Dr. John Mack’s Abduction returns to print in new edition using the author’s preferred text

November 2014 — The revised edition of Abduction, Dr. John Mack’s first book on the subject of alien encounters, is now available as an ebook from major retailers. A trade paperback will be released in late December or early January the first or second quarter of 2015.

Abduction was originally published on April 20, 1994. Though Abduction has remained in print for twenty years this is the first time since 1997 that the author’s revised edition has been available. There are subtle changes in the phrasing of many sentences throughout. More significantly, “in order to improve the book’s readability,” Dr. Mack wrote, “the historical and cross-cultural sections have been moved to the back, and the opening sections that contain my introduction and first reactions to learning about the abduction phenomenon have been streamlined.”

Abduction was the first of two books the acclaimed Harvard professor of psychiatry would write on the subject of “human transformation and alien encounters”.

Dr. Mack, who died in September 2004 at the age of 74, spent most of his illustrious career examining how a sense of “connection” develops across cultures and between individuals, and how these connections alter people’s worldviews. His best known book on this theme was the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Prince of Our Disorder, a biography of British officer T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”).

His interest in the “connection” that was reported between humans and aliens, and how that too transformed people’s worldviews, was an unexpected — if natural — continuation of his lifelong exploration of this theme.

Though largely a collection of case studies, less philosophically-oriented than Passport to the Cosmos (published several years later), Abduction began Dr. Mack’s consideration of the possibility that the relationship between humans and the so-called aliens may have benefits for both species, rather than being purely exploitative of humans as many at the time believed.

Publisher’s Weekly noted, “Where Mack’s report differs is in its emphasis on the purported spiritual aspects of the abduction experience. Many of his patients reported deep personal growth and heightened awareness of human destructiveness and of Earth’s ecological crisis. Some abductees seemed to relive past lives during therapy sessions; others became open to contact with spirit-entities; still others said they possessed a ‘dual identity’ as both alien and human. Unlike Hopkins and Jacobs, who tend to view such phenomena with skepticism … Mack wishfully embraces them as signs that a higher intelligence is attempting to intervene in humanities destructive course. Whether that intelligence involves extra-terrestrial humanoids or multidimensional spirits is a question Mack leaves open. His searching inquiry is among the most credible and thought-provoking of this genre.”

This return to print of Dr. Mack’s preferred edition of Abduction has been made possible by the John E. Mack Archives working hand-in-hand with Simon & Schuster. To prepare this version, the pages of a rare 1997 trade paperback were torn from its binding and scanned. Errors were manually corrected and the book was newly typeset. The preface, which had already been revised in 1995, has been further expanded by ten new paragraphs written in February 1997, sourced from the archives. All earlier editions of Abduction are now retired.


A commemorative edition of Passport to the Cosmos remains available from White Crow Publishing. This edition includes illustrations and photographs. Insights about the relationship between spiritual and physical energy; trauma’s role in transformation; information about the ecological crisis facing the planet; the possibility that human beings are participating in the creation of some sort of interdimensional hybrid race; and the expansion of human consciousness and our spiritual reawakening are the matters this book includes. More than a sequel to Abduction, this is Dr. Mack’s definitive statement on alien encounters and the state of humanity.

William Shatner writing novel inspired by John Mack’s research into alien encounters

May 7, 2014 — Actor and novelist William Shatner told Larry King (on Larry King Now, April 23, 2014) that he is writing a science fiction novel inspired in part by the research of the late Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack.

Shatner told King, “[Mack’s] conclusion was UFOs are on another plane, another reality… So do UFOs exist? It depends on what you mean by ‘exist’!”

Shatner had recently learned about Mack’s research from a discussion with producer Denise David Williams, who is developing a motion picture based on the career of Dr. John Mack.

Dr. Mack’s explorations of his patients’ alien encounters earned him the scorn of his Harvard peers, and the admiration of thousands of “experiencers”.

Shatner’s fiction will not be able to do more than skim the edges of Mack’s own story since Mack’s Life Story Rights are held by producer Williams.

John E. Mack Institute ends association with Xperiencers television program

September 10, 2013 — The John E. Mack Institute (JEMI) is pleased to have offered guidance during the development of the Xperiencers television program. Our year-long affiliation with the production has concluded. As the program moves into production without our collaboration we wish it well. We’d particularly like to thank the co-producer with whom we worked most, who has since left the production, for her efforts to bring a refined tone to the program.

