THE FABRICATION OF ALIEN ABDUCTION:
MY CONVERSATIONS WITH DR. JOHN MACK
(originally published Feb 2011)
Recent and disturbing revelations about UFO abduction researchers Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs have been made by Hopkins’ ex-wife Carol Rainey. She is concerned about the questionable quality and professionalism of the two’s work in the field. There are allegations that the two were incompetent and gullible in their investigations. This has shaken those segments of the UFO community that believe that extraterrestrials take humans into their craft (usually without human concurrence) to perform invasive “experiments” on them.
The time is appropriate to now reveal my early experience with a famed UFO abduction researcher. I am unhappy to report that I share Rainey’s concerns about such “research” in light of my discussions with this psychiatrist and abductionist. These conversations were with someone that I had hoped could apply the rigors of scholarly research to these bizarre nocturnal events that were being reported by so many at the time. This individual was the late Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack.
In these talks, it became evident that this unquestionably great thinker was not a critical thinker. Wide-eyed and lacking true discernment, Mack was as susceptible to the suggestion that ET “takes us” as were his patients. His lack of historical perspective on
UFOs was alarming. What Mack said to me left me genuinely shaken. It is with some reluctance – but without regret – that I now relate here what I know to be the truth about such abduction “research.”
DR. JOHN MACK
John Mack was a New Yorker who came to Cambridge in 1955 and earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, specializing in adult and child psychoanalysis. Mack would later teach and research psychiatry at the same school from which he graduated. Through the years, Mack would also become noted for his more non-traditional work in areas such as Holotropic Breathwork, consciousness studies and more privately with Dr. Stanislav Grof, in psychedelics. Mack was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1977 for his biography and exploration of the life of British Officer T.E. Lawrence.
Much later in his career, beginning in the early 1990s, he began a 10 year quest to study what he called “Experiencers” – those who have encounters with alien entities resulting in a spiritual or transformational experience. In 1993 Mack founded a non-
profit center of study to further the exploration of the abduction phenomenon, which he named PEER (Program for Extraordinary Experience Research.) He maintained small offices in Cambridge and sometimes convened events at the Harvard Divinity School. After meeting Mack, for many years I received solicitation mailings from PEER.
Mack wrote extensively on the phenomenon, including the bestseller Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens, as well as Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters. In September of 2004 while he was in England, Mack was fatally and tragically struck by a drunken driver while walking from a friend’s home. Since his death, another non-profit arose to carry Mack’s message, “The John Mack Institute” in Boulder, CO. They acknowledge that “elements of PEER’s work may be found within many of our initiatives.”
IN SEARCH OF ABDUCTION ANSWERS
In the early 1990s I was fortunate to meet Dr. Mack, converse with him on the phone several times and share dinner with him (with a small group of skeptics). Living in Boston at that time, I occasionally attended the meetings of a small assembly of skeptics who were supporters of the national skeptics organization CSICOP. Much later a New England Skeptics Society was established which has no relation to this early informal group. Though I am not a “skeptic” in the common sense of the word (and am a vocal proponent of the reality of the visiting extraterrestrial) I do value the learned opinions of those who question mine.
I took the opportunity to reach out to Dr. Mack (who was in Cambridge, where our meetings were held) to invite him to meet with us to discuss his recent UFO and abduction research. The other group members had thought it a good idea and agreed to be respectful and civil in their questions towards Mack. They recognized that he would be going into a potential “lion’s den” and I wanted to make sure that this did not happen.
Mack graciously accepted the invitation to meet for dinner with us at a highly-rated Asian restaurant off of “Mass Ave” in Cambridge in the early evening. The ensuing event was peppered with lively debate, and Mack certainly held his own. He was not an argumentative type though, and did not attempt to “convince.” And the feared
“lion’s den” did not happen – everyone was on best behavior, even humorous and light-hearted at times. Of course talk got around to abductions, and many of the questions and interest surrounded this topic.
THE DISAPPOINTING ABDUCTIONIST
It is with reluctance that I report this because Dr. Mack is not here to speak to what I am about to say. Nevertheless, this early insight into his work helps us to understand the dynamics of what was going on at the time. We all wanted answers about this strange thing called “abductions”, but it became clear to me that Mack would never find them. Among other things, he was not asking the right questions.
One of the first things that Dr. Mack asked me was what I did for a living. At the time, I was in the environmental consulting industry. As he obviously knew, I also had an interest – and a belief – in “things ET.” It was then that he perked up. It was as if a light bulb went on in his head. I could sense that he felt this was somehow “profound.”
He said to me, “Do you know that concern about the environment is a recurring theme with those that tell me of their encounters? The beings tell them that they are concerned about the threats to our environment such as pollution and radiation. They are warning us that we are doing harm to Earth.” He then waited for me to respond to this, but I merely acknowledged what he said in a general way. Then he asked me if I felt that my work in the environmental field had anything potentially to do with my interest in the UFO phenomena. I replied that the two were entirely independent. I was not working in environmental advocacy or anything like that – rather I was a management consultant who happened to be working with client corporations who were major players in the environmental industry. And I told him that my interest in UFOs began very early on – and certainly well before my environmentally-related work.
He seemed very disappointed that my UFO and environmental interests were not in some way “connected.” This was the first sign or red flag to me that Mack may be “shaping” and “overly interpreting” others’ experiences. He brought it up yet again later – he simply could not seem to reconcile that I had no deeper connection to “the environment” and that my UFO experiences and interests were not related to it. I told him that though I am “eco-conscious”, my environment-friendly attitudes about this had no link to concern about aliens warning us that we are destroying our planet.
I had many “background” questions of Mack. I began by asking him about the UFO “Contactees” of the 1950s and about the New Age “Channelers” of aliens in the 1980s.
