John Mack's handwriting

Karin Austin’s remarks at Archives of the Impossible

May 12, 2023
Rice University

Karin Austin is the new executive director of the John E Mack Institute (JEMI). In this presentation she details the donation of John Mack’s archives to Rice University’s Archives of the Impossible, curated by Jeffrey J. Kripal, Ph.D.

I’d like to begin today with my deepest and my most sincere gratitude for all of the people who have in some way contributed to the scanning, processing and disposition of John’s archives. Everyone involved has been so utterly and absolutely essential to the success of this project, that I would be remiss to stand here without first invoking the “village” of kind, smart, dedicated, inspired, funny (thank god) and crazy generous volunteers who are each and every one responsible for getting John’s archives, and me, safely to Rice.

I could spend five minutes raving about each one of these folks, but in the interest of time, I’m mostly just going to mention their names. Please imagine all of them on the stage with me this afternoon, knowing that their contributions have been absolutely essential to the success of this endeavor and that I am here because of them. I want to acknowledge Will Bueché and Danny Mack first because they have together been holding down the fort at JEMI and safeguarding John’s materials for nearly two decades now. Without either of them, this donation wouldn’t have happened at all. I also acknowledge Jeff and Amanda Focke — the Head of Special Collections here at Rice University — I am deeply appreciative for their ongoing care and total dedication to this endeavor. They are as essential to its success as are Will and Danny, and they are in good company with the other rockstars who have been, again, incredibly generous with their time, talents, money, and various resources. They are Mark Hurwit, Anne Tyler, Karen Young, Heather Holley, Brian Lee, Maya Christobel, Mike Chalers and his friend Beth, Lisa Stemmler, Tony Mack, the movers who loaded the truck for us in Massachusetts (we could not have gotten that task done without them), the archivists and librarians who helped us off-load the U-haul here at Rice at the end of a long work day. And to my loving husband who, while missing me very much, is infinitely patient and respectful of my unwavering commitment to this work. My deepest and most heartfelt thanks to you all.

And with that said, I’d like to take a brief side excursion from my talk today and spend a few minutes responding to Greg Eghigian’s question yesterday: ”Why would experiencers seek out John?”. The answer is entirely relevant to this conference and speaks to the critical necessity for Jeff’s Archives of the Impossible library.

We sought out John not because he was a psychiatrist, but because he was a highly respected Harvard scholar. Full disclosure, I didn’t actually start with John. I started with SETI and NASA. And when they couldn’t help me, I tried to find a government agency that handled close encounter reports. There wasn’t one. The only nominally respectable association that existed at the time was MUFON. I attended one their meetings hoping to find some help there, but ended up leaving within the first 15 minutes as the group was comprised of retirees who were only interested in the “nuts and bolts” aspects of the Phenomenon. Having exhausted other options, I tried to find local assistance. I sourced a hypnotherapist from the yellow pages who told me he could help me lose weight, or quit smoking (I needed neither of those services) and he could definitely help me get rid of the space aliens. After taking a hard pass on that option, I looked for the most open-minded therapist I could find in the yellow pages. I set an appointment with her and after 20 minutes of interacting with me, she diagnosed my problem as “temporary psychosis” and prescribed some antipsychotic meds for me to start taking immediately. I, of course, promptly threw the script into the trash on my way out the door.

So where does one go after that, when “alien” beings that seemingly don’t belong to this spacetime are suddenly appearing in one’s home in the middle of the night? Back then, David Jacobs, Budd Hopkins and John Mack were the three most visible and respected researchers working with experiencers. I think Barbara Lamb and Kathleen Marden were at work then as well, but I didn’t know of them. And of course, Whitley Strieber’s book Communion was a confirmation for many of us that we weren’t alone in what had happened to us. But that was it. There really wasn’t anyone else. As someone who was inclined to work within the strictures of science and with a researcher who was reputable, intelligent and not inclined to immediately psychopathologize me, what were my options? For me, there was quite literally only one. John was in a class all by himself.

To those who believe John began his investigation of the phenomenon with a transformational bent — i.e. that he created a context of transformation for experiencers to move into — that’s not at all what happened. John actually entered the field assuming he would be able to identify some presence of psychopathology in the people he met from Budd Hopkins’ community of experiencers. By now, many of us know the story from there. To his surprise, John found himself face-to-face with something truthful, persuasive, and profoundly paradigm-shattering.

That said, in session, John was exceptional at holding space for Experiencers in a way that would allow us to eventually move through our trauma and ontological shock; the distressing side-effects of physical encounters with highly exotic forms of advanced intelligent life (usually some type of grey being with large, liquid-black wraparound eyes). He reliably created a safe container of non-judgment that permitted curious inquiry and the opportunity for experiencers to say out loud all of the really weird and oftentimes terrifying details that defined the early stages of an abduction event.

That our relationship to the Phenomenon and understanding of what it was asking of us evolved over the course of time, was in no small part owed to the information conveyed by the beings themselves during their interactions with us. In other words, the Phenomenon set the tone and the narrative. Not John. Again, while John’s clinical experience as a trauma specialist turned out to be particularly helpful under the circumstances, many of us didn’t seek him out because he was a clinician. We reached out to him because, at the end of the 20th century, he was by far, the most highly credible and pedigreed researcher of the phenomenon who wouldn’t instantly dismiss or pathologize experiencers for the high-strangeness we were reporting.

