The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.
John F. Kennedy Commencement address, Yale University, New Haven, Conn. (6/11/1962)
Chris Mooney has a good review, on the CSICOP site, of a new book about alien abductions:
Scores of "nonfiction" books, pseudo-documentaries, movies, and television programs notwithstanding, there is no good evidence to support claims that scores of Americans are regularly being kidnapped from their beds at night by alien beings. That's the conclusion anyone applying a rigorous scientific methodology to such claims must reach--and it's the conclusion of Harvard researcher Susan Clancy, who has studied alleged "abductees" in detail. But in her humane and funny memoir Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens (Harvard University Press, 2005), Clancy doesn't simply pose as another debunker. Discounting the factual validity of abduction claims is, for her, just the first step in a deeper and much more meaningful inquiry--the attempt to understand how it's possible for ordinary people to actually believe something so outlandish in the first place. It's here that Clancy not only demystifies a baffling cultural phenomenon, but also delivers insights into human nature itself.
In Clancy's account, a number of separate factors help set the stage for a transition into full-fledged abductee-hood. The first is the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, the widely prevalent but little understood condition in which REM sleep--the phase in which most dreaming occurs--simply malfunctions. Our bodies are paralyzed while we undergo REM sleep, and for good reason (lest we act out our dreams and injure ourselves). But in some small number of cases we can actually start to wake up before paralysis wears off, and yet still remain in a dreaming state.
What results is hallucination, often of some extremely scary stuff. In sleep paralysis you wake up in bed, feel paralyzed, and tend to sense a terrifying presence in your room. Sometimes you see something; sometimes you hear noises or even feel electrical shocks throughout your body. From alien abductee accounts, it is quite clear that many of these individuals have not only experienced sleep paralysis, but hallucinated terrifying alien visitations.
But sleep paralysis, alone, cannot fully explain how to grow an ordinary everyday American into an "abductee." Clancy herself has experienced sleep paralysis (so has this reviewer), but neither of us claim that aliens dropped by our beds one night for a little light probing. The next step in the initiation into abductee-hood comes when the individual who has experienced a bout of sleep paralysis goes searching for an explanation of what happened--an internally satisfying way of rationalizing a shocking experience.
At this point the abductee-in-training may be rescued by someone who can explain sleep paralysis. Or, he or she may instead fall prey to the "cultural script" of alien abduction, a narrative that is extremely prevalent in the national media and consciousness, and constantly being reinforced. In a helpful chapter, Clancy delves into explaining where this script comes from, showing that mass abduction claims have always come after media treatments of alleged abductions, whether in movies, pseudo-documentaries, or "nonfiction" books. It's a case study in the power of suggestion at work.
But sleep paralysis and the abduction "script" don't adequately explain how so many Americans can have such wacky beliefs. Clancy has to go further, because abductees themselves do. In their quest to understand what has befallen them--and often already suspecting alien abduction--many go out and get themselves hypnotized, whereupon they proceed to "remember" much more detail about their alleged visitors.
The trouble is, hypnosis isn't a reliable way of recovering memories. Rather, it's a great way of getting false memories planted by a suggestive hypnotist or therapist, who may already be a believer in alien abduction and asking leading questions. These false memories seem extraordinarily real; indeed, Clancy and colleagues have found that in recalling their traumatic "experiences," alien abductees feel powerful emotions not unlike those of war veterans.
And it's not just hypnosis that prompts false abduction claims. It's also the people being hypnotized. Clancy's research shows that alleged alien abductees are more likely than the general population to be fantasy prone; i.e., they have "fertile imaginations, day-dream a lot, and report very rich visual imagery." Such characteristics make abductees unusually susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. Meanwhile, and relatedly, abductees are also more prone to create false memories to begin with. Shown a list of words--"sour," "candy," "sugar," "bitter"--they were more likely than other subjects to falsely remember that a related word ("sweet") had also been on the list.
By this point in Abducted, Clancy has woven together an impressive array of interlocking factors--sleep paralysis, the cultural script of alien abduction, hypnosis, fantasy proneness, a proclivity to create false memories--that have considerable explanatory power when it comes to accounting for the phenomenon of alien "abduction" in modern America. But she still isn't satisfied. For as she notes in a crucial passage,
….this analysis is still insufficient for an understanding of the phenomenon. As the abductees themselves would say, "If you're telling me it didn't happen to me, that I made it up, why in God's name would I want to?"
Why indeed? [...] [I]t turns out there's a very obvious reason why abductees would want to make all this stuff up. They're getting something very profound out of it. It's not just media attention; it's spiritual payoff. Some subjects even told Clancy that being abducted was the best thing that had ever happened in their lives; as one puts it:
The journey has enabled me to discover my place in the universe. I had felt abandoned, reduced to nothing but a sperm sample. Yet today I feel a tremendous expansiveness. In my total aloneness, I have discovered a oneness with the beings.
What are abductees getting from their experiences? Why, human meaning, of course. The sense that there are alien beings out there who, despite violating any number of ethical rules governing human subject experimentation, nevertheless somehow have our best interests at heart. Beings who are wiser, have greater powers, are beneficent caretakers over the human race, and help a select few of us understand how we all fit into the big cosmic picture. Beings who are, in short, our modern day version of angels.
I would like to have known, from Mooney's review, how Clancy dealt with the claims made in the late Harvard psychiatrist John Mack's book Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens, in which he, apparently (incredibly!), validated the objective reality of the abduction experience -- which may be part of what the abductees were looking for in the first place. Nevertheless, even without that information, Mooney has convinced me that this is a book worth reading.
Read the whole review here, or order Clancy's book from Amazon.
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.