Passport to the Cosmos: An Interview with John Mack, M.D.

By Vivienne Simon

VS: In your first book, Abduction, you tried to get a handle on what you saw happening, through the presentation of case studies. In your new book, Passport to the Cosmos, you present the principal themes that have surfaced over the ten years of your investigation. For people who haven’t read either book, would you explain “the alien abduction phenomenon”?

JM: When I talk about the abduction phenomenon, I’m describing a profound experience or experiences, that many people have had in this country, and now, apparently, in countries around the world, which, as far as I can tell, cannot be explained simply by people’s understanding of the psyches of these individuals. The basic experience is that the person will be wherever they are, often indoors, but not always: could be someone in a car, children in a school yard, wherever. They will see a very bright light, or hear a humming sound of some sort, and they feel a “presence.” To their surprise and shock, they are rendered unable to move. They may see one or more humanoid beings in their immediate environment related to this light.

They are then floated — that’s the word they most often use – down a corridor through a house, and through a window or a wall, and taken through [the air] into some sort of enclosure, where there are more of these humanoid beings — sometimes, specifically the gray beings with the big dark eyes that have become almost a cliche in the culture now, but certainly, when I started, I didn’t know anything of that, and it was not in the public mind when I started this ten years ago. In that enclosure there is often high-tech looking equipment, and the beings are very busy. The individual is then subjected to a variety of intrusive procedures which involve poking with odd instruments into the orifices of their bodies, and the removal, apparently, of sperm from the men through some sort of stimulation to ejaculation, and eggs from the women. They are often told that this is important. If the person objects and says, “You have no right to do this,” the beings, if they respond at all, say, “Well, we do it.”

Until the last few years, people who took the trouble to look into this phenomenon in some depth discovered exactly what I’m talking about. In subsequent experiences, the so-called abductees — or experiencers as we prefer to call them — are taken to see what appear to be hybrid children in the craft. They may or may not see an actual spaceship. They are urged to hold that child as if the beings understood that some nurturance is necessary for a child that has human components. That’s poignantly disturbing to the mothers, and sometimes fathers, who meet these children. One of the things that gives the experience a palpable reality is how deep and profound and genuine their emotion is related to that aspect: being asked to hold and nurture these children, when they know they will never have any control over when they might ever see that child again. The terror is genuine. Then some of what it involves is not terror, it’s something else, which we can talk about.

All this came to light through the discoveries of Budd Hopkins, an artist, and David Jacobs, an historian, and others who have been investigating this phenomenon. That was considered to be the fundamental abduction story. Now, that’s all well and good. But where it gets more interesting, in my view, is when you enter into it the issues of scientific methodology and philosophy, because, I believe, one must take on the question of how are we to look upon this? Are we to regard this as literally physically happening, just the way people say they experience it? Certainly, it’s a physical experience, and people end up, apparently, with marks on their bodies where they’ve been probed. But no one has ever seen a hybrid in a photograph. There is no evidence that would satisfy the methods of the Western scientific culture to establish the literal physical reality of all of the things I’ve said. It seems that if this were simply in our physical world there would be some greater degree of evidence of the beings, or of these hybrids. Unless, of course, one argues that the aliens are so furtive and so technically able so as not to be discovered, literally, that they make it impossible. I think other explanations are probably more likely, but I don’t know that.

VS: You just covered a great breadth of material, so let’s break it down and go through some of the things you’ve touched on. Let’s start with the hybrid program. In the early days of abduction investigations the creation of hybrid children was thought to be the driving force behind why contact was becoming so widely pervasive in this culture at this time. But over the course of your work these past ten years your thinking has switched and you now see the central meaning of the abduction phenomenon being more related to the accelerated degradation of the planet. Can you talk a little bit about how that shift happened?

JM: Yes. I came to see the hybrid program, as it’s called, in the context of the accelerating destruction of the Earth, as a living organism, as a place where life can evolve. This has emerged to my great surprise, as somebody raised in the secular philosophy of this society which says there is no concrete objectifiable intelligence in the universe. And to my shock. Apparently what we’re doing to the planet has not gone unnoticed. Credo Mutwa, one of the shamans that I wrote about in the book, says that in African mythology the Earth is one of only twenty-five mother planets in the entire cosmos that can bring new life and where life can prosper – a womb planet is what they call it. This one species, the human species, seems to have set as it’s principal project the destruction of other living species on this planet for its own purposes; something like a cancer spreading throughout the planet. That is a crime, evidently, of cosmic proportions.

This is not something that I feel. I might feel that, but that’s irrelevant. It’s something that apparently we’re being shown. Because in addition to the hybrid project, the experiencers, so-called, are also given information that comes through these large eyes of the beings, through telepathic communication. And it comes through scenes shown on television-like monitors in the craft, and they create a consistent picture. The principal information they’re given – they also may be given a certain understanding of science, or skills, or artistic abilities – but the central theme is about what is happening on the planet. Just to make it dramatic sometimes, they are shown scenes of the incredible magnificence of the planet. Then, next to that, they’re shown actual scenes of the way it really is, of devastation through pollution, through overpopulation, through clear-cutting of the forests, through killing off of other species, of the habitats of those species.

And the impact of this on the experiencers is as profound as anything that surrounds the hybrid program. What’s more, the hybrid program, they are told again, I don’t know any of this, I only know what I have learned from the people who have had the experiences – they are told that this hybrid program is being done to preserve some dimension of human life, possibly along with some necessity the beings have to preserve some element of their own, through this coming together. So that, as the earth becomes uninhabitable, or as the human species in its present form extinguishes itself along with all of these other species, there will be some continuity of life. Something will survive of us. That’s why I place the hybrid story in the context of the deterioration of the environment. This isn’t just because it looks like that, experiencers are actually told this, and often.

The reason, too, that I have taken this so seriously, is that the impact of this information about the Earth is extraordinary for the experiencers. They become literally, viscerally, devastated by it. They will weep about it. They will become aware, as Carlos Diaz is — a Mexican experiencer I wrote about — of the virtually infinite delicate relationship between various life forms. They will literally weep over what is happening. So they are not just liberal environmentalists; they experience this through the core of their being. Many of them become active on behalf of the planet, teach about it, talk about it if they find people who will listen.

So it isn’t that the hybrid program isn’t continuing, although I don’t hear about it as much anymore. And that may be because of my own evolution. This is an odd thing here. It’s also a selective thing. Experiencers choose people to work with — who have written or have spoken on TV, or whatever — along lines that seem right for their particular experiences. So there is a self-selecting process of who writes to me, or to David Jacobs or Budd Hopkins or John Carpenter. So I may get the people that are more drawn to this eco-cosmic perspective, whereas others are staying with the kind of hurt, victimized, exploited feeling that other investigators focus on. Now is a good time to pick up what I said earlier about the philosophical questions that have to be addressed.

VS: That’s perfect, because that’s my next question. When you talk about people being drawn to different people who can assist them in understanding their experiences, one of the really marked differences between you and say Budd Hopkins or David Jacobs, is you have embraced a world view that Is closer to, or at least deeply informed by, Eastern religious beliefs and indigenous cultural perspectives. Throughout the book you explore the differing world views that underlie Western cultures on the one band, and Eastern religious and indigenous cultures on the other. In particular, your book focuses on beliefs relating to the unity or separation of spirit and matter, and the acceptance or rejection of the presence of spirits, aliens, and other residents sharing our universe. You emphasize the importance of these differences in assessing the abduction phenomenon. Can you summarize why that is so central?

