But what about psychological explanations? I've saved these for last, because I take them more seriously. In fact, I demand them. If abductions aren't real, we have to explain them psychologically.
Because if the events aren't really happening, then why are abductees so deeply convinced that they are?
I wish, then, that I could say there are some psychological hypotheses. We run into trouble, of course,
because psychologists would have to explain the marks and scars that, allegedly, appear overnight on abductees (not to mention David Jacobs' stains). Suddenly we're deep in boiling water; we'd have to talk about stigmata, and other
lurid, not well understood phenomena. We'd have to grant that Christian mystics knew about Jesus' wounds on the cross before their stigmata started to bleed, while many abductees, if we believe their stories, get their own marks
long before they knew about abductions.
But let's not go there. Nobody, after all, has proved that these marks really exist, or, more precisely, that they're anything extraordinary. But even without marks to
explain, psychological explanations haven't gotten very far. Look, for instance, at a paper in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, by a team headed by the late Nicholas Spanos 38 (who was cited by the American Psychological Association as "one of the world's most renowned psychologists," and was one of the most prominent researchers doing skeptical studies on hypnosis and memory).
With great misplaced certainty, the Spanos group asserts the theory of investigator influence, offering no evidence except a few citations to UFO überskeptic Philip Klass (whose own research, recounted in his
derisive book UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game, didn't include observations of any abduction investigators, or even interviews with them). The Spanos method, in other words -- which his team also applies to alleged memories
of past lives and satanic ritual abuse -- amounts to saying that the claimed events can't be happening, and that therefore it's enough to suggest any superficially plausible explanation.
But even apart from any
lack of evidence, this paper isn't good enough. We can't just assert that investigators might influence their subjects. Similarly, we can't just assert -- choosing now from a bouquet of other proposed psychological explanations --
that false memories can form, and that some people suffer from sleep paralysis or get caught up in vivid hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucinations.
A useful psychological theory has go further. It has to tell us why
a false memory takes the form of an abduction. And, like hypotheses of media influence, a psychological explanation ought to be testable. It ought to predict details of abduction accounts, details that probably wouldn't be there if
the abduction belief had some other cause.
I'll cite one serious professional attempt to propose a psychological explanation, and that's where we encounter Leon S. Newman and Roy H. Baumeister, psychology
professors at the University of Illinois, whom I mentioned when I talked about media influence. Their work appeared in a book-length special issue of the journal Psychological Inquiry, 39 published in 1996 and entirely devoted to abductions. Newman and Baumeister, I'm happy to say, were admirably sober. They
cited reams of abduction literature, which they'd read with apparent care. Their explicit premise was a tip of the hat to abduction investigators, who've said that abductions are either real, or represent a genuinely new
psychological phenomenon. Newman and Baumeister acknowledged the challenge, and accepted it; they tried to outline what that new phenomenon might be.
To do that, they invoked some of the darker shadows in
contemporary life. Abductees, Newman and Baumeister said, are like sexual masochists, sharing a deep need for an "escape from the self." As they might have noted, but didn't, bondage, discipline, whippings, and other forms of
dominant/submissive sex (to say nothing of outright sado-masochism) have been emerging from the underground; they're mainstream now. At the same time, abduction stories spread. Coincidence? Newman and Baumeister note what they
think is a significant demographic correlation; abductees and sexual submissives, they say, both tend to be upscale.
That's not wholly true about abductees (and, to the extent that it is, might only mean that
upscale folks more often report their abductions). But Newman and Baumeister do make abduction investigators look naïve when they argue that abductions must be real, because nobody would willingly invent anything as unpleasant as a
lifelong abduction history. Of course they might; some people willingly let themselves be handcuffed and whipped.
Having made their argument, Newman and Baumeister were then barraged by commentary, which makes up
the bulk of the Psychological Inquriry volume. Anyone familiar with the wars in ufology has to be amused, because psychologists turn out to be nearly as corrosive. One critic even denounced Newman and Baumeister as
pseudoscientists, because they hadn't provided testable criteria to show us which of seven subtle shadings of their theory might be correct. 40
But -- even though the editors of Psychological Inquiry were open-minded enough to include pro-abduction rebuttals by Robert Hall and a team that included John Mack -- what emerged overall was depressing.
Throughout the volume, contributors tripped over elementary ignorance, stating not just that abductees all are upscale, but also that abductions are one-time events (when the abduction literature tells us they occur throughout an
abductee's life), that abductees eagerly read UFO and abduction books before they talk to any abduction investigator, and that abduction stories all emerge under hypnosis.
