[Paleopsych] NYT: Explaining Those Vivid Memories of Martian Kidnappers

Euterpel66 at aol.com Euterpel66 at aol.com
Sat Aug 13 22:04:41 UTC 2005

A few years ago, I was visiting my aunt in VA and she very casually said  
that her deceased husband said that he had been abducted by aliens from  
childhood. I don't know why I didn't pursue the comment, but I didn't .Perhaps  it was 
because my uncle was the very last person I would have ever imagined  would 
have said such a thing, and my aunt was the last person I would ever  imagine 
would admit that her husband had said such a thing. Both were extremely  
intelligent educated people. He was an aerospace engineer for Grumman and she  had a 
degree in art history. 
When I got home I became more curious about the whole thing and started  
recalling my interactions with this family. My uncle was a big man. He was 6'7".  
Whenever we visited their house, he always disappeared into his study and I  
recall my mother thought this was an insult.She didn't like my father's sister  
any better. She thought my aunt was a snob. I remember my  uncle as a kind 
and gentle man who seemed extremely shy. The only time I  can remember his ever 
coming to our house was to help my father put up  ceiling tiles when we were 
building our house. 
I suppose I should question my aunt about my uncle's admission, but somehow  
it seems an intrusion.

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.  
---Andre Gide  


In a message dated 8/13/2005 9:04:29 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
ljohnson at solution-consulting.com writes:

Clancy's  hypothesis is almost certainly the best one I have seen, and 
explains the  phenomena. She ignores the other side, where people report being 
abducted  while wide awake. A psychiatrist friend brought two patients to my office 
 because of my skill in hypnosis. These two recalled being abducted while in  
northwest Utah, raising copper wire from the Great Salt Lake from an old  
telephone line. They were unsure about whether it was legal, so it was a bit  
hush-hush. My MD friend wanted me to hypnotize them to get more info; I have  
never seen such abject terror in human beings before or since. It was  extremely 
puzzling. I finally took a kind of agnosticism about it; I don't  believe in 
abductions, but I cannot explain their reactions any other  way.

Premise Checker wrote:

Explaining Those Vivid Memories of Martian Kidnappers 
New  York Times, 5.8.9 


"Abducted:  How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens," 
by Susan Clancy. Harvard University Press, $22.95. 

People who have memories of being abducted by aliens become hardened  
skeptics, of a kind. They dismiss the procession of  scientists who 
explain away the memories as illusions or  fantasy. They scoff at talk 
about hypnosis or the  unconscious processing of Hollywood scripts. And 
they hold  their ground amid snickers from a public that thinks that 
they are daft or psychotic. 

They are neither, it turns  out, and their experiences should be taken 
as seriously as  any strongly held exotic beliefs, according to Susan 
Clancy, a Harvard psychologist who interviewed dozens of 
self-described abductees as part of a series of memory studies over  
the last several years. 

In her book  "Abducted," due in October, Dr. Clancy, a psychologist at 
Harvard, manages to refute and defend these believers, and along the  
way provide a discussion of current research into memory,  emotion and 
culture that renders abduction stories  understandable, if not 
believable. Although it focuses on  abduction memories, the book hints 
at a larger ambition, to  explain the psychology of transformative 
experiences,  whether supposed abductions, conversions or divine 

"Understanding why people believe weird  things is important for anyone 
who wishes to know more  about people - that is, humans in general," 
she writes.  

Dr. Clancy's accounting for abduction memories starts  with an odd but 
not uncommon experience called sleep  paralysis. While in light 
dream-rich REM sleep, people will  in rare cases wake up for a few 
moments and find themselves  unable to move. Psychologists estimate 
that about a fifth  of people will have that experience at least once, 
during  which some 5 percent will be bathed in terrifying sensations  
like buzzing, full-body electrical quivers, a feeling of  levitation, 
at times accompanied by hallucinations of  intruders. 

Some of them must have an explanation as  exotic as the surreal nature 
of the experience itself.  Although no one has studied this group 
systematically, Dr.  Clancy suggests based on her interviews, that they 
tend to  be people who already have some interest in the paranormal, 
mystical arts and the possibility of extraterrestrial visitors. Often  
enough, their search for meaning lands them in the care of  a therapist 
who uses hypnotism to elicit more details of  their dreamlike 

Hypnotism  is a state of deep relaxation, when people become highly 
prone to suggestion, psychologists find. When encouraged under  
hypnosis to imagine a vivid but entirely concocted incident  - like 
being awakened by loud noises - people are more  likely later to claim 
the scene as a real experience,  studies find. 

