Monday, October 8, 2012

Solving the Communion Enigma

Courtesy isamizdat at Flickr Creative Commons
When I picked up Whitley Strieber's newest book Solving the Communion Enigma at the library this week, I was pretty sure that, at 213 pages, it wasn't going to really solve the Communion enigma.

I mean, if he'd really solved that puzzle, he would have told us all sooner, right?

I picked it up anyway on the off chance it contained something new.

It does not.

I do have some thoughts about the book though, which I'd like to share as charitably as I can. I don't love scathing reviews written just to be nasty, and I don't mean to write one here.

First, what I liked about the book:

  • I like that Strieber brings up the link between childhood trauma and contact experiences. Bringing this up is risky, since most of the people who write about alien abduction are heavily invested in the ET theory that aliens are coming to Earth to breed a hybrid race of human/alien creatures. I've never been convinced of that explanation, and I've never liked the way the credentials of experiencers are laid out in every case to prove they are sane. Not that I think people who have these kinds of experiences are insane (especially since I'm one of them), but because doing this eliminates all kinds of possibilities and opportunities to learn new things. 
  • I like that Strieber brings out the obsession some experiencers have with perceptual gaps, these spaces in human perception that even humans can learn to use to render themselves 'invisible'. What else could be lurking there? I've wondered that for years, but when I bring it up, most people look at me like I'm nuts. (See above paragraph.)
  • I like that Strieber leaves open the possibility that, if there is some kind of other life form intruding into our space (or visiting it, or whatever), it does not automatically follow that their motives are cohesive or understandable. He uses as an example humans who go to a vacation spot. Anybody can visit a popular resort, but not everybody is going to behave the same way when they get there. Some will be courteous and circumspect, some will throw trash everywhere, some will commit criminal acts. Some will dissect cows and take sperm samples.
  • I like that Strieber took the chance of putting his personal experience out there, which, although he swears otherwise, I can't help but think he sometimes wishes he hadn't. After the initial sensation triggered by Communion, this gamble basically ruined his career as a writer and trashed his finances in the bargain. He lost his beautiful cabin in the woods where he met all these beings. He now runs his own radio show and maintains a subscription-only website. Many people of many stripes make fun of him or don't like him. Reading this latest book, it comes across that this fall from grace (and money) shook him and his family to the core.

That said, Solving the Communion Enigma left me with some negative reactions and critical thoughts that I almost hate to mention.

After all, I'm not putting every burp and wrinkle of MY inner life on the page for the public to trash or validate or whatever.

I'm a bit more self-protective than that.  I choose to inhabit the peanut gallery most days.

But, on the other hand, when you put yourself out there in that way as a writer, in the first person, you do open yourself up to the critical thoughts of others.

Here are a few of mine:

1) Another characteristic shared by people who experience this kind of contact is a fluid or shaky sense of self. I don't believe this characteristic is necessarily pathological (although it can be). The fact is, though, that many abductees (or 'experiencers', a term many prefer) see their 'self' or ego state, their identity, in a different way than other people do. You can hear this almost obsessive self-concern in Strieber's writing, especially in this book, where it reaches an almost aggravatingly intense pitch. At times it almost feels like a tic, or like verbal picking at a scab.

Strieber is forever pointing out that 'we are more than we seem' and 'we are the greatest mystery of all', without getting into any details about why that is. What's more, he clearly considers himself some sort of adept because of his ability to initiate all manner of anomalous experiences during meditation, including his initial exploration of 'the visitors'. This becomes wearing after awhile. It's way better if lots of other people call you an adept. If you are the only one saying it while those around you have less charitable things to say, the impression that comes across is something like narcissistic petulance.

MC Escher print Public Domain
2) Strieber consistently refers to these various others as butterflies to our caterpillars; that is, as possibly the next form humanity takes in some other hyperreal dimension after death. The problem with this is these others don't really look or sound like butterflies so much as hymenoptera--that class of parasitic wasp that lays its eggs in caterpillars so its own young can hatch and devour them. Strieber does give lip service to this possibility, but it's clear he really, really wants his visitors and his others to be cool and advanced so that his experiences with them can also be cool and advanced. I know that after I die, I do hope I don't turn into a wide-mouthed Ooompa Loompa in a blue suit who carries people out of their bedrooms at night, but if I do end up like that, I don't think 'butterfly' will be the first word that comes to mind.

