“Mad or sane, metamorphosed or merely relieved, the chances were that Akeley had actually encountered some stupendous change of perspective in his hazardous research; some change at once diminishing his danger – real or fancied – and opening dizzy new vistas of cosmic and superhuman knowledge. My own zeal for the unknown flared up to meet his, and I felt myself touched by the contagion of the morbid barrier-breaking. To shake off the maddening and wearying limitations of time and space and natural law – to be linked with the vast outside – to come close to the knighted and abysmal secrets of the infinite and ultimate – surely such a thing was worth the risk of one’s life, soul, and sanity!”
From – ‘Whisperer in Darkness’ by H.P. Lovecraft
Asking the question: What does the evolution of consciousness look like? appears, at first, to be a paradoxical question. Thought itself, and consciousness, is an abstract quality – or an ‘epiphenomena’. At best, one imagines an electroencephalograph (EEG) reading showing the physical, neurological changes in the brain, or electromagnetic flares of activity blossoming in usually quieter regions of the various lobes. Often we see images of someone’s brain on LSD, with two brain scans of before and after the ingestion – we get, in other words, a materialistic-mechanistic reading of the brain as a machine, simply fed with a different fuel. But the experience is within consciousness, which an EEG can only indicate in a crude way.
Now, the UFO and the extraterrestrial does have a visual element, that is, it appears as apparently solid – it also appears to have a reference in some objective reality. Yet at the same time, when considering much of the literature by Jacques Vallee, John Mack and Whitley Strieber, one soon realises that there is an important psychological and psychic factor to both the state of consciousness one is in both before and after the experience. And even the entities of these strange phenomena themselves often directly allude to the importance of human consciousness and its development. Indeed, in a novel based on the phenomena, and a result of a great deal of research, Ian Watson coined the phrase ‘UFO Consciousness’. For him it is not merely a physical event, but a new state of mind that manifests itself as phenomena. In this instance, evolution itself takes the guise – or is subject to a psychic projection – of an intrusion, or as an unidentifiable ‘event’ haunting the collective unconscious.
When we talk of a ‘visionary’ we do not necessarily allude to what the visionary has seen – be it a Blessed Virgin Mary, God or some inexplicable, yet transformative, event – but more to the change in the quality of their perception of reality. It is a common phrase, in many religions, and in Near-Death Experiences, that one has ‘seen the light’. But sometimes, when one returns from these voyages into the unknown – such as in shamanism – the individual involved has not only witnessed something profound (a vision), but now sees by it. He sees into reality as if illuminated by a new light. These individuals are usually known for their deeply reflective quality, as if they are not only illuminating the problem themselves, but in turn receiving a deeper impression from what it is they are reflecting on. Indeed, such is the source and effect of their wisdom – that, when we their contemplate their work, it speaks to us more deeply, much like the visionary paintings and poetry of William Blake, for example, who is generally accepted as a ‘visionary’. Of course, Wilson often used the example of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which seems to be infused with a quality of life and light, a whirlpool of energy ripping throughout the sky and landscape as if that was how Van Gogh saw the universe – a great, interconnected ripple of charged vitality. These people we call ‘enlightened’ or ‘visionaries, for their ability to relate and move the deepest parts of our nature.