We believe there is much to be learned from extraordinary experiences; the experiences commonly referred to as “alien encounters” seem to reveal opportunities for humanity to expand beyond its current precarious state of affairs in bold and dramatic ways – opportunities that many (including the late Dr. John Mack) have feared we will fail to take. Presenting material of such import with the respect and sensitivity it deserves is an exceptionally difficult prospect, and one that we cannot yet say if this program, absent our collaboration, will achieve.

For updates on the program, please visit X Marks the Spot’s Xperiencers.com.

Vanity Fair feature article about Harvard’s Dr. John Mack is now online



At midnight on Thursday, May 9th, 2013, VANITY FAIR posts its online feature article about Harvard Psychiatry Professor and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Dr. John Mack, written by NY Times investigative journalist Ralph Blumenthal.

The article recounts Dr. Mack’s defense of alien abductees and the personal and academic price he paid for it.

Leslie Keane, New York Times bestselling author, says “Ralph Blumenthal has written an intelligent and insightful story; the best treatment on John Mack I have ever read.”

It is also the first public announcement of a partnership between Denise David Williams’ MakeMagic Productions and Robert Redford’s Wildwood Enterprises for the production of a major motion picture based on Dr. Mack’s extraordinary story.


Errata

  1. The Vanity Fair article initially describes “Elisabeth and Mark Before and After Death: The Power of a Field of Love” as an unpublished manuscript (“He left behind another unpublished manuscript, with another mystery he was seeking to unravel, a secret as dark as death itself”), before later correctly identifying this as a book proposal, not a manuscript. The materials for this project in actuality consist of a dozen-page single-spaced outline (the book proposal) and many interviews Dr. Mack conducted with friends and family of the late Dr. Elisabeth Targ.
  2.  

  3. The article fails to examine the Donna Bassett incident critically. The article presents her as a “Boston writer” who later told Time magazine that she “was a double agent out to expose Mack’s U.F.O. cult” through her “hoax”.
         However, neither Vanity Fair nor Time magazine presented any evidence that she was an undercover writer as she claimed. Materials from Mack’s archives (excerpted below) were provided to the writer of the Vanity Fair piece that suggest her motives were personal.
         The most damaging claim that she brought to Time magazine – as Time reporter James Willwerth credulously accepted and reported – was of a “lack of therapy following [the] traumatic hypnosis sessions”.
         But it seems that Bassett had in fact been advised to seek regular therapy, and took offense at the way in which the advice was presented, and may have been disappointed that Dr. Mack himself was not the resource to which she was being directed.
         A colleague of Dr. Mack’s explained that at a meeting with Ed Bassett and Donna Bassett, “I felt over my head and asked if it would be helpful to her to see a psychologist regularly who has an understanding of the phenomenon. This was exactly the wrong thing to say. She felt I was calling her crazy and that I was abandoning her just when she’d started to open up to me.”
         In March of 1994 she made her claim to Willwerth that she was an undercover writer whose false persona had not been directed into the therapy she felt she would have needed had her persona been real.
  4.  

  5. The concluding paragraph of the Vanity Fair article misrepresents a possible after-life communication from Dr. Mack. “It’s not what we thought”, is the message he is said to have related. The Vanity Fair article implies this was about alien encounters. The message was shared with his former assistant Roberta Colasanti by a psychic. Colasanti would like to clarify that “It’s not what we thought” was in regards to our sense of what death is. It was the second of two messages that two different psychics told her were being directed to her from the late Dr. Mack on the subject of life-after-life.

Xperiencers Series in Development

October 12, 2012 – The John E. Mack Institute (JEMI) is pleased to announce an alignment between a television production company and JEMI for the creation of a television series that will explore the meaning of alien encounter experiences via open-minded interviews with experiencers.

The board of JEMI believes the proposed series, currently in development under the title “Xperiencers”, is in line with the research Dr. Mack conducted under the PEER project at JEMI (the Program for Extraordinary Experience Research) in the 1990s and early ’00s; the series will continue his efforts to give voice to the diversity of men and women whose lives have been affected by extraordinary experiences.