3) This leads me to my last and most troubling question: Why does Strieber cling so manically to these experiences and their importance above all others? His insight that the reason people with trauma in their pasts are more likely to make contact is because they understand that reality isn't always what we want is a good one. That might be true too, and I've thought of that explanation many times myself.

But an alternate explanation--one that can't be discarded out of hand--is that the reason trauma victims are more likely to have such experiences is that the aliens (or visitors or others or whatever they might be) know that no one is going to believe a person with past trauma who is carrying a fantastic story.

Trauma victims are uniquely prone to more trauma and more victimization, as almost any experienced therapist will tell you, and predators get very, very good at recognizing and exploiting traumatized people--even ordinary human predators do this, so how much more so predators with uncanny non-human abilities?

More so than in any of his other first person books, the voice of the traumatized child really comes through in Strieber's latest work; the longing to be special, to have been chosen because of one's unique and elevated capabilities, to be recognized as worthy and worthwhile instead of damaged and suspect and something to use.

His relative inability to own this part of himself, to get some kind of human perspective on his frantic, confusing (and as it sounds, lonely and rejecting) childhood, hurts his case when it comes to his special insights about the visitors and the others, and raises the possibility that he clings to these strange experiences in order to avoid looking hard at more earthly ones.

That doesn't mean he's wrong. It doesn't mean that close encounters of the 4th kind aren't very real in many cases, including his.

But this desperate tone hurts his first person analysis.

We need this kind of testimony and we need people strong enough to disclose it.

But to expect to make a living from it--that's probably not realistic and possibly not a very wise path to take. I can't help but think, after reading this book, that Strieber chose this path prematurely, before he fully considered what the consequences might be.

Witnessing the aftermath of his choice has been alternately fascinating and--in this case--painful.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Revisiting Project Blue Book & Edward Ruppelt

From the movie, "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" 1956
I've been rereading The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Edward J. Ruppelt from 1955.

Ruppelt was the first guy in charge of Project Blue Book, the military organization assigned to collect and investigate UFO reports in the early 50s. He also was quite familiar with Project Grudge, which came before Blue Book in the late 40s.

After 57 years, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects is still a good read, although the reports get a little redundant after awhile. Ruppelt wrote in a very direct and often blunt, common-sense sort of manner, and he seemed to hold the line between debunkery and true belief really well.

His method at the time was to try to explain each sighting some other way, and if that turned out to be impossible, to classify it as 'unknown'.

That strikes me as good practice.

Anyway, a few things stand out about this book after all these years, and I thought I'd just note them here, because they're kind of unexpected.

  • Ruppelt never even mentions Roswell. Today, most people have the impression that Roswell was the grandaddy of all UFO reports, the mother of the myth, the beginning of a grand conspiracy. And yet, even though Roswell happened in 1947, you wouldn't know it even happened at all from reading this book from 1955. 
  • Ruppelt DOES talk about the Maury Island Incident a.k.a. the 'Roswell before Roswell'. Just before Roswell, a weird incident took place near Tacoma, Washington at Maury Island, involving the supposed sighting a several UFOs by some men on a small fishing boat. One of the UFOs was having trouble and supposedly leaked molten metal that burnt one of the fisherman's sons. This incident has been almost completely forgotten. It is significan't because 1) the writer gathering facts about the story was Kevin Arnold (although Ruppelt doesn't name him in 1955 out of courtesy) and this incident took place BEFORE Arnold's famous first sighting of 'flying saucers', 2) the whole thing was hoaxed by a guy who was almost certainly CIA, and last but not least 3) the plane carrying the supposed melted saucer bits (it was just slag) crashed, killing both of the investigators aboard. 
  • Most of the 1950s UFOs are anomalous lights in the night sky. Unless you read Ruppelt's book you don't get a sense of how dramatically UFO sightings have changed in just 50-odd years. Although a few sightings recounted in this text took place in the daytime and involved silver-grey craft, most were just lights in the night sky that moved oddly and sometimes showed up on radar. A few pilots saw UFOs close up, but even these mostly only saw a glowing red flash, not a craft. 
  • It is obvious that a sizable number of high-placed military officials took UFOs dead-seriously, and that most of them felt they were interplanetary. The official attitude of the US government today (if indeed there is one) has gone quite cynical, yet you do get the sense reading this Blue Book text that a sizable number of generals wanted serious research done out of the public eye. Ruppelt never says this outright, but he talks about this internal disagreement fairly openly. 
  • About 25% of the very excellent sightings by military and civilian pilots and other experts remain unsolved to this day.  When people talk about UFOs today, usually in a sarcastic or ridiculing manner, they sometimes point out that only a small percentage of sightings are true unknowns. This is just inaccurate. The correct figure is closer to a fourth of all sightings, which is nothing to sneeze at, considering that even back then people were discouraged from reporting anything. Ruppelt estimated that in 1955 only about one in ten sightings was ever reported, and the number is almost certainly lower today. (The US government no longer even accepts UFO reports.)
I'm astonished that in 1955 the first head of Project Blue Book doesn't even mention Roswell, but by 1987 Phillip Corso, a known intelligence operative for the US, is writing about how he collected alien technology from the crash and sent it to Bell Laboratories to be reverse engineered. This is an obvious and bald-faced lie that can be easily dispelled with a little research into Bell Labs and the technologies Corso claimed came from aliens, so why did he write that crap?