JM: I think the tendency to focus on the pain and victimization, which has been dominant for many investigators, comes from the fact that these reports are so powerful. The experiencers create such intense emotion that they often report while recalling their experiences, “every cell in my body is vibrating.” The tendency is to take this to mean that all that they experienced happened, particularly if there is no room for any other alternative or interpretation for the people hearing these accounts. It either happened or it didn’t happen. It’s physically, literally real, or it’s nothing. But there are, in other cultures, many other dimensions of reality. There are a whole range of layers of subtle body in Eastern spirituality, of astral, radial body, causal body. All kinds of dimensions of the self, the physical self, which are not material, and yet we can experience them powerfully.

I knew nothing about any of this when I started. Something of that perception needs to be incorporated in this research, because it just doesn’t work to look upon this as purely literal physical matter in the physical universe as we understand it. I mean, great effort has been made to somehow figure out how the body could pass through a wall, and so forth. Holographic universe, and all of that. And I think there is going to be something to that search that will prove useful. But it is also possible that there are simply forms of self or body that are not just materially real, and yet are powerfully experiential. Something like that gains support from the fact that researchers have simply been unable — researchers in this field — to pin much of this down physically. Not the aliens, not the hybrids, not the passage of people through walls. None of this.

And that doesn’t bother me anymore. Because if you go more deeply into these spiritual Eastern and indigenous traditions that you mention, all of these gradations of possible realities are commonplace. It’s only in the West that we have narrowed reality to the physical, concrete world we know, and the spiritual and psychological have no physical element. That radical separation is all we officially have in this culture, so we really have no place to put this kind of experience, the way other cultures have. There is more. Take the fact, for instance, that these beings emerge, from somewhere. The assumption is, in the Western, literalist point of view, that they could only have gotten here from another star, or planet, or whatever. Well, if that literal approach is taken, there are virtually insurmountable problems of transport if this is going to be looked at simply as an engineering feat.

On the other hand, if one can have a multi-dimensional notion of the universe, then perhaps this is a crossing from some unseen dimension into this reality. To theorize about this is not to say we know. It’s simply to try to understand, using ideas and points of view that can embrace the complexities of this phenomenon, that are quite familiar to many others on this planet. I’m not sure that this answers the problem of it, but it seems to me that the phenomenon calls for a widening of the ontological — that really is the right word — the ontological understanding of what exists, of what is possible in the universe.

VS: You write in depth about three shamans, each from different traditions, and the ways in which they and their communities relate to alien contact. What have you learned about the phenomenon from their stories?

JM: I wrote about three men: a Brazilian shaman named Bernardo Peixoto; Sequoyah Trueblood, who is Native American; and Credo Mutwa from South Africa. Now, it’s interesting that each of these men has had more-than-average contact with Western culture, so they are all eager to communicate about their experiences to the West. Two of them are, themselves, hybrids in a way; Bernardo and Sequoyah each has a Western/Caucasian parent, along with their other indigenous parent, so they are bridging figures. Credo was raised in a Catholic school, even though he’s a Zulu leader. They all have the advantage of being steeped in native traditions and understanding, and are also able to counter pose that to Western psychology and Western science. So together, we have wrestled with how to understand this.

None of them have any problem with the notion that there can be beings, ancestors, spirits, creatures, entities, animal spirits — you name it — that can manifest, materially, in this world. That’s something the Western mind has no place for. It can’t be “proven,” therefore it doesn’t exist. Well, for them this phenomenon is not remarkable from that point of view. I’ve learned from them, that the phenomenon widely exists. Also, their understanding of it underscores the possibility of this being an interdimensional occurrence of some sort. Take for example, Sequoyah. He has had numerous experiences of spirits showing up in totally visible form. And light beams — kind of like the light beams that other Americans have talked about — which have been guides for him. Only once has he had an actual experience in which he recalls being taken up into a craft with the grays involved, but even that’s no big deal. And it hasn’t been a big deal for any of the other shamans in this country, and I’ve talked with quite a few. It is such a big deal for this culture, this emergence from an unseen world into the physical world, this sort of crossing over. But that is not a remarkable matter to any of the indigenous people that I have talked with.

