Opening minds: A Psychiatrist's Journey into the World of UFOs

“What I am beginning to see is that the collective mind of the body politic is slowly awakening to a larger reality than is taught in school. I also recognize that this developmental process parallels the opening of my own mind.”

Thanks to openminds.tv

by Richard Gottlieb

May 25, 2010.

Like most people who go into psychiatry, I have always been curious about human behavior. Perhaps that curiosity stemmed from the fact that certain subjects were simply not discussed in my family of origin. For example, during one particular Olympics award ceremony I wondered why my father had to lead my crying grandmother out of the living room when the German national anthem played. Only later did I learn the details about how the Holocaust had affected them both, and through intergenerational dynamics, I was as well. This was a family secret for the first eleven years of my life.

Gradually it became apparent that people usually do not discuss, and often are unaware of how their past experiences affect their present life. I also became curious about why and how people kept secrets from themselves (not just from others), which eventually led to my decision to train as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. But it turned out that paralleling the development of my interest in the mind and brain was a developing curiosity about the subject of UFOs – an interest that also stemmed from early experience.

When I was about eight or nine (1965 or 1966) my family and I were living on Long Island, New York. One early September evening around 7:00 PM I went upstairs after dinner to do my homework. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had rearranged the furniture in my bedroom when I was at school and for the first time my desk sat under the south facing window rather than under the east facing one. As a result the room felt very odd to me. As I prepared to start my homework I experienced an intense feeling that something was outside the window that I needed to see. I heard no voice inside or outside my head. Nor was I afraid. I simply knew that something was there.

Richard Gottlieb as a child, the age when he saw his first UFO.Richard Gottlieb as a child, the age when he saw his first UFO.

Now even by age eight or nine I was already fairly logical. I thought to myself, “It’s just because the room feels weird with the furniture rearranged”. But I simply could not shake the intense feeling that compelled me to draw back the curtains and look out the window. Finally in an effort to prove to myself that the feeling was all in my head, I exclaimed out loud, “Alright, I’ll look!”

About one-half mile south of the house just emerging from the tree line was a bluish, flat-bottomed, half-dome disk shaped flying saucer slowly moving from east to west. I jumped to my feet, ran into my sister Jackie’s bedroom, dragged her to her south-facing window, and together we watched the craft disappear behind the trees to the west. Of course when we ran downstairs to alert the family, we were told that we were both crazy. And when the rest of the family ran upstairs and saw nothing to the south, the diagnosis was apparently confirmed. But we were to be vindicated three days later when the Long Island newspaper, Newsday ran a full page story about the hundreds of UFO reports they received during the previous week.

That experience caused me to pick up my first UFO book: Frank Edwards’ Flying Saucers, Serious Business. I was suddenly fascinated by everything to do with outer space. I started reading books on the stars and planets. I couldn’t wait to visit the Hayden Planetarium with my classmates. I watched “Star Trek every week. I wanted to know what was out there, and if I had glimpsed a little piece of it.

A half-dome UFO similar to the one Gottlieb saw in the 60's.A half-dome UFO similar to the one Gottlieb saw in the 60’s.

I also developed a passing curiosity about ESP. Did I really know the craft was outside my window? If so, how? Or did I simply have a powerful emotional reaction to a coincidence caused by the odd feeling accompanying the new furniture arrangement (a conditioned response)? I had no way of knowing for sure.

Richard Gottlieb's sister at the age of their first sighting.Richard Gottlieb’s sister at the age of their first sighting.

At age eleven my family relocated to Phoenix. By that time my interest in ESP had waned, but not my interest in space. The following year Neil Armstrong took man’s first step onto the lunar surface. Although that was exciting, I must confess my imaginary world of warp drive and phaser battles made it seem a little passé. Nonetheless I followed the Apollo program closely, building a model of the Saturn V rocket so I could understand all of its working parts. I also began flying model rockets. I even dreamed that someday I might become an astronaut.

All of this fueled my interest in the sciences. For awhile I stopped thinking about flying saucers and focused on astronomy, meteorology, geology, biology, and the like. But that changed at age sixteen when I had my second UFO sighting during a trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico. Camped on the beach at about midnight on the Sunday before Labor Day, 1973 and counting satellites with a friend named Bob, we watched in amazement as a large, dull gray boomerang-shaped craft silently crossed overhead. After it disappeared (literally) I turned to Bob and asked, “What the hell was that?” After all, I had heard of flying saucers. But flying boomerangs?

