What’s a McGuffin? (The Thing from Inner Space, Part Six)

The Objective Reality of the Subject (Psyche)

“Subjective conscious mind is an analog of what is called the real world. It is built up with a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behavior in the physical world. Its reality is of the same order as mathematics. . . . Like mathematics, it is an operator rather than a thing or repository. . . . If consciousness is this invention of an analog world even as the world of mathematics parallels the world of quantities of things, what then can we say about its origin? Consciousness comes after language! The implications of such a position are extremely serious. . . . In reality, consciousness has no location whatever except as we imagine it has.”
—Julian Jaynes, The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind

If I present the idea that the only way to be objective about the UFO (or anything else) is to approach it subjectively, then this idea also must be taken as a “belief” of the author, one that can only ever have subjective meaning or reality. So then, what’s my point? Only this: when approaching any subject at all, we need to be consciously creative, in order to avoid unconsciously fabricating. The first idea that must be sacrificed to this approach is the idea of “pure objectivity.” Trying to figure out if there’s a sound in an empty forest when a tree falls is the great McGuffin of philosophy, quantum mechanics, and the UFO. It keeps the plot moving forward—until you realize that anything else would do the same job. At which point, the mechanics fall down completely.[1]

My present approach is case specific, and the idea of case-specificity is central to my argument: there is no such phenomenon as “alien abduction,” any more than there is such a thing as “schizophrenia,” “autism,” murder, rape, birth or death, in any general or universally agreed on sense, because every case is unique—as unique as the human psyche. The goal of objectivity then is at odds with and adverse to the nature of the phenomena itself.

My “Crucial Fictions” thesis is not that understanding the psychology of trauma can explain away the UFO and other paranormal phenomena, but that it can, and indeed does, make a great deal of sense of them. Firstly, it allows us to see them as experiences that arise out of an unconscious “dialogue” between the psyche and the body; and secondly, it opens up the question of a more far-reaching interaction between the psyche and external reality, including the hidden, so-called “psychic” aspects of reality.[2]

Rightly understood, psychology (observation of the psyche) must encompass all human experience, at least up to total enlightenment or the discovery of absolute reality, free from psychic projections. If psychology has any value at all, it can’t be separated from any of the other, lesser disciplines, because the one thing we always bring to the table is our psyche. It’s the instrument of study which we are always studying, whether we like it, or know it, or not.

Returning to Jung:

He who would fathom the psyche must not confuse it with consciousness, else he veils from his own sight the object he wishes to explore. On the contrary, to recognize the psyche, even, he must learn to see how it differs from consciousness. It is highly probable that what we call illusion is actual for the psyche: for which reason we cannot take psychic actuality to be commensurable with conscious actuality.[3]

Experiencers often complain, quite rightly, that their experience is being marginalized out of existence by skeptics. But that’s nothing compared to what’s being done to the psyche. It might be argued that the psyche is every bit as ephemeral or elusive as the UFO; to some extent that’s true—but only to the extent that we are not directing our attention to it. In recent times the institution of psychiatry and the prevalence of medications to treat psychological problems has gone hand in hand with a steady reduction of interest or awareness as to the question of the psyche. Ironically enough, the psyche is now in a similar position to the UFO, that of being roundly “debunked,” not only by science but by almost every other field as well. Even psychology has largely turned its back on it!

I think this has to do with the common mistake of equating psyche with mind, and the view that the mind is merely a by-product of the body and therefore can be treated as a chemical imbalance. This may be true of the mind but it is not true of the psyche, because the psyche corresponds not with the conscious mind but the unconscious or total self, which is equivalent to the idea of the soul—an idea which science has even less time for. Yet even those who believe in the soul have a tendency to overlook the unconscious—the nature of which, after all, is that it is overlooked.

