by Angela Hind
June 8, 2005
This article is based upon a BBC Radio 4
radio program, Abduction, Alienation and Reason, originally broadcast June 8, 2005.
Abduction, Alienation and Reason
BBC Radio 4
broadcast June 8, 2005
Not many scientists are prepared to take tales of alien abduction
seriously, but John Mack, a Harvard professor who was killed in a
road accident in north London last year, did. Ten years on from a
row which nearly lost him his job, hundreds of people who claim they
were abducted still revere him.
Professor John E Mack was an eminent Harvard psychiatrist,
psychoanalyst and Pulitzer Prize winner whose clinical work had
focused on explorations of dreams, nightmares and adolescent
Then, in 1990, he turned the academic community upside down because
he wanted to publish his research in which he said that people who
claimed they had been abducted by aliens, were not crazy at all.
Their experiences, he said, were genuine.
They were not mentally ill or delusional, he said, and it was the
responsibility of academicians and psychiatrists not only to take
what they said seriously, but to try to understand exactly what that
And if reality as we know it was unable to take
these experiences into serious consideration then what was needed
was a change in our perception of reality.
"What are the other possibilities?"
said Mack. "Dreams, for instance, do not behave like that. They
are highly individual depending on what's going on in your
sub-conscious at the time.
"I would never say, yes, there are aliens taking people. [But] I
would say there is a compelling powerful phenomenon here that I
can't account for in any other way, that's mysterious. Yet I
can't know what it is but it seems to me that it invites a
deeper, further inquiry."
For many people who claimed they had been abducted, John Mack was a
lifeline. He worked with more than 200 of them, including
professionals, psychologists, writers, students and business people.
Many had never told anyone else of their experiences apart from Mack
for fear of ridicule from colleagues, friends and family. Here at
last was a highly respected psychiatrist who was not only prepared
to listen - but also take what they were saying seriously.
abductee - or "experiencer" as they prefer to be known - says
that alien encounters begin most commonly in their homes and at
night. It can however happen anytime, anywhere. They say they are
unable to move; they become extremely hot and then appear to float
through solid objects, which their logical mind tells them can't be
Usually the experiencer says they are accompanied by one or two or
more humanoid beings who guide them to a ship. They are then
subjected to procedures in which instruments are used to penetrate
virtually every part of their bodies, including the nose, sinuses,
eyes, arms - abdomen and genitalia.
Sperm samples are taken and
women have fertilized eggs implanted or removed.
"Have I questioned my own sanity"?
says Peter Faust an experiencer and close friend of John Mack's.
"Absolutely, every day to a certain degree because the majority
of the world says you're crazy for having these experiences. But
if it was just me who had contact with aliens, who had intimate
experience with female aliens and producing hybrid offspring, I
would say I'm certifiable, put me away, I'm crazy.
"And that's how I felt when I initially had these experiences.
My wife thought I'd lost it. But then I began to look at the
experience outside myself and realized that hundreds if not
thousands of people reported that exact same experience. And
that gave me sanity. That gave me hope. I knew I couldn't be
The whole experience is often
accompanied by a change in the experiencer's understanding of
humanity's place in the universe.
And it was this that forced Mack to
question who we are in the deepest and broadest sense.
"I have come to realize this
abduction phenomenon forces us, if we permit ourselves to take
it seriously, to re-examine our perception of human identity -
to look at who we are from a cosmic perspective," he said.
In 1990 John Mack's book
Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens was
published. It shot to the top of the best sellers list and John Mack
appeared on radio and television programs. Harvard decided enough
Mack was sent a letter informing him that there was to be an inquiry
into his research on alien abductions. It was the first time in
Harvard's history that a tenured professor was subjected to such an
John Mack decided to fight back and hired a lawyer,
"It was appalling that John had to
go through this," says MacLeish now. "And we made it clear that
if we were to have a full blown trial here, then we were going
to have a very public trial and call on everyone who worked with
John - all of whom had nothing but praise for his extraordinary
work and dedication to his patients - and I don't think that's
what Harvard had in mind at all."