In reality, John should have been doing his research in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of physicists, astronomers, anthropologists, and philosophers. But academics didn’t want to touch it. And indeed, while the current cultural environment is changing, scholars still have to participate in this research from the safety of invisible colleges, lest they lose their jobs or the possibility of achieving tenure.

That is why Jeff’s Kripal’s Archives of the Impossible is so essential to humankind’s investigation of this phenomenon. Without it, scholars and researchers would not have access to the very important, paradigm-shifting, data contained within thousands and thousands of files that can now be found at Rice University.

For this, we owe Jeff, and the Rice University archivists, our deepest and most sincere expression of gratitude.

With that response to Dr. Eghigian on the record, I’ll return to my previously prepared remarks…

For weeks, I wondered how I should begin a talk about the donation of John’s materials to Jeff Kripal’s very ambitious, and very much needed, Archives of the Impossible project at Rice University. As one might imagine, it’s an intimidating assignment. I feel an enormous sense of responsibility to get this right. Not just to communicate effectively or passionately about John and his archives, but to set a tone for future research into the Phenomenon because of the potential it holds for evolving humankind’s understanding of the universe in which we live.

After spending some time noodling on the challenge, it occurred to me there’s a story here; one that in many ways already belongs to the world. And yet, for me, it’s also a very personal one.

The threads of this story extend backwards in time. They are stitched to this present moment through the narratives of thousands of people who experienced extraordinary events that were so anomalous, so ontologically challenging, their lives were forever changed by them. In working with this population of individuals, John discovered that even though experiencers often metabolized the meaning and impact of their encounters in differing ways, they were, on the whole, highly credible people — usually perfect strangers from all walks of life — whose entirely unbelievable reports of “alien abduction” shared in common strikingly consistent, recurrent themes. John would point to each of those characteristics in interviews when asked why he believed the witnesses who took part in his research. He was also quick to add that in his forty years as a clinician, nothing had ever prepared him for the emotional power expressed by experiencers in their sessions with him. That experiencers were also appropriately skeptical about their own encounters, further persuaded him that some kind of authentic experience must be occurring, even if the construct of reality it alluded to seemed impossible.

In fact, experiencer reports of physical encounters with what were, at the time, presumed to be aliens, turned out to be so utterly compelling for John, that he would ultimately push into the center of the table, nearly all of the cultural currency he had accumulated through decades of elite intellectual and clinical work within the Harvard and Cambridge Hospital ecosystems. In other words, John had everything to lose in advocating for the abduction phenomenon’s veracity. Of course, one might argue that if ever a person was going to cash in their chips, it’s hard to imagine a more profound reason for doing so.

“John’s assertion that the Phenomenon seemed to be hinting that humankind’s understanding of reality might be incomplete…turned out to be most problematic, and perhaps ultimately, most prescient.”

In the wake of Harvard’s inquiry, John emerged from the unprecedented investigation with his tenure intact. Nonetheless, he was written off by a number of his academic peers as having “lost it”. Tongues clicked and heads shook in disbelief as John’s intellectual courage was conflated with an irrational unwillingness to reframe the ontology of experiencer narratives as an unidentified psychopathology. One of his colleagues went so far as to suggest that John had gotten in trouble because rather than identifying a new psychiatric disorder, he had called into question the dogma of our dominant western worldview. In the end, it was John’s assertion that the Phenomenon seemed to be hinting that humankind’s understanding of reality might be incomplete, which turned out to be most problematic, and perhaps ultimately, most prescient.

As many of you know, on Sept 27, 2004, John died in the middle of the night, after being hit by a drunk driver when he was walking across the street in a London suburb. That fateful event broke my heart, along with the hearts of many people around the globe who loved John as much as he loved them. As much as I loved him. What some of you may not know, is that, at the time, I was living in John’s Cambridge, MA home while working for him as a personal assistant. The origin story of how I came to live and work at Brattle Street bears mentioning here as it has everything to do with why I’m standing in this room with you now.

In spring of 2003, I had just returned to the States from an overseas move to London where I lived for six months while trying to legally and, ultimately unsuccessfully, establish residency there. As something of an orphan, I was staying with a friend in Boston while trying to figure out the next steps of my life. After my first few weeks back, John’s then partner, Dominique, invited me to housesit for her while she was away on an extended business trip in Africa. Upon her return home, I was actively job hunting for a management position in the fitness industry and was still in need of a new place to live. Dom was kind enough to let me stay with her temporarily while I figured things out. One afternoon, she returned home after having had a conversation with John. She explained that he had been living alone in a very big house with a number of extra guest rooms, and that she had proposed to him the idea of my staying there while I continued to recalibrate my life. It was a solution that never would have occurred to either John or me; indeed, I had no idea where John lived, but it was a lifeline that I very much needed at the time. After speaking with John about the arrangement, both of us having expressed curiosity (and concerns) about whether or not the situation would be a good fit for us, we decided to give it a go on a trial basis. Needless to say, as housemates, we clicked. Our friendship deepened and as I had time on my hands during that period of transition in my life, I helped out around the house and ran errands for John as needed. Because he had so many visitors who stayed in his home and he was constantly traveling, there was plenty of work to do. Fairly quickly, it was clear to both of us that he benefited from the added support. So, while I continued my hunt for a fulltime gig, John formalized my role into a paid position as his personal assistant.