My impression (especially since I began trying to communicate these ideas) is that ufology (among other fields) fears and resents psychology because it thinks it will be used to “explain away” the data. Of course it can be used this way, or rather misused, just as psychology can be misused to plunder someone’s nervous system with drugs and other technology. But it can also be used, more wisely, to deepen our understanding of what is happening, and maybe even to crack the code of the UFO. Properly applied, psychology won’t bring about the end of Ufology but a new departure point. This is the departure point put forward, as far back as 1959,  by Jung in Flying Saucers: that, as a living archetype, the UFO speaks the language not of the mind but of the soul. If the UFO is trying to communicate with us, then its message is not coming from outer space but from inner space, from the realm of the psyche. The only way to understand the UFO, then, is to learn the language of the unconscious, a language not of words, or even concepts, but of symbols. More baffling still, this language is one that is particular to each individual psyche, and which can only be learned by entering into a fully subjective relationship with what we are studying—the psyche first, and only secondly the UFO.

Ufologists and experiencers can assign all the objective reality they like to UFOs and aliens, but our experience of them is still going to be subjective and it’s naïve to suggest otherwise. (Or rather, it’s only possible by ignoring the reality of the unconscious.) We don’t even experience our spouses or children as they actually are, how much less so an entity that belongs to a separate order of existence and that may not even have fixed physical form?! In General Aspects of Dream Psychology, C. G. Jung clearly describes the mechanism of projection:

Just as we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, we naïvely suppose that people are as we imagine them to be. . . . All the contents of our unconscious are constantly being projected into our surroundings, and it is only by recognizing certain properties of the objects as projections or imagos that we are able to distinguish them from the real properties of the objects. . . . Unless we are possessed of an unusual degree of self-awareness we shall never see through our projections but must always succumb to them, because the mind in its natural state presupposes the existence of such projections. It is the natural and given thing for unconscious contents to be projected.[4]

While a Ufologist might assume my approach to be reducing his or her field to something less real, I would argue the reverse. By giving the psyche its due as the primary, maybe even the sole, creative force in our experience—not counting God, of course—we are granting to the UFO a far more vital role than that of a mere nuts-and-bolts “miracle.”

The argument rests, not on whether one believes in the objective reality of alien abduction or not, but on whether one is aware of the reality and potency of the psyche. If I am questioning the objective reality of UFOs, I am also questioning the objective reality of everything. The UFO is a good place to start, however, because almost everyone agrees that it can’t be pinned down to an “object” (flying or otherwise). That unknowing generates a quasi-religious frenzy of belief and disbelief around it, and so the question of whether what we are perceiving is objectively real or not has progressed from being a merely philosophical one to one of practical urgency and social import. Because belief not only moves mountains—it builds and destroys empires.

The problem we are faced with when we enter into the realms of the paranormal is the literal-mindedness that insists that, for something to be real, it has to have concrete objective existence which others can agree upon. This is a problem precisely because, when we think this way, we are unable to recognize the reality of the psyche or to understand the nature of our experience, and instead we are interacting with our own phantasy narratives. Ironically, the insistence on such phenomena having an objective reality is itself a symptom of disconnection from psychic reality, which can only ever be subjective, that, in fact, must become fully subjective in order to be objectively real to the experiencer.

Admittedly, this is a difficult concept, one that has to do with embodiment: to be fully present, in our bodies, is to be fully in the position of subject. Yet if the psyche is the true subject or self, it can only experience the objective reality of the body by being fully aligned with, or centered within, the body.

Therefore, to see reality as totally and inescapably subjective is, paradoxically, the only way to know objective reality.

[1] McGuffin is the term which the film director Alfred Hitchcock used for whatever element drove the action of his thrillers, the object all the characters were chasing after and fighting over. The word is taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?”, and the other answers, “Oh, that’s a McGuffin.” The first one asks “What’s a McGuffin?” “Well,” the other man says, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.” The first man says, “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,” and the other one answers, “Well, then that’s no McGuffin!”

[2] One obvious question about the UFO material is, if trauma is somehow informing and even generating the abduction experience, and if trauma is a universal occurrence, why aren’t more people reporting abductions? According to Strieber and others, the phenomena does touch on all of our lives, but only some of us recall it. I would put some credence to the idea that the abduction experience is, like trauma, in some sense universal; but if so, there are obviously different degrees and different ways of dealing with it—both trauma and abduction—or of not dealing with it and pushing it all the way into unconsciousness.

