Perspectives on the abduction phenomenon
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Various perspectives on the abduction phenomenon have formed in order to explain the fantastical claims some have made of being forcibly taken and often examined by apparently otherworldly beings. The prime differences between these perspectives lie in how much credence is to be ascribed to the claims themselves. Perspectives range from the assertion that all abductions are hoaxes to the literal belief that the claims are happening objectively and separately from the consciousness of the claimants.
The mainstream scientific perspective is that the abduction phenomenon has its roots in human psychology, neurology and culture. That is, it is effectively a psychosocial phenomenon rather than actual cases of alien abduction. However, many among the general public, conspiracy theorists, and ufologists hold to the idea that actual extraterrestrials have been temporarily abducting people against their will.
- 1 The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis
- 2 Skeptical Perspectives
- 2.1 Hoaxes
- 2.2 Psychopathology
- 2.3 False Memory Hypothesis
- 2.4 Drug Induced Hallucinations
- 2.5 Parallels with Other "Spurious" Phenomena
- 3 Paranormal, religious, and conspiratorial perspectives
- 4 Individual perspectives
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis
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This is the theory that alien abduction is a literal phenomenon: extraterrestrials kidnap humans in order to conduct studies or experiments on them and the reason we have not discovered them is that their technology is so advanced that they are able to evade detection. However, this account is not widely supported by most mainstream scientists due to the complete lack of physical evidence and the contradictory nature of most abduction accounts. For example, many accounts involve being abducted from crowded cities without attracting any attention, and no supposed alien implants have ever been discovered despite physical examinations of the abductees.
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Skeptical perspectives on the abduction phenomenon assert that supposed occurrences of people being kidnapped and subjected to forced medical examinations by non-human creatures do not occur literally as reported. These perspectives tend to be the ones most widely accepted by mainstream scientists. Alternative explanations, such as the extraterrestrial hypothesis, are dismissed by many academics as being pseudoscientific.
Various hypotheses have been proposed by skeptics to explain reports without the need to invoke non-parsimonious concepts such as intelligent extraterrestrial life forms, though the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life forms is by no means marginal to the current scientific consensus. These hypotheses usually center around known psychological processes that can produce subjective experiences similar to those reported in abduction claims. Skeptics are also likely to critically examine abduction claims for evidence of hoaxing or influence from popular culture sources such as science fiction.
Many skeptics believe alien abductees to be outright lying about their abduction experiences. The main motivators for such hoaxes are believed to be financial gain from books or films that may be made about their experiences, and psychosocial factors, such as attention from others and the possibility of fame or other such opportunities they would not otherwise have. However, most abductees do not go public with their stories and so it is believed that the majority of them genuinely believe in their abduction experiences. In this sense, simple fabrication is not a sufficient explanation for the majority of abduction claims.
A common view among the general public (and, in the past, by the scientific community) is that those who believe they have been abducted by aliens must be mentally ill. This view, however, has very little support from scientists and academics as most studies have found alleged abductees to be no more likely than the general population to suffer form psychopathologies.
Nevertheless, abductees do differ from the general public in a few other, significant ways. For example, abductees often score higher than average people on hypnotic suggestibility, absorption, magical ideation and dissociative experiences. Put simply, these measures mean abductees are more likely to accept suggestions of a hypnotist as true, they are prone to becoming fully engrossed in their imaginations and fantasies, they are more likely to believe in unusual phenomena, and they experience more alterations in consciousness (such as ‘spacing out’).
False Memory Hypothesis
This is one of the most widely accepted theories in the scientific community. It involves a thorough explanation, using psychological theory and research, of how psychologically healthy individuals may come to believe that they have been abducted and how they maintain that belief. It involves several different steps or series of events, though not all steps are required to lead to a false memory of abduction.
The vast majority of abduction experiences are thought to originate from an episode of sleep paralysis. In short, this is when one awakens from REM sleep and becomes aware of the full body paralysis that occurs during REM sleep. Sleep paralysis is often accompanied by a feeling of a heavy weight pressing down upon ones chest, as well as hypnopompic hallucinations. These typically include the feeling of flying or levitating, flashing lights, feeling a presence in ones bedroom, and hallucinations of figures (such as a person or an animal) near ones bed. The content of these hallucinations tends to be strongly influenced by the individuals cultural beliefs. For example, in the past such hallucinations were interpreted as attacks by incubus and succubus demons, whereas in Newfoundland a witch-like creature is most commonly hallucinated. In The Demon-Haunted World, astronomer Carl Sagan pointed out that the alien abduction experience is remarkably similar to tales of demon abduction common throughout history: "...most of the central elements of the alien abduction account are present, including sexually obsessive non-humans who live in the sky, walk through walls, communicate telepathically, and perform breeding experiments on the human species" (Sagan 1996 124).
