Lost In Translation 1, by Iona Miller
ABSTRACT: This paper is based on the hypothesis that whether UFO-ET phenomenon have "objective" reality or not, the notion of their existence functions as an informational virus. Despite the true essence of any alien phenomenon, this contagion is a psychosocial reality.
Any self-styled UFO investigator should become aware of the nature of all kinds of false interpretations of ambiguous experience in order to separate out any alleged experiencers. This mini-course in the complexity of interrelated issues impacting the nature of perception is meant to help sort psychosocial phenomena from any potential alien manifestations.
Buzz-words like Denial, False Memory Syndrome, Paranoia are easy to throw around without understanding their subtle qualities; they are not included here as ways to dismiss contact reports, but as ways of deepening our understanding of various phenomena.
We live in the information age. Information is energy, and is furthermore the most fundamental form of energy. And--it's alive! And it wants to be free. Information in action -- dynamic information -- is a powerful force.
Permeating the living reality of our culture are certain contagious notions which have the ability to influence the way we think about the nature of ourselves and Reality. Jung described the concept of psychic contagion by certain archetypal forces inherent in the human psyche, which manifest in our spiritual lives and belief systems. He spoke of both conscious and unconscious contamination.
Notions like this range from simple superstitions to scientific concepts, to urban myths. Notions sweep through our culture and insinuate themselves within its fabric, as fads, whether they are "real" or not, they can be influential. An analysis of these notions is useful in distinguishing a common human phenomenon from any potential "alien influence" which may or may not be exerted on us from an unknown Source.
"Alien invasion" is a powerful root metaphor for penetration by forces we perceive as originating outside of ourselves. A contagious notion like this can contaminate our conscious and subconscious life, much like a computer virus moves through an operating system creating wormholes in the informational net, destroying the old order and leaving fragmentation and disintegration in its wake. Like some weird parody of "The Alien," this notion eats at us from the inside out.
There is a meta-myth operating in society as we approach the year 2000 and beyond. Cotemporaneous with "Alien Contact," this contagious notion within our midst can be termed "Millennial Fever," and it is not limited to apocalyptic Christian thought. Even athiests, scientists, humanists, and neo-pagans get millennial fever. If one date doesn't deliver the prophecy results, it gets postponed to another future event. There are many variations on the themes of prophetic doom, and utopian triumph -- salvific formulae for survival in the age of information anxiety and radically advancing technology.
Many of these variations share the theme that humanity will be translated to a higher order of Being, some sort of hyperdimensional Eden. What if it is all true? The prospect is pretty overwhelming. How many casualities of such a process could be "Lost in Translation"? Is "the End" any nearer than the aliens, or (horrors!) do the two prophetic streams relate to each other? Are we moving deeply into some process of self-fulfilling prophecy?
Even the notion of totally public Alien Contact reflects this sense of a Strange Attractor in human history or Time itself, just beyond the horizon of our immediate Future. But some report that contact Now, rather than in some ever-elusive future time.
Globally, there is an upwelling wave of cultural interest in the UFO-ET phenomenon. It is reflected in an increasing number of reports and investigations, as well as its ramifications in psychotherapy, and simple market trends.
Ufology is riding the crest of a wave which has made it one of the most marketable subjects, as witnessed by the many television and talk radio shows dedicated to it. At the 1995 Seattle Whole Life Expo, fully one-fourth of the headlining "experts" were directly speaking on this subject, whle an additional one-eighth of the total speakers addressed the subject and its tangents. The topic is second only to sex on the internet.
Major book publishers and distributors have a renewed interest in securing their market share, not to mention the plethora of videos being produced and marketed by wholesalers, such a "UFO CENTRAL." The ubiquitous presence of the family camcorder has led to the dissemination of far more credible evidence than has ever been available, and resources to concoct hoaxes, as well.
For many, seeing is believing. One in ten say they've seen a UFO. According to a survey by one national newspaper, fully 91% of us believe Earth has been visited by extraterrestrials. This belief alone indicates a psychosocial phenomenon of huge magnitude, even without addressing the broader "reality" of UFO-ET scenarios.
THE NATURE OF PERCEPTION
This phenomenon begs us to examine every related issue, such as the nature of consciousness, perception, beliefs, memory, dreams, memory of dreams, the formation of imagery and its philosophical counterpart -- our worldview. Our beliefs underlie what we do, feel, and think, and condition what we allow ourselves to experience. The mind tends to fill in the blanks: "I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't believed it."
