Remembrance of John E. Mack, M.D.: Stuart Davis

With Love, to John Mack…
by Stuart Davis

September 30, 2004

song of the day: Universe Communion / for John Mack
word of the day: lococession / place for giving (noun, 1656 -1656)

i found out late last night that my dear friend John Mack has passed, he was apparently killed by a drunk driver in London, in a cross walk coming home at night from a gathering. John was one of my favorite people, i will miss him very much. he was professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, his early work focused on dreams, nightmares, teen suicide, and how a world view affects relationships. He was a Pulitzer Prize winner, author of several books (A Prince Of Our Disorder, Abduction, Passport To The Cosmos), he started the Center for Psychology and Social Change, and the Program For Extraordinary Experience Research, among much more. his work with PEER included his research with experiencers of the alien abduction phenomenon. John had done extensive research with hundreds of people from around the World on this subject (he was featured in the 2003 documentary film “Touched” as well as numerous television and radio segments), and discovered they came from all walks of life, and were not mentally ill or crazy. This upset a lot of people in the academic world (surprise, surprise) and in 1994 Harvard formed a committee of peers to review his tenure and see if they shouldn’t revoke it, publicly castigate him, or cover their asses somehow. After 14 months, the school “reaffirmed Dr. Mack’s academic freedom to study what he wishes and to state his opinions without impediment.”

now that’s basically the obituary you’re going to read in the papers around the World, but it doesn’t say much. i knew John pretty well, and i would like to offer some more details about this man’s work and life, his great love for humanity and the challenges he accepted in the interest of love.

i met John in 1994, i had read his book “Abduction” and was moved by it. in fact that book was the inspiration for the song Universe Communion, which appeared first on my CD Self-Untitled (also released in 1994). i sent him a copy of the disc, and he called me on the phone shortly after that to say thanks and chat a bit. i remember how funny it was, because he kept bringing up a different song on the CD — “Someone Else’s Ears”, because he thought it ended too suddenly. he didn’t want to talk about Universe Communion, he wanted to know about the ending to Someone Else’s Ears. he just wasn’t sure — was it supposed to end that way, or was there something wrong with his CD? i tried to explain, no John, it’s actually supposed to end that way, it’s an artistic tool — but hey, what did you think of that other song — Universe Communion? and he would go “oh, because it sounds like my CD is broken or something, like that song Someone Else’s Ears — maybe it’s ending too abruptly…” and back and forth. it was quite endearing, because as anyone who’s had the pleasure of meeting John knows, he was a total sweet heart of a human being, instantly lovable. each time i was with him, i was struck by his transparency, humility, and curiousity. he was 64 when i met him, he sparkled like a diamond, and he was every bit as glowing when i had dinner with him for the last time about a year ago.

Universe Communion was not the only song i’ve written which was inspired by John’s work, the song “Greys” (from Kid Mystic) was another one. in fact there were undertones throughout that entire album that were influenced by my relationship with John. i felt then, and still do now, that art was one of the most promising mediums for exploring and expressing a subject as nuanced and subtle as the alien abduction phenomenon. not that my art has done a perfect job of it by any means, but simply that it has been an attempt to inhabit the trauma, wonder, and mystery that so infuses those questions. john had a very tough gig in the World, being probably the very first major academic figure to publicly hold forth on this topic, and the back lash was often pretty nasty.