The events experienced during sleep paralysis are often unusual and terrifying, but most people dismiss them as being a minor sleep disorder. Others, however, are convinced that the event was so unusual and unpleasant that the explanation must be equally as unusual and unpleasant, and so they search for such an explanation.
Recall With Hypnosis
Hypnosis is frequently used by abduction researchers to help recover memories of so-called missing time periods, and has been done so since the Betty and Barney Hill abduction. In their search for an explanation for the unusual event they have experienced, many people seek out the help of professionals. It has been found that individuals who already have an interest in UFOs are extremely likely to end up seeking the help of therapists with similar views or beliefs to their own. This particular therapist-patient combination is exceptionally likely to result in the creation of false memories of alien abduction, particularly under the use of hypnosis. Hypnosis has been shown to increase the number of recollections a person has, but this applies to both real and false recollections. This is due to the drastically increased suggestibility of hypnotised individuals. Abduction researcher and folklorist Thomas Bullard noted that hypnotized subjects become suggestible, "edit[ing] their thoughts less rigorously," thus becoming more likely to confabulate, or even opening themselves to the implantation of memories.
Although the unreliability of memories recovered during hypnosis is now widely agreed upon, not all academics share this view. As Budd Hopkins writes,
" ... the Hill case bears upon one popular theory which has been widely but uncritically accepted by many skeptics: the idea that such accounts must have been implanted by hypnosis, consciously or unconsciously, or by manipulative practitioners who 'believe in' the reality of such events. Simon, who hypnotized the Hills, was avowedly skeptical about the reality of the Hills' abduction recollections. Yet the Hills stubbornly held to their interlocking, hypnotically recovered accounts despite Simon's suggestions at the end of treatment that their memories could not be literally true. It can therefore be concluded that the bias of the hypnotist had nothing to do with the content of their hypnotic recall." (emphasis as in original; Hopkins, 218)
When under hypnosis, an individual will attempt to fill in gaps in their memory with any information possible, including fantasies. The information used to fill such gaps can come from both the hypnotist and the individual under hypnosis. For example, the hypnotist may either knowingly or unknowingly use loaded questions that influence the already ambiguous memories of abductees in such a way that the patient creates an alien abduction narrative for them. Skeptics Robert Sheaffer and Phillip J. Klass agree that individual abduction researchers appear to exert influence on the characteristics of narratives retrieved during hypnotic recall. This influence tends to shape recovered abduction narratives in a way that reinforces the preconceived biases of the individual researcher.
The hypnotised subjects existing beliefs may also lead them to create an alien abduction story under hypnosis as hypnotised individuals tend to believe that thoughts, images, or ideas that they have whilst under hypnosis derive from personal experience rather than other sources (such as the therapists suggestions). This can explain the observation by Budd Hopkins mentioned above, that the patients came to believe they were abducted even though their hypnotist was skeptical of the abduction phenomenon. Thomas E. Bullard, while not an abduction skeptic per se, has noted that the presence or absence of hypnosis as a method for memory retrieval in abduction claimants seems to effect descriptions of the abductors themselves. Hypnotically assisted recall is more likely to produce descriptions of the "standard" grey humanoid, while cases where hypnosis was not used "include more variety."
As Newman & Baumeister (1996) say, “there is increasing evidence that hypnosis does not simply reveal the UFO abduction phenomenon- it plays a major role in creating it”. Although it is widely accepted that memories of alien abductions are false, they are generally believed wholeheartedly by the individual.
Recall Without Hypnosis
The vast majority of abduction memories emerge after the use of hypnosis. However, a minority of abductees come about their abduction memories unassisted by this technique. In this case, it is believed that imagination inflation plays a major role in the development of their abduction memories, as it is similar to the “imaginative role-playing” techniques used in hypnosis (Baker, 1992b, as cited by ). The idea of alien abduction may be suggested by an authority figure, such as a therapist. The presence of authority figures and their encouragement and confirmation of the reliability and accuracy of such memories is a key factor in the development of false memories.
Impact of Culture on Abduction Reports
Although proponents have argued that there is a core narrative consistent across abduction claims, there is also variation in the details of reports across cultures. Skeptics like Robert Sheaffer assert that this variation supports a psycho-social hypothesis as an explanation for the origin of the abduction phenomenon. These cultural factors can influence the memories retrieved both under hypnosis and without the use of hypnosis.
