The term "abduction phenomenon" describes claims of non-human creatures kidnapping individuals and temporarily removing them from familiar terrestrial surroundings. People alleged to have been abducted are called "abductees" or "experiencers." The abductors, usually interpreted as being extraterrestrial life forms, are said to subject experiencers to a forced medical examination that emphasizes the alleged experiencer's reproductive system. Some aspects of the phenomenon are more benign, however, as the alleged entities often warn against environmental abuse and the dangers of nuclear weapons, consequently, while many of these purported encounters are described as terrifying, some have been viewed as pleasant or transformative.
The first alien abduction narrative to be widely publicized was the Betty and Barney Hill abduction in 1961. Reports of the abduction phenomenon have been made around the world, but are less common outside of English speaking countries, especially the United States. The contents of the abduction narrative often seem to vary with the home culture of the alleged abductee.
Mainstream academics and members of the skeptics movement generally doubt that the phenomenon occurs literally as reported, and have proposed a variety of alternate explanations. Such skeptics often argue that the phenomenon might be a modern-day folk myth or vivid dreams occurring in a state of sleep paralysis. The alien abduction phenomenon has been the subject of conspiracy theories, and as such it has become a staple of popular science fiction works such as The X-Files. At the present time no generally accepted empirical scientific evidence exists to corroborate the claims of abduction proponents.
|CUFOS Definition of an Abductee
|A person must be taken: |
- Against his or her will.
- From terrestrial surroundings.
- By non-human beings.
|The beings must take the person to: |
- An enclosed place.
- Not terrestrial in appearance.
- Assumed or known to be an alien spacecraft by the witness.
| In this place the person must either: |
- Be subjected to an examination.
- Engage in communication (verbal or telepathic).
- Or both.
| These experiences may be remembered: |
- Or through methods of focused concentration (e.g. hypnosis).
Few mainstream scientists believe the phenomenon literally occurs as reported, and most people contend the field is rife with kooks
. However, there is little doubt that many apparently stable persons who report alien abductions are sincere: as reported in the Harvard University Gazette
in 1992, Dr. John Edward Mack
investigated over 60 claimed abductees, and "spent countless therapeutic hours with these individuals only to find that what struck him was the 'ordinariness' of the population, including a restaurant owner, several secretaries, a prison guard, college students, a university administrator, and several homemakers ... 'The majority of abductees do not appear to be deluded
, lying, self-dramatizing, or suffering from a clear mental illness
,' he maintained." "While psychopathology is indicated in some isolated alien abduction cases," Stanley Krippner
et al confirmed, "assessment by both clinical examination and standardized tests has shown that, as a group, abduction experients are not different from the general population in term of psychopathology prevalence." Other experts who have argued that abductees' mental health is no better or worse than average include psychologists John Wilson and Rima Laibow, and psychotherapist David Gotlib.
Some abduction reports are quite detailed. An entire subculture has developed around the subject, with support groups and a detailed mythos explaining the reasons for abductions: The various aliens (Greys, Reptilians, "Nordics" and so on) are said to have specific roles, origins, and motivations. Abduction claimants do not always attempt to explain the phenomenon, but some take independent research interest in it themselves, and explain the lack of greater awareness of alien abduction as the result of either extraterrestrial or governmental interest in cover-up.
Perception of the abduction phenomenon
Others are intrigued by the entire phenomenon, but hesitate in making any definitive conclusions. Emergency room physician Dr. John G. Miller asks, "How can a person have any firmly held belief about this when it's so mysterious? The opinions of the true believers are hard to swallow; and the opinions of the die-hard skeptics are not based on reality either. There is
some middle ground ... It's clear that this is some sort of powerful subjective experience. But I do not know what the objective reality is. It's as if the evidence leads us in both directions." (Bryan, 162) Similarly, the late Harvard
psychiatrist John Mack
concluded, "The furthest you can go at this point is to say there's an authentic mystery here.
And that is, I think, as far as anyone ought
to go." (emphasis as in original) (Bryan, 269)
Putting aside the question of whether abduction reports are literally and objectively "real", literature professor Terry Matheson argues that their popularity and their intriguing appeal are easily understood. Tales of abduction "are intrinsically absorbing; it is hard to imagine a more vivid description of human powerlessness." After experiencing the frisson of delightful terror one may feel from reading ghost stories or watching horror movies, Matheson notes that people "can return to the safe world of their homes, secure in the knowledge that the phenomenon in question cannot follow. But as the abduction myth has stated almost from the outset, there is no avoiding alien abductors." (Matheson, 297)
Once hypnotized and supposedly recalling an abduction event, some people relate the event calmly, while others may beg for the event to stop, cry in apparent horror, shout angrily or tremble with fear.
Matheson writes that when compared to the earlier contactee reports, abduction accounts are distinguished by their "relative sophistication and subtlety, which enabled them to enjoy an immediately more favorable reception from the public."