There followed 14 months of stressful
and bitter negotiations.
"They tried to criticize me, silence
me - by saying that by supporting the truth of what these people
were experiencing, possibly I was confirming them in a
distortion, or a delusion. So instead of being a good
psychiatrist and curing them, I was by taking them seriously,
confirming them in a delusion and harming them," said Mack.
The inquiry made front page headlines
all over the world and eventually Harvard dropped the case and a
statement was issued reaffirming Mack's academic freedom to study
what he wished and concluding that he "remains a member in good
standing of the Harvard Faculty of Medicine".
He continued to work and write.
But Mack was killed in a car
collision last year in north London after leaving a Tube station. He
was visiting the city to deliver a lecture on the subject which had
won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1977, T.E. Lawrence.
But Mack's work lives on with an institute which now bears his name;
the hundreds of people who count themselves in "the experiencer
community" still hold him in particular affection.
His search for an expanded notion of reality, which allows for
experiences that might not fit traditional perceptions and
worldviews, is one they, at least, will be hoping continues.
The above article is based upon a BBC Radio 4 documentary about John
Mack, Abduction, Alienation and Reason, originally broadcast on
Wednesday night June 8, 2005 on BBC Radio 4 at 2100 BST. (The
broadcast is substantially longer than the above article).
The late John E Mack was a highly respected Professor of
Psychiatry at Harvard University and a Pulitzer Prize winner for his
work on TE Lawrence. In 1983 he founded the Centre for Psychology
and Social Change (now the John Mack Institute) and was at the
forefront of original research at Harvard Universityís Cambridge
In the early 1990s, he turned the academic community
worldwide upside down because he wanted to publish his research in
which he said that people who claimed they had been abducted by
space aliens may not all be crazy after all. Abduction, Alienation
And Reason is the story of one manís battle with his academic
colleagues to keep an open mind and his struggle to understand those
who claim to have been abducted.
His plea was as much for them as
for the future of psychiatry.
An editorial note from the John E.
Mack Institute regarding the radio program Abduction, Alienation
We note with some dismay that on this BBC program Dr
of Harvard Medical School again makes a claim, which in our view is
inaccurate, that the alien encounter "experiencers" who McNally
studied had "preexisting new age beliefs" which may help explain why
they reported alien encounters.
Two of the ten subjects who participated in his study are heard in
the BBC radio program, and neither one fulfills that criteria:
Karin, who described herself as "a right wing Rush Limbaugh fan" at
the time of her most memorable alien encounter, and Peter, who
described himself as a "recovering Catholic" during his.
Beyond this factual contradiction, the suggestion is made by McNally
that their stated belief in phenomenon such as esp/telepathy or
being shown the future is evidence that these people were
predisposed to report alien encounters.
That suggestion fails to
note that the alien encounter experience itself (which seems to
begin in childhood) involves telepathic communication from the
purported "aliens" as well as visions of future environmental
destruction, etc. To fail to note that the experiencers' subsequent
beliefs in these and other extraordinary experiences may have arisen
from the alien encounter experiencers themselves is, in our view,
Similarly concerning to us, a true but somewhat disingenuous
assertion of McNally's is that the ten experiencers whom he studied
had recalled additional details of their alien encounters after
consulting therapists. While this is true (and while we appreciate
that McNally did not attempt to dodge the fact that these people had
conscious recollections of their alien encounters before seeing
therapists) we find it is somewhat odd for him to note that the
subjects had been to therapists in light of the fact that the John
Mack Institute provided McNally with about a third of his subjects.
If McNally had wanted an honest random sampling of experiencers,
without the certainty that they had been seen by a psychiatrist, he
could have avoided skewing the sample by declining our referrals.
The more general question of why more elaborate theories of alien
encounters are given short thrift by McNally is sufficiently
addressed by participants in the BBC program ó including McNally
himself, who comments that "I had no idea what he was talking
about," in reference to John Mack's suggestion that Western concepts
of reality are too restrictive for an understanding of the alien
So with the above noted, we leave the rest to the listeners; it is
an exceptionally well done program and we hope you will enjoy it.