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Dr. Carl Gustav Jung & the UFO Phenomenon


While Jung is known mainly for his theories on the nature of the unconscious mind, he did have an interest in the paranormal. In his books 'Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies', Jung applies his analytical skills to the UFO phenomenon. Rather than assuming that the modern prevalence of UFO sightings are due to extraterrestrial craft, Jung reserves judgment on their origin and connects UFOs with archetypal imagery, concluding that they have become a "living myth."

"In the threatening situation of the world today, when people are beginning to see that everything is at stake, the projection-creating fantasy soars beyond the realm of earthly organizations and powers into the heavens, into interstellar space, where the rulers of human fate, the gods, once had their abode in the planets.... Even people who would never have thought that a religious problem could be a serious matter that concerned them personally are beginning to ask themselves fundamental questions. Under these circumstances it would not be at all surprising if those sections of the community who ask themselves nothing were visited by `visions,' by a widespread myth seriously believed in by some and rejected as absurd by others."

--C. G. Jung, in Flying Saucers

Jung's primary concern in Flying Saucers is not with the reality or unreality of UFOs but with their psychic aspect. Rather than speculate about their possible nature and extraterrestrial origin as alleged spacecraft, he asks what it may signify that these phenomena, whether real or imagined, are seen in such numbers just at a time when humankind is menaced as never before in history. The UFOs represent, in Jung's phrase, "a modern myth."

- taken from UFO Evidence dot org

Jung: A Biography - By Deirdre Bair

In 1958, at the advanced age of 83, Jung published a book on UFOs. He told an interviewer that having studied them for "about 12 years ... I cannot even say whether they exist or not". He knew that even in addressing the topic he was risking, as he said, "his hard-won reputation for truthfulness, reliability and capacity for scientific judgment". But there was, he thought, at least one "remarkable fact" about UFOs worth the attention of someone of his profession: what were modern people in need of in their quest for extraterrestrial life? And yet when two close American friends went to Jung's home in Switzerland they were amazed to find the "sage of
Zurich" telling them that flying saucers were "factual", and that he was not "in the least interested in psychological aspects ... or in factual information relating to the investigation of flying saucer reports". Jung was often, as he himself acknowledged, in at least two minds about things; and, as Deirdre Bair notes in her new and useful biography, he "never hesitated to explode in wrath when anyone crossed him". One of the things that seems to have made him most cross was the extent to which he was at war with himself. "Don't forget," he once said, in a memo rather more to himself than to anyone else, "I am definitely no philosopher, and my concepts are accordingly empirical and not speculative." It is an empirical fact that Jung, to his credit, was always more speculative than he wanted to be. Like everyone else, he hated being crossed because it exposed how at odds with himself he really was.

Science appealed to Jung because it seemed to offer some hope of a cure for the dividedness of his self; science kept alive the possibility that somewhere there was a consensus about what life was like, that somewhere and somehow there could be agreement about things. That nature, at least, could be an authority figure. Bair's story is a lengthy one, partly because Jung lived a long time - he died in 1961 at the age of 86 - and partly because Jung, unlike Freud, was an extremely active man. It is also an old-fashioned story, as Jung would have liked it to be: a 19th-century tale of the loss of religious belief and the quest for a good life without the traditional sops and guidelines. Not exactly Modern Man's Search of a Soul - one of Jung's characteristically high-flying and far-flung titles - but modern man's search for something to believe in to keep himself going.

Jung ended up calling it individuation - the now familiar willingness to become oneself, with the assumption that one has a self to become - but it was called different things throughout his life: his number two personality, his father (never his mother), Nietzsche, the unconscious, Freud, psychoanalysis, analytical psychology, alchemy, the collective unconscious, the soul. Jung's life, which is remarkable if only for the tenacity with which he struggled with himself, captures the imagination of people for whom life is only valuable, or even bearable, if they can find meaning in it.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, Jung's hunger for meaning, which allowed him to take religion rather more sympathetically then Freud did, was not always compatible with his over-stressed wish to be a scientist of the soul. Jung, in other words - and Bair's words are often instructive - is a magnet for many of our contemporary preoccupations; above all, how we have come to believe that we need to believe in something (or someone) in order to have good-enough lives. And why it is that once we want to believe, we are drawn to believe in the supernatural; in something that by definition has to be so much more powerful than we are ourselves. Jung seems to have suffered a life-long, catastrophic disillusionment that he was only a person. His remarkable work was a quest, among other things, to compensate for this.

