Edward Mack, M.D. (October
4, 1929 September 27, 2004) was
an American psychiatrist,
and professor at Harvard Medical School. He was
a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, and a leading
authority on the spiritual or transformational effects of
alleged alien abduction experiences.
in New York City, Mack received
his medical degree from Harvard Medical School
(Cum Laude, 1955) after undergraduate study at Oberlin
(Phi Beta Kappa, 1951). He was
a graduate of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute
and was certified in child and adult psychoanalysis.
dominant theme of his life's work has been the exploration
of how one's perceptions of the world affect one's relationships.
He addressed this issue of "world view"
on the individual level in his early clinical explorations
of dreams, nightmares and teen suicide, and in A
Prince of Our Disorder, his biographical study
of the life of British officer T. E. Lawrence, for which
he received the Pulitzer Prize
for Biography in 1977.
theme was taken to a controversial extreme in the early
1990s when Mack commenced his decade-plus study of 200
men and women who reported recurrent alien encounter experiences.
Such encounters had been reported since at least the 1950s
(the account of Antonio
Villas Boas), and had seen some limited
attention from academic figures (Dr.
R. Leo Sprinkle perhaps being the earliest,
in the 1960s). Mack, however, remains probably the most
esteemed academic to have studied the subject.
initially suspected that such persons were suffering from
mental illness, but when no obvious pathologies were present
in the persons he interviewed, his interest was piqued.
Following encouragement from long-time friend Thomas Kuhn,
who predicted that the subject might be controversial,
but urged Mack to collect data and ignore prevailing materialist,
dualist and "either/or" analysis, Mack began
concerted study and interviews. Many of those he interviewed
reported that their encounters had affected the way they
regarded the world, including producing a heightened sense
of spirituality and environmental concern.
was somewhat more guarded in his investigations and interpretations
of the abduction phenomenon than were earlier researchers.
Literature professor Terry Matheson writes that "On
balance, Mack does present as fair-minded an account as
has been encountered to date, at least as these abduction
narratives go." In a 1994 interview, Dr. Jeffrey
Mishlove stated that Mack seemed "inclined to
take these [abduction] reports at face value."
Mack replied by saying "Face value I wouldn't
say. I take them seriously. I don't have a way to account
for them." Similarly, the BBC quoted Mack as saying,
"I would never say, yes, there are aliens taking
people. [But] I would say there is a compelling powerful
phenomenon here that I can't account for in any other
way, that's mysterious. Yet I can't know what it is but
it seems to me that it invites a deeper, further inquiry."
noted that there was a worldwide history of visionary
experiences, especially in pre-industrial societies. One
example is the vision quest common to some Native American
cultures. Only fairly recently in Western culture, notes
Mack, have such visionary events been interpreted as aberrations
or as mental illness. Mack suggested that abduction accounts
might best be considered as part of this larger tradition
of visionary encounters.
interest in the spiritual or transformational aspects
of people's alien encounters, and his suggestion that
the experience of alien contact itself may be more transcendent
than physical in natureyet nonetheless realset
him apart from many of his contemporaries, such as Budd
Hopkins, who advocated the physical reality
later research broadened into the general consideration
of the merits of an expanded notion of reality, one which
allows for experiences that may not fit the Western materialist
paradigm, yet deeply affect people's lives. His second
(and final) book on the alien encounter experience, Passport
to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters
(1999), was as much a philosophical treatise connecting
the themes of spirituality and modern worldviews as it
was the culmination of his work with the "experiencers"
of alien encounters, to whom the book is dedicated.
May 1994, the Dean of Harvard Medical School, Daniel C.
Tosteson, appointed a committee of peers to confidentially
review Mack's clinical care and clinical investigation
of the people who had shared their alien encounters with
him (some of their cases were written of in Mack's 1994
book Abduction). In
the same BBC article cited above, Angela Hind wrote, "It
was the first time in Harvard's history that a tenured
professor was subjected to such an investigation."
Mack described the investigation as "Kafkaesque":
he never quite knew the status of the ongoing investigation,
and the nature of his critics' complaints were not revealed
to Mack until the committee had prepared a draft report
eight months into the process. Because the committee was
not a disciplinary committee, it was not governed by any
established rules of procedure; the presentation of a
defense was therefore difficult and costly for Mack.
the public revelation of the existence of the committee
(inadvertently revealed during the solicitation of witnesses
for Mack's defense, ten months into the process), questions
arose from the academic community (including Harvard Professor
of Law Alan Dershowitz) regarding the validity of an investigation
of a tenured professor who was not suspected of ethics
violations or professional misconduct. Concluding the
fourteen-month investigation, Harvard then issued a statement
stating that the Dean had "reaffirmed Dr. Mack's
academic freedom to study what he wishes and to state
his opinions without impediment", concluding
"Dr. Mack remains a member in good standing of
the Harvard Faculty of Medicine." (Mack was censured
in the committee's report for what they believed were
methodological errors, but Dean Tosteson took no action
based on the committee's assessment.) He had received
legal help from Roderick MacLeish and Daniel
P. Sheehan, (of the Pentagon Papers case)
and the support of Laurance Rockefeller, who also funded
Mack's non-profit organization for four consecutive years
at $250,000 per year.
wrote the following books:
Passport to the Cosmos:
Human Transformation and Alien Encounters (1999)
Abduction: Human Encounters
with Aliens (1994)
A Prince of Our Disorder:
The Life of T.E. Lawrence (1976)
Nightmares and Human Conflict