It’s All In The Mind

Peter Rogerson
Magonia 15, April 1984

It would appear that in certain quarters this magazine has gained the reputation of being part of the ‘it’s all to the mind brigade’, whatever that might menu. It seems worthwhile therefore to give a resume of the sort of ideas about which Magonia's editors are speculating. First, it must be realised that Magonia is not a monolith. Although we exchange ideas so much that it sometimes becomes impossible to say with certainly who first thought of what, the Editors do have different views, and in what follows I can therefore only speak for myself.
When I first became interested in the subject as a schoolboy in the early 1960′s I naturally supported the ETH, and was a hardcore supporter of the ‘nuts and bolts’ school. Having been weaned on Aimé Michel and Donald Kehoe I had no time for contactees. During these early years I read most of the old books on the subject, and swallowed most of the ufological clichés.

My parents were none too happy about my chosen hobby, and warned that many people who believed in ‘flying saucers’ were cranks. With the rashness of youth I disregarded their warnings; but when, in the autumn of 1968, I and a couple of school-friends joined the local flying saucer society I found my parents were right, and that many ufolologists were cranks!

My parents were none too happy about my chosen hobby,
and warned that many people who believed in ‘flying saucers’
were cranks

Not only that, but I soon discovered that by reading a dozen or so books on the subject I had obtained as good, or better, a grasp on the subject as people who had allegedly been studying UFOs for 25 years. Many of the members appeared to have read nothing beyond George Adamski, and appeared to have been entranced since about 1952. It occurred to me that many seemingly impressive cases may actually have been investigated by people like this. My doubts grew. It was probably the Apollo 8 moonshot that destroyed my naive faith in the ETH. The idea of electromagnetic spaceships visiting the Earth seemed somehow absurd.

My disillusionment made me increasingly open to the ideas of John Keel, whose articles had been appearing in FSR; and John Michel’s Flying Saucer Vision had reawakened an interest in folklore. It was in this climate that I encountered MUFORG Bulletin, and its successor, MUFOB. I was an instant convert!

By now I had also examined Fort’s data for 1904/05, which set UFO reports in a radically new context. I had also begun to take a serious interest in parapsychology, and I soon realised that serious psychic researchers thought along very different lines from the occult gibberish which circulated In UFO groups. The final synthesis was easy. Ufologists had argued that the UFOs had always been with us, and deeply involved with human culture, and acted like apparitions. The answer seemed simple. UFOs were created by people, they were products of the human imagination, and were hallucinatory, like apparitions.

I still thought along fairly radical lines, involving collective hallucinations, psi, idea patterns and a collective unconscious possibly able to alter the physical environment. Over the intervening years I have been forced to de-escalate hypotheses as it became clear that a far wider range of cases can he explained in ‘normal’ terns than was once thought possible.There are however still a fair number of cases among the 5000 or so in INTCAT which resist interpretation in terms of simple misidentification. These are cases in which an object (with or without humanoids) is observed in someone’s backyard for example, where if the record is a true one, and the report is not a hoax, then it must be either a subjectively real or an objectively real occurrence.

At this point it might be useful to lay aside one of the great red herrings which still crop up in such discussions; the notion that only the mentally ill have hallucinations. There is little evidence to support this idea, which has recently been resurrected by Ian Cresswell [1]. On the contrary, it is generally recognised that psychotic subjects tend to have auditory hallucinations [2], rather than visual.

Though interpretation is a matter of dispute, there is no doubt that many people have apparitional experiences [see 3,4,5,6]. Similarly, there is no doubt that people have ‘out of the body’ experiences [see 7, 8] which are also best thought of as being hallucinatory in nature.

The hallucinatory theory of apparitions developed historically because ghosts wore clothes, and were sometimes accompanied by animals or artifacts. Also ghosts could sometimes be seen by one person but not by another. Clearly this tended to dispute the traditional idea of ghosts as temporarily materialised spirit forms, as spirit clothes and spirit carriages are most unlikely. Furthermore, anything actually perceived by means of photons reaching the retina would he visible to all ably-sighted people in the vicinity. So if apparitions are not perceived by means of photons, they are by definition hallucinatory.

Various psychic researchers have tried to find ways of accounting for apparitions by non-hallucinatory means [9,10] but without success. On critical examination their theories turn out either to mean nothing at all, or to introduce hallucinations by the back door, albeit hallucinations of a rather particular kind.

Everyone has one kind of hallucination – dreams, which can be intensely vivid. It is usually assumed that one can tell the difference between sleep and waking, but this might well depend on context. If one wakes up in bed, the previous out-of-context experiences can easily be judged to be dreams.Certain kinds of hallucinatory experience account for a high proportion of apparitional lore. The most common of these are hypnogogic and hypnopompic imagery, and false awakening. These experiences are discussed in the various works of Dr. Peter McKellar [11, 12, 13].