Skeptics assert that our minds take in information from the environment, combine it with aspects of memory, shape it to satisfy certain needs, and produce a belief that may or may not have anything to do with reality. Adding to that a tendency toward "magical thinking" left over from childhood, and we must be to some degree suspicious of our own experience, never mistaking it for Truth.
The phenomenal world is a world of repeated wonders, which though experienced by people in every generation, elude reasonable explanation, yet survive every attempt to exorcise or suppress them. Such phenomena are repetitive and affect people mentally or physically. They include the real phenomena of the everyday world. On their own level they correspond to the archetypal themes of mythology and the archetypal images in dreams. The phenomenal view is based on life as experienced rather than as conceived.
The phenomenological viewpoint accepts everything, believes absolutely nothing, and does not explain anything. Theories are introduced only tentatively and temporarily, while the focus remains on the content of human experience: things that happen or are believed to happen, or are said to happen. Products of nature or imagination, first-hand witnessing is a different order of experience than second-hand rationalization.
Phenomenologists recognize no certainties, and don't care for explanations. For example, the tendency of the UFO cult to identify the great sanctuaries of prehistoric civilizations as the work of extraterrestrial spacemen. The hope of neo-phenomenalism is to look at the universe directly with nothing to prove--no faiths, theories, or taboos to inhibit the process.
Humans in general believe in the ideas we comprehend as quickly and automatically as we believe in the objects we see. Comprehending and accepting are functionally the same--a notion's symbolic representation is treated as if it is true.
In dreams unconscious ideas that were kept in the psyche in mute and invisible ways become transformed into representational forms. According to Winson (1990), dreams also are the means by which we "form strategies for survival and evaluate current experience in light of those strategies." Both he and researcher J. Allan Hobson agree that dreams directly reveal our view of the world and deep aspects of ourselves. This reiterates the same discoveries in depth psychology by Freud and Jung.
Perception inclues a complex set of phenomena that intervene between sensory stimulation and conscious awareness. Jung studied this threshold and found the panoply of symbolism of the collective unconscious. According to Freeman (1991), "the brain moves beyond the mere extraction of features--how it combines sensory messages with past experience and with EXPECTATION to identify both the stimulus and its particular meaning to the individ ual." The result is a meaning-laden perception--a gestalt--that is unique to each individual.
Modulatory chemicals, such as noradrenaline and endorphins, released into the brain increase sensitivity to input, both by participating in the formation of connections and by enhancing arousal. This sensitivity allows a very small signal--a whiff, a whisper, a glimpse--to trigger a massive collective state change, the "butterfly effect" of chaos theory.
In the general dynamics of perception, the brain seeks information by directing us to look, listen, and sniff. "The search results from self-organizing activity in the limbic system (involved in emotion and memory), which funnels a search command to the motor systems. As the motorcommand is transmitted, the limbic system issues what is called a reafference message, altering all the sensory systems to prepare to respond to new information"
Freeman continues: "And respond they do, with every neuron in a given region participating in a collective activity--a burst. Synchronous activity in each system is then transmitted back to the limbic system, where it combines with a similarly generated output from other sensory systems to form a gestalt. Then, within a fraction of a second, another search for information is demanded and the sensory systems are prepared again by reafference."
"Consciousness may well be the subjective experience of this recursive process of motor command, reafference and perception."
So the brain plans and prepares for each subsequent action on the basis of past action, sensory input and perceptual synthesis. Consciousness is bidirectional, both reaching out to the world and folding reflexively in upon its own operations. Viewing consciousness as an emergent, self-organizing phenomenon complicates the simple cause-effect (or stimulus/response) model of cognition.
Consciousness is turbid when meanings are undergoing reconstruction in an undetermined direction, and becomes clear as a decisive meaning emerges. The convergence of all forms of sensory input provides a basis for the unity of consciousness. The act of perception is a creative act in which the brain grows, reorganizes, reacts to and changes the environment.
Perception creates an "observation," arresting the flux of a world in continuous, perhaps infinite, movement. Freeman concludes by noting that the poet Blake wrote "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." "Such cleansing," says Freeman: "would not be desirable. Without the protection of the doors of perception--that is, without the self-controlled chaotic activity of the cortex, from which perceptions spring--people and animals wold be overwhelmed by infinity."