In fact, the material world as we know it, and the unseen world, the world of spirit, are all one to them. They don’t get all excited about the question of “are these spirit beings, or are these literally physical beings?” That’s a big story for us, but they see the gradations and subtleties of that as just commonplace, part of the way they think. Credo is interesting from this point of view, because he talks about these beings, and all sorts of other beings, how they come here and how they cohabitate with humans. And they’ve known this for years and years. They rather resent them, but he doesn’t fuss over whether anybody can prove that they’re literally physically real. Of course they’re real, and they happen and it’s part of their lives. In fact, along these tines, he kept urging me: “Dr. Mack, get those Western scientists to stop quibbling about whether this is real or not. It IS real. Whether it is literally physically real, or it is some other way real, it is real. It’s important. They’re warning us. They’re telling us that the planet is in danger, but it’s like we quibble while the planet burns.”

VS: In your work yon repeatedly see experiencers work through the Initial traumas they experience in their contact with aliens, and then, after that, open up to an expanded consciousness which enables them to embrace a larger, multi-dimensional reality, one that is similar to that which you describe as an indigenous people’s outlook. Do you think human evolution is coming full circle?

JM: You said that very well. [Laughter]

VS: And could you also talk a bit about what you mean when you say “an expanded consciousness.”

JM: Well, we have to go back to who is doing the work with these individuals. Because what you immediately encounter when you expose yourself as an investigator to people who have had these experiences, is the re-living of something — we don’t know, of course, exactly what — which is held very powerfully in the body, in the tissues. So much so that people may literally vibrate through the intensity, and weep, scream. It is such a powerful expression of something that has happened to them, and enormous energies seem to be involved here. We don’t really know, exactly, what they mean by that, but certainly we can use the term “energy.” Now, people who are investigating these experiences are not generally trained to deal with these kinds of energies with people. Those that are best trained to do that, I believe, are the people that have had transpersonal training, People, for example, who have had training like that done by Stanislov Grof, with his holotropic breathwork approach, Someone who has had experiences themselves with multi-dimensional realities and with entering non-ordinary states of consciousness.

That would enable you, for example, to tolerate extraordinary energies and vibrations, and still be able continue to provide a holding context for people as you work with them. This is necessary in order to go beyond the literal “these bad aliens are doing these bad things and exploiting us.” Because if you do, you enter that energetic world with the person as they retell and relive their experience — and it is very difficult to do. It has nothing to do with hypnosis; this is simply about entering that world with them. Hypnosis, or relaxation exercises, may help you and them enter that world, but they can enter it with or without hypnosis. And in that holding environment, for some reason, the experience seems to eventually transform. People become less afraid. They often begin to realize that they have a profound emotional bond with one or more of these alien beings and that they have even been involved with parenting these hybrid children with these beings. They also open up to a new whole-Earth consciousness, which is part of this expanded consciousness. They become sensitive to what’s occurring on the planet.

Not infrequently, they pass through this terror, or “dark night of the soul,” similar to the kind of initiatory passage through terror to a new level of consciousness that is familiar in almost every spiritual tradition. It’s kind of like that. They move through what might be called an expanded awareness, an awakening. Spiritual traditions use the word “enlightened,” but I would never use that word here, because we’re working with a much more Western way of thinking.

That expanded consciousness involves a number of things. It’s certainly the awakening to what’s happening to the planet; an awareness of the interconnectedness with all of life. The beings themselves have come to be seen as emissaries from a deeper source, from the divine. Whether or not they actually are isn’t the point. The experiencers come to feel connected with the divine — or source as they call it, or home, where we come from — they feel connected with that, and become poignantly troubled by the degree to which they realize that they are separated. So the deeper anguish is no longer about these little beings doing things. The deeper anguish becomes an awareness of what people used to call God. That’s their home — perhaps all of our homes — but they actually experience that, and then they are separate from it. That experience becomes the deepest one, and once they get these glimpses of this transcendent reality they almost inevitably come to resent having to be here on Earth and having to live here. They realize that they’ve made some sort of agreement, or a deal at some point back — they don’t know when — that they would do a job here. And that they can’t just abandon that, that they have been put here for some purpose, like the state of the Earth. And they begrudgingly pursue that.