It was in that capacity, and as his friend, that I drove him to the airport on Sept 22, 2004. As I pulled into the curb in front of international departures, John got out of the car and walked to the trunk to pull out his suitcase. After he closed it and stepped onto the sidewalk, he looked at me and asked if I was planning to park the car and meet him inside as he was hours early for his transatlantic flight. I was caught off guard by the invitation, we hadn’t previously discussed it, and with traffic congesting all around me and a policeman ushering me away, I said “No, I should go. I’ll meet you inside the arrivals terminal when you get back.” I waved goodbye to him and then watched as he draped his coat over his arm and grabbed the handle of his suitcase. He looked at me one last time, said goodbye, and then turned around and walked toward the sliding doors that swished open as he approached. When they closed behind him, l had no idea that I would be the last person from John’s community to see him alive in the US.

In the days and weeks following John’s unexpected departure from this mortal coil, I learned two things about death:

One, much to my surprise, mixed in with all of the overwhelming grief from the traumatic loss of a beloved friend, was an enormous rush of love. For me, it came in wave after wave during moments of solitude while sitting on the sofa in John’s library at home where I suddenly found myself living all alone. It came through the kindness and compassion of John’s friends, family, and community members during various gatherings of remembrance for the man, and the deeply impactful life he had led. I was surprised by all of it. I had imagined that anything having to do with death was bleak and dark and sad. Instead, I learned that it can have everything to do with life and light and love. Needless to say, John’s departure was, for me at least, a mind-altering, consciousness expanding experience that completely changed my understanding of what death can mean to those who remain alive.

The second thing I learned about death, is that in the most practical sense, it is a matter of business. Immediately following the passing of someone whose life was as culturally impactful as John’s, comes the administration of that transition. There are practical decisions that have to be made on every level, and an execution of the deceased’s estate is fairly quickly set in motion even though the process itself may take some time. Because I was living in John’s home, and had been serving in the capacity of his personal assistant, it didn’t take long for it to become apparent that I had a role to serve in supporting his family with some of these matters, including the process of preparing his home for sale. It is here that my relationship to John’s archives began.

With the support of John’s eldest son, Danny Mack, it took about eight months to complete all of the administrative and prep work that needed to be done at, and on behalf of, John’s Brattle Street property. One of the more tedious responsibilities that I took on at the time, was the transfer into sturdy bankers’ boxes, all of John’s archive files that had been resting in numerous metal filing cabinets located in his basement. I took the time and care to make sure the files remained in order as John had categorized them and that their boxes were labeled accordingly. At John’s Beacon St. office, Will Bueché, John’s admin at the Center for Psychology and Social Change, and Pat Carr, John’s longtime executive admin at Harvard, were meticulous in transferring his clinical and organizational files into the same type of boxes I used for his home archives. In the end, John’s family moved just over 300 boxes of his archival materials into a climate controlled, commercial document storage facility where they remained virtually untouched until they were removed for digitization in January of this year.

Here enters Jeff Kripal and Archives of the Impossible.

Though, I should probably backtrack for a moment to stitch another few threads into the rich tapestry of this archival story.

In March of 2020, as the US went into Covid lockdown, I found myself abruptly shuttering a boutique home-renovation business that I had spent a decade of 80-hour work weeks exhausting every last ounce of my energy to establish and grow. The decision to walk away from the just-burgeoning fruit of all that relentless hard labor, was a difficult, painful one to say the least. And yet, somehow, as the streets of downtown Chicago turned eerily empty, I realized that I had extracted from my experiences of the past ten years, everything that all of my successes — and plenty of failures — had to offer. What this fateful pandemic held in store for me, I hadn’t a clue, but it turned out, the path ahead was full of surprises. A few were very sad, and others marked exciting new beginnings I was ready to embrace.

While quietly reconnecting with the experiencer community during the first year of lockdown, I found myself behind the scenes suddenly cracked open and receptive to a number of meditative downloads that made clear to me I would not be returning to the profession I had just walked away from. Rather, I understood there was work to be done in the world that built upon the foundation John had created in collaboration with numerous elite intellectuals, academics, clinicians, and support staff; all of whom had helped him fulfill the mission statements of a non-profit organization that had, in various iterations, existed since its inception in 1982. Moved by this inspiration, and with the help of a sharp editorial team, I wrote up a proposal to reanimate the John E Mack Institute. Upon its completion, I presented it to JEMI’s Chair of the Board, Danny Mack, for his consideration and approval. I was pleased — and very grateful — when he greenlit the project.