it’s a funny thing about dogma, we usually associate a rigid adherence to doctrine with fundamentalist religion — with pre-rational world views. but “science” can be equally dogmatic — when it becomes a religion of rationality, and has its own cache’ of blind spots and assumptions. rationality, and the emperical method, are wonderful — they ushered in the enlightenment and gave us a miraculous new World — on the inside and the outside. but the danger of dogmatic rationality is, not only does it despise what is pre-rational (mythic religion, etc), it also despises what is trans-rational (authentic mysticism, trans-personal awareness). on top of that, the religion of rationality is utterly incapable of seeing the DISTINCTION between the two, it is unable to see that there is a difference between pre-rational and trans-rational stages, because to the materialist / reductionist / flatland empericist, they are both simply “not -rational”. this is a tragic collapse of what is a profoundly important distinction. a healthy scientist, an authentic empericist — is capable of recognizing the limits of one mode of inquiry — however effective and potent it may be in its domain. this was the case with virtually every significant 20th century quantum physicist — Einstein, Schroedinger, Bohr, etc etc — their work in quantum physics led them BEYOND merely emperical methodologies into a sense of wonder and awe that — described in their words — was too mysterious, too deep for hard science to accomodate. they did not abandon their field, they did not forfeit the World that rationality had unveiled, but were introduced to another World that was trans-rational that went beyond (but included) the rational perspective, and realized both were inherent aspects of their very own being. their rational capacities were still every bit as useful, in fact even more beautiful, when viewed through a greater aperture which included trans-rational insights and inquiry. they expressing it and exploring it unique ways, but they all crossed that thresh hold.

unfortunately in the academic world a simple axiom is defended at all costs: if it’s not rational, it’s ir-rational (and so irrelevant). those perceived to be coming from outside the scientific community who present trans-rational findings or data (let’s say research on the effects of prayer, or psychic phenomena) which don’t fit the consensus interpretation of “reality” are fairly easily dismissed and caricatured as kooks. by example, neo-darwinist like to play it as though anyone who doesn’t ascribe to their theory of evolution is a fundamentalist bible-thumping moron. but the fact of the matter is, no one has a fucking clue how evolution actually occurs. how eye-sight ever emerged (much less simultaneously around the planet) is a stunning un-known at this point, and although it seems that evolution does occur in biology — the fact remains that scientists don’t know shit about what, how, when, why of any of it. chance mutations? wha? in 100 years, Darwinism will be to evolutionary biology what leeches were to medicine. yes, there was medicine 400 years ago, and there is medicine today. in which century would you rather be treated for a bacterial infection? evolutionary biology will still be around in 100 years, but this ridiculous effort to prop up Darwinism over and over will be seen for what it was: a desperate attempt to keep the Bible-thumpers at bay. because the scientist know that they can’t give the precious rational World back to pre-rational wackos, and they’re right, and they can be pretty fucking nasty about defending their Church. they are correct that mythic imperialistic religion is in fact pre-rational, but there is also literally a Kosmos out there (and in HERE) that is full of trans-rational wonders. what is more difficult for the rationalists to dismiss is research and data that comes from within their “community”, from within the establishment, that calls into question any of the assumptions the community has internalized to the point of invisibility (invisibility means they can’t even see what those assumptions are anymore, they are part of their SUBJECT. the subject of one level of awareness becomes the object of the next level of awareness, so often to be able to perceive an assumption, we must move to a deeper / higher stage of awareness, where we can see it, and then operate on it. that which we can’t see, that which is invisible, exerts and an un-conscious influence on us, or in this case, a community).

my point in bringing all this up is really quite simple: John Mack started asking trans-rational questions in the rational kingdom. usually, someone brings up a subject like alien abduction, and the academic community can just whip out its old “he’s a pre-rational wacko” response, and be done with it. but John was a Harvard professor, a Pulitzer Prize winner, an internationally recognized authority in Psychiatry and transpersonal studies with decades of experience. and so, when John published his findings as a cllinician and researcher on the alien abduction phenomena and told the World (including academia) in effect ‘there’s something mysterious going on here, and it’s not pre-rational, it’s trans-rational’ it was much harder to immediately dismiss or discredit. not that people didn’t try — they did, they are, and they will continue to for as long as there are pre-rational, rational, and trans-rational world views, there will be healthy and pathological modes for each.

