JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove.
Throughout recorded history, human society has been haunted by reports of
unidentified flying objects in our skies, many of which have defied all
attempts at scientific explanation or understanding. What are these
phenomena, and how can they be explained? With me today is Terence
McKenna, a philosopher and thinker of note in the area of altered states
of consciousness and alternative realities. Terence is the coauthor with
his brother Dennis of The Invisible Landscape, and also Psilocybin: The
Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide. He is a founding member of Botanical
Dimensions, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving and studying
psychoactive plants used by native cultures throughout the world, and he
is also the developer of a computer software package called Timewave Zero,
designed to augment interpretation of the ancient Chinese book of
prophecy, the I Ching. Welcome, Terence.
TERENCE McKENNA: It's a pleasure to be here with you.
MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here with me also. You know, the
UFO phenomenon is striking because it's so bizarre. It seems as if the
reports that come in about UFOs defy any attempt whatsoever to categorize
them. I guess from my point of view, I can only assume that there are
probably many different interpretations of this event. I think, given your
background as a student of shamanism and altered states of consciousness
and alternative realities, you have some unique perspectives on the UFO
phenomenon. I wonder if we could get into that material.
McKENNA: Yes. Well, the ordinary approach to the UFOs has been to view
them as visitors or intruders from a nearby star system that have come in
metal ships for reasons of trade or scientific investigation or military
MISHLOVE: Or missionary activity.
McKENNA: -- or missionary activity, to the vicinity of our planet. This
was a myth that sprang up concomitant with the modern wave of sightings
that began shortly after World War II. As time has passed and the number
of sightings has gone from hundreds to thousands to hundreds of thousands
of instances, as the myth has fleshed itself out with subthemes -- the
theme of abduction, the theme of telepathic contact -- it's become much more difficult to fit all the known facts into the
simple model of spacefaring visitors from another world. So what we are
left with, then, are a number of more exotic competing theories in the
so-called postmodern phase of thinking about the UFO. Probably the best
known of these alternative explanations was the one pioneered by the Swiss
psychologist Carl Jung, who in 1953 wrote a book called Flying Saucers: A
Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. Jung was at great pains, without
passing judgment on the reality of the saucers, of the things seen, to
interpret them psychologically, to interpret them as one would interpret a
dream. He saw in their circular form, in their scintillating, shining,
alchemical brilliance, a symbol of human wholeness, and felt that they
were a symbol of our collective yearning for a kind of totality and
individuation. Now, in a way this kind of explanation is very satisfying;
however, it is not satisfying to the person who has immediately undergone
a very strange and a very real seeming experience.
MISHLOVE: Unless such a person were told great messages of hope for the
McKENNA: Well, and this is a persistent part of the flying saucer
phenomenon -- that people who have close contact with the saucers return
with messages of universal brotherhood and benevolence, with stories of a
beneficent hegemony of organized intelligence, where wiser, older worlds
and civilizations help younger and less mature worlds toward a kind of
galactic citizenship. However --
MISHLOVE: That's just one thread of the evidence.
McKENNA: It's one thread of the evidence, and it isn't really well
supported by the evidence. Jacques Vallee, who is one of the foremost
commentators on the phenomenon, has been at great pains to point out that
with the flying saucer phenomenon we're dealing with thousands and
thousands of incidents per year, throughout the world. Even at our own
primitive level of scientific sophistication we can learn a great deal
about a planet by sending a single probe to that planet. What kind of
scientific program of investigation requires thousands and thousands of
appearances? And if we make the assumption that not all appearances are
observed, but that in fact only a small number are observed, then the
number of appearances that must actually be going on soars toward an
astronomical number. It suggests we're dealing with an interpenetration by
an alien dimension on an almost industrial scale.
MISHLOVE: Of course a single probe could cause thousands of
McKENNA: If it were of a sophisticated enough nature, that's right. The
approach that I have taken, that has characterized my work with this
phenomenon, was first of all to say we have not carried out a sufficiently
in-depth survey of the life already on this planet to be able to say that
at some time in the past life did not arrive here and thrive here that is
not part of the general heritage of life on this planet, but that has
somehow come in from the outside.
