In my previous article for Mysterious Universe, I briefly mentioned how Science-Fiction and UFOlogy are very much like oil and water: they don’t tend to mix together too well. Many famous Sci-Fi writers like Ray Bradbury have been vocally adverse to the idea of alien interlopers, and the narratives coming out of the mouths of alleged contactees and close-encounter witnesses.
This rivalry, however, did not exist so patently during the first years of the modern flying saucer era. In fact, there was a time when UFO stories and Sci-Fi tales co-existed on the same medium, and that was thanks to a notable fellow by the name of Ray Palmer.
I like to think of Ray Palmer as the Toulouse-Lautrec of Forteana: Like the famous impressionist artist among his Parisian peers that launched a full frontal assault on classical art, Palmer was a pivotal member around the community of people who had a common interest in the accounts of strange disk-like objects that took America by storm, and he became incredibly influential in the way the early mythos of the flying saucers began to take shape in popular culture, thanks to his work as chief editor of the science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories, where he promoted the ‘Shaver Mystery’ series –which posited that malignant robotic entities (Deros) living in the hollow Earth were responsible for the sightings of strange aircraft by other people– as a ‘true story’; even though he didn’t believe in the ‘literal’ interpretations of Richard Shaver, nor in his claims that he’d visited the underground realm of the Deros, when in fact he’d been committed to a psychiatric hospital. The popularity of the Shaver stories could be seen as proof that Palmer had made the right move, despite criticism from other regular contributors –the start of the Sci-Fi/UFO antagonism starting build up– and fears from the editorial that things were getting out of control: their offices were flooded by hundreds of letters from frantic readers detailing their own encounters with the Deros and their flying machines.
After moving out of Amazing Stories, Palmer truly brought the flying saucer meme into the American subconscious with the very first issue of his new magazine Fate, on Spring of 1948. It contained an article written by none other than Kenneth Arnold, the first official witness of the silvery disks that moved faster than any plane possessed by the Air Force. Palmer’s collaboration with Arnold didn’t stop there: not only did he convince the small businessman to go out and investigate the highly controversial Shag Harbour case for Fate magazine, but the two of them co-wrote The Coming of the Saucers in 1952. For this and many other reasons Ray Palmer is credited by many as being ‘the man who invented flying saucers’.
But there’s another reason to compare Ray Palmer with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and it’s because both men had a tragic ‘origin story’ due to an accident that forever changed their lives, and singled them out as ‘abnormal’ in the eyes of their contemporaries. For Toulouse-Lautrec, who was born into an aristocratic family, it was a series of bad falls while horse-riding when he was 13 and 14, which caused his broken legs to never properly heal; whereas Ray Palmer was hit by a butcher truck when he was only seven. The result of the disparaging tragedies was the same: Both the French painter and the American pulp fiction editor suffered from stumped growth at a very early age –Palmer ended up with a twisted back and grew up to be less 4′-8″; the exact same height as Toulouse-Lautrec, who had a fully-formed torso but extremely short legs.
The women working in the office of Ziff-Davis (the publishing company he worked at the time) teasingly called Ray Palmer ‘the Martian’, and it wasn’t just out of his unusual physical features; Palmer actually kept a ‘Martian diary’ in his youth as a sort of creative way to distance himself from the world around him, and analyze the society of his time “as though I were a visitor from Mars, researching Earth and its life forms, and was now making my report back to the home planet.” He also claimed that he had trained his memory abilities to such a degree that he could remember every precise instant from his childhood, his own birth… and even his very conception(!). Palmer rationalized these ‘impossible’ memories by making use of Theosophical terms, of which he was undoubtedly well-versed, and firmly believed in the concept of the Akashic records –a mental or spiritual repository in which all universal knowledge is forever kept.
He also believed in astral travel, and that he could make his consciousness depart his malformed body and ‘fly’ to faraway places unbound by restrictions of Time and Space, and he once put those alleged abilities to test when he asked a coworker to take out a piece of paper, and record the list of names of ships he’d ‘seen’ during a vivid dream of a gruesome naval battle at the Pacific theater, along with a number of the men who died on that battle for each vessel; he then asked the co-worker to seal the list in an envelope and keep it. Eight months later the details of the battle of Savo Island were released to the public, and according to Palmer once he and the coworker opened the sealed envelope and read the list, “(he) was correct to the last detail.” Was this account, which was published 2 years prior to Palmer’s death (August 15, 1977) what perhaps gave members of the Pentagon the initial idea for their famous ‘remote viewing’ program?
But what is undoubtedly the most amazing of Ray Palmer’s personal stories, is his claim that he was able to heal himself using nothing but the focus of his will, against any medical prognosis. In the year 1930, when he was only twenty, Palmer developed a condition known as Pott’s disease, a rare form of tuberculosis that spreads outside the lungs and attacks other tissues. The doctors told him the spine graft that saved his life when he was run over by the truck at age seven, was now being slowly eaten away by the bacterial infection, along with six of his vertebrae. The doctor’s conclusion was almost taken out of a matinee cliffhanger –he gave Palmer only six months left to live.
Palmer’s response was also worthy of a matinee movie hero: Unflinching, he calmly bet his doctor $5.00 that he would prove him wrong. According to his own account:
“For six months I held a mental picture of bone forming around that damaged series of vertebrae, first as cartilage, then slowly hardening and fusing into a solid mass.”
