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The Scientific Context of the UFO/Abduction Phenomenon



[Don Donderi is Associate Professor of Psychology at McGill Universitv,
Montreal, Conada. His basic research interests include human perception
and memory, and his applied work is in the field of human factors and
ergonomics. He is a principal of Human Factors North, Inc., a
Toronto-based ergonomics consulting firm.]

(IUR, International UFO Reporter, Spring 1996, Volume 21, Number 1;
Copyright 1996 by the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, 2457 West
Peterson Ave., Chicago, IL 60659, published bimonthly with a
subscription rate of $25/yr.)


The purpose of this essay is to explain how to clarify the evidence for
or against the reality of UFO abductions. Many workers in this field
have modified the conventional meaning of both the word "reality" and
the word "abduction." I do not accept these modifications. A UFO
abduction, if it occurs, is a physical event. A person is taken aboard
an extraterrestrial spacecraft and interacts with its crew. If this
event is imagined, then it is not a physical event, it is an imaginary
one. If the event happened before and it is being relived in the
present, then it is a reexperiencing, not an abduction. There is nothing
wrong with either imagining or memory as a description of human
experience. A reexperiencing is clearly evidence for an earlier
abduction, if it can be separated from an imagining, which is based on
the incorporation of other people's experience (through conversation,
books, or films) into one's own experience. But in no case is an
imagining evidence of an abduction. By misusing the descriptive
categories of language, and calling imaginings and reexperiencing
"abduction reports," confusion is produced which can only bring the
substantial evidence for the physical reality of UFO abductions into


What is the UFO abduction phenomenon? To abduct means to "carry off or
lead away (a person) illegally and in secret or by force, esp. to
kidnap."(1) Anyone who reports that he or she has been carried away by
force is reporting an abduction. Since we are obviously only concerned
with abductions by nonhuman extraterrestrials, the carrying-away must be
reported as done by nonhuman extraterrestrials. Evidence for the
nonhumanness of the abductors comes from the appearance of the
abductors, the tools they use, including the methods of enforcing the
abduction, the things they do, and the locations to which the abductee
is taken. If none of these are nonhuman, then we are talking about an
abduction experience, but one which can be explained as caused by
humans. "Abduction phenomenon" in this essay means the abduction of
humans by nonhuman extraterrestrials as described here.

False, imagined, and real experiences. The second problem in discussing
the abduction phenomenon is to evaluate the source of the reports. I am
perfectly capable of reporting an abduction experience on the basis of
my accumulated knowledge. I know enough background material to report an
experience which would match very closely other reports made by reliable
witnesses. Why wouldn't my report be valid? Because, of course, it was
fabricated out of my indirect experience, as communicated to me by
conversations, books, films, and television, and not my direct
experience; that is. through my own senses without the intermediary of
other humans' spoken, written, or visually portrayed experience. Anyone
can report an abduction experience. Our problem is to learn whether
these reports are reports of direct personal experience or whether the
reports are mediated by the experience of others. If they are mediated
by the experience of others, they are worthless as evidence of the
existence of UFO abductions. They are simply repetitions of other
people's stories, however convincing either to the listener or (as is
often the case) to the teller.

There is no a priori reason why the reporter of an abduction experience
which is entirely mediated by other people's experiences may not also
report that he or she believes that the experience was direct and
unmediated. It is very well established that people reporting
experiences do not always accurately attribute the source of those
experiences.(2) Spoken or written language, as well as the visual media,
are efficient ways of conveying information which may be incorporated
indiscriminately into what the reporter thinks is his or her own direct
sensory experience. The human mind is efficient at generating and
storing images or representations of experience, and inefficient at
retaining and classifying the sources of those same images or
representations. Suggestible human beings often mistake the sources of
their information, and they are demonstrably capable of reporting as
personal experience events and experiences which have been suggested to
them by others.

The properly skeptical public. In ordinary conversation, in the
give-and-take on a sunny afternoon by the lake, or of a dinner party
with good wine flowing, we do not always - or even often - critically
examine the sources of our ideas, or of our conversational bons mots.
Why should we expect something more critical, more detached, from the
investigators and reporters of abductions? Simply because so much more
is at stake. Our real audience is not the lakeside or dinner-table
conversationalists. If the purveyors of ideas about UFO abductions want
to be treated as entertaining lakeside conversationalists, or as
slightly outre dinner-table companions, then we can all go on as before.
Some of what we say will be based on what we know are the reports of
reliable witnesses, corroborated by circumstances: missing time,
physical traces, concurrent UFO sightings. Other reports, whether in the
National Enquirer or in our own publications, will be ambiguous and lend
themselves to alternative interpretations.

The greater public will get some of both kinds of reports, and will be,
as always, puzzled about what to believe. The scientific public will say
to itself: "X has written two books full of interesting information
about abductions and UFOs. X writes with obvious integrity, and the
phenomenon sounds plausible. But Y includes as abductions reports from
people who sit in a trance and stare at the ceiling, and then describe
the same kind of things X is describing. Isn't the obvious explanation
to assume that both X and Y's reports have the same epistemological
status - the same grounding in reality - and that Y's are the more
representative, because they require the least deviation from present
knowledge? Witness Z is obviously imagining things, and abduction
investigator Y reports Z's imaginings as abductions. Therefore,
abduction investigators are reporting what people imagine, not what
actually happens to them."