VS: One of the things that weaves throughout your book is the limitation of Western scientific methodology for the investigation of extraordinary experiences – those occurrences that bring the unseen realms into the material world. Among these you include not just the abduction phenomenon, but also near-death experiences, parapsychology, and other kinds of crossover experiences. You put out a plea for the importance of a new methodology which honors the primacy of experience and subjectivity in the collection of data, and the analysis of it. And, of course, your own work has been heavily steeped in this challenge. Why is this so important, and whore are we with the development of such tools?

JM: There is a tradition, even in Western philosophy — represented particularly by Wittgenstein, one of our greatest philosophers — which recognizes that the most important realities have the deepest knowledge; that which most matters cannot be apprehended by the purely material methods, the five senses methods of Western science. In fact, Wittgenstein himself became deeply troubled about the exaggerated focus on physical science, and saw some of the worst tragedies of the 20th century as emerging from the restriction of consciousness that that method represented. That isn’t to say that science hasn’t given us all kinds of wonderful discoveries, and helped prolong life. It has and we see it all around us. It’s the limitation of consciousness to that reality that has become problematic.

Now in terms of the abduction phenomenon, you cannot create the beginning conditions that Western science requires: you cannot, measure very much and you can’t record much physically. And you certainly can’t create an experiment by which you can replicate the event, which is what Western science will do with the experimental method.

Furthermore, the pure separation of subject and object, subject being investigator, object being the person you’re working with — not that that pure separation works anywhere in science, but it certainly doesn’t work here — because you won’t get anywhere and you won’t team anything, if you take that approach. The only way you can team anything is by entering into this other person’s world. You can say, “Well, that contaminates the field.” Well, every time we talk to someone we’re contaminating something. We’re relating. So it’s a relational investigation. Now, there has to be a caution about that. Science, at least, has criteria for how you decide something: peer review, can you experiment, do the numbers come out right? Here, you can’t do that. So how do you decide what you’re going to pay attention to? What’s serious, and what’s not? That’s a real dilemma, and we’re just beginning to look at that.

We began to look at that at a meeting funded by the Fetzer Foundation, held at Harvard Divinity School back in April [1999]. First of all, the Fetzer method, you need to enter into the person’s world to learn from them. It’s a kind of holistic, intuitive, body-based kind of way of knowing. Now, how do you deal with the fact that it feels like you’re leading them, you’re contaminating them in the field? Well, it’s hard to respond to that. You try your best not to say anything that hasn’t already been said. You just ask questions, and you enter their world. But there has to be some sense that the person is trusting you, that they’re connecting. Well, that’s called intersubjective knowing, and actually, in all of dynamic psychiatry and psychoanalysis, that is the basic method. The whole field has been criticized as nonscientific for that reason, but in this case the stakes are very high, because this is a challenge to our entire way of life. As such, it has come under much more scrutiny, methodologically, because something is afoot here that isn’t supposed to be, according to the Western philosophy, the Cartesian/Newtonian world view.

So what do you do? Well, you go by the consistency of the stories among people who don’t know each other. You have clinical criteria for truthfulness, which is a very intuitive matter sometimes. Does the person seem to be telling the truth? That isn’t going to satisfy Western science, but is it authentic? How do you decide what’s authentic? Well, you get other witnesses, beside yourself, who can talk about the person. You also get relatives in, and friends and ask, “You know this person. Does this person tend to make stuff up?” “No, no, she’s very critical of what goes on.” The experiencers, themselves, are very skeptical in this instance. So, appropriate skepticism and doubt on the part of the individual tends to support the authenticity, because they’re not as you often see portrayed in the popular press — trying to prove this to you, or claim anything here, or argue that this is true. In fact they, like us, are shocked by this. They don’t readily accept that there is any reality to it.