I am not here suggesting that everyone who sees a UFO is by default enlightened (there’s plenty of dangerous cults based on that premise alone!). But the experience itself can lend itself to that state of mind, or at least introduce a subtlety and quality to it which expands ones conception of reality and what is possible. Indeed, there is a distinct element of trauma involved in a lot of witness cases, most notably Whitley Strieber’s (which we shall consider in more detail later). However, a more down-to-earth example will help us gain a perspective on how our consciousness affects what we see, and how we see. This particular example is about a South African prisoner:
“He said that for some years he’d been in a part of the prison where he couldn’t see out a window, couldn’t see more than 20 feet in any direction. Everything there was either gray or dull brown, including clothing. Day after day, month after month, there were no colours but those two. Bright colours were so rare that after two years, if a brightly coloured thread was blown in on the wind to fall, say, onto a guard’s uniform, the sight of it struck like a thunderbolt. A mere thread was almost overwhelming – because of its colour alone. He said that for relatively sensitive people, prison changed one’s perspective on the outside world in many ways. After a while, in prison, one becomes a kind of zombie to survive. But once released, he said, the riot of colours and the sudden freedoms are startling, and the world seems overwhelming in its profusion of shapes and possibilities – you are shocked by this searing variety, shocked into waking up, into seeing things you didn’t see prior to prison” (p. 12-13; John Shirley)
This shock of newness, of an intrusion of novelty, is as if a “thunderbolt” had occurred in his everyday perception of greyness. I have mentioned (in Part 1) that human beings – particularly most of the existentialists and scientific materialists – regard themselves as essentially trapped in human-made values, that we are in a closed-system where nothing really truly ‘new’ can enter from outside. We are, it is often said, alone in this universe – a universe moreover actively hostile to life. We are, pessimistically, like the South African prisoner, trapped in a universe stripped of any sense of significance left for either ourselves or the cosmos. Any ‘intrusion’ into this closed system would, in a sense, have to come from outside. The shocks of a transcendent value, as it were, striking through the veneer of our human-all-too-human worldview. The essence behind the appearances.
If this were to intrude too ferociously into our lives, we may resort to ‘compensatory fictions’, madness or reductive explanations which decrease its full impact of implications. The mystic Gurdjieff called this mechanism of consciousness our buffers. John Shirley, novelist and biographer, explains the purpose of buffers as “cushion[ing] the shock of contradiction, keeping us comfortable enough with ourselves to remain asleep, enabling us to believe we’re always in the right. They are to some extent practical, protecting us from feeling contradictions that would otherwise drive us mad” (p. 133). This may explain the essential absurdity of the UFO phenomena as we see it, the apparent illogical nature of their actions, and oddly stream-of-consciousness dialogues they have with abductees. Sometimes profound, sometimes nonsensical. Rather like an un-graspable mystical insight that cannot quite translate itself into common language.
A somewhat clumsier metaphor that I have used in the past is that the UFO seals itself off from being known by leaving nothing but confusion behind. Rather like a puncture in a tire which is definitely there, but as the rubber expands, is not visible to the naked eye. It almost seems to re-seal itself in mystery, and any explanation for it is left on unstable foundations – crumbling and often contradicted. It can be witnessed, usually spontaneously, but never confined or isolated in experiment. It has that awkward position in science of an unfalsifiable theory or hypothesis.
Interestingly the UFO appears to intentionally confound science! For Terrence McKenna, in summarising Jacques Vallee’s central thesis behind his book The Invisible Landscape (1975), notes that the “cultural thermostat theory” presents the “flying saucer [as] an object from the collective unconscious of the human race that appears in order to break the control of any set of ideas that are gaining dominance in their explanatory power at the expense of ethics. It is a confound that enters history again and again whenever history builds to a certain kind of boil” (p. 59). Similarly the researcher into the ‘high weirdness’ of lake monsters, ghosts and poltergeists and other Fortean phenomena, Ted Holiday, noted in his book The Goblin Universe (1986):
“A certain sort of ghost has always undertaken this function. At its lowest level this may involve nothing more spiritual than an evening chase across the meadows after a mystery light of a lakeside glimpse of a dragon. At its highest, the witness may perform miracles of healing or found a new religion. These ghosts have this specific function: they mystify, mock, foment reaction and reveal. They act as spiritual enzymes, posing problems, acting out elaborate spoofs, offering to guide yet leading the searcher into a swamp, conducting the hunter after treasure or power to a hideous travesty of the very thing he craves. They are beautiful or ugly, according to circumstances. The Jews of olden time called them Satan, the Tester, because they test with spiritual acid acting through karma in order that the inner laws of creation be well-protected” .
Nearly every respectable UFO investigator has often suffered from a sense of defeat, concluding after years of research that they are no closer to the truth than they started. Andrija Puharich, speaking of his experience with an extraterrestrial entity who called itself Spectra, concluded that “[t]he secret of Spectra was safe because they had leaked out just enough information to convince me of their reality, but not enough for me to ever convince any other human being” . The Harvard psychologist, John Mack, identified the problem as an issue with the “Western Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm”, being as they are phenomena both physical and non-physical, simultaneously objective phenomena and mental phenomena. There is a certain qualitas occultus attributable to the entire experience; presenting itself as one thing and then just as a semblance of sense is made, it devours itself, leaving no trace. And like a prankster it leaves the witness being perceived to be an utter delusional fool. There is even a sense that one ought not to discuss UFOs in polite company, and to write a book about the phenomena is akin to consigning your ever being taken seriously to the bin.
