November 17, 2014 – Ariel Phenomenon documentary producer Randall Nickerson talked with Martin Willis of Podcast UFO about the 1994 Ariel School sighting and how the now-adult former students feel about the encounter today. This is Randall’s first live interview since he began his research. Aired 2014-10-01.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
August 21, 2011 – Budd Hopkins has died.
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:
“I’m very sad to announce that Budd Hopkins died today, August 21, at 1:35 pm. Budd had been under hospice care for about three weeks, at his home in New York. The combination of liver cancer and pneumonia led to his death. His daughter Grace Hopkins-Lisle and I were with him almost continuously during these past weeks. He was not in any pain throughout any of the process, and he received the best possible care and loving support from those closest to him. Today he gradually slipped away, and simply quietly stopped breathing. He died peacefully and without any struggle, with Grace, Grace’s husband Andrew, and me by his side. Thanks to all of you for being such strong supporters of this extraordinary man, who has contributed so much to our lives, in so many different ways.
– Leslie Kean”
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.
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.
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:
…at least in articles by the late Dr. John Mack. We hope it catches on.
- Visit the Italian version of www.experiencers.com at:
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.
- Visit the French version of www.experiencers.com at:
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.
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.
Sentencing of the automobile driver who struck and killed Harvard professor of psychiatry John E. Mack, M.D. on the night of September 27, 2004, took place earlier today in London at the Wood Green Crown Court.
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. The results were less clear on fantasy-proneness, while no significant differences were found on susceptibility to false memory.
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.
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.
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:
 “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).
 “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).
 “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)|
Kate Farmer of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) explores opposing views of alien encounters in this brief episode of “Reality Check”, originally aired in June 2005. Guests are Harvard Medical School psychologist Richard J. McNally and Will Bueché of the John E. Mack Institute.
May 30, 2005 – A conversation from 2001 between Andrew Beath and the late Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack, M.D. is included in a new book by Andrew Beath. Beath’s conversations with many philosophers weave throughout the book, touching on many subjects. For his part, Mack touches on subjects ranging from Gorbachev to alien encounters.
April 12, 2005 – As a prolific writer, Dr. John Mack left behind many papers when he passed away – some widely read, others barely known outside of professional circles. One of the initiatives of the John E. Mack Institute is the archiving of his works.
We spoke with Will Bueche about this archiving effort, which has been underway for the past few months.
“The challenge we face,” Bueche explained, “is that most of these writings exist only on paper. The earliest are typewritten, and then much of the rest were written on computer systems which are no longer with us. Only a small amount of papers from more recent years exist as electronic documents.”
“So what I am engaged in is the process of scanning these physical papers through a professional scanning machine which simultaneously scans both the front and back of every page and is smart enough to figure out if there is writing on one or both sides, and then it turns that into a Adobe Acrobat portable document file, a pdf.”
“A pdf is the same sort of document that you get when you download a product brochure, for a new stereo for example. We’re preserving the look and feel of the original paper, we’re not simply reading the text. There is technology available that can attempt to discern the text, but it tends not to work very well – you need to proofread every line if you attempt that, and that would be millions of lines. It is easier to simply scan each paper as an image, as we are doing. This also enables us to capture handwritten notes, corrections scrawled in the margins for example. If you think of the scanner as a camera, essentially what we are doing is we are photographing every paper that John Mack ever wrote.”
“As many as we can; we have a time limitation in that these materials have to be packed up eventually. We have some months to work in, yet it still feels like a race simply because of the sheer volume. John’s papers were in three locations – the old PEER (Program for Extraordinary Experience Research) office, his home office, and his Cambridge Hospital office – and each would be a challenge unto itself.”
“Patricia Carr, John’s longtime associate from the department of psychiatry, kept many of John’s published papers carefully organized, so we’ve begun by scanning what she had already arranged in chronological order.”
“We started with the early 1960s – a few from the 1950s when he was getting his doctorate at Harvard – and we’ve nearly reached the 1990s.”
“But bear in mind I am referring only to his published papers. Once we’ve finished with his published papers, then we need to start again in the 1950s with his talks and some of his more notable exchanges of correspondence. The entire Harvard inquiry, for instance, produced reams of correspondence. I expect we may find some unpublished essays also. Even among the published works I am sometimes finding alternate drafts, which we are scanning as well.”
What sorts of essays are they?
“There are many papers about psychiatry of course, but his sense of what it was to be a psychiatrist was expansive. From his papers from the seventies and eightes, I am getting a much stronger sense about how politically active he was during the nuclear arms race, how active psychiatrists and doctors were in social causes. I’ve been scanning papers written when doctors were speaking out boldly in defense of the human race. You don’t see that so much anymore. It is an example we can learn from.”
“I’d also never read some of his earlier books, such as Vivienne, the one about a young girl’s suicide. As I look back on that era I’ve begun to really see how careful he was about gathering biographical material, a skill which infused all of his work even up through his research into the lives of alien encounter experiencers.”
“I’m beginning to appreciate why he won the Pulitzer in biography (for his book on T.E Lawrence); being a good biographer isn’t simply a matter of writing in an elegant style or telling a good story. Good biography, and good psychotherapy I expect, is about being meticulous in how you listen to another person, in how you attend to every nuance of what is being said to you. In this John was expert.”