Clearly at some point US intelligence thought that hyping UFOs and feeding the UFO community disinformation provided some kind of useful cover for something or the other.

The question is, what?

UFO conspiracy theorists would say that this was done to cover up the truth about UFOs.

I personally think it was done for more generic reasons--to distract the public from nuclear weapons testing and other weapons programs; to cover up test flights of experimental military aircraft; to practice 'psy-ops' on a small sector of the US public to see what works; and so forth.

It's kind of like that movie formula where a cynical horror writer who doesn't believe in ghosts makes up a bunch of stories about them and gets rich, only to up discover he lives in an actual haunted house and has no idea of how to handle it.

It's like that, only with spaceships and aliens and the US government.

Anyway, I strongly recommend reading original texts from the early days of UFOs if you can find them.

It'll get yer brain whirring.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Weird Stuff That Has Happened to Me While Writing about UFOs

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons
Jacques Vallee has said on many occasions that if you investigate UFO phenomena in a serious way, the phenomena (and ordinary people) will start to mess with you.

This was his point in Messengers of Deception, one of his last books on UFO phenomena.

When Vallee wrote this book, he was thoroughly frustrated and disgusted with both the UFO community AND the scientific community, and who can blame him?

Things have only gone downhill since.

I am hardly a top researcher of anything, let alone UFOs, but I take anomalous phenomena seriously and have been calling for rigorous, serious investigation of the same for several decades, the last decade online.

Has anyone (or anything) messed with me during that time?

Without being paranoid, I'd say the answer is a qualified yes.

  1. Back in the late seventies, when I first began to take the topic seriously (and had had experiences of my own), I was engaged to a man who wanted to work for the FBI. At the time we lived in northern Indiana, and I worked in a factory that made camera bags. I also attended university part-time. After my fiancee applied to the bureau for the fourth time, he actually received a positive response and we prepared to move to DC. During the preparatory phase I was visited by a man who identified himself as an FBI agent no less than three different times, once at my job. The only question I was ever asked was whether or not my fiancee was a communist. I was never shown any ID or given any names. My fiancee found this weird because only one agent was assigned to our city, and these people were not him. Men in Black? Probably not, but then again...
  2. Fast forward to DC, circa 1979. DH was working as a translator for the FBI. I began to receive odd phone calls, not unlike those described by John A. Keel in The Mothman Chronicles: static-y, weird electronic sounds with background noise that sometimes sounded like hissing voices. These continued into the mid-eighties, even after I left my FBI husband and remarried. One week, I received a call from Budd Hopkins, whom I'd written after reading one of his books. That week, my phone pretty much went crazy with these bizarre calls. 
  3. Since writing this blog, I've had some unpleasant encounters while attempting to discuss UFOs online. One person actively harassed me, telling me that I had had no UFO experiences but was rather part of a dark, nasty CIA experiment in mind control. Another person began to relentlessly email me after I'd posted something about blown stems in crop circles, explaining to me that this was bogus and assuring me that he knew all about it and had researched it for years. Finally I said, fine, OK, just to get off it. But really, radiation and plant anomalies HAVE been found in some crop circles, and this has been confirmed by university labs, not just ufologists. 
  4. I have received numerous emails and messages attempting to discredit major UFO investigators. Their degrees are bogus, they've done this, they are not who they say they are, they have done that, etc. Very annoying. 
  5. Most recently I received a graduate paper about UFOs and alien abduction experiences from a man I do not know who prefaced this act of 'reaching out' with the caveat that he knew 'lots of people don't like me very much and aren't happy with my theories' but he would tolerate them because of my psychology background. I got repeat emails asking what I thought of his paper, but when I'd reply and ask him questions, I never got answers.
Some of this--a lot of it actually--can be chalked up to the fact that this topic attracts a wide range of unusual people (some would say 'cranks'), and to the fact that anytime anyone writes anything online, SOMEONE will step up and tell that person what a jerk he or she is. That's just the internets (it's a series of tubes, I hear...)