In the middle of this massive life redirection, I married my first love, a Norwegian national who lives in the Arctic Circle at the 69th degree parallel, right beneath where the brightest and most breathtaking northern lights manifest on an almost nightly basis. There’s a whole long, twisty story of the exhausting and maddening year-long process we went through to marry each other in the middle of a global pandemic. This is not the time or place to tell it. Suffice it to say, we finally pulled it off in Reykjavik, Iceland on Sept 2nd 2021. Following our civil ceremony of two in front of an Icelandic judge, I flew back home, packed what little remained of my worldly belongings, and moved to Northern Norway to be with my husband. It was from Norway that I rolled up my sleeves and got to work with Danny and Will.

As the three of us undertook some of the outstanding housekeeping tasks that needed to be addressed, Danny forwarded to me an email from a professor named Jeff Kripal who had reached out to him two years earlier regarding the disposition of his father’s archives or, at least, regarding the collection that was specifically connected to John’s research into the Phenomenon. I immediately followed up with Jeff on Danny’s behalf.

It was on a very long-distance Zoom call that I was introduced to Jeff and Amanda. I immediately liked them both and was surprised to discover how much I resonated with Jeff’s intention for Archives of the Impossible. And so began a month’s long dialog between Danny, Will, Jeff, Amanda, myself and Carolyn Hayes, an Acquisitions Archivist in the Countway Library at Harvard Medical School. It was a friendly, but weighty discussion. The decision on how best to handle the disposition of John’s archives was not taken lightly by any of us. Everyone involved wanted to the right thing for all the right reasons. But parsing out what qualified as the “right thing” or the “right reasons” was a matter of great consideration.

For Harvard’s part, it was clear they had either assumed or hoped that the Countway Library at Harvard Medical School would be receiving all of John’s materials. And while there was an obvious logic about the fit of that solution, a number of Harvard’s conditions were problematic. First of all, Harvard, as a matter of practice, immediately assumes the copyrights for all of the archival donations it receives. Secondly, the institution reserves the right to effectively bury any items that it wants to at its singular discretion. And while Carolyn assured us that Harvard would openly welcome inquiries into John’s archives and make them available as requested, the risk of losing control over files related to the Harvard investigation or John’s research into the Phenomenon, was unacceptable. Further, even if these stipulations hadn’t been of concern, the truth of the matter was, given Harvard’s negative response to John’s work with experiencers and his writings about their contact encounters, it was clear that Harvard was not a suitable home for John’s collection of experiencer tapes, transcripts, letters and unpublished related research. Alternately, after numerous conversations with Jeff and Amanda, it was equally as clear that Archives of the Impossible was in fact, the perfect home for those materials.

In contrast to Harvard’s policies, not only did Archives of the Impossible allow the Mack family to retain copyrights, but Jeff and Amanda actually expressed an interest in helping to facilitate research of the very content that Harvard found most disconcerting. Once these distinctions between the two institutions were clarified, making the decision to divide John’s materials between Harvard and Rice along a pre and post phenomenon line, was fairly obvious. With all of us — including Carolyn from Harvard — in agreement about this approach, there was one last obstacle standing in the way of the archives disposition; the problem of how to most efficiently preserve for posterity and make accessible for future research, the physical archives themselves.

Without the materials being digitized in advance of donation, due to budget and human resource constraints, both collections would have gone to their respective universities and been promptly placed into storage for an unknown period of time. For Harvard, it would have been years. In turn, that would have immediately limited remote accessibility to the archives for both researchers and the general public alike. Not to mention that in bifurcating the materials without a digital copy of the full collection, we would have created a fundamental tear in the connective tissue of John’s life work. And none of us wanted that.

So, we negotiated into the two agreements a stipulation that JEMI and the Mack family would provide a digitized copy of each collection that would track with the physical materials. This decision made sense for so many reasons. It also created a new problem to solve: the digitization of hundreds of boxes of files that each contained anywhere from 500 to 2000 discrete pieces of paper that needed to be hand fed into a scanner. To frame this as an enormous undertaking only begins to hint at the amount of work involved. To Will’s credit, he had spent countless unpaid hours over the years voluntarily scanning some of the most obviously important materials, but the lions’ share of John’s archives remained without a digital backup.

As someone who had professionally spent the past decade honing a project management skillset in high-stakes construction projects, I was not intimidated by the scale of the task. It seemed to me a fairly straightforward brief: identify a location to process the files, source the volunteers to make it happen, transfer the boxes from storage to the processing location, set up the tech, scan the documents, and disperse them. Having not ever been involved with any kind of archiving project much less a large-scale one, I thought, given the rigors of my professional background, how hard could it be? Heh. I think there’s a reason that life keeps our most challenging experiences a mystery until we’re right in the middle of them.

So, full of confidence in my ability to fulfill this mission with the right team, resources, and funding, I booked a roundtrip ticket to Boston with plans to leave on New Year’s Eve and return to Norway on Jan 28th of this year. That I am physically standing in front of you now, instead of sitting home beside my husband with a cozy fire burning in the living room stove (because it’s still quite chilly in the Arctic Circle), should tell you that things didn’t quite unfold as I imagined they could or would. I’ll share with you the short version of events…

In planning my approach to the scanning project, I allocated the first week for tech setup and transferring the entire lot of boxes to our Airbnb’s empty two-car garage. I anticipated we would need about two weeks to complete the scanning with a rotating team of six people working from first thing in the morning, until late at night. I intended to spend the last week of my trip dispersing the boxes to their final destinations. Again, I thought with a good system in place, how hard could it be to scan a bunch of documents?

