[Much of this chapter has already appeared at this blog but I include it now for the sake of continuity. As of chap 14, next week, the material will all be new/previously unseen.]
“Consciousness is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of. How simple that is to say; how difficult to appreciate! It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not.”
—Julian Jaynes, The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind
In Jaynes’ influential work, he presents evidence for the idea that, in terms of conditioned learning, not only is consciousness unnecessary, it actually prevents learning from occurring. The more conscious we are of being conditioned, Jaynes points out, the less susceptible we are to it. This brings us back to the question of belief, and how the idea that we have consciously chosen to believe something is, nine times out of ten, an error. We believe or disbelieve because, at one time or another, it was necessary to do so.
In Jaynes’ book, he describes how, when a person is asked to say words at random, if the listener responds to certain words (say nouns) with a nod, a smile, or some other approving gesture, the subject will unconsciously begin to favor that particular class of words. Another example Jaynes gives: members of a psychology class were told to compliment anyone they saw wearing red; within a week, the place was ablaze with red. In a similar experiment, students paid rapt attention to their professor and laughed at all his jokes whenever he was on the right side of the room. He was unaware of anything unusual, but the students reported that they were “almost able to train him right out of the door.” Such incidents indicate how susceptible we are to suggestion and how powerful the unconscious is, not only to shape our perceptions but to influence and even determine our actions. The proof Jaynes offers is that these kinds of experiments cease to work the moment the subject is made aware of how he or she is being conditioned.
A final example from Jaynes is one the reader can try for him- or herself. Take two identical glasses or mugs and fill them with unequal amounts of water. Move them around with your eyes closed until you are unsure which is which. Keeping your eyes closed, pick them up and judge which is heavier. You will probably find it easy to do so. Now look for what is making the judgment. The assumption we make is that our mind is making the judgment. In fact, our mind is not “doing” anything besides reporting what our nervous system has already done. Jaynes uses this example to point out how the entire basis for believing our judgments are based on mental processes is inaccurate. On closer examination, the mind may not really be doing much of anything besides skewering the evidence—and keeping us sufficiently unconscious to be conditioned.
Despite all of this, the idea that we are what we are conscious of being seems to have gained predominance in the Western mindset over the past few decades (not counting the preponderance of New Age ideas, which often seem more like compensatory “make believe” than real understanding). Ray Kurzweil is busy promoting technologies which he promises will extend human existence into the infinite, by way of replacing biology with hardware and consciousness with software. Kurzweil believes he can resurrect his dead father by gathering enough information, samples of DNA from his disinterred corpse, memorabilia, photographs, and his own memories about him, and converting it all into digitalized form. He believes (or pretends to believe) that all there is to his father is a set of specific characteristics making up a visible personality, a social identity, which can then be reassembled in this strange fashion—by adding all the parts together like Baron von Frankenstein with his creature (or the Kabbalists and their golem) and zapping it with a bolt of lightning. Bizarre as this scenario may sound, the thinking behind it appears to be becoming more and more prevalent, not only in transhumanist circles but everywhere.
Such beliefs can only arise from a denial of the existence of the unconscious and a raising up of the conscious ego mind to the throne of being. But if the ego mind is all the things we know and believe about ourselves, our memories, opinions, preferences, character traits (real or imagined), etc., needless to say this changes over time and varies from person to person, sometimes extremely. Not to mention that, at different times during the day (most obviously when we sleep), our conscious (or semi-conscious) minds are filled with different elements, all of which we identify as “ourselves.” Everyone knows that, to some degree at least, we respond to far more than we are consciously aware of. We all know what it’s like to experience irrational anger, to fall into despair for no apparent reason, or to find ourselves doing things with no idea of why we are doing them (and sometimes no memory of having done them). We are all, to one degree or another, aware that there is far more to us than we are ever able to observe, much less categorize or explain, with our conscious minds. Yet we are also able to conveniently—and somewhat miraculously—ignore this fact throughout most of our lives.
