Since David Grusch stepped out of the backrooms of the UFO media circuit to become a public UFO celebrity, the phrase “ontological shock” has become his defenders’ go-to explanation across social media for why skeptics refuse to accept without evidence Grusch’s recycled assertions that the United States possesses multiple crashed alien spaceships and their dead occupants. “Ontological shock” is a phrase used in philosophy to refer to being forced to question one’s worldview. Historically, the phrase has been rarely used outside of theology, and even there, a search of databases finds it is not widely deployed. However, alien abduction researcher John Mack adopted the term to refer to abductees’ feelings about encountering space aliens, and he deployed the term in a 1994 Washington Post article about alien abductions, Reptilians, and Greys. A search of historical newspaper databases did not turn up any other reference to the phrase in relation to aliens. Similarly, a Google Books search finds the phrase used in connection with UFOs primarily in quoting John Mack.
However, the reporter who broke the Grusch story, Ralph Blumenthal, recently wrote a biography of Mack that uses the phrase “ontological shock” and now the phrase is being used to defend Grusch as well as the network of ufologists and UFO celebrities who surround him. Many social media users who attack skeptics deploy the phrase as though it were in common use, though it was not prior to this summer. A Google trends graph shows the rapid rise of “ontological shock” at the exact moment Grusch’s claims emerged in June.
All told, this suggests that the use of the phrase across social media in online defense of Grusch’s claims is intentional and coordinated, likely a talking point produced within the network of UFO advocates seeking redress from Congress.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.