The abduction narrative
Although different cases vary in detail (sometimes significantly), some UFO researchers, such as folklorist Thomas E. Bullard
argue that there is a broad, fairly consistent sequence and description of events which make up the typical "close encounter
of the fourth kind" (a popular but unofficial designation building on Dr. J. Allen Hynek
's classifying terminology). Though the features outlined below are often reported, there is some disagreement as to exactly how often they actually occur. Some researchers (especially Budd Hopkins
and David Michael Jacobs
) have been accused of excluding, minimising or suppressing testimony or data which do not fit a certain paradigm
for the phenomenon.
Bullard argues most abduction accounts feature the following events. They generally follow the sequence noted below, though not all abductions feature all the events:
- Capture. The abductee is forcibly taken from terrestrial surroundings to an apparent alien space craft.
- Examination. Invasive medical or scientific procedures are performed on the abductee.
- Conference. The abductors speak to the abductee.
- Tour. The abductees are given a tour of their captors' vessel.
- Loss of Time. Abductees rapidly forget the majority of their experience.
- Return. The abductees are returned to earth. Occasionally in a different location from where they were allegedly taken or with new injuries or disheveled clothing.
- Theophany. The abductee has a profound mystical experience, accompanied by a feeling of oneness with God or the universe.
- Aftermath. The abductee must cope with the psychological, physical, and social effects of the experience.
When describing the "abduction scenario", David M. Jacobs says:
The entire abduction event is precisely orchestrated. All the procedures are predetermined. There is no standing around and deciding what to do next. The beings are task-oriented and there is no indication whatsoever that we have been able to find of any aspect of their lives outside of performing the abduction procedures.
Abduction claimants report unusual feelings preceding the onset of an abduction experience. These feelings manifest as a compulsive
desire to be at a certain place at a certain time or as expectations that something "familiar yet unknown," will soon occur. Abductees also report feeling severe, undirected anxiety
at this point even though nothing unusual has actually occurred yet. This period of foreboding can last for up to several days before the abduction actually takes place or be completely absent.
Eventually, the experiencer will undergo an apparent "shift" into an altered state of consciousness. British abduction researchers have called this change in consciousness "the Oz Factor." External sounds cease to have any significance to the experiencer and fall out of perception. They report feeling introspective and unusually calm. This stage marks a transition from normal activity to a state of "limited self-willed mobility." As consciousness shifts one or more lights are alleged to appear, occasionally accompanied by a strange mist. The source and nature of the lights differ by report, sometimes the light emanates from a source outside the house (presumably the abductors' UFO), sometimes the lights are in the bedroom with the experiencer and transform into alien figures.
As the alleged abduction proceeds, claimants say they will walk or be levitated into an alien craft, often through solid objects like walls or a window. Alternatively, they may experience rising through a tunnel with or without the abductors accompanying them into the awaiting craft.
Most abductees report being taken from their bedroom prior to falling asleep. Typically, at the onset of the abduction experience, the abductee will report paralysis, sighting a bright light, and the appearance of humanoid figures.
In many abduction reports, the individual(s) concerned are traveling by automobile at the time of the incident, usually at night or in the early morning hours, and usually in a rural or sparsely populated area. A UFO will be seen ahead, (sometimes on the road) and the driver will either deliberately stop to investigate, or the car will stop due to apparent mechanical failure. Other forms of mechanical failure and interference are also common, such as a car radio producing static or behaving abnormally. Such descriptions match that of an EM pulse, which can be both naturally and artificially induced. In the occasions when they have been present, animals such as dogs usually also display a heightened fear response.
Upon getting out of the vehicle, the driver and passenger(s) often will experience a blank period and amnesia (see missing time), after which they will find themselves again standing in front of, or driving their car. While they frequently will not consciously remember the experience, either subsequent nightmares or hypnosis will reveal events interpreted as having occurred during the period lacking explicit memory.
The examination phase of the so-called "abduction narrative" is characterized by the performance of medical procedures and examinations by apparently alien beings
against or irrespective to the will of the experiencer. Such procedures often focus on sex
and reproductive biology
. However, the literature holds reports of a wide variety of procedures allegedly performed by the beings. The entity that appears to be in charge of the operation is often taller than the others involved.
Miller notes different areas of emphasis between human medicine and what is allegedly being practiced by the abductors. The abductors' areas of interest appear to be the cranium (see below), nervous system, skin, reproductive system, and to a lesser degree, the joints. Systems given less attention than a human doctor would, or omitted entirely include cardiovascular system, the respiratory system below the pharynx and the lymphatic system. The abductors also appear to ignore the upper region of the abdomen in favor of the lower one.
There are also differences in procedure as well as emphasis between human medicine and that claimed to be practiced by the entities. Interestingly, the abductors don't appear to wear gloves during the "examination." Other constants of terrestrial medicine like pills and tablets are missing from abduction narratives although sometimes abductees are asked to drink liquids. Injections also seem to be rare and IVs are almost completely absent. Dr. Miller says he's never heard an abductee claim to have a tongue depressor used on them.