An excerpt from the Xperiencers.com’s website:

An unspoken bond is shared between “experiencers” (those who have had extraordinary experiences with apparently alien beings).

Sometimes when experiencers are brought together, there is an unexplained sense of recognition, and insights about their experiences flow more freely than when they are isolated from one another.

Therefore, our intention is to bring experiencers together and to record their insights. Each person may have a piece of a larger puzzle that, when assembled, could present a more complete picture of this phenomenon.

Our team members themselves have lived through extraordinary experiences. Each has been propelled by the initial shockwave to question their life goals, religious beliefs, relationships, and even their own sanity. We remember the late Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack, who felt that once we learn to move past the fear, these encounters can be the most amazing events a human can experience.

Our Xperiencers Team understands how it feels to be labeled “crazy” as perspectives shift and personalities transform. Having set down safely on the other side of this difficult process, our team is able to listen with empathy and understanding to others who are now going through, or have gone through, the same transformation.

We are not psychiatrists or therapists. Our goal is simply to amass the best insights from men and women around the world who have experienced these paradoxically invasive and enlightening events. It is our hope that each participant may feel some peace and release from having been able to share their most valuable insight with us.

We make no judgement about whether these events are caused by “aliens” in any sense of the word. We only know that these events are real to those who experience them, and we hope that together, in connection with one another, we may come closer to the truth.

More info to come as the series takes shape.

Visit X Marks the Spot’s Xperiencers.com for additional information.

Disclaimer: The John E. Mack Institute’s association with X Marks the Spot Entertainment is limited to branding related to the production of the Xperiencers television series; JEMI is not responsible for and does not necessarily endorse the opinions or activities of X Marks the Spot Entertainment personnel.

Budd Hopkins

August 21, 2011 – Budd Hopkins has died.

Budd Hopkins

On January 10, 1990, Budd Hopkins inscribed these words to John Mack, then a nascent inquirer into the subject of alien encounters:

“For John, with every good wish to a future – I hope – colleague.”

Today, Sunday August 21, 2011, we remember a pioneer of the alien encounter phenomenon, with every good wish in return.

Budd Hopkins, June 15, 1931 – August 21, 2011.

Link to statement on Hopkins’ site:
Statement from Leslie Kean

“The Priests of High Strangeness”: A Warning About Expectations

January 15, 2011

In “The Priests of High Strangeness”, an essay by Carol Rainey published in the premiere issue of Paratopia (Jan 2011), the author asserts that “The sensational cases published in [Budd] Hopkins’ Intruders and Witnessed, in [David] Jacobs’ Secret Life and The Threat… are not the norm for abduction experiences.”

She suggests that Hopkins, her husband of ten years, was too easily lured by stories that bear little resemblance to typical alien encounters. The cloak and dagger story of Linda Cortile, allegedly abducted from her New York apartment on a beam of light in full view of a United Nations ambassador, is one of several cases which she notes Hopkins promoted even as discrediting evidence piled up. An allegation that David Jacobs’ objectivity has been compromised by paranoia is also referenced.

We thought some may wonder whether this article discredits experiencers and alien encounter experiences in general. We do not feel that it is meant to.

Rather, it is a criticism of researchers being lured by their own expectations of what the alien encounter experience is, and what sort of cases promise “proof” — when the reality could be that the nature of alien encounters is far stranger than one may expect, and may by its very nature not be able to provide a familiar kind of proof.

Click here for PDF of Carol Rainey essay | Alternate link

Addendum: Discussion born of this essay has included statements from one of Hopkins’ earliest interview subjects, Deb Kauble (“Kathie Davis” in Hopkins’ book Intruders). She asserts the reality of what happened to her, while emphasizing the need not to use terms or definitions that assume we know the nature of the experiences, contesting (for example) the use of the term “spaceship” (“I saw something. I don’t know what it was”) and, sharing her disdain for the term “abduction” (a term which Dr. Mack tried to de-emphasize in his later work).

Jeremy Vaeni describes the discussion underway now as the “deconstruction” of “what we claimed to know” in a new essay titled “Reflections on 2 Journeys: Where Do We Go From Here?”. While Vaeni at times goes too far the essay (he offhandly tries to dismiss the theme of sexual/reproductive elements of the encounters for no given reason other than the implication that Deb Kauble may have stated her case differently), it is well worth reading for its central point.