But part of it is a little disturbing and  contains mild, veiled threats that don't scare me much but are, how can I say this? Creepy. Yucky. Suspect.

So even though Leslie Kean, in her recent book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record, says that the US might not be so much hiding things as just mystified by what's happening, I do think Vallee is right that the deeper you dive into this stuff, the weirder it gets.

My personal belief is that part of that is our government, and part of it is the phenomena itself.

Happily, I see signs of a turnaround, Kean's excellent book being one of those signs.

In future posts I'll list other reliable resources and ideas on how serious study of the data available could yield serious insights and prompt a search for more data.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pushing Back on the UFO ET Push Back

Courtesy Markusram @ Flickr Creative Commons
I confess I was one of the people who was very quick to discard the extraterrestrial hypothesis regarding the origin of UFO sightings.

I didn't buy all of the stock reasons supporting the push back, but because I have a background in myth, magic, and psychology,  I could clearly see that certain mythic structures and symbols were a major part of the phenomena.

I leaned toward Jacques Vallee's conclusion that UFOs are likely 1) real and worthy of serious study, but 2) not of extraterrestrial origin.

I've been rethinking that bias lately, mostly as a result of reading Leslie Kean's excellent book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record.

Toward the end of Kean's book, two political scientists from Ohio State University take a look at the reasons usually given off-the-cuff for the impossibility of the ET hypothesis. Their aim was to shoot these objections down as rational statements and then discover why the taboo against taking UFOs seriously is so strong, both in the scientific community and the US government.

I was persuaded both by Kean's book and the political scientist's paper that it is way too soon to bury the ET hypothesis.

Here is their deconstruction of the deconstruction (with a few addendums of my own):

  • If UFOs Are Extraterrestrial, They Would Have Landed on the White House Lawn. But would they, really? If we are doing military reconnaissance in or on territory occupied by an enemy or potential enemy, do we march up to the leader of that nation first to let him or her know we are doing that? Of course not. Another reason ETs might not seek out our leaders is that they may have a policy of noninterference with societies they visit. Last but not least, in a very famous UFO flap that took place over Washington DC in 1952, multiple UFOs were seen over the White House and reported by residents, tracked by radar,  and confirmed by pilots. So alarmed was President Harry Truman by the strange event, that he ordered the Air Force to pursue and shoot them down. Later, the mass sightings were chalked off to a 'temperature inversion,' a weather phenomenon causing false blips on radar. To this day the explanation rings false to amateurs and professional aviators.
  • We Already Know That We Are Alone in the Universe. This not-very-scientific statement used to be more persuasive, back in the days before the Drake equation and the discovery of numerous habitable planets in nearby solar systems. Today, with the Mars probes still collecting data, we aren't even sure we are alone in our own solar system.
  • Even if ETs exist, They couldn't possibly Get Here.  This one is based on the assertion that technological limits make traversing the great distances involved in intergalactic space travel impossible. Yet the more we understand about particle physics and the strangeness of the concept of time, the less persuasive this claim becomes. If we have discovered all this in the space of 50 some years, how much more might an alien civilization discover over the course of 3,000 or 30,000 years? We know that wormholes exist and time travel might be possible. Alien technology might make intergalactic or inter-dimensional travel not only possible, but routine. 
  • If ETs Were Already Here, We Would Know. This is the Bigfoot habeus corpus threshold, AKA 'show me a body and I'll believe it'. When it comes to UFOs, this statement assumes we can look for and find UFOs if we try, then catch and bring one out in public to prove they exist. But visitors to this planet might well have the technology needed to evade observation, should they wish to remain hidden. Our own military has such technology, so why wouldn't alien visitors have the same capacity? Also, we aren't even looking for them anyway. Other nations are responsibly recording chance sightings for future study, but the US is actively pushing back on even taking UFOs seriously. 