Turns out, it’s not hard to scan documents with zippy modern scanners. It’s actually pretty easy. BUT… (as archivists everywhere shake their heads and rightfully laugh at my archiving naivete) our digital project had one very analog problem: staples. No matter what staple-removing tool is used (and we had at least three different kinds), the act of pulling out what are sometimes very old and flimsy papers from a file folder to set them down and position them on a tabletop in just such a way that the page doesn’t tear when the staple is removed, only goes so fast. And by that I mean, it doesn’t go fast. At all. It’s actually a painstaking, grinding process that takes a lot of time. To put it another way, if staple-removing was an animal, it would be a turtle. Or a sloth. And the only way my timeline was going to work, was if I could get the entire process to move with the efficiency and speed of a cheetah. At this point, I suspect it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that somewhere toward the end of the second week with the end nowhere in sight, I realized: Houston… we have a problem.

Fast forward to the punchline… with the help of some super human volunteers, and by extending my stay in the US for an additional month, our cracker-jack team of dedicated workers was able to complete just under 2/3rd’s of the task before the clock ran out again. Somewhere around the third week in February, I called my husband and had a conversation with him that was hard for both of us. I let him know I couldn’t come home until the project was done and that, best I could tell, I’d probably needed to remain in the States for at least another couple of months. Because we had emptied JEMI’s coffers (and then some) to accomplish as much as we did, and because our Airbnb turned into a pumpkin on Feb 26th, I had to pivot. And fast. So, flying entirely by the seat of my pants, in collaboration with Will and Danny and other scanning team members, I reached out to Jeff and Amanda and worked out a plan to drive the boxes destined for Rice down to Houston in a 15’ U-Haul with one of our volunteers and uber-mensch, Karen Young, in the driver’s seat.

On the morning of our departure from Boston, Karen and I had to throw salt on the driveway in order to clear it of ice from the previous night’s snowfall. As we pulled into Rice University five days later to unload approximately 150 boxes, we were sweltering alongside Amanda and a spirited team of librarians in the 80-something degree heat and humidity of Houston, Texas, of all places. Talk about a cultural whiplash.

The next morning, while standing in the living room of an Airbnb that has now become my home away from home, a warm shockwave moved through my body as it suddenly occurred to me that my life had just changed and I hadn’t seen it coming. As someone who was accustomed to initiating my own major shifts in life direction (thank-you very much), I was completely unprepared for what felt in the moment like a very hard right turn. Slightly confused that I hadn’t received some kind memo from the Universe, I nonetheless understood that I was right where I was supposed to be and that I wouldn’t have to wait long before all would be revealed. Indeed, that turned out to be true.

Almost immediately, Jeff and I began to meet with each other on a near-weekly basis. And it soon became apparent to both of us that JEMI and Archives of the Impossible had some important work to do together. Through numerous dialogs and a quick deep dive into some of Jeff’s most recent writings, something else became clear to me as well. Jeff’s thinking about the phenomenon almost exactly picked up where John’s had left off. So much so, that during one of my conversations with Jeff, a simple but powerful image appeared in my mind’s eye… from my left, I saw John walk into my field of vision. Jeff was off to my right with his back towards John, his head was turned and his arm was extended behind him as if they were preparing for a relay handoff. As John passed in front of me with his arm outstretched, I looked down and noticed a baton just as he firmly placed into Jeff’s hand. Without hesitation, Jeff locked his fingers around it and walked forward into the future as John disappeared in cloud of fog. The vision was fleeting, but its impact landed.

After a few weeks of exploring Jeff’s resonance with JEMI’s renewed mission, it became obvious that, for a number of reasons, he was the scholar best suited to step into the very empty shoes that John had left behind. I was a bit shy about it, but I finally plucked up the courage to ask Jeff if he would be willing to help JEMI pick up where John’s research left off. It is my great pleasure to announce here today, that he said “yes.”

So, “hear ye, hear ye” Dr. Jeff Kripal assumes his new role as a co-director of JEMI alongside our other director, Maya Christobel. As you all know Jeff, I’ll just say about Maya that she’s a Harvard-trained thought leader and psychotherapist. Maya is a pioneer in bioenergetic trauma release and brings with her forty years of professional experience as a therapist, communications expert, writer, and award-winning screenwriter. I’d also like to take this opportunity to introduce respected community member, Darren “ExoAcademian” King, in his new role a JEMI’s communications director. He is the host of the Point of Convergence podcast, and he co-hosts the Liminal Phrames podcast with his friend, Nathan. Will Bueché will continue in his roles as JEMI’s longtime archivist and consultant; and we welcome Karen Young, a wildly talented organizational maven and overall force for good, in her role as office manager.

Together, Maya and Jeff, along with our evolving board of advisors, are here to hold me and the rest of our team accountable as we endeavor to meet the demands of various timely projects that are currently in development within our organization. The most important and pressing of these is a complex research undertaking that requires the digitization of John’s archives to be completed as swiftly as possible. And while JEMI is actively fundraising to facilitate that project, we are also currently partnering with Jeff, Amanda, and Rice University’s grant writing team to apply for an NEH development grant on behalf of a meta-data study that JEMI and Archives of the Impossible would like to begin as soon as possible with four discrete collections of experiencer-related files within John’s archives.

