UFOs: Real or visionary rumor?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
My wife and I just passed through some of the southeast of New Mexico on our journey to the west to see our grandchildren. First, we passed through the city of Alamogordo, depicted in the movie “Oppenheimer” since it was the test site of the first atomic bomb in 1945. Nearby was White Sands National Park, a missile test site with unique white sand. A little further down the road is the city of Roswell, where UFO rumors began in 1947, not many years after the first atomic bombs. Once upon a time, back around 1967 in the early days of our love, my wife and I thought we saw a UFO in Ann Arbor. I suppose one could wonder, as some psychiatrists and others interested in parapsychology have done, about how all such unusual places and events are connected.
That awe of wonder became even more obvious when we just visited the Roswell Museum of Art. In contrast to the downtown loaded with facsimiles of UFOs in their attractions and business, this is a serious art museum tucked away a bit.
The psychiatrist Carl Jung, he of the theory of a collective unconscious, in his last book, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, describes the UFO phenomena as a “visionary rumor.” This refers to a rumor that is best kept alive by visions that are experienced collectively. The affected individuals feel an “unusual emotion,” which intensifies and then flashes visually. The artist Alex Boeschenstein successfully translated that into a gallery exhibit.
Other artists had similar intriguing exhibits. The one by Susan Marie Dopp of playfully moving and lacy found objects brought these responses by viewers:
“All very curative.”
“Here for the eclipse - this feels like an extension of that otherworldly experience.”
In our clinical work, perhaps we have encountered the question of rumors as false memories versus reality in assessing the existence of past trauma. Jung never was quite sure of how to distinguish whether UFOs were a psychic or real phenomena. Apparently, neither has our government or, at least, they are not saying.
In a time when our own global reality is so troubling, are we ripe for “visionary rumors” that can coalesce into dangerous cultish thinking on the internet? Artists so often see the unseen, as do we mental health professionals. At our best psychological analyses, we can assess reality, predict where it is headed, interpret what is illusionary, and provide healing interventions, both for patients and society. “Far out,” I know, but so is awe, and so are our patients’ and worlds’ problems. As Shakespeare once wrote, there is still so much for us to learn about our minds and universe.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.