NOVA interviews John Mack, psychiatrist, Harvard University

[A note from Dr Mack’s website: This interview was likely conducted during a visit by Nova to the PEER offices on April 25, 1995. The Nova special itself, which was televised on PBS on February 27, 1996, may not have been up the standards audiences had expected of the long-running, award-winning series — indeed a wave of last-minute edits were deemed necessary only days before airing, after the network evidently determined that portions of the program (as delivered on advance copies sent to reviewers) would put the network at risk of libel or were simply inaccurate. Some of the inaccuracies may have been a result of the producers mistakenly believing that a person who described herself as “an undercover reporter” was a reliable source of information, when in fact the person was a patient angry with Dr. Mack. (Arguably, distortions involving this are still present, but have been made more oblique.) However, the text of the interview itself (courtesy PBS) is unaffected by this drama, and presents a good overview of Dr. Mack’s initial considerations of the alien encounter phenomenon.]

NOVA: Let’s talk about your own personal evolution from perhaps skepticism to belief …

MACK: When I first encountered this phenomenon, or particularly even before I had actually seen the people themselves, I had very little place in my mind to take this seriously. I, like most of us, were raised to believe that if we were going to discover other intelligence, we’d do it through radio waves or through signals or something of that kind.

The idea that we could be reached by some other kind of being, creature, intelligence that could actually enter our world and have physical effects as well as emotional effects, was simply not part of the world view that I had been raised in. So that I came very reluctantly to the conclusion that this was a true mystery. In other words, that I — I did everything I could to rule out other sources, or sexual abuse. Some of these people are abused. But they’re able to tell, distinguish clearly the abduction trauma from other forms of abuse. Some forms of psychosis or people making up stories — I could reject that on the basis that there was no gain in this for the vast majority of these people.

…. I’ve now worked with over a hundred experiencers intensively. Which involves an initial two-hour or so screening interview before I do anything else. And in case after case after case, I’ve been impressed with the consistency of the story, the sincerity with which people tell their stories, the power of feelings connected with this, the self-doubt—all the appropriate responses that these people have to their experiences.

NOVA: So tell us, please, how literally you intend people to take this? Are you suggesting people are really being snatched from their beds by aliens and experiments on board a spaceship?

MACK: Just how literally to take this, is one of the most interesting and complex aspects of this. And I want to walk through that as clearly as I can. There are aspects of this which I believe we are justified in taking quite literally. That is, UFOs are in fact observed, filmed on camera at the same time that people are having their abduction experiences.

People, in fact, have been observed to be missing at the time that they are reporting their abduction experiences. They return from their experiences with cuts, ulcers on their bodies, triangular lesions, which follow the distribution of the experiences that they recover, of what was done to them in the craft by the surgical-like activity of these beings.

All of that has a literal physical aspect and is experienced and reported with appropriate feeling, by the abductees, with or without hypnosis or a relaxation exercise.

….There is a — I believe, a gradation of experiences and that go from the most literal physical kinds of hurts, wounds, person removed, spacecraft that can be photographed, to experiences which are more psychological, spiritual, involve the extension of consciousness. The difficulty for our society and for our mentality is, we have a kind of either/or mentality. It’s either, literally physical; or it’s in the spiritual other realm, the unseen realm. What we seem to have no place for — or we have lost the place for — are phenomena that can begin in the unseen realm, and cross over and manifest and show up in our literal physical world.

So the simple answer would be: Yes, it’s both. It’s both literally, physically happening to a degree; and it’s also some kind of psychological, spiritual experience occurring and originating perhaps in another dimension. And so the phenomenon stretches us, or it asks us to stretch to open to realities that are not simply the literal physical world, but to extend to the possibility that there are other unseen realities from which our consciousness, our, if you will, learning processes over the past several hundred years have closed us off.

NOVA: I wonder, if in that vein, you can speak to what you think this experience is about?

MACK: ….There are several effects that these experiences have for those who undergo alien abduction encounters. First is the most familiar aspect or fit, which is a traumatic event in which a blue light or some kind of energy paralyzes the person, whether they’re in their home or they’re driving a car. They can’t move.

They feel themselves being removed from wherever they were. They floated through a wall or out a car, carried up on this beam of light into a craft and there subjected to a number of now familiar procedures which involve the beings staring at them; involves probing of their body, their body orifices; and a complex process whereby they sense in the case of men, sperm removed; in the women, eggs removed; some sort of hybrid offspring created which they’re brought back to see in later abductions. That’s the sort of literal experience.

Now, the effect of that is — or what seems to be going on there, in a number of abductees — not just people I see, but the ones Budd Hopkins and other people see — is to produce some kind of new species to bring us together to produce a hybrid species which — the abductees are sometimes told — will populate the earth or will be there to carry evolution forward, after the human race has completed what it is now doing, namely the destruction of the earth as a living system. So it’s a kind of later form. It’s an awkward coming together of a less embodied species than we are, and us, for this evolutionary purpose.

However, that might not be literally true. It might be that that this is a communication to us. That perhaps we need to change our ways. It may not be that these are literally our babies. It may be a kind of expression of images of babies; or it may be that these hybrids we’re told is what will have to be. It’s a kind of insurance policy if the earth continues to be subjected to the exploitation of its living environment to the point where it can’t sustain human and other life as it’s now occurring. But it may not be literally what is going to happen. So that’s one area.

Another area is the whole visual environmental and informational aspect of this in which people are shown on television screens a huge variety of scenes of environmental destruction of the earth polluted; of a kind of post-apocalyptic scene in which even the spirits have been routed from their environment because they live in the same physical and spiritual environment that we do; and canyons are shown with trees destroyed; pieces of the earth are seen as breaking away—portions of the East Coast or West Coast.