whatever you make of the alien abduction phenomena is up to you. just like spirituality, politics, evolution, etc. the important question is: is your interpretation — your perspective of the matter formed by carefully considering all the available data and research, and then coming to a conclusion (aka: interpretation)? i’m not here to tell you how to interpret the data on this phenomenon, and i don’t think John was either. he was passionate about making the information available to the public, about encouraging an interdisciplinary dialogue of inquiry. my experience of those who wholly dismiss the alien abduction topic as “pre-rational wacko world” is that they are never deeply informed, they are never truly familiar with the data, and they are defending their Rational Religion. and the data on alien abductions, my friends, is confounding, perplexing, and mystifying. if you go into it with an open mind, it starts to fuck with your (rational) mind. that’s all. it doesn’t mean you have to forfeit your rational mind, it doesn’t mean you have to believe that physical beings are literally visiting this planet from a far away place. it just means that something enigmatic is going on in the interior and exterior lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world, people who have never encountered each other — people who come from all walks of life, stations of social standing, cultures, ages, races, sexes — and the experiences they report unmistakably, undeniably correspond and corroborate. based on what we know from psychology, psychiatry, and affiliated fields, these people’s experiences are not pathological, they are not crazy, mentally insane, or emotionally unstable. conversely, they generally exhibit notably advanced positions in several lines of development as a result of these often traumatic, stigmatizing histories of experience. now, as far as i can tell, here are a few of the ways we can interpret this world -wide phenomenon:

1, in an historically unprecedented event, hundreds of thousands — or millions — of people have suddenly (simultaneously) begun to mass-hallucinate identical experiences of interacting with what they perceive to be sentient beings from another deeper “dimension” of reality. these hallucinations are a product of an entirely new order of collective consciousness, what we might think of as a nightmare in the noosphere, and have no “actual” external reality, but are a bizarre new feature in the collective interior of humanity. this would require us accepting that there is literally a psychic-level interaction occuring all around the world among every imaginable type of person, and that its symptoms involve physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual components that do not fit our current interpretation of what’s “real”. it would mean we’ve gone crazy, but in a very odd turn of events, this disease makes people more spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically advanced, and more caring for their fellow beings on the planet, as well as more conscious, compassionate citizens of the biosphere. but it’s all the random by-product of a collective hallucination, coming from within human interiors and projected as “other”.

2, beings from another World or another dimension are visiting us.

3, something inexplicable is occuring around the World which we do not presently have sufficient perspective or development to understand. it challenges many of our scientific, social, and psychological assumptions about Reality. it permeates gross, subtle, and causal dimensions, and carries profound implications for our development as a species. we don’t know exactly what it is or how to describe it.

now which one of these interpretations of the alien abduction phenomena is so trite that we can simply dismiss it? none of them, of course. academia’s vehement resistance to John Mack’s work is in itself a bit telling. i read this in one of John’s obituaries, it’s a quote from some attorney (Roderick MacLeish) who represented John during Harvard’s investigation on whether to revoke his tenure:

“He was so caring to his patients, and I hope that is what he is remembered for, and not for being the guy who believed in people’s stories of alien abductions,” MacLeish said.

and if i were quoted in Roderick MacLeish’s obituary, i would say: “Roderick was a good person and a great lawyer, and i hope that’s what he’s remembered for, and not for being an unabashed reductionist and prisoner to his own dogmatic rational mind” — (stuart davis)

sorry if i’m a bit touchy about this Roderick, but at the time of John’s passing, to make such a statement in a mainstream paper seems to me to be a sleezy, traitorous move. especially considering what John went through in this life, what he came up against in doing this important work (and might i add all the while enduring it with love and light, and an infectious appreciation of the miracle of what it is to be alive), i believe this is the time we recognize what a visionary this extraordinary man was, and not a time for small-minded, back-handed quips from supposed friends.

and that’s the thing. mostly, i’ll miss John as my friend. i adored him, hanging out with him, talking philosophy, spirituality, psychology, science, and the infinite puzzle of BEING. my life will always be richer for having known him and this planet is a better place because he was on it.

john, it is with much love and gratitude that i thank you for your amazing presence in our lives, for your gifts to humanity, and indeed all beings — everywhere. may your radiant soul be received by its source and continue to illuminate us from the point of all places.

  • Stuart Davis is a singer/songwriter and producer with a yen for esoteric topics. His music has long been influenced by books such as the Tao Te Ching, Tibetian Book of the Dead, Cloud of Unknowing, and a host of authors including Pierre Teolhard De Chardin, Ken Wilber, and Jellaludin Rumi.