Subsequent Abduction Procedures
After the so-called medical exam, the alleged abductees often report other procedures being performed with the entities. Common among these post-examination procedures are what abduction researchers refer to as imaging, envisioning, staging, and testing.
"Imaging" procedures consist of an abductee being made to view screens displaying images and scenes that appear to be specially chosen with the intent to provoke certain emotional responses in the abductee. "Envisioning" is a similar procedure, with the primary difference being that the images being viewed, rather than being on a screen, actually seem to be projected into the experiencer's mind. "Staging" procedures have the abductee playing a more active role, according to reports containing this element. It shares vivid hallucination-like mental visualization with the envisioning procedures, but during staging the abductee interacts with the illusionary scenario like a role player or an actor.
"Testing" marks something of a departure from the above procedures in that it lacks the emotional analysis feature. During testing the experiencer is placed in front of a complicated electronic device and is instructed to operate it. The experiencer is often confused, saying that they don't know how to operate it. However, when they actually set about performing the task, the abductee will find that they do, in fact, know how to operate the machine.
Abductees of all ages and genders sometimes report being subjected to a "child presentation." As its name implies, the child presentation involves the abduction claimant being shown a "child." Often the children appear to be neither human, nor the same species
as the abductors. Instead, the child will almost always share characteristics of both species
. These children are labeled by experiencers as hybrids
between humans and their abductors, usually Greys
. It has been speculated that these children are the products of the reproductive procedures performed during the medical phase of the abduction.
Unlike Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs, folklorist Thomas Bullard could not identify a child presentation phase in the abduction narrative, even after undertaking a study of 300 abduction reports. Bullard says that the child presentation "seems to be an innovation in the story." And that "no clear antecedents" to descriptions of the child presentation phase exists prior to its popularization by Hopkins and Jacobs.
Less common elements
Folklorist Dr. Thomas E. Bullard conducted a study of 300 reports of alien abduction in an attempt to observe the less prominent aspects of the claims. He notes the emergence of four general categories of events which recur regularly, although not as frequently as stereotypical happenings like the medical examination. These four types of events are:
- The conference.
- The tour.
- The journey.
Chronologically within abduction reports these rarer episodes tend to happen in the order listed, between the medical examination and the return.
After allegedly displaying cold callous disregard towards the abduction experiencers, sometimes the entities will change drastically in behavior once the initial medical exam is completed. They become more relaxed and hospitable towards their captive and lead him or her away from the site of the examination. The entities then hold a conference with the experiencer, wherein they discuss things relevant to the abduction phenomenon. Bullard notes five general categories of discussion that occur during the conference "phase" of reported abduction narratives: An interrogation session, explanatory segment, task assignment, warnings, and prophecies.
Tours of the abductors' craft are a rare but recurring feature of the abduction narrative. The tour seems to be given by the alleged abductors as a courtesy in response to the harshness and physical rigors of the forced medical examination. Sometimes the abductee report traveling on a "journey" to orbit around earth or to what appear to be other planets. While some abductees find that the experience is terrifying, particularly if the aliens are of a more fearsome species, or if the abductee was subjected to extensive probing and medical testing, other abductees experience "theophany" — a sense of oneness with the universe or with God.
Eventually the abductors will return the abductees to terra firma
, usually to exactly the same location and circumstances they were in prior to being taken. Usually, explicit memories of the abduction experience will not be present, and the abductee will realize they've experienced "missing time" upon checking a timepiece.
Dr. Don C. Donderi writes that "In many of these abduction accounts, there is independent confirmation of missing time--emotionally stable people arriving hours late after long or short automobile journeys. There is independent confirmation of abduction events reported under hypnosis, sometimes by non hypnotized observers and sometimes by other hypnotized witnesses" (Donderi, 66)
Sometimes the alleged abductors appear to make mistakes when returning their captives. Famed UFO researcher Budd Hopkins has joked about "the cosmic application of Murphy's Law" in response to this observation. Hopkins has estimated that these "errors" accompany 4-5% of abduction reports. One type of common apparent mistake made by the abductors is failing to return the experiencer to the same spot that they were taken from initially. This can be as simple as a different room in the same house, or abductees can even find themselves outside and all the doors of the house are locked from the inside.
Physician and abduction researcher John G. Miller sees significance in the reason a person would come to see themselves as being a victim of the abduction phenomenon. He terms the insight or development leading to this shift in identity from non-abductee to abductee the "realization event." The realization event is often a single, memorable experience, but Miller reports that not all abductees experience it as a distinct episode. Either way, the realization event can be thought of as the "clinical horizon
" of the abduction experience.
Although the alien abduction phenomenon, assuming it corresponds with objective reality, seems to be an enigma, sometimes the alleged abductors give information regarding the motivations and goals underlying the bizarre procedures of the abduction event. Dr. John G. Miller says that in the cases he's studied, abductees report that when they ask their captors why the invasive and humiliating medical procedures are being performed on them, the entity will often answer with a statement expressing sentiments like "We have the right to do this."
