The Unconscious Conspiracy
In the December (1978) issue of SECOND LOOK, I proposed a synergetic theory of UFOs, to wit: the UFO report (which is the data we have to deal with, unless we are also contactees) is a synergetic product of some Unknown Phenomenon and the temporarily mutated nervous system of a human observer who has gotten close enough to this Phenomenon to be neurologically “goosed” by it. I suggested, vaguely and speculatively, that the Unknown Phenomenon “out there” causing these neurological shocks might be some unusual electro-magnetic or gravitational field fluctuation.
Before proceeding to offer a more amusing theory, let me point out one argument in favor of the above (admittedly preliminary) scenario. A skimming of the UFO books in my library tends to confirm the impression (in other words, I have not attempted a real statistical breakdown)—the impression that the degree of strangeness of a UFO report is in direct proportion to the distance between the alleged UFO and the observer.
That is, those who see the beasties at a great distance tend to see only lights, or seeming craft, moving in ways alien to known human air-and-space craft. This is strange enough to motivate them to report the incident, but it is only minimally strange compared to the tales told by those who get closer to a UFO. Those who are a little closer in are more likely to report anomalies or Fortean phenomena—outdoor poltergeist affects, weird smells, paralysis, “Humanoids,” etc. Those who get very close are the ones who report cases of what Dr. Jacques Vallée has called the Seventh Degree of Strangeness, involving time-warps and total reversal of all known scientific laws.
If the Phenomenon is, as I have proposed, an abnormality in the energy structure of our planet, this pattern makes perfect sense. The closer in toward the center you are, the more likely it is that you will see energetic anomalies, and the more likely it is also that your brain will be affected, mingling hallucination in with the physical weirdities occurring. The fact that strange smells and paralysis are characteristic of traumatic shock-induced hallucination fits this theory neatly.
Further support for this model will be found in the very interesting and provocative Space-Time Transients and Unusual Events by Persinger and Lafreniere (Nelson-Hall, Chicago) reviewed in the February SECOND LOOK. Persinger and Lafreniere propose specific mechanisms—geophysical shock-waves following solar flare activity—which would create both abnormal energy behavior and abnormal brain functioning. Examining 6,060 “paranormal” or Fortean reports, including 1,242 UFO sightings, they demonstrate some statistical clustering that does tend to support this line of thought—e.g. the clustering of such events along earthquake faults, and some peaking just before earthquakes.
I trust that I have said enough to convince the reader that this approach (I am not dogmatic enough to call it a theory) has some value and is worthy of further thought and debate. Before proceeding to transmogrify it entirely, I would like to try diluting it a little with a dose of the latest theory or theories from the brilliant Jacques Vallée—namely, the idea, in his Messengers of Deception, that the UFO phenomenon is being created-manipulated by either (a) a terrestrial intelligence agency or (b) a terrestrial occultist group.
The Persinger-Lafreniere-Wilson theory interbreeds with the Vallée theory or theories quite easily. You add an “and” to the first, and drop a „created“ out of the second. To wit: the UFO phenomenon is the synergetic product of some geophysical phenomenon which creates weird energy fluctuations and brain change experiences in humans on the scene. and is being manipulated by either (a) a terrestrial intelligence agency or (b) a terrestrial occultist group.
According to this hybrid model, a typical UFO flap would go somewhat as follows. Solar flares create local abnormalities in West Squeedunk. Many Citizens report abnormal lights—ball lightning created by the geophysical shifts occurring, according to the Persinger-Lafreniere theory. Others report Fortean events like jumping furniture or dancing machinery also created by the geophysical shifts, according to P. and L. A few really get a Whammy (their own brain functioning is disturbed) and report the traditional odd smells, paralysis, etc., followed by visions of the usual denizens of Jung’s collective unconscious; the Great goddess or BVM, the evil or playful gnomes, and even ancient Demon archetypes, like West Virginia’s Mothman, or Men in Black.
The orthodox UFOlogists sweep through the area, looking for spaceman data and ignoring the rest as hysteria. The orthodox Skeptics are hot on their heels, trying to prove it was all hysteria—even if some of it showed up on radar. Gents like John Keel and Dr. Vallée come in, alert to High Strangeness, and record all the weirdities the first two groups are trying to ignore. And, of course, the Intelligence Agencies come in (a) to find out if what happened should concern them and (b) to manipulate it to their own ends, as they always do try to manipulate every newsworthy event to their own ends, within the limits of their imaginations and budgets.