The leaps of reason in my imaginary quote above are not logically
convincing, but they are psychologically very convincing. Just because
one abduction report (A) is imaginary (i) does not mean that all A's are
(i). But if you are predisposed to reject more complicated explanations,
and are predisposed not to change your world-view on the basis of what
the UFO research community is claiming, than your reasoning process is:
Some A's are certainly i. I cannot look into all of the A cases, and if
I have found one i case among them, I can say that because I have shown
that at least one A is i, most-or all-of them might he. And with this
very big "might be," I escape the need to change my world-view, because
I can subsume my simpler world-view under the "might be" of the
imaginary abduction report. Therefore I will defer judgment, or, more
conservatively, not change my world-view in the absence of a more
convincing reason to do so.

I think it helps to make this problem specific because it explains what
the UFO and abduction community is up against when it seeks to persuade
the rest of the world - our lakeside and dinner-party neighbors and
companions, as well as the even more skeptical scientific public - that
what we have to say should be taken seriously. We have to decide what we
are trying to convince people of. We know, and they know, that people
report abduction experiences. If in the interest of accommodating every
abduction reporter we decide to treat all reports equally, whether or
not there is corroborative evidence that there was a physical abduction
by extraterrestrials, then our public will nod politely and discount
virtually everything we have to say. They will, quite reasonably,
consider a11 abduction reports as evidence of, at most, an interesting
psychological aberration or phenomenon.

What are we to think of an abduction case in which the alleged abductee
is observed to be present during the entire time she experiences an
abduction? The evidence in this case is unambiguous. The investigators
who reported the case were present during the time the woman had the
experience, and she didn't budge. There was no missing time, and there
were no abduction corollaries - UFO sightings or physical aftereffects.
The answer least in need of supplementary explanation is that the woman
wasn't abducted. There is no reason to think that she may not have been
reexperiencing a past abduction - the most generous of hypotheses - but
by any objective criterion she was not experiencing a physical abduction
and the report of her experience made by the investigators was the
report of a psychological experience, not a physical one. In my
already-expressed opinion, this case should not have been presented as
an abduction report.(3)

Abduction researchers should screen abduction reports into those which
are probably based on direct sensory experience, and those which are
probably based on experience mediated by human language or media. It is
clear from the proceedings of the 1992 Abduction Conference at M.I.T.
that not a11 abduction researchers want to do that. And it's a free
world: there is nothing to stop them from using whatever inclusive
categories they choose to use in defining abductions. My point is simply
that this inclusiveness mitigates against anyone with common sense and
no access to the original data from taking the abduction phenomenon
seriously. Those of us who are better informed can sort the bad cases
out for ourselves; but our friends and colleagues in the general and
scientific public can't. We should be doing it for them. If we don't, we
suffer the inevitable diminishing of our credibility.


There is a great reluctance on the part of some investigators to stick
to a scientific approach to the abduction phenomenon. The argument runs
something like this. Our systematic understanding of nature is severely
limited; science doesn't even explain many things about inanimate
nature, other animals, or the human mind. Not only that, but the
technical or scientific approach to the mastery and understanding of
nature has led mankind into grievous errors which threaten to destroy
the species if not the planet. Therefore, we should abandon science in
dealing with this new phenomenon, particularly since it is so far beyond
our comprehension as to make the idea of a scientific theory to explain
UFOs or abductions meaningless. We can't really decide whether the
phenomenon is mental or physical; even calling it physical is
meaningless because the mental and the physical are so completely
intermixed that separating them, in this instance, is almost impossible.

Much of this argument rests on a very generalized incomprehension of
what science means, and an even greater incomprehension about the
science of psychology. First of all, science is a method as much as it
is a collection of facts and theories. It is also a very complex social
process. Boiled down to its essence, the scientific method is a
prescription that evidence about nature must be presented in a form that
explains how it was obtained, makes it possible for other people to
review and criticize the methods used for gathering the evidence, and to
repeat those methods and obtain the same evidence, so far as is
practical. It is a social agreement to be honest and transparent in
presenting data, and to engage in a mutual (sometimes highly
competitive) effort to cross-check, criticize, and ultimately verify the
information on which we base our advances in understanding nature.

The scientific enterprise. Our technological world is built from
complex, true stories that describe the natural world. How do we know
that the stories are true? The natural world works the same way for a
Russian engineer as it does for an American scientist. Bridges designed
in France will stand in China; airplanes made in America will also fly
over Brazil or over Australia. There is a consensus about our nature
stories, at least so far as we can carry them. The civilized machinery
of scientific education, scientific research, and scientific
communication shapes a community of knowledge whose products are
everywhere and whose methods are universal.