As many of you know, the experiencer community has long been derided for its inability to produce empirical proof of individual contact encounters. However, most mainstream researchers and academics aren’t aware that credible researchers from all around the globe have been incubating a large trove of observational, anecdotal, and intersubjective data that holds within it a detailed accounting of the epistemologically challenging reports of what used to be known as “alien abductions”. The meta-research initiative we’re proposing will utilize human resources, AI, and methodologically rigorous protocols to capture the latent information contained within these files.

The necessity of this endeavor, cannot be overstated. Without it, it matters not how persuasive, compelling, or credible individual experiencers are in relating stories of phenomena that are simply too implausible for most people to accept at face value. In the past number of decades, it has become abundantly clear that independent experiencer narratives, on their own, lack the power to meaningfully impact centuries of human attachment to the Newtonian-Cartesian worldview; a paradigm that has proven reliably unsusceptible to the high-strangeness of Contact.

Bearing that in mind, we recognize that if we are asking the “gatekeepers of human knowledge” to seriously consider a new model of the cosmos that accommodates events so anomalous they require humankind to modify our understanding of reality, an extraordinary effort to provide at least some measure of proof for the existence of such things is appropriate. This project, known within JEMI as the Experiencer Disclosure Initiative, will, in partnership with Archives of the Impossible, endeavor to do just that under the guidance and supervision of a committee of elite academic advisors. It is our intention to mine the data, perform statistical analysis on the results, and submit white papers to science and academia for further debate in their contemporary dialectic about the Contact phenomenon.

To that end, we are currently raising funds for everything we will need to carry out this ambitious project. So, if anyone here today or in our remote audience, feels moved to financially contribute to this important work, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, Jeff Kripal or Maya Christobel. JEMI is currently seeking $200K to cover our overhead costs through the end of the year. These funds will in large part go toward paying the salaries of JEMI’s team of mature professionals who have been for months and years volunteering their time in the faith that JEMI will soon be able to secure funding from allies who resonate with the critical importance of completing this research. As much as JEMI’s team members would volunteer their time indefinitely if we could, the needs of Maslow’s lowest rung demand satisfaction and a paycheck. So again, if any of you have been wondering how you might help the cause, we have some very prosaic needs that could be met though your support right now. For those interested, your donations are tax deductible as JEMI is an active 501c3 organization.

As I move in the direction of trying to wrap up here, I’ll do my best to address a few of the questions we know are on people’s minds regarding the contents of John’s archives and when they will be made available to the public.

Out of everything I’ve shared with you so far here today, this might be the bit that makes me most nervous because I’m aware of just how important John’s files are to the general public and a large, very interested community of researchers, academics, students, skeptics, writers, and filmmakers. I know there are a lot of people who want to jump into them as if they were the deep end of a Narnia-esque swimming pool hiding a system of subterranean caves that harbor previously untold secrets about the abduction phenomenon and the people who sought John’s help as they struggled to metabolize the ontological shock of their contact encounters.

For me personally, as one of the individuals who participated in John’s research — and as someone who has experienced numerous abduction encounters and all manner of high-strangeness and psi-phenomena that accompanies them — I can tell you, no one is more committed and impassioned about surfacing the details and statistics of the phenomenon that we know are lying latent within John’s research materials. I want to get this information out and into the public domain as soon as possible. And I know that I am in good company with lots of other Experiencers who want the truth to be known as well. Not just for a sense of validation — though, we do want to be taken seriously — but because we grok how important the data within our narratives is to science and academia’s efforts to understand what our anomalous experiences infer about physics, spacetime, and the foundational relationship between consciousness and reality.

That being said, every file in the archives related to John’s experiencers, represents a person whose life, privacy, identity, and story are to be protected in every way. Period. Period. We will not betray the trust that experiencers placed with John and everyone else who supported his work at the Program for Extraordinary Experiences Research. Protecting the anonymity of every single experiencer is of the utmost importance to me, Jeff, Amanda, Maya and the rest of JEMI’s team. Indeed, it is our number one priority. Immediately after which, is our interest in facilitating and contributing to the methodologically rigorous research I mentioned before.

“Every file in the archives related to John’s experiencers represents a person whose life, privacy, identity, and story are to be protected in every way. Period.”

In order to satisfy both of these prime directives, JEMI must first complete the anonymization of a very large trove of files. Once we’ve done that, we’ll have finished the first step of a complex and costly multiphasic process. Phase 2 will include scraping and aggregating the data for statistical analysis. The white papers will be written in Phase 3, and then made immediately available to the public on our JEMI website after submission to the “gatekeepers of human knowledge” for consideration and further debate. We expect the full cycle to take us anywhere from three to five years. Obviously, the more quickly we receive the funding we need to complete this work, the more expediently we will be able to make the data available to the public.