The only son of two people who were both the 13th child in their respective families, Jung seems to have been born with a sense of ominous uniqueness. His mother, in Bair's vivid account, was an extremely unhappy, lonely and haunted woman. His adored father was a more or less failed Swiss pastor, a melancholic man of esoteric interests. Like everyone else Jung sounds like an uncanny combination of his parents: growing up with so much disappointment and superstition - two things that often go together - he found at first philosophy (Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche) and then the newish science of psychiatry as at once a refuge from, and a bulwark against, his family. As a man very much of his time, with a fin-de-siècle appetite for the new that was also a cover-up for an obsession with the past, Jung both found and invented the then not so well-known Freud.

Inevitably Bair's biography is, like all the previous biographies of Jung, a before and after life in which he struggles to find himself, thinks he has found himself in Freud, and eventually becomes himself by recovering from his troubled relationship with the man he hoped would be his master. But Bair, rightly, sees that there was far more to Jung than his life-changing (and inevitable) disappointment with Freud. If her clichéd misgivings about Freud implicitly make Jung seem naive for having been impressed by this sex-obsessed authoritarian bigot, her one-sided approach at least has the merit of refusing to make Jung a footnote to psychoanalysis. Just as there was more to Freud than psychoanalysis, there was far more to Jung than his interest in Freud. Jung did the thing that most of Freud's followers were unable to do, and therefore never forgave him for doing: he made use of Freud's work without becoming a Freudian. That the idolater became an idol himself is, as ever, the sadder story. Jung himself ended up in need of more disciples than was good for him.

Throughout his life Jung was fearful about being misunderstood. What Bair refers to as the circularity in his writing - literally the way Jung, by his own admission, kept going round in circles, apparently uninterested in sequential argument - dismayed Jung himself. Each of his writings was, he wrote, "the attempt to bring the unsayable of the background into the objective world of science. All my works are commissions from the inside, so to speak."

Jung was adept at making people feel that there were amazing things inside them, things of cosmic significance. And unlike Freud, Jung knew from his own experience what it was to be really mad. He was never quite sure which of the two versions of himself he was most impressed by: the inspired, tormented eccentric, or the respectable, assured, bourgeois professional. What Bair intimates in her even-handed way is that we should not be quite as fascinated as Jung was by his own depths. That we might, for example, take seriously the fact that he married into one of the richest families in Switzerland; that he was overly impressed by all things English, especially the aristocracy; and that he had a passion for glamorous cars. Jung's lifelong fear of being misunderstood was more of an insistence that he be taken only on his own terms. When Freud described Jung's book Psychological Types as "the work of a snob and a mystic", he may have underestimated just how important snobs and mystics were to Jung. Indeed Jung's work seems to suggest, often unwittingly, that mysticism is itself a form of snobbery, that spirituality might be the new elitism.

1958 interview with Dr. Jung on UFOs

Below is an excerpt from an interview that Jung gave to the NEW YORK HERALD- TRIBUNE which was published in its issue for July 30, 1958.  It was an A.P. (Associated Press) report from Alamogordo, New Mexico, dated July 29…

 Dr. Carl Jung, Swiss psychologist, says in a report released yesterday that unidentified flying objects are real, and show signs of intelligent guidance by quasi-human pilots. "I can only say for certain that these things are not a mere rumor. Something has been seen. A purely psychological explanation is ruled out". Dr. Jung, who had started his research on UFOs in 1944, issued his statement through the UFO-Filter Centre of the Aerial Phenomena Research Association (A.P.R.O.) here. He said:

"I have gathered a mass of observations of unidentified flying objects since 1944. The disks do not behave in accordance with physical laws, but as though without weight. If the extraterrestrial origin of these phenomena should be confirmed, this would prove the existence of an intelligent interplanetary relationship. What such a fact might mean for humanity cannot be predicted. But it would put us without doubt in the extremely precarious position of similar primitive communities in conflict with superior cultures."

"That the construction of these machines proves a scientific technique immensely superior to ours cannot be disputed. The United States Air Force has said that investigations of flying saucer reports over the last ten years have produced no evidence that such things exist. It said last November that investigations of 5,700 reported sightings showed that the mysterious objects were balloons, aircraft, astronomical phenomena, birds, fireworks, or hoaxes - among other things". 

From the NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE, July 30, 1958. (Associated Press report from Alamogordo, N.M., July 29.)


Item: The Symbolism of UFOs and Aliens - by John Fraim

One of the subtle mega-trends in American culture in the second half of the twentieth century has been UFOs and alien symbolism. Whether the early events centering around Roswell, New Mexico and such groups as Project Blue Book are true or not, what is a fact is that interest in aliens came onto the "radar screen" of American culture around the late 40s. Carl Jung was one of the first to try and analyze these "blips" on the "radar screen" in a symbolic way. As early as 1946 he started collecting data on UFOs and reading every book on the subject. In a 1951 letter to an American friend he wrote, "I'm puzzled to death about these phenomena, because I haven't been able yet to make out with sufficient certainty whether the whole thing is a rumor with concomitant singular and mass hallucination, or a downright fact."

