The enormous range of UFO literature can leave one feeling baffled and discouraged, particularly as its size is often only equaled by the absurdity of its contents. This is an unfortunate situation, for what it is attempting to address ought to be taken very seriously. It was in this spirit of frustration, and discouraged by many of the blind alleyways, I turned to Colin Wilson’s 1998 Alien Dawn as a guidebook to its unpredictable terrain. Indeed, at this point I had already read his earlier The Outsider (1956), a clarifying criticism of the cul‑de‑sac that existentialism had led itself into, while providing a great synthesis of a wide variety of writers, thinkers and artists who had also grappled with the mysteries of existence with great insight and iconoclasm. In doing so, Wilson was able to elucidate an optimistic advancement of an extremely difficult subject, providing a way out of the maze of nihilism and pessimism that had plagued existentialism for decades. So, it seemed to me that if anybody had the intellectual tools necessary for illuminating the complex mystery of the UFO phenomenon, with due sympathy and extensive insight, it would be found in Wilson’s ‘birds‑eye view’ survey of the subject.
After setting the foundations for his life’s work in The Outsider, it was clear that whatever Wilson were to undertake would be implicitly carrying this ‘new existentialist’ banner towards an enlargement of both our understanding and approach to that understanding. There was, as many readers recognised, an evolutionary directive in his work which aimed to unveil the essential meaning, or evolutionary purpose, inherent in any pursuit or idea. That he had an insatiable drive towards the understanding of human existence, in its widest sense, is supported by his fearlessness in aiding in the publication of Ian Brady’s The Gates of Janus (2001). A highly controversial move, but nevertheless offered a unique and invaluable contribution to our understanding of criminal psychology. Therefore, Wilson, for me and many others, came to represent a fearless explorer of the dark and occulted recesses of the human psyche, but, significantly, without a pessimistic bias. Wilson’s approach to ufology retained this evolutionary spirit, for he asked the essential question: ‘What can it tell us about ourselves, our consciousness?’—a question informed by the philosophical discipline of phenomenology; a field which placed huge emphasis on the importance of the analysis of man’s psyche, and its dynamic and interpretative role through man and towards reality.
Now, the mystery and mythology of extraterrestrial intelligence is essentially driven by an attempt to catch a glimpse into an alternative state of consciousness; it even suggests a new approach to existentialism, the problem of terrestrial and non-terrestrial existence. This is at the heart of Ian Watson’s superb novel, The Embedding (1973), which is about how extraterrestrials process—through the medium of language—reality and meaning. Indeed the extraterrestrial, as an idea and/or reality, presents a phenomenological mirror which simultaneously distorts and illuminates man as he sees himself in relation to the cosmos. There are of course many shifts in perspective involved: philosophical, psychological and cosmological, with its many other concomitants such as history, culture and the rise of science. Moreover, mankind, the most self-aware creature that we know of, has no other cultural or existential referent except of those evolved on Earth. As I have said, the extraterrestrial, by default, represents a new type existentialism, and it could be argued that science-fiction may become the preparatory groundwork for contact with different forms and new ‘modalities’ of being. One could argue that the alien comes to represent man as abstract to himself—or, as Stan Gooch proposed, as a part ‘the on-going folklore’ of the Ego. Science‑fiction, therefore, becomes the avant-garde of this evolving folklore.
Alien Dawn is a comprehensive summary of both the experience itself and the literature that attempts to peel away at the phenomenon’s persistently mercurial character. Towards the end of the book, in a chapter significantly titled ‘The Way Outside’, Wilson attempts his ‘birds-eye view’; a sort of grand synthesis of all its disparate elements. For this he calls upon the frontiers of contemporary science, along with developments in parapsychology, cosmology and philosophy. Indeed, it is clear by the title of this chapter that Wilson was attempting to find a ‘way outside’ the entanglement of absurdity and paradox that surrounds ufology (to both researcher and witness alike). Now, what is unique about this is how Wilson drew upon science fiction—particularly Ian Watson’s The Miracle Visitors and even the late Brian Aldiss’ short story, ‘Outside’—to stretch the contextual boundaries of our understanding of the phenomena; throwing open new and imaginative approaches to a phenomena that baffles and frustrates the rational intellect. It was this element of Alien Dawn that provided a refreshing interpretation of a phenomenon that tirelessly weaves itself through riddles and contradiction.
As one nears the end of Wilson’s book a pattern finally emerges for the reader, for Wilson’s allowance of the imagination in the phenomenological arsenal enables one to grapple more actively with the categorical mechanisms of consciousness itself; those mental blinkers that the UFO appears to utilize like a chameleon adjusting to the patterns of an exotic rainforest. There is a sense that in imaginative literature, the perceptual speed and flexibility is up to the task of revealing a facet of the mysterious reality behind the phenomena it attempts to imagine. In other words the imagination, as well as imaginative literature, may inform us more about our reality than we realise.
There is an element of farce at the heart of ufology and the UFO-experience, and it is what Wilson called the problem of ‘deliberate unbelievableness.’ Wilson’s biographer Gary Lachman, in Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson (2016), even remarked that one begins to wonder if these extraterrestrial beings—commonly associated with UFOs—are ‘fans of Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, and the Three Stooges.’ Lachman goes on to say that this might be a deliberate attempt to frustrate our interpretations; to force us out of our perceptual laziness. One could say that the phenomenon invites an active, vigilant, rational as well as imaginative character for its interpretation. In this sense, the UFO phenomenon offers itself up as a pedagogical tool; a deliberately obscure and frustrating code that haunts the most obsessive cryptographer. To a receptive and open mind the mystery that the UFO represents demands an explanation, but, with an unduly dismissive or lazy mind, this will not be forthcoming. The phenomenon persists in spite of this, and only a few take the time to consider its nature. Nevertheless, there have been many brilliant attempts to unravel this mystery, with the work of Jacques Vallée, John E. Mack, and the more recent work of Jeffery Kripal and Jason Reza Jorjani, developing a more hermeneutical and phenomenological approach to the subject.
All of these individual approaches have included the active mode of interpretation, reaching a balance somewhere between what Carl Jung called ‘active imagination’ and a philosophical and scientific rigor. All of the aforementioned writers have acknowledged the importance of the act of interpretation itself as being a significant component in the reciprocation of our understandings, both presented and re-presented, and both theoretically as well as experientially (as in the case of abductees like Whitley Strieber, for example).
If there is indeed some reality to the phenomena, as seems to be the case, then it demands to be seriously scrutinized; and, as the field is still in its early developmental stages, an imaginative approach is as good as any for grappling with its mystery, for ambiguity seems to be the phenomenon’s element. Someone well acquainted with hallucinogenic-logic, Terrence McKenna, even went so far as to suggest that the UFO is a gauntlet thrown at the feet of scientists—a sort of ‘crack this!’ puzzle. Furthermore, the mystery appears to conceal something valuable—or at least, it taunts us into an imaginative interpretation, ‘presencing’ itself between fact and fiction, existing as a sort of ‘conceptual caricature’ of our culture’s blind spot. One comes away after reading much of the literature with a nagging suspicion that somewhere along the line we missed the point; rather like failing to grasp a Zen Kōan—the very reason for its clownishness is because we are only aware of half the picture.
Now, Wilson, in Alien Dawn, at least provided a context big enough to grapple with at least some of its implications, pointing towards several ‘ways out’ of the maze of absurdity and towards a more integrative understanding—both of the phenomenon itself and ourselves.
To use the phraseology of Professor Jeffrey Kripal, Wilson was able to ‘make the cut’ ‘between “what appears” and “what is”’ (2016: 45). In other words, Wilson was able to switch between the two, and simultaneously acknowledge, the bit ‘in-between’; the occulted ‘middle-way’ between being and the meaning content of the experience itself. It is, as Wilson recognised, a perceptual phenomenon as well as an objective event—the inside-out ‘seamlessness’ where the two become indistinguishable—an aspect of the phenomenon that remained curiously unexamined. Now, imaginative speculation (drawing upon science‑fiction, for example, or relying on intuition) is discouraged in science and, of course, it is not an effective point from which to set our epistemological foundations. Yet it is intimately involved in our ontological reality, and this is what phenomenology acknowledges insofar as it is concerned with reality as a whole; by including both seer and seen. Implicit in phenomenology and Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’ is an acknowledgement of this ‘occulted bridge’ which includes what we might call ‘the other half of reality’.
All this was recognised by the Harvard psychiatrist, John E. Mack, who, being one of the few practitioners to listen to the witnesses and abductees on their own terms, accumulated and cross-referenced much anecdotal material to confirm to himself and others that there is indeed some existential referent to these accounts. Anyone who reads his 1994 book Abduction will come away convinced of the internal consistency to many of the reports, and feel that it is unlikely that everybody is making up the same—and to no evident advantage to themselves—often absurd story. In other words, Mack felt that the phenomenon ought to be treated as many of the witnesses themselves treated it. That is, as an apparently objective phenomenon insofar as they have had a genuine effect on the psychology of the individual—therefore recognising that something ‘real enough’ was experienced. They were, Mack concluded, relating a version of the truth as they saw it and as they experienced it, often finding it an extremely difficult and traumatic experience to recall, let alone understand. For Mack it was not entirely an intrapsychic event, but an open assault on our dualistic borders of mind/body, real/unreal and so on.
Furthermore, as an idea the UFO and its interrelated subjects—alien abduction, implants, cattle mutilation, extra-sensory perception and occult knowledge—has been effortlessly absorbed into the science-fiction imagination. Indeed, the origin of the experience itself is so deeply entangled with our cultural entertainments and mythologies that it is difficult to locate the origin of the experience, and how its cultural ambience shapes the witnesses’ interpretation of events subjectively. Again this is something that the phenomenon seems to exploit, which suggests that it is (A) located in the individual’s imagination and therefore is a mixture of cultural mythology and personal delusion; (B) an emergent presence, as such, from the collective unconscious of mankind’s shared mythological imagination or (C) an objective‑subjective (what Michael Talbot calls ‘omnijective’) phenomenon that exists—or blurs the dividing lines—between what is ordinarily perceived and experienced as fundamentally separate, either/or. The notion of ‘either/and’, of course, would mean a combination of all three examples of its possible origin.