For those who have been champing at the bit to gain access to the experiencer-related materials, I’m sorry but you’ll have to be patient for just a bit longer. As frustrating as that might be, I hope you can agree with me that doing this the right way is the right thing to do. I’d would also like to point out that even if anonymization wasn’t the issue that is for us, there is no feasible way for a researcher to show up at Rice for a week and “dip a toe” into these files. There are easily 100+ boxes full of documents that would be of interest. As a friendly reminder, each of those boxes contains anywhere from 500 to 2000 pages each. In order to extrapolate any real meaning or value from these documents, again, as previously mentioned, a very well-funded project is going to need years, plenty of human resources, and AI to accomplish the task.

Now, having said that, once the initial digitization of John’s archives is complete and Amanda has had the opportunity to process the materials into Rice’s archives, the public will have access to all of the materials that span the breadth and scope of his entire professional career. To clarify, the collection will exclude the aforementioned Experiencer-related research documents, as well as John’s patient files from the Cambridge Hospital Department of Psychiatry, which have been placed on a fifty-year hold to protect patient confidentiality.

For those interested in knowing who John was beyond his work on the Phenomenon, even just a brief glimpse into his archives will reveal that the man was nothing if not prolific. The amount of original thinking, writing, and work that he created over the course of his lifetime is mind-boggling. It’s almost incomprehensible. It’s no wonder he was tired. His exceptional intelligence, warmth, compassion, and great care for the well-being of humankind and the planet we call home, leaps off the page at every turn. Now that doesn’t mean John was perfect, or that he never made mistakes, or that he didn’t piss anyone off. He wasn’t. And he did. Like all the rest of us, he was human. He was sometimes insecure and afraid, often quietly sad, and he struggled with intimate relationship challenges throughout his adult life. Having lost his biological mother at too young an age when neural pathways of attachment and bonding are just forming, in many ways makes sense of John’s Chirotic pain; an existential angst that sadly, never fully resolved before his death. To me, knowing those things about him doesn’t make him less of a cultural icon. It makes him a whole person who actualized his life to the best of his ability given the gifts, talents, privilege, and pain he was born into.

To learn all of these things and more about John, you will be able to find in his archives:

  • Research and interviews on behalf of the numerous books and essays he authored, including the Pulitzer Prize winning biography on TE Lawrence
  • Materials related to his psychiatric work
  • Files related to the four iterations of his non-profit organization
  • Research and writings about the threat of nuclear war and the impact it was having on the collective human psyche; (for instance, he wrote a manuscript that never came to fruition, which he turned into a number of essays); there’s also an interview with Edward Teller; the father of the hydrogen bomb.
  • Correspondence with notable luminaries, politicians and colleagues
  • Materials related to travel/conferences/workshops
  • His reflections on the evolution of human consciousness including his interest in Grof breathwork, Werner Erhard’s est, and Esalen
  • There is a very modest amount of personal materials re: contemplations of life/love/relationships. Though, I can tell you, you won’t find any salacious material there; John was apparently very discerning about what he kept on file regarding his personal relationships. He did have some journals containing his personal thoughts about all manner of things related to his life that are in his very hard to read doctoral scrawl. However, the Mack family is currently holding onto them for now until they have made a formal decision on the best time to donate them.

The archives will also include the detailed police and coroners reports from the fateful event that ended John’s life, along with other documents regarding the trial of Raymond Czechowski who ultimately served jailtime for his role in John’s death. And let me just take a moment here to once again assert, because the conspiracy theories continue to circulate, that John was not murdered, and that it’s true the Mack family asked for leniency on behalf of Mr. Czechowski, just as John would have wanted. His death was an accident in the purest sense of the term. He was a jetlagged American in London who — exhausted after a long day of public engagement and a lifetime of incessant, ambitious work — apparently looked the wrong way when he stepped into a London intersection. This, of course, much to the shock and dismay of Mr. Czechowski and many, many people all around the world who recognized in John a profoundly inspired and brilliant mind whose intellectual beauty was eclipsed perhaps only by his kind and poetic soul.

The Experiencer community remembers John for his work related to the Phenomenon, but he had a huge and remarkable life before it, as well as a long history of advocating for those who couldn’t do so for themselves, even when he raised the establishment’s ire in taking a stand on their behalf. Everything John did in his life leading up to his introduction to the Phenomenon uniquely prepared him for the work that has in his death, become a legacy to all of humankind.

When John traveled to speak about the Phenomenon, he would often ask one or two Experiencers to accompany him on stage. He did this in order to give us the opportunity to express in our own words the profound impact the Contact encounters had on our lives and worldview. I would like to invoke his presence here today and honor him in kind by ending with the close of his unpublished manuscript, When Worldviews Collide (a project that Jeff Kripal has agreed to help us complete, with a forward by John’s longtime friend and colleague, philosophy professor, Michael Zimmerman).

In short, John concludes in his manuscript that, to some meaningful extent, the Phenomenon is not about “aliens.” It’s about us. I happen to agree.

He also makes the case for an emergent worldview wherein humankind is moving away from the separatism and isolation that seems intrinsic to the materialist paradigm. He titled the final section of his manuscript: Where Could We Be Going?