They were perhaps first extensively treated in a ufological context by John Rimmer and myself in the study of ‘Miss Z’ [14]. The most complete exposition of hypnopompic and hypnogogic experiences in a UFO context is that by the Australian researcher Keith Basterfield [15]. Though Basterfield’s arguments are probably too compressed to convince those who have not closely followed the same lines of reasoning, they are still impressive.

Some critics of Basterfield have tried to argue that hypnogic and hypnopompic experiences are so fleeting that they could not possibly generate UFO experiences. However, an examination of both the standard works by McKellar, and the literature on apparitions, clearly suggests that some of these experiences can be quite prolonged. One critic has gone so far as to suggest, apropos of false awakenings, that people who can’t tell the difference between their dreams and bring awake are stark staring bonkers – or words to that effect! Not having had a vivid false awakening, myself, I put this view to a friend who has. He was quite emphatic that the only way to distinguish a false awakening from ‘reality’ was by context. A false awakening was not a hazy dream, but absolutely realistic.

My friend’s false awakening, involved him getting up, shaving, having breakfast, going to work, exactly as in ‘real life’. Eventually he became able to recognise minute differences in a clock. He then realised he was dreaming, and was able to initiate a ‘lucid dream’. If such a false awakening had happened whilst he was sleeping in a chair, and the dream had ended with him ‘returning’ to the chair, there would have been no way in which he could have determined that it was in fact a false awakening.

After a long drive the motorist will commonly report that at some point in the journey he ‘woke up’ to realise that he had no awareness of some proceeding period of time

Other circumstances in which hallucinatory effects can occur include driving at night, piloting a jet plane and watching a radar screen [16, 17, 18]; all circumstances in which UFO experiences are known to occur. ‘Highway Hypnosis’ is a recognised psychological description, as is the ‘time-loss’ which leads motorists to fear UFO abduction.

As Graham Reed points out: “After a long drive the motorist will commonly report that at some point in the journey he ‘woke up’ to realise that he had no awareness of some proceeding period of time” [19, p.18]. Reed relates this experience to a loss of attention to surrounding scenery which tends to occur on long, straight stretches of road. It is not difficult to envisage this happening if the subject’s mind was preoccupied with other topics – a frightening UFO experience, say?

A very high percentage of close encounter cases involve people driving through rural areas at night, when conditions are just right for illusions, distortions of judgement, and hallucinations. Although very few such cases are publicised, conversations with motorists will often elicit details of a variety of hallucinatory / illusionary effects, including bizarre distortions of the landscape (compare with the Biet Bridge case), hallucinations of figures crossing the road, etc. No doubt the famous ‘phantom hitch-hiker’ of popular folklore has its origins in the ‘phantom companions’ experienced by fatigued drivers.

The nocturnal driver’s UFO experience is often initiated by a sense of either physical danger (‘a plane’s going to crash on me’) or social danger (‘the cops are after me’). In such situations an explanation in terms of ‘flying saucers’ can be a temporary relief. Since the publicity given to the Betty and Barney Hill story, however, the fear of abduction by space people has grown considerably, and may run in definite, media inspired, social panics.

As Allen Hendry has shown (20] the presence of multiple witnesses in closed groups can lead to mutually reinforced fantasies and panic. In many such cases the published summaries may obscure rather than illuminate the process of mutual reinforcement. An excellent example of this is provided by the Travis Walton case [21]. My interpretation of this is simple: I believe that Walton and colleagues saw some sort of light. Walton jumped out to investigate, whereupon the others, seeing a dash of light and Walton fall, drove off. They then began, probably unconsciously, to escalate the solidity and ominous nature of the threat, in order to justify their panic. By the time they reached the authorities they had no doubt convinced themselves that they had seen a detailed, structured object.

The explanation of Walton’s own experience, I would suggest, was rather similar. Clearly he received a shock of some kind and went into a fugue state, from which he recovered a couple of days later. The abduction sequence was probably a dream triggered by the same fears – though it was probably embellished and polished at a later date.

The emotional reactions encountered in the regression of ‘abduction’ victims is very closely parallelled by those who have undergone regression to ‘past-lives’ [22]. In both these cases such fantasies can generate real physical effects – weals, scars, etc.