VS: Based on what you’ve just said then, it makes sense that this phenomenon would emerge through a psychiatrist, rather than, say, a social scientist, or a physical scientist.

JM: Absolutely. I mean, when Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs work with these people, they’re doing clinical work. And there has been a big debate as to whether artists and historians should be doing clinical work. I happen to believe that the best clinical work is not necessarily done by mental health professionals, so I don’t get into that argument. But the fact is, you’re right. The main method is a very clinical approach to people.

That’s how you learn. Now, there may be additional things, such as marks on the bodies. They do a UFO study when UFO’s are around. Has a UFO been observed where somebody had an abduction experience? But those physical dimensions — which many researchers in the UFO field want to put a lot of emphasis on because they want to nail this down physically so they can prove it by the means of Western science — I don’t think it’s going to lend itself to that. I think it’s fine to get that material, though I don’t think it will ever he more than corroborative. That’s my opinion.

I believe — whatever this phenomenon is — that the kind of profundity that it represents will not yield its secrets to a purely physicalist, material approach. That’s my sense. These kinds of realities like you mentioned: near-death experience, the crop formations that are showing up in incredibly intricate detail in England particularly, but also in other places — and it’s wrong when people say these are man-made, because I don’t believe the most intricate ones could possibly be man-made. All of these phenomenon bespeak something extraordinary of the connection between us and that unseen so-called spirit world, where the gulf, the barrier that we’ve set up in the West between those worlds, seems to be permeated in some undeniable way. Now, Jung has this idea of the trickster archetype.

VS: This work is replete with archetypes.

JM: Absolutely, and I’ve written quite a bit about that. That’s why experiencers are often drawn to Native American cultures and tribal understandings, because those archetypes are part of their everyday way of thinking, and of life. But the trickster archetype is kind of the profound humor of the cosmos, which comes from home, or source. In a certain sense, this whole phenomenon could be looked upon as a mockery of the exaggerated, techno-scientific culture. Beings that can do all of these medical surgical things. Imagine probing someone’s brain, and then they’re pretty much okay the next morning! Does that really happen? Or, are there UFO’s that can run circles around our space vehicles? Flip on and off the radar screen? Travel with grace and take right angle turns with no skids, and defy our laws of gravity? It makes a joke of our technological arrogance. I have thought about this. That may be another one of the lessons that could be going on here, if we paid attention.

Here’s the last thing and this is very important. What these people have to say, what this phenomena has to say, is of utmost importance. If we listen to them, if we pay attention, much could change. But the problem is, the culture does not legitimize them or the people that work with them, as witnesses of anything important. This culture is so focused on “Prove it’s really happening” and that’s not what is important. It’s happening experientially, and it’s profoundly important, but this culture is focused on quibbling over “Is this physically real or not?” and misses the whole point. So unless it can be proven “All of this is real,” then these experiencers are not going to be seen as legitimate witnesses. Therefore, part of my job is to legitimize the whole witnessing process by discovering the science of human experience, if you will, or by holding my ground if clinically this cannot be explained by any of the conventional methods.

The silliest things get thrown about. Sleep paralysis is given as an explanation. That’s absurd. First of all, people are often not asleep and they’re not always paralyzed. And there is all of this complex narrative that has nothing to do with sleep paralysis. But the phenomenon is so disturbing ontologically in terms of the culture and its basic assumptions about reality, that there is what I call the “anything but” phenomenon. As soon as anybody, anywhere, comes up with an idea — even if it’s only related tangentially to a tiny fragment of the experience — then the papers, The New York Times or whatever, say “The whole thing is now explained; there is some conventional physical way to explain it.” Rather than entering into the mystery of it, which is a profound mystery. So that’s an edge for me. I need help with that.