[3] Ibid, p. 73.

[4] C. G. Jung, Dreams (From Volumes 4, 8, 12, and 16 of The Collected Works of C. G. Jung) (New in Paper), trans. R. F. C. Hull, Princeton University Press, 2012, p. Page 507

13 thoughts on “What’s a McGuffin? (The Thing from Inner Space, Part Six)

  1. Just as you brought up , Jason, the problem I have with the phenomenon of us humans calling an inexplicable happening in our atmosphere a “UFO” is that if it is called “unidentified” then how can it be identified as flying or even identified as an object ! Either way, psyche hears it as “You Foe” and takes a defensive (or an often offensive) stance. Them’s fighting words.

    So if you take out the F and the O , since we don’t know if it is flying and don’t if there is an object, then we are left with U … “unidentified”. Psyche then simply hears You, or perhaps Yew, or Ewe. What if we stopped referring to the phenomenon as a UFO and just called it U. What would U do, do you think, if we started to refer to U as such? A whole new world might be opened up before us if we turned our attention to U, whenever we each experienced U, and used a reasonable signifier for U (like U, for example) when talking within and with others about our amazement of having had a real encounter with U. So, yes, I am suggesting that you just call it U and the next time you have an encounter , maybe just say “hello U”. U just might respond more kindly (if not pleasurably) if U don’t hear you say “You Foe”.

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  3. U = unconscious, and there’s another word that presumes understanding where there is, by definition, little or none. The U(FO) represents the unconscious side of ourselves insofar as it is a seemingly autonomous and intelligent agency that interfaces intimately with us, our inner as well as outer beings, and yet is beyond our capacity not merely to identify but to identify with. Whatever kind of consciousness is behind it, it’s not ours. So the U doesn’t represent the force of the unconscious so much as a force of which we are unconscious. But the same is true of “the unconscious” – it is not unconscious, per se, but unidentified and, perhaps also, rejecting of all identity.

    In our present social arrangement, someone who has no name, address, or ID card (chip) is barely recognized as existing, if at all. (Try having a Facebook presence with neither a name nor a face).

    So “the U” embraces not only UFOs and other paranormalities, but also Autism and Anonymous. All Undifferentiated Foreign Outrushings of the Id.

  4. Therefore, to see reality as totally and inescapably subjective is, paradoxically, the only way to know objective reality.


    Dear Jasun,

    could you elaborate somewhat more on the meaning of this sentence? It sounds profound, but at the same time incomprehensible. Are you talking about some kind of transrationality?! (Which makes me wonder: how do you draw the line between “sane” and “objective” resp. “insane” and “subjective”.) Or do you advocate the bluring of the distinction between sensual and psychic (imaginal) experiences?!

    Your words also remind me of Islamic mysticism, where they speak about two different prophetic lineages. The one is called and personified by “Moses”, the other by “Kidhr”. Moses represents the (exoteric) “law”: that which is true everywhere, always and for everyone. Khidr represents a different kind of (esoteric) knowledge (“Water of Life”): that which is true only here, only now and only for me. Every Islamic mystic aspires to become his own Khidr, “to be one’s own law”.


    Many thanks for your considerations & all the best


  5. There is no such thing as “the U” or “a U” or “an U”. There is only U, alone, if we are going to agree that U have an existential physical reality (and I would argue that U does). U exist / exists without the attachment of any article, linguistically speaking in collectivist-minded world, anyway, if we are going to respect the unidentified nature that U represent, at least when speaking of U as some objective reality. So I say “the U” doesn’t embrace UFOs because there is no such thing as “the U”. There is only U and therefore, if that is such (and it is) , then U embrace nothing. That does not prevent most of us from projecting an embrace (or a rejection) , of course.

    Now if you want to speak archetypally inside of a good story, there is certainly The U, which is understood to be no different than The Mother, The Child, The Mountain, The Cloud, The Horse, The Ocean, The Bird, The Planet, etc.
    Very animistically-oriented , or feminine-oriented, right? I constantly re-orient myself that way because my default setting is set for “UFO”, spirt of the times being what they are and such.