NOVA: …..Alien hybrid. What does that mean?

MACK: Sometimes along the way, as you go deeper and deeper into the person’s consciousness, into their experience, they will discover….what is called a dual identity. In other words, that they are both human—in one dimension; but they also are themselves, have an alien identity. That they are participatory in this reproductive hybrid program, as if they were altogether part of it. And that they may, in fact, even experience themselves as aliens.

One of the men in my book actually was an active participant in taking a woman from Texas up into the ship and being, and acting the reproductive function of the alien being, and felt he was himself alien. And often the abductees will feel that their job, developmentally, is to integrate these two dimensions or these two aspects of themselves: the human and the alien. And that the alien dimension is a part of ourselves, our souls, if you will even, from which we were or have been cut off over the centuries of human beings living on this earth in this densely embodied form.

NOVA: You and others have said that there is no other psychological explanation. But that there is some reality to it. What do you think of the work of people like Michael Persinger and Robert Baker who have these complicated theories about neurology or they charge that hypnogogic hallucinations being at the root of these perceived — these experiences?

MACK: These experiences often occur in literal consciousness. Not in a hypnogogic or dreamlike state. The person may be in their bedroom quite wide awake. The beings show up. And there they are and the experience begins. That they’re not occurring in any dreamlike state. Now sometimes they do occur when a person is dozing off or in a hypnogogic state. But very frequently not.

Also, any theory that is going to look upon this as a purely endogenous phenomenon, by which I mean generated purely from the psyche of the person themselves. Which is a kind of arrogance too, really. Because it means that we just can’t accept the notion there could be another intelligence at work here. Which is a much more economical explanation. But if we must find a theory within ourselves, then we should keep in mind that any theory that’s going to even begin to address this, has to take into account five factors:

Number one, the extreme consistency of the stories from person after person. Which you would not get simply by stimulating the temporal lobes. You would get very variable idiosyncratic responses that would differ a great deal from person to person.

Number two, you would have to deal with the fact that there is no ordinary experiential basis for this. In other words, there’s nothing in their life experience that could have given rise to this, other than what they say. In other words, there’s no mental condition that could explain it.

Third, you have to account for the physical aspects: the cuts and the other lesions on their bodies, which do not follow any psychodynamic distribution, like the stigmata associated with the identification with the agony of Christ.

Fourth, the tight association with UFOs, which are often observed in the community, by the media, independent of the person having the abduction experience, who may not have seen the UFO at all, but reads or sees on the television the next day that a UFO passed near where they were when they had an abduction experience.

And finally, the phenomenon occurs in children as young as two, two and a half, three years old. And any theory that simply attributes this to the activity of the brain, does not take into account at least three of those five fundamental dimensions…

NOVA: Aren’t you really at risk of losing quite a bit, personally and professionally, because of …criticism?

MACK: I think that, in some ways, I’ve gained more than I’ve lost in terms of inviting people into this mystery, having a dialogue with all kinds of very wonderful, open, intelligent, brilliant people from many different fields. It’s been quite exciting. I mean I’ve been attacked, but the attacks have not been really nearly as serious to me as the openness that I’ve found among many people throughout the culture and internationally, who are saying: Yeah, I always suspected something like this was going on, and I’m glad you were willing to come forward and report about it.

…It’s often said that I’m a believer and sort of have gone and lost my objectivity. I really object to that. Because this is not about believing anything. I didn’t believe anything when I started, I don’t really believe anything now. I’m come to where I’ve come to clinically. In other words, I worked with people over hundred and hundreds of hours and have done as careful a job as I could to listen, to sift out, to consider alternative explanations. And none have come forward. No one has found an alternative explanation in a single abduction case.

NOVA: Many say that this is just really a function of cultural images.

MACK: …I have been looking at this phenomenon as it manifests in indigenous people, in Native Americans—the Cherokee, the Hopi, who know these beings as the star people. We’ve looked at this in South Africa, particularly in interviewing in depth a leading South African sangoma, or medicine man, who calls these beings “mandingdas”.

We’ve investigated it in Brazil with a farmer in—outside Belo Horizante who had identical abduction experiences to what have been reported in this country. I’m getting recent—I received a letter about abduction experiences from a person in Malaysia today. In other words, this is—as far as we can tell—a worldwide phenomenon. This is not restricted, as some people have thought, to Western or particularly American culture.

….I found that the higher or the greater the stake that a person has in this society, in their position or their job, the more reluctant they are to admit that they’ve had abduction experiences… …When abductees went on television with me during the spring of 1994, during my book tours, and wanted to communicate and educate about it, a number of them received threats to their jobs. Some of them lost them….we have one man in management consultation, lost an important contract. A woman that worked for the federal government, who was an abductee, was threatened with loss of her job. In other words, this is not something that is regarded as acceptable.

I’ve interviewed airline pilots who have had sighting—close up sightings of UFOs. They will not report it, because they will be removed from their work. Even if they’ve had abduction experience, they will not talk about it. And 25 to 30 percent of airline pilots, according to a survey that one of the people I’ve talked with did, have had close up sightings, but will not discuss it.

This simply is not something that is accepted as OK to talk about or — and that may be changing. I recently saw a Harvard Divinity School student, and I asked him these questions. I said: Do you talk about this among your fellow students? And he said: ‘Oh, yes.’ And it turned out several of them had also had abduction experiences. And even the ones that had not, were fascinated, interested, didn’t ridicule ’em. So maybe the climate is changing.

  Subject Area: Interviews

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