Around the time I was becoming less and less interested in UFOs, I developed an interest in autism. This was not entirely coincidental, because there are some very obvious correlations between the two fields. Autistic people are often seen (and even describe themselves) as like alien beings; some of the more New Agey literature even suggests that autistics are literally extraterrestrials, walking unrecognized among us. Old faery lore, on the other hand, which has well-known correspondences with modern UFO lore, is filled with accounts of “changelings” being left in the place and likeness of a human child. Similarly, autistic children often seem perfectly normal until their second or third year, at which point the “symptoms” begin to show and parents may feel as if their child has been replaced by an alien imposter.
Autism relates to specific behaviors that are the result of a radically different way of perceiving the world. Autistic children, for reasons still unknown (it has to do with their brains having larger neural networks), seem to be hardwired in such a way that their senses function in totally different ways to ordinary children. One result of this is that they may fail to develop the kind of social identity which children are expected to develop. Autistic children are unable to imitate the behaviors of other children (or adults) and so to assume, or adopt, a socially acceptable “ego-self.” They are not able to learn, or rather, they can’t be conditioned. Our western bias (“neurotypical” is the word autistics have for it) assumes that this incapacity to “learn” (i.e., be conditioned) is due to a lack of consciousness. As Jaynes and others have shown, however, the reverse may more likely be the case. To the extent that autistic children are more conscious than ordinary children, they do not “learn” in the normal sense of the word, because, as Jaynes demonstrates, consciousness resists being conditioned.
Another of way of saying that autistics are more conscious is that they don’t suppress or shut down their perceptual awareness to the same degree as other children. This would mean there is less of a clear dividing line between their conscious minds and their unconscious psyche (or what quickly becomes unconscious in “normal” children). Hence, they are often seen as “aliens,” psychics (Indigo kids), and, more commonly, as retarded, brain-damaged, dysfunctional, or handicapped. This is an inevitable presumption if all there really is to us is our conscious minds—what else are we to make of autistics who haven’t developed such a mind except to presume that they are “non-beings”? In fact, in many cases that’s exactly how they are treated.
Very often, low-functioning, non-verbal autistics who have been diagnosed as severely retarded are discovered to be above average intelligence once someone finds a way to communicate with them. If we find it so difficult to understand an autistic human or communicate with them, what are the chances we would understand something truly alien if we encountered it? If we aren’t able to recognize or communicate with the psyche (or “the alien”) when it wears our own biological form, what chance do we have when it’s zipping around the sky or materializing as an uninvited goblin in the dead of the night?
All of this points to our own lack of awareness as to the nature of the unconscious, i.e., that it is incomprehensible to the conscious mind except through letting IT tell us what it is. And to do that we first of all have to learn its language.
Ditto the UFO. The psyche is the greater reality we are none of us aware of save in a superficial way, and the UFO experience cannot be approached as a superficial question. To try and interpret the UFO material without applying psychology is, to paraphrase Charles Fort, like trying to ride an imaginary camel through the eye of a hypothetical needle that was lost in a haystack that never was.
“When trauma strikes the developing psyche of the child, a fragmentation of consciousness occurs in which the different ‘pieces’ (Jung called them splinter-psyches or complexes) organize themselves according to certain archaic and typical (archetypal) patterns, most commonly dyads or syzygies made up of personified ‘beings.’”
—Donald Kalsched, The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defense Systems of the Personal Spirit
All that we know of the UFO and the alien—outside of any direct experiences we might have—comes from stories, i.e., from accounts of eye witnesses and experiencers, some of whom have, I think beyond all doubt, experienced something. These partial descriptions of unclear perceptions have then been collected, organized, and interpreted by researchers and, over time, been turned into hypotheses and, in most cases, articles of belief.
My own investigations—partially reported in Part One—lead me to the following hypothesis: it is not possible to separate the faculty of perception from the element of belief, because we not only develop beliefs based on our perceptions, but our perceptions are, to an unknown degree, limited, directed, and shaped by our beliefs. Both perception and belief develop in human beings at an early age, at a pre-rational stage of development. During this early stage of development, there is a primary experience of powerlessness and of the corresponding potential for trauma. There is also the near-inevitability of at least some degree of trauma informing our psychological development, limiting our abilities to perceive and giving rise to a certain set of beliefs. To an unknown degree, both our perceptions and our beliefs are shaped early on, then, to protect us from the full traumatic brunt of reality, and from being overwhelmed by a feeling of powerlessness.