Read Jeremy Vaeni essay as archived on archive.org

Translating the word “Experiencer” into other languages

December 10, 2010

Nuance of meaning retained with newly invented word

Recently an Italian website, www.altrogiornale.org, contacted the John E. Mack Institute for permission to translate some of Dr. John Mack’s articles. With consent from the John E. Mack Archives LLC, permission was granted.

We asked what word they would use for “experiencer”.

“Experiencer” is, after all, a sort of invented word in English, which Dr. Mack popularized when he applied it to people who have reported experiences that appear to be “alien encounters” but for which another explanation may exist. It has become an important word in the lexicon of alien encounter research, so needed some careful attention.

“Experiencer” is a deliberately vague term meaning “one who has experienced something”, which in its vagueness allows for many possible interpretations of what exactly may be the nature of the experiences. That same vagueness needed to be retained in any translated form.

We asked a librarian what resources existed for getting the finer sense of word meanings in Italian, and she turned us to this site, http://www.woxikon.com/english-italian/experience.php , which suggested that “esperienza” can carry the meanings of knowledge / mental sensation / skill. Sounded about right, and the word was a good sound-alike.

So we initially proposed “esperienzer” (esperienza with an “er” substituted at the end), without knowing if adding an “er” to the end of a word in Italian turns something into a noun like it does in English. (As in “one who travels” becoming “traveler”.) The translator replied that “esperienzanti” may be what we were seeking. (As anticipated, Italian does not place an “er” at the end.)

“‘Esperienzanti’ is like ‘those who are experiencing something’“, he wrote. “I think this word does not exist,” he noted, “but I like the idea. I can use it.”

Later discussions and feedback from dual-language speakers led us to a final decision in which we’ve opted for a term that suggests “one who experiences a particular state”:

“Experiencers” and “experiencer” in Italian will henceforth be:
“esperienti” (plural),
“esperiente” (singular)
…at least in articles by the late Dr. John Mack. We hope it catches on.

A similar effort is underway for French translations.The translation of “Experiencer” into French was much easier. An existing, though rarely-used, term with nearly the same meaning was easily chosen – experienceur – and a corresponding website launched.

We are always looking for volunteers to translate more articles. Please contact us if you’d like to translate even a single article.

Update: American-based Italian researcher Paola Harris confirmed that there has not yet been an Italian term for “experiencer” invented yet, so we are truly pioneering the use of this new term. Harris added that a word similar to the English word “contactee” is most often used in alien encounter literature — “Contattisti, or Contattati …mostly Contattisti”.

This feedback affirmed, for us, the need for a new word. “Contactee” carries the implication that a person has been contacted by an outside agency, and that is the sort of pre-loading of meaning that the term “experiencer” is meant to avoid. By being more broad, “experiencer” allows for many interpretations.


An interesting historical note: The neutrality “experiencer” was designed to possess has instead developed into a positive emphasis, even as it retains as an open question what the experiences are. As it is typically applied to those who believe they can learn something of value from their experiences, or who may feel there is an element of cooperation or active participation in the experiences, a factional dispute arose with those who prefer to identify themselves as “victims” or “abductees”. Those who disagree with the more positive ideas or possibilities may resent “experiencers” for failing to validate their sense of victimization. This dispute is ironic in light of the fact that “experiencers” also report “abductions”; they simply do not define themselves by that particular experience.


RELATED NOTE: Foreign publishers interested in translating Dr. Mack’s book Passport to the Cosmos, please contact us.

JEMI observes the passing of Sandra Wright, former board member

December 20, 2009

The current board of the John E. Mack Institute acknowledge the passing of a former board member, Sandra Wright, whom many of us knew as a friend.

We honor her dedication to, in her words, “assist global man to better understand the various routes available to enlightenment”.

Sandra helped promote this shift through her involvement with many organizations including the Friends of the Institute of Noetic Science, through which she became aware of Dr. John Mack’s work.

Sandra became a key board member of our organization and a powerful supporter of Dr. Mack’s PEER program, the Program for Extraordinary Experience Research. “The true calling,” she said of the organization, “is PEER and its related studies, research and message. Simple, direct, and earth shaking in its import.”