All of these 'reasons' are irrational. We have nothing resembling enough data to come to any of these conclusions scientifically. The best we can say is that we don't know, and we aren't trying to know. Until we try to know, until we fully investigate the phenomena scientifically, all we can do is maintain an agnostic stance.

What really persuaded me that the ET hypothesis might not be as dead as I'd previously thought, however, was that, after reading Kean's book, a lot of things I was already thinking about UFOs kind of fell into place without negating or contradicting that hypothesis.

In other words, it is possible to combine the ET and the mythic hypotheses into one.

I don't know that anyone has done that yet.

So maybe I will.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Political Roots of the UFO Taboo

CGI courtesy Markusram at Flicker Creative Commons
I just finished reading Leslie Kean's excellent and flawlessly researched UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. If you haven't read it, go buy or borrow it right now and dive in.

I promise that afterward you will never see this topic the same way again.

Kean concludes her examination of the hard evidence for the existence of UFOs with a discussion of the UFO taboo and why it is so strong, especially in the United States.

In 2008, Dr. Alexander Wendt, a political science professor at the Ohio State University, published a paper with co-author Dr. Raymond Duvall in the leading scholarly journal Political Science. 

The paper, Sovereignty and the UFO,  examines the cultural resistance to taking UFOs seriously and concludes that the problem is not scientific, but rather political.

The authors start out by noting that, "The proper application of science demands that at present we be agnostic about whether or not UFOs have an extraterrestrial origin, neither believing nor rejecting this," and yet a virulent taboo on even studying the phenomenon prevents serious study.

This is especially puzzling, the authors say, given the fact that we have multiple credible sightings over a period of at least 70 years, that many of these sightings involve multiple witnesses of high credibility, that contrary to 'common knowledge' we have physical evidence and lab-tested photographs, and we also have confirmation by credible university science labs that physical effects on plants and people have resulted from close contact.

You would think that this would be an exciting opportunity for scientific investigation and that finding out what UFOs are would be a necessary security task for modern nations.

Yet science won't touch the topic with a ten foot pole, and the US government actively discourages serious investigation of the phenomena.

Other countries no longer take the 'debunking' approach favored by the US. France, Chile, Belgium, and Britain have all had recent major sightings by citizenry and the military, and all have taken these sightings seriously, applied modern scientific analysis to whatever evidence could be gathered, and all continue to urge the US to put aside its secrecy and bad attitude.

All of these nations, and others, have set up agencies to collect data and seriously study the phenomenon. It is only the US that refuses to participate.

Wendt and Duvall conclude that the UFO taboo is built on three distinct political threats inherent in taking the phenomena seriously. Not all of these attitudes are conscious. In fact, mostly, these threats lurk just below the threshold of consciousness, but are still very real:

  1. The physical threat. The possibility that UFOs are indeed unknown, poorly understood, physical manifestations of something represents a powerful physical threat. If UFOs turn out to be extraterrestrial, then we can't know if they are friendly or are just doing reconnaissance work before they come and exterminate us. 

  2. The threat to national sovereignty. Governments may also be reacting to the threat that, were UFOs to be confirmed to be extraterrestrial, there could be a huge public push for a world government to strengthen our position--a move that most national leaders would want no part of, especially the US, which enjoys (for the time being) a spot as world leader. 

  3. The threat to human sovereignty. Possibly most threatening of all is the revelation that human beings are not the smartest creatures in the universe. Right now we take this for granted, so much so that we barely are even aware of it. This anthropomorphism (human centered view of the world) is a modern orientation. Prehistoric and ancient cultures often did not share it, recognizing instead that nature is more powerful. Today, this human-centered view of reality is so important to our culture it almost defines our culture. If we are not the smartest creatures how can we lay claim to the right to govern? 
These three fears result in a cultural and political reaction to UFO phenomena that is much the same as denial at the personal level. A certain circular logic persist in the face of steadily accumulating evidence: UFO phenomena can't be true, therefore UFO phenomena are not true.