And, I strongly suspect, Dr. Vallée’s second conspiracy-model works to some extent, too: occultists move in, and manipulate what has happened to suit their own prejudices, passions and long-term goals.
What I am getting at is that the Vallée hypothesis (like all conspiracy theories) makes more sense, and is more psychologically valid, if one assumes a pluralistic rather than monistic view of conspiracy.
In this connection, it is worth digressing to learn a lesson from the other great area of conspiracy-theory, contemporary politics. Even though conspiracy theories were long verboten in intellectual circles (an over-reaction, I think to the havoc wreaked by the famous International Jewish Banker conspiracy-theory earlier in this century), they have made a certain comeback in the last decade or so, due probably to the fact that a great deal of contemporary politics is, in fact, downright conspiratorial. To put it more bluntly, in the age of the Intelligence Agency, anything might be, and should be examined as a possible front or cover for a clandestine operation.
What the most intelligent and scientifically-trained conspiracy buffs have gradually learned is that conspiracies are always plural and at minimum two. For instance, the most plausible General Conspiracy Theory of recent American politics, including everything from the ’60s assassinations to Watergate, is Prof. Carl Oglesby’s book The Cowboy and Yankee War, which argues that our American ruling elite is ideologically and financially split into two antagonistic factions—the mostly Eastern, mostly internationalist old-Yankee-billionaire families, and the mostly Western, mostly nationalist new Cowboy-billionaire families. But Oglesby adds that both of these coalitions contain inner tensions, and that at times the Yankees may be more concerned with fighting among themselves than with presenting a united front against the Cowboys.
This type of conspiracy-analysis, whatever one thinks of specific details, accords with common sense and ordinary psychology.
The monistic conspiracy theories—which are promulgated by various cranky-sounding individuals and groups—pick out one all-embracing conspiracy as the Manipulators and cast everybody else as victims. The target group, who get blamed for everything, may be the Illuminati or the freemasons or the Jesuits or whatever, but the central fact about such scenarios is that they just do not accord with common sense or psychology. Freud’s analysis is certainly a propos here, particularly what he has to say about the homosexual panic at the roots of paranoid delusion-systems. (The real monistic conspiracy buff literally believes, and often says, that the Manipulators are out to screw all of us.)
Now, much as I respect Dr. Vallée and appreciate his individualistic and ornery cast of mind (see my jacket blurb on Messengers of Deception: I really think it’s a book everybody should ponder seriously), I fear much that his Conspiracy Theory is monistic and, hence, easily induces paranoia in some readers. It is also, like all monistic conspiracy theories, absurdly easy to caricature and ridicule.
So let us use some plurals, and restate the impression (I still don’t call it a theory) we are developing.
Something weird happens. Assume that is the geophysical abnormality and brain-changing trauma posited earlier; but also assume it might be an alien spaceship. The interesting thing is that the following scenario is equally plausible, whatever the Weirdity “really was.”
As soon as the witnesses start talking, or even if they’re still in the babbling and trembling stage, All Interested Parties begin to converge on the area. Intelligence Agent Moe comes in co conceal evidence that it might be a spaceship, and to intimidate witnesses who think it was a spaceship; that is the policy of the agency Moe works for. Intelligence Agent Joe is also at work: he is planting evidence to make it look like there was a spaceship, which is the policy of his agency, since they are actually doing what Vallée suspects—trying to implant a new method of Salvation from Above which they will exploit as such faiths have always been exploited. Philip Klass and the other Skeptics are there, too, trying to get the facts to fit their own model. The Space Freaks, who may or may not be infiltrated by Intelligence Agency #2 (as you prefer) are there, too, and—I suspect very strongly—sometimes there are occultists playing their own strange games.
Some readers may feel that this scenario bears a family resemblance to the Kennedy Assassination scenario in my novel, Illuminatus. Indeed; but it also resembles a granfaloon in Kurt Vonnegut’s sense: a group effect in which the competing members are not consciously collaborating in the monumental confusion that results.