With her participation, PEER was for many years our best-known project, helping to recast the subject of alien encounters from a matter treated with frivolity, if not derision, to a matter recognized as inherently transformative to man’s very sense of identity and responsibility.

Sandra saw that interaction with other sentient life, as reported to Dr. Mack by countless individuals, broadened perspectives and acted as a prompt for the evolution of consciousness. “We are only just beginning to touch the subjects of UFO’s/ETI and ‘Higher Mind’,” she noted. “There is a vital connection amongst these subjects.” she asserted; a sentiment that we continue to share today.

Sandra was most recently supporting a documentary film (underway now) of the historic 1994 Ariel School sighting — an event in which sixty children reported seeing a landed UFO and “strange beings” during morning recess — and had established a matching grant challenge to help encourage donations from the public.

We feel tremendous respect for her openness, receptivity and commitment to help promote, through research and education, an evolution in consciousness that could lead to positive social change and the experience, for billions, of a better world.

Sandra S. Wright passed away on December 15, 2009 in McLean, Virginia, following a long and brave battle with cancer.

A link to Sandra Wright’s obituary in the New York Times

Results of UK Study of Alien Encounter “Experiencers” Previewed

On June 4, 2005 at a confernece in Liverpool, Professor Chris French gave a presentation on the alien abduction study undertaken by him and his team at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

On this page we present:

  • French’s abstract (from the soon-to-be-published paper);
  • a comment from the John Mack Institute written in advance of French’s presenation;
  • NEW: an update with an excerpt from French’s conclusions;
  • a summary of French’s presentation by Nick Pope
  • a response to Pope’s summary by Will Bueché of the John Mack Institute;
  • NEW: an audio comment from John Mack (from the archives)

Psychology and parapsychology of the alien contact experience
Christopher C. French, Julia Santomauro, Victoria Hamilton, Rachel Fox & Michael Thalbourne Goldsmiths College, University of London & University of Adelaide

Abstract — Recent systematic research has supported previous anecdotal observations that those reporting alleged alien contact (known as ‘experiencers’) report a much higher incidence of ostensibly paranormal experiences and higher levels of paranormal belief than those not claiming such contact. The results of a study of a UK-based sample of experiencers are presented. Specifically, the project focussed upon quantitative and qualitative data relating to postulated psychological differences between experiencers and non-experiencers (with respect to fantasy-proneness, dissociativity, sleep paralysis experiences, and history of paranormal/anomalous experiences). Furthermore, data were collected pertaining to susceptibility to false memories using a word list paradigm. Finally, data were collected relating to possible paranormal abilities (ESP and PK) in experiencers and a comparison control group. The implications of the results are discussed.


Comment from the John E Mack Institute
(not part of the above):

Professor Chris French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU) at Goldsmiths’ Psychology Department, stated in the original press release for this study that “Abductees report a wide range of experiences; the research project aims to test not only the psychological aspects of the abduction experience, but also to find out more about the other kinds of experiences that abductees report, and includes some tests for psychic abilities.”

That this study recognizes and seeks to understand these factors is a significant advancement in alien encounter research. In the past, other studies have approached these factors with disdain. A study at Harvard Medical School by Richard J. McNally a few years ago suggested that the range of extraordinary experiences reported by experiencers was evidence that such people were fantasy prone — rather than considering that extraordinary phenomena and alien encounters may be related.

French’s study may have taken us another step towards identifying what kind of people are more likely to perceive and recall alien encounters. However, since the existence of psychic phenomena is often considered to be as unlikely as alien encounters, this is unlikely to settle the debate about whether or not such encounters are real.

Professor French is editor of a UK quarterly titled “The Skeptic,” which may give some indication about how the information will be presented.

An earlier paper of French’s from 2002 begins “Many thousands of people around the world firmly believe that they have been abducted by alien beings and taken on board spaceships where they have been subjected to painful medical examination. Given that such accounts are almost certainly untrue, four areas of neuroscience are considered with respect to possible clues that may lead towards a fuller understanding of the alien abduction experience…” (emphasis added).

French’s website further opines “UFOs and alien abduction” and a range of other extraordinary experiences such as ESP “can be plausibly explained in non-paranormal terms.”