If this is the case, one may approach the problem, which initially appears as insoluble, with a type of contextual ‘playfulness’ in which one shifts the various arrangements to see if anything new emerges from the apparent chaos. We have to be as swift and as versatile as the trickster at the heart of the phenomenon. Indeed, the field of ufology, with its bold contexts, unusual statements, witnesses of the otherworldly, and so on, presents itself as a field rich—and even prone to—imaginative speculation. It is the stuff of fantasy and of ‘boldly going where no man has gone before’. Of course, our speculation should not dispense with the ‘facts’ at hand, but instead have as its goal an integrative context that might provide an answer by reigning in as many approaches as we can marshal. A working towards a new approach ought to embrace a certain amount of experimentalism if it is to incorporate a flexible enough structure—and like physical explorers, mental explorers should distinguish between fact and fancy in this strange world of new and exotic laws. It may be that with an effective and sensible use of our imagination, we might acquire the essential puzzle-piece that generates the most useful Gestalt from the sum of the phenomenon’s difficult parts.
This essay is an attempt at such a Gestalt. By attempting to pull together as many ideas as possible one might find a ‘way outside’ the phenomenon, and in doing so one might hope to glimpse an outline of some of the laws which underlie occult phenomenon—rather like the traveler in Flammarion’s famous 1888 engraving in which a man peers behind the veil of ordinary reality. If the UFO itself has a ‘birds-eye view’ of us—both figuratively and literately—we, in turn, have to rise above its logic to see, in turn, how and why it functions the way it does. We might call this either a search for super‑consciousness or ‘UFO consciousness’, but as I suspect that the UFO experience is both a metaphor and a reality it might be interpreted as I have attempted in this essay—as an evolutionary metaphor—, by treating it as a reality which may very well prove crucial in the development of new faculties of the mind.
It may be Jim Marrs’ ‘alien agenda’—of government conspiracies and ‘black projects’ of secret military technology—or John Michell’s own use of the idea of ‘UFO consciousness,’ in which these ‘strange lights’ portend ‘a radical change in human consciousness coinciding with the dawn of the Aquarian Age.’ Neither one of these positions is here dismissed outright, but for the sake of the present essay I shall pursue a philosophical and psychological interpretation.
This essay represents my own attempt to continue in the spirit of where Alien Dawn left off, and it is also my own endeavour to throw some auroral illumination into this phenomenological twilight zone.
An approach that incorporates metaphor, imagination and ideas pertaining to the evolution of consciousness, requires a high-degree of comparativism and a degree of analogical thinking. It also requires one to temporarily abandon or re-examine ‘fixed theories’—that is, without leaving them too far from hand—, crystallizations that may either prove advantageous or inhibitory to our larger understanding. Ufology, a relatively new discipline, is not immune to such internal limitations but—and by its very nature—it tends to spread like an ink-blot over multiple other interrelated fields. Contradictions and absurdities abound, for as soon as one settles on any ‘given’, there arrives another case which frustrates and undermines any such theoretical ‘structure’ that was initially established. This is a very common occurrence, for example, in crop-circle research, in which frauds and ‘real’ circles become intermixed—on top of that is the human element, where the mystery if maintained and in which the ‘truth’—whatever that might be—is deliberately obscured. As well as these internal problems within the field (crop fields or ufology), there is also the fact that it is treated as a cultural backwater; perceived as a thankless task based on a lie, and generally undertook by cranks expressing themselves in what, for most, is an alien language in itself. Furthermore, the only other disciplines or systems of knowledge that can tackle its conceptual enormity are ironically similarly ‘rejected’: esotericism, parapsychology and the difficult—yet increasingly growing—bridgehead of spirituality into quantum physics.
As yet there is no ‘tao of ufology’, nor an all-encompassing ‘theory of everything’.
To place these theoretical and historical difficulties aside, we may want to turn to the sky itself, and reflect on the fact that it is both symbolically and truly a vision into an unidentifiable mystery. Our moon, for example, is instantly identifiable—few have even travelled to and from it—but still, anything that exceeds beyond it is still difficult for our instruments to explore. And then, beyond a certain limit, it is again unknown. We cannot, for better or worse, ‘correlate all its contents,’ as the horror writer H.P Lovecraft celebrated of the mind itself. Furthermore, our manifest universe is the backdrop of our cosmologies and our imaginative projections; our ‘What ifs?’ Indeed, from religion to genres of speculative fiction, we populate the regions of the unknown with divine personages or other beings like or unlike—or whom dislike—us. What haunts this mysterious space is psyche, of mind and its illuminations, and this is a part of an ancient tradition, sometimes symbolised as Isis’s star-clad veil—and sometimes ‘unveiled’ by acclaimed or condemned occult adepts.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote a defense of this attentive gaze into the manifest cosmos, for he saw it as the basis of creativity, and moreover an ability to perceive new forms usually obscured from our ordinary perception. This imaginative engagement with the world may explain his extraordinary creativity and visionary powers, so it is therefore instructive for any one pursing the fruits of imagination to understand this method of active imagination, for this may prove indispensible in our integration and understanding of some of the stranger phenomenon that we shall encounter. Here da Vinci describes his curious method:
‘If you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well conceived forms.’ [my italics]
This type of thinking, a sort of psychological and creative form of Gestalt, has gained popularity in more recent times and has particularly been adapted into a contemporary form of magical theory and practice called ‘chaos magic’. A brief comment on the subject will prefigure some of the ideas that I will pursue in this essay, and so it is to one of the founders of chaos magic, Peter J. Carroll, that we shall pay particular attention. Apophenia, or indeed, pareidolia, is a creative perceptual act that transposes—or brings forth—meanings and patterns out of apparently chaotic or highly complex situations, images or thoughts. In other words, anything that has implicitness (a poem for example) is open to an interpretation—or hermeneutic ‘reading’—in which the observer is inextricably a part. The poem without interpretation, of course, would only exist in a flux not unlike the cat in Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment—suspended in a hypothetical betwixt state of either/or until it is ‘collapsed’ into is‑ness by the act of observation. Both apophenia and pareidolia are essential to the psychotherapeutic discipline of Gestalt therapy, which begins from the principal that man has a ‘meaning faculty’ that grasps totalities—that his consciousness is naturally connective rather than deductive. In other words, perception aggregates ‘parts’ into ‘wholes’ in the same way a baby recognizes his mother’s whole face almost instantaneously; not by an act building up an image bit-by-bit but by an unconscious mechanism that collates the sum of the parts, and thus resulting in a near miraculous recognition of pattern, form and importantly, meaning.
Carroll goes on to say in The Apophenion (2008) that these traits can be found particularly amongst ‘magicians, mystics and occultists,’ however it also affects many individuals who often provide advances, more generally, in other less ‘magical’ endeavors by their sheer creative drive. Invention is basically where the imagination converges with an objective reality, in which the imagined thing is amenable to the laws of objective reality. When this happens the imagined form takes shape in the world of space and time, and is palpable and functional as either an object, or as a symbol of higher truths, providing as sort of ‘bridge’ between the two worlds. It is as da Vinci said, a ‘well conceived form.’ Creativity of this kind is crucially important for a culture’s health, and also presages scientific advances that are enormously beneficial. Pareidolia, similarly, works by associations and ‘map making’ projections through which man can begin to see elephants in clouds, astrological parallels, and even hysterical conspiracy theories entirely divorced from reality. Caroll certainly acknowledges these psychological dangers of unbridled ‘meaning perception’, but he argues quite convincingly that these very perceptual abilities—apophenia and pareidolia—play a significant part in ‘the development of art and religion.’ (2008: 8).
Chaos magic is perhaps the most contemporary and explicit example of a theory of the imagination and its power, for it is particularly orientated towards its application both creatively and magically. Later on in this essay I will draw upon some of its other aspects and limitations in a larger context. Chaos magic is basically a scaffolding of a system that recognises the value of phenomenology. Again, its logic points towards an active use of imagination in the study of mind and reality. Metaphors, which become magical ‘sigils’ within chaos magic, are used as bridges into new associations, and ways of seeing novel potentialities.
Here it is my aim to pursue a series of speculative and ‘evolutionary’ ideas—and while particularly utilising the illuminative values of metaphors—that weave themselves through Wilson’s central premises presented in his philosophical foundation of the ‘new existentialism’. This is a philosophical approach rather than a system, which he steadily developed throughout the 1950/60s in his ‘Outsider Cycle’. It was an attempt to lead out of the cul-de-sacs presented in the ‘old existentialism’, a tendency to pessimism and a general disbelief in progress or consciously-willed evolution.
Wilson, both anticipating chaos magic and honing his own phenomenological approach, states in Beyond the Outsider: ‘The world seems to be wearing a mask, and my mind seems to confront it helplessly; then I discover that my consciousness is a cheat, a double agent. It carefully fixed the mask on reality, then pretended to know nothing about it.’ (1965: 93). With the mercurial world of imagination and the UFO phenomenon, this is wise counsel when dealing with the ‘double agent’ of the mind and its powers; especially considering both our own and the phenomenon’s ambiguous relationship to reality—objective or subjective.
The trajectory of this essay from here on is similar to that expressed in Wilson’s fifth book of the Outsider Cycle, Origins of the Sexual Impulse (1963), in which he outlines two ways of going about analytical writing:
‘One is to define all of your terms with scientific precision . . . and then stick closely to those definitions throughout. The other is to rely on your reader’s instinct and common sense. All originators in philosophy are forced to rely on the second method (because so much of their work depends on intuition). . . Any professional writer—that is, any writer who is concerned about direct communication with his reader—will certainly be inclined to prefer the “intuition” method . . .’ (1970: 15)
I intend to proceed in the spirit of Wilson’s ‘intuition method’, using what Lachman calls an ‘intuitive glue’ to piece together the many fragments of ufology. It is worth emphasising again that ufology is a relatively young field that is in the process of substantiating its presence as a serious area of study.
Here it is my contention that the UFO, by being as ambiguous as it is, is a deliberately mystifying ‘presence’ that affects the structures of that mercurial world of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious. Myths, if they have any substantial foundations in true events at all, may be that which aggregate around an initially information-rich bafflement of the senses (of the individual or the target society). Religions are perhaps the structures that emerge to ‘explain away’ the initial phenomena of the miraculous—that is, they are stories which absorb the ‘shock’ into a comprehensible and pedagogic narrative. Referring as they do to something beyond the scope of ordinary language, the stories are necessarily metaphorical, that is, inferring something beyond the limitations of ordinary language. Visionary art, emerging from the powerful and tumultuous depths of subjectivity, nevertheless present to us something hauntingly objective; it is this art that stands the test of time for its undeniable ‘truth value’, with its enormous poignancy stimulating our recognition of profound depths of meaning. Meaning on the threshold of what is ordinarily expressible or even comprehensible.