Randles says that the reported motivation formed a loose narrative centered on long term surveillance and interaction. The entities target certain individuals for some unique quality and abduct them repeatedly. During the abductions information is supposedly being subconsciously implanted to be "activated" by the entities at some later time. This time is sometimes claimed to correspond to some major change on earth that the entities desire to assist us in dealing with. She notes that different types of reported entity are said to have differing motivations, with the "Nordic" type being more benevolent than the "Grays."
Sometimes a single abduction claim will report multiple types of entities appearing to work together cooperatively.
Regarding the various types of reported abducting beings, folklorist and abduction researcher Thomas E. Bullard says "The small showing for monstrous types and the fact that they concentrate in less reliable cases should disappoint skeptics who look for the origin of abductions in the influence of Hollywood. Nothing like the profusion of imaginative screen aliens appears in the abduction literature."
Bullard, in something of a concession to skeptics, has noted that the presence or absence hypnosis as a method for memory retrieval in abduction claimants seems to effect descriptions of the abductors themselves. Hypnotically assisted recall is more likely to produce descriptions of the "standard" Grey humanoid while cases where hypnosis was not used "include more variety."
As a category, abductees have some psychological characteristics that render their testimony suspect. Dr. Elizabeth Slater conducted a blind study of nine abduction claimants and found them to be prone to "mildly paranoid thinking," nightmares and having a weak sexual identity. According to Yvonne Smith, some alleged abductees test positive for lupus
, despite not showing any symptoms.
Alleged abductees are seen by many pro-abduction researchers to have a higher incidence of non-abduction related paranormal events and abilities. Following an abduction experience, these paranormal abilities and occurrences sometimes seem to become more pronounced. According to investigator Benton Jamison, abduction experiencers who report UFO sightings that should have been, but are not, reported by independent corroborating witnesses often seem to "be 'psychic personalities' in the sense of Jan Ehrenwald."
In a study investigating the motivations of the alleged abductors, Jenny Randles found that in each of the four cases out of fifty total where the experiencer was over forty years of age or more, they were rejected by the aliens for "what they (the experiencers) usually inferred to be a medical reason."Randles concludes "[T]he abduction is essentially a young person's experience." Given the reproductive focus of the alleged abductions it is not surprising that one man reported being rejected because he had undergone a vasectomy. It could also be partially because people over the age of forty are less likely to have "hormonic" or reproductive activity going on.
Although abduction and other UFO-related reports are usually made by adults, sometimes young children report similar experiences. These child-reports often feature very specific details in common with reports of abduction made by adults, including the cirumstances, narrative, entities and aftermaths of the alleged occurrences. Oftentimes these young abductees have family members who have reported having abduction experiences. Family involvement in the military, or a residence near a military base is also common amongst child abduction claimants.
As noted below, the Antonio Villas Boas
case (1957) and the Hill abduction
(1961) were the first cases of UFO abduction to earn widespread attention.
Though these two cases are sometimes viewed as the earliest abductions, skeptic Peter Rogerson notes this assertion is incorrect: the Hill and Boas abductions, he contends, were only the first "canonical" abduction cases, establishing a template that later abductees and researchers would refine, but rarely deviate from. Additionally, Rogerson notes purported abductions were cited contemporaneously at least as early as 1954, and that "the growth of the abduction stories is a far more tangled affair than the 'entirely unpredisposed' official history would have us believe." (The phrase "entirely unpredisposed" appeared in folklorist Thomas E. Bullard's study of alien abduction; he argued that alien abductions as reported in the 1970s and 1980s had little precedent in folklore or fiction.) See "external links" for all four parts of Rogerson's article.
While "alien abduction" did not achieve widespread attention until the 1960s, there were many similar stories circulating decades earlier. These early abduction-like accounts have been dubbed "paleo-abductions" by UFO researcher Jerome Clark
. This same two-part article (and ) makes note of many paleo-abductions, some of which were reported well before the 1957 Antonio Villas Boas
case earned much attention, or even before the UFO report claimed in 1947 by pilot Kenneth Arnold
that first generated widespread interest in UFOs:
- There was at least one case of attempted abduction reported in conjunction with the mystery airships of the late 1800s. Colonel H. G. Shaw's account was published in the Stockton, California Daily Mail in 1897: Shaw claimed that he and a friend were harassed by three tall, slender humanoids whose bodies were covered with a fine, downy hair. The beings tried to accost or kidnap Shaw and his friend, who were able to fight them off.
- In his 1923 book, New Lands, American writer Charles Fort speculated that extraterrestrial beings might have kidnapped humans: "One supposes that if extra-mundane vessels have sometimes come close to this earth, then sailing away, terrestrial aëronauts may have occasionally left this earth, or may have been seized and carried away from this earth."