Indeed there is a frustrating dream-like quality to the whole affair. If the UFO is a ‘reflector of human values’, a mirror to our vacillating mental world, shifting as it does from objective to subjective, often confusing the two, we are led inevitably into the domain of dream interpretation. Of course, this was essentially Carl Jung’s approach to the subject of flying saucers. It is interesting to note at this point that Ouspensky saw dreams as almost entirely subjective phenomena, whereby consciousness is entirely passive and a victim of an endless churning of subjectivity with its endless relativisms. Consciousness for Ouspensky was never constantly one thing or the other – unless one was fully self-conscious (objective towards oneself) or objectively conscious (objective to the world as it is) – and most people are subject to the logic of dream even in their ordinary waking consciousness (not necessarily in the sense of hallucinations), which explains the inconsistency of man’s ego (what he called man’s multiple and conflicting ‘I’s’). And yet, the dream world can become involved in the world of matter, that is, in what is accordingly the ‘objective world’ of things.
The famous example of Jung’s patient and the scarab beetle is a case in point, in which a:
“[…] woman patient who recited a dream she had had in which she was given a costly piece of jewellery, a golden scarab (beetle). While she was relating the dream Jung heard something tapping at the window from outside. Jung opened the window and in flew a scarbaeid beetle which he caught in his hand, its gold-green color resembling that of the golden scarab in the woman’s dream. He handed the beetle to his patient and said, “Here is your scarab.”
The woman, who was highly educated and intelligent, had been resisting dealing with her feelings and emotions. She was very adept at rationalization and intellectualizing. After the scary scarab experience she was able to get to the root of her emotional problems and to make real progress in her growth toward wholeness”.
This fascinating experience shows that the world of the dream can carry over into the world of waking experience. It is not only symbolised in the dream, it also comes through into a real-life situation, which in turn correlates with the unconscious processes of the dreamer to facilitate a “growth towards wholeness”. In other words an integration of the ego with that of the unconscious mind (this is effectively what the synchronicity is for). In effect she had achieved a form of Gurdjieff’s ‘self-remembering’. I would argue that the UFO, in its vorticiating strangeness, is turning us inside-out and outside-in through the process of purposeful mystery, rather like the intentional mental ‘shock’ of a Zen kōan. In short it encourages us to think, as Ouspensky was once urged to do in an altered state of consciousness, to ‘in different categories’.
Often these ‘different categories’ are to be found in mysticism or the occult. For example, in his novel Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse makes one of his characters express the fundamental motivating force behind religious mysticism:
“It is what I call eternity. The pious call it the kingdom of God. I say to myself: all we who ask too much have a dimension too many could not contrive to live at all if there were not another air to breathe outside the air of this world, if there were not eternity at the back of time; and this is the kingdom of truth” .
Again it is yearning for a transcendent value behind the transience of matter. It is not necessarily anti-materialist, but what Victor Frankl rallied against when he said that the “nihilism of today is reductionism. . . Contemporary nihilism no longer brandishes the word nothingness; today nihilism is camouflaged as nothing-but-ness. Human phenomena are thus turned into mere epiphenomena” . It is against this ‘nothing-but-ness’ that both the mystic and the new existentialist intuitively understand as false. Wilson concluded that “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” . And interestingly he notes:
“[T]hat it would seem that the UFO entities have no problems with solid matter. And it is likely that we would be the same if we had reached their level of evolution. Our problem, when we feel trapped in matter, is that we find it very hard to believe that it can be tamed by any mental discipline. Yet, on another level, everyday life supports this contention. Apparently insoluble problems yield to determined effort . . . But it [matter] has immense inertia, and yields slowly and painfully, like some gigantic rusty door. Half the battle is realising that it will yield if you push hard” .