We may ask, with some speculation, what the UFO teaches us—if anything—about the creative matrices underlying the evolution of human consciousness. Is this phenomenon outside of us, or is it, perhaps, a type of ‘bootstrapping paradox’ involved with mankind’s own self-evolution? As we shall see, these questions develop exponentially, and before we know it we are back into the domain of common existential questions, albeit with an evolutionary beckoning.
Life, according to Wilson, works in ‘terms of symbols and language’ and when the ‘flame of consciousness is low, a symbol has no power to evoke reality, and intellect is helpless’ (1966: 112). In this essay I have taken the symbol of the evolution of human consciousness as a possible solution to the enigmas that the UFO represents. Its presence, I believe, fits into a general philosophical bracket of the ‘evolutionary metaphor’; that playful extrapolation of something beyond the ken of ordinary perception. William James once said that there can ‘never be a state of facts, to which new meaning may not truthfully be added,’ that is ‘provided the mind ascend to a more enveloping point of view.’ But it is also worth keeping in mind Carl Jung’s dictum that the ‘highest truth is one and the same with the absurd’, for in ufology, as in life, the two often converge when the flame of consciousness is burning bright.
The Power of the Question
Contradictions abound in many of the ‘explanations’ for the UFO phenomena, for the field is simply too complex and ever-changing; even transitional with its leaping developments and evolution as a phenomenon. To pull back, so to speak, and gain a ‘birds-eye view’ requires both a familiarity with the literature and a mind tempered and shaped by philosophical rigor as well as a predilection and sympathy—even patience—towards the uncanny and unusual. As I have mentioned above, any young discipline that hastily settles on an all‑encompassing theory, the sooner it finds itself contradicted, inconsistent. The sheer flow of information, of emerging evidence and amounting witness accounts, is almost consistently churning up even the firmest of theoretical foundations. These elements are not necessarily the fault of ufology and its individual researchers, indeed it is an issue that the phenomena itself appears to exploit.
Skeptics declare that there is absolutely no reality to the phenomenon whatsoever; or, for that matter, that it can be explained away as misidentified aircraft, weather balloons, or sightings or secretive military technology undisclosed to the public. None of this can be entirely discounted of course, yet an honest reading of ufological literature raises too many questions—and these reductive answers diminish a complex phenomenon to a simple, comfortable ‘explanation’. The chief difficulty in studies such as this is to sift through the evidence and maintain an unbiased sense of discrimination. Furthermore, there is the uncomfortable problem of temporarily jettisoning firmly held beliefs, for the phenomenon does not cater for our ordinary understanding of reality, and this, it can be said, argues in favour of the skeptic’s justifiable sense of exasperation.
The skeptic, moreover, holds back his bets: for is it really worth investigating a phenomenon that may turn out to be little more than a giant hoax, or misidentification? This is an entirely sympathetic position, for most of us have lives that are already complex and difficult enough, and to pursue this apparently impossible subject becomes a question of its ‘existential component’; for what, in fact, does one expect to gain? One could even say that it is less about closed-mindedness than a means of preserving intellectual energy and integrity; a necessary economical use of one’s time in the face of often exhausting and inconclusive information. If the cultural climate tends to dismiss it as trivial nonsense, it might be, for an individual, enough for one to disregard the subject. Again, this is basically a healthy enough reaction, and one can be sympathetic.
As we have seen, there is a persistent ambiguity latent in the UFO ‘presence’, and any theory that can preserve its credibility requires itself to be constantly updated, vigilant and flexible enough to allow the field to swiftly evolve in tandem with the phenomenon itself. Again, it is important to note that the phenomenon evolves and develops, and it is not a static mystery but a dynamic enigma. It is towards a general widening and complexity which will allow ufology the freedom and innate flexibility to fully establish its foundations in a field that shifts beneath it—but first; one has to survey the terrain before he begins construction.
The Super Natural (2016), a collaboration between Whitley Strieber—an abductee and horror novelist—and Professor Jeffrey Kripal, a specialist in philosophy and religious thought—reads at times like a hybrid of Wilson’s Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966) mixed with a mystical commentary on the shadowy realms of esotericism and depth psychology. Kripal describes the discipline of hermeneutics—the central theoretical approach which runs throughout the book (although mainly in Kripal’s own responses to Strieber’s autobiographical material)—as ‘the art of interpretation that deciphers the hidden meanings of some enigmatic symbol, text, dream, vision, or striking coincidence’ which, he states, recognises ‘a single process that co‑creates both the subject and the object at the same time’ (2016: 112-113). Again, we are back to Wilson’s notion that consciousness is a ‘double‑agent’.
The trickster god Hermes, whose name constitutes the very word ‘hermeneutics’, has been called by Jorjani an archetypal ‘dialectical antagonist,’ a sort of ‘living’ kōan of the collective unconscious. The ‘hidden meanings’ of these symbols reveal a radically new understanding of our ontology, that is, they present evolutionary metaphors concerning our state of being, and how we attend—through our intentionality—in an active participation between the world of phenomenon and our selfhood. The UFO, for Strieber, Kripal and Wilson, is such a symbolic reality—a simultaneous co-creation of the trickster double-agent and our own inner dialectical antagonist.
Now, one of the common myths within ufology is that these sightings began as a sort of Cold War hysteria, a mass psychic product born from geopolitical tension; even Jung speculated along these lines in his book Flying Saucers (1958). And although Jung’s book goes a lot further than this ‘Cold War hypothesis’, it is strange that some skeptics regard Jung’s explanation as a all-encompassing answer to the problem, a sort of ‘explaining away’ a phenomenon by reducing it to a psychic compensation mechanism of collective trauma. Indeed, Jung’s work is perhaps one of the more intelligent and academic contributions to ufology; sadly, however, it has come to be as misunderstood as the phenomenon it attempts to analyse. What is often overlooked is the fact that Jung is interested in the very concept of a UFO—that is, as a possible incursion of extraterrestrial or inter-dimensional entities within our skies and psyches—and considers how our minds might react to such strangeness. Jung goes on to say that our:
‘[. . . ] conscious mind does not know about them and is therefore confronted with a situation from which there seems to be no way out, these strange contents cannot be integrated directly but seek to express themselves indirectly, thus giving rise to unexpected and apparently inexplicable opinions, beliefs, illusions, visions and so forth’ [my italics]. (2002: 7)
This ‘indirect expression’ of the phenomena is central to this essay, for the UFO ‘presence’ appears as a sort of drama, a symbol, within a self-mythologising sequence of events calculated by some playwright of the absurd and uncanny. An indirect form of expression is also a common hallmark of the evolutionary metaphor. It is important to remember the apparently deliberate strangeness of such experiences—or, moreover, the enigmatic resonance of the event that distorts our perceptions of the phenomenon. This, importantly, is acknowledged in both Kripal’s and Jorjani’s hermeneutic and phenomenological method of analysis.
For an example, one female witness once reported that she saw a ‘fifteen-foot kangaroo in a park, which turned out to be a small spacecraft’ (Mack; 1994: 396). In short, one could say this is truly mercurial; it abides by the principles of the trickster, even that of a satirist of public opinion. In their transitional existence ‘betwixt-and-between’ they act—as Victor Turner says in his study of the notion of liminality, The Ritual Process (1966)—in a way to provide a ‘generative’ as well as ‘speculative’ tendency in the individual or society which attempts an understanding of the mysterious, that intermediate ‘other’. Importantly Turner concludes by saying that the ‘mind that enters willingly will proliferate new structures, new symbols, new metaphors.’ (quoted in Hyde; 2008: 130). Nevertheless, the resonant absurdity remains; and its interpretation turns our usual sense of reality inside-out.
It is this place betwixt-and-between that is represented in the Kabbala as the fertile egg of chaos; the origin of new forms and the place where the implicit and explicit are inverted, seamlessly swapping places. It is also the domain in which apophenia and pareidolia come as compensatory tools, re-ordering our senses, generating new patterns and meanings which take root, or even drift away and back into the tumultuous churn of potentia. This is the essential ‘stuff’ of the visionary artist’s revelation, the product of which is captured and concealed within his creation. It is the ever-present dynamism which underlies nature’s evolutionary impetus and advantageous forms. Whether or not this explains the kangaroo turning into a spacecraft, it is difficult at this point to tell, but either way the presence of deliberate absurdity is present in the report.
Now, in contrast to the ‘Cold War Hypothesis’ is Jacques Vallée’s classic ufological study, The Passport to Magonia (1969), which goes much further than what is classically taken to be the standard history of ufology. The most common origin, of course, is that the word ‘flying saucer’ was coined by Kenneth Arnold, an aviator and business man who saw a mysterious disc over Mount Rainer, Washington in June of 1947—this, of course, further cements the Cold War hypothesis. Again, as Vallée argues, this circumscribes it into a too comfortable time period in which it can again be written off as ‘experimental military technology’ of the post-War years; even as a type of emergent neurosis after years of public uncertainty—a ‘collective hysteria’. Again Kenneth Arnold’s case is anecdotal, and this very anecdotal nature plagues UFO research due to its being ‘merely anecdotal’, in other words, a testament to its unscientific and improvable nature. In this view the phenomenon cannot, therefore, become scientifically-grounded unless it can be (as it often has) detected on radar, or, as is more difficult to prove, remnants of a crashed craft has been examined. The latter hypothesis becomes problematic, for it presupposes that the UFO phenomena is a physical, materialistic and a ‘nuts-and-bolts’ quantifiable ‘thing’. However, from our point of view we may quite confidently attend to the ‘merely anecdotal’, for this, in a sense, is the best place to start when unraveling the phenomenological dimension of ‘high strangeness’.
