For eight weeks in October and November, I had the distinct pleasure of teaching the course Phenomenology of UAP through SUAPS. Throughout this course, we explored close encounters of the first through fifth kinds through the lens of classical phenomenologists Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre. As we progressed each week, new questions and lines of inquiry emerged, as it is clear the contact experience is a human experience that challenges the boundaries of what traditional phenomenologists considered possible.
Consequently it becomes apparent that while these traditional thinkers offer us phenomenological tools that I think are a necessary starting point of inquiry into the phenomenon, it is also the case that we must expand traditional phenomenology to account for conscious experiences that its founders did not conceive as possible and thus did not have adequate phenomenological concepts to capture. Michael E. Zimmerman has argued persuasively that most contemporary philosophers are anthropocentric humanists, that is to say, they believe that human beings are the highest intelligence in the universe, and are also the sole source of all meaning and value in the world (See “The ‘Alien Abduction’ Phenomenon: Forbidden Knowledge of Hidden Events”). Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre could all be considered anthropocentric humanists, as they ultimately thought value was projected onto the environment through the lived experience of human beings. Further, neither of them seriously considered the possibility of advanced non-human intelligences or of non-ordinary realities that possess an ontological reality of their own.
The following are aspects of the contact experience that we need new phenomenological concepts to describe:
A careful reading and analysis of close encounters shows that there are aspects of the contact experience that are given to the experiencer in ways outside of normal sense perception. However these aspects of the experience are also not reducible to hallucination or imagination. Thus, we need a new understanding of a conscious intentionality that accounts for information received through modes other than the five senses. Examples include images that flash through contactees heads during the contact experience, vast “downloads” of information received by contactees, and the fact that sometimes some witnesses will observe a craft or entity while others will not. Further some experiencers report that aspects of the encounter take place in an altered sense of reality that is nevertheless ontologically real. Henry Corbin argued that the imaginal realm refers to a third kingdom, access to which is dependent neither on sensory perception nor on normal waking cognition. However the imaginal realm is nevertheless ontologically real (see Henry Corbin, Mundis Imaginalis or the Imaginal and the Imaginary). Hidden from view, it is accessible only through what we may call non-ordinary states of consciousness: deep meditation, trance, breathwork, fasting, mystic experiences, psychedelic experiences, out of body experiences—and UAP encounters. The UAP seems to open the experiencer up to the imaginal realm and some aspects of encounters take place through the psychospiritual senses. However other aspects of the same encounters clearly take place in physical reality and the UAP leave physical traces to show this, both on the bodies of the experiencers as well as the environment. Thus, the UAP encounter seems to blend physical and imaginal perception in ways that we do not currently fully understand. A descriptive phenomenology of the imaginal perception reported in UAP encounters will not only more accurately describe this important dimension of human conscious experience, but help us understand the relationship between the material and imaginal realms. What are the modes of the presentation of these “crossover phenomena” which appear to violate or transcend the boundaries of the physical and the imaginal planes? Is it possible we must rethink the boundaries the rationalist mind has placed between the physical and non physical or quasi-physical realms?
Encounter with the Non-human Other
Accounts of intersubjectivity from traditional phenomenologists all describe our contact with a human Other. An encounter with a non-human Other opens up new modes of intersubjectivity that have yet to be fully phenomenologically explored. For example, communication with the NHIs associated with UAP are almost always reported as being received telepathically. Additionally, in the traditional encounter with a human Other, we always are able to protect the contents of our own minds, even though our bodies are subject to interpretation and judgment by the Other. Abductees and contactees report the process of “mind scan” when in the presence of an NHI, in which the NHI is able to access the contents of their thoughts from within (Zimmerman comments on this experience in “Encountering an Alien Otherness”). The inner contents of their conscious experience are laid bare to the non-human Other through a process that is out of their control. Last, through the experience of telepathy or sharing of consciousness, experiencers report the very surreal experience of experiencing another consciousness in the first person while simultaneously knowing that the consciousness you are experiencing is not your own. In traditional phenomenology, we only ever have access to our own conscious experiences. In a UAP encounter, the traditional boundaries of subjectivity break down, and experiencers report the sensation of accessing another consciousness from the first person point of view. At the same time, they retain an awareness that this consciousness is “not me” and thus are able to experience the “me” and “not me” simultaneously. This new possibility for human consciousness is rich for phenomenological analysis and its implications have not been fully explored.
Mapping the subtle bodies
While some UAP encounters take place in physical reality only and may be called “nuts and bolts” encounters, other encounters involve being temporarily out of body or separated from one’s body. Additionally, in the aftermath of UAP encounters, many experiencers become more in tune with what may be called their energetic bodies or astral bodies. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body focuses on the physical, material body as the subject’s anchoring point in the phenomenal field, and argues that the body serves as the locus of our aims and possibilities in the world. Our bodies are not thought, they are rather a direct intentionality that manifests itself directly in the practical plane. Two problems emerge: UAP encounters disrupt the habitual body that normally serves as our anchoring point in the practical field of possibilities. UAP witnesses often experience paralysis, the temporary inability to speak, or feel that they are wading through deep water. Thus, the UAP can sever the connection between the conscious experience and the body as the non-reflective locus of action. Second, dimensions of encounters that take place out of body, or in what some experiencers consider the astral or energetic plane represent an experience removed from the material body but that still has some subtle physical or energetic properties to it. There is much room for phenomenology to rethink the traditional Merleau-Pontian conception of the relationship of conscious experience to the body, and what it means for consciousness to sometimes anchor or experience itself through the subtle or energetic body only. Additionally, carefully mapping the characteristics of the subtle bodies that are experienced in UAP encounters will open new insights for understanding this mode of conscious experience.
As we progress with developing a robust phenomenology of the phenomenon, we must expand the boundaries of what traditional phenomenologists thought possible, and introduce new intentionalities, new understandings of the bodily, and new forms of intersubjectivity. The UAP encounter pushes the boundaries of what once thought possible to be given to consciousness. We must expand our phenomenological frameworks accordingly.