The depth psychological view sees early trauma, and the resulting psychic fragmentation and dissociation, as at base of all our subsequent experiences, perceptions, and beliefs. This is most evident in the way we encounter divine or transcendental realities, for the simple(?) reason that the way we deal with early trauma is via dissociation, by calling upon and/or withdrawing into the realm of phantasy. Through phantasy, the greater, more transcendental part of the psyche intervenes and rescues us from intolerable reality by “abducting” us into its realm. This is not an unreal realm (the psyche is real), but it is a dissociated one. An experience of the psyche that isn’t grounded in the body cannot become fully real, because it will always be diluted, or polluted, by the defensive fictions that have arisen to keep the trauma out of our awareness. These “crucial fictions” extend to every aspect of our existence (starting and ending with the ego itself), and the UFO is a perfect opportunity to map the ways in which such fictions are created and made “crucial,” i.e., become articles of faith, fanaticism, irrational conviction, and out-and-out obsession.
What I discovered in the writing of and dialogues around the first part of Prisoner of Infinity, and which I hope is being communicated to at least some of my readers, is how the experiences of Strieber (and by extension other abductees), whether phantasy, reality, or some little understood combination of the two (the model I lean towards), are filled with very clear “symbolic” elements. These symbolic elements point towards early childhood trauma (possibly universal) that the psyche is attempting to address and integrate through psychic re-enactments. This requires re-experiencing trauma in an unconscious attempt to make conscious the original experience. If psychology is accurate about this, then early trauma is the basis, the driving factor, not merely behind UFO encounters but all human history and experience, at least until that early trauma is made conscious and can be integrated.
The purpose of the UFO experience, then, like all other traumatic/transcendental encounters, is a re-experiencing of trauma to bring about healing in a conscious, contained fashion. This can be compared to the many types of initiation through trauma found in shamanic traditions, and even in Masonic and other western forms. However, it’s essential to point out that it is not the trauma per se that allows for integration, but the erasing or dissolving of previous “traumata” trapped in the body, by way of the “traumatic reenactment.” If this subtle distinction is missed, new trauma is caused, and what occurs is merely a new layer of conditioning to override the old, likely only to bury it still deeper in the unconscious. This can appear to be effective, however, because experiencing a new trauma will sometimes re-activate the dissociative mechanism developed in childhood to escape the original trauma. The person may then have a “transcendental experience”; but if so, the danger is that it will take them further from embodiment, and not closer to it.
I have come to see Strieber as a clear example of this in the way that his later trauma at the hands of human agencies and/or “the visitors” can be mapped onto (and feeds into) his earlier Catholic conditioning. (And many of Strieber’s experiences, both early and later, entail out-of-body journeys, which seems to mirror the early experience of dissociation.) In the case of many other abductees also, I would suggest there’s more evidence for the experience being unbalancing and deranging than “initiatory.” It may activate “psychic potential,” as many experiencers report, but activating psychic potential, also from what I’ve seen, is as often as not deranging rather than conducive to a person’s psychic wholeness or embodiment.
It’s here that the alien abduction lore overlaps with that of the infamous intelligence programs such as MK-ULTRA, which often entail, or at least hint at, the conditioning-via-abuse of children (which Strieber also believes he was subjected to). Such programs are aimed at tapping into the psychological survival mechanism of dissociation, by which the psyche summons “daimonic complexes” from “the Beyond” (the deeper unconscious) to bring about some kind of healing intervention for the child. If so, it may be that Strieber, along with thousands of others similarly interfered with (and not necessarily by government), has unwittingly summoned his own “visitor” phenomena, one which is both highly personal and, paradoxically, universal—since the human psyche reacts to trauma in more or less the same way every time.
The danger in this is obvious. People who have suffered such early fragmentation, by whatever outside agencies (I include myself in this camp), and who are then exposed to the alien abduction literature, are likely to reframe their trauma within the new context, as a way to re-experience it “safely.” As a result, the phenomena will then, over the generations, become “viral” and, as already suggested, generate its own proofs.