Unfortunately, many of the scientific nature stories are unintelligible
to the lay person, who hasn't learned the mathematical methods and
doesn't have the knowledge or the vocabulary to understand them. Because
science is also divided into very narrow specialties, many scientific
nature stories are equally unintelligible to scientists in other
specialties. Most scientists aren't as successfully gregarious as the
physicist Ernest Rutherford, who is supposed to have said, "If you can't
explain it to the barmaid in the Eagle Pub, it isn't good science." Even
nature stories which fall into the category of "classical" science, like
the time-travel paradoxes of Einstein's theory of special relativity,
seriously challenge both the lay and the scientific imagination. The
sheer volume of detailed knowledge in every scientific specialty makes
it practically impossible for a lay person or a scientist in another
field to evaluate the latest development in an area to which he or she
is a technical stranger.

Scientific specialization. The scientific community which generates and
uses accurate stories about nature is specialized and divided. Adam
Smith praised the benefits of specialization in his famous l8th- century
example of pin manufacture: A single craftsman, manufacturing entire
pins, makes not more than twenty per day, while a team of ten men,
employed in a small manufactory, could produce "upwards of forty-eight
thousand pins in a day." Men "educated to the trade," each specializing
in one part of the manufacture, turn out on the average 4,800 per day.
Thus specialization amplifies the output of a pin manufacturer many fold
- a lesson which has not been lost on scientists and scientific funding

The "industrial system" is thoroughly established in science, with the
same satisfying results. Collegial teamwork of surprising sophistication
and complexity exists across the entire world. The system consists of
multiple independent but cooperating research centers which regularly
exchange information and personnel. Ever since the Middle Ages,
academicians and researchers have been cooperative and mobile. Their
greatest pleasure is to visit each other's universities and
laboratories, and to congregate in large numbers at attractive places
(Venice, Prague, Paris, Honolulu) to discuss, argue, and criticize each
others' work. This is their life's blood. The results are poured into
the research journals which are circulated and read internationally.

The international scientific community is organized in much the same
fashion as the modern communication tool which grew directly out of
applied science: the Internet. The Internet is a system which exists as
a collection of independent cooperating centers or nodes, each of which
is administered locally. On the basis of a strictly voluntary
cooperative organization, each node is configured so as to be able to
pass messages through the entire complex system to any other node, and
each node can also act as an intermediary for the transmission of
messages from one node to another.

But like the users of the Internet, the scientific community is really a
collection of sub-communities which for the most part recognize each
other's legitimacy, within the specialized domains of knowledge they
claim for their own. And, as with the special interest groups on the
Internet, it is rare that ongoing work within one scientific
sub-community is commented on or participated in by workers in another
sub-community. Scientific guilds. The independent subcommunities of
science have another trait in common with those honored and medieval
social organizations, the guilds, which were in some sense the
progenitors of the very universities that now support many of the
scientists. The guilds were professionally exclusive and jealous of
their privileges. In the Middle Ages, work produced by non-guild members
was proscribed and rejected. In the modern world, a relevant scientific
advance which is reported from outside the research sub-community is
likely to suffer the same fate. In the Middle Ages, there were political
wars between the guilds and non-guild craftsmen, whose products were
driven outside the towns where the guilds held power, into the
countryside, where a non-guild worker could sell unlicensed products to
customers who might later smuggle them back into the town.

Scientists who produce work outside their specialties, or in areas of
research that are not recognized as legitimate by their own sub-
community, risk having their work proscribed or rejected by scientific
guild members. The modern form of proscription is simply the refusal of
scientific journals to publish the results. Occasionally the examples of
guild behavior are egregious and informative. John Garcia, a researcher
who specialized in radiological research, discovered in 1955 that rats
could be taught in one trial to avoid the novel taste of a food which
gave them a delayed, but very severe, stomachache (the food contained a
nonlethal dose of poison which made them very sick). Garcia's work was
technically exemplary, but because his findings directly challenged two
cornerstones of the current theoretical position on learning -(1) that
a11 learning was incremental, and (2) that delay of consequences reduced
the effectiveness of learning - his work was kept out of major
psychological journals for years.(5) While Garcia's findings, and Garcia
himself, are now completely accepted some forty years after his initial
work, the hostility and rejection he experienced are object lessons in
the resistance of scientific sub- communities to outsiders who trespass
on their intellectual territory.

Fear of scientific failure. Scientists are afraid of mistakes. The
public-inquiry structure of science, which proceeds by public
replication or refutation of previously published findings, is the usual
antidote to the persistence of unsubstantiated empirical claims and
unverifiable theories. But it seems that unsubstantiated claims arise in
every generation, and persist long enough to be an embarrassment to
science as a whole. N-rays in the 19th century, polywater in the 1960s,
and cold fusion in the 1980s are examples of scientific discoveries
which generated a bad press for science because they persisted long
enough to raise the public's expectations before those expectations were
doused by the necessary skepticism. They were in fact examples of the
successful application of the public-inquiry structure of science. Since
each of these empirical errors was refuted, they represent successes,
not failures, of this system.

