An attitude that is frequently encountered among writers on ‘alternative’ subjects, particularly those with a New Age bent, is that if they feel that their message is an essentially spiritual one – and especially if it feeds into the ‘standard model’ of the expansion of individual consciousness that heralds an impending, if ill-defined, global transformation – then they are freed from the constraints of logic, critical analysis and a need to make their argument internally consistent. Indeed, the scientific and academic approaches are actively condemned as blinkered and obstructive, creating a barrier to us seeing truths that can more easily be grasped intuitively. But even by those standards of that genre, Thomas James Streicher’s Extra-Planetary Experiences is a doozy…
Streicher – a psychologist by training, being a Ph.D student of John Mack, no less - doesn’t much like science (although brandishing his own Ph.D, as well as the scientific and academic credentials of researchers and witnesses, when it suits his purposes). He thinks the scientific method is too limited and lacking in vision to be able to cope with the vast reality of the cosmos, particularly in its insistence that only what can be objectively proved can be accepted.
However, throughout his book Streicher displays a real lack of understanding of basic scientific principles and the scientific position on the subjects at the heart of his study. At the very beginning he sets out what he believes to be the major difference between his vision and that of science: the scientific community dismisses the very possibility of human-alien contact because it considers it is impossible for life to exist elsewhere in the universe – which he says is simply a sell-out to what he calls ‘Western consensual reality’. Of course, the overwhelming majority of scientists do think that life, including intelligent life, exists ‘out there’; the disagreement with ufology is over whether it has got here yet. So Extra-Planetary Experiences gets off to a decidedly shaky start.
Streicher’s study is of a very rare subset of the UFO contact phenomenon: individuals who claim not just interaction with ETs but to have had an ‘extra-planetary experience’ (abbreviated to the zappy ‘XPE’), to have literally visited another world. Or rather, according to his definition, repeated throughout the book, people who claim have visited ‘other planets, moons, or stars’. Stars? Does he really think that people have walked on the surface of other suns (assuming, of course, that Streicher knows that’s what stars are)?
As the subtitle reveals, the ultimate purpose of the study – although Streicher never really spells this out – is to see how XPEs fit into the wider phenomenon of alien-human contact, especially the widely-held belief that benevolent ETs are here to help humankind by raising the consciousness of chosen individuals, and through them that of the rest of us. The validity of that belief is taken for granted; the XPE is treated as simply another way of exploring – or, as becomes clear, confirming – it.
The book boasts a foreword by the veteran parapsychologist Stanley Krippner, which makes a good, serious first impression. In fact, it’s an extract from one of his books, in which he discusses a UFO sighting of his own, having nothing to do with XPEs and making no reference to Streicher’s research. One wonders whether Krippner had read Streicher’s book when he gave permission for him use the extract (which is clearly intended – ironically – to give the book some scientific gravitas).
The book begins with some context-setting chapters looking at the history of human-alien contact and earlier claims of XPEs. This starts with a brief survey of ancient myths that have been suggested as having been based on ET contact, which covers very familiar ground – the Annunaki of Sumeria, the vimanas of the Vedas, Ezekiel’s vision, etc. etc.
The Dogon of Mali, with their alleged advanced knowledge of the Sirius star system, make an obligatory appearance, Streicher apparently being unaware of (or if he is, unconcerned by) the many serious questions that have been raised about these claims since they were first made in Robert Temple’s The Sirius Mystery. Here, Streicher writes that, ‘According to French astronomers Daniel Benest and J.L. Duvent (1995), the Dogon do not claim a superior technology but believe they received their star knowledge from extraterrestrials visiting the Earth long ago.’
Not only are these things not claimed by the Dogon themselves, rather being extrapolated from their folklore by Temple, but Benest and Duvent’s Astronomy and Astrophysics paper says nothing of the sort. It is a scientific study of the possible existence of a third star in the Sirius system (which Temple uses – or rather misuses – as a source for part of his argument) and makes no mention of the Dogon at all. Clearly, Streicher has just cribbed the paper from Temple to give the claims some scientific credibility – again, the irony! - and hasn’t actually read it, or even read Temple properly.