My candidate for that kind of an
intrusive extraterrestrial would probably be a mushroom of some sort, or a
spore-bearing life form, because spores are very impervious to low
temperatures and high radiation -- the kind of environment met with in
MISHLOVE: In other words, a mushroom spore could conceivably even waft
itself up through the atmosphere of our planet and enter into empty space.
McKENNA: Oh, there's no question but what this is happening -- that
through what's called Brownian motion, which is sort of random
percolation, spores do reach the outer edge of our atmosphere, and there,
in the presence of cosmic rays and meteors and rare, highly energetic
events, occasionally a very small percentage of these biological objects
are wafted into space. We even possess meteorites that are believed to be
pieces of the Martian surface, thrown out by impacts on the Martian
surface of asteroidal material. In fact I think part of the grappling with
the UFO mystery is going to lead to the conclusion that space is not an
impermeable and insurmountable barrier to biology -- that in fact planets
are islands, and life does occasionally wash in from distant places, and
if conditions are correct, can take hold. However, let me say in the UFO
phenomenon we are dealing, or we presuppose that we are dealing, not
simply with the phenomenon of extraterrestrial biology, but with the
phenomenon of extraterrestrial intelligence, and this is a hackle-raising
MISHLOVE: We're dealing with more than mushroom spores.
McKENNA: We're dealing with more than mushroom spores, at least as
ordinarily conceived. I think the thing that has been overlooked in almost
all discussions of extraterrestrial contact is how strange the
extraterrestrial is likely to be. It isn't going to be a friendly, elfin
little feller with a beating heart of gold. It isn't even going to be some
of the more extravagantly grotesque creations out of Hollywood. Conditions
and time spans in the universe are long enough and varied enough that I
would bet that the real task with extraterrestrial intelligence will be to
recognize it, you see. We have no conception of how species-bound our
images of life and biology are. This is a place where we have never been
asked to confront to what degree the monkey within us has channeled our
expectations and perceptions.
MISHLOVE: Well, it is the case that on this planet virtually all known
life forms are based on the same DNA molecule.
McKENNA: Well, except that have all life forms been examined, to see to
what degree they deviate, percentage-wise, from, let's say, a standard
DNA molecule? The answer is no. The sequencing of DNA is a very
expensive process, and is only carried out on laboratory organisms with
an extensive history of involvement in medical research, like E. coli or
the ordinary laboratory rat. No, there's a great deal we don't know
about life on earth. We don't know when the fungi entered into the
We don't know what kind of intelligence is really possessed by the
cephalopods, the shell-less molluscs that include the octopi. The
intelligence of dolphins has been studied by Lilly and others; the
intelligence of the large primates other than man. One way of looking at
nature is that it is entirely linguistic intent -- that DNA is in fact a
way of uttering protein syntactical structures into matter.
MISHLOVE: In other words, that all of nature is like a poem.
McKENNA: Yes, nature is a communicating system of some sort, and the
problem that we have is to transcend cultural languages, historically
created languages with very limited applications, and instead fall into
phase with the communication systems that nature has placed all around us.
One possible view of the flying saucer is that it is a kind of projection
from the consciousness of the planet -- that it is Gaia, that it is in
fact a kind of alchemical object, haunting human historical time with a
symbol of totality, the kind of totality that our religions and our
mystical yearnings are so at pains to concretize for us. But unless we as
egocentric beings clarify our relationship to the unconscious, then I
think the flying saucer is going to remain quintessentially mysterious.
This was Jung's view.
MISHLOVE: One of the things that Jung pointed out in his book is that
we must pay attention to the research that Dr. J.B. Rhine was doing at
that time at Duke University in ESP and psychokinesis, and that even if
UFOs had a physical reality, could be photographed or could be weighed and
measured, that they still might in some manner be projections of the human
McKENNA: Oh yes, this is an important point to make, which the flying
saucer people are forever misunderstanding, and that is that saying the
flying saucer is a psychic object does not mean it is not a physical
object. Jung in Mysterium Coniunctionis is at great pains to say that the
realm of the psychic and the realm of the physical meet in a strange kind
of never-never land that we have yet to create the intellectual tools to
explore. This is where the mystery of synchronicity is going to come to
rest, the mystery of all kinds of paranormal activity on the part of human
beings, and the mystery of the flying saucer. It's interesting, you see,
that if you take the broad world of the so-called mysteries --
parapsychological, shamanic, extraterrestrial, and so forth -- and
hypothesize another spatial dimension, one more spatial dimension, then
suddenly all these mysteries become trivial. They are easily done. Locked
boxes are opened; future events are discerned; lost objects are found.