But the cost, both to individual reputations and to the public's image
of science, of these forays into unsuccessful empiricism is very
damaging. When you combine scientists' real and justified fear of
embarrassment over mistakes with the traditional hostility and
conservatism of scientific sub-communities to new ideas introduced from
outside the specialty, you begin to understand why the entire panorama
of UFO and abduction evidence presented by part-time scientific amateurs
like historians, painters, psychiatrists, and social workers, not to
mention even less scientifically qualified white- and blue-collar
contributors (military and commercial pilots, policemen, air traffic
controllers, and just plain folks) is simply ignored by scientists when
it is not being actively derided by them.

Almost all scientists accept the judgment of publicly recognized experts
in fields of work to which they are strangers. As a part of both the
specialized character of science and the guild mentality of scientists,
each scientist respects only the authority of the recognized experts in
his or her field. This raises some important questions: What
qualifications fit someone to pass judgment on evidence concerning UFOs
and related phenomena? Whose judgment can be trusted to evaluate the
evidence? What is the evidence? And what conclusions can be drawn from

Practicing scientists often assume that all science is about work on
problems whose boundaries are well-prescribed and on which there exists
a consensus about method and goals. This is true of the massive efforts
of institutional science to advance knowledge in areas where it is clear
that more knowledge, or better techniques, may lead to impressive gains
in control of nature. I am thinking particularly of molecular biology,
solid-state physics, and nuclear physics, where advances in
understanding the construction and maintenance of organisms, the
organization of communication and information, and the release of power
are important, immediate goals.

But this assumption about the scope of science is not entirely correct.
People who work on even harder problems like the nature of abductions,
or the existence of extraterrestrial life, can also be perfectly
respectable scientists, whatever their background or training: history,
sculpture, psychiatry, social work, sociology, atomic physics, clinical
psychology or experimental psychology, to name the occupations of just a
few practitioners in the field. The important thing is that they respect
the rules of scientific communication. They may not gain immediate
respect from other scientists for doing so, but if they do respect the
rules of scientific inquiry - if they do make clear how they have
defined their terms, how they have gathered their data, what precautions
they have taken to avoid error in the data, and how they have
interpreted the data - then, eventually, what they report will be
respected by other practitioners of science. And if it is ultimately
respected by the other practitioners of science, then the larger public
will come to respect it as well.

When will science pay attention? The answer to this question is
important, because when science pays attention, both the influential
public (legislators, newspaper columnists, TV commentators) and the
ordinary person in the street will also pay attention. Thomas Kuhn, the
famous contemporary philosopher of science, pointed out that scientific
revolutions seldom succeed by convincing their older opponents; instead,
the younger generation is usually instantly converted, while the older
generation, which cannot deal with the innovations as flexibly, simply
dies off and the resistance ceases as they leave the field.(7) Abraham
Pais, Albert Einstein's intellectual biographer, points out the same
thing with respect to the acceptance of special relativity by older
scientists of stature when Einstein proposed his theory in 1905.(8) Pais
also points out that Einstein himself, who was one of the founders of
quantum theory, himself never accepted quantum theory as it was
developed by his own contemporaries. Einstein preferred classical
certainty because he believed until the end of his life that "God does
not play dice with the universe."

Does this mean that regardless of what the UFO community does, as long
as strong and convincing data about UFOs and abductions accumulate, the
public will eventually accept that these phenomena represent the
activities of extraterrestrial intelligence? Certainly not - if within
the community, there is disagreement about what standards should be used
to study it. The younger generation of intellectuals, scientists, and
political leaders, which is supposed to be converted while the elders
die off, is too sophisticated to be converted to a world-view which
cannot or will not differentiate between psychological aberration and
extraterrestrial visitation.

I cannot say what the "core phenomenon" of ET abductions is, and it
really doesn't matter that much. There is always, even in so-called
normal science, a halo of less-clear phenomena and less-accepted
findings which represents the cutting edge of investigation into the
controversial issues. The existence of these controversial questions is
not itself a fundamental problem - so long as the methods of science
provide an ultimate means for their resolution. Typical issues of this
kind in the abduction field are: what are the "Nordics?" What is the
meaning of the "staging?" Are there missing fetuses? These issues are
amenable to investigation and to ultimate resolution. It seems to me to
be important that there be a consensus in the UFO and abduction field
that controversial problems must be resolvable - and resolvable using
those refinements of ordinary commonsense investigation which go by the
name of scientific method.