When we make an observation, we "interfere" with the development or building up of probabilities which "collapse" into one actual event. From a quantum-physics perspective, the world is not solid, real, independent from us, but exists in a limbo between real and possible. In a constructivist view of the world, our paradigms determine how we organize it, but we can determine our paradigms.
Perception itself is a mysterious phenomenon which transforms a physical event (the stimulus) into a subjective experience. It permits a conversion from matter to psyche, and the psyche mirrors the matter. Imagery reflects the same process without a physical stimulus--the image mirrors another mirror (perception). But the image is not a faithful mirror, it is a creative mirror.
Even presuming the reality of extraterrestrial contact, any experience is subject to contamination, or overlay, by the primal archetypal forces inherent in mankind's psyche. Jung noted how such inner figures condition our waking and dreaming experience, including among them the Shadow, Anima and Animus, the Double, Trickster, Shaman, Magical Child, Hero, Senex, and the Self (archetype of individuation).
All these forces can produce multisensory bizarre imagery. Any of these variables could function as filters of a legitimate contact experience, which would be virtually indistinguishable from a mirroring of the self. Even external reality can mirror psychic reality through synchronicity.
Whitley Strieber described such an encounter in "The Aliens That Aren't." In a multiple witness sighting, an entity transformed into completely different states.
"...when the lady touched the so-called visitor, she thought it was an animal who had come into the room. Of course, it couldn't have been, because there was no way for an animal to get in. It then went into another room, where it was seen by another individual. It went down the hall and proceeded to wake up two people who were sleeping on a couch. The man sleeping there saw it transform into something with the head of an eagle, which has got all kinds of deep mythological signficance for the human species. Then it just disappeared from the face of the earth."
Most of us don't have a clue what's going on in our own transformational dynamics because they fall into our psychological blind spots (lacunae). Yet these archetypal images have the power to reshape our lives. Their commonality with ET phenomena is that these complexes of experience have the ability to somehow speak to our souls. When they confront us, they dictate the terms of engagement.
They don't fit neat forms, because living images spill out of categories. Their challenge draws us more deeply into the complexities of life and the deep nature of our reality. Life-changing experiences change us at the core level affecting our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.
AN INFECTIOUS IDEA
The notion of human-ET contact is seemingly as infectious as it is mysterious. More virulent than an airborne virus, it can even penetrate us subconsciusly through the growing egregor in the collective unconscious of mankind--a phenomenon similar to that of the "hundredth monkey syndrome," in which parallel ideas occur in many minds virtually simultaneously.
The transmission can occur essentially telepathically, without any particular intent of any person or group to disseminate the notion and embed it in the belief system level of the masses. This, of course, does not even call into question the possibility of governmental or ET mind control tactics designed to selectively reveal and conceal alien presence among us.
"Infection" can be gauged by the degree or intensity of involvement with the phenomenon. Needless to say, most of these evaluations are subjective since they are the result of self-reporting. The baseline of the population obviously range from zero interest or involvement, to those who are casually interested from random informational input, to those who seek out information (voluntarily or compulsively) or contact or are sought out by the phenomenon itself. In their confirmatory search, many people without direct contact are drawn to those who did appear to experience it, and seek them out as investigators or simply by attending UFO groups.
Personal experience is not a criterion for becoming a "True Believer." Actual experience of UFO-ET phenomena is not necessary for interpreting one's ambiguous experiences as "contact." Or, for others to interpret it as such. The experiences of some respondents for one UFO psychosocial study (Spanos, 1993) were "simply night dreams that involved UFOs and aliens," yet they respond to an ad seeking "adults who have seen UFOs," and were included in the experiencer subject group based solely on these dream reports.
There is little doubt that virtually everyone alive now is immersed in an informational ocean permeated by the notion of possible alien contact through a variety of sources ranging from science fiction to scientific exploration, to the spiritual realization that we cannot possibly be alone in the cosmic sense.
