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THE ABDUCTION PHENOMENON AT MIT*

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  • Jeroen Kumeling
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 1999
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      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
      quite satisfactory.

      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
      perspectives.

      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
      criticized.

      *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.

      [abduction index]
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      Jeroen Kumeling
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