Obstacles to acceptance. The "general UFO hypothesis" which encompasses
the existence of extraterrestrial spaceships and the abduction of people
into them has to overcome a series of barriers to credibility. Each
barrier is actually the threshold of acceptance among technically
educated people for a series of isolated ideas which cannot be easily
assimilated into the current coherent picture of the world. The
unassimilated picture presented by the UFO hypothesis is much too rich
for the average scientist's taste. It includes telepathy, movement
through solids, craft maneuvering at what are for us unattainable and
dangerous g-forces, and propulsion with no apparent reaction against the

The average scientist falls back on a much more plausible psychological
explanation for this rich diet of impossibilities. Memory can be biased
or faulty; perception is ambiguous and unreliable; social pressures and
social gain motivate convincing lies; hypnotists can influence
susceptible witnesses. By relying on any one of these alternatives, the
overrich banquet of UFO-related phenomena can be dismissed as a
combination of individual and social psychological aberration. When
theory is overtaken by data. Pausing to look back just a few years to
the time when physics was experiencing great upheavals provides an
interesting perspective on the problem of interpreting UFO and UFO
abduction data. After 1895 physicists could no longer use the
mathematics of continuous physical displacements to model the universe.
Quantum theory required what were then radical changes in assumptions
about causality. Atoms did or did not emit radiation on a probabilistic,
not a deterministic, basis; the basic constituents of matter and energy
were either particles with wavelike properties or waves with
particlelike properties, depending on how and when you measured them;
position and momentum could not be simultaneously measured to any degree
of accuracy; the state of a particle is only determined when you measure
it, and that measurement also immediately determines the state of a
related particle which is so far away that information cannot travel to
it from the first particle. These difficulties do not mean that quantum
theory is inaccurate; it is highly accurate. But, unlike relativity
theory, it does not explain the universe in a classically deterministic

One of the problems that physicists had in understanding and
assimilating quantum theory was based on the fact that the
interpretation of all measurement is wholly bound up in theoretical
assumptions about those measurements. If the assumptions one made about
measurement at the microphysical (quantum) level were classical
assumptions, the measurements made no sense. Eisenbud (8) said that

        Ultimately, theory becomes so familiar that we hardly realize
        its importance in the interpretation of observation.... When
        theory fails, however, the familiar connections between its
        constructs and what is observed are broken. We must then return
        to naked observations and their observed interrelations, and try
        to build from them new and successful theoretical structures.

The UFO community is faced with the same dilemma. The data of abduction
research cannot be interpreted in a simplistic way as veridical
descriptions of experience which fit our available theoretical
framework. We are now forced to "return to our naked observations" and
develop a new and comprehensive theory to explain the general tendency
of these observations, and reduce the exceptions to a sufficiently small
number to justify our confidence in the "naked observations and their
observed interrelations." If we can build this confidence in ourselves,
based on an adequate theoretical understanding, then we can certainly
build it in at least the younger members of both the scientific public
and the larger public who follow our investigations and our work with
interest, but who are waiting for us to clarify our own understanding
before committing themselves to accept it.

I cannot, myself, overcome all of the obstacles to comprehension of the
UFO phenomenon from a technical point of view. Explaining how people can
be moved through solids and explaining UFO propulsion are beyond my
competence. These observables clearly require a better understanding of
nature than is provided us by current publicly available knowledge in
the fields of physics and engineering. But with respect to the
psychological phenomena, some comments to the general scientific public,
as well as to colleagues in the UFO field, are in order. They concern
the plausibility and current scientific status of various events which
are described in UFO and abduction investigations. Some of these
phenomena are by no means as empirically far-fetched as they might first
appear to be.

The psychology of some reported abduction experiences: Hypnosis and
memory. Hypnosis has a long and colorful past, and has been, in its day,
as controversial a scientific topic as UFOs are at present. It is still
a controversial phenomenon. The most radical - or skeptical - view of
the phenomenon is that it is nothing but acting, suggested by the
hypnotist and willingly and knowingly carried out by the patient. On the
other hand, there are many phenomena of hypnosis which are very unlike
those which can be produced by voluntary acting. The removal of
crippling hysterical symptoms with the aid of hypnosis was the clinical
discovery which triggered Sigmund Freud's interest in the mental bases
of what were thought to be neurological symptoms, and so led to the
development of psychoanalysis.(9)

A great deal of serious research effort has gone into the study of
hypnotic phenomena, in an effort to determine to what extent there are
genuine changes in consciousness as a result of the hypnotic process.
The simplest description of the present evidence is this: hypnotic
induction in a highly suggestible subject produces a mental state in
which external instructions (the hypnotist's) can alter the subject's
conscious mental content, to the extent that both memory of past events
and perception of the current environment can be influenced in ways that
cannot be duplicated by suggestion, unaided by hypnosis. It must be
stressed that not everyone is equally hypnotizable. Highly suggestible
people need less effort to produce the radical changes of conscious
content which are characteristic of hypnosis, while some very
unsuggestible people do not ever experience the extreme changes of
conscious experience which characterize highly suggestible, deeply
hypnotized subjects.

Most of the controversy about the use of hypnosis in abduction research
is over the question of whether recall facilitated by hypnosis is
necessarily true. It is not. Extensive experimental evidence
demonstrates that confabulation is as possible under hypnosis as it is
in ordinary unaided memory; in some cases, while fluency of memory is
increased under hypnosis, so is the inclusion of verifiably inaccurate
recall.(10) However, as students of the UFO and abduction phenomenon
already know, not all UFO abduction accounts depend on information
gained through hypnosis. Frequently there is recall, even extensive
recall, without hypnosis.

