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MIT Abduction Conference Publication 'Marks New Era of Thinking' About UFO-Related Issues (Book Review of Alien Discussions)

John Archer

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: On June 13 - 17, 1992, a conference was held at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, focusing on the Alien Abduction Experience [AAE]. "Alien Discussions" contains the papers delivered at the conference and transcripts of author/audience discussion about the papers. This book is huge: 683 large size (8.5 X 11) pages counting Index and glossary. But, of course, it is the quality of the papers that give the book its value.

Alien Discussions: Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference"

Edited by Andrea Pritchard, David E. Pritchard, John E. Mack, Pam Kasey, and Claudia Yapp.

Published by North Cambridge Press, Box 241, Cambridge, MA 02140 (617) 354-6007. Limited Edition Hardcover $69.95.

Available direct from the publisher or from Arcturus Book Service,
1443 S.E. Port St. Lucie Blvd., Port St. Lucie, FL 34952 (407) 398-0796.

Review by John Archer

Every once in a while a book comes along that defines an era. Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams" was one such book. It closed the books on prior strands of dream theorizing and started a new era in which thinkers, whether for or against, defined themselves in relation to Freud's ideas.

"Alien Discussions" is another such book. Its publication marks the transition to a new era in thinking about UFO related issues.

On June 13 - 17, 1992, a conference was held at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, focusing on the Alien Abduction Experience [AAE]. "Alien Discussions" contains the papers delivered at the conference and transcripts of author/audience discussion about the papers.

This book is huge: 683 large size (8.5 X 11) pages counting Index and glossary. But, of course, it is the quality of the papers that give the book its value.

John G. Miller, MD, leads off with a discussion of 'The Realization Event' that makes a person come to suspect or decide that he or she has been abducted. Many of the factors that bring about the realization event are problematic for researchers. These include exposure to books and movies with abduction related themes, contact with other abductees and hypnotic retrieval of memories.

The book includes a lengthy section on the medical examinations described by abductees. Four papers detail the variety of aliens depicted in AAE reports and several experiencers give poignant accounts of the impact of the experience on self, family, friends and lifestyles.

Thomas E. Bullard, the noted folklorist, has a piece on anomalous cases, such as 'psychic abductions' -- out-of-body experiences where the experiencer's report contains themes familiar from abduction reports, but where it is known with certainty that the experiencer's body was not removed from its surrounding. It may have been under observation of a witness while incapacitated due to medical emergency, for example.

Budd Hopkins has a short piece on the Return of the Abductee. It focuses mostly on cases where the abductee was not 'returned' properly to the setting from which s/he was taken; i.e., people being left stranded in the woods in a nightgown a mile from their home; women waking up and finding other women's nightwear in the room; people waking up with their nightwear missing. There is also a class of cases where the abductee's car seems to have been deposited in a place difficult to drive to without leaving tire tracks.

Eventually, the conference focuses attention on methodological issues and, to no one's surprise, most of the attention focused on the reliability of hypnosis as an investigative tool.

Thomas E. Bullard leads off this sections with a paper demonstrating that the dangers of hypnosis are overstated. His case rests on the idea that reports from hypnotized subjects do not differ from those reported by non-hypnotized subjects. There were significant differences between the reports of abductees and the so-called hypnotized non-abductee from whom an experimenter tries to elicit a false abduction report.

Bullard even managed to test arch-skeptic Phillip Klass's prediction that there would be correlations between the hypnotist's personality traits and the themes in the abductee's report. No such correlations were found.

Papers by David Webb and Stuart Appelle support this theme. Dr. Appelle's paper challenges the skeptics' claim that experimental evidence now on hand already establishes the unreliability of hypnosis as a tool for enhancing memory. Dr. Appelle shows that existing evidence points to no definitive conclusion and some may even support this use of hypnosis.

But some evidence clearly goes the other way.

Jenny Randles offered a first person account of her experiences going to a hypnotist for assistance in recalling an incident that she witnessed 10 years earlier. She then compared the transcript of her hypnotic session with the notes she made 48 hours after the sighting but which she hadn't reviewed since. She found that many details were recalled inaccurately.

Finally, Ann Druffel points out some of the dangers of using hypnosis, such as psychological side effects for the subjects.

Clearly more research is called for.

A selection of papers on Psychological Issues shows that little evidence has been found to specifiy a personality profile for the abductee, but there is good evidence that some abductees were suffering from serious psychiatric illnesses. However, more research would be needed to indicate whether psychiatric illness is more or less prevalent in the abductee population compared to the non-abductee population.

A paper by Gwen L. Dean, a clinical psychologist, comparing the phenomenology of AAEs with accounts of Ritual Abuse by surviors really opened my eyes to the many points they have in common -- and the many points of difference. Both types of experience are associated with reports of Out-of-Body Experiencing, but no one knows whether two different types of trauma each produce OBEs in some experiencers or whether the OBE is the core event that produces an experience that is recalled as an abduction or as ritual abuse depending on the experiencer.

The possible connection between OBEs and AAEs certainly needs further exploration.

A second very interesting paper by Ann Druffel describes cases in which experiencers used various techniques to fight off entities who were about to abduct them. Interestingly enough, these cases all involved attempted abductions from the experiencer's bedroom. And some of the techniques used are identical to those that are used to resist 'Old Hag Attacks', a subjective experience whose physiological correlate is REM sleep paralysis. This state of Awareness during Sleep Paralysis [ASP] is itself intimately related to both the OBE and the more common Lucid Dream Experience.

David Hufford has a very interesting paper exploring the 'Bedroom Visitor' phenomenon from precisely this angle. Up to now, skeptics have dismissed abduction reports as due to sleep paralysis, but Hufford shows that sleep paralysis is simply the physiological correlate of a real experience.

Although the conference occurred three years ago, it could become a factor in the controversy surrounding Dr. John Mack, who is being investigated by Harvard University for possible failure to approach abduction related phenomenon in as scientific a manner as is expected of a Harvard professor.

Dr. Mack has three pieces in the book. It was here at this conference that he gave his famous "Why the Abduction Phenomenon Cannot Be Explained Psychiatrically" address.

He rejects Jung's idea that we may be seeing the emergence of a myth for our times on the grounds that Jung's idea destroys the distinction between internal (psyche) and external (material) reality. Yet, in his closing address he challenges us to adopt a new world view going beyond dualism because the abduction phenomenon shows that we are connected with a spiritual dimension as well as the material dimension we all share.

Well, recognizing the spiritual dimension is certainly a constructive step, but that *is* dualism, not an argument against dualism.

His third paper is potentially more troublesome. Having decided that the abduction phenomenon can't be explained away as a purely psychiatric phenomenon (probably true, though the question the Harvard committee is ostensibly asking is 'Would you share your evidence with us, John?'), Dr. Mack then presents a relatively long paper describing his approach to counseling patients to help them over the various anxiety and stress disorders they may have as a result of their undeniable trauma.

What is conspicuously lacking in his proposal is any provision for outcome or effectiveness research. Is his approach any better for the client than the approach of a psychiatrist who does think the abduction phenomenon is explainable in psychiatric terms? Is his approach better than no counseling other than the support of a self help type group of fellow abductees? There are many unanswered questions, and skeptics may want this volume simply to read Dr. Mack standing behind a podium failing to address those questions.

I haven't had space to mention many other interesting papers in this volume. I strongly recommend that anyone seriously interested in the abduction issue get this book.

John Archer
Trionic Research Institute

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