“That my friend was a UFO” he casually explained.

Until that moment I wasn’t thinking “UFO”. I just didn’t know what I was watching. The idea that I might have once again witnessed an otherworldly craft gave me chills. The next day upon returning to Phoenix I couldn’t wait to tell my family about my sighting. I bolted through the kitchen door to find my mother in front of the TV.

“You’re never going to guess what I saw in Mexico”, I blurted.

“A UFO?” She replied without missing a beat.

“How did you know? I begged.

A picture of a boomerang UFO similar to what Gottlieb saw in Mexcio.A picture of a boomerang UFO similar to what Gottlieb saw in Mexcio.

Silently she pointed to the TV set. At that very moment there was Walter Cronkite, reporting on all the UFO sightings from San Francisco to Florida that weekend. The next day the Phoenix newspaper, The Arizona Republic, ran a story about the UFO flap. Included was a photograph of an object seen in the Ohio skies – a decidedly boomerang shaped object! I was hooked again. Something was going on, and I wanted to know what it was. The following month a local Phoenix TV station interviewed a UFO investigator named William Spaulding who encouraged UFO witnesses to come forward with their sightings. I immediately filed my report and soon thereafter joined his organization (Ground Saucer Watch, or GSW).

During the five years I worked with GSW I met a variety of interesting people. For example I met Walter Andrus when MUFON held its annual symposium in Phoenix. I was also elected to drive the infamous debunker Philip Klass to the Heber area to ‘investigate’ the Travis Walton abduction case. Klass spent one half hour looking at the site and interviewed no-one, as if he just wanted to be able to say that he was there. He did not interview a single witness in my presence. And since I also drove him back to Phoenix, I know for a fact that his thirty minutes walking around the forest and staring at the wood pile where the event reportedly occurred was the sum total of his on-site field investigation. Unfortunately I did not meet Mr. Walton myself until this year at the Laughlin International UFO Congress. Interestingly he had no idea that Klass ever came to the state to investigate his case.

I also met famed nuclear physicist and ufologist Stanton Friedman, who had come to town to assist in the Citizens against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. As a result I collected a box full of documents obtained through the lawsuit – many of them blacked out save for a few scattered words. Obviously my effort to know the truth that was out there was being met with official resistance. At that point my interest in UFOs was quite high.

But milestones have a way of changing the course of events in one’s life. My acceptance to medical school meant UFOs would have to wait. I was about to be immersed in the world of gross anatomy, physiology and microbiology. Rather than looking through a telescope, it was time instead to focus on the world of the microscopic.

I spent the next thirty years or so becoming a physician, then a psychiatrist and finally a psychoanalyst. Oh, I was happy when Star Trek the Next Generation popped through my TV screen (much happier than my wife, I might add). But besides that I had little interest in space or UFOlogy. In fact I hadn’t picked up a single book on the subject that entire time. So I had no idea where the field had gone during my absence. But apparently UFOs were not done with me yet.

In October 2004 I took my second trip ever to Puerto Penasco for my kids’ fall break. Staying with my brother-in-law Dan and sister-in-law Brenda and our children in a rented house only two hundred yards from where Bob and I saw the boomerang in 1973, I felt ill at ease. The very first night after dinner, Dan and I were alone talking out on the deck when a bright star-like object appeared directly overhead, silently hovered for about ten seconds, moved slightly, and then disappeared.

Now by this point in my life I was a scientifically trained observer who besides medicine and psychiatry knew a great deal about astronomy, meteorology and both military and civilian aircraft. The “star” was significantly brighter than Venus, which was visible setting in the west. In fact for its ten second duration, the new “star” was the brightest object in the sky. The fact that it silently hovered at the zenith before winking out meant it was not simply a passing aircraft that shut off its lights. Nor was it a moving satellite that entered the Earth’s shadow. Dan and I systematically listed all the possible explanations we could think of. Nothing seemed to be a good fit. But I just could not accept that I had had another UFO experience so close to where I had seen the boomerang some thirty years earlier.

“A meteor traveling directly towards us” I concluded, not really believing my theory. But for the moment the explanation allowed me go on with the evening unruffled. That was, until ten minutes later after we had moved indoors, when Dan’s son Erik came running inside.