Equally extensive experimental evidence demonstrates that hypnotic
techniques can both induce and remove amnesia. When memories have been
blocked either by trauma or by previous hypnotic instruction, they can
be recalled by later, appropriate hypnotic counterinstruction. (11) It
is possible to establish "hidden experience" in a hypnotically
susceptible person so that a real experience is actually concealed from
the experiencer until he or she is later instructed to remember it. This
is a stock in trade of stage hypnotists: the person who is made to bark
and run around on all fours, pretending to be a dog, will have no memory
of that experience if instructed not to remember; the hypnotist may
provide a cue for later recall of the following kind: "you will remember
nothing of this session when you wake up, until I place my hand on your
shoulder." The result is that the hypnotized person undergoes
experiences which he or she cannot remember until later. So long as the
hypnotist does not provide the cue, the experience is not available to
conscious recall. Once the cue is provided, recall occurs.

Imagine if a hypnotist were to say to a subject under hypnosis: "Under
no circumstances will you remember this experience," and then simply
disappear from the subject's life. (12) The hypnotized subject would
have a gap in his or her memory. Careful questioning might reveal that
he went to a hypnotist's performance; that he remembers being in a seat
with his friends who encouraged him to go on stage; and then he came
home. When asked to account for the show, or his part in it, he would be
unable to consciously recall his own participation. There would be
"missing time." Under these circumstances, a second hypnotic session
with another hypnotist might remove the memory block and reestablish the
continuity of experience and memory. Or alternatively, the experience
might simply be recalled after a sufficiently long time.

Since we know that hypnosis can be used to block experience from
conscious memory, and since we know that re-hypnosis is one tool by
which that experience can be made accessible to voluntary recall,
therefore we also know that the recovery of blocked UFO abduction
memories by hypnosis is not an impossibility. We do not know that the
recovered memories are accurate; great pains must be taken to avoid
leading the hypnotic subject, because hypnotically recovered memories,
as mentioned earlier, are not necessarily more accurate than memories
which are recalled unaided.

Telepathy. Humans can transmit information telepathically. The empirical
evidence for this is cumulatively overwhelming. Neither current
psychological theory nor current physiological theory has an explanation
for the data, but the data are sound. There is too little space here to
review the history of experimental psychical research, which dates back
over a century. The evidence for telepathy does not depend on trusting
mediums, which is always a dangerous business. Starting with the
experimental work of J. B. Rhine,(13) the experimental reliability and
repeatability of telepathy has been established by many researchers.(14
- 16)

For the most part, the experimental demonstrations of telepathy are
statistical and relatively crude. The best of them involve remote
viewing of complex scenes, which are then reproduced visually by the
telepathic subject in more or less complex detail. Statistical analysis
of the agreement between scenes and drawings, under experimental
conditions which preclude collusion, cheating, or biasing the results,
shows results that are sometimes quite striking and over the long run,
far, far better than could be ascribed to chance.

Therefore it is within the realm of current scientific knowledge to
expect that information can be transmitted telepathically to a human
being. The descriptions of telepathic communication made by alleged
abductees are not, then, without a reference in human experience as
defined by scientific experiment. Visual illusions. Virtual reality is
created by using two or three- dimensional visual images which give the
illusion of objects in space. This can be done with wide-screen sound
and motion, it can be done holographically or it can be done
stereoscopically. While holographic images currently lack solidity, they
do not lack detail. Therefore it is within the realm of our current
scientific knowledge to be able to construct an alternative visual
reality (sound effects were accomplished long ago) which gives the
illusion of solidity. This is already done cinematically, and
large-screen projections like I-Max are quite convincing in conveying
the experience of motion. Virtual reality is created in aviation
simulators; its success is indicated by the fact that emotional
reactions in simulated situations of danger mimic, if they do not
actually duplicate, emotional reactions recorded in real situations of
danger. Therefore the experiences of staging as described in the
abduction literature are not without a reference in human experience as
influenced by human technology.

Hallucinations can be induced in an uncontrolled way through the use of
psychotropic drugs, sensory deprivation, and hypnosis. Remember that
hypnosis is a powerful hallucinogen. A subject under hypnosis can be
made to react to hypnotically induced sensory experiences. The very
suggestibility that defines the earliest stages of trance induction
("your eyelids are getting heavier, your hands are together and you
can't move them apart, your arms are sluggish and you can't lift them
off the chair") are all hypnotically induced sensory-motor experiences.
Other, more complex experiences can be introduced by a skilled
hypnotist. Therefore the induction of hallucinatory experiences, as
reported in many abduction cases, is not unknown to ordinary human

