THE ABDUCTION PHENOMENON AT MIT*
- THE ABDUCTION PHENOMENON AT MIT*
by Stuart Appelle
C.D.B. Bryan, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: Alien Abduction, UFOs,
and the Conference at M.I.T. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. 476p. $25.
During June 13-17, 1992, a conference on the alien abduction experience was
held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Co-chaired by David
Pritchard, physics professor at MIT, and John E. Mack, professor of
psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, this invitation-only conference
was designed to bring serious investigators and clinicians together to
assess commonalties and differences in their findings, interpretations, and
approaches to the abduction experience.
A number of writer-journalists were also invited, including C.D.B. Bryan.
His own perceptions of the conference, as well as an extensive presentation
of abduction accounts, and his assessment of abduction and UFO phenomena in
general, represent the content of Close Enchantress of the Fourth Kind.
Bryan�s book follows close on the heels of Alien Discussions: Proceedings of
the Abduction Study Conference, edited by Andrea Pritchard, David E.
Pritchard, John E. Mack, Pam Kasei, and Claudia Yap (Cambridge, Mass.: North
Cambridge Press, 1994). Discussions is 684 pages� worth of the complete
Abduction Study Conference proceedings. Readers interested in a blow-by-blow
of the conference will need to read that volume. Those willing to settle for
a somewhat selective summary will find Bryan�s coverage of the conference
Bryan begins his review of the conference with Mark Rodeghier�s definition
of an abduction experience. Thomas E. Ballard, Bud Hopkins, Keith
Basterfield, David M. Jacobs, John Carpenter, Jenny Randles, Joe Nyman, and
others each elaborate on this definition by describing the contents and
structure of the abduction experience according to their own individual
The review continues with John Miller�s discussion of conventional
explanations for "missing" pregnancies. He examines what conventional
medical procedures may tell us about reputed alien abductions. Richard F.
Haines discusses multiple abduction evidence. The infamous Roper poll on the
prevalence of the abduction experience is hotly debated. And Bud Hopkins
unveils details of the Linda Cortile case.
The conference then turns to the psychological dimensions of the abduction
experience. This is discussed by a number of mental-health practitioners who
have worked with experiencers and by investigators who have assessed the
characteristics of experiencers using standardized personality inventories.
Bryan concludes his review of the conference with talks on the ethics of
abduction investigation and treatment (David Gotlib, Stuart Appelle). With
this he also concludes the first half of the book.
The remainder of Close Encounters focuses on post-conference interviews with
a number of personalities, both from ufology (Mack, Richard Boylan,
Pritchard, Miller) and from the group of experiencers who were in attendance
especially two women whose shared experiences are fleshed out during
hypnotic sessions with Hopkins.
For the uninitiated, Bryan�s analysis will provide a good perspective both
on ufology in general (Roswell, cattle mutilations crop circles, black
helicopters, MJ-12, and the sighting classics are all covered along the way)
and on some of the personalities most closely associated with abduction
research. It also allows the reader an excellent glimpse into the
phenomenology of the abduction experience. Indeed, nearly half the book is
devoted to narratives of abduction experiences as told by its percipients
both through conscious recall and during hypnotic regressions.
Yet, even for those who have closely followed the field, this book offers
items for reflection. For example, the reader is allowed to listen in on the
dialogue between Hopkins and an experiencer during an actual hypnotic
regression. This dialogue will impress some, in terms of its effectiveness
in eliciting apparently hidden memories. At the same time it may well be
scrutinized by opponents of hypnosis looking for ammunition For example,
Hopkins responds to a traumatized experiencer who is recalling an alien
rape: "Nobody has the right to do this to you....You didn�t give him
permission.... You have every reason in the world to be angry. Every reason
to say 'Leave me alone.... Don�t ever do this to me again' " (pp. 373�74).
However skillful, well intended, and perhaps inevitable such exchanges may
be, they will give pause to the researcher concerned about the interaction
between "counseling" and "investigation." And critics of hypnosis will no
doubt see in these exchanges evidence of practicing therapy without a
license, or of reinforcing in the experiencer a literal interpretation of
the reported events.
The interview with Mack will also be of interest. Compared to his book
Abduction (1994), what emerges here is the more coherent and accessible
(albeit no less assailable) statement of his reasoning. Mack identifies
seven factors which he feels must be addressed in any explanation of the
abduction experience. For both his detractors and his defenders, this list
presents a sharply focused target at which to aim.
Elsewhere in this interview Mack states that while he might not be qualified
to evaluate certain aspects of the abduction experience (such as physical
evidence), he can certainly determine if his patients are telling the truth:
"Maybe [my client is] lying. But that�s my business.... That�s where I do
have some expertise" (p. 258). His comment is particularly poignant given
the accusation by Donna Basset that he accepted the completely concocted
story she feigned during the course of her "therapy" with Mack.
The reader is also treated to a view of ufology as seen through the eyes of
various conspiracy theorists. There is James A. Harder, sizing up Bryan
father�s (Joseph Bryan III) as the mole in NICAP who was responsible for the
organization�s demise. Boylan finds evidence of covert research into alien
technology at every military base and government installation he visits in
the Southwest. Linda Moulton Howe shares a private moment with an Air Force
Office of Special Investigations agent who shows her a secret document
describing the government's involvement in retrieving crashed saucers and
dead aliens And then there are the abduction experiencers themselves. One of
them sees an alien entity (invisible to Bryan) spying on them in the midst
of a daytime conversation on the MIT campus.
For the already indoctrinated, however, the big news from the Abduction
Study Conference will not really be news at all: Investigators and
mental-health professionals working with the abduction experience disagree
in almost every possible way.
This includes the origins of the experience (whether abductions are real,
not real, or something in between), its content (to what extent the events
so carefully delineated by Jacobs do or do not accurately portray a typical
abduction experience), the apparent motives of the reputed abductors
(whether they are here to serve their own nefarious objectives or to save
the earth from catastrophe), and how investigators and mental-health
professionals should deal with experiencers seeking their services (for
example: what the ethics of abduction-experience research and treatment
should be). These differences of opinion do not go unnoticed. To Bryan�s
credit he captures much of the flavor of abduction research as well as the
nature of the abduction experience itself.
Bryan begins his book by framing the Abduction Study Conference at MIT in
terms of Pritchard�s call for "a critical analysis and an exploration of all
the possibilities." Ultimately, both the conference and Bryan�s book can be
judged by how well this call has been met. By the strictest of standards,
both may have fallen short of the mark. But both are among the best
representatives of their kind for objectivity and open-mindedness.
Ironically, for this very reason both have been and will continue to be
*Stuart Appelle, Ph.D., editor of Journal of UFO Studies is professor of
psychology and associate dean, School of Letters Sciences, State University
of New York, College at Brockport. Article from the International UFO
Reporter. July/August, 1995. Vol. 20, Number 4. pp. 20-21, 24.
Paul Krugerstraat 6
7551 GX Hengelo (ov)
+31 (0)74-24 25 514
7500 CD Enschede
tel: +31 (0)53 4310412
Bezoek ook eens de internetsite van UFONET: