Dr Mack’s efforts to bridge psychiatry and spirituality was compared by The New York Times to that of former Harvard professor William James. Dr Mack advocated that Western culture requires a shift away from a purely materialist worldview – which he asserted was largely responsible for the Cold War, the global ecological crisis, ethnonationalism and regional conflict – towards a transpersonal worldview which could embrace some elements of Eastern spiritual and philosophical traditions which hold that we are all connected to one another.
He researched how this sense of ‘connection’ developed with difficulty between different cultures, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1977 for A Prince of Our Disorder, his biography of British officer TE Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’) whose identity bridged Britain and the Middle East. He interviewed political leaders and citizens of the then-Soviet Union and Israel/Palestine in the study of ethno-national conflict and the nuclear arms race. His early clinical work included explorations of dreams, nightmares and adolescent suicide.
The theme of ‘connection’ to other life was explored most boldly in his study of men and women who reported that recurrent ‘alien encounter’ experiences had affected the way they regarded the world, including a heightened sense of spirituality and environmental concern. Mack’s interest in the transformational aspects of these extraordinary experiences, and his suggestion that the experience may be more transcendent than physical in nature – yet nevertheless real – was largely reported in the media as a simple endorsement of the reality of alien encounters.
The Dean of Harvard Medical School infamously appointed a committee of peers to review Mack’s ‘clinical care and clinical investigation’ of the people who had shared their alien encounters with him (some of their cases were written of in Mack’s 1994 book, Abduction. After 14 months of inquiry, amid growing concern from the academic community regarding the validity of an investigation of a tenured professor in the absence of any claim of misconduct, Harvard issued a statement stating that the Dean had ‘reaffirmed Dr Mack’s academic freedom to study what he wishes and to state his opinions without impediment,’ concluding, ‘Dr Mack remains a member in good standing of the Harvard Faculty of Medicine.’
Mack’s explorations broadened into the general consideration of the merits of an expanded notion of reality, one which allows for experiences that may not fit a materialist paradigm, yet deeply affect people’s lives. Mack’s final published book, Passport to the Cosmos (1999), was as much a philosophical treatise connecting the themes of spirituality and modern worldviews as it was the culmination of his work with ‘experiencers’ of alien encounters.
Dr Mack passed away at age 74 in London, England.
In January 2011, film producer Denise David Williams announced, with the Mack family, that the life story rights for Dr Mack’s remarkable career have been optioned to MakeMagic Productions for development into a major motion picture.
Courtesy of The John Mack Institute
Articles and interviews with John
The John E Mack official Facebook page
A BBC documentary Contact, part of the Everyman series
Touched, featuring John Mack – a documentary on DVD
John Mack on the Dalai Lama
John Mack’s experiencers
John E Mack on the Oprah Winfrey show: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3