Indeed Vallée convincingly argues that rumours, anecdotes and theories relating to mysterious flying objects go as far back as 1560, contradicting many of the aforementioned theories of a more recent origin. For example, Pierre Boaistuau, author of Histoires Prodigieuses (Wondrous Tales), a sort of encyclopedia of bizarre natural phenomena and other mysteries, does an admirable job of prefiguring the history of ufology:
‘The face of heaven has been so often disfigured by bearded, hairy comets, torches, flames, columns, spears, shields, dragons, duplicate moons, suns, and other similar things, that if one wanted to tell in an orderly fashion those that have happened since the birth of Jesus Christ only, and inquire about the causes of their origin, the lifetime of a single man would not be enough.’ (Vallée; 1975: 7)
There seems to be the persistent sense that the UFO has a desire to cloak itself in absurdity, almost as if its will is precisely to confound. Evermore complex, elaborate schemes—and a strategic management of contexts—seem to place the UFO firmly in the domain of dream logic. In other words, a form of deliberate entanglement and subversion of all contextual ‘nets’ thrown out by mankind, in his attempt to yield some coherence or meaning, are a fundamental part of its nature. And, moreover, the enormous amount of time it takes to cross‑reference all accounts, as Pierre Boaistuau pointed out, would take many lifetimes.
Beginning from this perspective one might say that the ‘drama’ of the UFO is as persistent as it is ambiguous, and, moreover, that it is apparently a real event that has haunted man throughout the centuries under different guises. The anecdotes, fraught as they are with their unreliable translations and inevitable biases, nevertheless add to the phenomenon’s mercurial nature. This, indeed, may answer for its preference for embedding its mythology on the fringes of society, thus constructing for itself a carefully protected form of mythological consciousness in man—appearing, like most mythologies, in the realm of the ‘merely anecdotal’, and while simultaneously being the birthplace of new stories of the eccentric, the unusual and macabre, novel and mysterious. All these stories bleed in to our collective minds, and thus they inevitably leave an indelible mark on our culture’s story-telling.
We may so far summarise that phenomenon, in short, is a collective psychological event that modifies itself over time; all the time adapting and re-modulating itself almost in an experimental nature. Our stories do the same, constantly evolving and integrating more levels of information, pushing the boundaries of the ‘other’ into more elaborate forms, and allowing fertile ‘What ifs?’ to enter the cultural consciousness. Now, whether or not its shifting nature is our subjective doing is as important as it is as an external phenomenon—that is, an objective ‘thing’. But, until that is conclusive, we can only provide sufficient reason to penetrate its psychological and sociological ‘presence’. Here we can posit the idea of a ‘psychic reality’ as does Wilson in World Famous UFOs (2005), that is, by proposing a reality that runs ‘parallel to our physical reality’ and that ‘ghosts, demons, poltergeists, fairies, even ‘vampires’’, are incursions from this ‘‘other reality’ into our own’ (2005: 186). This ‘incursion’ seems to make the most sense; the phenomenon does appear to be an experimental project that keeps renewing and re-writing its methodology. Wilson continues along this line of speculation: ‘Like the human race, the denizens of this other realm probably change and evolve, so their methods of drawing attention to themselves also change and evolve’ (2005: 186). In a sense the phenomena can be ‘read’ as if it were an unfolding story, authored by someone or some ‘thing’; there is also the idea that we are self-authoring the phenomena, in some deep sense, and deliberately stretching the limits of our unhealthily entrenched—or detached—views that cause a stagnation in some hidden and neglected aspect of our being.
One could even argue that mythology itself is a collectively sustained anecdote; sustained, that is, by its re-telling. The reason for its perseverance in our culture may highlight its importance in offering a form of sustenance to a part of our nature that is calling out in demand. Now, if there is an evolutionary imperative, an element of our collective psyches—or daemons—may partake in a cultural environment that informs the maintenance of a healthy evolution. And perhaps the language of metaphor is the most suitable vehicle for the task.
Whitley Strieber, allegedly abducted by entities related to the UFO phenomena, with his co‑author, Jeffery J. Kripal, present a similar phenomenological approach by placing Strieber’s experiences into a sort of ‘suspension’, or as the founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl called it: epoché. Being a witness and abductee, Strieber nevertheless boldly proposes a method by which we ‘discard all the gods and ghosts, the demons the aliens, and all the stories that go with them, the heroes and their journeys and their resurrections, and reenvision our relationship with this other world objectively’ (Strieber & Kripal; 2016: 44). That is, he proposes we grapple with this newly emergent phenomenon on its own terms, rather than in an attempt to fit it within a ready-made mythology. What is implicit in Whitley and Kripal’s approach is that we include ourselves in the unfolding narrative, assessing how our own interpretive functions distort what is understood and misunderstood, experienced or imagined.
Strieber, upon reflecting on his own experiences, perceives it as a lesson about the embodiment of our very being. In other words, perceived as a sort of cycle in which man—as he experiences his everyday existence—is subject to a series of constraints circumscribed by his very embodiment in matter. And then, released back into the timelessness at death, is reborn, re-embodied and dispersed once more. By stepping back from his experience, and when looked at it without the ‘masks’ of mythological projection, Whitley reflects that one is instead presented with a fundamentally metaphysical perspective concerning life and death. Says Strieber:
‘… we may well see that there is a cycling back and forth taking place, the movement of souls into and out of bodies, living in time and outside of time. If those of us who are descended into time can acquire an objective understanding of why we have come into this state, we can make it vastly more useful to us than it is now.’ (Strieber & Kripal; 2016: 244).
Phenomena as bizarre and endlessly ambiguous as the UFO or alien abduction may lead to a sort of trauma—an existential vacuum that one is only too painfully aware. To strip away all the fabrications, compensatory mechanisms—what the mystic philosopher Gurdjieff called ‘buffers’—and staring into the heart of the UFO experience, is, like any other phenomenological exercise, conducive to an existentially-tinted self-awareness. For Strieber, it is a case of seeing our lives as somehow reciprocal and cyclical, a matter of birth and re-birth. Interestingly, Strieber has also related that he returns to the work of Gurdjieff to recalibrate himself after these bewildering traumas; whether or not they are ‘real’ is beside the point, for all that matters is Streiber’s own psychological experience of the event. If we take Strieber’s experiences as real, then it is not surprising that he should ask himself ‘Why me?’ which, in turn, will lead to the inevitable question ‘Who am I?’ This, I believe, is what Strieber is able to extract from his own experience of the anomalous. For, in a sense, one’s own very being is as anomalous as that which it confronts—there is, in that gap of comprehension, an incursion of mystery that may cleanse habitual or ‘mechanical’ thinking.
In his earlier book, Solving the Communion Enigma (2012), Strieber emphasises the ‘power of the question’, being attendant to the mystery behind the mystery, so to speak. In doing so, he came to the conclusion that ‘who we are’ is ‘the greatest of all mysteries’. This, of course, is the fundamental tenet of existentialism. He goes on to say that we ‘present an appearance to ourselves of being a physical species that has evolved over aeons’ but, he continues, this is an ‘illusion that we have chosen for ourselves’ and that human bodies ‘are devices that we use to penetrate our attention deeply into the sensory world. But they are not us. We are something else, come here to rest ourselves and recover ourselves outside the endlessness that is our true home, and, above all, to evolve into something new’ (2012: 198).
Again, we can see in Strieber’s grappling with the phenomenon that there is this question of the meaning of life as well as death. Particularly he is interested in these two apparently divergent strands, for both life and death are fundament parts of evolution. The meaning occurs not when the two split away, death one way and life another, but in a sort of timeless convergence of the two—the evolutionary recognition, for Strieber, is that both life and death unify into an existential affirmation of the testing experience of life and, in Strieber’s case, the extreme fringes of anomalous experience itself.
Elsewhere Whitley makes a curious distinction regarding the ‘visitors’ or ‘entities’ in which he argues that they ‘represent the most powerful of all forces acting in human culture’ and that they are indeed ‘managing the evolution of the human mind’ or ‘represent the presence of mind on another level of being’ (2012: 236). He concludes that it might be mankind’s fate to ‘leave the physical world altogether and join them in that strange hyper-reality from which they seem to emerge’ (2012: 236). Whether or not this is the destiny of an afterlife, or, a strange ascendance of mankind’s mind to a higher level of experience, it is difficult to tell. And yet, implicit in these conclusions is the notion that the mind can know other realities, truer and more ‘hyper-real’ perceptions beyond that which we ordinarily experience. They urge us to seek for the real reality behind what is merely presented to us by our five senses.
Questions such as these are the fundamental basis of religion, esotericism and even to some extent existentialism if what informs existentialism—questions relating to human existence—is the search for the phenomenological reality that underlie the experience of transcendental or the anomalous. If these experiences are a part of our existential reality as human beings, it is therefore within the bounds of analysis for the existentialist.
All this brings us nicely back to Colin Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’, for Wilson incorporated Husserl’s notion of the ‘transcendental ego’ in the fundamental recognition that there is an unconscious element with authors, so to speak, our experience of reality prior to our apprehension of it. It is the energy behind our ability to grasp reality at all; it is, fundamentally, the ‘form-imposing’ faculty. Wilson places great emphasis on Husserl’s notion of ‘intentionality’, this active ‘will’ behind our perception that is ‘fired’ by the ‘transcendental ego’. For Wilson, as it was to an extent for Husserl, insights into the transcendental ego’s intentional nature would offer an insight into those states achieved in mystical visions, directing us in the direction of ‘the keepers of the key to the ultimate sources of being’ and to the ‘unveiling of the hidden achievements of the transcendental ego’ (1966: 62). Again, all this leads back to our own perceptual mechanisms, our very consciousness, and in turn this may allow us to stand back—like Strieber—and reflect more clearly on the often psychologically disorientating nature of the UFO experience.
If, for instance, something so baffles our consciousness and, in doing so, restructures our own relationship to ourselves, we may begin by reorienting our psychological mechanisms. We can see that to an extent Strieber concluded that the ‘entities’ themselves are managing our culture, that they are, in some deep sense, underlying mythological archetypes that run underneath our collective psyche, bursting forth occasionally into our psychic reality. One might even approach them as instrumentalities of our transcendental egos, or, for that matter, forces entirely external to us—evolutionary agents. Nevertheless, in examining our very depths we may develop a new type of logic that can integrate the intentions behind such phenomenon generally. And, in turn, we may be our own directors, intending ourselves in a far more active manner.
Jorjani remarks that the ‘lurid character of so many of these [alien] contacts prevents them from being taken seriously by the scientific establishment of the target society, and instead these experiences are allowed to sink into the deeper, dreamlike psychical substrate that defines the mythic folklore of a culture’ (2016: 371). Whether or not this type phenomenon directly emerges from this ‘psychical substrate’ is the same question as the genesis of myth itself. Indeed, are myths ‘planted’, so to speak, to grow within a culture in order to shape its destiny? How are new ideas born? Such questions orientate the mind towards the study of esotericism. Strieber even refers to some of the more bizarre experiences he’s encountered as ‘living hieroglyphs’; a mystery drama to be decoded by the interpreter. Again, there is this emphasis on interpretation; the hermeneutic approach as well as the phenomenological. We will return to the subject of the esoteric in more depth later on.