This may all be part of the larger plan, and it’s certainly worth looking into for anyone who wants to get to the bottom of the UFO bottle. But what’s more interesting to me, at this stage, is how all of this can be seen to demonstrate the way the psyche works. Because if the UFO is evidence not of outer but inner space, then the psyche becomes, almost literally, the creator and destroyer of worlds.
“The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.”
I should make it very clear at this point, once again, that I am in no way suggesting that abduction experiences are merely mental fantasies created as a screen through which to revisit past experiences. There is abundant evidence that something “objectively real” (so far as we can even talk about such a thing) is happening, something that, by the nature of the evidence, clearly involves some sort of agenda both hidden and “advanced” – i.e., that entails either technological or natural means beyond our common understanding of what is possible. What I am saying is that these anomalous or otherworldly experiences are echoing – feeding into and potentially exploiting and exacerbating – original traumas that may be independent of these hidden forces, and therefore much closer to home and easier to identify.
So while I don’t intend to suggest that the abductee experience is less real than, say, an ordinary human kidnapping, it is clearly less “provable,” because the UFO and the “alien” do not adhere to the rules of reality as we have come to accept them. The usual explanation for this maddening lack of proof is that “ETs” belong to some higher level of reality. I would argue that it has less to do with any magical qualities we assign to hypothetical outside agencies, and more to do with the fact that we have, to a great extent, denied the reality of the psyche. As a result, we are unable to grasp, or even fully recognize, its manifestations.
I believe that the desire to prove that these experiences are real, while perfectly natural and to some degree unavoidable on the part of the experiencer, is a dead-end that leads only to undirected obsession. As the man says, “What is real?” If the psyche is real, then whatever it experiences is real too. Seeking validation from outside is not part of the solution but part of the problem. And not a small part, either.
Suppose we juxtapose reports of alien abductions, and the widespread belief in them, with the question of institutionalized child abuse (ritual or otherwise). There is growing evidence all around us for the latter; it is a largely overlooked part of human history (see Lloyd de Mause’s The Emotional Life of Nations for a starting point). In contrast, there is relatively little evidence for alien abduction as an actual, physical occurrence (as compared to an insufficiently understood psychic one). Yet belief in alien abduction—while not yet embraced by the so-called “intelligentsia”—is far more widespread than belief in (or rather awareness of) systematized child abuse (though this is changing fast, in the UK at least). There may be different reasons for this, but the one that interests me relates directly to the psyche, and that is that stories about alien abduction, though no less preposterous than stories about institutionalized abuse of children, are considerably more palatable to most people.
As Martin Cannon wrote in his classic, unpublished work The Controllers:
Many books have been written about abductees, yet few exist about the victims of mind control. I cannot understand this situation; the reality of UFOs is still controversial, yet the existence of mind control was verified in two (heavily compromised) congressional investigations and in thousands of FOIA documents. Nevertheless, the abductees find many a sympathetic ear, while those few who dare to proclaim themselves the victims of known government programs rarely find anyone to hear them out. Our prejudices on this score are regrettable, for if we listened to the “controlees” we would hear many details strikingly similar to those mentioned by UFO abductees.
One argument given by believers for the paucity of evidence for alien abductions is that the aliens in question are good at hiding their traces. Very well, and so we will counter that those involved in child trafficking, mind control, and other forms of exploitation—being merely human—must surely be considerably less efficient than such alleged “aliens.” So why do we hear so much about aliens and so little about exploiters of children? I think there’s an equally “magical” explanation, but one which we can all identify to one degree or another in our own lives. The conscious mind has extremely strong defenses, and equally ingenious subterfuges, to prevent it from seeing what it does not want to see, in this case, the reality of trauma and its impact, both directly and indirectly, on our lives.
Alien abduction may be a way for some of us to allow such traumatic material into our awareness in a more “magical” (transcendental) guise. This would account for the inescapable overlap between abduction narratives and systemized child abuse, for which Whitley Strieber, once again, is exhibit A. Strieber’s accounts of “the visitors” are undeniably horrific, or at least they would be if he didn’t constantly frame them in the language of shamanic initiation, evolutionary engineering, spiritual midwifery, and cosmic intervention. Such ambiguity is essential for the psychological survival of the child who suffers abuse (it has to believe in the goodness of those who have power over it); and logically, it’s easier to feel ambiguous about beings who are outside our ordinary frame of understanding than ones who are not. Hence Strieber and others frame the visitors, in Nietzschean terms, as “beyond good and evil.”