The degree to which we embrace that notion reflects more about ourselves, rather than saying anything specific about the essential nature of this informational virus. Permeating society and our individual psyches, it sinks its tentacles into every functional aspect of life--physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
The ambiguity of the phenomenon has led to a great deal of confusion in the self-reports of individual experiencers, yet among the classic subtypes, the reports are remarkably consistent in content and context. Like visionaries, mystics, or initiates of the mysteries, subjects struggle to find words adequate to describe ineffable experiences which have little comparison to ordinary life.
Even the most impassioned narrative fails to convey the full emotional impact of an intense encounter. Thus, these experiencers go through an extreme loss of orientation--not only may they have been "lost in space," they are now "LOST IN TRANSLATION," alienated from their own experience and consensus reality by a frustratingly inadequate narrative.
Psychotherapeutic protocols for dealing with this population are still in the formative stages. For practitioners, there is a "damned if you do or damned if you don't" aspect to the treatment of this syndrome. It bears strongly on the issues of iatrogenic false memory syndrome, pseudomemories which can be induced in hypnosis through rapport, and other processing techniques which encourage metaphors to describe what experience is like.
Regarding the client, the practitioner is faced with the question "To Believe, or not To Believe." Here again, contagion (and countertransference) can change this perception at any point, through varying degrees of grayness (no pun on "the grays" intended). Those who begin as disinterested skeptics are often led toward an open-minded if not believing stance by a preponderance of the evidence, both from investigation and the powerful testimony of those with whom they deal.
Yet, research on issues such as sexual molestation and certain manifestations of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) has shown that it is not absolutely necessary to uncritically believe the unsubstantiated reports of clients in therapy in order to help heal them. In many instances, the therapist does not, and will never know for sure if the events occured as remembered and reported, with or without hypnotic refreshing.
The most obvious example of this pioneering research is Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack, who has had the intellectual courage to treat abductees "as if" their experiences are real. For a few years he has bucked the academic system to forge his own path in this wilderness of the psychological hinterlands.
But now, as of March 1995, he is being called to account academically and ethically by his peers. Harvard is legally challenging his position and assertions he has made in public as being professionally irresponsible, and his tenured job is in jeopardy. Will his fate follow that of another maverick Harvard psychologist who refused to be controlled by the system and questioned the nature of reality and authority--Dr. Timothy Leary?
Dr. Mack has chosen to validate the experience of his patients, whom he has thoroughly tested and found to be of sound mind. This has both relieved and disturbed many people who by proxy use his professional opinion to evaluate themselves and their experience as having a greater degree of reality. People want to believe in themselves and what their experience seems to be telling them. But, as Dr. Mack notes, at bottom, "No one really wants this to be True."
A potential problem, though, is that many people, also of sound mind, may embrace this information to evaluate their own less intense experiences as having an objective reality.
It is possible to be completely "normal" by every psychological criteria and yet embrace one or more false beliefs which can function as a distorting framework for viewing reality and oneself. These may or may not be "Real," but functionally they may as well be. Thus, we have situations such as Wacko, and Jim Jones, Heaven's Gate, etc. And there may be no ultimate way to determine whether some constructs are or not objectively real. Most of us would rather seek answers, than float aimlessly forever in an ocean of ambiguity.
Perhaps this conundrum arises in the group experiencing UFO-ET dreams, but with little or no other intense contact. Intensity can also escalate in this dimension through changes in context and increased frequency of Ufo related dreams. In light of the research, how are they to interpret their dreamlife? If researchers accept this population as valid for research's sake, how are they to view themselves?
These dreams are listed as one of the prominent "symptoms" of UFO abductees--but the rabid rush to misdiagnosis among potential sexual molest victims based on false memories and the "Satanic Panic" has led therapists toward caution in applying "symptom lists" as criteria for diagnosis. In other words, all UFO dreamers have had an imagery experience of some sort, but not all UFO dreamers are necessarily abductees.
Even assuming an actual abduction pheonomenon, there will be those who present for treatment with a potentially false belief that these dreams make it so, or hide a deeper, repressed experience. This is the result of psychic contagion--the reinterpretation retroactively or progressively of the pure nature of one's experience according to an evolving worldview of "the way things are."
In other words, the client, as well as an inexperienced practitioner can have a hidden agenda based on conscious or subconscious beliefs about the phenomena. For example, a latent grandiosity might lead to the desire to expand on dream imagery and adopt and foster the notion that one is "chosen" or "special" or singled-out, or conversely even low-grade paranoia may lead to the notion of persecution, torment, or conspiracy.