This sort of thing becomes quite the ordinary run of things if we
hypothesize dimensions hidden from ordinary experience.
MISHLOVE: And of course there's serious work at this point in the field
of unified field theory in physics, to postulate other dimensions of space
than we normally think of.
McKENNA: That's right. The current physical models of the universe
require eleven dimensions, eleven integrated variables to describe. And
that's physical models of the universe. If we then turn our attention to
mind and realize that we have no definition of what mind is, why then is
there any mystery in the fact that we have no definition of what the UFO
is? The mind is present at hand in every conscious moment. It has been our
constant companion for fifty thousand years, and we haven't a clue as to
what it is. So therefore, a manifestation of the other -- the superego, or
the extraterrestrial other like the UFO -- it is not surprising that it is
a mystery. I always hark back to the words of J.B.S. Haldane, the great
British enzymologist, who said reality is not only stranger than we
suppose, it may be stranger than we can suppose.
MISHLOVE: Well, that suggests to me that if we look at some of the most
bizarre, most anomalous cases that we have, such as UFOs, we begin to ask
ourselves not so much what are they, because that's a mystery, but what is
their function? How are they affecting us? That's like holding up a mirror
to ourselves, and it tells us a great deal about the basic mystery of our
mind and our reality.
McKENNA: Yes, this is the so-called postmodern approach -- to ask the
question, not what is the UFO, but what is it doing to us? Jacques Vallee
pioneered this approach. And the answer is fascinating. What the UFOs are
doing to us, to global society, is they are eroding faith in science by
casting directly in the path of science a kind of gauntlet, a challenge:
"Crack this" -- almost as if the cosmic giggle had shown up at the
bachelor party of science to spoil the bash, in the same way that the
resurrection of Christ posed a tremendous problem for the intellectuals of
late Roman antiquity, because they had no place in their world view for
someone rising from the dead. They were Greek materialists, atomists
essentially. In that same way, the UFO challenges the assumptions of
science, and I think in that sense Jung was really onto something when he
saw it as coming from the unconscious. It is like an object coming from
the unconscious with a compensatory function -- to turn us away from the
rational and toward the intuitive; to turn us away from the paternalistic,
Apollonian, solar, masculine view of things, and toward a kind of watery,
lunar, mysterious, intuitively felt feminine force -- almost as though the
UFO is a manifestation of Gaia as mother goddess. Science, as the proudest
-- pardon the word -- erection of the rational mind, then is challenged by
something from an entirely other dimension, an entirely other realm, that
concretizes for us the culture crisis. And that's why I've gotten into
UFOs; I think they are important for a resolution of the culture crisis.
They concretize the struggle between the paternalistic-masculine and the
lunar-feminine, between a dominator society and the kind of partnership
society that we require to survive.
MISHLOVE: And yet it seems as if that challenge is not a direct
confrontation. As Vallee points out, the UFOs are operating almost at the
mythological level of our culture. They're not landing in the White House;
they're not really challenging the military or NASA.
McKENNA: No, they're very mercurial, very watery. When you reach out
toward them, there is nothing there. What they chiefly have become is an
intellectual force in human thinking about the future, but when you reach
out to grasp the hardware, to read the message, to meet the alien, there
is nothing there. I've come to the conclusion, both from talking to
contactees and having had a contactee experience, that whatever lies
behind the UFO mystery, it is a force which can literally do anything. So
it is fruitless to talk about the size of the objects or their composition
or color, or the size of the entities, their dress and weapons and
accoutrements, because it can appear literally any way it wants to. It can
appear as the Virgin Mary; it can appear as galactarian overlords; it can
appear as gnomes, elves, sprites, this sort of thing. It is not to be
caught in the rational net.
MISHLOVE: Your description is strikingly actually parallel, with one
exception, to the view of many Fundamentalist Christians, who say this UFO
stuff is all the work of the devil.