Nor had any contributors ever talked to an
abductee or an investigator, something the Mack team noted, but that nobody else seemed to think was a problem. Here, of course, we're one again faced with the split between clinical and experimental psychologists. Clinicians work
with real people; experimenters sit alone and think. Not, of course, that theories aren't needed, or that clinicians might believe their clients more than they should. But psychologists are going to have to do some clinical work --
they're going to have to talk to abductees, in other words -- before I can take them as seriously as I'd like to.
Beyond psychology, though -- and beyond all skeptical theories -- lies a great divide. Cross it, and we find new and very different unproved allegations, the ones made by
abduction investigators. Two of them deserve examination, because neither gets mentioned much in the abduction debate, and both might move the arguments for the reality of abductions a few steps closer to compelling proof.
First, consider the screen memories Budd Hopkins talks about. An abduction experiencer says she saw an owl blocking the road in front of her -- except that when
Hopkins asked her a relatively neutral question, it turned out that the owl wasn't an owl at all.
Both Hopkins and David Jacobs are proud of such procedures, which Jacobs sets forth with admirable sobriety
in the chapter from The Threat in which, sadly, he doesn't mention any doubts about hypnosis. The Threat, I should acknowledge, has been ridiculed for its unrestrained
conclusion, that the abducting aliens want to take over the earth, and that they'll replace us with a hybrid race they're breeding. My own view is that Jacobs, right or wrong, is doing something necessary; somebody who believes in
abductions has to take a shot at understanding the aliens' purpose. In any case, his methods are the same ones he used in Secret Life. If you found the earlier book at all
convincing, with its less horrifying everyday abduction details, you can't a priori reject The Threat.
But what concerns me here is Jacobs' chapter on his
methods. He readily agrees with skeptics, who say that people confabulate when they're hypnotized. Describing his own work, and also procedures used by Hopkins and by John Carpenter, a Midwestern therapist who takes the same
approach, he says you deal with confabulation in two ways. You don't ask questions that might be invitations to confabulate, and you ask abductees to tell their stories many
times, checking for consistent details and chronology. (For that, I might add, he's pilloried by de Brosses and others, who, citing no evidence, assume he won't let an abductee
alone until he hears the kind of abduction story that he's looking for.) 41
Jacobs talks about other techniques as well, especially John Carpenter's procedure -- which I've seen Hopkins use as well -- of asking counter-leading questions. 42 . If
someone tells you about black-eyed aliens, you ask how big their ears are. You're implying that they do have ears, though of course you know that, in the standard description,
they don't. If an abductee picks up on your deliberately misleading suggestion (along with many others you'll slip into the discussion), you'll assume you're hearing stories made up just to please you.
What Jacobs ends up with is something very tricky -- a call for "competent hypnosis," a hypnotic inquiry which, if it stops short of leading questions, still strongly takes control,
in an effort to separate truth from falsehood. Can that work? Gibbs Williams, the therapist I mentioned earlier, has seen Hopkins using these techniques, and tells me he's impressed.
But he's not an expert on hypnosis, and it's fair to ask what such an expert would conclude, and also whether "competent hypnosis" has been used elsewhere, by professional hypnotherapists. Current orthodoxy holds that
confabulation can't be detected by questioning alone, so Jacobs is asserting something truly radical.
Of course, as I said, abduction research may teach us things we've never known about hypnosis (though we
probably won't notice, because in that case the aliens will have turned out to be real, and we'll have more important things to think about). But I can't leave this subject without
noting one claim abduction investigators make that's truly a bombshell. Allegedly, abduction stories corroborate each other even in tiny unpublished details. In Budd Hopkins's Witnessed,
for instance, we learn that "Linda Cortile" (the central abductee in the case) was X rayed, and that the X ray showed a possible alien implant, "a cylindrical shaft…with two thinner, spiraling extensions -- one at the
top of the shaft and one at the bottom -- that curl out away from [Linda's] face."
Later, hypnotically regressed, Cortile said that her alien abductors took "a long needle with a small object on its tip,"
and inserted that object into her nostril:
As she described it [Hopkins writes], this small metallic object did not have anything like the protruding, curling spirals that showed up in the X ray.
