[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.
To read full essay, order Prisoner of Infinity: UFOs, Social Engineering, and the Psychology of Fragmentation