…we are haunting ourselves in the present from the past and the future via the ghost and the alien.
Jeffrey J. Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University.
Anomalous experiences are the out-of-the-ordinary, strange, inexplicable events in our lives. Anomalous comes from the Greek. An means not, and homalous means not equal or not the same. Anomalous, or extraordinary, experiences are not homogenous to everyday reality. Yet polls show most people report an anomalous experience at some point in their life and most of us believe in them. Is the extraordinary really ordinary, after all?
Consider your most unusual experience, one that cannot be easily explained. Or an uncanny event in your life that you keep to yourself concerned that if you told others, they would not believe you. Common anomalous experiences include but are not limited to encounters with non-human intelligences, time and/or space anomalies, out of body experiences, near-death experiences, encounters with those dying or who have died, super-abilities or claire’s, unidentified aerial phenomenon UAP/UFO, and precognitive dreams (Cardeña, 2018; Sass et al., 2017).
The American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) textbook The Varieties of Anomalous Experience (2000/2017) defines anomalous experience (AE) as an uncommon experience that deviates from usual or mainstream explanations of reality. Anomalous does not imply abnormal. In fact, research indicates that “AE’s often occur in the absence of psychopathology and may even be indicators of better than average psychological health” (Varieties of Anomalous Experience, 2000, p. 5). William James, the forebearer of our modern psychological lineage, would approve of this return to viewing anomalous experiences as part of normal human functioning. He devoted a generous portion of his research and writings to the topic (James, 1986). Yet James’s extensive psychical research has been conveniently disregarded by armchair sceptics and overly materialistic approaches to scientific inquiry.
A taboo around the topic since the 1950s has stifled exploration and made it difficult for scholar-practitioners to take up the subject if they wish to advance a career in academic institutions. Simply look to the story of the eminent chair of psychology at Harvard in the 1990s, John E. Mack, M.D., a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Mack’s tenure was challenged when his focus turned to studying human abduction by non-human intelligences. Mack coined the term “Experiencers” claiming his clients showed little indication of pathology, and he believed they were telling the truth. Mack was eventually victorious and maintained his tenure, but only after his academic career was severely threatened (Blumenthal, 2021). Alexander Wendt, another highly respected academic, in 2008 published the first article in a social science journal, Political Theory, that took UFOs seriously (Wendt & Duvall, 2008) . Thirteen years later it remains the most downloaded article from the journal, yet no direct peer response has been published. More recently the prolific Harvard University astrophysicist Avi Loeb published a paper in the Astrophysical Journal Letters arguing that a recent object to pass through our solar system, named Oumuamua or scout, “had been nothing less than humanity’s first contact with an artifact of extraterrestrial intelligence” (Bialy & Loeb, 2018). Loeb chairs the Board on Physics and Astronomy at the National Academy of Science yet most of the scientific community has been less than welcoming to Loeb’s theories. He has experienced a backlash that illustrates what Loeb claims is a “loss of intellectual compass” in the scientific community (Billings, 2021).
The good news is the tide is turning as more independent researchers, as well as academics with the apparent safety of tenue, take up the subject. Diana Pasulka uses the term meta-experiencers to describe scientists who study both unusual phenomena and the experiencers themselves (Pasulka, 2019). Jeffrey J. Kripal has devoted most of his scholastic writing and research to the subject, particularly once he established the freedom of tenure (Kripal, 2019). The Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia is an eminent research unit exploring near death studies and children’s memories of previous lives, with scientific rigor. Meta-experiencer Sean Esborn-Hargens’ establishment of the Exo-Studies Institute is also a leading example of the recent changes in the field (Esborn-Hargens, 2020).
What could a developmental view illuminate about the hidden human experience of anomalous phenomena? Are there patterns within and across stages of ego development that emerge through inquiry into experiencers’ meaning-making? Up to now, a developmental view of anomalous experiences has not been explored and remains a gap in the field. The ego development assessment method of Stages Theory is the latest iteration of the long academic lineage of Jane Loevinger’s Washington University Sentence Completion Test (WUSCT) and is uniquely designed to gather both subjective and objective data, as objects of awareness are analyzed to assess current subjective ego states. O’Fallon’s Stages theory offers a comprehensive framework to capture complex human meaning-making. How will anomalous experience appear when looking through the prism of a developmental lens?
To answer this question, I am working with Stages International to develop an anomalous experiences specialty inventory, currently called the Experiencers Inquiry. I also am conducting my own qualitative analysis from interviews with Experiencers. With a grounded theory approach, I expect a developmental theory of anomalous experiences will emerge, over time.
For those interested in learning more about my research into the intersection of developmental theory and anomalous experiences, sign up at the following link.
Bialy, S., & Loeb, A. (2018). Could Solar Radiation Pressure Explain `Oumuamua’s Peculiar Acceleration? The Astrophysical Journal, 868(1), L1. https://doi.org/10.3847/2041-8213/aaeda8
Billings, L. (n.d.). Astronomer Avi Loeb Says Aliens Have Visited, and He’s Not Kidding. Scientific American. Retrieved May 26, 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/astronomer-avi-loeb-says-aliens-have-visited-and-hes-not-kidding1/
Blumenthal, R. (2021). The Believer: Alien Encounters, Hard Science, and the Passion of John Mack (1st edition). University of New Mexico Press.
Cardeña, E. (2018). The experimental evidence for parapsychological phenomena: A review. American Psychologist, 73(5), 663–677. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000236
Cardeña, E., Lynn, S. J., & Krippner, S. (Eds.). (2000). Varieties of anomalous experience: Examining the scientific evidence (pp. xi, 476). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10371-000
Esborn-Hargens, S. (2020). Home | Exo Studies Master Course. https://www.exostudies.org/
James, W. (1986). Essays in Psychical Research. Harvard University Press.
Kripal, J. J. (2019). The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge. Bellevue Literary Press.
Pasulka, D. W. (2019). American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology. Oxford University Press.
Sass, L., Pienkos, E., Skodlar, B., Stanghellini, G., Fuchs, T., Parnas, J., & Jones, N. (2017). EAWE: Examination of Anomalous World Experience. Psychopathology, 50(1), 10–54. https://doi.org/10.1159/000454928
Wendt, A., & Duvall, R. (2008). Sovereignty and the UFO. Political Theory, 36(4), 607–633. https://doi.org/10.1177/0090591708317902