This detail is important because of two earlier cases in
which female abductees described objects being removed [his emphasis] by the UFO occupants. The apparent implants were taken from the ear of one woman and from the navel of the other. In both
hypnotically retrieved accounts the women were shown simple, shaftlike cylinders. When these narrow cylinders were touched by the aliens handling them, small, flangelike appendages popped out from their sides. 43
What are we to think? Is it true, as Hopkins also writes in Witnessed, that abductees who report humans working with the aliens always see these humans dressed in blue uniforms? target=new44 Is it true, as David Jacobs writes in Secret Life, that abductees mention smaller beings that do the grunt work,
and larger ones that appear to be in charge? 45 Is it true that, when the beings touch an abductee, that the larger ones
feel "rough" and "leathery," while the smaller drones are "soft" or "plastic"? 46
If true, these corroborations are, quite simply, dynamite. And there's more abduction evidence that could, potentially, be devastating. Jacobs says abductees are physically missing
during their abductions. Can he prove that? He also says he's learned to recognize many alien medical implements. He's heard about them so many times that, once an abductee describes one, he knows exactly what the aliens
will do with it. Can that be proved? Jacobs also says that many abduction procedures always occur in the same order. If an abductee says A, he knows that B and C will follow. 47
Are these things true? I can't verify any of them, and I can fault Hopkins for not even keeping statistics. How many
abductees report scoop marks on their legs, photographs of which Hopkins has displayed in his books, in lectures, and on his website? He can't tell us. What we're dealing with, as
I said right at the start, is hearsay -- stories Hopkins and Jacobs talk and write about, which any of us can only accept out of a personal conviction that they (and the experiencers who tell many of the stories in the first place)
I'm working with Jacobs, I should add, to try to document all this, for a future report in IUR. If his alleged evidence can be verified -- if, let's say, outside observers could confirm
that abductees give the same unpublished descriptions of alien medical tools, over and over -- wouldn't the ballgame be over? Wouldn't we then have to conclude that abductions were real?
I could end here, concluding with my most dramatic stroke, but the sheer weirdness of the subject -- and the urge most us have, I think, to disbelieve -- impels me to go one step
further. Or perhaps I'm taking one merciful step away from any confrontation. I want to finish with more abstract arguments against abduction reality, a group of what I'd call a priori
arguments, because essentially they say that no evidence could be convincing, that abductions can't be real, because, for instance, the extraterrestrial hypothesis (of what UFOs are) hasn't been proved.
It's hard to believe anyone ever argued against abductions this way, but I've seen it done. Cart before the horse, I'd respond, like claiming no one ever saw a flying disc, because
we don't know for sure there are such things. It's doubtless true that someone who already thinks UFOs are alien will be more ready to believe that aliens are abducting people. But
it's not unreasonable for someone who was never convinced by UFOs to look at the abduction evidence, and say "OK, fine, I see it now. Aliens are really here."
But here's a more scientific a priori thrust: Abductions
can't be happening because real aliens wouldn't be humanoid. But this question (often uttered in a notably smug tone of voice) is only apparently scientific. How, exactly do we know what aliens would be like? Oh, sure, we can
imagine that if many races evolved separately, they wouldn't resemble each other, but that's only a theory. What data do we have? We've seen life evolve on one planet, our own. How can we be sure we know how it might evolve
elsewhere? And in fact it might be just as plausible to theorize that intelligent life must be humanoid (as Michael Swords, a science professor and the former editor of the Journal of UFO Studies once did 48), because evolutionary pressures would always work the same way.
Besides, who said the abductors evolved separately?.
Maybe we're both members of the same interstellar clan, established long ago, so deep in our antiquity that we don't know about it. Not that I'm putting money on these speculations. But it's easy to explain the existence of another
humanoid race. The truth is that we don't know what's out there, so we're in no position to rule anything out.
And now for a more serious -- or superficially more
serious -- objection. If aliens want to breed a hybrid race, wouldn't they do it technologically, with no need to take our sperm and get us pregnant? This, coming originally from Jacques Vallée, 49 sounds persuasive, and Vallée should be honored for thinking it up. We earthfolk, scientific beginners
though we might be, on a galactic scale, can accomplish miracles of genetic engineering. Why would advanced aliens resort to messy old sperm and eggs? Why incubate a hybrid fetus so perilously, in a human female, as abduction lore
claims the aliens do?
There are answers, however, and the first comes from the same abduction lore that suggests the aliens are breeding hybrids. Turns out those aliens interact with us. They meld
their minds with ours, teach our children extrasensory games, and, most crucially for anyone arguing against Vallée, ask human mothers to touch and love their hybrid babies.
The aliens, in other words, seem to need us. Or, to put it more quietly, whatever they're doing, they want us to be involved. So Vallée's argument, so scientific on its face,
neglects one portion of the data it's attempting to refute.
And then there's this. We have our own technology, and some of it doesn't deliver optimum results. We don't have to
drink orange juice, for instance. We can buy Tang, which is stuffed full of more vitamin C than any orange ever was.
