. It doesn’t do very well in working with the subtleties of the cross-over phenomena, that enter the physical world from some other realm.

David:What do you think is the most compelling evidence for the existence of the abduction phenomenon?

John: That’s a good question. It depends what compels you I suppose. For me, the most compelling evidence is the powerful, consistent accounts of these extraordinary experiences from people that are altogether believable. Now, there are some good photographs and videos of UFO’s. There are some implants that have been studied. But it is the accounts themselves that for me carry the most weight. The thing that makes this all so difficult is that the abduction phenomenon is so elusive.

I’m not persuaded myself that all of this is to be taken totally literally. The fact that something is experientially so deep, real, and powerful does not mean that you are dealing with advanced types of metals or vehicles, or that other people will necessarily always be able to observe that a person is missing, although many abductees are observed to be missing during these times. But some are not, and I just don’t know in what reality this occurs. To the experiencers their bodies were taken, they’re up there, and it’s real. But it’s tricky in that sense.

David:What do you personally believe is really going on?

John: That they are being abducted, in a sense. Abduction is a bad word. Something very powerful is happening to them. Sometimes they experience that their physical bodies appear to be taken. There are witnesses who report that people are missing. The abductees will report as altogether real that they have been floated through walls, taken up into a spacecraft, subjected to all of these physical, ecological and spiritually-related experiences.

It’s totally real. At the same time, I’m not sure how it’s real — in other words, in what dimension it’s occurring. And again, what’s happened to me is this has required that I, in a certain sense, suspend my literal notions of reality, because reality in this sense is not limited to the physical world. People may, in fact, be taken physically, but it’s going to be very hard to prove. I don’t think it should be looked upon so literally. I think that there are some kinds of energies, entities, and daimonic agents that our culture is unaware of.

If you were in an African society you’d have a whole different perspective on this. I’ve worked with African medicine men who have a whole classification of beings that their people encounter. And the beings are completely real in their experience, but they wouldn’t be real to our culture, because we don’t have the senses anymore to know them. As the Poet Rilke said, by daily parrying we have cut off our connection. The senses by which we can know the spirit world have atrophied.

I wasn’t prepared for this when I first got started. When people say that I’ve been converted to something, they don’t know that I’m the last person in a certain way that would be converted. I was raised in a very secular, rational, empirical, materialist — whatever you want to call it — view, and the only thing that led me to take this seriously is I just couldn’t place it clinically. It just didn’t fall into anything. It acted like it was real, but if this was real, then — good heavens — what’s going on?

David: Is the abduction ever more than one person’s experience?

John: Oh yeah. Budd Hopkins, myself, and others have had cases where people have been independently examined, and they all report identical experiences in the craft. In one case of John Carpenter’s over forty memories were identical to one another, and the people had not been in touch with each other, or talked about it. I mean, sure it’s real. My struggle around this is not around that question, because how we define reality is something far beyond simply the manifest material world. My struggle is, in what sense is it real? In other words, how material? From what domain does it emanate?

That it manifests in the physical world is what has caused all the fuss. If this phenomenon was not manifesting in the physical world it wouldn’t attract so much attention. After all, native peoples all over the world are experiencing as altogether real the spirits of dead ancestors and all kinds of otherworldly beings. But nobody worries about that, because they haven’t manifested in a way that disturbs the Western world view.

David: What type of relationship do you see between the abduction experience and altered states of consciousness?

John: For reasons that are interesting, but not altogether clear, people in altered states of consciousness seem to be able to access these experiences more easily. But sometimes the experiences occur and create an altered state of consciousness. Someone will be in bed, and then there will be a blue light or a humming, and they will suddenly find themselves in a new reality, as one man put it. It’s like this reality is a kind of theater screen, and the beings come through, and they experience a new reality — an underlying or a different reality, which is just as real as the one they were already experiencing before, but it’s another one. Now, you can say they’re in an altered state at that point, because they’re experiencing another reality.

David: Do you think that there is any relationship between the abduction phenomenon and the extraterrestrial contact that some people — like Terence McKenna and John Lilly — have written about in regard to their experience with psychedelic drugs or shamanic plants?