The fact that Strieber is a novelist, a professional story-teller, and a weaver of horror stories, is perhaps significant, for, whatever these ‘entities’ might be, they have certainly selected an individual with the psychological tools and skills necessary to absorb and release their (sometimes terrifying) presence into the public consciousness. As I have mentioned above, it is curious that Strieber should follow the work of Gurdjieff, whose entire mystical philosophy is underpinned by a need to jolt man out of his passivity through necessary, but sometimes painful, ‘shocks’. This seems to be similar to Lachman’s interpretation in that they are intended to challenge our passivity, to frustrate and re-invigorate our sense of mystery.
Now, in comparing the ‘visitors’ to Gurdjieff’s system, Strieber remarks that ‘What I got from the visitors was friction a thousand times more potent, friction that had the power to break the soul, to plunge me into a frozen paroxysm of hatred and fear.’ For, with each change in Gurdjieff’s theory of octaves, there is a required ‘shock’ for the further evolution and development of that octave to a higher level. And this higher level, this higher ‘I’, is very much similar to what Husserl meant by the ‘transcendental ego’; it is that which actively ‘intends’. Strieber has also mentioned the fact that the whole experience might be what evolution looks and feels like when it is immediately up-close; it is a sudden leap, sometimes precarious, fraught with dangers, when accelerated without due caution.
Says Wilson in Introduction to the New Existentialism (1966):
‘If knowledge is really to fire my whole being, and cause it to expand, it must not be capable of merely of exploding my childhood prejudices and releasing me into a broader world of universal knowledge; it must also enable me to understand my inner-being. . . In being able to stand aside from my habits of perception, I shall have discovered the secret of poetry and mysticism.’ (1966: 54).
Of course, Gurdjieff’s philosophy is based on this notion of a ‘shock’ that would enable a more fully crystallised identity, a ‘super-ordinate’ self that enables one to ‘stand aside’ from habitual perception—it is with this very ability that we may understand the ‘secret of poetry and mysticism’. Essentially, this is the impression one gets from Strieber’s writing on the subject; a disturbing but simultaneously enlightening voyage into the unconscious, inner‑regions of man, in which the forces are enormous and sometimes impersonal, but nevertheless bouy up our entire being rather like a boat rests on a tumultuous and vast ocean. In other words, it is a vision into the ‘life force’—that origin of all intentionality, and the energy from which the transcendental ego ignites our perceptions in our most intense states of being. To the uninitiated these experiences mighty be actively detrimental—but with a careful phenomenological discipline, they break the shackles of our habituated consciousness and allow a far more intense experience of a reality usually blinkered from our five-senses.
A Personal Note (and an Appreciation of the Work of Ian Watson)
Now that I have described the fundamental theories and approaches that will inform this essay, I should explain its genesis. This, I believe is important to understand my own approach to the subject of ufology.
It was sometime in 2008 when I first picked up Alien Dawn due to my increasing interest in the UFO phenomenon. It was, as I have mentioned, a choice based on my previous reading of Wilson’s work—particularly The Outsider. The interest did not occur randomly or superficially; it was in part due to witnessing a UFO myself in February of that same year. At the time I was mainly interested in existentialist literature of the pessimistic variety—writers such as Michel Houllebecq and the Romanian arch-pessimist, Emil Cioran, I found particularly invigorating in the sense that it was so merciless and bold. There was something fundamentally stimulating about their firebrand approach to existence; they ranted and exploded, rather than carefully delineate their philosophies. I was, I should add, around twenty-two at the time, and being in a rather working-class village probably demanded this sort of intensity merely for stimulation. My tendency at that time was to seek out existentially ‘authentic’ answers, and, as I was steeped in existential literature this tended to be pessimistic. It was, in short, as ‘authentic’ as I wanted it to be—that is, reflective of my own vacillating moods. Although I had read The Outsider before Alien Dawn, I had regarded it as an enormous acceleration of my understanding of existential literature, although strangely, I initially failed to integrate its essentially optimistic conclusion.
Seeing that Alien Dawn was written by the same author of this existential classic, I found it to be the obvious choice for a foray into the subject. I had read a lot of ufological literature before, but had found it a struggle, sometimes buying questionable titles. To the now culturally sanctioned and widely published world of existentialism and pessimistic postmodernists, ufology and other paranormal literature, by comparison, seemed kitsch and gauche. Socially and culturally, at least, it’s the equivalent of sliding into the abyss! An abyss, I thought, no worse than any identified in the works of the existentialists.
Now, witnessing a UFO in these circumstances has it befits, if one pushes asides the many social stigmas attached to any admittance of belief. Of course, you have to take great care as to when and whom you discuss your experience. Before continuing with even the ounce of suggestion that they might be real, you find yourself struggling in an unenviable uphill battle, and, as you pursue the subject you find yourself in a tangle that is entirely detrimental to anything else you might have had to say—it tarnishes and re-contextualises your whole being in the eyes of the reflexively skeptical. Often one will find himself consigned to the category ‘harmless eccentric’.
And yet, strangely enough, any careful reading into the literature finds you in good company, with a wide-range of impressive and intelligent writers on the subject, such as the ones mentioned above—Jacques Vallée, John E. Mack and more recently, Dr. Jeffrey Kripal of Rice University—and yet, nevertheless, there surrounds the whole topic a sense of muddleheaded credulity. Sifting through this, for witnesses, casual readers, and even serious researchers becomes a difficult task.
I was therefore left with a sense of something that was fundamentally incommunicable, and, furthermore, an incomprehensible experience to contend with. My own experience, I should add, was that merely of being a witness of a silent, apparently amorphous and changing series of lights about 30 ft above our—there were three other witnesses—heads. There was the added difficulty of its inherent difficulty to simply describe; it was frankly too unusual and unlikely to convey. There is also the added problem of memory, for you can see quite easily how each witness has his own interpretation of what he saw. Nevertheless, there was a general agreement that what we saw something fundamentally ‘other’. One of the problems we all found, I suppose, was the fact that it was rather difficult to share with anybody else. For would there be a sympathetic listener to who it could be described? Well, yes, there were a few, but more generally it was something you kept under close wrap. Also, of course, was the problem of whether it could be described! But, finally, I asked myself the question: what does one do with the knowledge and experience of such a phenomenon? The only answer, I found, was to read about the subject and try to understand what meaning it may have had for others—that is, in an attempt to correlate as many accounts as possible and compare them with one’s own.
Alien Dawn took away some of the stigma of being a UFO ‘witness’, and it opened up a genuine and refreshing area fertile with novel ideas. Even though I had been stewing in a sort of materialistic pessimism for a number of years, the essentially science‑fictional sensibilities underlying much of the speculation regarding the phenomena enabled a sort of inner-opening to ideas which were essentially impersonal. They were far more open-ended and called into question many other aspects of existence. Unlike the literature I was reading before the event, Alien Dawn threw up so many implications that there was a looming sense of infinity; it presented far more questions that seemed to be as genuine and in sympathy with, fundamentally, an existential frame-of-mind. The event itself represented a mystery, and understanding such mysteries allowed one to see that you were embedded in a larger mystery with an enormous amount of layers. There were mysteries beyond the scope of man’s own existence, and yet—knowingly or unknowingly—we were grappling with something essentially meaningful. Contrasting these ideas against each other unearthed the strangeness of being in itself, for that fundamental was no longer a consistent limitation, but a part of a much larger context.
Fundamentally, I think this is what Strieber is trying to express in his own far more intensive experiences. He felt, like many of us, that instead of being adrift in a meaningless universe, that we instead inhabit something with an emergent evolutionary context—a part of which our very consciousness is a significant contribution to its implicit and explicit developments.
At this point, I might add that one of the witnesses felt that the environment had become animated, and that he sensed that to some degree the woodland surrounding us was somehow conscious of the whole experience. Whether or not this was the psychological euphoria resultant of something so unusual, it is difficult to tell, but nevertheless the heightening—artificial or authentic—allowed such a sensation to occur. The experience, no doubt, was disorientating, but nevertheless it opened up a great many questions regarding our own perceptions, and each separately came to his own conclusions.
The UFO still remains a mystery, but by delving into books like Alien Dawn, one comes away with a myriad of other approaches, such as quantum physics, mysticism, psychology, comparative mythology, religious and esoteric ideas, even evolutionary theory. And then there’s the anecdotes that temper your own, make your own absurd experience seem normal, even banal, by comparison. But what Wilson himself introduced was a steady‑handed phenomenology of the phenomena. Indeed, Wilson even goes on to say in the book, ‘. . . if an important part of the purpose of these phenomena is the effect on us, then that purpose would seem to be to decondition us from our unquestioning acceptance of consensus reality.’ (1999: 326).
One of the great benefits of being introduced to the history of ufology through Wilson’s is that there’s no shortage of further reading. A voracious reader, Wilson treads the way for any would-be researcher, providing clues and references like a Golden Thread. And even though many of his books on Atlantis and UFOs might not appear, on first glance, to be associated with his earlier work in ‘The Outsider Cycle’—with its focus on the ‘new existentialism’—they are on closer inspection a means to nourish and advance this phenomenological method for understanding extraordinary ‘peak’ states of consciousness. Through the heady final chapter of ‘The Way Outside’ in Alien Dawn, one covers most of the ground of the ‘new existentialism’ through to plasmas, multiple universes, holograms and even John Wheeler’s ‘participatory anthropic principle’. Rather, it is an extension of many of the ideas presented in his earliest work, and an attempt to stretch further the analysis of unusual—and/or heightened—states of consciousness for their phenomenological value at unveiling an essential meaning.
What I felt was one most insightful ideas of the book emerges when Wilson very briefly turns to the work of the science-fiction writer, Ian Watson, who authored The Embedding (1973), which Wilson says ‘has claims to be one of the best science-fiction novels ever written’ (1999: 350). However, it is Watson’s novel The Miracle Visitors (1978) which attempts not only to explore the mystery of UFOs, but, Wilson concludes, to ‘find an answer to the mystery’ (1999: 351). I would argue that Watson’s work is one of the most advanced attempts at an unraveling of this entangled phenomenon that has been yet attempted, and certainly, anyone who is familiar with his work will know that he has an extraordinary and dizzying imaginative scope.