We hope to find out more about the presentation after June 4th.


Update with Professor French’s Conclusions

A summary of French’s presentation was distributed in late June 2005 to select readers, however we cannot present the data until such time as the paper is accepted for publication. French’s conclusion reads as follows:

In general our results are consistent with those psychological models of the alien encounter experience that posit that such anomalous experiences may be a reflection of problems with reality monitoring (Johnson & Raye, 1981), that is, our ability to distinguish between events which take place out in the real world and those that occur only in our subjective mental space (via imagination, fantasy, dreams and so on). Modern theories of both hallucinations and false memories are often conceptualised in terms of problems with reality monitoring. Absorption, dissociativity and fantasy proneness have all been shown to be correlated with susceptibility to false memories (French, 2003). However, these results by no means prove that such explanations are correct. At least two other explanations of the psychological profile of experiencers would have to be ruled out first. The first is that a particular type of psychological profile is required if one is to be psychologically open to experiencing genuine paranormal and related phenomena (such as alien encounters), if indeed such phenomena genuinely exist. The second possibility is that the psychological profile that we see in the experiencers is a consequence of their experience and not a causal factor at all.

We would like to thank Professor French for including these possibilities (in the latter part of his conclusion). His honest analysis of the meaning of his hard data stands in marked contrast to the manner in which other researchers have presented their data. This forthrightness is the reason why even research by an avowed skeptic such as French can be of great value. The alternate possibilities French refers to seem to us at the John Mack Institute to be the possibilities that will someday be recognized as true.


Summary of Preview Event by Nick Pope, and Response by JEMI
Summary provided to UFOUpdates list by Nick Pope; Reproduced here for informational purposes only.

From: Nick Pope
Date: Sun, 5 Jun 2005
Subject: Chris French Abduction Study Results

I’ve posted previously on this List information relating to the scientific study into alien abductions conducted by Professor Chris French at Goldsmith College, University of London.

As previously notified, Professor French presented a paper on this at a conference in Liverpool on Saturday.

Chris forwarded me a copy of his paper, but asked me not to post it for now, as this might cause problems with subsequent publication in scientific journals. He did, however, say that I could post a summary of the paper. I’m wary of this, as I’m not a scientist, but I think I can safely say the following:

The study involved 19 abductees (8 male, 11 female) and a control group matched by age and gender. The study looked for postulated psychological differences between the two groups, for differences in susceptibility to false memories, and for differences in ESP and PK abilities.

Significant differences were found in areas such as tendency to hallucinate, absorption and dissociative tendencies.[1] The results were less clear on fantasy-proneness, while no significant differences were found on susceptibility to false memory.[2]

Greater incidence of sleep paralysis was found among the abductees, though it was acknowledged that this might be a symptom of, and not an explanation for, alien abduction.[3]

The tests on paranormal abilities did not appear to show any significant differences, though there was one apparent difference on the clairvoyance test, which I’m attempting to clarify.

Once the paper’s been published in scientific journals, I’ll post it to this List, provided Professor French is content.

Best wishes,

Nick Pope


Response to Nick Pope’s Summary of Chris French’s Study Results
by Will Bueche, The John E. Mack Institute (JEMI)

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s when people thought about alien encounters, they imaged silver metallic saucers traveling across interstellar space and landing in the Mojave Desert in California. They imagined ambassadors from other worlds would contact mankind. That was more or less what the culture expected could happen. But it isn’t what happened. In fact, what people describe is far stranger.

What people are in fact experiencing today is not a straightforward visit from an alien who steps out from a silver saucer. Instead, people describe something a bit more surreal, involving the appearance of a bright light that either descends from the sky (or if one is indoors, light that fills the room yet seemingly comes from nowhere & everywhere), a sense that time is being distorted, the arrival of strange beings who pass directly through walls and communicate telepathically, and other exceptionally strange sensations of vibration, of being moved into an alien environment and later returned.

These strange descriptions, and the lack of any direct physical evidence (no alien artifacts), have led modern day researchers to consider the possibility that what people are describing may be more akin to a meeting of worlds or dimensions, rather than a visit from another planet. Something which by its very nature cannot leave traces, only memories.