McKENNA: Well, I don't know about the work of the devil. Jung's
criticism of Christianity was that it had not made a place for what he
called the shadow, and he said the productions of Christian culture will
always be neurotic because the shadow has not been included, so there's a
lack of psychic balance. Perhaps the UFO carries compensatory psychic
energy from the realm of the shadow. Some people are very frightened of
it. Some people see it as an almost millenarian salvational hope, the
savior of mankind. I think that it's very powerful, that it haunts time
like a ghost, that the messianic anticipations of Fundamentalist
Christianity and Islam are in fact a picking up on the shock wave that the
image of the flying saucer casts backward through time -- that this image
of the New Jerusalem, the four-gated city descending from the sky to whisk
the elect away to a better place, is a kind of prophecy yearning toward a
fact in the act of becoming. You know, Christianity and Islam are the most
history-obsessed of all the world's major religions.
MISHLOVE: Along with Judaism.
McKENNA: Along with Judaism. And all three of them have this notion of
the transcendental object at the end of time. And alchemy in the sixteenth
century was an outbreak of an expectation of a transcendental object in
the nearby here and now, that would cure --
MISHLOVE: The omega point of history, so to speak.
McKENNA: Yes, it would cure all ills, confer longevity, fertility,
virility, immortality. And I think that the flying saucer is an airborne
philosopher's stone -- the sophic hydrolith of Paracelsus haunting the
skies of modern America, with a promise of mandalic cohesion for the
future, that science has not given us. Science has been a very sadly
disappointing religion in the realm of the heart. The flying saucer comes
from the heart, but it bears the very strange energy of the other in its
manifestation as planetary goddess.
MISHLOVE: I'm often struck by the psychic powers that seem to be
associated with people who've had intensive encounters with UFOs. I've
researched many of these cases myself.
McKENNA: That's right. The thing is both material and psychological. It
anticipates the future. It seems that the memories of the contactees are
transparent to this force. It can reach deep into their lives and confront
them with information taken from forgotten incidents in their lives. It is
an awesome kind of force that transcends space and time for the
individual. Now, it may be that we will never have a general theory of
flying saucers. It may be that this is something that addresses the
individual, in the same way that I don't think we will ever have a general
theory of falling in love. That too is something which addresses the
individual. We have been mistaken to expect Time magazine or the New York
Times to explain the flying saucers to us. They will not explain the
flying saucers to us, any more than they will explain ourselves to us.
This is something that haunts the membrane of experience very close in to
the experiencing ego, and therefore it is threatening. This is one of the
reasons that I think it relates to the psychedelic experience, because the
psychedelic experience is like a UFO encounter on demand. It's where the
will of the person having the experience enters in. They decide to have
this curious symmetry-breaking kind of experience. What I have tried to
say to the UFO community is that we will not really have a deep
understanding of what the contact experience is until we include data from
the psychedelic experience as legitimate data to be included when looking
at the problem.
MISHLOVE: You have talked earlier about our need to make an extensive
survey of all of the biological manifestations on our planet. It almost
seems that in order to really get a handle on the UFO phenomenon we'd need
to make a comparable survey of all of the psychological manifestations of
which we are aware, and it seems to me that at some level you would agree
with me that the UFO phenomenon is one of our psychological
McKENNA: Yes, I agree.
MISHLOVE: We've got about two minutes left, so I wonder if we can sort
of summarize your view in that regard.
McKENNA: Yes, I think that the UFO phenomenon is a modern manifestation
of a phemonenon which has been with us for thousands of years -- that is,
the partial penetration of our own cultural space by others -- pixies,
elves, fairies, sprites, demons, whatever you wish to call them.
McKENNA: Angels. In the past we had a professional class for dealing
with these go-betweens. We called the professional class shamans, and they
mitigated these comings and goings and had a lore and a mythology about
them. As we have lost contact with our shamanic roots, the things which go
on at a low frequency, out in the wilderness and deserts of this planet,
have come to seem to us either like invasions from another world, or
virtual impossibilities. I think that the flying saucer is knocking on our
door to remind us of the depth and strangeness and animate intelligence
that is resident with us in nature on this planet.
MISHLOVE: Terence McKenna, it's been a very eloquent presentation,
extremely thought provoking. Thank you very much for being with me.
McKENNA: It's always a pleasure to talk with you.