Again, I believe it is significant that a novelist—like Whitley Strieber—is someone at the avant-garde when it comes to expressing something that baffles ordinary linear expression. There is a freedom that creative thinking and writing can allow, and this ought to inform many of the more analytical works in ufology. It populates the theoretical and hypothetical models with rich and novel insights. Watson had clearly studied the UFO phenomena closely and, in The Miracle Visitors, embedded—as it were—an effective condensation of the mystery in an unfolding narrative. It is, in short, one of the most enlightening refractions from the distorted Indra’s net of ufology.
As a novel it is a sort of cultural epiphenomena of the UFO phenomenon itself. The story and the ideas that inform it directly emerge out of the ufological version of the collective unconscious. Indeed, it is a multi-layered novel that, in compacting enormous amounts of complex narrative and hypothetical asides, reconfigures the chaos of the UFO folklore into something which, for the first time, can be seen as an evolutionary symbol—an evolutionary metaphor.
Watson himself uses similar language to describe the essential ‘unknowableness’ of the UFO, for in the novel he breaks this down into levels of higher and lower order ‘systems’ of knowledge; a sort of a hierarchy of living episteme:
‘… individual beings within the system cannot really know this directly. For I speak of higher-order systems of organization: of higher-order patternings. Lower-order systems cannot fully grasp the Whole of which they are the parts. Logic forbids. It is the natural principle. Which is why, when the processes of the Whole do show themselves, it is as unidentified phenomena—as intrusions into your own knowledge that can be witnessed and experienced but not rationally known: neither analysed, nor identified. Such intrusions are inestimably important. They are the goad towards higher organization. They are what urges the amoeba to evolve towards a higher life form. They are what spurs mind to evolve from natural awareness, and higher consciousness from simple mind. They are the very dynamic of the universe.’ (2003: 102)
French sociologist, Bertrand Méheust comments in Science Fiction and Flying Saucers (1978) that the UFO phenomena act like a ‘“super-dream” . . . that works through a process of radical “absurdization”’ (Quoted in Kripal; 2010: 213). The ‘absurdization’, it could be argued, is Watson’s ‘unknowableness’, ‘experienced but not rationally known’ due to their ‘higher-ordering patternings’. Goading us by their absurdity—their boundary‑stretching incomprehensibility—they posit the limits of human knowledge while stretching the mystery back into the heavens, that birthplace of metaphysical speculation. The very conceptual fuzziness of the phenomena leaves us in the dark; its informational complexity and irrationality is of course something contrary to the rationalist and mechanistic idea of a basically ‘functional’ i.e. unconscious universe that unpacks itself without any recourse to mystery. A universe displaced of Why? with How?—for the question of why, of course, presupposes a meaning in a cosmology of materialism that rejects meaning as merely subjective, and not present in a material world of happenstance existence.
It is worth mentioning as an aside her that I am reminded of Peter Hitchen’s comments about his ‘atheist period’, in which he ‘became an enthusiast for total rationality’. Hitchens continues by saying that he happily embraced ‘the cold, sharp metric and decimal systems, disregarding the polished-in-use, apparently irrational but human and friendly measures’, and this so developed that he ‘sought out buildings without dark corners or any hint of faith in their shape. . . I longed for a world of clean, squared-off structures, places where there was no darkness’ (2010: 32). Significantly this, as we will see later, may have something to do with the two hemispheres of the brain.
In this ‘atheist period’ the architecture, like our cosmology, offers only a Why? in the utilitarian sense of convenience, of materialistic practicality, or ‘conservation of energy’. There is no darkness, no ‘unknowableness’ that draws us onward and upwards, only a sense of static values that science, even when presented as ‘magic’ as in one of Richard Dawkins’ books, does not inspired awe, but only Eliot’s ‘whimper’. It is what Martha Heyneman means when she says ‘If the whole had no pattern, the part could have no meaning. It was lost in a chaos without a centre, a principle of unity, a “point”’ (2001:37). Paradoxically this very ‘point’ is darkness itself, the parts of what we are embedded in as human beings, that remains unenlightened. This is the same darkness that represents enormous potentiality in contrast to nihilism and drifting; it is the ‘deliberate unknowability’ that is, in a paradoxical sort of way, directional. The cathedral, rather than the utilitarian building of the metric and measured variety, infers something more than itself; its architecture is designed in a sort of metaphorical way to cross-over with the measurements of the infinite, and in doing so emerge as a visual representation of the evolutionary metaphor. It precisely inspires because it infers more than it is—in contrast, of course, to being merely utilitarian, inferring only its purposes of utility.
Now, in his essay, ‘The Age of the World Picture’, the philosopher Martin Heidegger states his belief that by ‘means of this shadow the modern world extends itself out into a space withdrawn from representation. . . This shadow. . . points to something else, which it is denied to us of today to know’. Indeed, Heidegger’s shadow is what, for him, drives technological and scientific progress, for we seek out with our instruments, new domains by transmuting the unknown into the scientifically ‘known’. However, similar to Watson’s posited ‘unknown’, this approach lends itself just as well to a mythological interpretation, for as the professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson, notes: ‘[myth] tends to portray the generative individual consciousness eternally willing to face this unknown. . . in essence—in contradistinction to unconscious, impersonal, and [the] unpredictable. . . in light of its “seminal”, active, “fructifying” nature”’(1999: 181).
By delving into the field of ufology it is certain that, whether one will emerge with an evolutionary idea or not, that nevertheless the task becomes the equivalent of navigating mythological archetypes. The Jungian, James Hillman has even noted that ‘mythology is ancient psychology and psychology is recent mythology.’ The dreamlike logic, of course, is so rich with archetypal symbolism that it seems to emerge out of a rich stream of a ‘collective unconscious’, and, as the UFO cloaks itself in mythical garb—or, indeed, we capture it in a mythologizing consciousness—it seems reasonable to suggest that one approaches it as such. Indeed, Patrick Harpur believes the most convincing ‘reason for attributing mythological status to [UFO phenomena] is that, like myths, they are capable of bearing an inexhaustible number of interpretations, no single one of which can finally explain them.’ (2003: 123). This very interpretive nature, as we have seen, informs stories, works of fiction—all effective vehicles of the mythological imagination.
But if we venture forth into this territory it is wise to heed the words of Jordan Peterson, for it is the ‘‘fructifying’ nature of the hero’s grappling with the unknown that should be the boon of his return.’ It is, in other words, a call to return with something useful, practical, invigorating and fundamentally evolutionary in value. It is for this reason that I believe an active approach in the vein of Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’ can help us converge upon the evolutionary principles that may underlie both the esoteric works of the past, and simultaneously, the emerging folklore of the UFO, offering, as it does, an evolutionary interpretation of their myriad forms and narratives that they undertake.
For, as Wilson says, if such ‘psychic phenomena have a purpose it is to wake us up from our ‘dogmatic slumber’, and galvanize us to evolve a higher form of consciousness’. Indeed, he concludes that ‘this is the only positive and unambiguous lesson we can learn from the strange mystery of the flying saucers’ (1999: 186).
As we can see, from the above interpretation(s)—beginning from Heidegger’s more materialistic development by positing mystery as man’s primary motive force behind technological advancement—we may perceive the juxtaposition of man’s orientation towards progress; scientific, spiritual and mythological. And, if anyone of these should gain undue promotion as man’s primary motive, there will be resultant psychic dis-ease. It is, rather, a call for the integration of all the streams which, in their own ways, are products of a much larger evolutionary impulse and context. It is, in fact, a matter of widening our existential foundations to take the weight of a much more responsible enterprise of our future development. One could say it is call for a catalyst as well as a buttress against the forces of an unbalanced development. In other words, it is the recognition of a psycho-social context in which we can incorporate the largest—and sometimes dangerously unrecognised—of man’s impulses.
Now, we may speculate here that the UFO is a symptom and symbol of a culture on the precipice of environmental and psychic breakdown, whereby it haunts us utilising the cultural props to appear as simultaneously a scientific phenomenon, as well as a quasi-spiritual and mythological form that defies many of the conventions of each ‘conceptual net’. One might call it dialectic in action, a gauntlet of ambiguity thrown down for minds to disentangle, or, indeed, influence a modality of thinking that might bridge the gap between man’s psychic schisms. Again, as a sort of giant Zen kōan that it benefits us to understand.
Pertaining to the imaginatively expansive and therapeutic nature of symbols, P.D. Ouspensky notes in his essay ‘Symbolism of the Tarot’ that it is ‘perfectly clear that symbols are not created for expounding what are called scientific truths’, and this, in light of the UFO phenomena may be precisely the reason why it confounds science—for that might be its very intention. In fact, Ouspensky continues by saying that the ‘very nature of symbols must remain elastic, vague and ambiguous, like the sayings of an oracle. Their role is to unveil mysteries, leaving the mind all its freedom’ (1989: 218). By emphasising the purposeful ambiguity of ‘living symbols’, Ouspensky has hit upon a profoundly interesting approach towards phenomena in general, for, if like Wilson proposes, that the only healthy way of approaching psychic phenomena is to heed them as wake-up calls out of our ‘dogmatic slumber’, then, we might grapple—on all of man’s psychic levels—with a modern, living symbol that may be entirely a revolutionary paradigm onto itself. Indeed, Oswald Wirth in Le Symbolism Hermétique says as much: ‘symbols are precisely intended to awaken ideas sleeping in our consciousness. They arouse thought by means of suggestion and thus cause the truth which lies hidden in the depths of our spirit to suggest itself.’ (1989: 217).
Through the living symbol of the UFO, we may begin to see a semblance of unification of the mythological and the scientific/technological impulse, and, through this a development of mankind may be initiated. In other words, the shadows of all our drives may integrated—intuitive, rational, materialistic and spiritual—into an evolutionary dynamic. And as the UFO is ‘withdrawn from [explicit-materialistic] representation’, it nevertheless, and as an idea, inspires in us a speculative and intuitive approach that ‘fructifies’, brings new life, into areas of our psyches that may have become numb under too much materialism and ‘nothing‑but‑ness’. Of course, such a nihilistic cosmology as presented to us in modern science may become dangerously toxic and claustrophobic, for with its closed-system approach circumscribes man’s potential to a meaningless cosmic fluke. The UFO, in a sense, may be a thermometer for our culture’s development—and its appearance in the past, to a sense, may have been guiding or initiating certain other elements of our culture’s unconscious drives.