John: I find that interesting. It’s very mysterious. I’ve seen this too, and it does seem that when some people take psychedelics they may open themselves up to something that seems similar. Terence McKenna talks about taking DMT and then suddenly finding all kinds of alien beings around him. What does this mean? Obviously it didn’t cause something to materialize physically, so it suggests that, in a certain sense, the person has become pro-active in discovering another realm.

Those cases may be experienced quite similarly to the cases where there’s actual physical evidence that some material UFO has actually appeared in somebody’s backyard, but that doesn’t help me with the situation I face. I have cases where a neighbor or the media report a UFO close to somebody’s home, or where they were driving their car, and independently the person will tell me about a UFO abduction experience. They don’t know that the media has tracked the UFO. So there is a physical dimension to this. And it’s that aspect of it that has created so much distress in the Western culture, because we felt we were safely cornered off in our material sanctity.

The idea that some kind of entities, beings, or energies from some other dimension can cross over and find us here, in a way that no missile-defense is going to help, is — I guess — scary to most people. It doesn’t scare me particularly. But I guess that’s scary if you’ve been raised with the notion that we’re the pre-eminent bosses of the cosmos, and nobody can get us, and all we have to do is create better technologically-controlled atmospheres, astro-domes, and that kind of thing, and no one will ever reach us. I mean, think about what the military’s Star Wars project is. The Strategic Defense Initiative is part of that kind of effort that is based upon the belief that somehow technology can make us secure and inviolate from ourselves and the powers and energies of the cosmos.

I’ve read most of Terence Mckenna’s books, and I find they’re very compatible with what I’m about. But I don’t think he quite realizes how robust the abduction phenomenon itself is because his access to it has been so much through psychedelics. I don’t think he realizes how powerful these cross-over experiences are in a material sense.

David: How can the abduction experience be part of a larger psychologically or spiritually transformative process?

John: Well, in a certain sense it becomes clear if you turn it around. In other words, it’s a kind of constricting hubris to have come to the place where all that exists is a material world. It is our birthright to

know something beyond the material world. We’ve treated the universe like it was just dead material — you know, matter and energy.

If these beings do reflect some kind of intelligence in another dimension, then when they show up for people, the people don’t have any choice but to acknowledge their reality. This then begins a very powerful psychological opening process for them so that they then come to realize that we are connected with much more — not just with these beings, but other energies, other entities. And it begins a kind of enlightenment process which can be very disturbing, but they come to realize that the universe is an intelligent realm, not just a physical fact.

David: Have you personally ever had any kind of encounter with a being that you believed to be from another world?

John: No.

David: What advice would you give to someone who believes him or herself to be experiencing the trauma from a past abduction experience?

John: When people come to me they usually will say things to me like, I know this sounds crazy, you don’t think I’m crazy do you? They may talk about a number of spiritual experiences that they had of being returned to, and connected with, the Source, or they may feel that they have a double human and alien identity, or they will sometimes open up to past life experiences — none of which is congenial to them. In other words, it’s not something that they would have believed. But there’s a way that this opens people up to a whole variety of experiences that seem to emanate from what I was referring to earlier as the daimonic realm — the realm of unseen agency, the realm in which consciousness is separate from the brain — and they begin to have many such unusual experiences.

When they say things to me like, I know you’re going to think this is crazy, but here’s what happened. I just listen, and I try to get the history of the experiences. I don’t tell the person that I can make this not happen, and I don’t tell them it’s just in their head because they may themselves have seen UFO’s or their children may have. Small children may have reported to them that they were taken or approached by these beings. So I listen and say that I don’t understand this either, but I’ve had many people tell me similar stories.

I assure them that they’re not the only person that’s had these experiences, and that it doesn’t fit into any kind of psychiatric syndrome that I know of. I listen carefully for the physical evidence, and we explore that. I’ll find out if other family members have also had experiences. I just basically try to help the person feel less isolated with it. Sometimes I’ll caution the person to be careful who they talk to about it because most people — even though now this has been in the media a lot — in the culture are still not open to it.

David: What kinds of reactions have you gotten from your colleagues regarding your research interests?

John: Mixed. But I think that increasingly people — particularly mental health professionals — are seeing these cases, and once they see the cases, then they join me in a sense.