In future posts I'll take a look at how Wendt and Duvall deconstruct the impossibility of the ET hypothesis. Clearly, the reasoning used to shoot they hypothesis down is faulty if not ridiculous, and yet this approach persists.

I'll also take a look at some of the weirder experiences I've had while blogging about UFOs that illustrate the tenacity of the political taboo.

I am not anybody.  I'm nobody, blogging.

And yet I have had my unpleasant 'stop it' encounters from total strangers.

Finally, the very existence of a serious paper in a prominent academic journal gives lie to the claim that UFOs are unworthy of serious study. Many, many highly educated people disagree and are willing to say so. And for every person willing to take that chance, there a likely ten that aren't.

It's a career killer, to go out on that limb.

But it's past time for it to happen, and it is happening, with or without the cooperation of the US government.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I'm Still Here... And So Are UFOs

I'm belatedly reading Leslie Kean's excellent book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go On Record.

Kean, a excellent reporter and careful writer received praise from all quarters when her book was released in 2010. I remember seeing her interviewed by Jon Stewart, wanting to read her work. At the time, however, a family medical crisis and the slow recovery afterward was sucking all the air out of the household in which I live.

Then, I got busy working to pay the medical bills.

And in the process I kind of let this blog slide.

But only halfway through Kean's book I am already fired up and have about six articles I want to write, and new questions to ask. It's an amazing book, and if, like me. you are one of those people who was successfully browbeaten into discarding the extraterrestrial hypothesis and focusing on myth and psychology instead, you really HAVE to read Kean's book.

In just the first half, Kean gives enough compelling evidence for the physical reality of UFOs to make the gnarliest debunker stop and think again. Moreover, when I saw how much more open and advanced other nations were on the topic as compared with the U.S., I was gobsmacked.

Seriously, we, the US of A, are the crabby secretive douchebags of the world when it comes to UFO research. Why? Kean explains some of it, which dates back to the fifties when the CIA got involved in the topic, fearful that a major flap could jam phonelines and become a security risk. I knew about that, but what I didn't know was how much more seriously the rest of the world was reacting.

Think UFO sightings have dropped off drastically since the 70s?

I thought that too, but guess what?

UFO sightings worldwide have been INCREASING steadily since the topic first caught fire in the US in the late 40s.

In fact, a large UFO hovered over a landing strip at O'Hare airport in Chicago in 2002, and was seen by dozens of airport personnel including passing pilots.

Want photographic proof?

She's got it. (Not of Chicago, but from other cases, and it's good too.)

Want physical evidence?

She cites it.

Want names of serious military and civilian aircraft personnel and scientists from all over the world who no longer think UFOs are funny or something to ridicule?

She lists plenty.

So here I am, sort of back where I was when I first got hooked on this topic so many years ago.

I've written a lot of stuff outside the ET hypothesis, but I've never said the phenomenon was foolish or unworthy of serious study. Now, I am thinking I have to open myself again to the ETH and find a way to reconcile it with my own work. And I think I can.

So keep an eye on this blog, and in the mean time, pick up Leslie Kean's book and start reading.

The truth may be out there.

But if you think you will get it from the US government or about half the people writing UFO books for money, you won't.

This is why investigative reporting is 'worth it'. It's a shame we don't have more of it in the U.S.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Does Sleep Paralysis Explain Alien Abduction?

Sleep paralysis has become widely known as a common sleep disorder in which the body becomes paralyzed (as it commonly does during dream sleep to protect people from injury) but the person falling asleep is not totally asleep yet.

Instead, during sleep paralysis, the experiencer is trapped in a state of twilight sleep, somewhere in between full consciousness and dreaming.

While in this between-state, the person typically experiences terror, the sense of a malevolent presence in the room, and a heaviness or pressure on the chest or body, as if being held down or paralyzed by that entity.