It may very well be that the UFO, in its inside-out ambiguity, represents something outside of the very bounds of that which stunts man’s evolutionary growth—that is, it haunts us from the periphery of the known, frustrating materialism’s out-of-date boundaries by clownishly transgressing and subverting logic and the rationalist’s own spiritual version of the Iron Curtain.
Now, to return to Watson’s The Miracle Visitors, we may see that in his protagonist’s revelation, that these ideas are perfectly at home in the expansive genre of science-fiction:
‘For all these inaccessibilities caused a fierce suction towards ever higher patterns of organization, towards higher comprehension. So molecules become long-chain molecules, and these became replicating cells that transmitted information. . . till mind evolved, and higher mind.
The universe, he realized, 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.’ (2003: 187)
Indeed, Méheust’s ‘super-dream’ that tends towards ‘absurdization’; and Jung’s flying‑mandalas that are harbingers of a new psychic unity; and indeed Watson’s ‘suction’ of ‘inaccessibilities’ towards ‘ever higher patterns’ do seem to be the raison d’être behind the UFO phenomena. This brings us to the very essence of Wilson’s ‘new existentialism’, for its evolutionary premise enables us to unfold a phenomenological groundwork to do the integrative work on own behalf.
In Watson, Wilson saw a genuine attempt to understand the phenomenology behind the UFO experience itself, and this is what lends to Alien Dawn a quality that is often lacking books of ufology.
Now, before we move on to discussing esotericism and synchronicity, it is worth mentioning a story that happened between Watson and Wilson that allows us an interesting insight into the absurdity of the phenomenon itself. It can be taken as one pleases, as a meaningful synchronicity, or a freak accident of circumstance. But many of its elements prefigure some of the topics that we shall pursue. Watson relates:
‘[Wilson had] been prompted to phone me by reading my own fictional take on the UFO ‘experience’, Miracle Visitors. Colin’s phone was struck by lightning through the landline either during or just after one of our conversations, causing a book fire in his room; unremarkable contacts with such as Colin Wilson seemed impossible—or maybe the lightning had something to do with the UFO phenomenon. You’d think I’d be able to remember clearly whether the lightning strike came during or after; but oh don’t we mythologise ourselves?’
Absurdity and mythologisation, as we have seen, takes a significant role in the ‘drama’ of the UFO phenomena. And the lightning bolt striking between the line of a researcher and a novelist, it seems, is a brilliant place to start unpacking the hermetic spirit which lies at the heart of such evolutionary metaphors. . .
Plasma, Signatures and the Life Force
Other than discussing Whitley Streiber’s interpretations of the meaning behind his abduction experiences, I am aware that we have not directly discussed the UFO experience using any other case studies or direct, reported examples. This has been intentional, for it sets us up to explore the odd levels and layers of interpreting anomalous phenomena in general. My intention so far has been to present a general way of thinking which has close ties with esotericism. Indeed, James W. Deardorff of Oregon State University has speculated along these same lines, for the phenomena may communicate by bypassing scientists and instead providing recipients with ‘vague descriptions of extraterrestrial technological achievements that would read like magic or science fiction’. Deardorff continues:
‘They might even contain a few absurdities purposely added; these . . . would help ensure that any scientists who happened to learn about the communications would regard them as hoaxes or fiction. . . Meanwhile, the message would get published, translated into various languages, and distributed throughout the world amongst other occult literature.’
Now, if we turn to Anrija Puharich’s bizarre book, Uri (1974), for example, we have the same strange sense of absurdity repeated. The world famous psychic, Uri Geller, in a moment of despair and frustration with the entities—namely one that referred to itself as ‘Spectra’—, condemns their ‘performance’ as ‘stupid and idiotic’, nevertheless, they perform for us, he says, ‘on our level’ (1974: 173-174). Performance, of course, has an important role to play in the mysteries, particularly mythological and those pertaining to esoteric schools. And although Uri knows of their existence, in some objective sense, he nevertheless does not know what they mean; that is, precisely what existential value that this holds for him, or indeed, for anyone else. In fact, Uri Geller, despite his flamboyant reputation, is like the rest of us when facing this mystery. And although he has had, according to his own account and Puharich’s, direct experience, he is nevertheless rational and sober-minded as one can be about such a challenging experience. Condemning it as such a stupid performance, in fact, is a fairly rational approach, and is not suggestive of someone who wants to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes concerning something so apparently miraculous!
Uri asks the crucial question of ‘What is it doing to us?’ His answer, as we have seen, is an exasperated shrug. They perform for us ‘on our level’ is his basic insight, and our level, fundamentally, cannot go beyond itself.
Despite this, Puharich is provided with a series of unusual explanations of the functions of the soul:
‘I was given a new concept which was to imagine that all souls are like a vase (i.e., a physical pot). Each vase-soul exists in a rotational, gravitational field. When one perturbs the vase‑soul, wavelets go out into the universe field. It is very much like dropping a pebble in water—wavelets will radiate outward. The perturbation of the vase-soul in the rotational gravitational field is experience.’ (1974 :195)
Again, this strikes anyone as familiar with esoteric literature as strikingly consistent with many occult doctrines, particularly theosophy or something uttered by Alice Bailey. The language even reminds us more of David Bohm’s ‘implicate order’ and quantum theory which has, over recent years, become increasingly embedded in New Age literature for its variety of versatile models and metaphors. What is more striking is that Puharich does not pursue that the notion that the ‘vase-soul’ is, in some sense, a description of the UFO itself. The UFO, of course, often has a vase-like appearance and its effects, which are experienced or witnessed, are duly influential in their ‘perturbation’ of everyday existence.
There is the sense that the soul—or the UFO—is a ‘spill over’ into matter which, as the soul is embodied, is subject to the limitations of time and space. This is also evocative of Lurianic Kabbalah developed by Isaac Luria (1534–1572), for which his concept of tzimtzum is a sort of ‘concealment’ or ‘contraction’ of God. Gary Lachman, in Caretakers of the Cosmos (2013), describes the process of tzimtzum:
‘Once the tzimtzum created the void, Adam Kadmon, the Primordial Man, appeared. . . Out of the eyes, nose, mouth and ears of Adam Kadmon come flashing lights, emanations of the divine creative energies. These form the sephiroth, or vessels, designed to contain these energies. . .’ (2003: 32)
The human being, in Kabbalah, is an expression of these energies that are contained and simultaneously shed forth into the material existence. We, as expressions of this cosmic schism, are responsible for a type of repair work which Luria called tikkun, which Lachman describes as a restoration ‘of the shattered sephiroth’ and that our job is to ‘heal the rift between the opposites, and unify the polarized masculine and feminine aspects of God’ (2003: 34). Again, the similarity to Puharich’s alleged extraterrestrial contact with Spectra leaves us with distinct sense of esoteric knowledge being encoded within the anomalous experience. What left Uri feeling frustrated and bewildered left Puharich contending with the mysteries of human existence—there is the sense, in the UFO experience, of a deliberate friction being used to erode consensual reality, and within these fractures of reality they smuggle in new concepts for the understanding of our existential position. They present, in a peculiar way, a new cosmological and ontological model.
The engineer Bryant Reeve wrote a book with the significant title of The Advent of the Cosmic Viewpoint (1965), in which he proposes a similar hypothesis to the one presented in this essay. Indeed, Reeve began from a wish to understand the physical nature of the UFO (being an engineer with a distinctly scientific orientation) but instead found that only philosophy and metaphysics could do justice to any comprehensive understanding. Reeve, after considering the evidence substantially, concluded that it demanded a radical cosmological reorientation, and that it was essentially a psycho-spiritual or esoteric ‘event’ of enormous significance.
There is, in all this, something that hints towards what William James described as a vast ‘continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our minds plunge as into a mother-sea or reservoir’. Again, this relates to both consciousness and the ‘vase’/’vessel’ imagery used in Puharich’s ‘contact’ and Kabalistic cosmology. It is significant, then, that in each approach the human being is considered deeply involved in the universe, and whose position is in direct contrast to the sense of contingency and meaningless implicit in a strictly materialistic cosmos. Also, as we have seen in the case of Strieber, there was a sense that the phenomenon was attempting to subvert our ordinary understanding of life and death.
Here it is worth returning to the ‘new existentialism’ to elucidate what might be called the ‘cosmic viewpoint’, for Wilson states in Religion and the Rebel (1957) this way of seeing may:
‘. . . easily be called religion. It is a way of thought which, like the religious way, regards man as involved in the universe, not just a spectator and observer, a sort of naturalist looking at the universe through a magnifying-glass and murmuring: “Mmm. Most interesting”. Existentialism states that the most important fact about man is his ability to change himself.’ (1990: 148)
In short, it is by changing our perception of ourselves, and recognising that we are an active component in a meaningful cosmos, that we begin to actualise our far-reaching potentialities. This is a much more invigorating way of living in the world, and in doing so activates the deeper reserves of the ‘life force’ to meet the challenges that we face in the real world. Furthermore, implicit in the recognition of a ‘cosmic viewpoint’ is an evolutionary context, or directive, which further converges with our revitalised momentum, our active engagement with the direction that the life force directs itself—that is, towards Ian Watson’s ‘higher‑organization’, the ‘very dynamic of the universe’.
By recognising this meaningful nature of the cosmos, there is also another element that allows us to ‘read into’ the meanings contained there within; that is, the universe becomes interpretable through a hermeneutic phenomenology. The ‘flame of consciousness’ is able to bring forward the symbols and language of what Jacob Boheme called the ‘signatures’, which Wilson—again in Religion and the Rebel—describes: ‘just as an expert can find a criminal’s fingerprint on every object from a glass vase to a human throat’ (1990: 158). It is, Wilson continues, the ultimate mysticism of the West, providing a scientific insight into the mechanisms of the universe, as well as providing a simultaneous glimpse into William Blake’s visions of the infinite in a grain of sand. Wilson sees that the ‘‘Life Force’ has its own deep inscrutable aims and methods in this world of physical reality’, and this is precisely what the mystic can detect in those states of intense visionary consciousness.