This is a form circular logic when it comes to presuming that actions or events we cannot comprehend or assimilate (which includes traumatic experiences) must be sourced in something that is equally beyond our comprehension, and therefore also beyond judgment. But even if there is a nonhuman element in all of this, it doesn’t mean an all-too-human element isn’t cynically manipulating—and even simulating—some of these experiences for its own, more comprehensible ends. Or cynically exploiting those who have suffered these experiences.
In the years since I first began digging in the unknown country of Strieber’s extended opus, I have encountered at least one person who has run the spectrum from being a devout believer in the alien abduction interpretation propagated by Strieber, and a devoted follower of Strieber, to a considerably more qualified perspective. She writes:
I believe that a lot of survivors of systematized traumatic abuse were deliberately manipulated into believing it was aliens who’d abducted and abused them. To me, Strieber’s site looks an awful lot like a honeypot to attract and keep tabs on us, especially any who are waking up enough to remember human beings during those abductions. When I did, I was already a longtime member of the site, but I was first attacked and shunned, then unilaterally banned by Whitley even though I’d done nothing to violate his published site rules. It could have been that I’d triggered him really badly, but it also could have been a callous silencing of any alternate viewpoints that might have poisoned the honeypot by him or by a handler.
She was not alone: “several other people who’d wakened up from Whitley’s alien dream and remembered people from alphabet agencies messing with them from childhood on” were also removed.
“To the ones who have slipped into the mirror
And the ones who reflect it in their eyes.
to the ones who must hide everything,
And to the ones who lose what they hide
To the ones who cannot be silent
And the ones who must lie.”
—Whitley Strieber, dedication to Communion
There is a thin line between validating someone’s experience and feeding their delusion. Many researchers (and a researcher-experiencer such as Strieber) may jump to too many conclusions too fast. One of the reasons they are able, or even forced, to make such leaps is from underestimating the power of the psyche to generate experience. The other reason, perhaps connected, is that the mind experiences profound discomfort when forced to leave an unknown as unknown. It relentlessly seeks answers and, when it doesn’t find any, has no qualms about inventing them and then forgetting it has done so.
While many abduction researchers may very well be sincere in their attempts to get to the bottom of what’s happening to experiencers and to help them to make sense of it, this doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to delusion, or to external manipulation, or capable of unconsciously manipulating or deluding their witnesses. The recent disclosures around Budd Hopkins’ and David M. Jacobs’ work with abductees have provided extremely damning evidence of this. What makes me suspicious of the work of many researchers is that they frequently choose to frame the abduction experiences in terms in line with (what I see as) an overarching agenda: that of sowing the seed of a new scientistic religion. John Mack, for example (giving the benefit of the doubt), recognized that the abductees he interviewed were reporting something real, and that it was a real unknown. He then got busy interpreting it to make it into a “known,” and of course, he couldn’t help but refer to previous interpretations, both fictional and non, to do so.
I have dealt with people who believe they are abductees (I even have my own abduction-like experiences), and from what I’ve seen, interpreting the experience as an external, “objective” reality tends to exacerbate the tendency of the mind towards rigidity, projection, delusion, and obsession. The person will often become comfortably immersed in a fantastic narrative about space brothers, hybrid aliens, government conspiracies, and the like, which removes them further and further, not merely from consensus reality (which is not always a bad thing), but from their own inner reality (as any obsessive external focus does). The reason for this tendency to take refuge in convincing fictions or partial truths may be straightforward: to connect fully to one’s inner reality—to become fully embodied as a psyche—means returning to and fully re-integrating whatever early traumas prevented that embodiment from happening, at an early age. All of our fictions are designed to protect us from that mind-shattering—and soul-rescuing—event.