In some cases the person is only dimly aware of a sinister presence and sees nothing except, possibly, a shadow. In other cases the person sees what look like alien creatures, demons, or paranormal entities. The experience ends when the person wakes up or falls asleep completely.

Sleep paralysis is often put forward as an explanation for alien abduction reports. Before aliens became the bete du jour, people reported being 'hagged' (ridden by an old hag, which was understood to be form of witchcraft), or said they had been attacked by an incubus or succubus--demons that preyed on a semiconscious person's sexual energy.

It's tempting to say, "oh well, now we understand that this is a medical problem called sleep paralysis," but in fact, as long ago as 1989, respected academic folklorist David Hufford was making a reasoned argument that 'sleep paralysis' is a descriptive term for what appears to be a consistent discrete phenomenon that we don't really completely understand.

Hufford's book, The Terror that Comes in the Night, based on his academic study entitled "An Experience Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions." revolutionized the academic study of folklore. Previous to Hufford's careful philosophical analysis, it was assumed that folkloric tales were primitive (read: false) ways of understanding things that science could easily explain better.

In fact, science does not have a great explanation for some things that trigger folkloric explanations, and neither does the study of folklore.

Sleep paralysis or 'hagging' (in the language of folklore) is one these cases.

The casual and superficial debunking of paranormal and UFO or alien phenomena often includes scientific 'explanations' that are actually descriptions that are no more accurate than the folklore explanations that preceded them, of phenomena that we just don't understand very well.

A description is NOT an explanation, and it is even less an argument against the validity of an experience.

Sleep paralysis is a fascinating phenomenon. I myself have experienced it several times when I was much younger. It really is a terrifying and weird experience, but the leap from that experience to the experience of an alien abduction is huge, despite the intriguing similarities.

Before we start snickering at these things, it would be so great if we could look into them with an open mind. And I need to mention here that many respected scientific and academic minds have ask for the same attitude.

We might just discover something nobody expects.

And isn't that what science is supposed to be about?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Significance of Time in UFO Sightings and Alien Abduction Experiences

Time distortions play an important role in many UFO sightings and in nearly all alien abduction experiences. For example:

  • Abductees report episodes of 'missing' time and time distortion most of the time. Sometimes they find themselves unable to account for several hours on a routine trip. Sometimes abductees report feeling like days have passed during the experience when the actual amount of time that passed was hours or minutes.
  • UFO sightings are also sometimes accompanied by time distortions. One especially fascinating distortion (which is by no means universal) involves the stoppage of time. Watches, car ignitions, and digital displays shut down in the presence of a UFO, but often time itself also seems to have stopped. When the vehicle clock is checked again, the sighting seems to have occurred outside of time, as if time itself had stopped, not just the watch.
  • When UFOs at a distance are sighted by pilots and others, the motion of the UFO is often described as jerky or "like a stone skipping on water." In other words, the UFO does not always move in a straight fluid line. Instead it seems to appear one place, then another, then another, with gaps in between, in much the same way that film appears when the reel is slowed way down. Kevin Arnold, who is often credited with the having seen the first UFO (I think this is not correct but it is a standard description) explained the movement of the objects he saw as jerky in this way. Some observers describe it as the UFO 'blinking in and out.'
  • When veteran ufologist John Keel first reported the Men In Black phenomena, he noted that the way these 'men' dressed and spoke, as well as the cars they tended to drive, were 'off' in terms of time. That is, the clothing was from the 40s or 50s, the cars were from that era also, and the slang used was dated to the point of being sometimes comical.
  • One of the most frequently used non-explanations of UFO sightings and alien abductions is temporal lobe epilepsy. The temporal lobe is the part of the brain that processes incoming verbal information and memory, and also, our sense of time.
It seems to me that this might be a clue to what is going on with at least some the more unusual sightings, the ones that can't be explained in other ways. I'm not sure the answer is as simple as 'time travel'. But I do think that in many of the stranger examples, distortions of time are important.

Theoretical physics has already discovered that time is more than a sequence of causal events arranged like a line through space.

Human beings perceive time this way, but that isn't how physicists necessarily understand it. We have to be careful about taking complex ideas and reducing them to New Age blather, but then again, it seems that something genuine is going on here. We just don't know what it is.


I'd like to go on, but I'm not a physicist and I don't have... um, time.

But it's something to consider, no?