In December 2017 the New York Times released two videos of UAPs, or “unidentified aerial phenomenon” – a more official-sounding term for what most of us call UFOs or flying saucers.
Both videos, now widely circulated on YouTube and various news outlets, show footage from an F-18 aircraft’s gun camera which has locked on to a mysterious disk-like object.
The monochrome tracking screen shows an indistinct ‘craft’ travelling at technologically impossible speeds and is accompanied by the pilot’s excited commentary. Perhaps the most disturbing part is that the US Navy validated the footage as the real deal, and not some hoax or misidentification.
This has left many professional sceptics and debunkers with a tough nut to crack. True believers have celebrated the footage, seeing it as a significant step in full public disclosure of the reality of UFOs and extraterrestrials.
The rest of us are left feeling bewildered over an enigma that remains unexplained but also by its very nature seems fundamentally unanswerable. We have been presented with a true mystery, one that shows no signs of leaving us alone any time soon.
This remarkable new footage, says philosopher and journalist Daniel Pinchbeck, has moved the UFO phenomenon from the outer edges of public awareness to the centre. In his latest book, The Occult Control System (2019), Pinchbeck explores ways to understand the UFO mystery in a psychological and spiritual framework.
He argues the UFO is fundamentally “unpresentable, unfathomable” but if we are to understand it and successfully neutralise its “implicitly threatening aspects,” we must define a “conceptual model that gives shape and coherence to the phenomenon.”
The new resurgence of interest in the UFO, sparked by the NYT article and other developments, finds us in an enviable position to think anew about a mystery that has haunted our skies and psyches for over half a century. Where do we begin?
The Birth of a Mystery
Ever since the ‘official’ birth of the enigma, with Kenneth Arnold’s famous 1947 sighting of nine shiny disks zooming past Mount Rainer in the far north west of the United States, the mystery of the UFO has evolved and expanded at a dizzying pace.
Related subjects now include crop circles, alien implants and abduction, genetic experimentation and extra-sensory perception. Undoubtedly there is a haunting question mark lingering over its existence and forming a vacuum for the human mind to wonder, speculate, and, perhaps most commonly of all, to project its fears and dreams.
Indeed, the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung pioneered this view in his 1959 book Flying Saucers.
Jung argued that the “strange contents” of the UFO enigma “cannot be integrated directly [into the psyche] but seek to express themselves indirectly” and as a result “[gives] rise to unexpected and apparently inexplicable opinions, beliefs, illusions [and] visions.”
The UFO had become an aspect of human consciousness, a crack in the veritable mirror of our collective mind.
Human Consciousness and its Symbols
“Human consciousness is not static,” says philosopher Jeremy Naydler, PhD. We might add neither is the UFO phenomenon. As the two intertwine, we are offered a unique glimpse into our evolutionary potential, and an opportunity to investigate and integrate not only the phenomenon’s import, but also those deepest parts of ourselves.
After over a decade studying ‘alien abduction’ experiences, Harvard psychologist John E. Mack, MD, discovered that such jarring and often traumatising experiences often led to witnesses and experiencers discovering a new “world of symbols and archetypes that take them far beyond the level of everyday psychological or material reality.”
In other words, the UFO or abduction experience initiates a profound shift in human consciousness that has more in common with visionary indigenous shamanism or Christian and Indian mysticism, than with our scientific-materialistic worldview.
In his final work, Passport to the Cosmos (1999), Mack interviewed a UFO witness and abductee pseudonymously called ‘Sue’. She said that whatever intelligence is behind the phenomenon, it uses our culture’s symbols to draw attention to itself (or disguise itself) while simultaneously drawing us into examining our own preconceptions and consciousness.
She stated there are “universal symbols” from what Jung called the collective unconscious, and there are also civilisation-specific symbols reflecting “whatever is in human consciousness at the time, whatever’s most appropriate.”
A scientist, she argued, would perceive the UFO and its entities as engaged in a gigantic experiment, involving us biologically and physically, while a religious person would likely perceive them as angels on a spiritual mission.
The ‘abduction’ phenomenon associated with UFOs is what we might call its most inner experience, and the closest we come to understanding the deeper symbolic and psychological nature of the UFO. And more importantly, its relationship to consciousness.