- In 1954, Paris Match printed a story said to have occurred in 1921, when the anonymous writer was a child. The writer claimed to have been snatched by two tall "men" who wore helmets and "diving suits" and who took the boy to an "oddly shaped tank" before being released. Rogerson calls this story "the earliest known abduction survivor report."
- A 1958 letter to NICAP asserted that two U.S. Army soldiers witnessed two bright red lights near their base. The soldiers had a strange sense of dissociation, and found themselves in a new location, with no memory of how they arrived there.
- Rogerson writes that the 1955 publication of Harold T. Wilkins's Flying Saucers Uncensored declared that two contactees, (Karl Hunrath and Wilbur Wilkinson) had disappeared under mysterious circumstances; Wilkins reported speculation that the duo were the victims of "alleged abduction by flying saucers".
- The so-called Shaver Mystery of the 1940s has some similarities to later abduction accounts, as well, with sinister beings said to be kidnapping and torturing people. Rogerson writes that John Robinson (a friend of ufology gadfly Jim Moseley) made a 1957 appearance on John Nebel's popular overnight radio program to tell "a dramatically spooky, if not very plausible, abduction tale" related to the Shaver Mystery: Robinson claimed that a friend of his had been held captive by the evil Deros beneath the Earth, and to have been the victim of a sort of mind control via small "earphones"; Rogerson writes that "in this unlikely tale that we first encounter the implants ... and other abductionist staples."
The UFO contactees
of the 1950s claimed to have contacted aliens, and the substance of contactee narratives are often regarded as quite different from alien abduction accounts.
However, Rogerson contends that it is often difficult to determine the division between contactees and abductees, with classification sometimes seeming arbitrary.
Two landmark cases
Allegedly genuine stories of kidnap by extraterrestrials goes back at least to the mid-1950s, with the Antonio Villas Boas
case (which didn't receive much attention until several years later).
Widespread publicity was generated by the Betty and Barney Hill abduction case of 1961 (again not widely known until several years afterwards), culminating in a made for television film broadcast in 1975 (starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons) dramatizing the events. The Hill incident was probably the prototypical abduction case, and was perhaps the first in which:
- The beings that later became widely known as the Greys (who also went on to become the most common type of extraterrestrial to feature in abduction reports) were encountered.
- The beings explicitly identified an extraterrestrial origin (the star Zeta Reticuli was later suspected as their point of origin.)
If we include such clearly fictional sources as science fiction movies and pulps, the phenomena might be traced back to the 1930s.
Neither the contactees nor these early abduction accounts, however, saw much attention from ufology, then still largely reluctant to consider close encounters of the third kind, where occupants of UFOs are allegedly interacted with.
Undoubtedly, the Barney and Betty Hill case is one of, if not the most famous case of purported abduction ever. Barney and Betty were driving home on a road free from other cars late one night. They both saw an odd light coming at them from above. They then blacked out and found themselves back on the road, driving. The only thing odd was it was two hours later than when they had seen the light. They both went to psychologists and hypnotists. They learned of the Grey on board the ship that had abducted them. See Barney and Betty Hill for more depth.
Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle
(a University of Wyoming
psychologist) became interested in the abduction phenomenon in the 1960s. For some years, he was probably the only academic figure devoting any time to studying or researching abduction accounts. Sprinkle became convinced of the phenomenon's actuality, and was perhaps the first to suggest a link between abductions and cattle mutilation
. Eventually Sprinkle came to believe that he had been abducted by aliens in his youth; he was forced from his job in 1989. (Bryan, 145fn)
Budd Hopkins—a painter and sculptor by profession—had been interested in UFOs for some years. In the 1970s he became interested in abduction reports, and began using hypnosis in order to extract more details of dimly remembered events. Hopkins soon became a figurehead of the growing abductee subculture. (Schnabel 1994)
The 1980s brought a major degree of mainstream attention to the subject. Works by Budd Hopkins, Whitley Strieber, David M. Jacobs and John Mack presented alien abduction as a genuine phenomenon. (Schnabel 1994)
Also of note in the 1980s was the publication of folklorist Dr. Thomas E. Bullard's comparative analysis of nearly 300 alleged abductees. The mid and late 1980s saw the involvement of two esteemed academic figures: Harvard psychiatrist John Mack and historian David M. Jacobs.
With Hopkins, Jacobs and Mack, several shifts occurred in the nature of the abduction narratives. There had been earlier abduction reports (the Hills being the best known), but they were believed to be few and far between, and saw rather little attention from ufology (and even less attention from mainstream professionals or academics). Jacobs and Hopkins argued that alien abduction was far more common than earlier suspected; they estimate that tens of thousands (or more) North Americans had been taken by unexplained beings. (Schnabel 1994)
Furthermore, Jacobs and Hopkins argued that there was an elaborate scheme underway, that the aliens were attempting a program to create human–alien hybrids, though the motives for this scheme were unknown. There were anecdotal reports of phantom pregnancy related to UFO encounters at least as early as the 1960s, but Budd Hopkins and especially David M. Jacobs were instrumental in popularizing the idea of widespread, systematic interbreeding efforts on the part of the alien intruders. Despite the relative paucity of corroborative evidence, Jacobs presents this scenario as not only plausible, but self-evident. Hopkins and Jacobs have also been criticized for selective citation of abductee interviews, favoring those which support their hypothesis of extraterrestrial intervention.