An event in 1958 led Jung to conclude that it was more desirable for people to believe UFOs exist than to believe they don't exist. One of his final works, Flying Saucers, was an attempt to answer why it was more desirable to believe in their existence.

Jung came to the conclusion that UFOs were examples of the phenomena of synchronicity where external events mirror internal psychic states. As usual, he saw the UFO situation in a broader perspective than most. For Jung the UFO images had much to do with the ending of an era in history and the beginning of a new one. In his introductory remarks to Flying Saucers he writes about the UFO events:

" As we know from ancient Egyptian history, they are manifestations of psychic changes which always appear at the end of one Platonic month and at the beginning of another. Apparently they are changes in the constellation of psychic dominants, of the archetypes, or 'gods' as they used to be called, which bring about, or accompany, long-lasting transformations of the collective psyche. The transformation started in the historical era and left its traces first in the passing of the aeon of Taurus into that of Aries, and then of Aries into Pisces, whose beginning coincides with the rise of Christianity. We are now nearing that great change which may be expected when the spring point enters Aquarius."

In a similar manner that the medieval alchemists projected their psyche into matter, Jung felt that modern man projected his inner state into the heavens. In this sense, the UFOs became modern symbols for the ancient gods which came to man's assistance in time of need. The need perhaps was for wholeness again out of the increasing fragmentation of the modern world. In the early 50s and the beginning of the Cold War, when UFOs began to infiltrate popular culture, there was a great fragmentation in the world. Jung writes, "At a time when the world is divided by an iron curtain...we might expect all sorts of funny things, since when such a thing happens in an individual it means a complete dissociation, which is instantly compensated by symbols of wholeness and unity." It was very relevant to Jung that the shape of the flying saucers was round, the shape of the ancient Mandala, symbol of wholeness throughout history.

The UFO events of the 50s which Jung turned his focus on have certainly not gone away. In fact they seem to increasingly dominate contemporary American popular culture. In the almost half century along the way they have gone a long way towards creating and boosting the literary/film/television genre of science fiction, as well as creating a huge marketing empire and a division in culture between the believers (contactees) and non-believers.

In the process, UFOs and aliens have moved out of cults and into the mainstream of popular culture, their symbolism continually evolving. An important investigation into the current symbolism of aliens and UFOs is political scientist professor Jodi Dean's Aliens in America. Dean sees aliens as repositories for the fears and phobias of our segmented, cyberculture rather than merely another broad-based cult phenomena.

These fears center around the inability to distinguish truth from fiction and the fact that many contemporary political matters are simply undiscipherable. The conspiracy theory which fuels them offers a type of conflicting symbolic duality to that of consensus reality. As Dean notes, "The claim to truth and its challenges to our practices for establishing it are what enable the alien to function as an icon of postmodern anxieties." She notes that aliens are cultural icons in which the new conditions of democratic politics at the millennium can be seen.

But in the end, aliens are really modern Americans and our feelings of alienation. As Dean says, "We have too much data, but not enough to make any decisions because we are uncertain about the contexts and networks into which we might integrate this information. Enabled by technology we become aliens, connected outside the state." And, just as often, "we're abducted by the same technology." In this strange new world, Dean notes that our neighbors are aliens. "Assimilation has been discredited as an ideal, and multiculturalism hasn't become much more than a marketing strategy...Better to forget the neighbors, go inside, and enjoy cyber-citizenship on the World Wide Web." And alien abduction, notes Dean, "narrates the predominant experience of the familiarity of strangeness in the techno-global information age."

The symbolism of alien abduction is very different than the old one of colonization dominating much of the nineteenth century. "Unlike metaphors of colonization that presupposes borders to be penetrated and resources to be exploited," Dean notes, "abduction operates with an understanding of the world, of reality, as amorphous and permeable." Dean adds that colonization moreover brings with it the possibility of struggle, of emancipation and independence. Abduction, however, recognizes the futility of resistance even as it points to other possible freedoms. Colonization implies an on-going process with systematic limitations. Yet abduction involves the sense that things are happening behind our backs. A great paradox is perhaps at the end of this symbolism as Dean concludes her book with the following: "To fight colonization, we take control. We don't fight abduction; we simply try to recover our memories, all the while aware that they could be false, that in our very recovery we participate in an alien plan."

Copyright 1998 John Fraim.


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