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Dr. John Mack, an “Early” Student of Alien Encounters

May 19, 2010

Dr. John E. Mack was a well-known professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a leading authority on the transformative and spiritual aspects of alien encounters. His early work on alien abductions inspired many other UFO and ET researchers to open new areas of inquiry.

As a psychiatrist, he began work with people who told him stories of being abducted by aliens.

In the beginning, Dr. Mack suspected that they were delusional, but came to accept their stories after some time and became a leading student of extraterrestrial visitation.  He was investigated while teaching at Harvard but the university in the end supported his academic freedom to study whatever he felt worthy of his attention.

Dr. Mack was hit by a car in England in 2004. His death is generally regarded as intentional.

Here are two videos in which he states his views. A biography follows and an interview with

Biographical Information
John E. Mack, M.D.
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

John Edward Mack, M.D. (October 4, 1929 – September 27, 2004) was an American Psychiatrist and Professor at Harvard Medical School.

He was Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, considered to be a leading authority on the spiritual or transformational effects of alleged alien encounter experiences, sometimes called the Abduction Phenomenon.

Born in New York City, Mack received his medical degree from the Harvard Medical School (Cum Laude, 1955) after undergraduate study at Oberlin (Phi Beta Kappa, 1951). He was a graduate of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and was Board certified in child and adult psychoanalysis.

The dominant theme of his life’s work has been the exploration of how one’s perceptions of the world affect one’s relationships. He addressed this issue of “worldview” on the individual level in his early clinical explorations of dreams, nightmares and teen suicide, and in his biographical study of the life of British officer T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in biography in 1977.

Mack advocated that Western culture required a shift away from a purely materialist worldview (which he felt was responsible for the Cold War, the global ecological crisis, ethnonationalism and regional conflict) towards a transpersonal worldview which embraced certain elements of Eastern spiritual and philosophical traditions.

Mack’s interest in the spiritual aspect of human experience has been compared by the New York Times to that of a previous Harvard professor, William James. Like James, Mack became controversial for his efforts to bridge spirituality and psychiatry.

This theme was taken to a controversial extreme [of course, I don’t agree with this conclusion] in the early 1990s when Mack commenced his decade-plus study of 200 men and women who reported recurrent alien encounter experiences.

Such encounters had been reported since at least the 1950’s (the account of Antonio Villas Boas), and had seen some limited attention from academic figures (Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle perhaps being the earliest, in the 1960s). Mack, however, remains probably the most esteemed academic to have studied the subject.

Mack initially suspected that such persons were suffering from mental illness, but when no obvious pathologies were present in the persons he interviewed, Mack’s interest was piqued.

Following encouragement from longtime friend Thomas Kuhn (who predicted that the subject might be controversial, but urged Mack to simply collect data and temporarily ignore prevailing materialist, dualist and “either/or” analysis), Mack began concerted study and interviews.

Many of those Mack interviewed reported that their encounters had affected the way they regarded the world, including producing a heightened sense of spirituality and environmental concern.

Mack was somewhat more guarded in his investigations and interpretations of the abduction phenomenon than were the earlier researchers. Literature professor Terry Matheson writes that “On balance, Mack does present as fair-minded an account as has been encountered to date, at least as these abduction narratives go.” (Matheson, 251) In an undated interview, Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove stated that Mack seemed “inclined to take these [abduction] reports at face value”.

Mack replied by saying “Face value I wouldn’t say. I take them seriously. I don’t have a way to account for them.”Similarly, the BBC quoted Mack as saying, “I would never say, yes, there are aliens taking people. [But] I would say there is a compelling powerful phenomenon here that I can’t account for in any other way, that’s mysterious. Yet I can’t know what it is but it seems to me that it invites a deeper, further inquiry.”

Mack noted that there was a worldwide history of visionary experiences — especially in pre-industrial societies. One example is the vision quest common to some Native American cultures. Only fairly recently in Western culture, notes Mack, have such visionary events been interpreted as aberrations or as mental illness. Mack suggested that abduction accounts might best be considered as part of this larger tradition of visionary encounters.