The involvement of Jacobs and Mack marked something of a sea change in the abduction studies. Their efforts were controversial (both men saw some degree of damage to their professional reputations), but to other observers, Jacobs and Mack brought a degree of respectability to the subject. Joe Montaldo
Matheson writes that "if Jacobs's credentials were impressive," then those of Harvard
psychiatrist John Edward Mack
might seem "impeccable" in comparison. (Matheson, 251) Mack was a well known, highly esteemed psychiatrist, author of over 150 scientific articles and winner of the Pulitzer Prize
for his biography of T. E. Lawrence
. Mack became interested in the phenomenon in the late 1980s, interviewing dozens of people, and eventually writing two books on the subject.
In June 1992, Mack co-organized a five-day conference at MIT to discuss and debate the abduction phenomenon. The conference attracted a wide range of professionals, representing a variety of perspectives. (In response to this conference, Mack and Jacobs were awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in 1993).
Writer C. D. Bryan attended the conference, initially intending to gather information for a short humorous article for The New Yorker. While attending the conference, however, Bryan's view of the subject changed, and he wrote a serious, open-minded book on the phenomenon, additionally interviewing many abductees, skeptics, and proponents.
There have been a variety of explanations offered for abduction phenomena, ranging from sharply skeptical appraisals to uncritical acceptance of all abductee claims. Others have elected not to try explaining things, instead noting similarities to other phenomena, or simply documenting the development of the alien abduction phenomenon.
Paranormal and conspiratorial
- Some have argued that alien abduction is a literal phenomenon: extraterrestrials kidnap humans in order to conduct studies or experiments. This is a well-known popular explanation, but has seen very little support from most mainstream scientists.
- In a lengthy article, Martin Cannon makes the admittedly speculative argument that memories of alien abductions might in fact have been created in the "abductees" by a secret government mind control program, such as MKULTRA.
- Various authors, for example Jacques Vallée and John Mack have suggested that the dichotomy, 'real' versus 'imaginary', may be too simplistic; that a proper understanding of this complex phenomenon may require a reevaluation of our concept of the nature of reality.
Skeptical perspectives on the abduction phenomenon
are those opinions which assert that reports of people being kidnapped and subjected to forced medical examinations by non-human creatures do not occur literally as reported. Although being only one of many competing explanations for the phenomenon, it is the only one that is widely accepted by mainstream scientists
. Alternative explanations, such as the extraterrestrial hypothesis
, are dismissed by academics as being pseudoscientific
Various hypotheses have been proposed by skeptics to explain reports without the need to invoke non-parsimonious concepts such as intelligent extraterrestrial life forms. These hypotheses usually center on known psychological processes that can produce subjective experiences similar to those reported in abduction claims. Skeptics are also likely to critically examine abduction claims for evidence of hoaxing or influence from popular culture sources such as science fiction. One example of a comprehensive, skeptical analysis that focuses on the effects of mass marketing is art historian John F. Moffitt's 2003 book Picturing Extraterrestrials: Alien Images in Modern Mass Culture
Some skeptical perspectives
- Proposed psychological alternative explanations of the abduction phenomenon have included hallucination, temporary schizophrenia, epileptic seizures and parasomnia—near-sleep mental states (hypnogogic states, night terrors and sleep paralysis). Sleep paralysis in particular is often accompanied by hallucinations and peculiar sensation of malevolent or neutral presence of "something," though usually people experiencing it do not interpret that "something" as aliens. Occasionally the abduction phenomenon is also theorized to be a confused memory of past events (such as sexual abuse).
- It is possible that some alleged abductees may be mentally unstable or under the influence of recreational drugs, though, as noted above, at least four mental health experts have argued against this explanation.
- In The Demon-Haunted World astronomer Carl Sagan (who failed to cite some other authors, including Schnabel) pointed out that the alien abduction experience is remarkably similar to tales of demon abduction common throughout history. "...most of the central elements of the alien abduction account are present, including sexually obsessive non-humans who live in the sky, walk through walls, communicate telepathically, and perform breeding experiments on the human species. Unless we believe that demons really exist, how can we understand so strange a belief system, embraced by the whole Western world (including those considered the wisest among us), reinforced by personal experience in every generation, and taught by Church and State? Is there any real alternative besides a shared delusion based on common brain wiring and chemistry?" (Sagan 1996 124)
- It has also been noted that Terence McKenna described seeing "Machine Elves" while experimenting with Dimethyltryptamine (also known as DMT). The description of Machine Elves is often consistent with the description of "grey" aliens. In a 1988 study conducted at UNM, psychiatrist Rick Strassman found that approximately 20% of volunteers injected with high doses of DMT had experiences identical to purported Alien Abductions.
