In its press release announcing the April 20, 1994, isssuance of Abduction, publisher Scribner’s billed Mack as a “Pulitzer prize-winning author…noted Harvard professor…scientist, researcher” and asserted that “when a Harvard psychiatrist validates being abducted by aliens it’s time to listen.” Describing the book as “a work that will forever change our perception of reality,” the release quoted Mack’s claim that abduction “has important philosophical, spiritual, and social implications…this work has led me to challenge the prevailing world view or consensus reality.” The packaging of the book itself incorporated these themes. The book was tagged on its cover as “science/psychology.” It was declared “eye-opening, provocative, and above all authoritative” in cover blurb. According to book-flap blurb, Mack “takes his clients’ accounts seriously” and “makes clear” in the text “why he believes their testimony may transform the foundations of human thought…. [Mack] illuminates the vast implications” of the phenomenon “for his understanding of human psychology and our identity as a species.”
Invoking a well known scientific authority to justify his views, Mack wrote in Abduction that he had consulted Thomas Kuhn, whom he identified as a lifelong friend, about exploring the abduction phenomenon. Kuhn was the author of the influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962, 1970). Mack wrote in Abduction that Kuhn told him the conventional scientific worldview “had come to assume the rigidity of a theology…[a] belief system…held in place by the structures and polarities of language, such as real/unreal, exists/does not exist, objective/subjective, intrapsychic/external world, and happened/did not happen. He suggested that in pursuing my investigations I suspend to the degree that I was able all those language forms…putting aside whether or not what I was learning fit any particular worldview… This…has been the approach that I have tried to follow.“
Nonetheless, Mack rhetorically constructed himself as a legitimate scientist and a conscientious clinician in this book, his research as legitimately scientific and conscientiously clinical. “I will report…what I have learned primarily from my own cases…make interpretations and draw conclusions on the basis of this information,” he wrote in his introduction.
Mack called abduction stories a “phenomenon,” and he called the people who reported them “experiencers.” He reported that these people believed they had been abducted and that he believed that they believed they had had these experiences. (Emphasis added.) He avoided stating directly that he believed his “experiencers” had been abducted by extraterrestrial beings. But he also wrote of abduction experiences in a way that could lead readers to assume that he believed abductions and abductors were real. “The abduction phenomenon has led me to see,” Mack wrote in his introduction, “that we participate in a universe or universes that are filled with intelligences from which we have cut ourselves off, having lost the senses by which we might know them.”
And in his concluding chapter, “Alien intervention and human evolution,” Mack wrote:
Although the alien beings seem to be intervening to alter our consciousness in such a way that our aggression would be reduced, they seem genuinely puzzled regarding to degree of our…gratuitous destructiveness…. For me the future role that the [human-alien] hybrid offspring are being prepared to platy represents one of the most puzzling aspects of the entire abduction phenomenon…. My impression is that we may be witnessing…an awkward joining of two species, engineered by an intelligence we are unable to fathom…. I base this view on the evidence presented by the abductees.
Revealing some awareness of the rhetorical strategy he was employing, Mack wrote in the preface to Abduction that in exploring “phenomena that exist at the margins of accepted reality, old words become imprecise and must be given new meanings.” For instance, “thinking of memory too literally as ‘true’ or ‘false’ may restrict what we can learn about human consciousness from…abduction experiences.” His account of his discussion with Kuhn advanced this rhetorical strategy as well. Mack addressed epistemology and ontology in his introductory chapter, asserting that his work with abductees “has led me to challenge the prevailing world view or consensus reality…the materialist/dualist scientific paradigm” in which what is real is “what can be perceived by the physical senses.” According to the conventional scientific worldview, “intelligence is largely a phenomenon of the brain; by this worldview if “intelligence is experienced as residing in the larger cosmos, this perception is an example of ‘subjectivity’ or a projection of our mental processes.” The question of “whether abductions are really taking place leads…to…questions about perceptions and levels of consciousness. The most glaring question is whether there is any reality independent of consciousness. “(In his conclusion to the book he wrote, “An expanded epistemology, especially in psychology, may demand the legitimization…of neglected aspects of ourselves as instruments of knowing.”)
Turning up the heat of his challenge to the boundaries of conventional science and extending his expertise from human consciousness to human survival, he also declared that through his work with abductees, “It has become clear to me…that our restricted world view…lies behind…major destructive patterns that threaten the human future — mindless corporate acquisitiveness…hunger and diseases; ethnonational violence…mass killing…nuclear holocaust; and ecological destruction.”