This model is also relativistic, and removes some of the pejorative connotations from the concept of conspiracy. Every conspiracy, I feel, regards itself as an affinity group—a gang of men and women who think alike, share common goals, and work together well. If you and I are doing it. it is, by God, just an affinity group. When that gang over there does it, it’s a damnable conspiracy.
True conspiracy does exist, of course, when a group conceals evidence, spreads deliberate misinformation, and coerces or terrorizes witnesses. Any affinity group, however, approaches such behavior to the extent that the members reinforce each other’s prejudices, especially concerning such crucial epistemological issues as what is important enough to notice and discuss as against what is trivial and better ignored. As Nietzsche said in this connection, we are all better artists than we realize—especially when we unite to promote a given viewpoint. How coercive do you have to be before you have actually intimidated a witness? Most people, as numerous experiments have shown, are very easily manipulated into saying what an Authority Figure seems to want to hear.
It may appear that I have taken us a long way round to get back to what every student of Social Psychology already knows, namely that it’s a bitch to try to find out what really happened when there are Interested Parties involved. I am trying to say more than that. I am indicating that the Vallée conspiracy theory makes more sense pluralized into a competing conspiracies theory, especially when humorously and cynically blended with the psychological fact that many “conspiracies” do not recognize or define themselves as such. I am also pointing out how such modified Vallée-ism supplements and is supplemented by the Persinger-Lafreniere-Wilson speculation that there are geophysical fluctuations that create both physical oddities and brain-change experiences in humans.
But let us go a step further. Let us widen our perspective and consider the UFO syndrome as part of a much bigger phenomenon—the spectrum of human experience known as “shamanistic,” “religious,” “visionary,” or “mystical.” We began to study this whole area scientifically around the beginning of this century, with James‘ Varieties of Religious Experience and Burke’s Cosmic Consciousness. We have learned a lot more about it since then, thanks to Freud and Jung and Leary and Castaneda and dozens of others. And we have seen a dramatic increase of it in Western society in the last thirty years, and especially in the last ten years.
It is amusing, and possibly instructive, co assume, gamble, theorize that the general increase of such experiences and the ongoing UFO mystery are not unconnected.
Visionary experiences can be induced by yoga, psychedelic drugs, isolation, Jungian analysis, trauma and several other causes. They also occur “spontaneously” at times. And every shamanic tradition insists that they are more likely to occur at certain “holy” places at certain specific dates. Could those locations and dates have been learned empirically over the ages, and might they correlate with the Persinger-Lafreniere geophysical fluctuation model? This is worthy of research, I think.
Let us tentatively define such experiences as rapid brain change. The flood of new emotions, new sensations, new perceptions, new ideations, etc. can be attributed to the brain’s sudden shift to new circuits, rediscovery of old circuits, synergetic formation of new networks between old and new circuits. etc. Let us try to look at this objectively, avoiding both the prejudices of the old-fangled Rationalist who hastily dismisses it all as pathological and the Aquarian Age “consciousness movement” which insists it is the next stage of human evolution.
There are a wide variety of such brain-change experiences in shamanic-religious history and recent scientific investigation. Without attempting to be exhaustive or all-inclusive, we can distinguish at least four kinds or families of such neurological mutations.
1. The Turn On per se. The person is full of wonderful new sensations (sensory bliss) and the world appears more beautiful and more real than ever (perceptual enrichment.) This is easily induced by certain yoga exercises (pranayama breathing, for instance) and most marijuana users are quite familiar with it. Faith-healers seem to live in this state much of the time and easily induce it in patients as part of their cures. Dr. Timothy Leary calls it the neurosomatic circuit, a term I find most people do not easily understand. Try thinking of it as the psychosomatic circuit—a feedback loop between “mind” and “body” in which the body obeys the mind’s decision to feel-good-all-over. Now, throw out the concept of “mind” as theological and pre-scientific, and think of the nervous system as the operational entity that performs the functions metaphysically attributed to “mind.” The neurosomatic feedback loop, then, is simply the type of Brain Change in which the whole soma receives the neural signal: Relax And Enjoy It.