“Wow, I just saw a UFO!” he excitedly yelled. Dan and I were intrigued because neither of us had said anything about what we had just witnessed.

“What did you see?” we asked.

“Well, there was this bright star”, explained Erik. “It hung there for a minute and then all of a sudden it zipped like this”. Drawing with his finger the path taken by the object, he showed it made a high-speed right angle turn. Dan and I looked at each other; maybe we did see a UFO after all!

A sunset in Puerto Penasco.A sunset in Puerto Penasco.

Two nights later Dan, Brenda and I were out on the deck again with the kids inside watching satellite TV when suddenly a convex disk, glowing bright fluorescent white and moving faster than anything but perhaps the fastest fighter jets, silently zipped up the coast an estimated 250-300 feet above the bay. Soon it slowed, gaining altitude in a kind of stair-step fashion, alternately speeding up and slowing down, but in general slowing until it came to a complete stop about 45 degrees above the horizon before disappearing – as if a light had switched off!

Obviously this time the craft could not be so easily explained away. This was not simply a light in the sky. The classic characteristics (disk shape, silent flight, jitter, sudden disappearance, etc.) were undeniable. Interestingly in the subsequent discussion I learned for the first time that Dan and his brother had had a saucer sighting in childhood too, concluded that aliens did exist, and then never spoke of it again! I wondered how was it that some people have these experiences and become obsessed, while others don’t bother ever thinking about them again.

Now you might think that these sightings would have spurred me to read UFO books again. Not so. After all, I was a busy full-time private practitioner who was about to graduate from a psychoanalytic institute, which meant I was busy working on my graduation paper. I was also helping to coach my son’s baseball, and my daughter’s soccer teams. The disk sighting did get me thinking about UFOs for the first time in many years. I simply did not have the available time to pursue that interest. That is, until one more time when the universe once again demanded I pay attention.

Two years ago my father died from an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer, which gave us only a few weeks together to reminisce. After his death, my brother Rob shared that our father had revealed to him his having once seen UFOs. I was incredulous because he knew of my interest in the subject and yet had never revealed that fact to me (another family secret). More amazing still, when I heard the details about his sighting it became clear that his was no ordinary event. In July, 1952 while on leave from the Army and visiting Washington, he looked up to see nine or ten small white disks flitting through the sky. It turned out that he had been one of the many witnesses to the famous Washington National sightings.

Again I felt like saying, “Alright, I’ll look!”

So now I’m looking. For the past two years I have been reading Paul Hill, Stanton Friedman, Timothy Good, Richard Dolan and a slew of others. What I am beginning to see is that the collective mind of the body politic is slowly awakening to a larger reality than is taught in school. I also recognize that this developmental process parallels the opening of my own mind.

At age 8 I first saw something that suggested to me that a non-human intelligence was piloting craft through our skies. Excluding the 70-95% of explainable cases, enough witnesses to unexplainable craft have come forward to convince the majority of the general public that we are being visited by a non-terrestrial someone or something – despite official denials, disinformation, debunking and a skeptical scientific community that pronounces there is no evidence to support that hypothesis despite rarely actually reviewing the evidence.

At age 11 I realized that families keep secrets when the truth is unspeakable. Perhaps now that the majority of people accept a more realistic picture of our place in the universe, is it finally possible for the scientific community, the media and the general public to openly discuss the truth of what we are observing.

At age 16 my second sighting taught me to think outside the box. All UFOs were not flying saucers. Perhaps the final explanation for UFOs will turn out to be far more complex and exciting than the Grays from Zeta Reticuli.

At age 47, after years of conventional scientific and medical training I was reminded that despite all our advances, our knowledge of the universe is still in its infancy. There are still many more things we don’t know than we do. I realized I needed to be humble in the face of the unknown, unlike some of my closed-minded colleagues, and at least consider the beliefs of those who embrace less well supported paranormal ideas. Most importantly, I needed to not ignore data because it didn’t fit with my world view.

And at age 51 I was reminded that many more people have sightings they never report or speak about, than people who do. Perhaps if the stigma associated with UFOs can be removed, we will discover an enormous untapped wealth of data. The challenge will be how to subject hypotheses that flow from the data to rigorous scientific study. That means we must engage the scientific community to participate in this research. I know what I saw. Proving it is another matter.

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