Mack’s interest in the spiritual or transformational aspects of people’s alien encounters, and his suggestion that the experience of alien contact itself may be more spiritual than physical in nature — yet nonetheless real — set him apart from many of his contemporaries such as Budd Hopkins, who advocated the physical reality of aliens.

In 1994 the Dean of Harvard Medical School appointed a committee of peers to review Mack’s clinical care and clinical investigation of the people who had shared their alien encounters with him (some of their cases were written of in Mack’s 1994 book Abduction). In the same BBC article cited above, Angela Hind wrote, “It was the first time in Harvard’s history that a tenured professor was subjected to such an investigation.”

Mack described this investigation as “Kafkaesque:” He never quite knew the status of the ongoing investigation, and the nature of his critics’ complaints shifted frequently, as most of their accusations against him proved baseless when closely scrutinized.

After fourteen months of inquiry, there were growing questions from the academic community (including Harvard Professor of Law Alan Dershowitz) regarding the validity of Harvard’s investigation of a tenured professor who was not suspected of ethics violations or professional misconduct.

Harvard then issued a statement stating that the Dean had “reaffirmed Dr. Mack’s academic freedom to study what he wishes and to state his opinions without impediment,” concluding “Dr. Mack remains a member in good standing of the Harvard Faculty of Medicine.” (Mack was censured for some methodological errors.) He had received legal help from Roderick MacLeish and Daniel Sheehan, and the support of Laurance Rockefeller, who also funded Mack’s Center for four consecutive years at $250,000 per year.

Mack’s explorations later broadened into the general consideration of the merits of an expanded notion of reality, one which allows for experiences that may not fit the Western materialist paradigm, yet deeply affect people’s lives. His second (and final) book on the alien encounter experience, Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters (1999), was as much a philosophical treatise connecting the themes of spirituality and modern worldviews as it was the culmination of his work with the “experiencers” of alien encounters (to whom the book is dedicated).

An archive of his writings is available at

Statement regarding the passing of Dr John Mack
As presented on the John E Mack Institute website

At this time (9.28.04) we must with great sorrow confirm that Dr John Mack has passed away in London, England.

Dr Mack was one of several speakers discussing British officer T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) at the T. E. Lawrence Society Symposium, in Oxford on Sunday. (Dr Mack’s 1977 biography of T.E. Lawrence, A Prince of Our Disorder, received the Pulitzer Prize in biography ; see complete bio below). Dr Mack’s Sunday afternoon presentation at the symposium was warmly received and he was asked to stay and present an additional talk, which again met with positive response. On Monday, he spent time in London and went to dinner with friends.

On his return that night to the home at which he was staying in North London, while traveling on foot from the tube station, he was struck at approx. 23:25 by a silver Peugeot 306 headed west on Totteridge Lane. Dr Mack was crossing the street near the junction with Longland Drive.

Dr Mack was attended to immediately by two male pedestrians, and swiftly thereafter by a firefighter who resided nearby, who responded to the sound of the accident. The driver of the Peugeot remained on the scene. When authorities arrived, the driver was arrested on suspicion of driving with excess alcohol.

Dr Mack lapsed from consciousness moments after the impact, and was pronounced dead a short while later at the hospital.

(A difference in the recorded date of his passing – 09.28 or 09.27 – is due to the official pronouncement of death occurring in the early minutes of 09.28).

Dr. Mack and his wife, Sally (Stahl) Mack, divorced in 1995. He leaves a sister, Mary Lee Ingbar of Cambridge, MA; three sons, Daniel of Boulder, Colo., Kenneth of Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Tony, of Cambridge; and two grandchildren.

Cambridge Service: A memorial service in honor of John Mack was held at Harvard University’s Memorial Church in Cambridge, MA on Saturday, November 13th at 12:00 Noon.

London Service: The cremation of John Mack took place at 11.30 am on Wednesday Oct 13, 2004 at Hendon Crematorium in Holders Hill Road, London. Danny Mack and a small gathering of friends held an informal, non-denominational service with personal tributes to John.