But with purely Netownian-Cartesian scientists, if something doesn’t operate according to the physical laws that they understand, or doesn’t fall within the materialist testable frame-work that they know how to work in, then they simply say it doesn’t exist. They deny it totally and don’t see that there’s a mystery there.

David: How common is the experience?

John: I don’t know. There haven’t been any really reliable polls, and there haven’t been any polls in the last few years, so I just can’t say. I think the last poll was the Roper poll, which was in 91 or 92. We continuously see cases, but the cases are getting to be different. They’re not so much these traumatic, reproductive, hybrid-producing cases as people just being open to these other realities, and to the dimensions of knowledge of ourselves and of our role in the cosmos.

David: Why do you think that the experience is changing?

John: I don’t know. I think partly the experience seems to transform as the person accepts it more. I think the culture itself may be more willing to at least be agnostic on the matter, and to accept that something is going on even though we can’t explain it.

David: Why do you think that there is so much cultural interest in the abduction phenomenon? Every bookstore has a whole section on UFO’s and alien abduction.

John: There’s more interest now than there was five years ago?

David: I really can’t measure that, but there certainly is a lot of interest though.

John: I’m not sure. I’m relatively knew to the field. I’ve only been in it for six and a half years, so I can’t tell. There does seem to be more interest, but then I’ve gotten so deeply caught up in it myself, so it’s difficult to tell.

David: You mentioned in your book Abduction that the abduction phenomena has important philosophical, spiritual, and social implications. Can you explain what you mean by this?

John: This has to do with the notion that the whole Western scientific, philosophical and religious enterprise has been to eliminate unseen agency from the cosmos, to deny it, to isolate ourselves in what Tulane philosophy professor Michael Zimmerman called anthropocentric humanism — meaning that we think we’re the center of the intellectual cosmos.

That’s actually a terribly painful place to be. Maybe there’s a certain narcissistic pleasure in thinking you’re the top of the hierarchy in a Godless universe. This self-inflated, technologically-oriented culture that we’re in can provide a kind of egoistic pleasure, but at the same time it’s a terribly false and isolating state of mind to be in. So there’s a natural appetite — what Jung called a spiritual hunger — to feel some real connection with something beyond our material surroundings. So anything that suggests this will be attractive, particularly in a case with this much evidence, because it’s not just what somebody is saying in church — there’s actually something that frames itself at least in part materially.

This is very exciting, because it says that we are not alone. I mean, just look at all the excitement around this possibility of some sort of micro-organisms from Mars. Stephen Jay Gould said that the leap from there to sophisticated complex beings like us is a vast one. Well, it’s also a pretty great leap from beings like us to the kind of things that I talk about, and yet there is some kind of psychological connection. I think that the excitement around all this is that it does hint that there is some kind of other intelligence. It reanimates the universe. It re-connects us to the divine, and potentially it may bridge us back to the daimonic world. There’s a deep hunger to be re-connected with, what my abductees call, “Home” or “Source”.

This phenomenon appears to require that we acknowledge that — if the universe isn’t intelligent in itself — it contains intelligence’s. Acknowledging that people’s psyche’s are opened to a much wider universe is very exciting and powerfully transformative for many people, although it’s a kind of shock at first. The whole western scientific enterprise seems to be predicated on the notion that the material world is really all there is, and yet at some deep level that’s so profoundly unsatisfying. So I think this raises a question about the whole matter of what is reality, and what does exist. Where do we place phenomena that seem to come from some other dimension, but manifest in our reality, and how do we understand that?

The major religions focus on particular spiritual entities — like Jesus, Allah, God, the Holy Spirit, or angels — so here we have some other entities, but these entities seem to enter into our material world. What are the theological implications of the introduction of these strange beings into our universe? They seem to create a bridge from the unseen into the material world. I think it raises important philosophical questions.

David: Could you say something about your interaction with Thomas Kuhn, regarding your approach to researching the abduction phenomenon?