  6. With any luck this will answer both of the last comments, tho it was written before the last.

    The only objectivity being total subjectivity. It sounds like mysticism or oxymoronic, but it is also, or so it seems to me, unavoidable logic, hence common sense.

    I am glad someone asked, anyway! (Hi Abe.)

    Let me see if I can keep this to self-evident statements and so prove the above point.

    Objective awareness depends on seeing the full picture.

    If there are any elements unseen or unrecognized, then we don’t have all the pieces and so cannot say, “This is this and nothing else.”

    (What looks like a murder before all the facts are “in” may turn out to be a heroic deed once they are. What looks like a floating log may turn out to be a hungry crocodile once we have direct encounter with it. And so on.)

    To have a full (objective) awareness of reality (or of any of its components) implies being fully conscious.

    As long as we are partially unconscious, there is no way of saying what unseen elements are at play, underneath our awareness, which would completely alter our picture of “reality” once they came into awareness.

    To be 100% conscious implies being conscious of absolutely everything, both within us and without. It implies being fused with, fully identified with, the Infinite Eternal — call it God if you want but not if you don’t. (Infinity is a mathematical proposition, not a religious one.)

    If we are fully conscious/fully identified and fused with the Infinite (big if, I know), then there is nothing outside of our awareness—which is what makes it objective—meaning that nothing exists that is not also experienced as us.

    Hence the truism “The only way to know God is to become God” (or anything else for that matter). Replace God with “Reality,” and my seemingly paradoxical statement begins to appear, not as an oxymoron but as a tautology!

    Since the only way to fully know reality is to become one with it, then the only kind of objective reality we can ever know is— subjective reality!

    To recap, or rephrase: The completeness or objectivity of the known is limited to the consciousness of the knower.

    As long as there’s a clear division between knower and known, knowledge must always be partial, because it will be obscured by whatever elements are unknown to (unconscious in) the knower.

    Only when the line between knower and known is entirely erased can pure (so-called objective) knowing happen. But when this happens (assuming it’s possible), there is no longer a knower (subject) or a known (object)— only awareness experiencing itself as knowing.

    I have tried to keep this as empirical, scientific, and logical as possible, but of course it has ended up sounding like mysticism.

    I blame the inherent limitations of language.

    Or maybe I blame U!

  7. Hence the truism “The only way to know God is to become God” (or anything else for that matter). Replace God with “Reality,” and my seemingly paradoxical statement begins to appear, not as an oxymoron but as a tautology!


    This is very interesting! Coming back to Islamic mysticism, one of the Divine names is “haqq”, often translated as “Reality”. The Sufis maintain that there is a mode of knowing by means of which one knows how things really are. One of the doctrines of Islam is called “tawhid” (“sh’ma” in Judaism), often translated as the doctrine of the Oneness of God in the sense that there is only one God (“monotheism”); but the mystical, esoteric, hidden meaning of the term is something entirely different: tawhid = “making one” = becoming one with God. How does this work? It took me a long time to figure out how this works. Not all, but some people who have had a near death experience will report that while they were dead encontered an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing angelic being of light with whom they merged and became one. This angelic being answered all questions that they possibly could ever have and consequently they became all-knowing themselves. This encounter with one’s angel is excactly what the mystics (prophets, saints) aspired to. They induced near-death experiences by meditative means which would allow them to receive the “kiss” and unite whith their angels. And this is the original meaning of the term “prophecy”.


    The End of Prophecy

    [M]editation played a key role in the careers of the prophets, and was an indispensible element in attaining prophetic enlightenment. With the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the Babylonian Exile, however, the prophetic schools lost their influence, and prophecy virtually vanished from the scene. … Although the prophetic schools never admitted initiates indiscriminately, after the exile they actually became secret societies. … The mystical activity that existed remained the domain of a few small restricted secret societies.


  8. Thanks. I really wanted to avoid mystical/metaphysical speculation. NDEs are all well and good, but, like UFOs, are pretty hard to come by.