But Tang tastes terrible. And in fact the food that tastes
best turns out (most of the time, anyway) to be the food that's closest to nature. So how do we know that aliens haven't discovered the same thing about reproduction? Maybe genetic engineers doesn't do the job. Maybe it can't
generate truly healthy beings. Maybe you need sperm, eggs, and a mother's love to do that. And if anyone then says, "Well., sure, but once we perfect the technology…" I can
only say answer "Go buy stock in Tang," or, more seriously, that this is precisely what's in dispute, whether technology can replace nature. Our experience, I'd suggest, gives us
many reasons to doubt that it can, and, worse, to worry about what unintended evils (pollution, for instance) someone who forgets that might create.
So now suppose somebody roasts this old chestnut:
Abductions can't be happening, because no one could float a human being through solid walls. Here I'll hit the rewind button. Because, for the last time, how do we know what
aliens can and can't do? Shall I bore us all by dragging out every cliché about future science? If people from the 13th century saw a diesel locomotive…
I'm reminded of the SETI scientists -- Frank Drake, Carl
Sagan, and others who've searched for alien life by listening to radio signals -- who almost all believe that aliens can't visit us, because interstellar travel is impossible. Meanwhile
Drake also speculates that some civilizations in the galaxy are a billion years ahead of us! And yet he's certain he knows their capabilities. 50
Essentially -- as physicist Paul Davies points out, quoting another scientist,, in his philosophical book on extraterrestrial life, Are We Alone? 51 -- Drake and others make a crucial but unspoken assumption. They assume that we, even after just three centuries of science, have
discovered fundamental laws of the universe that will never be contradicted, not even if we join our supposed ET neighbors in the billion-years-of-civilization club.
You could call this assumption arrogant. You could call it smug. You could also, in 1998, call it obsolete, now that NASA -- yes, NASA -- is searching for new modes of space propulsion, up to and including hypothetical
Star Trek warp drives. But I'd prefer to call this line of thought metaphysical, in the sense that the word was used by logical positivist philosophers, who wanted to exclude from
philosophy all statements that can't be verified. How can we, at this stage of existence, prove we know even a single law of nature? The belief that we do is simply that -- a belief,
not anything scientific, but essentially a matter of faith.
But now let's put this slightly differently, and -- turning back toward abductions -- let's imagine that we're talking to
a representative of the Galactic Federation, a being delightfully sophisticated and well-informed, who can tell us what's going on in our neck of the universe.
"You know," we say to him, or her, or it, "some of us say they've been abducted by little gray things with big eyes. What would you know about that?"
"Oh, no!" replies our visitor. "You've got Zorphs! They're such pests, playing games with their stupid medical experiments. I can't blame you if you're confused. They've got this way of muddying your thoughts."
For all we know, abductions, in the galaxy at large, are as common as roaches in New York. And if anyone thinks this line of reasoning is a license to believe anything at all, I beg
to disagree. Once I met an abduction experiencer (not someone who'd worked with Budd Hopkins) who told me that the aliens implanted a chip that made him irresistible to
women. They'd told him, he said, to go right out and use it. And while I guess that's not impossible, I reserve the right to shake my head (especially since other examples of that very
male-oriented chip don't seem to be on record). Nor do I have to believe, to pick an example from elsewhere in ufology, that Rear Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter issued the MJ-12 briefing document, and misstated (as Kevin
Randle has pointed out 52) his own rank.
But if we're going to deal with the unknown -- which is
what we do the moment we allow even the possibility that UFOs are alien (let alone that they're abducting us) -- we're going to have to take some intellectual risks. Albert Camus, in his philosophical study The Rebel,
discussed the problem of political rebellion. Since killing is wrong, he asked, how can you take up arms to fight for your rights, even against the worst oppressors? His answer was that there isn't any
answer -- you go to the barricades, as he more or less said, with a gun in your hand and a lump in your throat.
UFO research is something like that. We're dealing with
giant questions, questions that challenge our understanding of who we are and where we fit in the universe. Worse still, we can't even imagine the limits of any possible answers. Does
that leave us helpless? It shouldn't -- in fact, it can't, if we ever expect to know where we stand.
We just have to keep our wits about us, weigh the evidence very
carefully -- and agree in advance not to rule anything out.
[Dennis Stacy asked me to write this for UFO, 1947-1997: Fifty Years of Flying Saucers, a collection of essays he
edited with Hilary Evans. When he couldn't publish it there, he redeemed himself by printing what turned out to be a greatly expanded version in The Anomalist
, the wonderfully smart and literate publication he and Patrick Huyge put out. Thanks to both of them (and to Patrick for his wise editorial suggestions) -- very special thanks, in
fact, because both of them surely disagree with most of what I said.]