Naturally, there is a predisposition in our culture to assume that an experience that leaves no physical evidence must be an illusion. Lacking any technology which can explore other realities (or even prove that other dimensions posited by physicists even exist, let alone contain life forms), research has turned to the minds of the experiencers themselves to see if their minds possess any particular qualities which might account for why they have perceived something which may seem, on the face of things, to be unreal.

Regrettably, those conducting this research have often carried an assumption into their work; an assumption that if any personality differences in experiencers are uncovered, that these differences may imply that their perceptions can be dismissed as illusions.

For example, most everyone who has looked at alien encounters notices a similarity between alien encounters and the natural illusions that occur in the states of consciousness that exist between waking and sleeping. Particularly, the sense that something vaguely threatening is in one’s room, and the sense that things are a bit odd. Often those who note this similarity do so because they believe that alien encounters are examples of these sleep related fantasies.

But there are also cultures who believe that altered states of consciousness – such as the states one cycles through when meditating – are conducive to the perception of other aspects of reality beyond the material world. A person meditating may experience what they describe as a connection with the spiritual world, but there’s no way to prove that such a world exists even if many people perceive it!

Nonetheless, because many people have perceived it (the sense that the world includes more than the physical plane), most every culture believes the world is a continuum of the physical and something else which theologians dubbed the spiritual, for lack of a better word. Today we wonder if it might be what physicists such as Michael Greene call other dimensions, but science still has a very long way to go to catch up with these theories.

The late Harvard psychiatrist Dr John Mack asked us to consider the possibility that alien encounters might be experiences in which something from beyond the material world is “crossing over” into our world, but which is not native to our reality and may therefore may require an altered state of consciousness to even perceive it.

Dr Remo Roth in Switzerland suggests that when the so-called aliens cross over into our world, they affect not only the physical environment (causing the odd lights and the feeling of vibration) but also affect the state of consciousness of the people to whom it is occurring. He suggests that people are being forced to perceive something which is normally beyond our range of perception.

When one looks at studies of the minds of experiencers, one needs to be mindful of the possibility that if there are character traits that are different from average, these differences may be qualities which have enabled these people to perceive and recall their experiences, rather than assume that these character traits somehow implies that their experiences are not real.

Here then are some brief comments in response to Nick Pope’s summary of Christopher French’s presentation:

[1] “Significant differences were found in areas such as tendency to hallucinate, absorption and dissociative tendencies.”

Regarding the “tendency to hallucinate,” we must be wary that the researcher may be defining every visual or auditory element related to alien encounters — such as bright light at the onset of an alien encounter, telepathic communication, associated experiences such as seeing auras around people, and the very sight of aliens themselves — as hallucinations.

Such a definition would lead to circular reasoning in which the researcher fulfills his own expectations (as in “I assume aliens are hallucinations, therefore anyone who tends to see aliens must have a tendency to hallucinate.”)

If on the other hand the researcher has found that the experiencers also report hallucinations of things which are known to be unreal (visits by Bugs Bunny, for instance), that will need to be studied further.

Less prone to the possibility of researcher bias is the part of the statement referring to a tendency towards “absorption and dissasociate tendencies.” That French has again found experiencers to score higher in this quality raises provocative questions.

Similar results have been found by researchers who believe that alien encounters may be real. A study of 40 experiencers and 40 control subjects conducted in the 1997 by John Mack’s organization PEER (but left unpublished) found that “experiencers show moderate dissociative capacities (lower than pathological norms) and high absorption.” PEER’s report explained the terms:

“Dissociation and absorption are two personality characteristics related to entering altered states. Dissociation is an ability to split off certain mental processes from the main body of consciousness with various degrees of autonomy. Absorption is a personality style which denotes the degree to which an individual’s attention can remain absorbed cognitively in sensory stimuli or daydreams. Thus, dissociation seems to mark an ability to enter altered states, while absorption seems to relate to an ability to maintain consciousness in that altered state.”


“Absorption,” although sounding as if it may be a term for some kind of frightening condition, is in fact not a reference to a character flaw at all. Rather, absorption is a person’s ability to enter into or become “one” with an experience; to fully engage an experience so that it is felt to be a living part of yourself. It is a quality associated with spiritual or meditational practices.