The culture depends on witnesses. Society can’t function if you don’t believe witnesses. Apparently, though, there are invalid witnesses. Even the Catholic Monsignor Corrado Balducci, a senior Vatican spokesperson, now retired but still wearing the cassock, says he takes this phenomenon very seriously because there are thousands of apparent witnesses that seem reliable. The church’s whole history is that there are witnesses. So we team, witnesses and witnessing is the very fabric which holds the society together. What parents tell children for instance. What if children didn’t trust their parents at all as witnesses of reality, what would happen? Or teachers? Or court rooms? Every dimension of society depends on the legitimacy of witnesses from the standpoint of the person that the witness is communicating with.

But with these individuals — both the experiencers and those who try to translate their experiences into the larger culture — because this phenomena is so disturbing and violating of our fundamental Western materialistic assumptions, there is a tendency to discredit them. I’ve certainly been through that myself So that’s kind of the edge that I’m on, thinking a lot about how to be more effective in that dilemma of legitimization of these people as important witnesses.

VS: As a closing question them, why don’t you talk for a minute about The Program for Extraordinary Experience Research and where the cutting edge of your research is now.

JM: The Program for Extraordinary Experience Research, PEER, began in the early 1990’s as a project of the Center for Psychology & Social Change, in large part because you thought it belonged there. [Laughter] At the time this came up you were the director of the Center, and we talked about it. Because of your familiarity with the phenomenon and its possible importance for social change, you felt it was appropriate to include this in the Center. I can imagine that most executive directors at that point would not have thought this belonged in a Center of Psychology and Social Behavior, but you understood that. It has since become somewhat of the tail wagging the dog; it is by far the largest program in the Center.

PEER started out almost exclusively looking at the abduction phenomenon. Gradually, though, I and others who have worked in this area, began to see the connection to other extraordinary experiences, which was the title of the program. Actually, you came up with the title, the “Program for Extraordinary Experience [Research]” and that sort of prepared us to grow into it because it created a wider context for this work. So although we’ve specialized in this one particular phenomenon, we’re becoming more interested in many of what might be called cross-over experiences — when something that seems to come from somewhere else, from the mystery of creation — manifests in some way in the experiential, physical, emotional life of people, and there doesn’t seem to be any physical reason for it. The expanding theme then becomes, in a sense, the expansion of possibility, the expansion of experiences that don’t fit within the current thinking, with an eye towards the awakening of awareness, an eye towards opening the psyche of individuals communally, to a larger sense of ourselves.

We are working now to try to develop some kind of taxonomy of the unusual — or phenomenal experiences as we’re calling them — to see what they have in common, and if there is an aggregate within to evolve a whole field of human experiences which has been largely ignored. At this recent meeting that I mentioned earlier at the Divinity School, one of the psychologists talked of a change taking place from psychology of the self, focused on behavior and cognition, to a psychology of self-utilization, transformation, and transcendence. Now, psychologists like that look upon these extraordinary experiences very differently. They would not try to prove them physically, or in the material world. They look at self-utilization to the extent it might have an expanding acknowledgement of who we are in this universe.

That’s an edge. Since I’m in the mental health profession, I am very interested in this. But that seems to be the prerogative of the mental health profession, because it’s the experiences, rather than the physical realities, that are at the core of that work. So we want to look at how all of the disciplines can contribute to, and ultimately develop, a field of human endeavor that is going to be able to learn from experiences that don’t fit the material world view, and see where that takes us in terms of our overall understanding of ourselves in the universe. That is, in a sense, where I think we’re going.

  • Vivienne Simon is an author whose writing appears in the anthology Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World, edited by Martin Keough, alongside environmental activists and writers including as Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Walker, Bill McKibben and Howard Zinn. She was the director of Dr. John Mack’s organization, the Center for Psychology & Social Change, from 1992-1995. During her tenure she helped design and set up the Program for Extraordinary Experience Research (PEER), which became the most successful project in the organization’s history.

©2000 Vivienne Simon
Originally published in
April/May 2000, pp. 46 -54

  Subject Area: Interviews