Whitley Strieber’s School of “No Pain No Gain”: Why Applying Stress to Accelerate Evolution Is Not a Good Idea

“They are forcing me to grow. Stressing me so much that my mind is evolving. Rats—there were tests of rats in the seventies. Stress tests. Rats were stressed with electrocution. Day after day they were made to suffer for long periods of time. They grew stronger, their brains got larger, they became better rats. . . . Their function is in some way to make us evolve.”
Whitley Strieber, Transformation


In the last section of Whitley Strieber’s 2012 book, Solving the Communion Enigma, he writes this:

If you actually wanted people to increase the use of the right brain, then stressing them would be a way to do it. [I]f you apply trauma in the right way, what you are actually doing is reengineering the brain. [O]ne thing the visitors are doing is creating situations that are designed to increase our left-brain functioning. They are trying to improve our ability to think logically. But for those of us who have the correct response to trauma, it doesn’t end there. We are also being given shocks that induce [post-traumatic stress disorder], thus causing an increase in right-brain functioning as well.

Strieber doesn’t specify what “an increase in right-brain functioning” allows for, but presumably one thing it facilitates is encounters with aliens and God-men in the middle of the night. In the passage immediately before that quoted above, however, he makes a characteristically candid statement: “After my 1985 close encounter, I had a galloping case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, the various treatments I have tried have failed, probably because the stressor—the encounter experience—could always happen again at any moment. Thus, to this day I have terrific nightmares and wake up at the approximate time the encounter happened, usually with my heart hammering, waves of fear coursing through me.”

Strieber is not offering this description as an example of being “evolved” through trauma. He merely includes it as a preamble to the remarkable statement that follows it. Before that, however, he writes that “Among other things, some sufferers of PTSD can experience flashbacks and hallucinations that seem real.” “Hallucinations that seem real” is a curious turn of phrase, and it begs the question of how real such hallucinations might seem. Real enough to write a string of “non-fiction” books to persuade others that they are real? If Strieber’s statement is accurate, how does he know what was hallucination and what was real? Strieber (who has also gone on record as being an early subject of MKULTRA experimentation) is painting an inadvertently self-damning picture, even as he moves towards his primary point about evolutionary engineering through trauma. Strieber writes that there is a correct response to trauma that doesn’t involve being “thrown off the road of the real.”  Our concern should be less what Strieber believes, however, than what can be reasonably deduced from his accounts, fictional or otherwise. The evidence he presents for the realness of his perceptions, so far, is a series of wildly improbable, fantastic and otherworldly accounts of nonhuman interaction, and a body of scientific-mystical literature that, while impressive, is deeply confused, highly disturbing, and riddled with contradictions. Wouldn’t it be more logical to deduce that Strieber is exactly the sort of PTSD sufferer he describes, and that perhaps he is implicitly leading us to this conclusion without realizing it (or at least without admitting it)?

While it’s plausible that intense stress can and does change the chemistry and/or wiring of the brain, thereby allowing access to larger, deeper, or alternate fields of perception, the question left unasked in Strieber’s recipe for evolution is: what about the body? Isn’t Strieber making the most fundamental mistake that a scientific mystic (or mystical scientist) can make (and the one they always seem to) by assuming, implicitly, that consciousness resides primarily in the brain and not in the total body? Trauma has to do with energy trapped in the body that causes distortion, contraction, and dis-ease. The purpose of traumatic reenactments is not to increase brain power but to release that emotional energy trapped in the body by the original trauma.

Maybe this is why Strieber’s little gray aliens look the way they do: because they engineered their brain-evolution and forget all about their bodies, until their heads swelled up like over-inflated balloons and their eyes popped out of their heads.  Maybe an endless series of “evolutionary” shocks reduced their bodies to feeble, ghostlike shadows of organic life. In Solving the Communion Enigma (which includes a foreword by Jeffrey Kripal, who is also currently advocating the evolutionary trauma model), Strieber offers up this grisly picture of de-eroticized, disembodied existence as our future. He presents tormenting, malformed, sexually abusive angels as the butterflies to our caterpillars, yet he doesn’t take this peculiar idea all the way to its logical conclusion; he never asks how, or why, our trauma-engineering, disembodied future selves are directing our evolution. Is it, like the abuser with the child abused, to ensure we become just like they are?

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Jasun Horsley

Jasun Horsley

Existential detective. Liminalist author. Movie autist in chronic confessional mode. You only think you don't know who I am.
Jasun Horsley