The suspicion that Streicher doesn’t actually read his sources became rather firmer when I came to his statement that the Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts contain sophisticated astronomical and cosmological information which ‘is believed to have come from ancient extraterrestrial Egyptian gods who will soon return to Earth.’ Unbelievably, Streicher cites as a reference for this statement my The Stargate Conspiracy – co-written with Lynn Picknett - in which we argue against claims that the Ancient Egyptians were in contact with space-gods who are about to return! Either Streicher hasn’t read our book, or has chosen to misrepresent it to his readers as saying the exact opposite of what it actually does.Either Streicher hasn’t read our book, or has chosen to misrepresent it to his readers as saying the exact opposite of what it actually does
Then there is a chapter on XPE claims in the contactee literature, in which he summarises eight cases, which include those of George Adamski, Billy Meier and (wait for it) T. Lobsong Rampa! Streicher acknowledges that none of the claims is backed by physical evidence and all have been criticised as hoaxes, but justifies their inclusion on the grounds that ‘Nonetheless, the experiences detailed in these accounts had deep meaning for the experiencers.’ Clearly that’s the only important thing for Streicher; whether they really happened is a mere minor detail. This is confirmed by his failure to mention that most of the eight have evidence against them; for example, Adamski’s descriptions of the planets in our solar system that he claims to have seen first-hand are demonstrably wrong (but of course that’s only according to narrow-minded Western science).
The core of the book is Streicher’s personal study of a group of XPErs, mostly in the form of interviews, the transcripts of which take up just over half the book. In the interviews Streicher employs a technique he learned from his mentor John Mack, which he called ‘witnessing’: ‘something more than observing or perceiving; it includes recognition of truth telling’. It is based on ‘open-mindedness, intuition, sympathetic resonance, and a “knowing of the heart”’, in which ‘love is required to allow witness and listener to resonate with one another’ and ‘the experiencer’s emotions must resonate as true to the listener.’ In other words, if what the interviewee says feels like it is true, then it is accepted as being true - truth being measured by whether it fits the researcher’s pre-existing beliefs and the message he wants to deliver. This is the very antithesis of scientific enquiry. Naivety hardly covers it; indeed, after reading his book every conman and dodgy salesman in California must be beating their way to Streicher’s door.
Streicher’s explanation of his methodology sometimes lapses into meaningless gobbledegook, such as his statement that his method of data collection and analysis ‘do not represent proof and generalization but rather discovery and appreciation.’
He maintains that ‘I am not seeking to prove the physical or material reality of the phenomenon of extra-planetary experiences… I am interested in and concerned with the meaning of these experiences for the experiencer.’ In itself, that’s fine, if the study is a purely psychological or sociological one, but he then goes on to the question of ‘what these experiences can tell us about ourselves and the cosmos in which we live’. Obviously (to anyone but Streicher) attempting to extrapolate general conclusions from the particular experiences of the people in his study is pointless without first establishing whether or not they really happened.
The attempt to draw general conclusions is even more ludicrous given that, as Striecher acknowledges, the sample for his study is small. That’s putting it mildly: it consists of just seven people! In fact, for reasons I’ll come to, he then excludes from his analysis the testimony of one of the seven, Ingo Swann, whose XPE was remote viewing Jupiter as part of a famous CIA-sponsored project of the 1970s.
Streicher also admits that his study didn’t find physical evidence to support any of the seven accounts. As the first of his interviewees is astronaut Edgar Mitchell, whose ‘extra-planetary experience’ was his trip to the moon in Apollo 14, this doesn’t say much for the thoroughness of Streicher’s research! (I’m not making this up, honestly.)
Indeed, it is bizarre to see Mitchell’s account of his lunar excursion not merely discussed alongside the other claims, but to see those claims given equal weight to his experience. There is, for example, Norma Milanovich, a professor of education who claims some 50 visits to Alpha Centauri – which she describes as ‘a planet (or star – whichever is more appropriate)’ – and to be a ‘voice for the Ascended Masters’. And social worker Alexandra Stark, who claims memories of a past life on the planet Arcturus, which she says has a diameter of 22 million miles. That’s 17 times that of the sun, Arcturus clearly operating on different astrophysical laws to the rest of the universe; it goes without saying that Streicher doesn’t notice anything suspicious about this detail.
Streicher’s analysis of the data collected in his survey takes up a scant fifteen pages. He tells us in aside that he hasn’t included Ingo Swann’s account, without saying why. The reason is apparent from reading the transcript of his interview: Swann didn’t find his RV trip to Jupiter in the least spiritually uplifting or consciousness-expanding, just part of a parapsychological experiment. He is excluded because he is off-message; he doesn’t say what Streicher wants to hear.
The interview with Swann is highly entertaining, as he’s clearly irritated by Streicher’s wide-eyed ‘love and light’ approach and desperate efforts to squeeze some meaning out of Swann’s experience, as in this exchange:
Streicher: But what I’m getting at is how we can raise consciousness by going within ourselves.
Swann: Raise consciousness? Why?
Streicher: So we can stop killing each other.
Swann: Why and how?
Streicher: This is how.
Swann: This doesn’t raise anybody’s consciousness.
Swann: This doesn’t raise anybody’s consciousness.
Streicher: Yes it has, Ingo.
Swann: No, it hasn’t.