So while I can admit to the possibility of actual, nuts-and-bolts aliens, I’m not really interested in exploring this possibility, at this time, especially because, as every Ufologist knows (though only if he or she admits it), there’s almost nothing to go on. As Sherlock Holmes says, we need to first rule out all of the improbables before accepting the impossible. And yes, I’m aware that, for many people, the idea of extraterrestrials visiting Earth and using super-advanced technology to hide their presence is less improbable than that of autonomous psychic fragments. But I still argue there’s more evidence for the latter, and that the primary criteria for accepting a given hypothesis is that it fits the data better than the others.
As a one-time believer in Strieber’s Communion narrative and the “magical,” nonhuman nature of his experiences, I have been surprised how, through the course of this written investigation, allowing for extremely sophisticated human manipulations as a possible explanation has been sufficient to account for most if not all of the evidence. Admittedly, the human explanation itself requires allowing for methods and technologies that might be indistinguishable to many people from magic, and specifically from occultism, ancient and modern. It isn’t really either/or, however, even if generally these subjects are kept apart because serious UFO researchers (if that’s not a complete oxymoron, George Hansen and John Michael Greer come to mind as exceptions) tend to stay away from deep, parapolitical analysis and social engineering (unless it is by nonhuman agencies). But then as far as I know almost no one has looked into the possibility of social engineering that goes back as far as history, and so might in some sense encompass the UFO phenomena entire, and faerylore too. This is not to suggest that it was all fabricated as a folklore and myth for the masses (though I think it was partly that), but that “psychic-hacking”—which relates to inducing trauma within ritual context—could have created it. This might have occurred first unwittingly and then, on being observed over time, intentionally, reaching its apotheosis, the state of the art, with MK-ULTRA, which coincided with the first modern UFO wave and contact phenomena.
At the very least, if it can be shown beyond reasonable doubt that childhood trauma informs at least some of these experiences, we now have a new element to bring to the table when considering all other cases. It may be that “the ET hypothesis” is entirely unnecessary based on the evidence (that’s my position, I believe it was Jacques Vallee’s too). Of course that doesn’t rule out some other, nonhuman unknown; but again, the sensible way to proceed would be first of all to see if we can account for all the evidence without resorting to “magical” hypotheses. The fact that, to some people, the psyche is a magical hypothesis itself makes it doubly ironic that it’s not being allowed into the debate, because it may be that all the magic and mystery which we are projecting onto the UFO is already here, at the center of our lives, in the form of the psyche.
Accepting the reality of the psyche and learning more about how it works is, I think, indispensable for making meaningful headway in this field, and for helping experiencers deal with their experiences. In contrast, I have seen very little evidence that anyone was helped by fully embracing a belief in nonhuman entities having control over their bodies and minds in a totally random way, or at best as part of some non-human design. In most cases (Strieber being an example), all this really does is allow the person to get swept away by a grandiose personal narrative partially formed by lurid sci-fi magazines and movies, and largely in-formed by religious/spiritual indoctrination and a (trauma-based) need to feel powerful or special.
To give an example: one way in which experiencers get swept up by a sense of being on a world-saving mission is by trying to get the government (and other people) to see what the aliens are doing to us. Scratch the surface of this phantastic narrative and underneath we may find something more mundane and tragic: the frustration and torment of a child, unable to get its parents (or other adults, if the abuse or neglect is by the parents) to see what’s happening to it. The experiencer’s experience then becomes part of a larger, unconscious re-enactment, meant to bring about whatever resolution failed to occur when it was most needed.
This doesn’t make the experience unreal; on the contrary, it makes it more real, but only if it’s seen in the proper psychological context. We can even allow that the hypothetical aliens are real without invalidating this reading, since it re-contextualizes them as outside agencies assisting the experiencer towards healing by re-staging a psychodrama for them. Without this extra layer of meaning to flesh it out and give it body, however, the alien abduction narrative is a two-dimensional and bloodless affair—little better than a B-movie rendering of profound psychic truth.
If abductees on the whole seem closer to what we’ve seen or heard about victims of mind control than shamanic initiates, the “aliens” must be deduced to be closer to CIA agents than to shamans or “spiritually evolved” beings.
The present author may be exhibiting similar behavior. This current attempt to expose the deception at the heart of the alternate perceptions community (to which I loosely belong) is a close match with my own personal history: my paternal grandfather was an active socialist who espoused libertarian principles while also belonging to the Fabian society and other elitist groups.