Abduction skeptic Robert Sheaffer notes similarities between claims of witchcraft and claims of alien abductions. He notes similar imagery involving non-human creatures, uncovered memories and sex being involved in both the abduction phenomenon and the activities of those accused of witchcraft. Sheaffer finds the commonalities compelling and suggests that the two movements share a common underlying psychopathology.
- Researchers in the field of NDE and OBE notice the similarities between abduction experiences and OBEs, thus leading them to the conclusion that abduction experiences are closely related to out-of-body experiences.
- Author Carl Sagan, in a minor piece in Parade Magazine (1993), was among the first to examine the explicit relationships between the alien abduction phenomenon and historical narratives of abduction by demons and fairies.
- Science writer Jim Schnabel tied modern-day abduction narratives to those of 16-17th century demonic possession and witchcraft cases, some current Third World spirit-possession syndromes, and even the sexual abuse and "satanic ritual abuse" claims that mesmerized many American psychiatrists in the 1980s and 1990s. Schnabel pointed out that the social dynamics in all these cases also typically feature a male priest or therapist surrounded by a bevy of females competing for his attention -- and scandalous tales of these males succumbing to all this temptation and having sex with their "patients" are as old as the abduction-type narratives themselves. In his 1994 book Dark White and in a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Dissociation, Schnabel argued that the alien abduction phenomenon, at least as it has evolved around American "abduction therapists" like Budd Hopkins, David Jacobs and John Mack, is part of a spectrum of culturally-specific phenomena perhaps best known as "self-victimization syndromes."
- California based therapist Gwen Dean noted forty-four parallels between alien abduction and satanic ritual abuse (SRA). Both emerged as widespread phenomena in the late 1970s and early 1980s, both often use hypnosis to recover lost or suppressed memory. Furthermore, the scenarios and narratives offered by abductees and SRA victims feature many similar elements: both are typically said to begin when the experiencer is in their youth; both are said to involve entire families and to occur generationally; the alien examination table is similar to the satanic altar; both phenomena focus on genitals, rape, sexuality and breeding; witnesses often report that the events happen when they are in altered states of consciousness; both phenomena feature episodes of "missing time" when the events are said to occur, but of which the victim has no conscious memory. (Bryan, 138-139)
- It is worth noting that many events reported during purported abductions often have parallels in anthropology, folklore and religion: Especially frequently correlate with certain imagery persistent in shamanic experiences (e.g., surgery-like procedures, foreign objects implanted in the body) and faerie contact stories, for instance. John Edward Mack, for one, suggested that modern abduction accounts should be considered as part of this larger history of visionary encounters. Jaques Vallee has written extensively on the similarity between the present alien abduction phenomenon and the tradition of human encounters with fairies.
Attempts at confirmation
If actual "flesh and blood" aliens are abducting humans, there should be some hard evidence that this is occurring. Proponents of the physical reality of the abduction experience have suggested ways that could conceivably confirm abduction reports.
One procedure reported occurring during the alleged exam phase of the experience is the insertion of a long needle-like contraption into a woman's navel. Some have speculated that this could be a form of laparoscopy. If this is true, after the abduction there should be free gas in the lady's abdomen, which could be seen on an x-ray. The presence of free gas would be extremely abnormal, and would help substantiate the claim of some sort of procedure being done to her.
Abduction researcher Brian Thompson
claims that a nurse acquaintance of his reported that during 1957 in Cincinnati she encountered a 3 foot tall praying mantis-like entity two days after a V-shaped UFO sighting. This mantis-like creature is reminiscent of the insectoid-type entity reported in some abduction accounts. He related this report to fellow researcher Leo Stringfield
. Stringfield told him of two cases he had in his files where separate witnesses reported identical circumstances in the same place and year.
While some corroborated accounts seem to support the literal reality of the abduction experience, others seem to support a psychological explanation for the phenomenon's origins. Jenny Randles and Keith Basterfield both noted at the 1992 MIT alien abduction conference that of the five cases they knew of where an abduction researcher was present at the onset of an abduction experience, the experiencer "didn't physically go anywhere."
Brazilian researcher Gilda Moura reported on a similar case, the Sueli case, from her home country. When psychologist and UFO researcher Don Donderi said that these cases were "evidence of psychological processes" that didn't "have anything to do with a physical alien abduction," Moura replied "If the Sueli case is not an abduction, I don't know what is an abduction any more." Gilda Moura noted that in the Brazilian Sueli case during the abduction UFOs were observed. Later, she claims the experiencer had eye burns, saw lights and there seemed to be residual poltergiest activity.