Though Mack had done an outstanding and detailed historical analysis of a military figure (and even was awarded a Pulitzer for it), it became quickly obvious to me that his historical analysis of the UFO phenomenon was sadly lacking. He did not possess a command of alleged human-alien encounters from the past. For instance, he knew of early contactee George Adamski, but names such as Daniel Fry, Truman Bethurum, Howard Menger, Wayne Aho and others apparently did not ring a bell with him.
Following a vein similar to Contactees, I asked him about his thoughts on Channelers. I mentioned “Ramtha”, and I later mentioned “Ashtar.” Neither of these seemingly “rang a bell” with him either…
Mack was investigating alien abductions and was linking human consciousness with alien encounters. It concerned me that Dr. Mack had not completed deep analysis of these preceding cases before psychoanalyzing his patient “abductees”. Though we eventually got around to discussing the abduction phenomenon, his apparent lack of historical reference and perspective on such things was bothersome to me. How could an esteemed Harvard doctor be so lacking in knowledge of such essential elements of the UFO phenomenon’s past? How could he not see that the dynamics of those Contactees and Channelers provided precedent for his study of “Experiencers”?
Clearly this was a man who was just now gaining information about UFOs. Here was a man trained and working as a Professor of Psychiatry who was going to write books about UFOs. My immediate fear was that, here before me, stood a man of some renown who would hypnotize and regress patients to elicit memories about personal penetration by aliens! His need for more understanding about things UFO was obvious. He was a “career transition” MD who had yet to learn valuable lessons of UFO history that could have helped him in his assessment of this abduction “phenomenon.”
During another conversation I had with Dr. Mack, I brought up the ever-present prospect of “hoaxing.” After all, we were in the midst of Cambridge – the quintessential “college town” with young MIT science students always devising pranks. In fact, just some years prior, MIT students has somehow placed a life-size cow figure (stolen from a steak house) atop the famous MIT Dome building on Mass Ave without being seen (the street where Mack and I had met prior for dinner). He must have been aware of the propensity of people to hoax. Had he ever studied this or considered it relative to those claiming abduction? Was he aware of UFO hoaxes from the past that supposedly included human-alien encounters and communication? Though he had heard of UFO /alien hoaxer Billy Meier (and offered no opinion on the authenticity of his contacts and photos), Mack had apparently never heard of such people as Carlos Dias or Paul Villa. I wondered if Mack realized that some of his patients (called “Experiencers”) simply never actually had their claimed experiences because – consciously or unconsciously – they made it up!
Mack struck me as someone who was open of spirit and overly trusting. He seemed to want to find the positive in things. He believed that all things had a meaning. Because of this I could see how he could be easily deceived by others and indeed by himself.
Again, I was astounded at Mack’s credulity and his lack of completing essential “homework.” Dr. Mack could not see that hoaxing – making things up – was something that should always be heavily considered when considering things strange, including alien abductions. He seemed perplexed that this would happen. I was crestfallen that he had never examined the “hoaxer mentality” or that he had not done an intense study on the history of UFO hoaxing.
Incredibly, just a few years later in 1996, my fear that Mack did not understand the hoaxer dynamic came true! One of Mack’s former patients, Donna Bassett, admitted to a NOVA television documentary team in Boston that she had made up the alien and UFO encounters that she had once told to Dr. Mack. She based her story on her understanding of what others had said and written about the abduction phenomenon. Mack had never suspected it. He was entirely “taken in” by the woman’s fabrication.
In the end, I realized a lot about Dr. Mack:
He was relatively new to the world of UFOs. He was not at all well-versed in its strange and long history, but he should have been, given his position and what he was seeking to accomplish.
He was a ”researcher of the mind”, yet he never examined what made a Contactee’s or a Channeler’s mind tick, or even knew much about them at all. But like abductees, they too made claims of personal mental communication and interaction with UFO entities. Someone who is studying the human mind and alien interaction should have had some background knowledge of this.
Though a perceptive man in some ways, he was not astute enough to be aware of hoaxers, even those who were within his own midst. He seemed oddly non-committal about hoaxes and abductions when I discussed the history of hoaxes and things alien and UFO.
He suggested to me links that did not exist between my “interest in the alien” and my work in the environment. He was “overanalyzing” me. He tried to make "connections” that simply were not there. He dearly wanted me to agree with him.
He seemed to be far too academic and cerebral to be engaged in this type of “work.” He was not someone I felt who had ever spent a lot of time in the “real world” – and especially to be cognizant of the motivations behind some in the UFO industry. He lived and worked in the bubble of Harvard Square for far too long to understand the larger world.
He displayed a naiveté about the intrinsic reliability of humans, what they report and why. He did not seem to be an “investigator” who vetted what others told him. He seemed compelled to assign a "higher meaning" to anyone we talked about who made UFO or alien claims.
A CLOUDED QUEST FOR TRUTH
This information is not given as a condemnation of the abduction phenomenon. It is well beyond my scope to offer a determination of the causes, meanings or essential truth about alien abductions. And I do not mean this piece as a “Mack attack.” I believe that Dr. John Mack was genuine in his pursuit. He was an honest man – but he did not look at the abduction phenomenon honestly. He was a brilliant man and I share with him some of his concepts on consciousness. But I am frankly today conflicted about what I see as his clouded quest for truth.
Did he somehow encourage the fantasy-prone or those suffering false memories or paralyzing sleep disorders? Did he understand the potential for contagion within the phenomenon? Did he unwittingly enable the hoaxers and the fantasists? The delusional? The psychologically needy? Or were some of his patients indeed the “real deal?”
One thing for me is certain – though an MD, Mack did not have the proper credentials to make his “diagnosis.” For so many reasons, he should never have been offering such “treatment".
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