Celia Green and Colin McCarthy, in their studies of apparitions, out of the body experiences and lucid dreams, connected these together as examples of ‘metachoric experiences’, in which the percipient’s whole environment is replaced by an hallucinatory one. It is interesting to divide these experiences into two types:

1. 'Magonia’ intruding into the percipient’s real (apparitions, religious visions, CEIIIs
2. Percipient intruding into ‘Magonia’ (OOB’s, near-death experiences, abductions, past lives

The second type involves a much more complete break with consensus reality, and can generate profound symbolism and powerful emotional responses.If metachoric experience can be generated by external stimuli then we may have a clue to some of the truly extraordinary cases of misperception in which the moon and Venus appear to generate extreme effects. Could a misperception of the moon induce a metachoric experience in which all sorts of bizarre effects could be encountered? I think it highly probable that the ‘true’ UFO experience is this subjective experience which manifests itself along a continuum from misperception, triggered hallucination, metachorlc experience, dream, hoax, fiction.

If profound subjective responses can be generated by the
moon or advertising planes, then they can equally be produced
by plasmas, earthquake lights, or a wide spectrum of
poorly understood phenomena

Before outraged readers object that this does not account for X, Y, or Z, let me make it clear that I am not placing any real limitation on the kind of phenomena both physical and psychological which might trigger such experiences. If profound subjective responses can be generated by the moon or advertising planes, then they can equally be produced by plasmas, earthquake lights, or a wide spectrum of poorly understood natural phenomena. If so, then scientific advance may be able to isolate further ‘core’ phenomena.

Nor can a discussion of mechanism really dispose of matters of ultimate causation. I cannot prove, for example, that demons are not giving people metachoric experiences, or causing them to misinterpret the moon as a spaceship; although I don’t think they are. Nor could anyone prove it: some areas are beyond rational analysis, and must presumably be taken as articles of religious faith.

It must be further emphasised that the UFO experience is not ‘all in the mind’ in the sense of being the product of the imagination of isolated individuals. It is a social and cultural phenomenon much more than a psychological one. The whole problem of the content of the kind of experiences I have been discussing is wholly unresolved. Why, for example, should hypnogogic imagery involve ‘faces in the dark’? What are the reasons behind the transcultural stereotyping in UF0 experiences?In recent years the interests of the Editors of this magazine have been increasingly concentrated, not on individual anomalous experiences, but on the social context within which such experiences take place, and which generates them. The experiences both condition, and are conditioned by, the beliefs of society by a process of mutual feedback. Within a social context many apparently ‘absurd’ beliefs and experiences have depth and meaning.

Research along these lines is still severely hampered because so many people in different academic disciplines remain ignorant of each others’ work and ideas. So long as this situation persists there will be a role for the non-specialist, who is not tied to a rota of routine professional reading, and who can speculate freely where academic reputations fear to tread.

  1. CRESWELL, Ian S. ‘Objections to the BT Hypothesis’, Magonia 11.
  2. WEST, Donald J. ‘Visions and Hallucinatory Experiences; a comparative appraisal’, International Journal of Parapsychology, Winter, 1960.
  3. TYRELL, G N M Apparitions, Duckworth, 1953.
  4. GREEN, Celia and Colin McCREEERY, Apparitions, Hamilton, 1975.
  5. McKENZIE, Andrew, Apparitions and Ghosts. Barker, 1971.
  6. McKENZIE, Andrew, Hauntings and Apparitions, Heinemann, 1982.
  7. GREEN, Celia. Out of the Body Experiences, Ballantine, 1973.
  8. BLACKMORE, Susan. Beyond the Body, Heinemann, 1902.
  9. HART, Hornel, et. al. Six Theories of Apparitions
  10. ROGO, D Scott. An Experience of Phantoms, Taplinger, 1974.
  11. McKELLAR, Peter. Imagination and Thinking, Cohen and West, 1950.
  12. McKELLAR, Peter. Experience and Behaviour, Penguin, 1968.
  13. McKELLAR, Peter. Mindsplit, Dent, 1979.
  14. ROGERSON, Peter and John RIMMER. ‘Visions In the Night’, MUFOB, ns.4.
  15. BASTERFIELD, Keith. Close Encounters of an Australian Kind. Reed, 1981.
  16. WILLIAMS, R. W. ‘Highway Hypnosis, an hypothesis’, International Journal of Clinical and Mental Hypnosis 1965.
  17. LUWIG, Arnold M. In TART, Charles (ed.) Altered States of Consciousness, Wiley, 1969.
  18. BROWNFIELD, C. Isolation: Clinical and Experimental Approaches, Random House, 1968.
  19. REED, Graham. The Psychology of Anomalous Experiences. Random House, 1968
  20. HENDRY, Allen. The UFO Handbook, Doubleday, 1979.
  21. BARRY, Bill. Ultimate Encounter, Pocket Books, 1978.
  22. WILSON, Ian. Reincarnatlon, Penguin, 1982.

This article was originally a paper presented at the second Anglo-French UFO conference held in Brighton, 30th March – 1st April 1984. Read this article in conjunction with Jacques Scornaux’s presentation at the same conference, ‘The Rising and limits of a Doubt’