Any chance that these materials may be published, or republished?
“That’s actually a question for the estate of John Mack [Note: later the John E. Mack Archives LLC], which is now responsible for his creative works. What we at JEMI [the John E. Mack Institute] are able to contribute to his legacy is an assurance that these materials will survive; I have every faith that John’s sons and ex-wife will explore options regarding how best to make them available. We are in constant communication, and they actually provided some of the equipment we needed to accomplish this task.”
“Personally I’d love to see a volume of his collected works, pulling together his best essays – both published and unpublished ones – but would any publisher opt for a book with sections ranging from T.E. Lawrence to alien encounters? You can imagine it may take some time to figure these sorts of practical questions, and you must factor in the simple truth that his family is still coming to terms with their loss. It may be some time before they will be able to look to the future.”
“But I am certainly acting with the faith that these writings will be preserved for future generations to look at and learn from, in some way. ”
We will revisit the progress of this initiative again, soon.
Update: August 26, 2005
The scanning effort is coming to an end this week, and so we caught up with Will Bueche for a final report.
How many papers did you ultimately scan?
“More than 10,000. I passed the 10,000 mark a couple weeks ago, and it is now hovering at about 10,200, with perhaps a few strays left to do. That includes correspondence in addition to essays, of course. These last few days I literally was scanning the last papers while furniture was being carried out around me, and the materials I’d scanned earlier were being carted off.”
And you also scanned in press coverage that Dr Mack had received?.
“I scanned about 900 newspaper and magazine clippings. The newspaper reviews of Prince of Our Disorder (his 1976 biography of T. E. Lawrence) made me sneeze, they were shedding so many paper particles. The last time they’d been taken out of storage was for the reprinted edition of Prince from Harvard University Press – but all they’d wanted them for was for critics’ blurbs. But in those reviews there was also a lot of quality discussion about the differing views of T. E.’s role in shaping the modern Middle East. So there is good cause to save them.”
“Did I already mention – I’ve always felt that the press coverage that Dr. Mack received when he came out with his opinions about alien contact was an invaluable portrait of how our culture felt about aliens at the time he made his case. In fact I’d begun scanning in the press clippings of that era even before the family of John Mack stepped in and made the full-scale archving effort possible.”
How was the scanning of press clippings different from scanning the essays and letters?
“The Mack family made it possible to scan in many essays quickly, using a scanner with a built-in paper feeder. But magazines or newspapers with illustrations required a great deal more care. First, I had to find the original materials, because most of the press clippings had been filed by Dr Mack’s office as photocopies, which tended to be muddy. Whenever I came across the original magazines and newspapers I patiently used a traditional flatbed scanner to create new high-quality scans (see illustration below). So, future researchers looking at this electronic archive will see the press clippings in full color and fully legible quality. I hope that’ll be nice for them!”
GRAPHIC: PHOTOCOPIES (ON LEFT) WERE REPLACED BY HIGH QUALITY SCANS (ON RIGHT) WHENEVER POSSIBLE
You mentioned future researchers – can you say what will be happening to this archive? Where will it be?
“I can’t say yet. I have some idea, but I can’t say yet because the estate is still in talks. I believe that Dr Mack’s published papers will be relatively easy for researchers to obtain, and possibly his drafts as well, but I am not sure what will be happening to the correspondence.”
“Obviously there is a great deal of scholarly interest in correspondence, particularly Dr Mack’s exchanges with various relatives and associates of T. E. Lawrence. I scanned every bit of it that I could find, including many Air Mail letters written on tissue-thin blue papers that were popular in the UK in the 1960s. Very difficult to scan blue paper by the way. But… there may be legal considerations that would affect whether that sort of material could become part of a library.”
“Letters are obviously a valuable part of history, and if you walk into any book shop you’ll see the collected letters of Freud or Jung or James, etc., but traditionally some history has to flow by before that becomes available to the public. In the future, letters serve as a portrait of an era. But if made available too soon, they lack perspective.”
“In fact we didn’t even scan the 10,000 letters that Dr Mack received from self-described ‘experiencers’ of alien contact. It is simply too current, too sensitive, to scan now.”
“What we did scan in – planning for the future – were the professional exchanges, the correspondence exchanged with colleagues. Opinions back and forth from Mack and his peers about whether alien encounters are real, and who was being most stubborn in defending their opinions. But again, those exchanges will likely have to be kept private for a generation or so.”
Update: January 2009
An additional set of documents were recently recovered by attorney Eric MacLeish, who defended Dr. John Mack from an unprecedented, 14-month long inquiry by the Harvard Medical School into Dr. Mack’s research into the alien encounter phenomenon in 1994 and 1995.
Three large boxes, containing in the range of 500 documents concerning this period of time, 350 of which were unique, were delivered by Mr. MacLeish to the Mack family, and were again scanned by Will Bueche.
Of particular interest was correspondence between the attorneys, which demonstrated a level of friction between the sides that could only have been imagined prior to receiving these documents. Also included were letters from Dr. Mack to his attorneys during the inquiry process.
Our thanks to MacLeish, and to the firms which retained these documents in storage rather than destroying them.