By the time he was supposed to have succumbed to his illness, Ray Palmer was taken into a conference room full of dumbfounded physicians who couldn’t believe their eyes. The damaged vertebrae was now fully encased with a regenerated tissue of bone and cartilage. Whether Palmer collected the five bucks or not, he wouldn’t say…
A ‘tall tale’ from an imaginative short person? The man did write science-fiction for a living, after all. And yet, in the decades since we’ve started to witness how science fiction eventually turns into science fact, even western medicine has also begrudgingly begun to acknowledge the untapped potential of the placebo effect. Of course, the placebo effect is only credited to work when the patient doesn’t know she’s been given a placebo instead of the ‘real’ medicine; but there are also other instances in which a patient is capable of consciously making their pain go away, which is the basis of what is currently known as the ‘mind-body’ approach to chronic pain. One pioneer in this type of revolutionary medical philosophy –or heretical, depending on your point of view– was Dr. John E Sarno M.D. (1923-2017), a rehabilitation medicine specialist who caused an academic uproar when he published his best-selling book “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection.” Sarno began to notice that the spinal column of patients who didn’t report chronic back pain was in no better condition than those of patients who did: ‘healthy’ patients had the same type of strained disks and bulging nerves which were diagnosed as the cause of pain in ‘sick’ patients, so why did some complain of back problems why others didn’t?
Sarno maintained that most nontraumatic instances of chronic pain –including back pain, gastrointestinal disorders, headaches and fibromyalgia– are actually physical manifestations of deep-seated psychological anxieties. Think of stress as water running through the cracks of a wall, with the water always trying to flow through the deeper cracks –i.e. the weaker parts of a person’s body. You take away the water though (stress) and you no longer suffer from filtration in the wall, even though the cracks are still there. So instead of becoming addicted to prescribed opioids and painkillers, Sarno and his disciples instead advice their patients to do introspective work and seek out the roots of their personal anxieties, in order to remove them from their lives. Simple, right? No wonder they are seen as quacks by the Pharma-sponsored medical establishment!
But Palmer’s amazing recovery was more than ‘simply’ thinking his back pain away! We are talking here about mental processes that (allegedly) consciously affected cellular metabolism in a very specific and localized manner. Something that perhaps even Dr. Sarno and any other self-respected physician would have a hard time accepting… or would they?
Dr. Lewis Thomas (1913-1993) is another example of a ‘heretical scientist’. He was a physician, immunology researcher, dean, poet, etymologist, and essayist –the Lewis Thomas Prize is awarded annually by The Rockefeller University to a scientist for artistic achievement.
In 1974 Thomas published “The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher,” for which he won the National Book Award. “Lives…” is a compendium of essays centered around the idea of interconnectedness between the Earth and all living organisms –this was, after all, the magical 70’s when concepts like the Gaia hypothesis were in vogue, and such radical jabs at orthodox knowledge were more permitted.
As chancellor of the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Dr. Thomas was very interested in the way tumors develop in the body, and how to attack them without ravishing the patient’s immune defenses with aggressive chemotherapy –ironically, he himself died of Waldenstrom’s disease, a condition resembling lymphoma. He looked at all the diverse forms of old folk remedies intended to remove warts –like the Irish tradition of rubbing the wart with half of a sliced potato at night, and then burying the potato where no one could find it. Seeing how these ‘old-wives remedies’ have such a long tradition –which must account for a modicum of effectiveness, lest they wouldn’t survive for so long– Thomas saw in them a possible example of the body being able to ‘recognize’ a certain type of malignant tissue, which was eliminated without affecting the surrounding healthy tissue; all brought up through a certain ritualized activity which imbued it with power in the mind of the practitioner.
And if that could be done with warts, asked Thomas, why not with a cancer tumor then? Why not seek to understand further the incredible influence of our minds over our own bodies, instead of keep assuming our thoughts have little to do with our state of being, or with the myriad of so-called involuntary metabolic processes controlling our organisms?
There are several video-game developers who’ve created games aimed at young cancer patients. Their purpose is to let the patients be more involved with their recovery by giving them graphics related to their treatment they can engage to, in order to encourage them to stick with their program. While these visualization therapies seek to increase the morale of the patient, and hence would not be seen as controversial per se, there was a case reported in the book Love, Medicine & Miracles by Bernie S. Siegel M.D. in which a young boy with an inoperable brain tumor was taken by his parents to the Biofeedback and Psychophysiology Center at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. The child was taught to visualize little rocket ships attacking the cancer cells afflicting him; several months later the kid told their parents he couldn’t ‘see’ the tumor inside his brain, and according to Siegel a subsequent C.T. scan failed to find any trace of the tumor.
All these examples do seem to corroborate how the mind can effectively assist in the recovery of a given illness to extents that defy our current understanding of medicine, just like Ray Palmer claimed to have accomplished with his own incurable illness. Cynics could claim that if that was the case, why then didn’t Palmer use his amazing ‘willpower’ to cure his twisted spine altogether, and grant him a normal stature? To which one could reply that the reason could be the same one which prevents someone like Michael ‘Air’ Jordan from clearing a 10-foot-fence with a single jump, or Danish freediver Stig Severinsen from withholding his breath for more than 30 minutes instead of ‘just’ 22 which is currently the world record –just like there are limits to what the human body can do, so too must there be limits to our minds.
…And yet those limits might still be more undefined than what we take them to be. Perhaps we should play closer attention to Ray Palmer’s amazing story and realize than when we believe in something with every fiber of our being, the boundary between the possible and the impossible may become just as thin and malleable as the pages of a pulp fiction magazine.
REFERENCE: Mutants & Mystics, by Jeffrey J. Kripal