Interview with Dr. John E. Mack

October 2002

SCIFI MOD: Hi everyone, thanks for joining us here. I’m Ben Trumble for SCIFI. Tonight we’re pleased to welcome Dr.John E. Mack. Dr. John Mack is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a leading authority on the transformative and spiritual aspects of alien encounters.

SCIFIMOD: Dr. Mack is the author of Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters, the 1994 bestseller Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens, and a Pulitzer prizing winning biography of the Briitish adventurer and soldier T. E. Lawrence.

SCIFI MOD: Do you have an opinion on where aliens come from?

John Mack: The first task in addressing that question is moving away from literal thinking This star or that star They may come from another dimension. One shaman asked them where they’re from and they answered Nowhere and Everywhere. They might come from a star system. Who knows

SCIFI MOD: Are abductions getting more frequent now or have they slowed down?

John Mack: It’s hard for me to answer. I have only my own cases and those I know about. I have a general impression the famous types of aductions of the late 90’s are happening less frequently. It’s more subtle. Beings that reach people. Balls of light etc. It may be a mistake to use the term abduction rather than
encounter for many such contacts. Abduction is what humans do to each other. But all sorts of encounters don’t literally involve physical movement that we know of.

SCIFI MOD: any change in the way people are telling you about their abductions than say 10 years ago?

John Mack: That’s a very interesting question. Many people who talk to me are already pretty far along in their knowledge. They know what’s happened to them and they are very well informed. They’re trying to understand how to discuss it with family. How long it’s been going on etc. They are less likely to come in overwhelmed by the strangness of it. One of the difficulties is a self selection. It’s a field now where abductees seem to seek out researchers who refelect their feelings about the experience. So I may have of different expereinces than someone else would. I don’t know that they actually think in those terms . Hopkins looks at the experience this way. Mack looks at it that way. Barbara Lamb says this. But my sense is that the initial trauma seems less now

SCIFI MOD: How many people if any do you think have encounters but dismiss them because of their own disbelief

John Mack: I would guess many. I see people who I may have been talking with for months who suddenly remember and encounter from years and years ago and they dismissed it. It’s when they have a later experience as a reference point that they begin to make the connection. Childhood experiences can be dismissed as dreams etc

SCIFI MOD: How are your relations with the Harvard faculty after your “difficulties” surrounding your first book?

John Mack: I would say pretty good. I’m not retired but I’m past retirement age. And as I often say a Harvard Prof can only make a fool of himself once and I’m past that. I’ve become more sophisticated in how I frame my arguments. Also I believe that a shift has occured in the culture in the world view. That phenomenon like this are not as marginalized as they were. The Speilberg miniseries coming up TAKEN couldn’t have happned ten years ago. There’s a greater awareness now. We don’t dismiss out of hand as quickly as we did.

SCIFI MOD : Have you ever wondered if this implant technology is used to see through our eyes, hear through our ears, and to basically view everything that we do?

John Mack: I never really thought about that. The only thing that made much sense is the idea of tagging people to monitor them. The implant subject is one of the puzzling aspects of abduction that never quite satisfies hard science investigation. It always remains a bit out of reach. My sense is that we’re never going to pin all this down in 3 dimensional reality with the usual tools of science.

I read an article about near death experiences. The writer made the point that the only people trying to explain near death experience are researchers. The people who experience them don’t need explaination. They know how profound it was. The same may be true for encounter experience. It is what it is. If we don’t try to reduce it to our language we might appreciate and understand more than we realize. Maybe we know a lot when we just appreciate the interdimensional possibilities.

SCIFI MOD: Is the present alien abduction experience universal and worldwide? With a bit of digging can you find abductees as easily say in the Guatemalan Highlands as you can in New England?

John Mack: I don’t think it’s been studied enough to answer that. What I know is that we’ve seen cases in South America., Australia. Turkey, Africa. The cases seem to show up where people look for them. The core expereince seem similar whether in Africa, or Brazil, or New York. But how it’s interpreted varies between cultures. There are a whole pantheon of “aliens” and demons and other creatures in shamanistic cultures

SCIFI MOD: Do you feel movements such as the disclosure project or coalition for the freedom of information will soon make any headway getting the public informed of certain realities——–without the major media ignoring or discrediting the “nonsense” subject of ET reality

John Mack: It’s already happening. The Disclosure Project aroused a lot of interest. A number of papers took it quite seriously. There was a press conference yesterday in Washington asking the government to release information. Everytime thjere is a request the public enters the dialogue. I don’t think the government is the key here. I think it’s a myth that the government is covering up all that much of any real value. They may be covering up their own coverup.

That’s not to say there are no secrets. But I don’t get the sense that they are truly interested in abduction. They’ve never been interestyed in what I’ve done. There was a mini-series called Intruders in ’92. Intelligence goons tried to shut him up after three cases. I’ve seen hundreds and NOBODY has directly contacted me.  …

SCIFI MOD: to : Do most of your experiencers see UFO’s? …

John Mack: Oh sure. Maybe half have seen UFOs at one time or another. Often it’s just lights in the sky. But many of them do see discreet craft at one time or another. I was once at a MUFON meeting and it was striking to me that the people who reported the most sightings were also the people who had
known encounters. So they do go together.

SCIFI MOD: Do you think it is possible that Human beings genetically engineered, and cloned the “aliens” in technological age thousands of years ago?

John Mack: I have no idea. The whole genetic question is confusing. It’s clear that eggs and sperm are taken. The assumption is that its for genetic manipulation. But there are no studies to show that our genes have actually been altered. That the genes of abductees or their children have been changed. The more you investigate all this. The more you must insist on scientific evidence. But when you opproach all this through science it becomes evasive. That may be the wrong methodology. That’s why I’ve looked at the profound experience that stands in its own light. Whether the alines are concrete or spirit beings that appear in our space. If there are 100’s of thousands of encounters why don’t we see.more actual objects. I tend to downplay the literal experience for the mystical.

SCIFIMOD: what do you think of Jung’s ideas on the collective unconsious and its relevance.

John Mack: If you mean by the collective unconsious that we are all having the same idea at more or less the same time, I don’t think so. If you mean there is a resonance between our inner lives and outside physical world perhaps. As above so below. But that doesn’t discount physical reality.

SCIFI MOD: Skeptics seem to view alien abduction reports either as hoax or delusion, lumping them at times with visions of the Virgin Mary, angel sightings, etc. Despite the trauma often associated with abduction experiences are they in any way a form of religious ecstasy?

John Mack: Some intelligences are embodied, like some of the beings and some are not. There can be beings throughout the cosmos that range from dense beings like us to formless bodies and in beteween states.

SCIFI MOD: Last Question   Do the ETs have any sense of comradery with us —such as being “brothers” or do they look at us more  as specimens, from what you can see.

John Mack: That’s very much in the eye of the beholder. Some people are frightened and see them as cold and indifferent. Others feel a strong sense of bonding and love. Some even claim mates on the other side. And sometimes the same person starts out as angry and frightened and screaming and over time they form powerful bonds in later encounters but I’m involved too as the observer.

It’s an ongoing phenomenon. The composer and the musician are co-creative.. I want to tell you all about a film called TOUCHED. It’s a one hour documentary made here and in Brzil looking at the abduction phenomenon. The producers are Blind Dog Films and Laurel Chitin. The website is It’ll be showing in Boston in February. I bring this up because of the timing and all the attention SCIFI can bring to the phenomenon.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 12, 2010 4:03 pm

    Thank you for the wonderful tribute. I had the great honor and pleasure of meeting John Mack in Albuquerque at the October 2002 International Conference on Altered States of Consciousness where I took his workshop. He was a gentle, soft-spoken man with a depth of compassion and sensitivity, an open-minded scientist who did important, pioneering work, despite the risk to his career…and eventually…his life. His premature loss to our planet was a tragic one.

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