Where, exactly, do the green figures with  the wraparound eyes come 
from? From the deep well of pop  culture, Dr. Clancy argues, based on a 
review of the  history of U.F.O. sightings, popular movies and 
television  programs on aliens. The first "abduction" in the United 
States was dramatized in 1953, in the movie "Invaders From Mars," she  
writes, and a rash of abduction reports followed this and  other works 
on aliens, including the television series "The  Outer Limits." 

One such report, by a couple from New  Hampshire, Betty and Barney 
Hill, followed by days a  particularly evocative episode of the show in 
1961. Mr.  Hill's description of the aliens - with big heads and shiny 
wraparound eyes - was featured in a best-selling book about the  
experience, and inspired the alien forms in Steven  Spielberg's "Close 
Encounters of the Third Kind" in 1977,  according to Dr. Clancy. 

Thus does life imitate art,  and vice versa, in a narrative hall of 
mirrors in which  scenes and even dialogues are recycled. Although they 
are  distinct in details, abduction narratives are extremely similar in  
broad outline and often include experimentation with a  sexual or 
procreative subtext. "Oh! And he's opening my  shirt, and - he's going 
to put that thing in my navel,"  says one 1970's narrative, referring 
to a needle.  

"I can feel them moving that thing around in my  stomach, in my body," 
the narrative, excerpted in the book,  continues. The passage echoes 
other abduction accounts,  past and future. 

In a laboratory study in 2002, Dr.  Clancy and another Harvard 
psychologist, Richard McNally,  gave self-described abductees a 
standardized  word-association test intended to measure proneness to 
false-memory creation. The participants studied lists of words that  
were related to one another - "sugar," "candy," "sour,"  "bitter" - and 
to another word that was not on the list, in  this case, "sweet." 

When asked to recall the word  lists, those with abduction memories 
were more likely than  a group of peers who had no such memories to 
falsely recall  the unlisted word. The findings suggest a 
susceptibility to  what are called source errors, misattributing 
sources of  remembered information by, say, confusing a scene from a 
barely remembered movie with a dream. 

In another  experiment, the researchers found that recalling abduction 
memories prompted physiological changes in blood pressure and  
sweat-gland activity that were higher than those seen in  
post-traumatic stress syndrome. The memories produced  intense 
emotional trauma, and each time that occurs it  deepens the certainty 
that something profound really did  happen. 

Although no one of those elements - sleep  paralysis, interest in the 
paranormal, hypnotherapy, memory  tricks or emotional investment - is 
necessary or sufficient  to create abduction memories, they tend to 
cluster together  in self-described abductees, Dr. Clancy finds. "In 
the  past, researchers have tended to concentrate on one or another"  
factor, she said in an interview. "I'm saying they all play  a role." 

Yet abduction narratives often have another,  less explicit, dimension 
that Dr. Clancy suspects may be  central to their power. Consider this 
comment, from a study  participant whom Dr. Clancy calls Jan, a 
middle-age  divorcée engaged in a quest for personal understanding: 
"You know, they do walk among us on earth. They have to transform  
first into a physical body, which is very painful for them.  But they 
do it out of love. They are here to tell us that  we're all 
interconnected in some way. Everything is."  

At a basic level, Dr. Clancy concludes, alien abduction  stories give 
people meaning, a way to comprehend the many  odd and dispiriting 
things that buffet any life, as well as  a deep sense that they are not 
alone in the universe. In  this sense, abduction memories are like 
transcendent  religious visions, scary and yet somehow comforting and, 
at  some personal psychological level, true. 

Dr. Clancy  said she regretted not having asked the abductees she 
interviewed about religious beliefs, which were not a part of her  
original research. The reader may regret that, too.  

The warmth, awe and emotion of abduction stories and of  those who tell 
them betray strong spiritual currents that  will be familiar to 
millions of people whose internal lives  are animated by religious 

When it comes to sounding the depths of alien stories, a scientific  
inquiry like this one may have to end with an inquiry into  religio

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