Often, these abductions are reported to have an ultra-real quality and yet, paradoxically, they exhibit a ‘high-strangeness’ that frustrates our ordinary understanding of time, space and even meaning.
Furthermore, ufologist Jacques Vallee noted direct similarities between the fairy folklore of Northern Europe and the UFO/abduction phenomenon. Both have strange lights, ‘missing time’ episodes, and reports of being taken into strange worlds with alien-like entities that appear to be occupied by bizarre and inexplicable activities, including the creation of a new race of human-fairy hybrids.
The UFO and Cosmic Individuation
As we delve deeper into the mystery of consciousness, we meet the strange, the repressed, the uncanny, surrealistic and mythological. Entire new realities open before us, populated by unknown entities that we did not know to exist in our ordinary state of consciousness.
Consciousness appears to be fundamental, even foundational. As attested by the strange and mind-bending world of quantum physics, it reaches right down to the very building blocks of reality itself.
Max Planck, the father of quantum physics and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, observed in 1931: “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
The notion that our minds are part of a greater reality places each of us in what we could call “participation consciousness.” For not only do we effect the very subatomic substrate of all matter by simply observing it – proven in experiments by way of the observer effect in which particles only become particles upon the act of observation (technically known as wave function collapse) – we also participate in the themes and archetypes of our culture or what Jung called the “collective unconscious.”
The collective unconscious is essentially the myth-making mainframe underlying human consciousness. It shapes, informs and challenges the development of humanity’s collective psyche.
As we have seen, it also appears to interpenetrate other realities with their respective ‘entities’ and independent intelligences. Through dreams, visions, mystical insights, and even alien ‘abductions’, these other modalities of consciousness provide a telescope into an inner universe rich and varied as our everyday reality.
In his remarkable book, Meaning in Absurdity, the Dutch computer scientist and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup [see his interview on page 9 of this issue] provides an exciting theory that bridges the gap between the complex world of quantum physics and deeper realities found in the depths of human consciousness:
“[I]nsofar as reality is a reflection of the psyche and the process it undergoes, we must confront the startling implication: nature itself must undergo a kind of “cosmological individuation” by means of which unconscious meta-realities progressively emerge in awareness and get absorbed into consensus meta-reality.”
Kastrup posits that the UFO is a fundamental part of our cultural myth-making process, and as an instrumentality essential for our “cosmological individuation.” The UFO may represent the unconscious aspect of our culture – the rejected, the Other, the mysterious.
Our bewilderment is due to a blind spot built into the reductive, scientific-materialistic paradigm. Our struggles to understand the phenomenon reflects precisely our stresses to integrate and absorb its sheer implications, while its presence grows by deliberately frustrating the limits of our worldview.
Novelist Ian Watson offers an excellent demonstration of what he calls “UFO Consciousness” in Miracle Visitors (1978). For Watson the UFO is not simply a physical event but an evolutionary agent working closely alongside human evolution. Although Watson writes science fiction, the novel sketches out a remarkably grand theory of both the UFO mystery and the nature of evolution.
Reflecting on the phenomenon’s evolutionary implications, the novel’s protagonist focuses on the absurdity and sheer strangeness that often accompanies the anomalous, which he calls its “inaccessibilities,” noting these frustrations of logic may cause “a fierce suction towards ever higher patterns of organisation, towards higher compression.” He continues, using the example of biological evolution for the formation of mind:
“So molecules become long-chain molecules, and these became replicating cells that transmitted information… till mind evolved, and higher mind. The universe, he realised, was an immense simulation: of itself, by itself.
“It was a registering of itself, a progressive observation of itself from ever higher points of view. Each higher order was inaccessible to a lower order, yet each lower order was drawn towards the higher – teased by the suction of the higher.”
Human consciousness is involved in an ascent towards more self-awareness and self-directed evolution. According to some quantum physicists, and thinkers like Kastrup and Watson, the universe is consciousness, and we humans represent one of nature’s most formidable spearheads into the world of matter.
With our growing awareness of the fundamental, ever-present nature of consciousness, we are slowly actualising Kastrup’s “cosmological individuation” in which humanity realises that consciousness is primary, before matter, and not merely a random epiphenomenon of biological evolution.