Unfortunately, people always seem to be able to find just enough basis in "fact" to corroborate any tendencies in these directions. The psychological dynamic of projection moves the source of grandiosity or paranoia from the inside to the outside. Paranoia and grandiosity can even be contaminated with one another leading to an internal split--a schizoid attitude, where one vacillates, either feeling subhuman or superhuman.
The reality of the phenomenon of psychic contagion does not negate the possibility of the "Reality" of UFO-ET phenomenon. Even if "It" is happening, there will be just as many individuals who will follow this imaginal trend, like lemmings. It's the old "me, too" syndrome of jumping on the bandwagon, swept away by the power of an idea, much like we see cultish political or spiritual ideologies sweep through our cultures.
Something may be happening, but for sure this idea is in vogue. It fascinates us, for whatever compensatory reasons it serves in our collective psychic economy. If it is a "virus", we seem to somehow love this dis-ease.
The UFO-alien mythology is archetypal. It has a certain bizarre charm--it enchants and seduces us, drawing us deeper into its warp and woof--the fabric that weaves its reality from our World Simulation Process. This belief has the ability to take on a life of its own within us and exert its influence on the nature and interpretation of our perceptions.
Charles Tart, the consciousness researcher who coined the terms of "Altered States" or discret states of consciousness, reports (1990) on the nature of the WSP: "The basic function of the World Simulation Process is to create, maintain, expand and update internalized, rapidly functioning internal models of the real world that will enable us to survive and function efficiently in the real world."
"When the World Simulation Process gives us virtual realities that differ from the real world in significant ways, we begin to behave maladaptively, creating both real world consequences and/or psychological suffering in ourselves and others. This statement is not as simple as it seems, though, for deciding what is 'real' in the world is heavily influenced by the virtual realities already created by our World Simulation Process."
None of us truly live in Reality--we reconstruct a synthetic reality, moment by moment, based on our interpretation of our own sensory input, processes, and our primal image of who we are. There is a spectrum of altered states of consciousness we can experience, ranging from hypoarousal to hyperarousal. Each of these color our perceptions. When those processes are interpreted according to some filter, or overlay of what reality is like, they are subject to possible undetected distortions.
Once again, this does not refute the testimony of self-declared abductees and contactees. But it addresses processes within the bulk of the population that may or may not relate directly to that phenomenon. Ripples of reaction spread from the core-group of Ufologists and experiencers into the population at large, manifesting as attitudinal shift, and pernicious perceptual change -- reinterpretation of personal experience which begins by implanting doubts about oneself and the origin and nature of ambiguous experiences.
In his article on UFO dreams for DREAM NETWORK, McClanahan admits that "UFOs and aliens began to appear in my own dreams during the fall of 1989 when my focus-of-awareness became centered upon UFO research."
If many people are involved in contact phenomena, many more seem to WANT to be involved in varying capacities. One often hears people remark that they would love to see a UFO, make contact, or even voyage to the stars. Failing this, they take up the hobby, seeking contact with those who claim contact, whether in person or through taped reports, or flock to Area 51.
Immersion in this informational ocean leads to a "download" of "validating" data which sets the stage for the zealous "seeker." Seeking typically leads to conversion, which leads to the quantum leap of True Believer.
Yet, those who report the most intense involvements frequently never "believed" in the phenomenon, and confronted with the traumatic nature of their alleged experience don't want it, don't want it to be real, want release from a typically intergenerational cycle, and frankly wish it would all just go away. Furthermore, abductees' social interaction with others is not only conditioned by their experiencee, but by others fascination with or derision for their story. The net result is traumatization, before, during and after the "fact."
This story of helpless traumatization by "The Other" is as old as mankind. Contact with the ineffable is a Mysterium Coniunctionis, the collision of awesome and terrible forces both "good and evil." Joni Mitchell penned her song "The Sire of Sorrow" as a lament of the ancient patriarch Job -- but it is not hard to hear in this poem the collective voice of abducteess trying to come to terms with their experience. Job's cry is mankind's universal lament and question, "Why do we suffer?"
As Job wrestled with his sorrow, the "Angel" of the Lord, so we wrestle with the alien "invasion," while some of the radical investigators allege that "it is all over but the screaming!"
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