Notable abduction claims
- C.D.B. Bryan, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: Alien Abduction, UFOs and the Conference at M.I.T., Alfred A. Knopf, 1995, ISBN 0-679-42975-1
- Susan A. Clancy, Abducted: How People Come To Believe They Were Kidnapped By Aliens, Harvard University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-674-01879-6
- Don Donderi, "Science, Law and War: Alternative Frameworks for the UFO Evidence" (pp. 56-81 in UFOs and Abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge, edited by David M. Jacobs, University Press of Kansas, 2000, ISBN)
- Guy Malone, Come Sail Away: UFO Phenomenon & The Bible, Seekye1 Publishing, 1998, ISBN 1-893-78800-8 Read online at http://www.seekye1.com
- Terry Matheson, Alien Abduction: Creating A Modern Phenomenon, Prometheus Books, 1998, ISBN 1-57392-244-7
- Michael Persinger, "The UFO Experience: A Normal Correlate of Human Brain Function", pages 262-302 in UFOs and Abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge, David M. Jacobs, editor. University Press of Kansas, 2000; ISBN 0-7006-1032-4)
- Christopher F. Roth, "Ufology as Anthropology: Race, Extraterrestrials, and the Occult." In E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces, ed. by Debbora Battaglia. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005.
- Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark, Ballantine Books, 1996, ISBN 0-345-40946-9
- Jim Schnabel " Claims of alien abduction and some other traumas as self-victimization syndromes". Dissociation 7 (1): 51-62. March 1994. ISSN 0896-2863.
- Jim Schnabel, Dark White: Aliens, Abductions and the UFO Obsession, Hamish Hamilton/Penguin,1994, ISBN-10: 0241134153
- Jenny Randles, "My View of Abductions" (The Anomalist, edited by Patrick Huyghe) 1999; online at http://www.anomalist.com/commentaries/abductions.html
- Joe Montaldo Alien Abduction Investigator for 25 years International Director, and Spokesperson for I.C.A.R. the International Community for Alien Research. (www.icar1.com)
- Joachim D. Koch New Discoveries in Betty Hill's Star Map
Alien abduction literature
- Robert E. Bartholomew & George S. Howard: UFOs & Alien Contact: Two Centuries of Mystery (1998)
- Tony Dodd: Alien Investigator (1999) ISBN 978-0-7472-6141-4
- Bonnie Jean Hamilton: Invitation to the Self; journey with the star people (2005) ISBN 978-1-4116-2673-7
- Budd Hopkins: Missing Time (1983)
- Budd Hopkins: Intruders: The Incredible Visitations at Copley Woods (1987)
- Budd Hopkins: Witnessed: The True Story of the Brooklyn Bridge Abduction (1996)
- Budd Hopkins: Sight Unseen: Science, UFO Invisibility, and Transgenic Beings (2003)
- David M. Jacobs: Secret Life: Firsthand Accounts of UFO Abductions (1992)
- David M. Jacobs: The Threat (1998)
- David M. Jacobs: UFOs and Abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge (2000)
- Terry Matheson: Alien Abductions: Creating a Modern Phenomenon (1998)
- John Mack: Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens (1994)
- John Mack: Passport to the Cosmos (1999)
- Nick Pope: The Uninvited: An Expose of the Alien Abduction Phenomenon (1997)
- Nick Pope: Open Skies, Closed Minds (2001)
- Whitley Strieber: Communion (1987)
- Whitley Strieber: Transformation: The Breakthrough (1998)
- Whitley Strieber: Confirmation (1999)
- Joe Montaldo Alien Abduction Investigator for 25 years International Director, and Spokesperson for I.C.A.R. the International Community for Alien Research.
- Futurama - according to the show, by the year 3000 A.D., flying saucer abductions have become quite commonplace, and usually deemed a "harmless nuisance", except in cases when humans are illegally poached for body parts for sale on the black market.
- Fire in the Sky - Book and film. Fictionalized account of what allegedly happened to Travis Walton.
- The Grays - Whitley Strieber's 2007 novel.
- Independence Day - An abductee avenges himself by destroying a UFO hovering over Area-51.
- The McPherson Tape & Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County - Hoax video recording of a family on the eve of abduction by aliens.
- Rock 'N' Roll Babes from Outer Space - Linda Jaivin's 1999 novel depicts three extraterrestrials who "abduct humans, perform sexual experiments, and form a rock 'n' roll band."
- Star Wars - In Episode II the alien race known as the Kaminoans, experts in cloning, were designed to appear similar to the gray aliens common to abduction reports.
- The X-Files - Gray aliens feature prominently in the television series.
- ICAR International Community for Alien Research
- The organization UFO Casebook also conducts similar research, and has a list of the different entities people have reportedly been in contact with during abductions.
- The John E. Mack institute is described their "mission" as "to explore the frontiers of human experience, to serve the transformation of individual consciousness, and to further the evolution of the paradigms by which we understand human identity."
- The organization MAAR conducts research into alien abductions, especially about the aliens reported by abductees and witnesses.
The International Community for Alien Research (I.C.A.R)