The role of consciousness in the UFO mythos
Updated: Aug 29
In ufology, much of what underlies belief in space visitors is a rejection of or dissatisfaction with the standard categories of material science. While many believers see things in broadly materialist terms and are concerned with the mechanics and possibilities of interstellar space travel, alien biology and so forth, it cannot be denied that much of the focus in ufology revolves around the question of consciousness and our connection to the universe in some sort of immaterial spiritual way that transcends scientific rational categorization (indeed, in the book Making Contact, edited by Alan Steinfeld, there is something close a total rejection of rationalism when grappling with the UFO/alien abduction genre). Here are some of the ways in which the issue of consciousness manifests itself in UFO stories and accounts:
-- The UFOs are purported to do things that make a purely "nuts-and-bolts" approach untenable, and in which a spiritual or "immaterial" element is seen to be necessary. Like apparitions, UFOs can disappear or "materialize"; they can engage in aerial maneuvers that are deemed impossible for physical craft; they can merge or split apart; they can change shape. While some interpretations see these aspects as support for the "interdimensional hypothesis", there are those who think that the craft are spiritual/immaterial capsules ("fallen angels" make the rounds in YouTube comment sections speculating about the nature of Bob Lazars' "sport model", for example) or even spiritual, conscious beings in and of themselves. It is sometimes difficult to clearly delineate what believers think counts as immaterial/spiritual or interdimensional, since in some quarters of ufology consciousness itself is thought to be another dimension.
-- The UFOs often mimic the behavior or instructions of the observers, or even anticipate them. A famous example is the case involving Father William Booth Gill and his mission in Papua New Guinea in 1959.
-- UFOs present us with symbols that rearrange our conceptual categories of the world and allow us to transcend categories tied to logical and rational systems of thought. This in turn is supposed to allow us to get to a "deeper" understanding of the world and our place in it, and to link up with the "metalogic" and "latent meaning" of the UFO. Such themes are developed by Jacques Vallee. Vallee also posits that this metalogic operates as part of a "control system", in which interdimensional entities are manipulating human progress and societal evolution by injecting it with images and motifs that resonate with the concerns of the age (for example, space aliens in the current age of space travel).
-- Quantum mechanics is regularly invoked in a cavalier and dubious fashion to promote the notion that consciousness is "non-local" and that the universe is not a temporal one but a "relational" one (another view espoused by Jacques Valle, who hails from an information science/cybernetics background but also has leanings towards Rosicrucianism and astrology) in which information and meaning are connected across what we experience as different time points. By eschewing our standard notions of temporal causality and embracing the relational universe, we can better understand what the UFOs "mean". Until we do that, their behavior will continue to appear nonsensical and indecipherable to us.
-- Also linked to quantum mysticism is the New Age woo about "vibrational frequencies" and "self-actualization". To my mind, these sorts of tropes speak to pathological levels of narcissism and indifference to what science actually tells us, especially among social media New Age/UFO divas who are obsessed with flaunting physical beauty while continually yammering about "inner growth" and other eye roll-inducing platitudes. One sees such "growth" and "awakening"-related themes in the rants of "Anjali", who also evokes notions of cycles and the broadening of universal consciousness (though she, as the initiate of the mysterious beings, must act as fountainhead for this "knowledge").
-- UFO and alien encounters are associated with altered states of consciousness, with witnesses/contactees/abductees/experiencers reporting loss of bodily control, missing time, a transference of information and/or dialogue between themselves and the ufonauts via telepathy, deep feelings of euphoria (or terror), a sense of deep connectedness to existence (and sometimes with the ufonauts themselves, in which the thoughts and minds of the participants meld seamlessly together and reveal themselves as parts of a unity), a linking of past, present and future, and a sense of ascending and descending through vistas of space, sometimes simultaneously (for example, a sensation of descending into a deep cavernous darkness while also ascending into outer space).
-- "Channelers" have long played a role in the UFO mythos, with many people claiming to able to channel the minds of extraterrestrials or to even be the extraterrestrial in question.
-- The ufonauts are imagined to be, or have the choice of transmogrifying into, incorporeal entities, sometimes harboring benign intentions but sometimes more intrusive or dubious ones (though not usually outright evil ones), who can traverse, whether "naturally" (even though they are in effect described as being supernatural) or through technological means the material world and the "subtle realm", as John Mack termed it, or something in between, taking us with them.