We are back to the premise of the new existentialism as I introduced in Part 1. And more interestingly, it is to do with the effort of conscious thought itself. The UFOs and their occupants appear to have extrasensory powers and varying degrees of control over time and matter. They are, in some sense, supermen who reside outside and above the limits that most of us find ourselves – the limits of time, personality and temporality. And yet, as Nietzsche noted when he said that this world is slow, cumbersome and dreary, and that only in flashes of light speed consciousness – that is above space-time – can one start to see in an enlightened way. Again there are levels of consciousness which would, in effect, take away the contradictions we see in the UFO phenomena once we reach their level. In the state of the ‘UFO Consciousness’, or ‘UFO Reality’ as Watson and Wilson respectively called it (Patrick Harpur called it the ‘Daimonic Reality’ in a book of the same name). I have dwelt upon this notion of ‘light speed’ in these two parts, because it seems to me a fascinating answer to the problem; and it is bought up time and time again in terms of heightened states of consciousness. For example, Uri Geller expresses his theory of his powers thus:
“I believe that in telepathy I am passing the light speed. I feel that telepathic waves travel at a speed of light or faster. Every object gives off radiation which moves out into the universe. When we pass the light barrier, we can see into the past or into the future, and we can transmute materials one into the other. Everything is based on the light speed. And once beyond that there is no end to what can be done” .
Indeed, according to John Keel, UFOs even appear to “exist at frequencies beyond visible light”. It is worth quoting Keel at length, for it presents a satisfying answer origin of the UFO phenomena:
“[…] they can adjust their frequency and descend the electromagnetic spectrum – just as you can turn the dial of your radio and move a variable condenser up and down the scale of radio frequencies. When a UFO’s frequency nears that of visible light, it would appear first as a purplish blog of violet. As it moves further down the scale, it would seem to change to blue, and then to cyan (bluish green). . .
I have therefore classified that section of the color spectrum as the UFO entry field. When the objects begin to move into our spatial and time coordinates, they gear down from higher frequencies, passing progressively from ultraviolet to violet to bluish green. When they stabilize within our dimensions, they radiate energy on all frequencies and become a glaring white.
In the white condition the object can traverse distances visibly, but radical manoeuvres of ascent or descent require it to alter its frequencies again, and this produces new color changes. In the majority of all landing reports, the objects were said to have turn orange (red and yellow) or red before descending. When they settle on the ground they ‘solidify’ and glow red again. Sometimes reportedly they turn a brilliant red and vanish. Other times they shift through all the colors of the spectrum, turn white, and fly off into the night until they look like just another star.
Since the color red is so closely associated with the landing and takeoff process, I term the end of the color spectrum the UFO departure field’” .
If this is the case, there are fascinating correlations to be made between colours, time and the speed of light, and indeed our own potential modes of consciousness. For there could be a corresponding colour indicating our lower moods, to our higher, more ‘enlightened’ moods which are akin to the what Keel calls ‘all frequencies’ – that is, of the glaring bright white light, which is of course further down the spectrum from the invisible radiations to ultraviolet and so on.
This would enable us to create a direct relationship between the manifestation and powers of the UFO and their visitors, with the levels of our own potential modes of consciousness. For in a sense, an interest in the esoteric or the occult is a fascination with the ‘end of the spectrum’ of known knowledge, and of the higher significance which may lie ‘hidden’ beyond mere appearances. For the occult is primarily concerned with other modes of being, and other modes of knowledge. So it is really a matter of us evolving to the same level of the UFO, and in its own way, the phenomena is teaching us about the limitations and potential powers of our own mind. If they have an evolutionary agenda, it could be that they communicate through symbols, as Professor Jeffrey Kripal understood when he said:
“Although paranormal phenomena certainly involve material processes, they are finally organized around signs and meanings. To use the technical terms, they are semiotic and hermeneutical phenomena. Which is to say that they seem to function as representations or signs to decipher and interpret, not just movements of matter to measure and quantify.
“paranormal phenomena are semiotic or hermeneutical phenomena in the sense that they signal, symbolize, or speak across a “gap” between the conscious, socialized ego and the unconscious or superconscious field” (p. 25).
I will attempt to address this notion in Part 3. . .
Ian Watson’s Miracle Visitors (1978)