He begins…

With a bit of irony perhaps, writer Daniel Quinn said to an audience at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, “I can tell you with complete confidence that something extraordinary is going to happen in the next two or three decades. The people of our culture are going to figure out how to live sustainably – or they’re not.” Philanthropist Theodore Mallon states the choice more explicitly: “Are we going to continue the pattern of living and giving from fear and greed, guilt or shame, or are we going to move on to a higher level of consciousness?” I resonate with these words because they carry the power of uncertainty and the freedom to choose. People often look to those in authority for answers, yet if there is one force that afflicts us most in this time of history it seems to be our attraction to leaders who exhort their followers with words that convey absolute certainty and little, if any, evidence of self -reflection. But it seems to me that we have had enough of exhortation, and hear too few voices now that are unsure about nothing, except the power and truth of love.

The time we seem to be moving into now might be called the Age of Consciousness. Consciousness has two fundamental meanings that are rather different though related. On the one hand it refers to an emerging cosmology in which the universe is understood as a vast creative intelligence, akin to what has usually been called God, and gives rise to matter and energy, which are expressions of its power. But consciousness also refers to our capacity for awareness and self- knowledge. These two meanings come together when, in the process of deepening awareness, one comes to the realization that our “selves,” that which is doing the knowing, is itself part of consciousness in the first sense, inseparable from the infinite or the “everything” that many think of as God.

Awareness and coming to grips with fear lie at the heart of the work of psychotherapists, but in the larger world we assign to flawed leaders the job of assuaging our anxieties or bringing “security” through aggressive approaches to threatening problems that are dubious at best and may be incalculably dangerous. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001 there were voices that urged us to go beyond hyperbolic denunciations and warring upon the evil other, and to consider our own part in bringing upon us these tragic events. Writer Barbara Kingsolver observed that our country lacked the ability to know how to deal with hurt. “There are a hundred ways to be a good citizen,” she said, and one of them is “to look finally at the things we don’t want to see.” And Jane Goodall, in receiving a global citizen award for her work as a leader in promoting peace and environmental awareness, said that “because the world has gone really crazy” she felt compelled to take on a role in changing consciousness that she would not formerly have accepted. It is not surprising perhaps that so many of the voices of understanding now are those of women. “We are surrounded now by the wonders of our masculine consciousness,” and “such wonders are not to be despised,” writes Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, a London-born author who embraced the Sufi tradition, “but they have been bought at a price. In our fascination with the world of science and its tangible results, we have starved and neglected the inner, feminine world.”

Everything else is secondary, it seems to me, to the transformation of consciousness, the spiritual revolution that is spreading slowly but inexorably around the world. For as this awakening takes hold, we will no longer tolerate political, economic and educational systems that divide and separate us from one another and serve mainly elite groups intent on maintaining their wealth and power at the expense of most other people and the life of the planet itself. Sufi master Pir Vilayat invites us to become “knights of awakening,” and replace the weapons of destruction with “lances of light that dispel the darkness.”
It is time for us to recognize that the opening of heart and the heart’s knowing, which is a central theme of this book, can lead to the awareness of our interdependence, and the emergence of a worldwide sense of community that will transcend the sectarian and nationalistic focus on competition and narrowly defined “interests.” “Our freedom,” writes Ralph Wood, lies “In becoming communal selves who freely embrace our moral, religious, and political obligations…There is no mythical free and autonomous self that exists apart from these ties.”

John continues…

I have been taking part in a project in which great thinkers in the understanding of consciousness have been asked to imagine how our lives would be different if we came to recognize the primacy of this creative intelligence. Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s response captures the vision of my book. “We would no longer feel as aliens in a dead and forbidding cosmos, as accidents in a lifeless universe. Far from being aliens, we would feel once again at home in the cosmos as did traditional men and women over the ages. Our rapport with animals, plants, and even the inanimate world would change from one of strife and need for control and domination to one of harmony and equilibrium, with a much greater possibility for intimacy between human beings than the current mind-set makes possible.”

Two weeks before his death from a brain tumor, a sixteen-year-old boy wrote a poem to all of us…

“I ask you reader, whoever you may be, take my trembling hand and warm it with care and sympathy. Time brings a changed mood and heals wonderfully – as I sit here, I am not all lost. Love is coming. Help is coming. I will be taken care of. I will return to the womb of security. I believe that love is the sole purpose of man’s life.”

And John finishes…

I hope that the dying which brings about the transformations that are the concerns of this book, will not require the literal deaths of countless people. This is [and should be] the dying of a worldview from which new ways of thinking and being can emerge.

I believe, as I know many of you do as well, that we are on the verge of the next Copernican revolution. Personally, I love that the DNA of John’s research and life will be inextricably linked to this quantum leap in Homo sapiens evolution. In the spirit of John’s trailblazing, it is my hope that we will find the courage (and funding) to carry on his work and, in so doing, help facilitate humankind’s transition into a New Age of Consciousness wherein the human heart and mind achieve the coherence needed to perceive an expression of reality, intelligence, and love, greater than we ever imagined could exist beyond the veil of our material world.

  • Karin Austin is the director of the John E Mack Institute.

© 2023 Karin Austin
Presented at the Archives of the Impossible conference at Rice University, May 12, 2023.
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