In his concluding chapter Mack wrote of “transformational and spiritual phenomena” relating to abduction. “Many abduction experiences are unequivocally spiritual,” he claimed. “The alien beings…may…be seen as intermediaries, closer than we are to God or the source of being. Sometimes…they may even be seen as angels or analogous to God.” Distinguishing between spiritual and “religious implications,” he observed:
Religious leaders instruct us in the nature of God, and determine for us what spirit beings or other entities may exist in the cosmos…. There can be little place, especially within the Judeo-Christian tradition, for [extraterrestrial] beings who administer an odd mixture of trauma and transcendence without apparent regard for any established religious hierarchy or doctrine.
“My own impression,” he wrote, “is that consciousness expansion and personal transformation is a basic aspect of the abduction phenomenon,” but he also admitted, “my focus upon growth and transformation might reflect of bias of mine.” He suggested in conclusion:
As we suspend the notion of our preeminent and dominating intelligence, we might open to a universe filled with life-forms different from ourselves to whom we might be connected in ways we do not yet comprehend. The connecting principle…appears to be love. In the discovery of a fundamental, loving interconnectedness, we might…evolve toward wholeness.
In sum, the purely physical or biological aspect of the abduction phenomenon seems to have to do with some sort of genetic or quasi-genetic engineering for the purpose of creating human/alien hybrid offspring. We have no evidence of alien-induced genetic alteration in the strictly biological sense, although it is possible that this has occurred.
Mack reported on “the provision of information and the alteration of consciousness” reported by abduction experiencers:
This is not a purely cognitive process, but one that reaches deeply into the emotional and spiritual lives of the experiencers…. The information concerns the fate of the earth and human responsibility for the destructive activities that are taking place on it. It is conveyed by…mind-to-mind telepathic communication…and through powerful images shown on…screens on the ships…. Scenes of the earth devastated by a nuclear holocaust, vast panoramas of lifeless polluted landscapes and waters, and apocalyptic images of giant earthquakes, firestorms, floods and even fractures of the planet itself are shown by the aliens.
In 1994, the Washington Post published an excerpt from Mack’s book Abduction in its weekly opinion section, beginning with Mack’s declaration:
I feel sometimes that in the mental health profession we are like the generals who are accused of always fighting the last war, invoking the diagnoses and mental mechanisms with which we are familiar when confronted with a new and mysterious phenomenon, especially if it is one that challenges our way of thinking.
In Abduction, Mack constructed his claims about the legitimacy of abduction as a research subject in ways that made him appear to be anticipating, and attempting to deflect, criticisms. In an interview I conducted with him in 1999, Mack told me that he had, indeed, anticipated criticism of claims made in Abduction. In what appeared to be anticipation of claims that experiencers were crazy, seeking attention, or swapping stories, he wrote that the people he had worked with “had not communicated with each other…seemed in other respects quite sane, had come forth reluctantly…[and] had nothing to gain materially from telling their stories…. There was nothing to suggest their stories were delusional, a misinterpretation of dreams, or the product of fantasy.” In what appeared to be anticipation of claims that he had not methodically evaluated his subjects, he wrote, “Efforts to establish a pattern of psychopathology other than disturbances associated with a traumatic event have been unsuccessful…. Psychological testing of abductees has not revealed evidence of mental or emotional disturbance that could account for their reported experiences…. Virtually no scientific authority has evolved that I might use to bolster my arguments or conclusions,” he wrote, placing himself on the frontiers of scientific research, that boundary area between legitimated and new, not-yet-legitimated, knowledge.
In the end, in Abduction, he re-declared himself a proper scientific skeptic:
The abduction phenomenon was, in the beginning, as unbelievable to me as it is to any skeptic…I have tried to be aware of any inclination to form new beliefs and convictions that might take the place of the previous ones that have been so radically called into question.
Mack opened and closed his book with ignorance claims, observing at first that the “difficulty in estimating the prevalence of abductions lies in the fact that we do not know what an abduction really is” and reporting at last, “I cannot say that the cases selected have been ‘typical,’ because I do not know what a typical case would be, or even that there is such a thing… The ultimate source of these experiences remains a mystery [emphases added].”
The next post in this series will cover criticisms of Mack’s work and thinking by scientists and other skeptics.