    The arguments I put forward above need to stand or fall on applying simple logic and therefore allow a direct cognitive experience which may be in some ways equivalent to being embraced by an all-knowing white-beard in the Ether — i.e., lead to deep self-acceptance — but without the astral fireworks or phantasy projections onto “U.” Roughly.

  9. The arguments I put forward above need to stand or fall on applying simple logic and therefore allow a direct cognitive experience … [leading] to deep self-acceptance …


    I don’t think our positions are far off, but as fas as I am concerned it is impossible that a cognitive experience based on mental acrobatics (logic) can trigger a process of emotional self-healing (self-acceptance).

    You were so close to absolute truth, when you wrote:

    “The problem with 98% of UFO research … is that it tries to make sense out of a phenomenon that seems primarily concerned with undoing the illusion that we are capable of making sense — coherent meaning — out of anything.”


    Within the purely mental, logical realm we will never be able to make any coherent sense out of anything (“anything” being sensual, imaginary and imaginal experiences).

    I am also not interested in mystical / metaphysical speculations, but there is a language of the imaginal (not imaginary) that should not be discounted, otherwise we are getting locked into the dichotomy of sensual (body) and logical (mind) with no bridge – the imaginal experience – to cross over the abyss.

    So what I am advocating is the imaginal experience as a bridge between the sensual and the logical leading to deep self-acceptance because it provides you with the PURELY SUBJECTIVE experience: I am loved and all is well. It might sound cheesy, but this is just how it is.

  10. fair enough.

    this is the sentence that stands out for me: “it is impossible that a cognitive experience based on mental acrobatics (logic) can trigger a process of emotional self-healing (self-acceptance).”

    The key word being “trigger.” I would agree that logic can’t bring about self-acceptance, but probably only insofar as NOTHING we “do” can cause something to happen at a deep, psychic level. It has to happen of its own accord.

    Maybe I like logic because, by fully engaging that part of the psyche that tackles everything as a rational proposition, it frees up the other, larger part to work away unencumbered? At the same time, conversely (?), we are putting our conscious attention on the “problem” and so signalling our unconscious that we are open to its influence.

    This sounds similar to how Einstein, and many scientists (tho also artists) described his discovery process.

    Logic can take us to the door; but all of us has to go through it.

  11. Actually, I also like logic. What it does for me is to focus and amplify attention (unlike imaginary beliefs). I totally agree with your above statement that by putting our conscious attention on the ‘problem’, we signal our uncionscious that we are open to its influence, only that the language of the unconscious is in images (dream analogies, metaphors)! The greatest scientists are engaging with their imaginal faculty, which is a kind of “prophetic” activity. One of the most interesting examples is Ramanujan:

    Ramanujan was said to be a natural genius by the English mathematician G. H. Hardy, in the same league as mathematicians such as Euler and Gauss.

    Ramanujan credited his acumen to his family Goddess, Namagiri of Namakkal. He looked to her for inspiration in his work, and claimed to dream of blood drops that symbolised her male consort, Narasimha, after which he would receive visions of scrolls of complex mathematical content unfolding before his eyes.


    Ramanujan believed that 17 new functions he discovered were “mock modular forms” that looked like theta functions when written out as an infinte sum (their coefficients get large in the same way), but weren’t super-symmetric. Ramanujan, a devout Hindu, thought these patterns were revealed to him by the goddess Namagiri.



    At the Ramanujan Conference in 1987, referring to the mock theta functions, mathematician and theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson spoke of “a grand synthesis still to be discovered”, and he speculated about their application to physics in the context of string theory. He concluded that “the mock theta functions give us tantalizing hints of a grand synthesis, still to be discovered”.

    This is an indication of the prescience and genius of Ramanujan. Many mathematicians are very excited that results discovered by Ramanujan almost one hundred years ago are now such hot topics.


  12. Jason,

    I’d say keep on going exactly as you have been. I’ve been putting McLuhan under scrutiny as of late and his thoughts, though being on a more societal level, almost exactly, stunningly mirror what you’ve been presenting. Take the conscious mind as far as it can go and make whatever leap you feel necessary – after that its all guess work anyways.

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