For example, it is believed that many abduction accounts retrieved through hypnosis may be strongly influenced by science-fiction books or movies that subjects have recently encountered. Kottmeyer (1989, as cited by ) pointed out that the famous abduction claims of Betty and Barney Hill bore a striking resemblance to a movie and television show that they had both recently watched. It has also been observed that accounts of alien abductions tend to coincide with wide held beliefs of the time. For example, Hynek (1972, as cited by ) pointed out that until the late 1950s it was still believed that there may be intelligent life on other planets within our solar system, and until the late 1950s abductees reported aliens as coming from Mars, Jupiter, and Venus. Once scientists discovered otherwise, abductees claims changed accordingly. Although, Betty Hill did described star system the visitors were from which at the time was unknown until later in the century.
The biology and attitudes of the abductors are points of drastic divergence between the home countries of different abduction claimants. Robert Sheaffer observes:
"In North America large-headed gray aliens predominate, while in Britain abduction aliens are usually tall, blond and Nordic, and South America tends toward more bizarre creatures, including hairy monsters."
Sheaffer also sees similarity between the aliens depicted in early science fiction films, in particular, Invaders From Mars, and those reported to have actually abducted people. Commonalities exist in the appearances, behavior, technology and societies of fictional and allegedly real abductors.
However, not everyone agrees with the idea of abduction claimants being influenced by science fiction sources. In an essay, Bullard writes that "The small showing for monstrous types and the fact that they concentrate in less reliable cases should disappoint skeptics who look for the origin of abductions in the influence of Hollywood. Nothing like the profusion of imaginative screen aliens appears in the abduction literature." Similarly, folklorist Thomas E. Bullard asks, "If Hollywood is responsible for these images, where are the monsters? Where are the robots?" (Bryan, 50).
Maintenance of Abduction Memories
Some abductees come to recant their stories once faced with opposition or disbelief from others, particularly based on their lack of solid evidence. Most, however, do not. Faced with this dissonance between their confidence that their abduction memory is real and the potential inaccuracy of that memory as suggested by others, many abductees seek out support groups. In these support groups abductees are surrounded by like-minded others who have had similar experiences and, therefore, will confirm the accuracy of the individuals abduction experience.
Drug Induced Hallucinations
- It is possible that some alleged abductees may be under the influence of recreational drugs.
- For example, it has been noted that Terence McKenna described seeing "Machine Elves" while experimenting with Dimethyltryptamine (also known as DMT). The description of Machine Elves is often consistent with the description of "grey" aliens. In a 1988 study conducted at UNM, psychiatrist Rick Strassman found that approximately 20% of volunteers injected with high doses of DMT had experiences identical to purported Alien Abductions.
Parallels with Other "Spurious" Phenomena
Many parallels have been drawn between the abduction phenomenon and various other unusual events, supporting the idea that abduction memories are created by means other than actual alien abduction. For example:
- Abduction skeptic Robert Sheaffer notes similarities between claims of witchcraft and claims of alien abductions. He notes similar imagery involving non-human creatures, uncovered memories and sex being involved in both the abduction phenomenon and the activities of those accused of witchcraft and believes these commonalities to suggests that the two movements share a common underlying psychopathology.
- Researchers in the field of near-death experience (NDE) and out-of-body experience (OBE) noticed various similarities between abduction experiences and OBEs, thus leading them to the conclusion that abduction experiences are closely related to out-of-body experiences.[unreliable source?]
- Science writer Jim Schnabel tied modern-day abduction narratives to those of 16-17th century demonic possession and witchcraft cases, some current Third World spirit-possession syndromes, and even the sexual abuse and "satanic ritual abuse" claims that mesmerized many American psychiatrists in the 1980s and 1990s. In his 1994 book Dark White and in a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Dissociation, Schnabel argued that the alien abduction phenomenon, at least as it has evolved around American "abduction therapists" like Budd Hopkins, David M. Jacobs and John E. Mack, is part of a spectrum of culturally-specific phenomena perhaps best known as "self-victimization syndromes."