This active approach to consciousness is indeed what Jacques Vallée dedicated his classic book in ufology, Passport to Magonia (1969). He summarises it precisely:
‘. . . for the few who have gone through all this and have graduated to a higher, clearer level of perception of the total meaning of that tenuous dream that underlies . . . human history, for those who have recognised, within themselves and in others, the delicate levers of imagination and will not be afraid to experiment with them.’ (1975: 154).
In evoking the transformational power of art, Vallée continues to say that like ‘Picasso and his art, the great UFO Master shapes our culture, but most of us remain unaware of it’ (1975: 160). Layers, like the varieties of applied paint on a canvas, bring forth something once implicit, something hovering in the mind’s eye of the artist. Wherever these visions or ideas come from is, in a sense, as mysterious as the arrival of any anomalous event. The imagination in art, of course, becomes a transit for the life force, providing as it does a vast enough medium for its expression. Rather like Boehme’s signatures, Vallée’s expression of a ‘clearer level of perception’ that enables a vision into the ‘dream that underlies’ history is an imaginative leap into the evolutionary drives underlying existence itself; and as far as we know, human beings are the life force’s most advanced expression.
This artistic vision was also experienced by another science-fiction writer, Philip K. Dick, whose many books have deeply impacted modern Hollywood with films like Total Recall, Blade Runner and Minority Report, among many others—directly or indirectly—attributed to his name. His novels often invoked what he would call the ‘pluriform’ nature of our universe; its many layers and levels of alternate timelines (often dystopic in nature); varieties and shades of realities that exist alongside our ‘ordinary’ world of lived experience. In 1974 Dick claims to have undergone an unusual experience rather evocative, particularly in its use of language, of Puharich’s and Luria’s ‘energies’; or Bohme’s ‘signatures’. I quote from his visionary 1977 essay, ‘If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others’:
‘[the vision] resembled plasmic energy. It had colors. It moved fast, collecting and dispersing. But what it was, what he was—I am not sure even now, expect I can tell you that he had simulated normal objects and their processes so as to copy them and in such an artful way as to make himself invisible within them . . . By this I mean that during that short period—a matter of hours or perhaps a day—I was aware of nothing that was not the Programmer. All the things in our pluriform world were segments or subsections of him. Some Were at rest but many moved, and did so like portions of a breathing organism that inhaled, exhaled, grew, changed, evolved toward some final state that by its absolute wisdom it had chosen for itself. I mean to say, I experienced it as self-creating, dependent on nothing outside it because very simply there was nothing outside it. [my italics].’ (Quoted in Dick; 1996: 251-252).
In this phenomenologically rich description of what is evidently a very striking event—Dick went on to write a gargantuan Exegesis that endlessly meditated on what he had undergone—we can see a series of correspondences with what we have pursued in this essay so far. Firstly, there is the artistry and embedded nature of its presence, that is, it is—to use Dick’s phraseology—‘pluriform’, but also somehow disguised, not in, but as the environment itself. He refers to it in the language of phenomenology as ‘the Programmer’, which is immediately reminiscent of Husserl’s ‘transcendental ego’—that Will which underlies our perceptions; the origin of the intention behind the intentionality, so to speak. Again, Dick refers to it as ‘self‑creating’ and ‘dependent on nothing outside’, for it simply is—a self-contained, evolving conglomerate of energy. There is also something inside-out about the whole experience, for at first Dick describes it as a plasmic energy, contracting into a point and then dispersing, presumably, into the environment itself.
In a novel that attempted to dramatically portray and grapple with this anomaly, Dick labelled it by the acronym VALIS, which is short for: Vast Active Living Intelligence System. And in keeping with our esoteric trajectory, Dick indeed called one of his essays in his famed Exegesis, with the tongue-in-cheek and Madame Blavatsky-esque title of ‘The Ultra Hidden (Cryptic) Doctrine: The Secret Meaning of the Great System of Theosophy of the World, Openly Revealed for the First Time’. Humour, it could be argued, was the one thing that prevented Dick from becoming something like a megalomaniac guru, or, indeed a cult-like figure like L. Ron Hubbard who established the Church of Scientology.
Nevertheless in his remarkable segments of Exegesis, Dick propounded his extraordinary grip of a transcendental form of phenomenology, seeing as it were ‘signatures’ in our very cosmic and psychological constitution. Furthermore, like the Kabbalah he believed that what was demanded was a sort of ‘self-repair’. Indeed, he continues by saying that this includes rebuilding our world (which he calls ‘sub-circuit’ in this complex reflection):
‘via linear and orthogonal time changes (sequences of events), as well as continual signaling to us both en masse and individually (to us received subliminally by the right brain hemisphere, which gestalts the constituents of the messages into meaningful entities), to stimulate blocked neural (memory) banks within us to fire and hence retrieve what is there.’ [my italics] (1996: 327)
As imaginative and inventive as Dick was, it is curious that such an anomalous experience—which, in its odd form of ‘plasmic’ energy resembles the UFO phenomena—lead to an expounding on metaphysical, even religious terms. There is a sense that it ‘reprogrammed’ him; indeed, he even says he saw by its light—he saw everything as permeated by ‘the Programmer’ (or the transcendental ego). Yet, he goes further by postulating a physical as well as cosmological theory that includes us in the remembrance—Plato’s Anamnesis—of things not only past, but of our role in the cosmos itself. It is worth comparing Dick’s conclusion to Wilson’s in Access to Inner Worlds (1983), in which Wilson emphasises that it is ‘we who transform . . . the raw material of perception into what we see. Perception is a sculpture, a moulder of reality . . . I fire it like an arrow’ (Quoted in Stanley; 2016: 54). Wilson concludes by saying that the ‘world is a delightful place, full of hidden meanings’. We can see that Dick used similar language, positing us to ‘fire and hence retrieve what is there’, but, significantly, this reconstitution of a more meaningful reality is received—or added to our perceptions—by our right brain, which, as Dick points out ‘gestalts the constituents of the messages into meaningful entities’. In other words, it brings the ‘bits’ of reality into a unified and fundamentally meaningful whole.
Like the artist, the right brain’s repair work takes fragmentary, essentially chaotic mixtures of paint, rock, marble and sound, and from them it sculpts, moulds and presents something that is strikingly meaningful—something implicit and organised. In a sense our very consciousness, by partaking in the universe itself, is ‘repairing’ precisely by its bringing forth a new order of meaning into an essentially ‘damaged’ cosmos of forms struggling to become more than the sum of their parts.
To frame this argument in a larger context, we will return to the ‘new existentialism’ to explore the fundamental cosmological principles that affirm the enormous importance of consciousness and the imagination in the actualisation of the evolutionary metaphors.
 There is also, of course, the ‘nuts-and-bolts’ interpretation that says it is entirely an objective phenomenon—a craft from out of space full of real, living and breathing creatures. Yet, much of the literature suggests that this is not entirely the case.
 Values—conveyed by creation, natural or manmade—of course, are different. Love, for example, exists in the world of values, the atmosphere in which our emotional ‘culture’ thrives.
 The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead called this ‘casual efficacy’ in which Wilson translated into the more understandable ‘meaning perception’. For a full clarification, see Wilson’s Beyond the Outsider (1965).
Bergson, H. (2014) Creative Evolution. Dover Publications, Inc. New York.
Carroll, P. (2008) The Apophenion: A Chaos Magick Paradigm. Mandrake, Oxford.
Dick, P.K. (1996) The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings. Random House USA Inc, New York.
Gooch, S. (1980) Double Helix of the Mind. Wildwood House, London.
Harpur, P. (2003) Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld. Pine Winds Press, Enumclaw, Washington.
Heyneman, M. (2001) The Breathing Cathedral: Feeling Our Way Into a Living Cosmos. iUniverse, Indiana.
Hitchens, P. (2010) The Rage Against God. Continuum Publishing Corporation, London.
Hyde, L. (2008) Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art. Cannongate Books, Edinburgh.
James, W. (1909) ‘Final Impressions of a Psychical Researcher’ (originally “Confidences of a Psychical Researcher”, American Magazine, October 1909).
Jorjani, J.R. (2016) Prometheus and Atlas. Arktos, Budapest.
Jung, C. (2002) Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky. Routledge, London.
Kripal, J. (2010) Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal And The Sacred. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Lachman, G. (2013) The Caretakers of the Cosmos: Living Responsibly in an Unfinished World. Floris Books, Edinburgh.
Lachman, G. (2015) The Secret Teachers of the Western World. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. New York.
Lachman, G. (2017) Lost Knowledge of the Imagination. Floris Books, Edinburgh.
Mack, J. (1994) Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens. Simon & Schuster, Glasgow.
Miłosz, Czesław (1982) Visions from San Fransico Bay. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.
Ouspensky, P.D. (1989) A New Model of the Universe. Arkana, London.
Peterson, J. (1999) Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. Routledge, London.
Puharich, A. (1974) Uri: A journal of the mystery of Uri Geller. Anchor Press, United States.
Reeve, B. (1965) The Advent of the Cosmic Viewpoint. Amherst, United States.
Spurgeon, B. (2006) Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism. Michael Butterworth.
Stanley, C (2016) An Evolutionary Leap: Colin Wilson on Psychology. Karnac Books, London.
Strieber W. (1988) Transformation. Arrow Books Limited, London.
Strieber, W & Kripal, J.J. (2016) The Super Natural. Jeremy P. Tarcher, New York.
Strieber, W. (2012) Solving the Communion Enigma. Penguin Group, London.
Talbot, M. (1991) Mysticism and the New Physics. Penguin, London.
Vallée, J.F. (1975) Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers. Tandem Books, London.
Watson, I. (2003) The Miracle Visitors. Gollancz, London.
Wilson, C. (1965) Beyond the Outsider: a philosophy of the future. Pan Books Ltd, London.
Wilson, C. (1966) Introduction to the New Existentialism. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
Wilson, C. (1970) Origins of the Sexual Impulse. Granada Publishing Limited, London.
Wilson, C. (1980) The New Existentialism. Wildwood House Ltd, London.
Wilson, C. (1985) The Essential Colin Wilson. Harrap Limited, London.
Wilson, C. (1989) Existentially Speaking: Essays on the Philosophy of Literature. The Borgo Press. California.
Wilson, C. (1990) Religion and the Rebel. Ashgrove Publishing Ltd, London.
Wilson, C. (1999) Alien Dawn: An Investigation into the Contact Experience. Virgin Books, London.
Wilson, C. (2005) World Famous UFOs. Constable and Robinson, London.