Abduction reports include illusions, hypnosis and telepathy. The
characteristic abduction experience described in books by Hopkins and
Jacobs and in articles by Carpenter may include elements of telepathy,
hypnosis, and illusion. An alien being communicates telepathically;
using some form of close physical contact, the same being induces an
altered state of consciousness in the human, and the human experiences
ambiguous scenes either as a hallucinatory "virtual reality" or as
hypnotically induced interpretations of real events in which alien
actors play a role. As explained in the previous few paragraphs, this
apparently implausible combination of experiences - telepathy and
illusions or hallucinations - is by no means beyond the realm of human
experience. All of the phenomena are known individually, and under
certain circumstances can be induced or controlled by humans in other

The reliability of UFO and abduction witnesses. All of science is based
on observation; and ultimately all science is based on human observation
and interpretation of even the most sophisticated data from the most
sophisticated instruments. It is instructive to remember that about one
hundred and fifty years ago, science was being conducted with much
simpler instruments, and may fewer of them; that natural science like
that practised by Charles Darwin required a only notebook and a
sketchpad; and that however complicated the mechanical or electronic
gadget into which the scientist peers, the human observer is always
present to interpret what is seen or recorded. If UFO (and UFO
abduction) witnesses are intrinsically unreliable reporters, then all of
the evidence is suspect, because it has been obtained with unreliable
instruments, whose distortions or biases may be responsible for the
seeming abnormality of the reports. As a case in point, Bartholomew, et
al. (17) reported that a study of self- reported biographical material
from 152 alleged UFO abductees or contactees demonstrated an incidence
of fantasy-proneness which was higher than the population average. The
biographical data used in this study were drawn from l6th-century
sources as well as from current data, and no distinction was reported
between what UFO investigators would recognize as contactees and more
credible reporters of abduction experiences. But the best UFO and
abduction evidence is not suspect. Spanos, et al.,(18) Bloecher, Clamar
and Hopkins,(19) and Rodeghier, et al.(20) have made it clear that UFO
reporters and abduction reporters do not suffer from psychopathology;
therefore there is no a priori reason to reject their reports because
their personality characteristics make them less reliable than other
reporters of phenomena.

Ordinary precautions have to be taken in obtaining reports about
external events from anyone. Good reporters and good scientists know how
to listen; how not to lead; how to encourage reluctant or emotionally
upset witnesses without putting words in their mouths; and in general
how to avoid biasing the source of the information they are recording.
The same thing applies to extraordinary methods for obtaining data, like
hypnosis. Proper use of hypnosis in the forensic field as well as the
UFO investigation field is necessarily subject to stringent precautions.
Good hypnosis data will be presented with evidence that appropriate
precautions were taken; the work of Carpenter and Haines(21-23) is
exemplary in providing evidence that the requisite precautions have been

Prior conditions for accepting the abduction phenomenon. Most of us take
for granted something which our scientific colleagues have neither the
background nor the confidence to take for granted: that reports of UFOs
are reports of extraterrestrial vehicles. It is impossible here to go
into the detail which supports this conclusion. When the evidence is
assembled and presented coherently, it is overwhelming. It is rarely so
assembled and presented. Classic works by Jacobs, Hynek, and NICAP on
the extraterrestrial UFO hypothesis, which precedes the abduction
phenomenon, are twenty years old. They are respected but not widely
read, and certainly not known to the scientific world outside the UFO

It follows that uncertainty about the existence of ET UFOs precludes
acceptance of the UFO abduction phenomenon. If I'm not sure that ET UFOs
exist, how can I accept the evidence for UFO abductions? In this case,
the additional evidence about UFO abductions does not strengthen the ET
UFO evidence; instead, the uncertainty about the UFO evidence weakens
the acceptance of the abduction evidence. This is a classic application
of what is known to statisticians as Bayes' theorem. The probability of
some event, given supporting evidence, depends not only on the current
supporting evidence, but on the prior probability of the event: in other
words, how probable - before the supporting evidence - was the event in
question. If the ET UFO evidence is either unknown or rejected, the
prior probability that any reported experience has to do with UFOs is
bound to be low. This immediately prejudices acceptance of the abduction
evidence, because it is read in a context where the a priori assumption
is that UFOs themselves are highly unlikely, and therefore so is a
UFO-related explanation for the abduction evidence. The answer to this
problem, to the degree that we can solve it, is to present the UFO
evidence and the solid UFO abduction evidence together in an
intellectual contextbook, course, or visual medium - in which the UFO
evidence establishes the a priori probability for the UFO abduction
phenomenon. The tendency - certainly reasonable, in light of the
importance of the phenomenon - has been for recent work to concentrate
on the abduction phenomenon alone. But the extensive and
well-investigated body of UFO cases deserve equal time with the
abduction evidence, because the ET interpretation of the classical UFO
data is the a priori basis for allowing an ET interpretation of the
abduction evidence.


So where are we? We lack certainty in dealing with evidence elicited by
hypnosis or recall alone. We need corroborating evidence: other people's
testimony to an observer being abducted (e.g., the Linda case), missing
or found in a disordered state after a hypnotically recalled abduction
experience. Or else we need corroborating physical evidence of an
abduction: evidence that something has been around to confirm the
abductee's report of being abducted into something. This is no more or
no less than the kind of evidence we need to corroborate UFO reports.
After all, a UFO report is no less a report of personal experience than
is an abduction report.