-- The ufonauts seem to need us for something, perhaps to complete themselves by engaging in the emotions and joys that we as humans feel. They are perhaps trying to recover something that they have lost, while also trying to impart something to us. These themes feature prominently in Whitely Strieber's writings and musings.
-- The ufonauts are often described as bringing cosmic Good News in the form of guidance and a model for a new way of life that is not ecocidal. This awakening of a cosmic evolutionary trajectory will connect us with creation, the Source, God, etc., and we will have achieved cosmic brotherhood once we "awaken" and reach this new level of consciousness.
-- Evolution itself is seen as a teleological unfolding (something like the original term's meaning, incidentally. Charles Darwin was loathe to use it in The Origin of Species and preferred the term "transmutation" in order to eschew any teleological connotations in his own theory).
-- A version of panpsychism is sometimes seen in UFO accounts, with all of existence being conscious and our minds seen as small pieces of a much larger universal Mind.
-- The UFOs are being operated in a way to provoke within us a "Wow" factor that will spur us, as individual experiencers, to begin life-long quests for answers to cosmic and existential problems that will in turn help usher in a paradigm shift in our conceptions of and relations to the universe and each other. This theme is developed by Grant Cameron in his chapter UFO Disclosure and the Theory of Wow in Making Contact.
-- The experiencers reporting heightened levels of consciousness, deeper understanding of the world, and psychic/telekinetic abilities after returning from their time on board an alien craft and/or being in contact with the ufonauts. This has been taken up by promoters of the Skinwalker saga, with their talk of a "hitchhiker effect", but it was already a theme decades ago in the writings of Vallee, who has invoked Uri Geller as an example of a genuine experiencer bestowed with extraordinary abilities after encountering some otherworldly presence.
-- The CE5 narrative pushed by Stephen Greer, in which you can communicate with ETs by meditation (he assures us that "true disclosure" has "already happened", and that you too can experience it for the low low price of only $400, or a couple of thousand dollars more for a desert outing).
-- Esoteric fascist currents often invoke the "black sun" or other cosmic energetic emanation that calls out to the white race to fulfill its historic "mission" (subjugation of all other "races" in a race war).
-- In her book American Cosmic, Diana Pasulka conveys (though does not outright endorse) the idea that certain highly innovative people are in communication with other-worldly presences. Proponents of this view speculate that this is achieved by allowing complex problems to stew in their minds, with the solution coming to them in a eureka moment that feels like a spontaneous epiphany but which is in reality a gift bestowed on them by the mysterious denizens of another dimension, universe or whatever it may be (ironically, they are tacitly admitting that they do not have privileged access to their own consciousness, and therefore that indigenous processes beneath the level of "conscious awareness" might be at work).
I agree that UFOs are indeed centrally about consciousness, but not in quite the way that the Literalists, as I'll call them, would have it. I think that there is probably a Jungian-esque or at least subconscious dynamic involved in many cases, in which the UFO encapsulates various meanings that erupt from the subconscious and find articulation in the visual and other modalities of alien spacecraft and contact/abduction experiences. The symbols and themes therein relate to issues ranging from death (as David J. Halperin terms it, the "ultimate alien"), ecocide, nuclear war, planetary extinction, personal and social alienation, emotional trauma, the nature of consciousness, sexuality, the sub-conscious itself, and myriad other meanings, anxieties and human fixations.
While the underlying urges and drives are very much terrestrial, they can be imbued with elements derived from science fiction (though these elements can themselves be reflections of the terrestrial anxieties of the original authors). Stress, hallucination, misidentifications, confabulation and embellishment, cult brainwashing, the suggestibility of the mind, neurobiology, and psychosocial processes round out the rest of the field and make literal ETs superfluous. There is a great irony at the core of all this: that many of the UFO believers and fundamentalists implore "open mindedness" and are keen to remind us all that consciousness has not been resolved by science, while implying that they themselves somehow know enough about consciousness to say that the aforementioned psychological, social and neurobiological processes are insufficient in principle to account for it and that grand schemes involving ETs must be invoked (this of course does not mean that consciousness must in principle be explainable only through recourse to processes in the brain, only that we need not credit the particular explanations of "experiencers" for their experiences even if we accept that they have had an experience, whatever it ultimately may entail. It is possible, for example, that something like panpsychism turns out to be correct and a Daniel Dennett-style "fame in the brain" functional or computational model turns out to be wrong, while the ET and New Age woo explanations of some experiencers is also incorrect despite their refrain of "I know what I saw!").