Obviously, the same circuitry could easily work the opposite way. The whole soma could receive the signal: I Am Under Attack, in which case everything coming in is perceived in a frightening and thoroughly disagreeable way. Bad drug trips and some psychotic states are typical of this negative neurosomatic feedback.
Visionary experiences often show positive neurosomatic feedback (the mystical bliss-out) and also can show negative neurosomatic feedback (Hell, the Vision of the Wrathful God of Jonathan Edwards or the Wrathful Demons of Tibet, etc.)
UFO experiences also show both of these extremes. The rapid brain-change induced by the UFO Eenounter can trigger neurosomatic mutations ranging from peace-bliss-serenity to anxiety-trauma-psychotic breakdown. Some Contactees have actually become faith-healers, indicating a strong neurosomatic Turn On in the positive direction, and others have required psychiatric care, indicating the other extreme.
The general increase of this type of experience throughout our culture, induced by the Drug Revolution, the Consciousness Movement, the importation of yoga and Zen, etc. may not be entirely unrelated to the ongoing UFO phenomenon. If we are being programmed, as Dr. Vallée would have it, the programmers (plural and possibly competing) may be using many other devices in addition to the UFO. We will return to this point.
2. The next type of visionary experience might be called the Multi-Reality Trip. This is widely reported in Sufi and Hindu literature, as well as Western occult literature, in terms that sound surprisingly like the modern concept of Multiple Universes or parallel time-streams. It is worth noting, in passing, that this concept has escaped from science-fiction into serious science; it is the Everett-Wheeler-Graham model in quantum theory.
This kind of brain change occurs routinely with LSD. Its most negative aspect is found in some schizophrenics, who are seemingly unable to decide at any given moment which reality is the “real” reality. Their conversation doesn’t “make sense.” It appears that answer number one, to your first remark, comes from a reality in which they know who you are and who they are; answer number two comes from a reality, perhaps, where you are a giant centipede brainwashing them for the Insect Trust from the Crab Galaxy; answer number three, from a reality in which they are infants again and you are their father, etc.
It is possible, if one is not totally disoriented by such experience, to begin cataloging the alternative realities. The Hindus and Sufis have extensive neuro-geographies of these “spaces;” Dante divided them into several layers of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise; the Cabalists have 32 “astral” planes; etc.
In its highest, or most intense, form this variety of brain-change gives rise to the concept of Real Infinity, as found in Giordano Bruno and many Sufis and Hindus. Everything that can be conceived, does exist somewhere, this vision says. Aleister Crowley compares it to the sensation of sitting in a barber chair between two mirrors and seeing yourself reproduced endlessly.
This type of experience is increasing also, due to Acid, occultism and the Consciousness Movement. It doesn’t seem to happen often to UFO Contactees, but amusingly enough it, or something like it, happens to many UFO investigators eventually. The concept of alternative realities is not only embraced by some, such as John Keel, but often gets mentioned in passing, with a tone of embarrassment, by people like Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who is not ready to accept anything so wild but seems to find it staring at him from the data. Even Dr. Vallée returns to this obsessively in each of his last three books, never embracing it, but always mentioning it bemusedly and inconclusively.
In this connection, it is interesting that the scientific formulation of this idea, the above-mentioned Everett-Wheeler-Graham model in quantum theory, was presented a bit playfully by its authors. One of the first physicists to say he believes it , Dr. Bryce DeWitt (PHYSICS TODAY, June 1971) admitted that “it is not easy to reconcile with common sense.” (He accepts it only because he finds the alternatives—the Copenhagen Interpretation of Bohr and the Hidden Variable of David Bohm—even more repugnant to common sense.)
Neurologically, what we may be dealing with here is Dr. John Lilly’s assumed metaprogramming center in the brain. Ordinary programs are unconscious; we see them and think we are seeing “reality.” The metaprogramming center sees the alternative programs as programs and chooses between them. Presumably, in “mental illness,” the metaprogrammer sees the alternatives but is unable to choose—is swept along on a seemingly endless descent into poetry’s Seven Types of Ambiguity.
Again, if the parallel reality model of the UFO phenomenon is being programmed (before or after the sightings), this is part of a much larger programming going on simultaneously throughout our society. And, again, it is not at all easy to decide whether the programmers mean us well or mean us ill. But it does look as if they are far from infallible, since, if they mean us well, they are accidentally doing ill to some of us; and if they mean us ill, they are accidentally doing well to some of us. The concept of rival programmers, one more time, seems to make more sense than the monistic conspiracy of Vallée.
