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 John Mack and "Reified Metaphor" (Aliens)

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Man in Black

Man in Black

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Registration date : 2009-01-28

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PostSubject: John Mack and "Reified Metaphor" (Aliens)   John Mack and "Reified Metaphor" (Aliens) Icon_minitimeWed Jan 28, 2009 6:57 pm

John Mack and "Reified Metaphor"
Posted by Mac Tonnies,
Friday, January 23, 2009 at 11:00 AM
by Mac Tonnies

I keep returning to the late Harvard psychiatrist John Mack's notion of "reified metaphor." The "aliens" may not be what they seem. Of course, to most, they don't seem like anything . . .except perhaps a useful portal into aberrant psychology or pop-culture run riot.

The "conventional wisdom": Gray aliens are harvesting us for our genes. It's possible. But Mack's reasoning (which is admittedly elliptical) suggests there's something else going on -- something that transcends mere genetics. We latch onto the "genetic harvesting" scenario because it makes sense to us; we live in an age of exponentiating biotech, so it seems sensible to assume that extraterrestrial visitors will be obsessed with similar concerns.

But a careful look at world folklore reveals that "aliens" have always been with us in one form or another. There are two immediate explanations:

1.) Extraterrestrials have been here for a long time and humans have tended to address them in terms of their own techno-mythological vocabulary. Thus the "little people" of Celtic myth were perfectly real but not "supernatural. " (Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology would appear indistinguishable from magic.")

2.) Humans have simply been projecting their fears and hopes onto the collective unconscious; yesterday's faeries and kobolds are today's aliens. We simply use what we know to define the notion of the Other; it's inevitable that a technological society like our own would latch onto a scientifically informed vision of alien geneticists -- even if the model rings hollow upon close inspection.

This was how Carl Sagan left matters in The Demon-Haunted World, grossly misrepresenting Jacques Vallee's "multiverse" thesis, which posits that we are somehow involved with an unseen intelligence that camouflages
itself to fit the reigning zeitgeist. According to Vallee, both "aliens" and "faeries" are equally misleading labels for something that can't be properly addressed using a single-universe model.

Are our perceptions so fragile that our brains are forced to manufacture new and better disguises for our visitors? Is the "visiting" intelligence (given that it exists) responsible for its apparent cultural camouflage, or do we effectively hide its true nature from ourselves, as reflexively as we might swat at a bothersome fly?

Mack's concept of "reified metaphor" might help to excavate something real from the desert of illusion. Perhaps human consciousness exists on several levels at once. "Reality" -- the world we think we inhabit -- might represent a relatively low level of awareness, a crude virtual reality designed to keep us from over-taxing our seemingly meat-based brains.

The computer I'm writing this on may only be a shade more "real" than the "My Computer" icon on my screen's desktop. In the same way, genes might be mere symbols -- elements in a "Matrix"-style consensual hallucination.

So what are the "aliens" trying to tell us? We're told they extract ova and semen; that they're keen on "punch biopsies" and nasal implants. Is there an intelligible symbolism at work behind the forever-rippling veil of sensationalism?

If so, can we even hope to decode it?

Mac Tonnies
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