John: I knew Thomas Kuhn as a child because our parents were friends. I used to go there every Christmas for eggnog and liver pate’. When I started doing this work I went to see him, and he was interested. He cautioned me in various ways. He advised me to just collect data, to try to suspend judgment, and look out for the traps of language — like real/unreal, exists/doesn’t exist, happened/didn’t happen, intra-psychic/outside. He advised me to just report — to record what people were feeling and saying. And that’s what I’ve tried to do.

The other thing that he said was don’t worry about science, because in this culture science has become a new kind of theology. What you’re really interested in, he said, is trying to learn something and gain knowledge, whether it’ll satisfy science or not. Science prefers to study primarily within the purely material world, he said, but don’t worry about that. Now the other thing he said was to just publish in scientific journals, and don’t write a book. This was because he had gotten so much intense interest and flack around his book that sometimes he was troubled about it. He’s kind of a shy man.

David: His book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions has became standard introductory reading in virtually every History of Science course in the world.

John: In some ways he seemed to lament the reception of his book. I don’t think that’s right that he did. His book — as with any popularization of any important and complex concept — is going to be misunderstood by a lot of people who are going to want to cloak themselves in his mantle. But I think that if you have something you want to say, it’s okay to do it in a book.

David: Why did you write Abduction?

John: I didn’t take his advice on that one, and I did write a book. First of all, I couldn’t get what I had to say down in an article, because it’s too complex, and the cases were too elaborate. I wanted to lay out a kind of map of the whole phenomenon as best I could from what I experienced. I thought it was important, regardless of whether these beings are to be taken literally as material entities, or whether they’re something more complex and subtle that crosses over from the unseen into the material world. Whatever it is — daimonic or material reality — it seemed to me important, and a big story that I wanted to report. So that’s what I did.

David: What are you currently working on, and what are your plans for the future?

John: I’m continuing this work, and I’ve had many more cases. I’ve gotten more deeply into the consciousness aspect and spiritual meaning of this, and I’m very interested in the cultural changes around it. In other words, what is the resistance to it? The kind of questions you’re asking. Why has it created so much controversy? Why is it hard to accept this? When I travel around the world, I see that people in other cultures that are not imbued in the Western Cartesian-Newtonian-materialist world view don’t have trouble with it. Native Americans don’t have problems with it. Africans don’t have trouble with it. Even throughout Brazil I found much less resistance to this.

David: Do these cultures report the phenomenon as often?

John: In different forms, and not always in the literal physical way that our classic abduction cases here are. Sometimes they’re quite physical, and sometimes they’re less. Often the beings will communicate to people that they’re not really like how they appear, but they have to show up in a certain material form for you to perceive them. If they showed up as they really are, you’d either be disturbed, or you couldn’t recognize them.

If these beings actually are many thousands of years more advanced than ourselves, it’s very possible that the way such entities would naturally appear would not be familiar to us. But these other cultures that have these cases don’t find it as shocking to their world view as we do. This is because they haven’t set up this dichotomy to the same degree as us between the material world and unseen realms, and that there shouldn’t be any cross-over between them.

In the nineteenth century there was this fad of mediumship, and access to other realms by different seers. In particular there was a man named Home, and the British Academy set out, as they would, to debunk this. They sent a leading scientist by the name of Crocker to visit Home, and to look into all these claims of visitations from the other world, etc. So Crocker soaked himself in this, and came to the conclusion that it was real, that he couldn’t debunk it. He couldn’t show it all to be fraudulent. So he came back to the Academy and reported what he had found. Needless to say they were quite irate, and they said to him that it is not possible, and he said, “I never said it was possible, I just said it was true.”

  • David J. Brown is the author of seven books about the future of science and consciousness, including four bestselling volumes of interviews with leading-edge thinkers, Mavericks of the Mind, Voices from the Edge, Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse, and Mavericks of Medicine. He holds a master’s degree in psychobiology from New York University, worked as a neuroscience researcher in learning and memory at the University of Southern California, and was responsible for the California-based research in two of British biologist Rupert Sheldrake’s books on unexplained phenomena in science: Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and The Sense of Being Stared At. David’s work has appeared in numerous magazines, including Scientific American, Discover, and Wired, and he is periodically the Guest Editor of the MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) Bulletin. David is also the author of two science fiction novels, Brainchild and Virus.