In The Holotropic Mind, psychologist Stanislav Grof, MD cites the remarkable case of a philosophy professor who entered a non-ordinary state of consciousness and met with a mysterious Council of Cosmic Elders. Describing this collective ‘intelligence’ as responsible for our entire universe, he relates how this intelligence must teach the human being how to receive its knowledge.
He then says: “Since this intelligence is nothing other than your own being, it is a matter of learning how to be awake at more and more levels of ‘your’ own being, or Being itself.”
One of the world’s most famous UFO witnesses and abductees, Whitley Strieber, once stated that the whole phenomenon may be what the “force of evolution looks like when it is applied to a conscious mind.”
The implications are staggering and wide-ranging. Why does the phenomenon take these guises? How do we better “integrate” its threatening aspects, as Daniel Pinchbeck pointed out at the beginning of this article? And what larger implications does this have for human existence?
A Convergence of Worlds
While researching my book on the UFO phenomenon, Evolutionary Metaphors, I turned to many of the classic works in the field and sought out satisfying theoretical models to answer this truly anomalous incursion into our culture. The more I read, the more human consciousness became my focus.
Each witness, abductee, or psychologist like Carl Jung, John E. Mack and Stanislav Grof, emphasise our modern culture’s limitations in regard to the human mind’s relationship to the cosmos. Our scientific culture treats consciousness as far too passive. Its methodology rejects human-centric visions as mere subjectivism and does away with any notion that the universe is intrinsically meaningful.
Of course, positing that the cosmos is meaningless can also be regarded as a projection, an assumption. This is a quandary that the philosopher Richard Tarnas amusingly called our “hubris of cosmic proportions.”
The UFO phenomenon’s connection to consciousness seems fundamental due to its disregard of our epistemological and ontological boundaries, as it frustrates, turns inside out, and crosses beyond the thresholds of everyday believability.
The entities or aliens associated with the mystery often exhibit miraculous powers and extra-sensory perception. Mack commented that it “represents a kind of return of the repressed that is ‘designed’… to break down this separation” between two worlds – seen and unseen – and allow us glimpses into a far richer reality of significance, mystery, and meaning.
Studies of UFOs often point to the inadequacy of our conceptual models and that our political, ecological, spiritual, and scientific paradigms are all back-to-front.
The reason for its steady presence in our culture may be a calling card for us to address these limitations. But paradigm shifts are slow, and for decades we have attempted to fit the UFO into pre-existing categories. The result is we are consistently left unsatisfied and baffled when new and stranger evidence turns up.
This story has turned in the direction of the mysterious and unknown – towards unseen dimensions and deeper aspects of human consciousness. If the UFO has taken up a disguise, then it may be precisely in aspects of reality and the human mind that we have rejected. Almost dutifully, this persistent mystery keeps exhibiting cases that cannot be explained in our present paradigms.
The problem of integration therefore becomes a problem of our evolution, for only when we make the leap into a new way of seeing, a new way of being, may our consciousness untangle the mystifying and sometimes terrifying logic of the phenomenon.
The human mind appears to be multi-storeyed, with a basement and an attic with a view out onto the entire universe; that we are intimately connected is evidenced in quantum physics.
At the same time, we exist in a culture that emphasises a passive form of human consciousness. A belief, nevertheless, that is slowly being eroded by our growing recognition of the fundamental relationship of consciousness to reality itself.
In this context, we can consider the UFO as a symbol within the vast spectrum of consciousness, beckoning us to investigate ourselves, our culture, and our presumptions about reality. Perhaps the connection between the two – the UFO & Consciousness – is the bridgeway not only into ourselves but also toward an entirely new paradigm that recognises consciousness as foundational to existence as the Sun is to life on Earth.
Shamans, mystics, occultists, and even revolutionary psychologists recognise that the human mind pans out into worlds unseen. Our role may be to evolve and breach the constricting barriers of an outdated worldview. For one day, when human consciousness blossoms into the super-spectrum of realities seen and unseen, we too could become walkers between worlds, to appear like mysterious lights in the heavens.