3. The third type of visionary experience can be characterized as the Close Encounter with a numinous being. Gods, angels, UFOnauts, fairies, elves, monsters, demons, etc. are all interchangeable parts of this general experience, as Vallée has noted, and as students of visionary experience long before the current UFO mystery also noted.
Jung attributed such experiences to the archetypal level of the collective unconscious. Dr. Stanislaus Grof prefers to speak of the phylogenetic unconscious. Dr. Leary prefers to say the neurogenetic circuit. All agree that synchronicity (seemingly meaningful coincidences) accumulate around such experiences, and so do Fortean phenomena, including “poltergeist” effects.
Living in California, where it seems that one out of every three people—no, I would even say one out of two—has had some experience in Consciousness Groups, I hear such stories daily. The interesting thing to me is that very few of these stories involve UFOs; yet the experiences fit the general parameters of the “Magonia” type of UFO experience perfectly, as documented by Vallée in his Passport to Magonia.
Such experiences, again, are ambiguous. They can result in transformations of the personality varying from the most sublime to the most awful. Jesus, Buddha, Socrates, “Cyanide Jim” Jones, Joseph Smith, Joan of Arc, and an endless parade of saints, fanatics and paranoids are typical.
Again, if there are programmers—and there certainly seem to be, in this area—they are not all working on the same team; they are neither omnipotent nor all equally competent; and the experiences often happen without programmers at all. But they do seem to be increasing, just as the UFO version of the experience is increasing, in the second half of the 20th Century.
4. The fourth type of visionary experience (remember: there are really more than four; this is a tentative and simplified list) is the Contentless Vision. The White Light of the Void, in Tibetan Buddhism. The Head that is not a Head, in Cabala. The “ineffable,” beyond time, space, matter and all concepts.
As far as I can make out, this experience alone seems to be totally positive. Nobody seems to come out of it schizoid, paranoid, fanatic, or even dogmatic. Olaf Stapledon described it as Agnostic Mysticism. It sees normal consciousness (the consensus-reality of the tribe), neurosomatic consciousness, metaprogramming consciousness and even the Numinous Beings of archetypal consciousness as all relative—true in their own context, but not universally true. It even sees itself as relative, in the same way.
R.M. Bucke attempted to prove, in Cosmic Consciousness, that this type of Brain Change has been occuring more and more frequently over the past 3000 years. My own strong impression is that, in the Western world, it has increased more rapidly in the past 30 years than it ever has before.
Dr. Vallée asks, in Messengers of Deception, if some occult lodge or secret society could have learned, over the milleniums, the rudiments of “psychotronic technology.” I think that the question can be answered in the affirmative and in the plural. There are dozens of known techniques for inducing all of these altered states of brain functioning, and permutations and combinations among them.
Over 250 psychedelic drugs have been recorded in the “psychotronic technology” of shamans in Africa and Asia, and more than 2000 among North and South American shamans. (See Weston LeBarre, Ghost Dance: Origins of Religion.) This knowledge survived into advanced civilizations, and was used by the Greeks in the Eleusinian Mysteries (See Hoffman, Ruck, Wasson: Road to Eleusis.) It is still used by Tantrists in India and Crowleyans in the West (see Francis King: Sexuality, Magic and Perversion.)
Isolation produces similar and different effects, permutations and combinations of these brain change experiences. So do meditation, mantra, Tantra, excessive masochism, dozens of yogic gimmicks, Zen koans, “guided meditation” (also called “astral travel”), and certain kinds of rituals properly performed (Physiologically-induced brain change via imagination and body-excitation.) There are, not dozens, but hundreds of “schools,” “cults,” “lodges” and “sects” who employ such techniques regularly, and they are led by people covering the complete gamut from saints and geniuses to scoundrels and madmen.
Can such techniques induce UFOoid experiences? Undoubtedly; they can lead to any of the brain change phenomena I have mentioned. They almost certainly played a large role in creating the “classical” (ancient or medieval) UFO-like encounters described in Vallée’s Passport to Magonia.