That experiencers score higher in this trait may again indicate that alien contact is a more intimate form of connection with another world than our culture may have expected.

Most psychiatrists believe that “dissociation”, the ability to disengage from or isolate one’s feelings or awareness of particular experiences, is a coping mechanism formed in response to having lived through events which were exceptionally traumatic.

That experiencers in French’s study were evidently more dissociative than average will likely not be seen as evidence that their reports of terrifying alien encounters, recurrent since childhood, may be accurate. Rather, we expect the report will suggest that experiencers’ dissociative tendencies may have been caused by a more convential form of trauma, such as undocumented childhood sexual abuse, and that the people later erroneously came to believe their dissociative tendencies could be explained by alien encounters. (The familiarity of this debate is realized in the new motion picture “The Mysterious Skin,” which features a character who believes he was abducted by aliens as a child when he was in fact sexually abused by his little league coach).

[2] “no significant differences were found on susceptibility to false memory.”

This may be a reference to a word-list experiment in which a group of thematically related words are presented to the subject, who is then asked (after a suitable period of distraction) to try to recall as many of the words as they can — and to also indicate how confident they are in their recollection. For example, a list might include words such as “sheets, pillow, comforter, blanket, teddy bear.” When this word-list experiment was conducted at Harvard Medical School a couple years ago by doctorial student Susan Clancy, she found that experiencers tended to have more errors, and to express a higher confidence in their erroneous answers. For example, the experiencers may have stated with confidence that the word “bed” was on the list, even though it was only the concept of “bed” and not the word itself which appeared in the list. This tendency was used by Clancy to suggest that experiencers were more prone to creating “false memories.” However, more established experts in memory dismissed the suggestion that rote recollection of word lists can be compared to the creation of experiential memories in real-life situations.

That the replication of this experiment has failed to detect what Clancy detected is puzzling; had the results matched, it would have further strengthened the possibility that people who report alien contact tend to process information conceptually rather than in words. These people may have a greater ability to perceive and later attempt to describe experiences which may exceed what language is designed for (the difficulty people have in describing in what reality alien encounters take place is a good example of where language breaks down).

[3] “Greater incidence of sleep paralysis was found among the abductees, though it was acknowledged that this might be a symptom of, and not an explanation for, alien abduction.”

Some suggest that alien encounter experiences are fantasies experienced during naturally occurring altered states of consciousness, such as those which transpire between sleep and wakefulness. During these hypnagogic or hypnopompic states the physiological process of sleep paralysis (a restriction of movement which our bodies enact during rest so as to prevent our limbs from reacting to illusory events in dreams) experienced in concert with hallucinations derived from imagination and cultural material, and perhaps accentuated by dreams, creates the impression in some people that an extraordinary event has taken place in reality.

Others suggest that naturally occurring altered states of consciousness, such as those which transpire between sleep and wakefulness, may facilitate perception of or contact with another aspect of reality—such as what in traditional theological terms is described as the “spiritual” world (see Sherwood, Simon J. “Relationship between the hypnagogic/hypnopompic states and reports of anomalous experiences” Journal of Parapsychology, The, June 2002).

While different states of consciousness are entered into purposefully by meditators, shamans, other spiritual practitioners, it should not be overlooked that everyday men and women also pass through different states of consciousness. A greater incidence of sleep paralysis among experiencers may indicate that they experience natural altered states of consciousness more frequently than average, or recall their altered states more acutely than average.

While a higher incendence of sleep paralysis among experiencers neither proves that the experience of alien contact is real, nor proves that it is fantasy, it may support the theory — held by both skeptics and believers of alien contact — that altered states of consciousness are involved in the alien encounter experience in some way.


A Comment from John Mack: From the Archives

I think that the mind that has visions is very close to the mind that can have these experiences. [Even though] conventional psychological studies don’t distinguish abduction experiencers from other folks, there are differences. And one of them is this kind of openness to visionary experience. Either because people were already that way, or because the experiences opened them to a visionary kind of consciousness. A lot of times the experiences seem to begin in hypnagogic states, but that doesnt mean they are dream states, that would be a mistake [to assume that].
            — Dr John Mack at Oberlin College, 2001

Listen to the above remark spoken by Dr. John Mack at Oberlin College, 2001 (mp3)