Even book-length compendiums of single or multiple cases need to respect
the scientifically educated public's requirement that the methods of
investigation be explained clearly enough so that the techniques can be
both criticized and repeated by others. Understandably but
unfortunately, the current practice (for obvious financial and personal
reasons) has been for each serious and productive investigator to
present his or her own findings in a maximally attractive public
package, in order to reap the personal rewards for the effort made,
since there are absolutely no academic or "establishment" financial or
social rewards for being a conscientious and intelligent UFO or
abduction researcher which would compensate anyone for the time and
effort expended. There is now, however, both a place for and an
intellectual demand for a methodological and empirical synthesis of
current good abduction research, just as there is a similar need and
demand for an equivalent review and synthesis of the past thirty years
of UFO research. Such a synthesis would have to address the
methodological issues raised in this essay, as well as the rich store of
excellent abduction and UFO data which have been collected, weighed, and
evaluated by the current generation of UFO and abduction researchers.


1.  The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition,
    Unabridged (New York: Random House, 1987).

2.  Elizabeth Loftus. Eyewitness Testimony (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard
    University Press, 1979).

3.  Gilda Moura, "A Transpersonal Approach to Abduction Therapy," in
    Andrea Pritchard, David E. Pritchard, John Mack, et al., eds. Alien
    Discussions: Proceedings of the Alien Abduction Study Conference
    (Cambridge, Mass.: North Cambridge Press, 1994), 485- 92. See also
    Loftus, I 95.

4. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations [l776] (New York: Modern Library,
   1937), 4-5.

5. John Garcia, "Tilting at the Paper Mills of Academe," American
   Psychologist 36, no.2 (1981): 149-58.

6. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of
   Chicago Press, 1962).

7. Abraham Pais, Subtle is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert
   Einstein (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).

8. L. Eisenbud, The Conceptual Foundations of Quautum Mechanics (New
   York: Van Nostrand Reinhold,1971 ).

9. Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (New York: Basic
   Books, 1953), 1:226-230.

10. Jane Dywan and Kenneth Bowers, "The Use of Hypnosis to Enhance
    Recall," Scieuce 222 ( 1983):184-85.

11. M. E. Miller and Kenneth Bowers, "Hypnotic Analgesia: Dissociated
    Experience or Dissociated Control?" Journal of Abnormal Psychology
    I02, no.l (1993): 29-3 8.

12. Or, as is possibly the case with some abductees, to reappear
    regularly and repeat the instruction.

13. J. B. Rhine and J. G. Pratt, Parapsychology: Frontier Science of the
    Mind (Springfield, Ill.: Thomas, 1957).

14. Charles Honorton, "Relationship between EEG Alpha Activity and ESP
    Card-Guessing," Journal of the American Society for Psychical
    Research 63 ( 1969): 36574.

15. William G. Braud, "Relaxation as a Psi-Conductive State," Bulletin
    of the Psychonomic Society 3, no2 ( 1974): 115-18.

16. H. Eisenberg and Don C. Donderi, "Telepathic Transfer of Emotional
    Information in Humans," Journal of Psychology 103 ( 1979): 19-43.

17. Robert E. Bartholomew, Keith Basterfield, and G. S. Howard, "UFO
    Abductees and Contactees: Psychopathology or Fantasy Proneness?"
    Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 22, no.3 ( 1991 ):
    215- 22.

18. Nicholas Spanos, P. A. Cross, K. Dickson, and S. DuBreuil, "Close
    Encounters: An Examination of UFO Experiences," Journal of Abnormal
    Psychologoy 102, no.4 ( 1993): 624-32.

19. Ted Bloecher, Aphrodite Clamar, and Budd Hopkins, Final Report on
    the Psychological Testing of UFO "Abductees" (Mount Rainier, Md.:
    Fund for UFO Research, 1985).

20. Mark Rodeghier, Jeff Goodpaster, and Sandra Blatterbauer,
    "Psychosocial Characteristics of Abductees: Results from the CUFOS
    Abduction Project," Journal of UFO Studies, new ser. 3 ( 1991 ):
    59- 90.

21. John S. Carpenter, "Double Abduction Case: Correlation of Hypnosis
    Data," Journal of UFO Studies, new ser. 3 ( 1991 ): 91-114.

22. Richard F. Haines, "Multiple Abduction Evidence - What's Really
    Needed?" in Andrea Pritchard, David E. Pritchard, John Mack, et al.,
    eds. Alien Discussions: Proceedings of the Alien Abduction Study
    Conference (Cambridge, Mass.: North Cambridge Press, 1994), 240245.
    See also Richard F. Haines, "Novel Investigative Techniques," in
    Alien Discussions, 468-69.

23. Richard F. Haines, "Hypnosis: Problems and Techniques." Paper
    presented at the National Conference on Anomalous Experience, Temple
    University, Philadelphia, 1990.

Next: Protocol 5