Can they produce a modern UFO experience? Again, I think the answer is unambiguous. Dennis McKenna, an anthropologist, describes a standard UFO sighting experienced by himself and his brother, while under the influence of local psychedelic mushrooms in the Amazon basin, in an unpublished book, Down To Earth. Vallée mentions that aerospace engineer Jack Parsons, a known occultist, encountered a “Venusian” in the Mohave Desert in 1947. Vallée neglects to mention that Parsons was engaged in a Crowleyan ritual at the time. (Personal communication from Brian Hanlon, who is writing a book on Crowley’s American disciples.) A cult as large as any Vallée has examined ‘One World Family,’ headed by Alan Michael, who modestly dubs himself “The Cosmic Messiah,” regularly induces “communication with extraterrestrials” through guided meditation.
Briefly, then, I am suggesting that, whatever provokes the UFO experience—and I tend to think the Persinger-Lafreniere model is the best to date, although not to be swallowed as the only possible explanation—the UFO mystique, the notion of consciousness-evolution under the guidance of Higher Intelligence, is part of an age-old tradition of brain-change experiment or Head Programming, which takes many forms. Here are four examples of how occult groups, individuals, or beliefs, can “program” such experience after the event, assuming the event was a Persinger-Lafreniere geophysical spasm.
1. The contactee is a member of a tribe that has a traditional explanation of such events, namely that they are caused by the local gods. He or she goes to the shaman, tells the experience, and is given an explanation, a helpful interpretation and whatever “psychotherapy” or morale-boosting is needed.
2. The contactee is a medieval Irishman. He knows, without being told, that it was the Gentry or fairies.
3. The contactee is badly shaken by the experience. The local shaman induces a second experience, using any brain technology locally known, and guides it to a happier conclusion. I believe this is happening in America today as well as in tribal cultures.
4. The contactee is a 19th Century Englishman. He wanders hither and yon seeking an explanation and is eventually plugged into the Theosophical Society, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, or some such occult group with an explanation and a procedure for turning the experience into something positive.
And what of our current contactees? After being handled (and/or manhandled) by the Air Force, the C.I.A., various Saucer buffs, Dr. Vallée, John Keel, etc., is it any surprise that some of them drift into occult groups that can provide a meaningful context for what has happened to them? And do we need to posit one single world-wide conspiracy to account for the fact that some of them land in occult groups that are conspicuously irrational, authoritarian and everything else that Dr. Vallée dreads? I think not.
I am saying that brain change or neuro-science or whatever one wants to call the study of altered consciousness is of potential vast benefit to humanity, if scientifically studied and monitored with real scientific skepticism and real scientific openness to the data. I am saying that some shamans and gurus are as crazy as Vallée thinks, but not all of them.
And, above all, I am saying that the full benefits of such brain change technology will only be obtained scientifically; and that all the macabre and downright fascistoid cultishness feared by Vallée is only the result of the free market of ideas in this field (I am being ironic, of course) and the paucity of real scientific study. However mind-boggling a brain change experience may be, whether it involves a classic UFO or just the related (and more common) visions I have mentioned, the person experiencing it can come through it as a wiser and happier person if he or she is lucky enough to have a good scientific education or to find a scientist who can discuss the whole area sympathetically and knowledgeably. The subject will drift off into the nightmare world of bizarre cults only if that is the only place that a seemingly meaningful explanation is being offered.
In conclusion, the brain change experiences I have discussed all have potential benefits, as Jung and Laing and Lilly and dozens of other psychologists have observed. If they are increasing, as they seem to be, it may well be because we need them. We do not have to posit one monolithic and evil group of Manipulators to explain why the results are often malign instead of benign. Among the competing cults eager to capitalize on every “occult” happening there is a considerable spectrum, not just of sanity and fanaticism, but of real knowledge and calculated bluff.
Where I do most emphatically agree with Vallée is in his insistence that lack of scientific investigation (whether this has been “manipulated” or not) is the chief cause of the nuttiness flourishing in this area. Where the scientists will not look at the data, the ordinary person must perforce seek non-scientific explanations.
The Unconscious Conspiracy
by Robert Anton Wilson appeared in Second Look, Volume 1, Issue 11 in September 1979.