- Gwen Dean, Ph.D., noted forty-four parallels between alien abduction and satanic ritual abuse (SRA) at the Alien Abduction Conference held June 13–17, 1992, at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. Both emerged as widespread phenomena in the late 1970s and early 1980s and both often use hypnosis to recover lost or suppressed memory. Furthermore, the scenarios and narratives offered by abductees and SRA victims feature many similar elements: both are typically said to begin when the experiencer is in their youth; both are said to involve entire families and to occur generationally; the alien examination table is similar to the satanic altar; both phenomena focus on genitals, rape, sexuality and breeding; witnesses often report that the events happen when they are in altered states of consciousness; and both phenomena feature episodes of "missing time" when the events are said to occur, but of which the victim has no conscious memory. (Bryan, 138-139)
Paranormal, religious, and conspiratorial perspectives
There have been a variety of explanations offered for abduction phenomena, ranging from sharply skeptical appraisals to uncritical acceptance of all abductee claims. Others have elected not to try to explain such claims, instead noting similarities to other phenomena, or simply documenting the development of the alien abduction phenomenon.
Imaginal realm hypothesis
Various authors, for example Jacques Vallée, Graham Hancock and John Mack have suggested that the dichotomy, 'real' versus 'imaginary', may be too simplistic; that a proper understanding of this complex phenomenon may require a reevaluation of our concept of the nature of reality.
"Abductors" as demonic manifestations
Some have argued that abduction experiences bear striking similarities to pre-20th century accounts of demonic manifestations, noting as many as a dozen similarities.
As evidence of their belief that Alien Abductions are demonic manifestations, researchers have offered various testimonies of aliens reacting to the name of Jesus in much the same way that demons are recorded as having reacted in the New Testament, with some even alleging that the invocation of the name has shown to successfully abort such abductions.
Abduction experiences as a result of government mind control
In a lengthy article, Martin Cannon makes the admittedly speculative argument that memories of alien abductions might in fact have been created in the "abductees" by a secret government mind control program, such as MKULTRA.
In a long article, Dr. Michael Persinger argues that most of the features of the abduction phenomenon can be explained as the manifestation of measurable functions of the human brain. Persinger writes that the "main theme" of his article "is to explore visitation experiences, now attributed by many people to UFO and implicitly "extraterrestrial' phenomena, from the perspective of modern neuroscience... From an operational perspective, the average visitation experience attributed to an alien entity is indiscriminable from average mystical or religious experience attributed to gods and to spirits. Instead we have been trying to isolate those areas of the brain and those electromagnetic patterns within the brain that are involved with the general visitation experience." (Persinger, 263)
He goes on to argue that "Nearly every basic element of mystical, religious, and visitor experience has been evoked with electrical stimulation" of test subjects' brains. (Persinger, 270). Individuals with some forms of epilepsy often experience vivid hallucination, and Persinger suggests that the same areas of the brain are activated in these individuals as in those who experience extraordinary visitations.
"Most people who report these experiences [alien abduction] display average to above average intelligence, are not 'crazy' and are very aware of the social and personal consequences of their experiences upon their families, friends and vocational opportunities." (Persinger, 278)
Persinger relates a specific case of a "thirty-five year old woman" who "reported ... the presence of multiple, elongated humanoids, in shimmering gray-silver clothes, that would surround her bed for a few nights every month." The woman hesitated to tell her regular physician of the encounters, for fear that she'd be seen as "crazy". (Persinger, 278) The woman was prescribed a low dose of "the antiepileptic compound carbamazepine" and after regular use of the medication, the visitations "disappeared". Persinger is quick to note that "This does not indicate that all people who report visitor experiences associated with UFOs are undiagnosed epileptics or that the phenomena will cease when with this particular medication. Instead, it indicated that well-formed and meaningful experiences, attributed to alien sources and sufficient in magnitude to disrupt the person's sense of self and adaptability, can be associated with periods of electrical activity that can be affected by treatments not typically associated with these types of experiences." (Persinger, 278)
He also cites polls indicating that up to one third of people have had some sort of similar experience: 39% of more than 1700 people polled over 20 years have answered "yes" to the question "At least once in my life very late at night, I have felt the presence of another Being." (Persinger, 280). Given that visitor experiences are somewhat common, and that worldwide, they tend to follow the same patterns, Persinger suggests that while underlying neurological factors give the experience its basic form, how such events are interpreted is shaped by cultural factors: "Because human brains are more similar than they are different, the themes of these experiences have been and remain remarkably similar across space and time. The details are simply punctuation from the person's culture." (Persinger, 296)
Persinger's hypothesis ties into another observation that alien abduction is in many regards similar to shamanic initiations.
James McClenon's hypothesis illuminates many similarities between alien abduction stories and the historical accounts of mythological encounters with incubi and succubi, i.e. sleep paralysis, small un-earthly intruders at night, sexual activity/abuse, etc. ... This is an indicator of our predisposition and our willingness to accept these modern day myths, stories, and beliefs.
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- 2 Calling on the name of Jesus stops abductions in progress