Streicher: Well, it has raised mine.
In his analysis, having thrown out 14% of his already-meagre sample, Streicher repeatedly tells us that all the participants in his study shared certain common characteristics, such as ‘the quest for spiritual values and higher consciousness appeared evident in all the participants.’ All, that is, except the one he excluded because they didn’t.
He identifies 25 themes that are present in ‘all’ the accounts and six shared by most (sometimes just half – i.e. reported by three of the participants). Clearly the numbers are intended to impress the reader with just how similar the accounts are – but, predictably, there is no analysis at all of the differences between the tales, of which there are manifestly far, far more. That isn’t what Streicher is about.
And he’s had to work hard to draw so many common themes out of such disparate material. Many are really just saying the same thing in a different way – for example, the experience being positive (theme 2) and meaningful (theme 13). Some are tautological gibberish, e.g. ‘All participants indicated that their gut feelings evoked intuitive information.’ And some are so absurd as to leave me wondering if I was reading a deliberate parody. Two of Streicher’s common themes are that all participants claim to have been inside a spaceship and that they ‘communicated with some other entity, human or nonhuman, during their travels.’ In Mitchell’s case these were the Apollo spaceship and his fellow crew! Another consistent theme is that all six report holding ‘esoteric beliefs’, such as in reincarnation. According to Streicher, the esoteric belief that Mitchell holds is in… quantum physics. (Again, I’m not making this up. I couldn’t!)
Streicher never commits himself as to whether he believes the XPEs to be literally real, but routinely evades anything that might suggest otherwise by simply not looking into it, with the get-out that ‘more research’ is needed. (Why not do that research and then write the book?)
For example, he has a brief chapter in which he looks at ‘alternative explanations’ (presumably meaning alternative to the XPE being real, although he doesn’t actually say so), which includes possibilities such as fantasy proneness and temporal lobe disorder, neither of which, he admits, he tested for in any of his participants. He poses the question of whether XPErs have different physiological, genetic or psychological make-ups to the rest of the population but merely shrugs, ‘This research offers no answer to that type of question.’ ‘More research’ is needed to find physical evidence to support the accounts. (Research tip: in Mitchell’s case, try the Johnson Space Center; it’s got his moon rock.) Not, of course, research to see if there’s any evidence that disproves their accounts (such as the impossibility of a planet being twenty-two million miles across).
Streicher notes the parallels between certain of his interviewees’ accounts to other phenomena such as near death experiences, astral travel and shamanic visionary journeys which don’t have the extra-planetary component – and again merely concludes that more research is needed into their relationship to XPEs.
Discussing the possibility of hoaxing, he declares that most of the participants ‘prefer anonymity’ and that ‘None of the participants appeared to be seeking attention, special status, or financial gain from reporting their experiences.’ In fact all of them have written books, lectured, run workshops, or established foundations based on their experiences (a common theme that Streicher misses).Less a mindset than a mindless-set, in which expanding consciousness seems to mean ‘stop thinking’
Streicher writes, ‘I did not feel it necessary to investigate the truthfulness of the individual reports I collected’, and acknowledges that ‘there is no way to know for a fact whether they are reporting fantasies (earnest or deliberately fabricated) or are completely deluded.’
It is clear why Streicher hasn’t bothered with these other lines of research. He doesn’t care whether his participants are liars or delusional. He’s not even interested in whether they have experienced something genuinely paranormal or otherworldly – but not extraterrestrial - which, along with NDEs, out-of-the-body-experiences and other altered states of consciousness, can help us (in Krippner’s words from his ‘foreword’) ‘chart the undiscovered realms of our inner worlds.’ All that matters to him is the message that ETs are here to help the human species as part of the expansion of our individual consciousnesses and collective evolution.
As Streicher puts it in his conclusions, ‘The main concern of the study was the possibility of the participants reporting important life changes as a result of their experiences on another planet, moon or star,’ which is so neutral as to be meaningless. It basically means that he’s demonstrated that people who claim to have had XPEs claim to have had XPEs. He makes no attempt to go deeper than that – and yet still maintains that his study has important implications for understanding ‘ourselves and the cosmos in which we live.’
Despite moments of unintentional hilarity - rather, because of them - Extra-Planetary Experiences is a depressing book. It displays an all-too-common series of assumptions, attitudes and beliefs that form what is less a mindset than a mindless-set, in which ‘expanding consciousness’ seems to mean ‘stop thinking’. The book tells us nothing of value about XPEs, or the wider subject of UFOs and claims of other-wordly contact. Quite the opposite: it positively invites ridicule for the subject. More than anything, it demonstrates exactly why the subject needs to be studied with proper rigour, objectivity and, yes, according the principles and methods of science. -- Clive Prince.